Tag Archives: family

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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Nine year Des Moines-iversary

Nine (!!!) years ago, Memorial Day weekend, I moved to Des Moines – site unseen and friendless. It didn’t take me long to become an Iowan By Choice, and I am so happy to be raising a family in this city.

Justin Meyer shot some family photos for us at Greenwood Park on Saturday morning (I was worried about the rain and then remembered Justin is so talented that he could make us look good if we were standing in a Target parking lot) to celebrate Emmett’s upcoming third birthday, Eileen’s babyhood and my 31st, which is around the corner.We let Joe be in them, too.

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We rode bikes to the Iowa Cubs game (knothole gang ftw) and through Gray’s Lake and had a al fresco dinner with neighborfriends yesterday, and a lemonade stand and dinner with Joe’s family tonight. (I’m going to try to forget Emmett’s bedtime meltdown tonight, thanks to two fun days without naps.)

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My whole blog is basically a love letter to Des Moines, so I’ll spare you my lists of favorite things at the moment. But I will ask those local readers to contribute feedback to the Capital Crossroads 2.0 planning survey (open through June 20).

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Emmett insisted on sticking out his tongue for 48% of the shoot. He is, after all, almost 3 and calls us “taco” all the time. As in, “mom/dad, you’re a taco.” Eileen gave one smile the whole time, but I kind of love her signature RBF.

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My dress is by Mata Traders (Joe was a great listener when I pointed it out at Backcountry Outfitters and got it for me for Mother’s Day!), which is a really cool fair-trade and sustainable brand I’m in love with at the moment.

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I wrote an op-ed

Writing comes naturally to me, but every time I’m published is still nerve-wracking. Did I get the facts right? Did I represent the situation accurately? Even after I publish on this personal blog, there are a lot of entries for which I’ll tweak the wording after a post initially goes live.

I’ve been wanting to write an op-ed ever since Lynn Hicks spoke at the YNPN Non-Con in January, with tips for crafting an opinion piece. The whole idea felt a little bit intimidating, though. I’ve felt passionately enough about bike safety legislation and funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust to write to my legislators, but they weren’t the right topic for me to tackle (yet) for the paper.

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When I got an e-mail alert from Save the Children Action Network about The Working Families Relief Act, I felt like my story would resonate with a lot of people. I’ve been talking about childcare as a YP retention issue for awhile, and this felt timely and personal. Actually writing this piece took about an hour and a half on Wednesday night. I was feeling pretty confident about it, and then Lynn told me it was going to run in this Sunday’s paper and I kind of wanted to hide under a rock. Turns out writing an op-ed is one thing, but having it published is terrifying.

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I haven’t read the online comments – and I don’t think I will – but thankfully there have been some really positive tweets and facebook posts about it. And, it prompted Joe to take a decent photo of me and the kiddos, which only took about 27 tries as we were leaving.

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I hope nobody thinks that my writing this means I don’t highly value the work that caregivers provide. We have lucked out majorly, but I’m constantly surprised that a family-centric metro like Des Moines has such a shortage of options, and I really do see it leave my friends scrambling. So many YPs move back to their hometowns as they start growing a family, and as an Iowa transplant, I’d really hate to see the young professionals leave at such a critical point.

Read the opinion piece here. 

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11 Favorite moments from my 2016 caucus

A Buzzfeedy listicle of 11 reasons my caucus experience rocked:

  1. Pre-partying at the DMSC Give a Damn fashion show. Drank a free beer, got funky with a patriotic eagle, saw models strut it, got a silly caricature drawn and banished my FOMO on caucus-related fun. Oh, and hung out with Nate Boulton who is running for Iowa Senate and is a great guy.

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2. Getting up before the sun to hear NPR Morning Edition broadcast from our local coffee shop. I was there from 4:30-6:30 a.m., which was really too early to hear anything, but it was packed and buzzing with excitement. Eileen slept through it.

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3. Walking to our Roosevelt HS caucus site with my little family. Our caucus site was a little bit of a haul with a stroller and babywearing, but totally walkable in the nice weather.

