Sunday, September 17, 2017

A snippit from Instagram

When my blog writing lags I get a little more wordy on other social media sites. The below photo and words were posted to Instagram and Facebook on August 11th. 

"When I reflect back on my life, I group chunks of years by the experience that defined them. There's childhood, the college years, DC teacher years, etc. I have always loved living life and I remember each chunk, (yes, even the teens) with fondness.
I wonder what emotions and memories I'll recall years from now, as I look back at what can only be defined as the baby years. Will I mostly remember the loneliness? The messes? My tired yet sedentary body?
I decided to snap this picture as a reminder that this is what the baby years looked like. Two loves fighting for a spot on my lap. Kiddos who smile easily when I tenderly tickle their bellies.
It's hard to believe it now, but one day this phase (this one I've been stuck in for almost seven years now) will simply be a distant and fond memory - - an experience that was just a short chunk of years."

And then on August 26th I had another moment where I thought "Oh, you gotta get a picture of this. It also captures 'two loves fighting for a spot on my lap.' Only this time it was a little too literal. 

Seriously, they both carried on screaming and shoving for a ridiculously long period of time. I certainly can't remember what it was all about this many weeks later. But it's only fair to save both pictures as symbols of kids fighting for a spot on my lap.

In Coraline's defense, Reid should not be crying and carrying on like that at his age. But in Reid's defense, Coraline won't let anyone cuddle me when she is around. Just looking at this picture, I can practically hear her yelling, "My nuggles! My nuggles! No Reidy. Go. A. Way. My nuggles" Also, she's hitting him over the head as I envision this.



Thursday, September 14, 2017

Budding Friendship

Near the last half of summer (when Reid was suffering from his mouth sores), Nell and Coraline's friendship started to take off. It's been so fun to look through my old photos and see the whole process in action. 

But first, a funny comment from Nell. One day she was complaining that she didn't have anyone "That can talk like this," to play with. I looked at her -- puzzled, and so she elaborated. "Dougie and Reid both talk like me and I can understand them. I want someone who can talk like this." Writing it out loses all the humor. With Nell, tone and animation are everything (she is so animated!). It was a pretty funny complaint. But it also made perfect sense. I'd been wondering why these two hadn't become as close as Reid and Nell when Reid went off to full day Kindergarten last year. But in this moment where Nell complained about needing a friend who "could talk like this"; it all made so much sense. Nell is such a verbal child. She always has been. Lately Coraline has been speaking much clearer and communicating her ideas more efficiently, so now their friendship can bloom. And it's a beautiful thing to watch. 

Coraline admires Nell so much and it shows in the way they play. Coraline also terrorizes Nell so much, and that's a pretty hysterical thing to watch as well. It's amazing how much power such a little two-year-old can yield. It's also amazing to see her understand this power while also holding on to some fears about being the littlest of the three older kids. I don't know; I just find sibling behavior and relationship fascinating. 

But I digress. Let's see some of these cute pictures! 

Some selfies they took back in the beginning of August. So silly and then so serious. It was cute to stumble upon them cuddled up together on the couch. Who knew finding mom's unattended phone could feel so mischievous and be so fun?

These are some sidewalk drawings they did the day (or two) after the selfies. Nell's picture is of our family on a nature hike in the neighborhood nature preserve. I was so proud of all her hard work. Coraline's picture also had a story to go along with it, but I can't remember it at this point. Ooops. Also, it rained like 20 minutes after they finished. It was pretty funny and disappointing all at the same time. I knew the storm was coming, so that's why I snapped a photo real quick when they finished. They really did work so hard on that (and they didn't fight once the whole time)!

They were super playful together when we went to the bookworm gardens in Sheboygan with my parents (more on that later). I really just love watching them interact and be goofy together. 

Lately their favorite thing to play with Dougie is cars. So this lasst weekend I took all the kids to the grocery store so they could each buy a new $1 matchbox car. I was shocked when Coraline grabbed the dragon right away and didn't need to look any further. She's so cautious about "scary" things, but it was somehow love at first sight with that dragon car. 

