Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from Nebraska! This is the first Turkey Day we've celebrated with my family since, well ... I'm not sure exactly. For many years, I worked Gopher football games in Minneapolis the Saturday after Thanksgiving and wasn't able to travel back to Nebraska. And for whatever reason, we've stayed in Minneapolis the years since I stopped working at the U. This year, it was such a treat to be "home" for Thanksgiving. I can't believe how much I missed my family's holiday traditions.

Driving was another thing we haven't done in forever; the last time being when Aden was four months old. Airline tickets were ridiculously expensive from Minneapolis to Lincoln this time of year, and now we have to buy four plane tickets since Aden turned two. For those reasons, we decided to give driving back to Nebraska a try once again. I packed up the car on Wednesday afternoon, swung by Andi's office to pick him up, and together the five of us (Andi, Tory, Aden, Chloe [the dog] and I) made the seven hour trek back to my hometown. Surprisingly, the drive wasn't too painful. The kids both slept on and off, and I brought plenty of road trip activities to keep them busy. We also stopped half-way at a Chick-fil-A to eat and to let the kids burn some energy at the indoor play place. All in all, it went pretty smoothly.

My mom and dad hosted Thanksgiving at their house this year, and whoo-boy did my mom go to a ton of work. I never realized when I was younger how much goes into hosting a holiday event like Thanksgiving. So much coordination with cooking the food and finding places for everyone to enjoy their meal. She pulled it off, and we all had a great time.

My Aunt Cheri and my mom, the hostess with the mostest

The Three Amigos -- Tory (4), Brooke (8) and Neeley (3)

Uh-oh, somebody found the pie!

There it is! My sister Ashley made a yummy chocolate pie that was a big hit with everyone. 

Our Thanksgiving meal was delicious. My mom served turkey with gravy, ham, mashed potatoes, yams, stuffing, and green beans. In addition, my cousin brought cauliflower rice, my Aunt Cheri brought corny macaroni and my sister made homemade dinner rolls. It was a feast!

Of course, there was pie ... pumpkin and chocolate to be specific, as well as blueberry salad, green pineapple Jell-O, apple crisp and ice cream. The kids' eyes were as wide as saucers as they peered over the top of the countertop at the big selection before them. 

After dinner, it was time to get serious ... about Bingo. It's a Thanksgiving tradition in my family, after all. Everyone from young to old grabbed a card, and for one reason or another I was nominated to be the caller. Tory Bean acted as my trusty assistant.

Those who didn't play Bingo poured over Day-After-Thanksgiving sales ads and populated their shopping lists.

Aden found a quiet spot under the table to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on his iPad.

Baby Ben's first Thanksgiving!

Ten grandkids at our Thanksgiving this year. We have so much to be thankful for! 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

47/52: A Weekly Photo Series

Winter is coming!

Two weekends ago, it was 50 degrees and sunny at the lake cabin. We walked around the trail loop on the 40-acres of woods by our cabin in light jackets and stocking hats, brown leaves crunching under our feet. It seemed like white powdery snow was a million lifetimes away. It was difficult to envision the lake ever being frozen enough to walk on ... let alone drive an ice house on top!

We knew winter would be on its way eventually though, and sure enough it is. Last weekend at the lake, air temperatures dipped into the 20's and ice began to form in the bay by our cabin. It was breathtaking to see the sunrise above the lake while steam billowed from its icy surface.

We were just swimming in this spot, weren't we? It sure seems like it. Now, only the ducks and swans are brave enough to dip their feet in the water.

Yes, winter is on the way...

Friday, November 27, 2015

Aden's 2nd Birthday

Aden turned two years old last week. We kept things low-key with a small celebration on Thursday (Aden's actual birthday) and a party with family at the lake cabin the following weekend.

The birthday boy woke up Thursday morning to homemade pancakes, breakfast sausages and mangoes (his favorites)! Okay technically his favorite is frozen Eggo waffles, but we were out so homemade pancakes had to do the trick. I planted two candles in his pile of pancakes and Tory and I sang "Happy Birthday" to our brand new two-year-old.

Thursday was a regular morning of activities for us. After we dropped Tory off at preschool, Aden and I ran to Costco (exciting birthday times!), then went to music class. The kids sang "Happy Birthday" to Aden once more, and he loved every minute of the attention as he danced around the room. We picked Tory up from school, had lunch and Aden took his afternoon nap while Tory and I packed for a long weekend at the cabin.