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4. Selfie with Iowa legend Dr. Deborah Turner in line. I was in the Drake Alumni Executive Roundtable with Dr. Turner last year and have a little bit of a girl crush. The line to caucus was out the door and Joe and I were split up because we have different last names, so I enjoyed chilling with Dr. Turner.

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5. Getting a text from my mom that she was watching our precinct on C-SPAN. Turns out she was probably watching precinct 43 in the Roosevelt cafeteria and I was precinct 44 in the auditorium, but C-SPAN was there! Hi, Mom!

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6. When person #420 got big laughs from everyone in our precinct. Because we are mature, adult citizens. I was 497 of 516! Last time we caucused, we broke into smaller rooms, so I wasn’t really expecting this huge crowd.

7. Taking this #babiesforBernie photo with my neighbor-friend-fellow-mom, Amy. Babywearing for the win! We tried to convince some O’Malley folks to side with Sanders together.

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8. Exposing our kids to this unique political process. Even though Emmett mostly just watched Toy Story on the iPad, he was a champ. We didn’t get home until 9:45 p.m.!

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9. Hearing the stump speeches for each candidate from precinct captains. The Sanders guy was so sweet. “I’ve never spoken in front of a crowd this big!” And the O’Malley guy was funny and warm and eventually came to our side, I think.

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10. Meeting new neighbors who live just down the way and have a daughter a few weeks older than Eileen. The element of meeting and talking with people who live on your street is pretty wonderful. It’s like a block party without the food or booze. (Although I heard about one Des Moines caucus that got moved to a bar!)

11. Watching all of the results come in and validating the heck out of anyone’s experience on social media. So. Many. Beautiful. Iowa. Crowds. Also, sticker guy and hilarious tweets.

What a nail-biter! Our Caucus ended up sending 6 delegates for Sanders and 5 for Clinton. The process was disorganized, but I guess as they say — you can’t complain if you didn’t volunteer!

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Playroom refresh + indoor toddler fun

We used some of our time off over the holidays to tackle our extra bedroom and convert it into a brighter space that works better for living with two kids in a 1.5-story, nearly 100-year-old home.

I didn’t think to snap “before” photos, so use your imagination. The guest room was formerly painted a dark indigo with a queen bed, chair and cedar chest taking up the majority of the space, and a Blues Brothers poster on the wall from Joe’s bachelor days. Here it is now:

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The art on the west wall is a piece by Joe’s Uncle Mike LaVelle that we received as a wedding gift. It gives me a happy, peaceful feeling and Eileen loves staring at it.

To turn the space into a playroom/guestroom, we painted the walls Prairie Sky by Behr and swapped out the queen for an IKEA Hemnes daybed that expands into a king for when we have company, and conveniently hides a traffic-jam full of plastic vehicles as well as bedding.

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(We donated our queen to the USCRI refugee resettlement program. Learn more about that here.) Joe updated the ceiling fan with more contemporary glass sconces and a coat of white spray paint. We added toy storage on either side of the bed, and brought in the easel and little desk and chair.

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On the east wall, we hung the chicken wire bulletin board Joe made for me awhile back. I think it’s perfect for tacking up birth announcements and kid art. And on the north wall, we hung the embroidered alphabet blanket my Aunt Mary Lee made for Eileen. Her stitching is so impressive!

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I unearthed and hung curtains I sewed for our upstairs that we had swapped out awhile ago, and the (slightly uneven thanks to an unfortunate trip in the dryer) sheers were already in the room. Now we’re just missing a rug and some throw pillows, which I’ll probably D.I.Y. later, maybe once I get my hands on some Roam collection fabric.

We’re definitely loving the extra room to snuggle and play.

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Speaking of, I’ve included a few of our favorite indoor activities lately after the jump…

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An afternoon at Big Creek State Park

Joe and I celebrated our fifth (!!!) wedding anniversary this weekend, without any big plans. The weather was wonderful so while we sat sipping coffee on the porch we brainstormed a few ideas to spend the day outdoors.

Big Creek Park and Shelter

Joe had the idea to head to Big Creek State Park, which is in Polk City adjacent to Saylorville Lake – about 30 minutes northwest of Des Moines. I had never been, but he bikes through with his brothers-in-law each April on a guys trip, and it turned out to be the perfect place to celebrate with our little family!