And then there is this photo, taken this morning as Mara napped and Reid was away at school. Doesn't it just melt your heart? Nell was being such a little mommy and Coraline loved playing the part or doting daughter. I can't wait to see how this friendship continues to grow. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Mara was a real pain in the butt last week. So I think I need to gush on her via post. You know, to rekindle the love (now that she's napping). Also, I haven't written a post for just her in months, MONTHS! And this is my last baby. My last chance to remember all the little details and all the glorious milestones. And I'm totally blowing it!

I've got my phone right here next to me and I'm scrolling through my camera roll, trying to figure out which pictures I've shared. As I look through my summer blog posts I notice Mara is pretty absent. Why? Because I kept telling myself I'd write a blog about just her soon! And now it's practically Fall.

Anyway, I better get to it before Winter rolls in (that's no joke here in Wisconsin).

June 23rd
 Here's some of her sweet rolling-around-the-front-room poses from way back in June. She started getting up on all fours and rocking back and forth around her 6 month mark. This seemed incredibly early compared to my other kiddos. All their shenanigans motivated her to get up and move. She was pretty great at just rolling all over the front room there for a while. But she had army crawling down in just a couple of weeks (somewhere just passed the 6 month mark).

July 5

July 5
That bottom photo is really blurry, but I don't care. Looking at it two months (and one week) later makes me realize just how fast she really is growing. She looks like such a baby there! I can't believe how quickly they change during this first year of life.

July 10
Apparently I was really into taking photos of her sleeping in her car seat back in July. That's probably because I thought she'd out grown this stage, and I was just so excited she was falling back into it. But also, what's not to love about those tiny little fingers curled up against those chubby thigh rolls? And that blueberry smudge under her bottom lip?!?!? How can you not want to just kiss that right off? Oh, I love you baby!

Hanging out with Daddy way back when we went to the Oshkosh Corp Parade. Mara has been such a chill, easy baby. I love that we can take her just about anywhere without much planning or fuss. She just fits right into our busy family and enriches it every day (and that's a true account of my feelings for most of July and August). Whenever people compliment what a good baby she is, I can honestly respond "She's our best one yet!" I often follow that with some sort of joke, "I think it's a trap."

July 19th
On July 19th, she tried cherries for the first time. She definitely enjoyed them!  Now, watch this for yourself. Her next solo picture was taken nearly four weeks later. She's in the same spot, but I swear ... she has grown so much!

August 10th
Seriously, is that not adorableness personified? Gawsh! I love her!

August 11th
Just playing with some Legos on the front room floor. By this point in the summer she was a master at pulling herself up into sitting position. We loved having Reid go and get her out of her crib each morning. He would then carry her into our room and all six of us would snuggle for a bit. It was just lovely.

She loved the water table at a friend's birthday party. I loved the view of her chubby little thighs (and rainbow bum). Seriously, so adorable! She wasn't quite pulling herself to a stand yet (she's still trying to master that), but she could hold herself up if she had a sturdy enough prop. 

Sept 11
And then here are the photos I took a few hours after I actually started drafting this blog post. I cannot get enough of her! The other day I (once again) asked her to stay a baby forever as I gave her a big squishy hug/kiss. "I worked so hard to make four little babies; it's only fair I get to keep one!" Man alive I really wish that was the deal we got to make. 

Mara truly has been such an enjoyable baby. As much as I hate to see her grow, I also delight in it. Life is such an amazing, fragile, beauty. I'm grateful we all get to be a part of Mara Joy's.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Last Half of Summer Quick Takes

The first week of school is coming to an end and I just keep thinking "I hardly blogged about a thing this summer!" Looking over my blog history, it's true. There's only a handful of posts about our summer activities. This means I need a quick take (or two or three)!

1. Our Garden

After one or two good harvests, our garden pooped out on us. There was soooooo much rain that our plants turned yellow, brown, and died. There were so many big beautiful green fruits on our tomato plants that the yellowing and then browning of the stems and leaves really broke my heart.

