Tuesday, December 22, 2015

capturing our holiday spirit

Our new computer might be up in running in a newly updated office space (ie: no more green carpet, window, or trim) but that doesn't mean Photoshop is working. Or even downloaded.
So I am presenting to you our Christmas season photos with zero editing or cropping. 
(And really, I would have loved to edit some make-up onto my face in that family photo. Yikes.)

Back in November, when we actually had snow

The kids love their yearly Christmas jammies.

If you know Avery, you will recognize that this is a perfect capture of her "Oh my gosh, seriously, you guys, wait, this story is so amazing" face.

family "Polar Express" movie & popcorn night

The annual coordinating outfits for the church program...

And like a thousand outtakes






They rediscovered our tiny apron collection and now they can't cook a pretend meal in their play kitchen without one on.

Sugar cookie dough = pure enjoyment

All three kids near Santa and no one cried?!

Penning a careful and thoughtful letter to Santa

And then there is my favorite photo.
This year I was so excited to put up the trees in their rooms.  The lights wrapped around their bunk bed and the tree lit across the room just scream holiday spirit to 4 and 5 year-olds. So the tree skirt was meant for a tree about one-fourth of that size and the kids don't actually leave any ornaments on it, it doesn't matter.
This time of year is so special and magical to them that they couldn't handle sleeping in their beds 8 feet from the tree, they had to camp out right in front of it. 

Merry Christmas, everyone! Only 3 days left!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

And just like that, it's December

I started to write that I'm sorry for my lack of posting, but honestly, I haven't given it much thought. Life has been hectic and borderline crazed. And I'm not talking the "oh I have so many presents to buy and parties to attend" type of crazy.

All the presents have been bought for weeks - most of them are even wrapped - and we have a total of two Christmas get-togethers to attend.

But since I last posted - in October mind you - big, mind-occupying stuff has been going on.

We wrapped up October with a life flight and hospitalization for Avery. She was off-and-on delusional with a 105ยบ fever which prompted an ER visit. (Because this stuff always occurs on a weekend.) Children's in Omaha feared meningitis based on her symptoms so they opted for a helicopter ride over an ambulance transfer. She handled it well and with minimal drama.
Wait, I'm kidding.
She had to ride alone since the double-occupancy chopper was already out in use elsewhere. Jared and I were worried, but we tend to stay cool in these types of circumstances. After all, we have had our few share of medical issues with kids so far. I held off tears until they were wheeling her away, strapped down, only able to move her head. She looked at me and simply said, "I'm going to be sick and all alone."
She knows how to twist that knife for maximum effectiveness.

Everything turned out okay, but the next two days were tough. X-rays, ultrasound scans, straight caths, plenty of lab tests, and IV medication is a lot for an already over-the-top dramatic 4 year-old. It turned out she had a bad kidney infection. With 3 days of IV antibiotics and 10 more days of oral ones at home, she recovered easily. But really, she sure brought the drama. I am not surprised that Avery was the one to require a life flight.

Some other stuff happened too. 
Halloween. (Yes, I'm that far behind.)
A family wedding. 
An overnight getaway for Jared and me.
Etsy business on steroids. Seriously, we're both so over Etsy right now.
The death of our computer.
The purchase of a new computer.
Graham's 3rd birthday.
Thanksgiving.
A spare bedroom/office/play room remodel.
The kids' church Christmas program.
Christmas decorating, baking, and eating. And eating.

Which brings me to our next time-filler lately...
Graham has been sick and just kinda "off" for about 9 weeks now. It started with a rash that lasted for 11 days that doctors couldn't explain, a change in appetite, mood swings, itching like crazy, and bowel changes. Some lab showed elevated liver enzymes - which aren't uncommon with an infection, and a week later they had decreased back to normal levels. 
But his symptoms didn't go away, they hung on. And a few weeks later we took him back to the doctor since he felt worse, and it turns out his labs were elevated again - this time triple normal. 