It wasn't until our drive to the cabin later that evening that Aden fell sick. I looked back at him at one point during the drive and was surprised to find him sleeping. "Hmm, that's strange," I thought as he'd just taken a nice, long nap that afternoon. A bit later, Andi, Tory, Aden and I stopped for dinner at Logger's Restaurant in St. Croix Falls. The minute we placed our food order, Aden started to fuss. I tried to distract him while we waited for our food, but something clearly wasn't right. Aden's forehead was burning up with a fever so Andi switched our food order to-go and we took off again for the lake cabin.

The night of Aden's 2nd birthday was a rough one. I gave Aden some Tylenol to bring down his fever, and I ended up staying up with him from about 1:00am - 5:00am. He couldn't seem to settle to sleep and cried unless I held him. Poor little buddy was miserable. It's no fun being sick, especially on your birthday!

Friday was more of the same. Andi and Tory ran to Clear Lake, WI to pick up Andi's new ATV while Aden and I laid in bed watching episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. The more he fussed and moaned, the more I started to think he needed to be seen by the doctor. Andi called around to clinics near the cabin and snagged the last appointment available in Clear Lake that afternoon. An hour later we had a diagnosis and an antibiotic for a double ear infection. So thankful to live in a world with modern medicine! By the end of the evening, Aden was already on the mend.

Andi's parents Jim and Janie, sister Lindsay and her husband Kyle came to the cabin on Saturday for Aden's birthday party. I'd planned a small get-together anyway, so it seemed to make sense to go ahead with the party even though Aden was under the weather. Also, let's face it, if there's anyone else Aden would want to be around when he was sick it's Grandma Janie. The eight of us hung around the cabin Saturday morning, played toys and visited with one another. For lunch, Andi ordered broasted chicken and mashed potatoes from The County Line, Janie made a salad and I rounded out the meal with corn on the cob. We ate and visited some more. It was the perfect low-key celebration for our boy.

Lindsay, Kyle and Grandpa Jim left later that evening, and Grandma Janie stayed at the cabin to hang out with us until Sunday. Aden was feeling much better by this point, and finally had enough energy to play with all his new toys.

We celebrated Aden's birthday once more on Thanksgiving with my family. I went the easy route (which seemed to be the theme of this birthday year) and ordered Mickey Mouse cookies for everyone. There was too many other Thanksgiving desserts to complete with a birthday cake. We sang "Happy Birthday" and the kids O.D'd on sugary frosting.

It's hard to believe our baby is TWO! Happy birthday Aden Boy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Holiday Gift Ideas: Toys We Love

This has been the year of downsizing at our house. So! Much! Stuff! How did we accumulate so much? No trendy KonMari methodology here; just some good old-fashioned purging of items we don't use anymore.

My closet was first; next Andi's; then 20+ totes of baby clothes I'd stored away for a rainy day. I gifted several of Tory and Aden's gently-used baby outfits to friends and family with newborns and it filled me with delight to see those sweet babies wearing tiny outfits I'd once loved.

Next up, TOYS. I'll admit, I'm the culprit in wanting my children to have every single toy on the market. We have a pink Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, for example, but my brain keeps telling me Aden needs his own blue Little Tikes Cozy Truck. Isn't that excessive? They also make a gas pump for the little cars, and wouldn't it be adorable to have one? (Ahh, make it stop!)

There are some toys Tory and Aden absolutely adore and play with often. I'm totally fine with those things taking up real estate in our house so long as they're being used. I thought I'd share some of our favorite toys for anyone looking for winners in the toy department this holiday season:

Fisher-Price My First Dollhouse

Hands down, THE BEST toy we've ever purchased for Tory. She received this dollhouse for Christmas in 2013 and has played with it non-stop since then. Like, every single day for hours at a time. Tory loves the little dollhouse family and affectionately calls them "Mom," "Dad," "Big Girl" and "Baby." Sometimes, the dollhouse people even sleep with her tucked into bed at night. It's fun for me as a parent to listen to her imagination run wild as she plays. I also like how sturdy the pieces are (no small parts) so Aden can play with it, too.

Fisher Price Learning Home

This toy has seen a lot of mileage in our house, too. Tory received it as a first birthday gift and it continues to be played with by Tory, Aden and every other kid(s) who happens to visit our home.

Pottery Barn Anywhere Chairs
Tory and Aden each have one of these over-sized kid chairs and they LOVE them. I'm not sure why exactly, but the kids play with them everyday. They tip them over and build forts underneath them; they sit and read books in them; they fight over who gets to sit in which chair (even though they're exactly the same).

Disney Dusty the Plane 4-in-1 Ride-On

Aden received this as a birthday gift last year, and it's been a great transitional toy. We keep it inside the house, and he used it in the rocking mode with safety belt when it was on the younger side of age one. We've since removed the base and now he tears around the house using it as a ride-on toy.

