Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Tale of Two Sheepies

Gray's favorite stuffed animal is, hands down, his Sheepie. Problematically, Rain recently decided Sheepie is her favorite too. Since learning to walk, Sheepie has been her constant companion. She toddles through the house, Sheepie's body tucked into the crook of her elbow and his soft ear against her cheek. 

"Do you want Piggie?" I asked, handing her the adorable corduroy pig some friends of ours gave her for a baby gift. "How about this nice soft doll?' But no, if it wasn't Sheepie, she flung it to the floor in a demonstration of absolute rejection.

Evenings posed the biggest challenge. Despite sharing his beloved lamb with his sister during the day, Gray was by no means going to accept his bedtime fate without his fleecy companion tucked in beside him. After surrendering Sheepie to the rightful owner, Rain would collapse to the floor in a fit of tears.

One evening I sat down to eBay, and on the eighth-or-so page of "stuffed sheep" results, I found him. An exact twin. $10. Free shipping. I've never hit "submit order" with so much certainty. 

Sheepie #2 arrived one Tuesday afternoon while Gray was running errands with Daddy. Rain smiled when I pulled him out of the package. "Beepie!" When Gray returned home and saw two sheep on the living room floor, he laughed and laughed. 

Since then, there has been a fair amount of peace. Sometimes the kids want two Sheepies at once, one in each arm, but for the most part they are content to each own one. The funniest part: they know whose is whose. New Sheepie is so white and fluffy compared to his older counterpart. I'm curious to see how long it takes before his fleece is dingy and matted like Veteran Sheepie's. (Why, oh why, did my kids both choose a pure white stuffed animal as their favorite lovey?)

"Maybe the mailman will bring us another Sheepie!" Gray predicted as he saw the postal truck making its rounds the next day. 

"Hmmm...probably not," I replied. "Two sheep makes a perfect flock!" (Yes, you can read into that however much you'd like. :-) )

Thursday, November 27, 2014


When I looked out the window and saw this idyllic little scene, I made a mad dash for the camera. My heart is full!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reflecting on Fall

We Midwesterners were thoroughly spoiled by a long and lingering fall. Here's a glimpse into some of our favorite moments:

Fresh Butterfinger doughnuts. How did we ever survive before owning a doughnut pan?

 Cool mornings call for warm kitchens and an eager Cook's Helper. 

Can you tell which buns are his?

 So pleased with his creations! He put them in his own kitchen to cool. 

Sharing kombucha by the back porch.

 Evening hikes on my sister's farm. 

Watching the harvest.

Introducing the kids to my favorite children's musician, Jack Pearson, at our local book festival. 

Enjoying family time at our annual church convention.

These two make me smile every day! 

Lots of hikes in the refreshing fall temps.

 Gray and his straw hat are inseparable these days! 

Gray fashioned a "bow" from a strip of plastic off the saran wrap box and turned his guitar into a violin! 

 Introducing Rain to her Auntie Kayla.

Canning applesauce.

Discovering a yummy organic orchard not far from home. 

Harvesting our garden.

Special treats to celebrate Kayla's visit home. (These chocolate-filled croissants from Trader Joe's were AWESOME!)

 Family time at Frontenac State Park.

Enjoying my parents' new puppy--the sweetest Great Pyrenees / Anatolian Shepherd.

Frolicking through the leaves.

Trick-or-treating with two little giraffes.

Strolling around our little town on crisp nights.

And just like that, frosty turned to frigid, and brisk to blustering. Oh well, we enjoyed fall while it lasted!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Year of Sundays

As the resident photography buff, I am the one behind the lens in most of our family shots.

To remedy this, we decided to document Rain's first year of life by having Mike photograph Mama and Baby every Sunday.

We missed a couple weeks here and there, but overall we stuck to it for a year. The resulting time-lapse demonstrates what we already suspected: babies grow far too fast, and I wear my favorite striped cardi a bit too much. (Hey--I can play the comfy clothes card for at least a year postpartum, right?)

If you have a tiny one on the way, I strongly encourage you to embark on some sort of documentation photo project. We forget so many details of that whirlwind first year!

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

She's One!

Seems like just the other day she was a wee little thing sleeping in her rock-and-play. And now she's a jabbery, squirmy, motor-noise-making one-year-old!

Rain was born with a calm countenance and wise eyes. Friends constantly say she looks like she could spout off an entire paragraph (although she has only a few words so far). She just looks around like she gets it. She is discovering more and more mischief these days, but even still, there is a certain peacefulness about her that adds so much to our home.