So off to Omaha to a GI specialist we went. 
An ultrasound revealed an enlarged liver, pancreas, and gall bladder. Further testing showed elevated levels of many different labs related to the liver and gall bladder. Doctors weren't exactly sure what any of this meant. While waiting for some labs to get back, they sent us home with medication for his itching and a general feeling of uneasiness. By the next week, his symptoms were still the same and his bowels changed even further. 

The specialists decided it was time for an MRCP, a specialized MRI to look at the specific structures like the ducts connecting the organs in his stomach. We just completed that this past Tuesday. 
He had to be NPO for about 18 hours, and what should have been a 45 minutes procedure turned into 2 hours. Knowledge is not power in this situation as I was nearing panic mode, knowing something was amiss for the procedure time to more than double. Turns out he had a really hard time coming out of the anesthesia. Thanks, Graham, for aging me years during those few hours!

The results were what we expected. Both his liver and pancreas are enlarged. The pancreas is so enlarged that it is causing narrowing of the pancreatic duct and common bile duct. That is contributing to his bowel changes and the elevated labs. We've ruled out every common infectious cause of organ enlargement (hepatitis, mono, etc) and now not even the doctors are sure what is causing it. We repeated more lab yesterday (Friday) and should hear back about the results on Monday. Those results will dictate what course we take next. If they are decreased we will continue to monitor, hoping it is some unknown infection that his body is fighting off. If they are the same or elevated, we will continue down the road of more testing/procedures. Even our specialist couldn't tell us what these would be because Graham is an atypical case.

So it goes without saying, we've been worried. 
I don't do well when things are out of my control; I know this about myself. And if there was a lesson to be learned from this past year, "you're not in control" just might be it. I've been working really hard to turn worry into prayer. It's helped me more than I can put into words. I'm not in control, and my worry does nothing but drive me (and others) nuts. So maybe I am actually learning my lesson a little every day.


On that note, I think I will end my way-too-much-medical-happenings update on a positive with a few pictures of our little dude on his 3rd birthday last month. 

On his birthday I baked some brownies (covered in fresh whipped cream) and he opened a couple of gifts at our house. His real party was the next day on Thanksgiving night. The unofficial theme of his 3rd birthday was apparently "anything with an engine."





Wednesday, October 21, 2015

31 Things

Because birthdays after the age of 21 border on pointless, I will save you an update on my day of celebrating with small children and an overly tired husband. 
(edited to add in photo of me with said small children. please note the birthday crown Bailey made for me in school that day. such a sweet girl.)

I will however continue what I started last year. And since I'm starting it and my birthday is already half over, it might not be anything deep or even slightly funny. But here goes...


1. I've had to trim the fat lately. And I'm talking about TV shows. I couldn't add anything new this year, and I don't have time to continue some of the shows I had already been watching previously. If 6 episodes of the same show remain unwatched on my DVR at one time, the love affair must be over. I used to love you Person of Interest, but it was time. Goodbye.

2. I never thought I would ever be able to say this with a straight face, but I love working out.

3. Frequently I work out so that I can justify eating more food. #priorities

4. I miss living on a farm. 

5. I have to send Snaps of myself in clothing in dressing rooms to fashion-forward friends in order to determine if something looks acceptable. 

6. My closet is smaller than most port-a-pots (yeah, weird reference but it's true). So women who post photos or blogs about purging their closets and getting rid of clothes they've been holding on to for a decade - I just can't relate to you. If I even bring in a new t-shirt, something old has to go.
Honestly, my dorm room closets were bigger.

7. I have a love-hate with our Etsy business right now. 
Love that it's growing. Hate that it's growing.

8. My faith is stronger than it's ever been.  

9. I have a book where I write down funny things my kids say. And I actually fill it out. Avery gives us a lot of entries.

10.  Since having kids - or maybe it's with age? - I don't like spicy stuff as much. I used to loooove buffalo wing sauce. Now I can barely handle the mild stuff. What is happening to me?!

11. I lack any courage to cut my hair into a style that could even halfway be considered edgy or even slightly non-conservative. I will probably have this same hairstyle until I'm 90.

