Category Archives: At home

Eileen is Two

Miss Eileen turns two today!

It’s sort of an end of an era for us, because it was her last day at Ellen’s house for daycare. She will start school with Emmett on Monday. Of course, I wrote a little thing about it for the Des Moines Moms blog. 

Eileen lives life loud and at full speed. She loves on her baby dolls and is getting a hang of her Strider bike. She puts Wilbur in his place — and me, too! When she feels beautiful, she says “Mom, take a pic-cha!” Of course, I do. She and Emmett are already sharing a bunk bed and are best buds most of the time. Her birthday present was a plush bison purse, naturally.

P.S. I love looking back on Eileen’s birth story on her birthday. It feels so surreal to think that two years ago, this is what I was doing on this day!

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Filed under At home, Baby, family

First Family Vacation: Wyoming Road Trip

I wanted to get into the mountains this summer, but tackling the Tetons with toddlers seemed daunting. We’d heard great things about Medicine Bow National Forest and the Snowy Mountain Range (just a 10 hour drive from Des Moines, Iowa) and made southeastern Wyoming our destination for our first summer adventure vacation as a little family.

It turned out to be a wonderful trip to take with a 4 and not-quite-2-year old, capped off with a stop to view the total eclipse in Nebraska on our return. The highlights for me were our outdoor experiences (short hikes but big views), but there was really some fun family bonding, too. Eileen is in that parrot stage of learning speech, and she and Emmett played well together.

Tto be honest, those giddy moments – like getting to eat Fruit Loops, swim in a hotel pool and extra cuddles – are probably the memories of the trip for the kids.

The drive 

We loaded up on DVDs and books at the library, filled a giant tote with snacks and stayed at Joe’s parents in Council Bluffs to shorten our first big driving day to 8 hours. The drive from CB to Centennial took about 12 hours, total, with long stops at the Archway Museum in Kearney, NE (which totally made me grateful I was making the trek in our Chrysler Town & Country versus a covered wagon) and in Cheyenne, WY for dinner.

Where we stayed 

The first two nights, we stayed in an Airbnb-style little log cabin at J4Brehm’s Ranch, just outside of Centennial, WY. It was absolutely perfect for our family, and we wished we’d been able to reserve it through the weekend.

The cabin is listed as sleeping 6, which might be tight, but felt roomy for our two adults and two littles. The kids loved climbing up to the loft to horse around during the day, and it was nice to have a little kitchen and separate sleeping and living area.

The first morning, three of the horses came up to the fenceline just beyond our cabin and we got to pet them and see some of the other livestock on the other side of the ranch. The second night, Joe and I set up the baby monitor and had a mini date in the cabin’s private hot tub after the kids fell asleep. The sky was huge and the Milky Way was aglow. (They also have more primitive cabins for 4 and a cabin that sleeps 12 in some big lofts. I could see returning with cousins to take over the big cabin.)

We stayed in Laramie the other two nights, and then overnighted in Grand Island, NE, after the eclipse.

Where we hiked

Out first day, we drove the Snowy Range Scenic Byway and hopped out at Libby Flats, an observation tower that provides 360 degree mountain views, took a mini hike at Lake Marie, visited the natural hot springs in Saratoga and then returned for some hammock time at Lake Marie, which was totally dreamy.

Our second day, we headed to the Lewis Lake Trail Head (per some suggestions) to see if we could summit Medicine Bow Peak as a family. We borrowed an amazing Osprey hiking backpack from friends and it was easy to take Eileen along.

It got pretty windy and the rock scrambling became precarious right around lunchtime, so we didn’t get up to the tippy top. But I was really proud of how far Emmett climbed and we got in some incredible views. The glacial lakes that dot the landscape are stunning.

The morning after our first night in Laramie, we drove east about 20 minutes to Vedawoo National Forest, which has breathtaking rock formations.

The kids were not feeling hardcore hiking, but we did explore the simple trails just off the parking lot had incredible scenery. I’d love to camp here some day.

