Thursday, July 12, 2018

Build-A-Bear Workshop

Oh Kids, we had a fun day today. You woke up at your usual time (6 am). We ate a light breakfast (just cheerios), changed our clothes, packed up our bags and headed to the Fox River Mall. I think we managed to avoid this mall for four years straight. Somehow, we've been there five times in 2018.

We arrived at 7:30 and sat in line for the Build-A-Bear pay your age day. This is an outrageous sale that escalated quickly in some areas. Your dad read about riots in the UK. Police closed down stores in some US cities. But you, my sweet children, are lucky enough to grow up in an area that is consistently rated one of the best for young families. Our experience was wonderful.

There were three families in front of us, and one lone teenage boy that I couldn't quite figure out (I'm always trying to figure people out, by the way). Near opening time, which was 9 am, three mothers with young children showed up and took that teenage boy's spot. I get it. Why take your little kids in early when you can just pay your teen to go wait, but I'm glad you were there with me, to wait it out yourself and earn your own little bear that you love (you'll probably only love it for like a week, let's be honest).

Reid, you started asking for a Build-A-Bear about a year ago. Lately, I've been telling you all we'll go for Coraline's fourth birthday. It would still be more money than I'd like to spend, but at least if it's on someone's birthday (and close to Christmas) it will feel a little more justified. So when I found out about this deal, I knew we had to go.

I am not a Black Friday shopper. Sure, I love a good deal and rarely shop without coupons, but I do not think $85 in savings is worth more than two hours of my life. And you're in luck, because this whole experience took exactly 130 minutes of our life.

We had books, games, toys, and snacks packed in our bag. We made friends with the people in front of us and behind us. We avoided potty accidents, played together, and waited patiently for those store gates to sail open. Coraline, this photo of you stuffing your bear just might be my favorite one yet!

We were all in shock and awe as we left the store. The line was all the way down the end of the mall and wrapped around back to the food court -- and the rest of the mall wasn't even going to open for another 20 minutes. It was insanity. And I just kept thinking "Try not to look like you're gloating, while your four little kids proudly carry their bear boxes home." Man, it was hard to wipe the gratitude off my face.

There were a lot of frustrated parents and disappointed kids in that line, I am sure. We ran in to some neighborhood friends at the mall play area, and they weren't going to stick around for the line (I wouldn't have either). I'm sure it hurt for them to see you with your new stuffies. But here's the thing I want you to remember the most about this day: those kids, those sweet friends, were happy for you. Their wonderful mama messaged me to say how glad she was that you guys came home with bears. They went home empty handed, but still had a good day. They checked out some other stores, spent quality time together, and went home happy their friends bought bears even when they couldn't.

Another friend of mine saw us as we were leaving (since she was in a crowd of some 500 people, I did not see her). She messaged me to ask about our experience and give me updates about her wait. She and her son were in that line for four hours. Four hours! And you know what, they had fun doing it. They ended up getting a spot on a local news blurp about the whole event. How cool is that?

I want you to know that a lot of people chose to turn that chaotic moment into a teachable one. They taught their kids to be happy for their friends, even while they were disappointed. They taught their kids to lick their wounds with fresh ice cream and go home empty handed. Others taught their kids to just stick it out and enjoy the unexpected delays. 

Our day turned out super fun. You were all on cloud nine the rest of the morning and well into the evening. You were dancing with your bears, playing games with your dino, and snuggling your dog. Some days won't turn out this well. Sometimes you'll show up for a deal only to get burned, and I hope you decide to be happy for others in those moments. 

Nell, you probably stole my heart the most. You took Panda along for the car ride, but left her in your seat while we went into the mall. As we were pulling out the parking lot you said something about trying to make sure Panda wouldn't feel bad. Then you held up your new bear and said "Rainbow is the second cutest bear in the whole world." 
I smiled back at you and asked (knowing the answer), "whose the first?" 