12. Speaking of, I have zero desire to live that long. By all means, take me when you're good and ready Jesus, but if I hit 84, I think that is long enough. 84 has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

13. I still don't miss Facebook.

14. I've learned over the past year that being a friend doesn't require talking on the phone daily/weekly/even monthly. It boils down to being there when it counts, when things get uncomfortable and people's lives are far from their best. Close friends have lost loved ones this past year and I've realized that listening, baking cookies, or just speaking their family members' names is a big deal to someone struggling. Many situations or discussions feel awkward, but true friendship can be hard or awkward while still being real and effortless. And it's worth the work.

15. By having my nails painted, my I-have-my-shit-together life meter goes up quite a few points. Clearly a manicure means I must have my life in order, right? Wait... what? You're not fooled??

16. Caillou - most annoying kids show ever. I'd rather watch Barney every minute for the rest of my life than suffer through an entire episode of that show.

17. My family and friends know me so well, they bring me coffee and fountain pop for special occasions. In fact, I received one of each this morning.
(Can anyone say caffeine overload?)

18. All four of my grandparents are still living and in moderately good health (and actively spoil my children with plentiful amounts of cookies). For someone who is 31 to be able to say that, it's kinda rare. And awesome.

19. I used to think that maybe 4 kids would be even better than 3. I now know better. Four would be much, much worse. 

20. Jared and I have domestic patterns a tad bit altered from the usual gender roles. He bakes more than me, I mow the lawn. It works for us.

21. This past year a friend commented that she loves that I keep it real because she knows I am not trying to pretend my life is perfect. I took that as a huge compliment. 

22. I never get tired of Disney movies. 
Or Golden Girls re-runs.

23. I am a much happier and well-rounded person if I am awake before my children wake up. I prefer a good half-hour head start on the little monsters.

24. In a dream world situation, I would have a part-time job. This stay-at-home stuff is mentally harder than I ever imagined and most days I am dying to escape this house without kids in tow. 

25. When we can, we walk everywhere. Gotta get those Fitbit steps in!

26. I carry a purse so large that is lovingly referred to by Jared as luggage.

27. I'm anal and borderline-obsessive about photos. All of our kids have their own photo albums and each photo is labeled on the back with the date, who is in it, and what was going on. 

28. But, oddly enough, professional photos aren't that important to me. I didn't even have newborn photos done with our kids. Both the girls were in the NICU and it wasn't important in the grand scheme of things at the time. So with Graham it felt wrong to do them since his sisters didn't get any. And it's been over two years since our last family photo.

29. Having a vacation planned - even if a year ahead of time - motivates me greatly in the day-to-day monotony of life. It's important to have something to really look forward to and work toward. (Speaking of, any non-extravagant, no-kids vacation ideas, blog friends?)

30. I could spend 6 hours in Target. Every time I go I look at my watch and say, "It's been two hours?! I haven't even looked at half of what I came for!" True story.

Annnnnnd....
31. I'm way too boring to keep this up every year.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

FALL{ing into leaves}

I know, I know. Write it down. 
After practically months of radio silence, I am writing three posts in one week. 

Part of the motivation is that I've taken more photos. Something about the changing of seasons, I seem to get the camera out more. You're doing exciting new things, whether it's toddlers donning bathing suits or snowsuits or listening to squeals as kids jump in piles of leaves. Which is precisely what we did yesterday.






We had a nice pile of leaves thanks to a huge wind storm earlier this week. Our leaves hold on until there is snow on the ground - no lie - and I will be out there raking them up in about, say, 6 weeks. Until then we used all the neighbors' that had conveniently blown in our yard.

And real quick, can we talk about this missing-tooth smile? 
Our big girl lost her first tooth this past weekend while biting into her favorite snack - an apple. 

And some mad props to the Tooth Fairy (Fairies?) who remembered to show up Saturday night despite being at a bachelor/bachelorette until 2 in the morning. Only one slight hiccup: she just forgot to take the tooth with her when she left, so she had to make a repeat trip the next night so the tooth could be added to her collection. Hey, no harm, no foul.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

etsy lately

As most of you know, Jared started an Etsy shop almost two and a half years ago. Jared has a seriously creative mind. In our house, he always picks out all the paint. Not only is he a good judge of color (Him: Is it more of a purple-grey or a blue-grey?  Me: Wait, what? Grey is grey! Right?), he can envision what things will look like before he ever makes the first cut for his latest project. So his Etsy shop was opened at my request so that our house wouldn't be completely cluttered by all the things he was tinkering around making in our garage.

