Friday, July 31, 2015

30/52: A Weekly Photo Series

Trips to the park, the zoo, and the splash pad are loads of fun in the summertime, but sometimes it's nice to stay home and enjoy the comforts of your own space. Tory and I used to play in our backyard all the time when she was Aden's age, but natural wear-and-tear has gotten the best of our deck over the years. Our big beautiful deck became disgusting with dirt and grime, to the point where I barely took the kids outside to play at our own house anymore.

It wasn't my intention to wait until half of the Minnesota summer was over to remedy the problem. I called a deck renewal company back in April to schedule an appointment to have our deck power-washed and re-stained. The company set a tentative date to visit in May, but the rainy spring weather pushed back their scheduling. Finally in early July, they paid us a visit and now our deck is once again in usable condition.

Enter: fun in the sun in our own backyard. Wahoo!

One night this week, Tory and I dusting off the patio furniture and pulled the kid's backyard toys out of storage. The next day, I set up the cutest little play date on the backyard deck just for us. I cranked up the tunes (Pandora nursery rhymes station, obvs.), set out some snacks and beverages on the patio table and filled up the bubble station. It was perfect!

Photo cred: Tory, my budding photographer

The next day, we returned to the deck for a backyard picnic lunch. Tory thought it was fabulous to dine "al fresco," as she called it. Aden spent more time oohing and ahhing over the scenery than actually eating his lunch. 

Looking forward to enjoying this space many more times yet this summer.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kid's Trail Mix Recipe

We've been on the go non-stop this summer and wherever we are, I'm always armed with quick snack options for Tory and Aden. Because, well, my kids eat constantly it seems. The minute I clean up the breakfast mess, they're asking for more food. Same with lunch and dinner, too. And, it's not that my kids aren't eating their meals, because they are. Their little bodies are bottom-less pits sometimes.

My go-to snacks for the kids are usually crackers, pretzels or fruit snacks but the other day it hit me: why can't I combine some of those "favorites" into a kid's trail mix to spice things up a little bit? I threw one together for a play date this week and it was big hit. The kids sat silently for 10 minutes (no joke!) and picked through the trail mix to find their favorite treats hidden in the bowl. Here's the recipe:

Kid's Trail Mix

2 cups of Cheerios
2 cups of Goldfish crackers
2 cups of pretzels
1 cup of cashews
1 cup of raisins
1 cup of M&Ms

Mix ingredients together and serve!

Tory went straight for the M&Ms, of course. Aden and his new friend Elia gobbled up the pretzels and Goldfish crackers first.

You could really mix together any type of snacks your kids enjoy; omit the nuts and chocolate, or add in something else entirely. Chocolate chips? Swedish Fish? Bugles? Cheez Its? Next time I make this, I'll leave out the chocolate and bag the mix into those small Ziploc baggies for ready-to-go snacks.

So, definitely not rocket science; just a different spin on snack time. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Letters to Aden: 20 Months


I'm late to the game drafting this 20-month letter to you, but I suspect you don't mind. You're too busy getting into - well - everything these days to take much notice in anything for long. Is it a boy thing, or did I forget how curious toddlers are at this age? Goodness! You are a handful, my boy.

One morning last week, for example, we were home for three hours in the morning. Between the time you woke up and the time we walked out the door to a play date, you'd: 1) bit the top of a Keurig cup with your teeth and shook coffee grounds all over the kitchen floor, 2) pushed a chair up to an out-of-reach drawer and discovered the scissors, 3) swished your hands in the toilet bowl while I helped Tory use the bathroom, and 4) dumped approximately one billion plastic hair ties onto the bathroom floor while I did Tory's hair. And, I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things!

Good thing you're so cute.