Then tonight, after Reid's prayer (in which he mentioned his gratitude for our new bears and that our line wasn't so long and that the other people who waited long would be okay), you looked up with a bit of sadness in your eyes and said "I'm sad when I think about other kids who couldn't get bears today."
I made deep eye contact, but didn't directly respond.
As you pulled your bear close to your chest you continued "It makes me think that I don't really need this bear. I could give it to someone else." 

What a tender and thoughtful heart you have my sweet girl. The world is better for having you in it. 

Oh sweet kids, always make the world a better place by simply having you in it. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018


After screaming for five solid minutes, Coraline finally fell asleep at about 2:53 this afternoon. Mara crawled off my lap and crossed the front room to the couch where Lou lay. Mara gave her big sister a gentle snuggle. Then she looked at me and smiled. That smile said so much. It said, "I love Coraline." It said, "I'm glad she's happy now." It said "I'm growing up mom. I'm a big kid now. I understand emotions and needs and I love being part of this crazy family."

It was such a sweet little smile.

And as I watched that smile spread across her face, I remembered that I have virtually no record of Mara's growing. Her toddler years are in full swing, and I've written down no memories -- shared no pictures.

She started reading Coraline (who was fast asleep) her favorite book; the book I had been reading to her as Coraline screamed on and on from the adjacent couch. "Squeak, Zoom, Vroom" was clutched in one fist and her other hand was swung across Coraline's neck as she leaned in with more and more hugs. She was cuddling her (finally calm) big sister as she read her a book.

I didn't even care that this loving act would likely wake Coraline up out of the slumber she so desperately needed. I just wanted to stay frozen in that moment. "Keek um gee, keek um gee" were the noises she mimicked as she flapped the pages near Coraline's sweet face. I couldn't believe my baby was big enough to read a book to her sister as she lovingly cuddled her.

That's where we're at in life right now. I remember thinking, "I need to blog about this." In recent weeks I've been thinking a lot about blogging again. I figured I'd just start back up with a bunch of word vomit.

We went to Kalahari resort with the cousins back in December. Nell has rocked 4K. Reid sleeps in the basement now. I ran for public office. Yup, I was on televised forums and everything. I voted for myself. I took my three little girls with me and voted for myself. Oh, and Ben was on TV one week too. He was forced to represent a crazy narcissist who took a bike shop hostage and shot at the police when they arrived (the police returned fire and killed a hostage). Yeah, I could spew a lot of word vomit on this here blog.

But today as I watched Mara kiss Coraline repeatedly, I knew that that was the moment I had to start blogging about. Just before I sat down to write this Mara started screaming from her crib (which is in Nell and Coraline's room now). As I dragged myself into their room I felt how tired my poor body is; I remembered why I haven't blogged for so long. I'm so tired each night. But no more excuses. I want to keep capturing the sweet moments of motherhood that make all the tired worth it.

I want to remember Mara's cute curls, her sweet snuggles, her favorite books, and the beautiful way she fits right into our family.
A photo I snapped while shopping at Costco 10 days ago

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The things that aren't pictured

A nice heavy snow finally found it's way to Oshkosh. As I shoveled our driveway (and 2.5 neighbors driveways) this afternoon I thought of how much fun I would have making a snowman with my kids once they came home from school. Turns out, they didn't even need me to make the snowman with them. Reid rolled the whole thing himself, and Nell helped with the arms, eyes, mouth, and buttons.

By the time Mara and I finally got out there, we focused all our efforts on sledding. The big kids even pulled a little toddler seat sled out of the garage for Mara. It was perfect. She sat up in that yellow seat and was so still as I pulled her all around the back yard.

The three others climbed up our neighbors back hill. I gave them each about a dozen pushes down. Man they were loving it; especially Coraline as she spun backward on more than one run. Reid was pretty self sufficient and spent most his time using the run and jump technique. Their smiles and giggles were made of pure joy. And I loved every minute of it.