One of the past year's greatest joys has been watching a special bond develop between Gray and Rain. Only fifteen months apart, they are simultaneously competitors and the fastest of friends. They make each other laugh like no one else can, and seek each other out for playtime, giggle fests, and comfort. 

Guilty mom confession: so far her only birthday cake has been a leftover slice of Mommy's from a couple days before. (Side effect of having birthdays so close together!) But come Saturday we will make amends by throwing her a sunshine-themed party. Cheesy? Absolutely! But when you have a little Ray-Ray in your life, cheesy can't be helped. 

Happy birthday, sweet girl! We love you so! 

Photo credit: Black and white family shot by Noelle Bakken Photography 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Costco Apple Container Art

For the longest time I felt guilty whenever I tossed one of these Costco apple containers into the recycling bin. Not just because they're a giant waste of packaging, but because they're positively bursting with artistic potential. Just look at all those little compartments!    
If you haven't spent time with a toddler lately, I'll remind you that little people are the world's biggest hoarders. They move piles of stuff around, reorganize it in containers, and then relocate their treasures to a new location. 

I decided to play off of Gray's rearranging instincts for this activity. I filled the apple compartments with paint and "found objects" like flowers, leaves, and rocks, and let him have at it. 
 He spent a long time dabbing, mixing, and rearranging. 
Then he took a little break to visit the hens. (And maybe gather some inspiration for his masterpiece?) 

I think he looks like a little monk in a robe! Maybe a punk monk, with that dash of pink in his hair.
Here's one of the finished products. Kind of pretty, no?
I love having a child who's old enough for art projects and young enough to still think Mom's ideas are fun. And I especially love when cheap project ideas arise from unexpected places. Thanks, Costco! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Favorite Essential Oil

What a happy coincidence that one of the most versatile essential oils is also one of the cheapest! I reach for lemon essential oil almost every day. Here are some of my favorite uses:

- 2-3 drops of lemon in a load of laundry keeps the washing machine fresh and our clothes smelling amazing. (Even those dirty diaper loads!) I love knowing that lemon essential oil is not just eradicating questionable smells, but its antimicrobial properties are also killing germs in our clothes.

Have you ever forgotten a load in the washer and been greeted by that musty stench the next time you opened the lid? A few drops of lemon and an extra rinse cycle will solve your problem.

- Lemon is an incredible degreaser. I use it to clean handprints off the wall and splatters from behind the stove. (I dilute slightly with water to make it go further.) It's a workhorse on the filthy oven door. Lemon also helps remove grease stains from clothing.

- Looking for a pick-me-up? Lemon and wild orange diffused together is one of the most uplifting blends I've found. Lemon and lavender is also an amazing combination--simultaneously calming and elevating. If you don't have a diffuser, just simmer a few drops of essential oil with water on the stove.

- I use Lemon essential oil, white vinegar, vodka, and water in my fast and easy all-purpose cleaner. I will share the recipe soon!

- One drop of lemon on a microfiber cloth is an effective way to clean screens on your electronic devices. I use it on my laptop and camera.

DoTerra Everyday has a list of 101 uses for the three most common oils: lavender, lemon, and peppermint. If you are new to the world of essential oils, their list is an inspiring and doable place to start. I always keep intro kits of lavender, lemon, and peppermint in stock, so if you are interested, let me know. The kits are very affordable and include intro dvds.

Some ideas from the 101 Uses List I want to remember to try:

- Lemon to remove gum from hair. (Well I don't really want to try this, but I will be glad for a solution when the opportunity inevitably presents itself.)

- A lemon-soaked rag as leather maintainer. Just in time for boot season!

- Lemon to clean stainless steel appliances and silver.

- Lemon added to dishwasher detergent for spot-free dishes.

I'd love to hear from you! What's your most-reached-for essential oil? What's your favorite use for lemon? 

As always, if you have questions about essential oils visit my FAQ page or shoot me a message!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Perfect Timing

Timing is everything in photography, unfortunately for us parents. By the time we run for the camera and return to the adorable scene, the kids have gone from holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" to bopping each other's heads with Lego men.

Rain has been working on standing this week, and I keep forgetting to snap a picture of her milestone. So when I walked into the bedroom this morning and saw Gray and Rain standing together at the window, I dashed madly up and down the stairs and over two baby gates to grab my camera.

My chances of catching the shot were slim to none, but a sibling moment this perfect required me to at least try.

And--surprise!--I was rewarded for my efforts. There he was, arm around his sister's back (he doesn't like it when she falls), both of them still looking out the window at the misty morning. 