It was a slow start. 
Which was to be expected. And which was actually a good thing. 
It took quite a while to learn the ropes of it all, especially how to tag listings so they can be found by searching customers and discovering the secret to mailing items so you don't lose your ass in shipping costs.

For a long while we were super excited to get one order a month. 
Seriously. 
And months where he got two or three, we were ecstatic about it. Last year around this time we saw huge growth in his sales as people started to shop for the Christmas season. Usually there is a pretty large drop off in sales after the holiday season is over, but for some reason this year that didn't really happen. Thanks to more learning (and lots of research on Jared's part), sales have continued to grow. 

It's been exciting - it's a little rush to know people (strangers!) love and want to buy something you're hand-making - but it is also a little overwhelming. We've both had to gradually change our mindsets. Before when getting only an order or two a month, Jared could easily complete the order before ever receiving another. His goal was to be complete before moving on to the next item. But last month, he had at least one order every single day. 
Say what??! 
We were so not prepared for that. 
And this month has proved to be more of the same.

Now it's not possible to make it down to zero pending orders. He works a full-time job after all. So there is always this "I have 12 orders to get out" mentality hanging over his head - and mine too. I'm definitely a person who never procrastinates. So knowing there are plenty of orders still needing to be completed, and then hearing the little cash register sound go off on Jared's phone signifying a new order, it kinda makes my inner organization queen cringe. 
But it's a good problem to have, as long as Jared can keep up.

Organization is key, and it proves difficult when you are running a small business out of 20 extra square feet in your garage.

Speaking of the little space Jared works out of, here are some photos I snapped the other day of him in action.

More information learned along the way: proper personal equipment is a must. Jared has been wearing the ear protection since the beginning (because he likes his tunes and NPR) but the mask was a recent purchase. Turns out he was coughing a ton from all the sawdust he was inhaling. And purchases like a new sander that is hooked up to a system that collects all the dust is a big plus too - it's annoying to have to clean an inch of dust off your bike daily. 

It's definitely a family affair. 
Truthfully Jared does probably 90% of the work involved, but I do my part in correspondence with customers during the day while he sleeps and packing up and mailing items to be shipped.
Oh, and keeping the kids out of his hair while he is working can prove to a full-time job also. 

Fairly often Graham will collect his tools and head outside to do some "workshoppin'" with his dad. The scrap pile can get pretty large so there is always some wood for him to cut, hammer, or screw.


Bailey and Avery also like to help out when they can.
Bailey actually does helpful things like learning how to apply paste wax to completed wood projects. 
Avery does things more along the lines of playing the keyboard in the basement and singing nonsensical songs loudly while we package. Very loud is her speciality.
So see? they're both helping in their own way. 



And we all have to put up with random stops for boxes, whether they fit in the vehicle or not.


If you're interested in seeing more items that Jared is currently creating, make sure to follow him on instagram @brandnewtome or check out his Etsy site.

Friday, October 9, 2015

October 8th

Jared turned a whopping 31 years old yesterday.

We all know it's downhill after 21, but the kids and I (with some help from Fe) still tried to make the day a little bit more special.

When it comes to any celebration in this family, food is the main event. We all love food.
This year Jared broke what is clearly the most important tradition - having cake for your birthday - and requested peanut butter chocolate dessert. 
I had my doubts. 
But I made it. And it was easy. Like did it in a half an hour and never had to turn on the oven easy.

It's not the most presentable thing you've ever eaten - although those classy as hell candles really take it up a notch - but believe me when I say it is delicious
I bolded and italicized the word "delicious", it is that good. 
Like I said, I had reservations. But it was amazing.
And because I know there are some fellow chocolate/peanut butter combo lovers out there like me (hello, to my Reese's holiday devotees!), I am linking this ridiculously easy recipe.
You're welcome.