I didn't capture any photos, and I'm noticing lately that without photos I'm not too keen on remember things. Hopefully these few words will be enough to hold on to such a lovely afternoon. I love mothering and I'm so grateful I get to spend time at home with my kids each day. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Weekend in Milwaukee

Ben had his annual Public Defender Conference in Milwaukee the second week of November. Because of Mara's birth, he didn't attend last year; so this year was a must. He was kind enough to let us all tag along. Of course, Ben went down bright and early Thursday morning, but the kids and I were in no rush. I picked Reid up from school right around lunchtime and we made our way down I-41.

Our book on tape was Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang (though we might have been finishing up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory first). When we hit the suburbs we exited the freeway to make a little stop at the Lego Store. We'd never been to one, so I thought it might be worth checking out.

We got to Ben's hotel just a bit before dinnertime. The kids were excited to get in our room and unpack. I about died when I saw how many stuffed animals made the trip with us, ha! I guess that's what I get for trusting them to each pack their own bags. We purposefully bought them backpacks that turn into stuffed animals so we could avoid needing to bring along so many of our furry friends when we take these kinds of trips. Silly kids.

For dinner we decided to check out the "Safe House" per a friends' recommendation. It's a good thing we had google maps, because I would have never ventured down an alley to find a restaurant. That right there set the mood for the rest of the night. The kids were pretty captivated by the spy ambiance.

As we left the restraunt we could hear fireworks going off and we could even see their reflection on some of the skyscrapers. That was pretty neat and we eager to find a better viewing spot. I figured for sure they had to be going off over the river, because how else were fireworks in downtown Milwaukee not a safety hazard? Ben insisted we follow the sound, so we walked about two blocks north and then one block west and came upon them just as they were over. Had we just taken one block west toward the river to begin with, we would have been right there (ah-hem). The real bummer was that the sidewalks crossing the river were closed so we had to back track again to find a different path. And what I'm about to say next may sound insignificant, but months later the kids still talk about it. Ben was pushing Coraline in the stroller, so they had to take this weird little one level elevator when we were down at the river. Oh ma gash! That was the slowest elevator in the entire world. It was all glass so we could see them the entire time and it was like watching a cartoon or some sort of bizarre practical joke. Slowest elevator ever. I don't know why it was so funny to watch them, but it was! Even passerby's were chuckling at the whole ordeal. And no lie, Reid mentioned it just the other day. So funny.  

Back at the hotel we tried to catch some sleep, but that's always a real trick when you have a family of six in one room. We'd brought the pack n play for Mara and the tent for the other three kids. Man, that tent was a horrible idea. Every time one of them moved it made such a ruckus. And turns out Coraline rolls over constantly in her sleep. I was sooooo mad at about 2 am. But somehow we all survived.

Ben snuck us all some breakfast and we watched cartoons once morning finally arrived. The kids really wanted to try out the escalators. So we made a game out of it and they both (as in Reid and Nell) felt so accomplished and city christened after going up and down a couple times each.

Friday was really our big day and I had a couple of awesome things planned. First we got lost because of construction, but eventually we made it to the Domes. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the kids looooved the gardens. We went through both the desert and the jungle twice. Reid was even lucky enough to see a poison dart frog. Well, we all saw it, but it was really something special to Reid.

Before we left we stopped in at the gift shop and got some bookmarks for their teachers and each kid picked out a new rock/mineral for their collection. We found a near by McDonald's and swung by the drive-thru. They felt like royalty eating their lunch in the car as we headed back downtown. We spent the afternoon at the Discovery World (a science and technology museum on the lake).

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Mara Joy's First Birthday

Well, I totally dropped the ball on this one. Mara's birthday came and went and I didn't write a single thing down. She's almost 16 months now, geesh! I would just skip it completely, but this is our family's last first birthday. It cannot be missed.