What we ate

We stopped for dinner in Cheyenne and wished we’d discovered the Accomplice Beer Company brewpub before we’d eaten. They have a full menu, but we just had a beer flight from their cool serve-yourself station. It’s in the old depot and the patio is right along the train yard.

My friend Chelsea goes to Centennial every year to visit family, and she recommended breakfast at Mountain View Hotel, which did not disappoint. I had a lovely omelette and latte (they roast their own coffee) and it was so filling we mostly just snacked for lunch, and then hit Bear Tree Tavern & Cafe for pizza and beers on our way back down from the mountains.

Another friend who lived in Laramie suggested Sweet Melissa Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant which was a funky and delicious lunch stop. We also picked up some provisions from the downtown co-op and had local brews and desserts at Coal Creek Tap, and dessert from Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop.

Total Eclipse 

We gave ourselves two days to drive home, and it just so happened that our return route took us through the path of totality for the solar eclipse. We got up at 3 a.m. to arrive just in time to watch from the Stuhr Museum, which showcases prairie pioneer life with a museum and living history village.

All in all, the trip was without any major meltdowns or mishaps! This felt like a family milestone, for sure. I think we did just the right amount of planning ahead but allowing for wiggle room, and it was fun to collaborate with Joe and creating a memorable adventure for us all.

If you’re in Iowa and looking for a kind of “training wheels” mountain adventure with small kids, I highly recommend Medicine Bow. It was a budget-friendly trip, and my guess is it’s also far less crowded than the Colorado Rockies and other National Parks at this time of year, too.

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Filed under BS outside the Midwest, family, Travel

I’m never going to have a perfect lawn, but…

Ok, so real talk: We are not impeccable lawn people. I don’t detest pulling weeds, but I do hate the thought of putting chemicals into the soil, and would rather be running around smelling the tulips in Pella on a gorgeous Saturday.


But I’m hoping to host a little party celebrating 10 years in Des Moines, so I want to spruce up a bit. The front yard, we have for the most part abdicated to dandelions. I’m tempted to put up a yard sign about their pollination properties so neighborhood joggers don’t hate on us. We did just have a new Maple planted, and I’ve got some dahlia bulbs in  — albeit they were supposed to be in a ring around the tree and then the tree got planted a yard in the opposite direction…

In the back, we’re making slow improvements. Very slow. Want to see? Note that this is all totally un-styled in the midst of Sunday yard work.

I don’t think we’ll do new patio furniture (our metal set was inherited) this summer but Wayfair sent me info on their patio guide and I got to daydreaming. I feel like with the rounded patio we’d need to do a rounded set? I like that this one looks retro and I’m a sucker for pops of red.

We spent last summer building the cedar fence between our yard and the neighboring apartment. Last fall, Joe also put up a temporary snow fence so we could let Wilbur out the back door this winter instead of taking him on three walks a day. Total game, changer, and it mostly keeps the kids contained, too!

I do love how the hostas and ferns grow in. I feel like a baby dinosaur is going to pop out of the vegetation. We’re hoping to build a real fence in place of the snow fence before the next frost. I’d love to put an arbor over the walkway, and develop a green thumb to train roses to creep up and cascade over it:

I’ve always wanted to turn this side of our garage into the “Pink Flamingo Lounge” complete with a window box of mint and other drink muddlers and vintage shutters. Just imagine that instead of the firewood pile and wheelbarrow.

We have a work bench that could double as a bar inside the garage. It’s the ultimate “someday” project. Maybe in time for the kids’ graduation parties? Shooting for the year 2032 on that one, but I do have some cute flamingo rocks glasses to sip from in in the meantime.

We’re going to put in a veggie garden along the back fence again (wish us luck) where the composter is, and have established raspberry brambles that are so fun to pick. I’d love to add in a stand for our porch swing in the corner behind where this green ball is hanging out:

It will obviously look exactly like this shangri-la when installed:

I’m trying to decide if I should use the skills I honed volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to build a play house, or if I should save myself from hammering my thumbs and buy one? If only this taco truck playhouse was cleared for outdoor use! (The outdoor playhouses on Wayfair are totally insane… Like, House Hunters: Tiny House level.)