We had a meal, complete with fancy platters and bowls that we received for our wedding and hardly ever use. And we ate said meal with mandatory party hats on our heads because that is how crazy we roll around here.


Happy Birthday Jared! 
I hope we made you feel special for the day.

Monday, September 14, 2015

"Picture it... Miami... 1985."

Thirty years ago today, my favorite TV show of all-time debuted.


Look at those four fabulous ladies decked out in the best the 1980s had to offer middle-aged women.

But really, I love this show. 

When Jared and I first started dating, I knew it was true love when I found out he could quote every episode just like me. 
Be still my heart. 
It was a done deal right then and there.

I own every season on DVD and the Golden Girls are my go-to palette cleanse after a depressing episode of something else. (I'm looking at you, Game of Thrones.) I actually own a t-shirt with their faces on it from my college days. I still occasionally throw it on and wear it for old times sake. Jared and I have discussed that from now on we just might name our pets after characters from the show - the older the name the better. Dorothy is the clear front-runner. Because let's be frank, it'd have to be a pretty saucy cat for it to live up to the name Blanche. And when it comes to males, there will be a never ending line-up of names to choose from.

If you can't admit that this show is funny, I just don't get you. It's the barometer by which I detect whether we could be friends. If you can't laugh at a witty barb from a spunky 80 year-old lady, what can you laugh at??

There are way too many quotable lines from this series to pick favorites, but for some reason the phrase "slut puppy" always comes to my mind first.
Fasten your seat belt, slut puppy.
This ain't gonna be no cakewalk.

It's been 30 years and you can still find an episode on television at any time of the day. I'm sure that is because friendship, outspoken elderly folks, and jezebels  50 year-old mattresses  tramps don't go out of style.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The day is finally here: Kindergarten

Our baby started preschool today.

Can you even believe it?
Here she is all smiles and looking thrilled to begin a new school year - complete with school lunches and access to the whole playground at recess - but the morning was a bit rough...

Jared woke her up and immediately she burst into tears. I don't know if it was the fear of the unknown that is the first day of kindergarten or tears because Sister loves her sleep.
She cried while getting dressed and getting her hair done. She cried on the way down the stairs and while her breakfast was prepared. (Homemade chocolate chip pancakes - her favorite.) She continued to sniffle and tear up while eating. All the reminders of the fun she was going to have at school made no difference. So we loaded up her new Disney princesses backpack and took pictures anyway. 

With the help of her siblings, she turned on a smile and some of the fear was forgotten.

Some before school sillies.

While Bailey was away learning and stuff, Avery and I were busy preparing a delicious after-school treat.  
Classic Mint Chocolate Brownies by Mel's Kitchen Cafe. 
(Mel is Jared's online homegirl. We are constantly making food from her website.) 
Bailey has started to get choosy about what desserts she prefers and is offering her opinion on which recipes we should try. She's been requesting this one since she saw a picture of it while Jared was browsing. 

Three o'clock arrived pretty quickly and back in the car I went.
I picked Bailey up in the entryway of the school and she ran to me like an airport scene out of a movie. Makes you feel loved. ;)
Her teacher said she had an excellent day and once I left, she adjusted immediately. No more tears. The unknown is scary - sometimes even for me as an adult - so I don't fault Bailey for being afraid. I'm just glad to know she was able to shake it off and have fun.

Once home Bailey told us about her day while she wolfed down two of those brownies. (Although I should caution Bailey to not get too used to homemade dessert for her snack every day. I'm not that awesome.)

She filled us in on the important stuff like, you know, what was for lunch.
When asked about her favorite part, she quickly answered: Recess.
See? 
She's got this school thing down already!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

12 days left

Here we are quickly closing in on single digits until Bailey goes back to school - kindergarten! - and this last month of summer feels like it has gotten away from me. My brain can't quite believe it's August, let alone mid-August, and the back-to-school vibes still feel so far away. There are still pencils to buy, a new backpack to select, and a tote of last year's clothes to pull out to see what's going to fit Lil' Sis. 

August has gone by so quickly, in part, because it's been filled with things. 