Hmmm, I think she only had about two teeth (her teeth have been really late coming in). She was standing unassisted, but not walking yet (she took her first real steps on Thanksgiving day). She's pleasant and cuddly and loves to read books. I'd complain about her terrible sleeping, but I'm not really sure if that was a thing back in November. It probably was, but what other milestones should I make note of.

She loves communicating in her own little baby way. She offers the sweetest kisses, both by request and totally unsolicited. She loves watching her siblings interact with each other. She sucks her thumb and rests her pointer finger on her nose in the shape of a hook. She loves laying her head on Ben and I's shoulder when we hold her.

She will go to other people, and has taken a particular interest in a friend from Church (this interest was probably starting right around her first birthday).

Oh, I know one thing she absolutely loved at about age 1, the stairs! Whenever the basement door would open she would crawl over there as fast as she could and then she'd just slide herself right down. She also used her sprint crawl when it was bath time. She'd hear that faucet turn on and get moving, whether the bath was for her or someone else. Those were hands down her two favorite things to do at this age.

I think that's just about all I can remember. A lot happens and changes in four short months and I know she's already such a different little person now than she was then. We gave her a giant cupcake to celebrate her first year of life. She seemed to like the frosting, but I think her favorite part was all the attention. She was very aware of her siblings smiling stares and you could just tell she loved that. She does have a special sort of twinkle in her eye when they are smiling at her.

Even though it has been nearly four months, I can just tell that in that last picture she is looking at Reid and Nell, and thinking "they seem to like it when I pick up this big chunk. What else can I do to make them giggle at me?"

We all sure love our Mara Joy and our family definitely would not be complete without her!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

7 Photo Worthy October Days

Baby Gwen's Blessing
We traveled down to South Beloit Illinois the first weekend in October. It was our first chance to meet baby Gwen and see Brian and Jamie's new house. The kids were long overdue for some play time with their cousins. I feel like I hardly saw Reid once we showed up. Jackson is such a good buddy for him.

There was a rainy outing to Edward's Apple Orchard (a long time favorite), some pool time at our hotel, and lots and lots of smiles. Although, Nell was clearly not smiling for the skeleton jammie photo shoot.

Isn't this photo of Mara just the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?

Grandpa Came to Oshkosh
Rick turned the trip into a Midwest work week. He drove through Oshkosh one night after some work in Green Bay. The kids were over the moon excited to have him here. It felt just like old times; Reid and Nell were definitely glued to his side. I'll tell you what, it just made missing him that much harder (especially for Reid).

Trip to Little Farmer
I think we've gone to Little Farmer every year since we fist discovered it in 2012. Reid had an early out day the second Wednesday of the month (and Nell had no school), so Ben decided to take off early as well. 

For this photo worthy day, videos actually serve it better justice. 

It was such a fabulous day on the farm. Of course we filled our bellies full of caramel apple treats, and we also came home with some 70lbs of apples. I'm typing this in January and I can tell you all the sauce and rings we made have already been devoured. Wowza!

Clearing Out the Garden
I decided it was time I finally pulled everything out of the garden and prep it for winter. The kids were eager to help with the task at hand.

We ate our last grilled pizza for the season. I can confidently tell you this was my favorite thing about summer/fall/gardening. Yum, yum, yum (and yes, that's a PB&J pizza)

Hike in Hartman Creek State Park
We were about five days too late for peak fall colors, but it was still such a beautiful hike. Plus, it hit 70 degrees on this particular Saturday, so peak leaves or not, we were getting out and going on an adventure!

I vaguely remember Ben threatening to take Coraline back to the car just a few hundred feet in. She was not too keen on riding on his back. She also wasn't keen on walking. She wanted me to carry her, but her choices were Ben or the car. I remember thinking "I'm going to die if you take her to the car!" Luckily he didn't, though that's probably what she really deserved, little stinker. You can tell she brightened up soon enough (like a good ten minutes into our 45 minute hike).

I love days like this. They are good for the soul. We stopped at a gas station Culver's (first one I've ever seen) and ordered the 10 piece chicken dinner to share. The kids were both filthy and in heaven. 

