Mara at 2 years old

Mara turned two in September (can’t believe it’s already been more than two months since then),and she is indeed every bit a two-year-old.


I wrote this post much closer to her actual birthday, but had been putting off going through photos to add. So here’s Mara at age two.

Independent (yet still my shadow), stubborn (but if you wait long enough she might change her mind), chatty (unless she’s not sure about you) and full of energy.

I love this girl so much.


Mara has always been easygoing, and although the two-year mark has given her a new air of toddler feistiness, she still is a go-anywhere gal. We took three major road trips this summer (plus a bunch of small ones), and even a terrible, horrible viral rash she suffered on our 16-hour drive to Colorado didn’t slow us down too much. It helps that she’s still snuggly and loves to be held and worn, so our Ergo is our secret weapon.


Asleep while hiking.


Poor sicky while on vacation, and just before her birthday.

Despite having an older brother, Mara has some girliness in her that I didn’t expect. She has been telling me from a very young age that she wants earrings in her ears, and loves to pick out her clothes and shoes and wear purses around.

Bocce ball bag becomes a purse.

Bocce ball bag becomes a purse.

She loves caring for baby dolls and stuffed animals. She enjoys coloring and can’t be trusted with a writing utensil (doors, wood floors, newly painted cabinets and tables in our house have all gotten the Mara treatment). Her favorite books mostly include fuzzy animals that she can pet—she often points to cute animals in books and says longingly, “I want hold it.”

At the zoo she gets to pet a live animal.

Mara is not shy (usually) about singing or dancing, and she’s great at both. I’m amazed at how quickly she learns the words to songs.

Dancing at an outdoor music night.

Dancing at an outdoor music night.

Her latest dance move (and general mode of transportation) is jumping. Just call her Jumping June.


You can often hear her singing “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” to herself (she actually is right now, ha!), but she also has a huge thing for a song from Vacation Bible School this summer. It involves sign language hand movements and a lot of excitement.


Duck face with cousin Delaney.

Mara loves to be around other kids, and gets really giggly and huggy when she’s with her friends. She’s also a big fan of Corban (most of the time) and they can be absolutely precious and sweet when they play together.



She seems to be nearly fluent in spoken English, though I sometimes have to ask Corban to act as interpreter. He can usually figure out what she’s saying faster than anyone else. It’s hilarious when she strings together long sentences to people who don’t know her well and can’t fully understand her dialect. They just smile and nod.


People often think Mara is younger than she is, probably because she still has wispy baby hair and likes to be held. While her hair is long enough for barrettes or tiny pigtails, she usually rips them out promptly, much to my chagrin.

Her neon pink baseball cap is more her thing.

Her neon pink baseball cap is more her thing.

Parenting a second child is way different than a firstborn, and that has become much more evident over these past months. When you’re sibling is older and bigger than you, you learn to assert yourself earlier. And it just seems like Mara has jumped right into some older toddler (mis)behaviors that Corban didn’t learn until he was a little older.

It is strange, though, the juxtaposition between Mara being the baby and also growing and advancing so quickly. She’s in my arms cuddling one minute, then running around and singing all the words to a song or acting like a moody teenager the next. I’ll take all the snuggles I can get, though!


I am so incredibly thankful for this dear little girl God has placed in my care.


Mara’s many birthday celebrations included…

Cake (failed altitude baking) with friends on her birthday eve at the house we rented in Colorado:

Still not 100% after being sick :(

Still not 100% after being sick :(

Birthday morning balloons:


Opening a gift from grandparents (clearly Corban was more into it…still not quite herself after sickness):


On her birthday, we went to Breckenridge and rode the gondola up the ski mountain:


At the top, we played her brother’s favorite game:

In Missouri, we had pie to celebrate both Mara’s and Peter’s Mom’s birthdays:


And in Illinois, doughnuts (her favorite treat) to celebrate with my siblings and grandparents:


She certainly is loved!