The kids rode in the annual Sweet Corn Daze parade again this year. My grandpa Ronnie always drives Justy as she advertises her massage therapy business. This year Grandpa was under the weather, so cousin Matt stepped in as the driver - official Ford hat and all.




Our job as supportive sisters this year was to hand out popsicles as we walked the route - definitely more of a sweaty workout than you would think.

The kids took in the festivities - free face painting, unlimited bounce house jumping, watermelon, food and more food.

Batman wears a crown and necklace as part of his disguise, right? 
*insert crying laughing emoji here*




And the yearly street dance.
Thanks to Uncle John for some drinks he didn't know he was buying.  ;)


We've spent many days just doing typical everyday things: walks to the park, the library, the pool. Visits to see great-grandparents and to friends' houses.

And braids. Oh, the braiding. 
Bailey loves 'em. The more the merrier.
(She's stuffing herself with sweets - typical - at Great-Grandma Connie's house.)

Meanwhile Jared's Etsy shop has been exploding. He's been researching a bit, changing his pricing, updating listings and it seems to have made a difference. Which is great except, for someone who works full-time and makes things as a hobby, getting 14 orders in 10 days is a bit overwhelming. Summer has typically been his time to stock-up on items that sell at a crazy pace during Christmas season, and he hasn't been able to do that at all this year. 

He did create this beauty for my parents' lake house in Okoboji, adding it to Etsy afterward, and it's been selling well.


The last few weeks have included doctor visits for Avery. I won't go into great detail, but she's experiencing symptoms that are worrying for us and for her doctor(s). So much so that our pediatric urologist recommended we take her to a large ER so she could get an MRI sooner than could be scheduled. So last weekend we hung out in the Omaha Children's Hospital ER for a good 9+ hours. 
Aunt Fe and Aunt Beaner came to keep us company. Thankfully it was a children's hospital so there was a list of movies a mile long and crayons to color with. 

And even better than crayons was the Cadillac Escalade Avery discovered charging in the corner of a blocked hallway. Within no time we were cruising in style. Believe me when I say they don't skimp on even the kid's version of a Cadillac. This thing had a working radio! The ER was basically deserted, so nurses stood at posts scanning open doors for us as we made our circle around over and over.

I can't say enough good things about our experience at Omaha Children's (oh wait, one exception - the lead anesthesiologist). The doctors and nurses were phenomenal. Just phenomenal.

Avery had an MRI done of her spine and it ruled out the one thing they were looking for, but didn't answer why she is still experiencing other symptoms. So off we go to a pediatric neurologist on Monday afternoon. I'm a worrier by nature and my brain always goes first to worst case scenario, so my mental space has been occupied for the last couple of weeks. However, I'm doing my best to Let Go, Let God. That means on some bad days my Christian playlist is working nonstop for a few hours, but it helps. We're doing all we can to get her the best care possible so we can figure out what is going on.


And along with all this other stuff, we're a foster home for the German Shepard Dog Rescue of Iowa and are now fostering a five year-old named Ben. His elderly owner passed away, and he needed a home while an adoptive family is found. 

Some of you might remember when Jared brought home a German Shepard puppy almost 3 years ago and I made him take it back. (Still sorry-not-sorry about that one.) This is a great way to embrace Jared's love of animals without the commitment of an extra dog full-time. Although, please don't think I am naive. I'm sure one of these times we will all fall hard in love and there will be no need to search for an adoptive home.


Ben is a chill dog. Honestly, he still seems a bit depressed and it is taking a bit for him to adjust to all the activity around our house. But he is sweet and well-behaved. And great with our kids. And our dog. And our cat. 
Graham has tripped and fallen on him multiple times and Ben just looked over, licked him, and went back to napping.
Ben will probably be with us for a couple more weeks. That gives us more time to discover his true personality behind some of the sadness and help in the selection of his forever family.


So that's our crazy life update. I'm hoping and praying that this next week goes as planned so we can fit in some school shopping between doctor appointments and a little two-day getaway for Jared and me before school starts. 

Here's to enjoying the last of what summer has to offer!