Investing in a second-hand sandbox and this little slide (re-homed from friends) are pretty much the only reason we can get 15 minutes of yard work done!

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Turning to poetry

Sometimes, you just need a poem to help make sense of the world. Poems to heal your heart or to hear an echo of emotions for which you haven’t found the words.

My aunt sent me this Brian Andreas this week and, yes!

Last week, I described myself as a kind of secular humanist to a co-worker and we spent the tail end of the webinar we were watching talking about what that means in the context of faith. It’s so refreshing to have a friendly conversation about beliefs. I marvel at the work of poets past and present. Here are excerpts from two works that recently left me breathless. Reading them together, I see a connection:

From The Diwan of Shams of Tabriz, by Jalaluddin Rumi

Forget the world, and so
command the world.

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.
Help someone`s soul heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd.

Stay in the spiritual fire.
Let it cook you.

Be well-baked loaf
and lord of the table.

Come and be served
to your brothers.

You have been a source of pain.
Now you`ll be the delight.

You have been an unsafe house.
Now you`ll be the One
who sees into the Invisible.

I said this, and a Voice came to my ear:
If you become this, you will be That!

Then Silence,
and now more Silence.

A mouth is not for talking.
A mouth is for tasting this sweetness.

From “Home” by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.

Are there poems that have been speaking to you? Good Bones by Maggie Smith is another.

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Filed under Life lessons

Living that “threenage” life

Emmett was star of the week last week, and looking through photos for his door display was so much fun. He’s packed a lot of life into less than four years, for sure.

Right now, living with this “threenager” as they say, is two parts super fun and one part please-stop-scream-crying about bananas. (Bananas are a major toddler tantrum trigger, in case you didn’t know. They’re either too spotted, too green, broken in the wrong place, peeled wrong, etc. This week, we were out of them and it was as if the sky was falling at our house during breakfast.)

Back to the good stuff. Because this blog is the only place I record things, I’m going to share a few Emmett developmental moments:

Drawing
Emmett is not into arts and crafts. He likes to draw on the dry erase easel we have set up and a magna-doodle, but otherwise is pretty disinterested.

At our conferences, his teachers pulled out his latest “self-portrait,” which was one thin, faint line. You know what he told them when they asked him about it? “I’m standing sideways.” Ha!

Past Lives
I’ve always thought Emmett had a kind of old-soul, haunted look about him, to be honest. When I was his age, I had an imaginary friend named Skelley. Emmett has a previous life. He’s always starting his stories “When I was a young kid…” and lately he’s been talking about his old dad and mom. Apparently his “old” parents had red hair, the dad was named Andrew and he wore a black shirt and the mom wore a flowered shirt. When he was a young kid, he went to China. It’s a little bit creepy.

Discovery
We promote a lot of nature play, experiments and the like. Lately, he’s been wanting to go on family walks after dinner to point out “nature signs” like buds on trees, grass, etc.

His favorite thing to play with is sensory kinetic sand. We put it in a baking dish like an indoor sandbox so it doesn’t get all over the place, and he plays with it for literally hours at a time. I got him this play dirt at a toy store and he was equally mesmerized, digging and burying things and sculpting it.

Death
My grandpa’s death was a pretty big deal in our house, and Emmett definitely was aware of what was happening. I’m proud of how comfortable he is talking and asking about death and how we can keep people’s memories alive. He’s also started to be more interested in my memories of my dad, who died just after I graduated high school.

Rhyming 
Emmett has a Dr. Seuss sense of humor, and one of our favorite things to do on the way home from school is break into rhyme-a-thons together. I found these silly flip-a-word readers at the library and I think when he gets ready to start reading on his own, they’ll be helpful.

This photo was right after he told me my hair looked “like a pile of dirt,” which I’m pretty sure was meant as a major compliment.

Movies 
Emmett loves movies. He went through a really long phase of asking to watch Octonauts and have a snack the minute he got home from school (3 going on 13) and his favorite movie is The Sandlot. We watched it last week with my mom and aunt (somehow they’d never seen it!) and witnessing them all watch it together was hilarious, because Emmett basically quotes it and was trying to tell them what comes up next. The first time he heard “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” he said “Hey! My mom says that!”