Half our zucchinis just rotted right there on the plant. Our Kale has held up though, that stuff seems pretty weatherproof.

But even before the weather got to us, there were bunnies and birds. I really didn't think bunnies could jump over our boxes, but they did. And they ate all our beans. So we put a fence up around it and replanted. Turns out birds can destroy bean plants as well. I know I grew some in the ground successfully our second summer in this home ... so it really makes no sense to me how the rabbits and birds gave us such a beating this time around.

2. Long Car Rides + Books on Tape = Movie Night

After finishing James and the Giant Peach on tape, we had to have a movie night. It's always interesting to see an artistic interpretation of a piece of literature after we've read it with our kids. Reid is sure to pick up on all his favorite missing pieces. Gotta teach some truths young. Books > Movies.

3. Vacation Bible School
I don't actually have any pictures of this, but it is worth documenting. Out neighbor and good friend is a Methodist Pastor and he invited Reid and Nell to go along with him and his 5-year-old son to vacation bible school. I was a little hesitant at first, but they both loved the idea. My only concern was that they might be told mean things about our own beliefs. Knowing our friend would be there each day helped those worries subside.

When I told my parents about it I immediately remembered that my own mother had childhood memories of attending her Methodist Church's Summer Bible School as a young girl in Kearns, Ut. That special connection seemed a little tender. My dad's response to my fears was to remind me that any hurt feelings my kids may experience would be similar to many hurt feelings non-mormon kids feel in Utah. It seemed like a fair point.

The kids learned a lot, made new friends, and were even invited to perform in the Sunday services that weekend. Reid wasn't feeling well that morning (more on that below), so only Nell, Coraline, and I went. It was a lovely service, and they were nice enough to let Coraline follow Nell to the front for their special musical numbers. They were both so proud.

4. Exotic Animal show at the Zoo

The top photo is a fat armadillo (the kids were able to pet him). Then there is a Coati (which I'd never even heard of), some giant lizard, a fennec fox, and a big african frog (or toad, both were present, only one is pictured).

There were a lot of other really cool animals, and each of the kids had a favorite they went on and on about, but now that it's been six weeks I really don't remember much of it. Oops. I do remember that my budding animal explorers (that's what both Reid and Nell want to be when they grow up) were pretty whiny about the heat. I thought this show would capture them, but I suppose we should have arrived early and found some shade. Also, this was the beginning of Reid's mouth sores (I'm getting to that story, I promise), so he probably really wasn't up for it. It did serve as a good distraction from all his pain, though.

We actually met friends (the Taylors) there and ended up taking a stroll along the real zoo. I think we caught our best view of the Wolves to date. Coraline loved the Baboons, of course. After the zoo we spent some time at the park across the street. It was nice to do at least one play date type activity this summer (though technically, it was our second). I can't believe how infrequently we went out with other kids and their mom. Life sure changes once you have four kids -- but I digress.

5. Sickies

Reid started running a fever the Saturday after VBS. We agreed to watch some friends' kids that night and were extra excited because these friends (the Robys) were about to move to Utah. Reid's fever snuck up so sudden and so quick we couldn't even warn them. Half way through the night he asked to take a nap. That's when I knew it was serious; he preferred sleep to rough and tough play with Ben! I gave him some medicine and checked him over. I could see some sores and swelling on the back of his throat. But after about a 20 minute snooze he was back up and playing -- fever mostly subsided. 

Ben took him to the Dr the next morning because I thought it might be strep. He'd been complaining that his throat hurt and had refused all food for nearly 24 hours. The Dr sent him home, thinking it might be hand foot mouth.

I took Mara in for her 9 month check up three days later and asked our Doctor (who was not Sunday's on call Doctor) to take a look at him. After the nurse took both kids stats, Doctor Budiasih burst in to the room "He's lost four pounds!" I didn't realize it right away, but she meant he'd lost four pounds in the span of three days!

