Tuesday, October 25, 2016


"a portrait of each of my children, once each week, in 2016"


Cruz: I chased the bus down for you this morning, buddy.  You were being your usual pokey pete and we barely made it the bus stop.  And when we were met by several other kids wearing their shades for Red Ribbon Week, we realized yours were on the bench in the mudroom.  So, I did like any good and crazy parent does - I drove home to grab them, then circled the neighborhood until I saw the bus.  I'm sure you were quite surprised to see your mom walk down that narrow bus aisle, but that small little smile on your face showed me you appreciated it.  Love you honey and I hope you have the best day at school today.

Mila: And you were in the car watching The Little Mermaid, completely oblivious to this entire escapade!  I love that at the end of the movie right before the credits roll, you always say, "Are you ready, mom?" I think this has something to do with my love affair with all Disney music and that one time I put on a riveting performance of Under the Sea in the car on the way to school.  You know that's "my part" and want to make sure I do, too. :)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Day in NE Iowa

We headed to Northeast Iowa last Sunday for one of our longest standing fall family traditions.  We've been trekking up north for some pretty leaf hunting since we were kids, packed in the back of the gray Dodge mini-van with our walk-mans and cassette tapes of Trisha Yearwood, the Judds and Boyz II Men.  Dad would drive through all the same "cool towns" and we'd anxiously look out our windows for all the various points of distinction along the way.  Even back then, I'd have my little camera and a fresh roll of film in hand, ready to capture fuzzy pictures of the big red strawberry in Strawberry Point, that pretty little bridge in Fairbank, and the pink elephant in Marquette, signaling we had reached our destination for the day.  Mom would pack a picnic, "fancy" sandwiches with lettuce and mayonnaise and red wine vinegar, and we'd run through the piles of leaves, throwing the football around with Dad, and eventually talking them into hiking all the way to the waterfall, even though we knew it wasn't much of a waterfall.

I look back at those days and feel my age, in more ways than one.  Walk-mans are long gone and have since been replaced with dual DVD players that entrance our kids and take them away from the scenes outside their windows.  GPS on our phone gives us the "fastest route" there, surely eliminating back roads and that pretty bridge in Fairbank.  And that big red strawberry in Strawberry Point is definitely not as big as I remember it from my childhood.  That adventurous spirit and wonder and delight for the little things, like driving across that big blue suspension bridge over the mighty Mississippi or getting to put red wine vinegar on my sandwich, are what keeps me going back to this tradition each year.  As I look into that day with an older, wiser pair of specs, I see so much through them.  I see my Dad's love for comfortable adventure, the twinkle in his eye as he pointed out the same old things, like that stuffed polar bear at Starks and those boring barges way down on the river.  I see my Mom's effort to make things special for us, as well as her love for the small details, like that bright red maple tree that always stands out against that pretty white church steeple in McGregor.  I see characteristics in them I so want my kids to see in me someday.  But gosh, in our world as it exists, full of constant distractions and our instagram boxes of pretty, are we over-saturating them?  Are we curating so much experience for them that they're unable to distinguish the magic in the mundane?  Or are we just filling their lives with so much stuff that they're only getting the chance to barely scratch the surface?  My Grandpa Hank's famous line on road trips that we laughed over and used often on our road trip to Georgia was "Look out the window, it's free."  But as I think about my kids, staring at their screens with their headphones on, I realize I have some work to do in this department.  And that I now sound like an old geezer. 

I regained a little hope as we drove through Strawberry Point and Dad took the short detour to show Cruz and Mila the big strawberry.  Mila's eyes lit up and she said, "I want to see it again!"  We drove by it a second time, and two more times on the way home.  I saw the same childlike wonder and delight in her face.  I saw it later at Shihata's Orchard as she came face to face with a donkey and watched Grandma feed him grass.  I saw it on all the cousins' faces as they perused the big tub of gourds and begged us for a quarter, and later as they squealed and chased each other through the fallen leaves, dirty cheeks and shoes filled with sand.  These days and the small moments weaved throughout them are the threads that become our life.  And as I sit and snap fuzzy photos like I did when I was a kid, trying to capture the wonder and beauty of it all, I sure hope I'm parenting in a way that enables my kids to see it too.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Camp Cruz, Take 2