The photography stars aligned! Not a great picture technically speaking, but a priceless shot to me. (What is it about seeing our children together that tugs so firmly on our heartstrings?)

How about you...have you captured any blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments lately?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sibling Equality (Or a Pair of Toms for Rain)

Kids should be treated more or less equally, no?

Anyway, that's the excuse I made to justify snagging Rain this fun little pair of Toms on Zulily. I bought her brother the cutest gray Toms when he was her age and figured it was a tradition worth upholding.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Zulily, it's an addictive women's and kids' daily deals site that offers up to 70% off designer brands. Zulily is totally free to join, and if a daily email is too much temptation, you can opt to be notified only when your favorite brands roll around. When you purchase something from Zulily, you also get to enjoy free shipping on everything else you order that day, even if it's all in separate orders.

The Toms event is only on through Friday, September 12, but Zulily has lots of other fun deals coming up. (Carters and Horny Toad look promising!) I'm thinking of matching ties for Gray and Daddy and maybe a new construction toy to put aside for when cabin fever sets in. 

Which means I may have to look for another toy for Rain. Have to keep things equal, you know! 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gray's First Kayaking Expedition

Gray and I embarked on his maiden kayak journey Labor Day afternoon. Having never taken a two-hour paddle with a two-year-old before, I was a little apprehensive. Would he kick and thrash twenty minutes into the journey, sick of being contained in the small boat? Would he loudly protest the sun in his eyes and life jacket's brace-like restraint around his neck, forcing us to bail and hitchhike home with some old farmer?

Gray's typically hour-long nap had been reduced to a ten-minute catnap on the way, giving me even more reason to be nervous. This wasn't just a kayak trip with a toddler, but a two-hour "bonding experience" with a tired toddler--yikes.

Ten minutes into our journey, we passed Mike along the riverbank. (He had driven downstream to snap our picture.) Gray had already said he was "stuck" (he was somewhat scrunched between my legs), and I was seriously tempted to call it a great first trip and send him home with Daddy. But I summoned my sense of adventure, and we waved and continued on our way.

The afternoon could not have been more perfect for kayaking. We were simultaneously warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze. Cicadas and grasshoppers sang in the grassy riverbanks, and enormous cloud mountains towered above us, punctuated by the occasional eagle. Three turtles jumped off a log as we passed, their formation mirrored by a cluster of jets in the sky.

Gray narrated the river's every twist and turn and kept exclaiming, "The pyrex is swimming!" (He calls the kayak a pyrex, much to our amusement.) He also sang, "Mare, mare, mare the boat, gently down the stream," in his signature toddler falsetto. (He gets the "merrily, merrily" chorus a little confused with the "row, row" part--ha!)

In Gray's mind, the trip's highlight was pulling our boat to shore and eating our jerky and dried mangoes on a log. (He is all about the food, that boy.)

In Mommy's mind, the trip's highlight was that I kept us afloat and happy for two hours. No tipping! No tantrums!

All too soon, we arrived at the boat landing, and there was Daddy, ready to load our muddy kayak into the freshly vacuumed Caravan.

Gray's first kayak trip was a success, and I'm enjoying it even more in retrospect (as we often do with things that make us a bit nervous!). Can't wait to go again!

Mike kayaked the rest of the river into Red Wing later that afternoon. Here's Gray and Rain,
watching for Daddy to round the Mississippi's big bend and dock at Bay Point Park.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Our Third Child (For Now)

We have another baby in the house! And no, it's not what you think. 

Our backyard garden is pretty much like a third child right now: labor-intensive and incredibly time-consuming! But oh-so-rewarding. Beautiful, too, wouldn't you agree?

The kids love the abundance of late-summer backyard time and are often content to play on a blanket near the garden's edge while I pick. (Until Gray gets a notion to stomp Nasturtiums or poke tomatoes, that is.)

There's something so satisfying about snipping and cutting beans on a warm summer evening as cricket songs drift through the kitchen screen door and a whirring fan cools a pan of freshly cooked beans. It's funny how a dreaded childhood chore now makes me so nostalgic. (And yes, I can't wait for the day when I can dump another mountain of beans in front of my children who think they are finally done snipping and cutting. I will just tell them how much longer the rows and higher the piles my mom made me tend to when I was their age!)

Soon the garden will be covered in snowdrifts and juicy tomatoes reduced to a distant memory. Until then, bring on the weeds and watering, picking and preserving. Everything else can wait...we have a garden to tend and freezer to fill!