We came home with a prescription to fight the initial virus and another to fight the spreading infections. As she put it, with sores like that his mouth had become a hot bed for infection. It was so hard to watch him struggle to eat anything. He didn't even enjoy yogurt or pudding pops. He lost a tooth during the whole ordeal and even an extra dollar from the tooth fairy didn't seem to cheer him up. The pain (and bleeding) was pretty bad.

6. New Callings

Ben and I both received new callings in Church. I am now the 2nd Counselor in the Relief Society and he is the 2nd Counselor in the Bishopric. (Envision gritted teeth as I say:) We'll see how this goes!

7. Cicadas

Our big backyard tree was home to dozens of cicadas. The kids loved going out and finding new ones each day. We even watched some as they came out of their dead skin. It was a pretty cool real time science lesson. 

I could have also titled this section "We love Dougie" as Reid and Nell (and even Coraline) have spent hours and hours playing with him all summer long. We're sad to see summer go, but excited for the new adventures ahead. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Nell's First Day of 4K

Really, yesterday was both Reid and Nell's first day of school, but I feel like I owe Nell a special post about her first day of 4K (since Reid got a huge one two years ago).

Nell has been ready for school since she turned 3. I really believe she has been bored and under challenged at home. It's something we've both struggled with.

Back in June she and the neighbor boy discovered they'd be in the same class and they were over the moon. It was so cute to see them fist pumping as they jumped up and down in excitement. These past few weeks she's carefully picked out her new clothes, shoes, and supplies. She has been waiting so long for this.

However, (yes, there is a big BUT here), this past week she was more easily upset and would often cry. This, from my non-crying child?! I couldn't figure out what was up. Even after she whined to me one day, "I want to stay at home with you each day," I kind of just blew it all off. One night she told Ben she was nervous for school because she's never been "really good."

Everything came to a head Monday (the last day of summer). She cried, no sobbed, so easily as she and Reid and Dougie (the neighbor boy) played together. When I tucked her in the tears just exploded and she said she didn't want to go to school because she was scared and she'd miss me and Coraline and Mara. Reid was so sweet as he tried to comfort her from the top bunk. "I was scared to go to 4K too Nell. But school is awesome. And when you get there tomorrow, just remember I'll be right down by the cafeteria in Mrs Sammons room." Oh, my heart.

She woke up to a hot breakfast of German pancakes. I focused on getting Reid ready for the day, since his bus would be coming earlier than ever, and didn't really notice that she wondered off and carefully picked out her first day clothes. 

Once we got Reid on the bus she had a minute to watch some PBS kids with her sisters. Soon enough I was loading all the girls in the car for Coraline's 2.5 year check up (several months late, since she's more like 2.3/4). Nell was helper extraordinaire at the Doctors office. She was also quieter and less playful than her normal self (practicing her really good, I suppose). 

Back at home she took a leisurely bath and then ate lunch while I did her hair. She re-dressed herself, packed her bag, and went outside for her own little photo shoot. Oh, my heart.

She wanted me to capture all the details. Like her "girl power" shirt, her princess backpack, her hair, and the two little sisters she was leaving behind. When she saw the bus rounding the corner she immediately jumped up and down and started to squeal. It was so sweet I whipped out my video camera. By the time it was up and running her initial jumps were over, but I did catch this adorable little dance.

I could watch this part over and over and over.

Her excitement wore off and her nerves came back as she approached the bus. She was so quiet and solemn, yet so proud and brave. Coraline, of course, lost it as the doors closed and that bus took her best buddy away. I had to bribe her with a rice krispie to calm down.

Back inside I put Mara down for a nap, then came out and found Coraline asleep on the couch!

It was a long couple of hours, waiting for my big girl to come home. I came out of the kitchen a few times and almost addressed my "Boops" only to remind myself "Lou" was the only big kid around. It was a strange absence.

When Nell came running off the bus she immediately asked if Julian could come over to play. "Isn't he still on the bus?" She was beaming from ear to ear that she got to sit with him and Reid on the way home. 