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Swimming: I can’t really call what we did swimming, but I can attest that a toddler will be able to amuse himself for quite some time repeatedly dumping buckets of water and sand at the shoreline. And, at least compared to some other Iowa watering holes I’ve dipped my toes in, Big Creek (which was created by the Saylorville Dam) felt relatively clean. I’m not sure it’s because we went so soon after flooding, but the beach looked like it had been freshly plowed (?) and was somewhat difficult to walk on, but tidy.

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Picnicking: I was impressed by the array of shelters available. There are several huge family reunion style shelters up close to the beach/main parking area (and several other older shelters at different spots along the lake), and a bunch of small group or single-family mini shelters scattered throughout, too. There are a few little bathrooms in that area, too.

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We just grabbed one of the numerous picnic tables in the shade, though. We packed lots of snacks, but wound up ordering hot lunch from the concession area, where the grill was going. They also have ice cream treats and snow cones available.

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Mega park: I seriously wanted to be about 8-years old again when we saw this park. I love huge, castle-like wooden parks and this one had lots of towers and turrets and tires.

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Emmett is currently obsessed with Baby Einstein, and there’s an episode where a knight gets locked in a castle that we had to reenact about 30 times. I can’t wait to go back with all of his cousins, because it’s got tons of cool features without being high-tech at all.

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Biking/boating: I didn’t realize you can rent not only canoes but pontoons (from the announcements they were making, it sounded like they had them as big as 12-passenger!). Boating didn’t happen for us because by the time we’d hit the beach, eaten lunch and played at the park, Emmett was starting to melt down. Joe had packed our bikes, though, so we did a handful of miles along prairie paths while Emmett conked out in his Burley trailer.

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The super cool thing is that it’s possible to take the Neal Smith Trail from downtown all the way up to Big Creek (about 28 miles). Don’t forget to download Iowa By Trail before you go!

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We capped off our anniversary celebration with a kid-free dinner date to Skip’s and to see “Inside Out” because we never get to the movies these days! 

P.S. I still stand by this post I wrote awhile back on “magic words for a happy marriage.”

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Prairie Party at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Pick a blue sky day when the clouds are extra fluffy, pack a picnic and head to Prairie City, where the buffalo roam and butterflies flutter freely.

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I can’t believe it’s taken me 8 years of living in Central Iowa to experience the beauty of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. We went to their Concert on the Prairie fundraiser on Friday night, and it was such a treat to explore the visitor center (after hours-ooh) and wander the paths nearby. (Joe, with local wine in hand, of course. Pretty picturesque happy hour.)

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We learned about conservation efforts and there was a casual dinner and a concert by the Big Blue Sky project, and Emmett mostly entertained himself by touching plants and throwing clods of dirt into the air.

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The visitor center has lots of classroom space, interesting exhibits about prairie habitats and restoration, and a sweet little kids puppet theater, among other features.  DSC_0075  .

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Emmett was too scared to go into the cave maze area, but I was all honey badger don’t care.

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We also drove through part of the 700-acre enclosure that is home to bison and elk, which felt like being on a special little safari. I definitely poked my head out of the sun roof to get a few more photos.

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As part of his job at the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Joe is learning more about ecosystems like the tallgrass prairie and oak savanna that are native to Iowa, but now rare after European settlement. I’m glad he’s teaching us, in turn, and that Emmett is getting opportunities to be in nature.

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I kind of wanted to wear a Laura Ingalls Wilder bonnet and sing the Dixie Chicks “Wide Open Spaces” at the same time. There’s enough land out here I could probably do this without anyone seeing, but a nice lady offered to take a quick family photo, so I kept in the crazy this time.

The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge features miles of trails, and I can’t wait to go back when we’re able to do some more ambitious hiking. Also, we’ll need to work in a stop at Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe, which is owned by a friend-of-friends and is supposed to be pretty amazing.

P.S. In further evidence that I’m turning into my mother, I picked up a flier for the NSNWR’s 1st Annual Pollinator Fest happening Saturday, June 20 2015 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.. It’s a free, family friendly event that will feature some special kid-oriented activities (bug hunts! storytellers! crafts! pollinator seed packet giveaway!) 

Find the Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge on Facebook.

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