It's hard to believe three months ago you couldn't walk because now you RUN and CLIMB everything. I'm amazed at how balanced you are as you run across those moving bridges at the park, or climb up the plastic slides from the bottom. Your speech is really improving, too, and now you say about 80 words (new this month: shoe, hat, popsicle, snack, flower, ready, one, four, five, six, eight, nine, ten, fruit, Mickey, Lucy, Elmo, tickle, waffle, help, hold, toot toot, lime, fishie, pretty, neigh [for horse], moo [for cow]). And, you love to dance! You often bust a move to any song on the radio or do a little jig as you eat a meal in your high chair. It's the cutest thing.

It seems like your looks are really changing. You're taller, more long and lean, and your blond curly hair is out-of-control awesome. Wherever we go, people stop to comment on your hair and almost every female we encounter gushes over it. The one person who doesn't love that big ol' mop of yours is Daddy, and that's because a few (clueless) people have mistakenly called you a girl in his presence. "He's dressed in blue!" I'd like to shout. It can't be hard to see that you're a cute little boy.

One thing that melts my heart is how much you adore your big sister. In the mornings, you scramble out of my arms to get to Tory, exclaiming "Hi Tor-eee! Hi Tor-eee!" and throw your arms around her for a big hug. The older you get, the more the two of you are becoming play mates and it's so fun to see.

Love you my sweet boy! Here's to another month of great memories together.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Weekend Recap: Janie's Birthday at the Cabin

It's a sign, and not a very welcomed one at that: I spotted five seagulls on the lake this weekend which means there's 30 days left of summer at the cabin. Say it ain't so! It's hard to believe, but this old lake legend rings true year after year, despite the number of times we try to deny it. (Excuse me while I go weep over here in the corner....)

This past weekend was (Andi's mom) Janie's birthday. It's always gorgeous weather on her special day, and it's become somewhat of a tradition to celebrate it with family at the lake cabin. Unfortunately, Andi had a last-minute work trip pop up, so he wasn't around this weekend to celebrate his mom's birthday. I assured Janie and Jim I still wanted them to come to the lake anyway, and we had a really nice time together.

Tory, Aden and I drove to the lake on Friday morning and Janie and Jim joined us later that evening for dinner. In Andi's absence, I had to step up my game and be the grill-master, bartender and pontoon boat captain for the weekend. Big shoes to fill, but I think I managed. Let's pretend it wasn't my first time brewing a pot of coffee on my own. Thank goodness that turned out alright.

On Saturday (the day of Janie's actual birthday), Janie's sister Judy and her husband Phil came to the lake to spend the day with us. The weather was hot and sunny, and the lake felt like bath water the temperature was so warm. We spent the whole day playing in the water.

A neighbor girl from the cabin two doors down spotted Tory swimming in the lake and came over to ask if Tory would like to play with her. Her name was Kendall, she was eight years old, and she was so kind to Tory. The two paddled together on floaties, swam and lounged on our floating dock all afternoon.

I was nearby floating in the water, too.

This. Is. The. Life.

When Aden woke up from his nap, he joined the girls for afternoon "pop-hicles" (popsicles). I think Aden might turn into a popsicle this summer, he's eaten so many. 

Saturday evening for Janie's birthday dinner, I grilled balsamic bruschetta chicken for everyone. Basically, my secret plan for the weekend was to make every food Andi dislikes in his absence (i.e.: tomatoes for breakfast! lunch! and dinner)! My friend Julie gifted us a bottle of balsamic vinegar from Love That Olive that I utilized in the recipe, and it was divine. If you're local, I highly recommend. It was delicious.

May I also say how proud I was of myself for grilling dinner for a party of six? I think I've grilled dinner approximately zero times in my life, so I was a little nervous but ... go big, or go home! Our meal turned out excellent. I made a few appetizers for Janie, Jim, Judy, Phil and the kids to snack on while I prepared dinner and I think that was my key to success -- no one was left chewing on their arm waiting for dinner to be served. 

For dessert, I made a strawberry crunch ice box cake and it super light and refreshing on a hot summer evening. Not your tradition birthday cake, but Janie didn't seem to mind!   