When I asked if she made any new friends she told me she didn't need to because she gave them kissing hand stickers! At dinner time Ben told her that was one of the ways she tried to make new friends. She'd seen those stickers earlier this summer and hadn't forgotten her plan to take them on the first day. I'm so glad Mrs Bohnert let her share (even though they didn't read the story like Reid had on his first day). 

I told the kids to go play downstairs shortly after they finished up their after school cookie and milk, but Nell responded that she'd "already played with toys at school, so I don't want to play with them here." Spending the whole day with Dougie didn't stop her from wanting to play with him, though. Once he got home at about 4, they all ran around outside together until dinner. 

Overall, I would say her first day was a success, and she wasn't nearly as nervous or scared to return for the second day (this afternoon). I know she is going to love school and really shine in her new role. As we were waiting for the bus earlier today she told me she had to go to school so she could be a better person. I love that perspective. I love that girl. 

Oh my Boopsy Bops, it is so fun to watch you grow up!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Our Family Vacay

Ben and I took the kids on a little adventure last week. In some rights, it feels like our first ever family vacation. Why? Especially when we travel so much to so many wonderful national parks (six in the last three years)? Well, this one felt different because it wasn't on the way to something else -- wedding, family reunion, etc. This was purely us, doing something just for us. It was kind of thrilling.

Back in 2013 I went with the YW to Rock Island State Park for our High Adventure camping experience. I fell in love and couldn't wait to take Ben back. So this year we made it happen. The plan was to stay two days and nights on Washington Island (a touristy town that offers commodities) and one day and night on Rock Island (a primitive Island that offers only drinking water). We did accomplish all of it but the night on Rock Island. It was suppose to start raining the morning we'd be packing up our camp and heading home. And not light rain, but heavy, heavy rain with thunder and everything. So we cut that part out and came home late that night without our glorious camp out on a beach.

Anyway, onto photos and adventures from the Islands!

We had a bit of driving to do, and thankfully I had Peter Pan on CD from the library. We'd also packed a picnic and made a little stop for lunch at Whitefish Dunes State Park. It was nice for the kids to get out and explore a bit while we were there.

If you could zoom in really closely, you'd see that we had to take the ferry line to get from the mainland to the Island. Once you are on Washington Island you can't even see the shores of the Peninsula. The Island itself is a pretty decent size though, and there was plenty to do and see once we got there. We'd built up quite a bit of anticipation for the Ferry ride. And it did live up to the hype. Mara seemed to enjoy it the most and spent nearly the full 30 minutes jumping up and down on Ben's lap. 

I don't know if it was the wind or the water below or what, but she was just peering over that edge and bouncing her legs the entire time.

We made it to the Island before our check-in time, so we headed up to Mountain Tower. Right as we were near the top it started to rain. The view of the entire Island was still pretty spectacular.

It was amazing how the trees acted like a canopy while we were on the trail steps. We hardly got any drops under that thick temperate forest. 

After the tower we headed over to the Starvike Church for another little hike. It was one pretty amazing Church. We kept telling the kids it was modeled after the likes of How to Train Your Dragon and Frozen. Though we did flip that around and were sure to explain that those two favorite movies of ours were actually written based on the culture of this Church. It was all a bit confusing, but also super exciting to see a real live "Viking" Church right here in Wisconsin.  

Before heading to our airbnb we stopped at the Island's only drive in and enjoyed a nice dinner and some ice cream. It was a wonderful first few hours at our destination. 

We drove around the Island Tuesday morning and made a stop at one of the sandy beaches. We didn't put the kids in their suits because I figured they'd be content to just play on the dunes. But, boy I was wrong! Despite it being early morning (and the northern tip of Wisconsin!) the water wasn't cold and each of them ended up soaking their shorts. Since we were the only people on the entire beach, we just had them take off their shorts and enjoy it a bit more until people started showing up. 