Last year, I told myself I would be done with themed parties after five.  I decided five years of parties was a good run and once Cruz was in school, I could focus that time and cost on more informal birthday parties with friends.  And then it got closer to his birthday and I started dreaming of our family gathered around the fire pit with bowls of soup and hot apple cider, and that soon morphed into yards of flannel and burlap garland, the makings of a chili buffet, and good old fashioned camping games of potato sack races and cider donut eating contests.  And nothing makes me feel more creative than watching a good party spread morph together before my very eyes. :)

Five years of parties, with five invitations to match.  Each theme, and the small details that accompany them, are so fun to look back on.  And every year I say I have a new favorite!  This one was everything fall and was as much a celebration of the season as it was Cruz's birthday.  And after watching the weather all week long (on three different weather apps.), we were happy with the balmy temps and little rain that fell and offered us the chance to be outside.  

I kept decorations pretty simple this year, pulling together this spread for our hutch as the main center of attention.  I had the burlap banner from a previous party, and had everything else setting out somewhere at home; except the burlap feed sacks and vintage camping light I scored from a vintage store downtown.   

I made a similar fabric garland for Mila's Tea for Two party and now it's draped between the spindles of her big girl bed.  I love the burlap and red flannel garland just as well and can't wait to find a pretty place to put this for the holidays.

This sign literally took twenty minutes to make.  A couple of pieces of barn wood, some black acrylic paint, and a few balloons to dress it up.  Turns out, brown balloons are not in high demand in the Cedar Valley.  I couldn't find them ANYWHERE!

I had gingham tablecloths, simple red plates, and Mom loaned me a lumberjack serving tray.  I wanted the food spread to be simple and kid-friendly, but after six years of birthday parties, I also know my family comes prepared to eat!  Beau made his famous chili, and my mom made a pot of chicken chowder.  We grilled hot dogs for the kids (and for those creative enough to make chili dogs), and had a meat and cheese tray, apple sauce, apple slices and this yummy brown sugar dip, and an easy harvest hash (similar to this one).  I also made a yummy apple cider punch with apple cider, orange juice, and a bottle of sparkling apple cider.  It was a hit! 

My favorite fall cookies, from Wal-Mart.  Unfortunately, I was informed Saturday that they are done selling them for the year.  If you haven't visited Wal-Mart's bakery area lately, I was impressed with all of their festive sweets, including some adorable mini cupcakes in several yummy-sounding flavors. 

This cake!  I could have just as easily baked the whole thing, but paid twenty bucks for Hy-Vee to do it instead.  But I did make the fire!  I followed this recipe for the fire and it turned out great.  The key is to let it cool completely before peeling it off the baking sheet.  Looks cool and even tastes yummy! 

We had a s'mores buffet but I didn't get many pictures of it! 

We did three camp activities - potato sack races, a hands-free donut eating contest, and a nature adventure hunt.  The kids (and the adults) had a ball, especially attempting to eat those donuts!  My favorite part was Mila, in the center of the action, grabbing her donut and nonchalantly eating it while the rest of us looked like weirdos around her!    

After games, everyone earned a knapsack, one of my favorite details of the party.  I went stick hunting one day after work, tied some fun outdoor adventure prizes like flashlights, glow sticks, glow-in-the-dark tattoos, and faulty parachute guys in a red bandana, and tied them to the stick with some twine.  They were easy and made for pretty cute hobos carrying them around the yard. 

And gifts.  We did games first, then gifts outside before dinner.  Cruz loved his new set of Elephant and Piggie books, his never-ending bag of Star Wars loot from Gabe and Gina, his Kylo Ren action figure, and his very own gift card from Great Grandma and Papa, to which Cruz said, "I can use that to buy pretty much anything." 

It was another great party for the books!  And now it's on to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a patient little lady's big day.  I'm starting to think I'm hard-wired to always need something to plan. :)    

(Invitation purchased from Etsy shop, ReplyOccasions)


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