Phil and Judy left late Saturday night, and Janie and Jim stayed to spend another day at the lake with the kids and I on Sunday. We definitely missed Andi this weekend, but still had a really fun time nonetheless.

Cheers to summer, and another fun weekend at the lake!

Friday, July 24, 2015

29/52: A Weekly Photo Series

I signed Tory up for ballet class this summer through a neighboring suburb's parks and recreation program. Big self-pat on the back for scouring a bazillion websites to discover every kids program available this summer!

Side note: Have I mentioned how incredibly time-consuming it is to research / schedule / sign kids up for activities? Seriously. I spent most of my precious babysitter alone time one morning in May plotting the calendar with fun things to do with the kids this summer and another few hours recently planning extra-curricular activities this fall. First world problem, I realize, but shouldn't there be an easier way?

Anyway, I selected this ballet class through a neighboring suburb's parks & rec department because it a) fit into our schedule, and b) was cheap. Tory's been asking to start ballet for months, but I wasn't sure she'd be able to handle the parent / child separation part. (Most ballet classes require children to be 3 years of age and for parents to wait outside the classroom.) Given Tory's strong history of separation anxiety, I wasn't about to spend millions of dollars on outfits and classes to have her attached to my leg the entire time. So, a $43 class (the non-resident rate - what a bargain!) was the prefect trial. This class is 45-minutes long and a mixture of ballet and tap.

My big girl has come a long way in a few year's time. She loves ballet class! Tory runs into the classroom on Thursday nights and dances her little heart out without a second glance backwards in my direction.

My mom gifted Tory the tiniest, most adorable ballet slippers and I know I'll keep them forever. She seems so sweet and innocent when she wears them, and it just melts my heart.

You know who else loves dance class? Little brother. Aden is clamoring to be in ballet with Tory because everything she does, he wants to do, too! I spend 45 (extremely long) minutes entertaining Aden in the hallway while Tory's in class. Most of the time, he stands at the door yelling, "Tor-eee! Tor-eee!" until I lift him up to peek through the tiny window to see her. At the end of each session, parents are invited into the classroom for a quick performance of dances learned. It's super informal, so I finally let Aden down one evening to dance alongside Tory. Dream realized for this little boy, he loved it!

Aden won't be left out for long; I signed both Tory and Aden up for gymnastics classes starting in September. I hope it's the smashing success this little ballet class has been this summer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Stitch Fix #9: Too Legit to Quit

Oh, Stitch Fix. I'm not sure how I feel about you anymore. I really (really, really) love the surprise of receiving a box on my doorstep every month. It something special just for me and these days, that goes a long way in filling up my happiness tank. And, when this service works -- it works. So many of my favorite pants, tops and dresses are thanks to my wonderful stylist at Stitch Fix (that's a referral link, if you're at all intrigued).


My last two Fixes have just been okay. I know I'm being more selective about what I keep (I've learned to send it back if I don't absolutely love it because it'll just sit in my closet collecting dust), but some of the clothes are starting to feel like repeats. Time for a different stylist? Maybe.

Here's what I received in this month's shipment:

Gilli Jessie Maxi Dress

I actually liked this dark blue maxi dress. The fit was great and material comfortable, albeit a tad too long in length. I've seen so many people wearing maxi dresses this summer and thought to myself, "I need to wear more maxi's because -- so cute!," but ultimately decided to send this dress back because I don't wear the few maxi dresses I have. This dress is very similar to a maxi dress I received from Stitch Fix last spring and I've only worn that dress once. It's just not conducive to my everyday stay-at-home-mom / weekend lake life lifestyle. Verdict: Sent Back

Market & Spruce Tod Dress

I hemmed and hawed about this dress, too, because I actually loved the summer-like colors and pattern. Would I wear this dress to the kid's swimming class? Play dates? The park? I wasn't sure. I decided to try the dress on for Andi and received a big "meh." More specifically, he wasn't a fan of the gathered waist and didn't think it did anything for my figure. Verdict: Sent Back   