We went back to the apartment to eat lunch and give the baby girls (and Ben) a nap. Once everyone was sleeping peacefully Reid, Nell and I took off to try and find the farm museum. We made the mistake of stopping at the historic dairy -- but it was turned into a kitchy tourist shop and the surrounding land given over to lavender fields. We did eventually find the farm museum the next day, but we didn't get to stop because we were just driving through on our way to and from Rock Island. 

We also stopped at the grocery store for some cookies and the local Elementary school for some playground exploration. It was fun to take my two big kids out on an adventure for a bit. We did eventually have to wake everyone else up. We had to make it to a beach in our suits at some point in the day!

But before we headed to the internationally famous Schoolhouse Beach, we stopped by the Jacobsen museum on Little Lake. I don't know why, but it was cool to find this beautiful lake on an Island that is completely surrounded by one ginormous lake. The museum and surrounding Jacobsen camp was really cool and helped us understand a bit more about the Islands history. The kids were most taken by all the fossilized coral. I have to admit it was pretty neat. 

We finally made it to Schoolhouse beach -- one of only five soft stone beaches in the entire world. Mara was stoked about her chance to eat giant rocks. Coraline wasn't too keen on going in the water, but Ben, Reid and Nell all swam around for about an hour and had a great time together. 


For dinner we ate a pizza near the ferry dock. We still felt like we had a bit more adventure left in us, so we changed into some hiking clothes and shoes back at the apartment and headed out for one of the Island's bigger trails. It was probably a highlight of the whole stay. 

At one point on the hike we were on a small burn between Little Lake and massive Lake Michigan. It was a pretty neat experience. It was also really fun to have all of Lake Michigan to ourselves once we hit the end of the trail. Pictures don't do these views justice. It is absolutely gorgeous on the shores of Lake Michigan. 

These photos of Mara sleeping and the big kids watching Disney channel are some of my favorites! This is what vacation is all about, right? 

Once Ben woke up Wednesday morning we began discussing whether or not we should really attempt camping with the threat of the coming storm. We figured it'd be best to bail on the camp out. So we headed out as quick as we could to catch the first ferry over to the Island. Rock Island is so primitive they don't even let you take bikes over. You have to see it all on foot. 

The first thing we had to check out was this Viking Longhouse. Is it not the coolest? The kids were a little spooked at first, but they loved it once we got inside and started reading posters about all the island wildlife (spiders and snakes, really). 

Next, we headed on a hike to find the first Lighthouse ever built for the Great Lakes region. It was also the first official government owned Lighthouse. They offer a pretty wonderful tour once you are inside. The kids seemed as enthralled as you can be at their age. We also enjoyed a lovely picnic on that big lawn. 

The swimming beach is on the opposite side of the Island, but luckily the kids were in good spirits about all that hiking. I was really impressed with Nell -- as this is the first family vacay where we've really made her do any significant amount of hiking. From the Lighthouse to the Beach is a good 1.5 miles. And she did that round trip with little complaint! Even Coraline did the half mile hike to and from the beach with a joyful step in her walk. 

This time it was my turn to get in the water and play with them while Ben took baby duty. He and Mara went for quite a walk along the shore. I had fun giving my girls mermaid tails and watching my boy build up a little rock and mud fort. 

We had the entire beach to ourselves for a little over an hour. It was absolutely wonderful. The water wasn't cold, but for whatever reason the kids weren't big on swimming too far out (it never gets deep). After all those rocky beaches, I think they were just eager to play in the sand. 

We made it back to Washington Island around 4 and caught the 4:30 ferry back to the Peninsula. We decided to come down the Peninsula on the tourist heavy side, so it took a bit longer. But that was perfect because we finished Peter Pan just a few miles before we arrived back home! 

I feel like all the actual moments and memories of the trip are completely missing in this post. It's funny how trying to capture everything with pictures actually makes it less likely for me to share the goofy things that made us laugh (like ... ...) But perhaps this quick capture of our itinerary will help the kids hold on to those fond memories. 
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