Melissa & Doug Princess Dress

Tory received this princess dress last Christmas, and it's my favorite of all her dress-up clothes. The material is soft (not scratchy) and sturdy (no rips like many of our Disney-brand princesses dresses quickly aquired). It's definitely held up to many hours of play. Best of all, Tory can pull this dress on and off by herself.

Disney Magic Clip Princesses

These Disney Magic Clip princesses have been a top toy in our house this year. Tory plays with the tiny princesses in her dollhouse, carries them with her in the car and on airplane trips, and totes them to the cabin on the weekends.

I love the holidays, but I am already dreading the amount of *stuff* we'll collect when it's all said and done. (Total princess problem, I know; don't I sound horrible saying that?) I have a feeling there'll be another round of purging and donations in 2016 to make room for all the kids' new toys and gadgets. At the same time, I'm also excited to see what new, fun things they'll receive.

Happy shopping!

*Amazon affiliated links

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Holiday Gift Ideas: My Favorite Things

Okay, I admit it; I've been listening to Neil Diamond Holiday station on Pandora for a couple weeks now. Andi overheard me the other day, raised an eyebrow and said, "A little early, isn't it?" Eh, I disagree. Christmas music makes me happy. Why not enjoy it for a few extra weeks?

It's not like I put up my Christmas tree ... yet. No shame for those who've started decorating; if it weren't for Aden's birthday this week I probably would've, too. I ordered my Christmas cards this week, and I began plotting advent calendar ideas into our December happenings. Fun takes planning!

Planning ahead means I've also started shopping for Christmas gifts. We're driving to Nebraska for Thanksgiving next week, and my goal is to bring gifts for anyone we won't be spending the holidays with this year (vs. shipping them to my parent's house in December). All this gift-buying has me thinking about some of my own favorite things. In my opinion, the best gifts come with a referral -- "I tried this, I love it, and I know you will too!"

In the spirit of Christmas (and Oprah!), here's a few of my favorite things:

Heat Holders Winter Socks

Winter is coming, and so are the cold temperatures. I live in these socks during the cold weather months (so, in Minnesota, basically November - May). My feet are always cold, and these socks warm them right up!

Snoozie Slippers

Speaking of cold feet ... if I'm not wearing my Heat Holder socks, I'm usually wearing my Snoozie slippers. My mom gave me a pair of these slippers a few years ago, and they're ridiculously ugly (the patterns!) but so comfortable. I have two pairs -- one for home, one for the cabin.

Tervis Cup (with Straw Lid)

I am obsessed with my Tervis tumbler. I like it because it keeps my water cold and doesn't spill when the cup's knocked over. Tervis comes in two sizes (16oz. and 24oz.) and has two lid options. I prefer the 24oz. tumbler with straw lid because I personally drink more water when it's through a straw. That's just me, though. Andi likes the 16oz. size with regular lid for coffee and/or cocktails.

Electric Wine Bottle Opener

This is possibly the best invention ever. I (happily? sadly?) use my electric wine bottle opener quite often. We've owned a few different ones, but I like this brand/version best.

Brownie Pan

My mom gave me this brownie pan for a gift last year and while I don't use it daily, I do love having it in my baking arsenal. It's perfect for making my favorite homemade granola bars, as well as brownies or other dessert bars.

Mesh Strainer

This was one of those silly purchases that has made my life so much easier. Why didn't I buy one of these sooner?! I use my mesh strainer every day to drain boiled noodles, canned fruit, homemade chicken stock, and more. Seriously, love it!

I Love Mom mug

Andi gave me this mug for Mother's Day a few years ago, and I love drinking my coffee out of it. I don't know why, but it makes me smile.

Cheese Knife

Andi's sister Lindsay jokes that every time she visits us at the cabin, we serve a cheese plate. Well, seriously, who doesn't love cheese? Andi and I discovered this cheese knife a few years ago and it's the best invention for cutting cheese ... or any food with a weird texture (i.e.: hard boiled eggs). The plastic blade slices right through cheese without any of it getting stuck on the blade. Magic!

DSLR Camera Strap 

I love taking pictures of my kids (#1 subjects!) but I rarely have an extra hand to hang onto my camera while I'm chasing after them. Love this strap for my DSLR camera because it keeps my camera secured by my side, and allows me to draw the camera up and shoot quickly as it slides along the cross-body sling.

JJ Cole Picnic Blanket

I use this all-purpose blanket every single day in the summer for trips to the park, picnics, outdoor concerts, etc. Spills wipe off the material easily, and sand and dirt just shake off. Best of all, it folds up nicely into itself with a carrying strap so I throw it over the stroller handle and go.

*Amazon affiliated picture links