Market & Spruce Camille Striped Pocket-Front Tank

Initially, I was excited when I pulled this top out of the box. A casual, everyday tank perfect for my stay-at-home-mom lifestyle. Yes! Then, I tried the top on and was less than impressed. The scoop bottom cut too short above my hips and ultimately, I thought the overall look was just okay. Verdict: Sent Back

RD Style Dalston V-Neck Knit Top

First impression, I liked this top. It's very similar to the Target Mossimo t-shirts I wear on a near-daily basis. I probably would've purchased this top, too, if it had not been for the too-expensive price tag ($48). That's too much money for a t-shirt no matter how many times I'd wear it. Verdict: Sent Back

Bancroft Naja Stone Chain Necklace

Lisa, my Stitch Fix stylist, must've been taking a leap by sending me a piece of jewelry this time. I thought I'd requested clothing only in my profile (??) but she sent me a chain necklace to pair with the maxi dress anyway.

Honestly, I'm not big into jewelry -- mostly because my kids pull, tug and steal every necklace I currently own. This necklace was cute, but I couldn't see myself wearing it often and especially not for $38. Verdict: Sent Back


In summary, I sent all five pieces back this month -- a Stitch Fix first for me.

Will I sign up for another month? Absolutely, because it's still a fun treat to receive each month. My next Fix is scheduled to arrive late August and the weather will be transitioning into a new season. Hoping for better luck next time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Weekend Recap: Parents Visit the Cabin

My parents traveled to Wisconsin last weekend for a short visit to our lake cabin. They drove 18 hours round-trip to spend roughly 36 hours with us, so I was very appreciative of their efforts. I love living in Minnesota (and having a lake cabin in Wisconsin), but I really wish there weren't so many miles between us. And while I'm dreaming, I also wish my parents weren't bound so tightly by their days off work (or lack there-of). But, that's life! We try to make the best of the time we do have together.

Shortly after my parents arrived on Friday afternoon, we hopped in the pontoon boat for a trip around the lake. Nothing melts stress away like sunshine and the open water. Oh, and cocktails... those help, too.

I put the kids to bed early because they were both exhausted, and Andi grilled us some nice steaks for dinner. Then, the four of us dined al fresco with gorgeous views of the lake behind us. It sounds crazy, but having a relaxed conversation with my parents rarely happens as there's usually the chaos of kids or holidays surrounding our time together. So, I very much enjoyed having their undivided attention that evening.  

We spent the entire day on Saturday relaxing at the lake. We went for boat rides, swam in the water with the kids, fished for sunfish off the dock, and talked about anything and everything. At one point Tory asked Nana, "Why do you want to talk to my mom so much?" I'm pretty sure she thought my parent's visit to the cabin was strictly to see her.     

I like going home to Nebraska to visit my family, but there's also something special about having my parents visit us here in our own environment. It's more stress on my parents to drive here, of course, but the kids are much more at ease and I love showing them where and how we live. 

My mom loves fish fries, so Andi saved fish from our trip to Nelson Lake especially for this occasion. He made us a feast for dinner on Saturday night, including breaded fish with homemade tartar sauce, green salad, bread and corn on the cob. My parents, Andi, and I ate and ate until we couldn't consume another bite. It was delicious.

It sounds like my parents might be coming back to our lake cabin again over Labor Day weekend when my brother and his girlfriend, and my sister and her family come to visit. Two visits in one summer! We'd love to have them, and are thankful for every opportunity we get to share one of our favorite places on Earth with my Nebraska family.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

28/52: A Weekly Photo Series

The kids and I had one of those picture-perfect summer nights last week when we met up with my friend Sarah and her little ones at the community splash pad in Eden Prairie.