I need to take more videos that capture his funny personality and cute little voice. He has a toddler way of talking that almost sounds like a major Chicago accent (“d” and “f” sounds for “th”) that I know he’ll grow out of.

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Love note

Seven year itch? I’m not feeling it. (Technically, we’ll be married seven years this July.)

I don’t know that I’d describe marriage as a lot of “work” as some would, but more like a conversation that deserves your full attention. It’s give and take and ask and tell and laugh and cry.

I’m not always a perfect listener and Joe isn’t always a perfect communicator, but our conversation is always honest, sometimes really funny and definitely headed in the same direction. I like talking with this guy.

We got invited last minute to the Heart Ball this past weekend, a black-tie event that had Joe scrambling for an appropriate suit (The Backroom in Beaverdale to the rescue!) but holy smokes did he turn his look around quick. I got all gussied up, too (and even put on my own fake eyelashes, which really clinch a fancy look). Joe looked so good, he even let me take 17 selfies of us.

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I’m looking forward to our Valentine’s tradition of homemade heart-shaped pizzas, although I have to work late on Valentine’s this year!

P.S. I wrote a fun little column for LIFT Iowa about “work wives” this week

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Spread the happy

Sharing a few things that have brightened the past few weeks for me.

Winning the jammie jackpot

First, let me tell you I rarely win things. So I almost convinced myself it was a fake-out when I got a message from the folks at Hanna Andersson letting me know I’d won a $500 (!) gift card through one of their #happyhannas #hannajams contests.

img_1188Granted, it was like two weeks into 2017, but pretty much the best thing that’s happened to me all year.

Since I hit the jammie jackpot, I feel like I should spread the happy!
Comment on this post with something that’s made you HAPPY in 2017 for a chance to win a pair of Hanna Andersson baby jams. They make an amazing shower gift if you don’t have a little of your own. That’s how I got hooked! I’ll pick a winner at random on Feb. 1.

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If you’ve ever snuggled a kid in these clothes, you know how super soft and durable they are. My mom spoils the kiddos with them when she finds a good sale, and I do not complain. Since the baby jams are footless, they allow a little more room for growth, which I love. I’m going to be a little selfish and get a grown-up outfit, too, with my gift card.

More bright spots:

Refreshing the downstairs bathroom

This is our primary bathroom (we have a 2/3 bath upstairs) because who doesn’t love a clawfoot tub? Joe added on the shower when we moved in, but otherwise it’s just been the same purple hodgepodge since we moved in. Here’s the grody paint-prep before photo:

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And after:
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Mostly just a gallon of paint (Hotel St. Francis Spirit Blue which is actually not the paint I intended to go with, but that’s what you get for rushing a trip to the hardware store with a kid in tow), a new IKEA vanity (really a buffet) and bringing in accessories from other areas of the house. I whipped up a little runner for the vanity using fabric from Bonnie Christine’s Succulence line that I bought when Stitch was closing last year.

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I’d like to make a few tweaks like adding more art and a mounted necklace hanger, but having a vanity area is a game-changer. The art is a Bozz Prints piece that looks like it’s currently unavailable. Despite the color being not what I intended originally, I’m happy with how it turned out!

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Pairing treadmill time and podcasts
I need to do this more like 3 times a week instead of once every week and a half, because heading to the Wellness Center at work for speed walking on an incline while listening to a podcast is pretty great. I’ve been listening to Fresh Air, but branched out and tried Call Your Girlfriend, where I picked up the cute term “doing life admin” as a description of spending time paying your bills, making appointments, etc.

Hanging at ladies’ book club

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Being part of a book club (now several years strong) is incredible. It took us an hour and forty-five minutes to before we finally sat down to start discussing the book last night, but that’s part of what makes it so special.

I’m not great at making friend dates and look forward to these pre-planned nights. Honestly, I did not love Swing Time even though I had high hopes. Our next book is Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran.

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Filed under At home, Books, What I'm into