A random Sunday Evening
More often than not, Sunday's are a eight hour  (+) work day for Ben. I remember being particularly grateful for the gorgeous sunset this Sunday evening. It gave me that extra energy I needed to keep dealing with the kids all on my own for another hour or so. They were pretty proud of their silly pumpkin creations. 

Halloween (four or five times over)
An October post isn't complete without Halloween! This holiday has become such a big deal. I'm not sure how that all happened, but we ended up going to four different parties/events before the real deal. That's a lot of dressing up -- which we love -- and a lot of sugar -- which I'm starting to grow weary of (no lie, we still have some of our trick or treat haul stashed away in the basement).

The above photo was taken at a free event on the University campus. It was a fairly warm night and fun to go to a carnival style event hosted by various college clubs. We also had the ward party, the school pumpkin walk, and Festival's trick or treating. Plus, the kids got to dress up for their school parties. I wish I could remember what Reid dressed up as for school, I remember thinking it was kind of crazy -- like three things rolled into one. Shoot, I'll have to ask Ben and see if he remembers.

Nell all ready for her 4K Halloween Party

Trick or Treating with neighbor buddies Bella and Dominic

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Best Day Ever

As I began recapping our day to my mom, I found myself sincerely -- without much thought or emotion -- saying "it was the best day ever." I kind of caught the line before it fully escaped my tongue. The magnitude of it all hit me full force (while I was cleaning up kitchen leftovers), no really, today was the best day of my life. 

When my mom asked what made it so great I had a short list of reasons.

It was so nice to have Ben home all day without any commitments or tasks to complete. He and Reid were buddying it up all morning and afternoon. They snuck away to the basement to build legos and race cars. They snuggled on the couch while they played Minecraft. The two of them were practically glued together all day, and I'm not sure which one that benefited more.

Nell was just cracking us up all day long. She is such a goofy girl, and she'll do just about anything to stretch a laugh. Lately she's been really into spelling words, as opposed to speaking them. I'm often referred to as m-o-m, not mom. She spells all our names, yes and no!, and poop. I'm not sure why, but she loves finding reasons to spell that last one.

Ben decided to heckle her a little by spelling most of the simple sentences he spoke to her today. She started to play along by shouting whatever letters she thought might spell the thoughts in her head. So then the game got real fun. I called her over to me and started telling her to spell things like "Y-o-u a-r-e j-e-r-k" After shouting out all the letters she'd turn to me and asked, "what's that spell?"

Then Ben wanted in on the fun and he had her shout "Y-o-u a-r-e b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l" at me. When she asked me what it spelled I got real serious and told her to go to bed. "I am really upset with you Nell, this is not funny. Go to bed right now." She just about lost her poor mind. I should feel bad that the rest of us laughed our guts out while she sobbed in fear. But it really was so funny. Once we convinced her it was a joke and she wasn't really in trouble she wanted to play again. I gave her one last phrase to shout at daddy. "I a-m a t-u-r-d." When I told her what she said, she excitedly shouted, "that's the same as a p-o-o-p!" Oh my gosh, I thought I'd die from laughter.

I seriously had the most genuine belly laughs I've had in years. As I was falling off the couch, ready to roll on the floor in laughter, I thought "this is it, this is a slice of how wonderful it is going to be to have these sweet kids in my home for the remainder of their growing years."

It was already an hour past their bedtime, but I still didn't want to send them on their way. I loved that moment we had all together, laughing and loving one another.

My house was (still is) a mess all day. There's more toys (and toys drive me crazy) than ever before. The two youngest kiddos are oozing snot out their noses and eyes. And today's high was only 5 degrees.

But it was the best day ever. It truly was.

What a wonderful gift that is. Merry Christmas! I recognize the beauty of it all is definitely made possible because of Jesus Christ. Even on the celebration of His birth -- He is the one that keeps giving.

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