I was a bit of a splash pad skeptic before this, after Tory and I visited one two years ago. There were so many big kids at that park back then and Tory was petrified of the commotion. Differently, this splash pad was nearly empty on Tuesday evening around 4:00pm. The park was nice and clean, and there was also a play ground and beach next to it. Such a neat place!

It took Tory and Aden a few minutes to warm up to the idea of running through the sprinklers at first, but once they did, they had so much fun. Every time a stream of water hit Aden unexpectedly, he'd pucker up his face with a look of distaste and then laugh with delight instead.

Sarah and I packed picnic dinners for each of our kids, and together they alternated between splashing in the water, climbing on the playground equipment and taking a break in the shade to eat their meals. My heart was filled with so much happiness that evening. Warm sunshine; good friends; lots of laughter -- now, this is summer.

Later, Sarah and I walked the kids down to Round Lake beach, about 100 feet away from the splash pad. It was the perfect area for kids with lots of flat sand and a swimming area roped off for safety. There was even a lifeguard on duty.

Tory has been so timid about swimming in the lake at our cabin this summer, but for some reason felt completely comfortable being in the water with her friends. The power of peer pressure! This time, it was a good thing.

This splash pad / beach is about 30 minutes away from our house, so I knew we'd have to scoot off eventually for bedtime. I pried my kids away from the water around 6:15pm, and Tory cried the entire (and I mean entire) drive home because she was so upset about leaving. Life's hard sometimes, kid. I was sad to see the evening end, too. We'll definitely be back to Round Lake Splash Pad again.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Picnic Meal Ideas for Kids

The weather is absolutely gorgeous in Minnesota this time of year, so it's a down-right sin not to be outdoors enjoying the summer season while it's here. Tory, Aden and I have been doing just that with kid's concerts, park play dates, trips to the zoo, the splash pad; you name it. We've been on the go so much lately, I might need a vacation from our summer vacation! A clean house and the laundry are taking a back-seat to our fun, but I don't care. Summertime is all about making memories.

I've packed a picnic lunch or dinner for the kids almost every day this summer because eating outdoors is fun for the kids and easy clean-up for me. I bought these 3-compartment Bento box lunch containers a few years ago, and I use them all the time. They keep food separated and I just toss them in the dishwasher when we're done.

Aden doesn't like sandwiches, so I've had to get creative in packing picnic foods for him. I use a Thermos to keep hot dogs, noodles, chicken or canned vegetables warm. Tory, on the other hand, could eat butter and jelly sandwiches for every single meal. But, seriously, who would want to? I try to think outside the box (Bento box - ha!) with her meals, too. My witty humor has no limits. Really.

Anyway, ahem, here are some of my tried-and-true picnic meal ideas for the kids:

1. Mini Corn Dog Muffins

2. Good ol' Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches (I use cookie cutter shapes to keep things interesting and in this picture, there's diced hot dogs and cooked pasta in the Ziploc bag.)

3. Homemade Lunchables (deli meat, crackers and cheese)

4. Hot Dogs, kept warm in a Thermos

5. Warm Pasta, kept warm in a Thermos (I put the noodles in a Ziploc to protect the inside of my Thermos)

6. Homemade Muffins, any kind

7. Strawberry & Nutella Sandwiches

8. Waffle and Cream Cheese Sandwiches

9. Also, Eggo Wafflers (the waffles that don't require syrup -- just heat and eat)

10. Turkey Tortilla Roll-ups with Cheese

And, a few other ideas for snacks and sides:

1. Sliced Fruit

2. Fruit Kabobs

3. Cheese Cubes

4. Pretzels and Hummus

5. Granola Bars

6. Trail Mix

7. Frozen Grapes

8. Frosted Graham Crackers

9. Babybel Cheese

10. Popcorn

11. Veggie Straws

12. Apple Sauce Pouches


I keep food chilled in a portable cooler bag with an ice pack between Bento boxes, which I then store in a bigger cooler tote with frozen water bottles. My kids are drink-hounds when we're out and about on a hot summer day, so the frozen water bottles are great for both keeping our food chilled and for extra water as they melt.

What are some of your go-to picnic foods for kids?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Summer Bucket List: Concert in the Park

I've taken Tory and Aden to free kid's concerts almost every Thursday this summer. The concerts are short and sweet (30 minutes long), and a different change of pace from going to the playground all the time. We've been meeting Tory's friend from preschool, Sophie, there (plus Sophie's mom Sara and brother Mason) and enjoying a picnic lunch together afterwards.

Artist change each week. Some are kid's DJ's or groups singing kid-friendly music. Not your typical bout of nursery rhymes; the music appeals to all ages, even if it's geared toward children. It is interesting to see how each of our children responds to the music. Tory's friend Sophie is a natural dancer, so she starts busting a move the minute the music begins. Good exercise for her, and it's cute watching her shake a tail feather to the music. Tory, on the other hand, is more interested in eating and socializing. She spends most of the time making friends with other kids at the concert, and eating her picnic lunch on a blanket in the grass.

Oh, hey! There goes Aden ...

Aden loves music, so the concert captures his attention for seconds at a time. He'll stop what he's doing, clap along and yell, "Yay!" before running off to dig in the landscaping or climb on cement staircases nearby. He's got the attention span of a, well, toddler -- go figure! Therefore, I spend most of the concert chasing after him.

Spending time with my kids at this type of activity is just what I imagined when I dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom. Not a bad way to spend a summer morning, that's for sure! I'm also thankful for the city's efforts in hosting events like this for area families.     

Life is good. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Weekend at the Lake with Friends

For the past three summers, my best girlfriends Val, Ashley and I have gathered at our lake cabin for a weekend of fun together with our families. This year, sadly, Ashley wasn't able to make the trek from Nebraska as she recently had a new baby girl and used all of her vacation days on maternity leave. New baby trumps a Wisconsin lake vacation by a million (!!) so Val and I completely understood Ashley's change in plans this year, but we definitely missed Ashley and family during our annual get-together at the lake this past weekend.

Also different this year -- Val and her family rented their own cabin for the summer on Pipe Lake, the same lake as us, so they didn't stay with us over the weekend. Instead, we planned a fun-filled day for our crew on Saturday, which included a trip to the Turtle Lake County Fair, lunch at our cabin and dinner over at their place.

Saturday morning we met in nearby Turtle Lake for a park play date, and to go to the carnival. Andi and I have been coming to this fair for years and we like how small and low-key it is, especially in the daytime. Perfectly manageable with young kids like ours. (This year, Kasen is 4 years old, Tory and Linden are 3 years old, and Lucy and Aden are both 1 year old).

I love comparing photos of these three over the years. From babies to big kids in the blink of an eye!

This year, Tory (and Kasen and Linden) were big enough to ride several of the carnival rides by themselves. It was an exciting and nerve-wracking moment in parenting for me to stand by and watch Tory climb up onto a ride and be buckled into the seat belt all by herself. What if the ride went too fast? What if she needed me?! I was "that mom" shouting commands to my kid through the fence ... "Keep you seatbelt buckled, Tory! Stay seated the whole time!" She did great, though. The kids had a blast! 

Tory and Linden won matching blow-up princess dolls playing the "fishing game" and were over the moon about their new toys. Meanwhile, it took Andi's full concentration to keep Aden from diving head-first into the swimming pool filled with plastic fish. That crazy kid!

After the carnival, everyone came back to our cabin for sloppy joes and an afternoon playing in the sun. The kids had so much fun swimming together in the lake, and Val and I had a great time sunning ourselves on the floating dock.

We capped off the evening with a BBQ and s'mores at Brionn and Val's cabin. It's was really fun and different to see the Pipe Lake we love from a different viewpoint. It made me think about how many other people are gazing out over the same waters having made /or are making cherished memories of their own. Love!