Jake and the Neverland Pirates Halloween costumes

Corban’s favorite TV show is “Jake and the Neverland Pirates”—it’s a spinoff of Disney’s “Peter Pan” about a crew of nice pirates (Jake, Izzy and Cubby) who interact with Captain Hook, Smee and their gang. He’s been in full Jake/pirate mode since last year, so naturally he wanted to be Jake for Halloween.


Of course this is the prime age for adorable coordinating sibling costumes, so I convinced Mara to be Tinker Bell (she makes a guest appearance on the show once in a while—it’s set in Neverland, after all).


Corban wanted to get the whole family involved, including stuffed animals, so Peter dressed up as Smee and I was Izzy. The stuffed animals were on their own for costumes, though. (Corban sighed last night, “But Quacky doesn’t have a Scully costume…”)

After browsing the costume selection available online, I decided it would be fun and easy to make all of our costumes.

Fun, it certainly was. Easy? Well, that would be a stretch. It was definitely doable, but all the little details added up and this ended up being the most ambitious costume undertaking I’ve attempted.

But I really did have a blast putting all four costumes together, and I’m pleased with how they turned out.

If you’re looking to make a DIY Jake, Izzy, Smee or Tinker Bell costume, read on for details on each of them.

First, some highlights from our Halloween:


Halloween crafts at the library, and the first test run of the costume. 


Somehow we wrangled 15 kids into a Halloween party photo.


There’s my Izzy costume.



This poor pumpkin didn’t stand a chance.


Carved a pirate pumpkin.


And got a little fancy.


Eager to start trick-or-treating.


Tink didn’t end up doing much walking. Plus, it was cold and misting.


Pretty good haul. I showed them how to sort their candy.

Now, for the costume tutorials…



Jake the pirate

There are three basic parts to a Jake costume: The shirt, the vest and the boots. Let’s start with the easiest one.

Jake’s T-shirt

White T-shirt
About 10 inches black ribbon

Cut the collar and sleeve hems off the T-shirt. Cut a few slits in each sleeve and make a 3- or 4-inch cut down from the middle of the collar.


Cut two slits on each side of that cut and slide a black ribbon through to form a loose X. Tie the ribbon at the bottom inside the shirt.

Jake’s vest

Navy blue T-shirt
Yellow bias tape (found in the sewing department of a fabric/craft store—it is more like ribbon)
Fusible bonding web (such as Stitch Witchery)
4 yellow buttons
Yellow thread and needle

Cut off the shirt’s sleeves and collar and cut straight down the middle of the shirt to make a vest.


The 3T shirt ended up being a little too small, so for the final version I used a 5T (Corban is 3, going on 4).

Iron the bias tape to remove any creases. Iron the vest to make a collar.


Starting from the bottom of one flap of the vest, use the bonding web to attach the bias tape along the edge of the shirt. Since bias tape consists of several layers folded lengthwise, I actually attached mine around the edge—using bonding web on both the inside and outside of the vest. This looks nicer than just attaching it to the outside of the vest.


Work your way along the edge of the shirt, lining the flap of the collar*, around the back of the neck**, back down the other collar and around the back of the vest, cutting the bias tape into sections as needed (I used six separate sections of tape).

*I attached part of the collar flap to the shirt with bonding web to help keep it in place:


**”Pop” the collar up as you go around:


Sew two buttons on each side of the vest. (Side note, why are buttons so expensive?! It took me a good hunt to find inexpensive yellow buttons that were the right size and color.)

Jake’s boot covers

This was a serious challenge for me, so I’m pretty proud that they turned out. They fit over shoes and are a lot cheaper than Uggs (plus, you can paint Jake’s signature “J” on them). Here’s what you need:

4 yards brown felt
This pattern
Yellow paint (I just used some acrylic I had)


I followed this tutorial. The biggest challenge was to decipher the instructions since they were a bit confusing at parts. One thing I didn’t realize until my mom stepped in to help is that “right sides” in sewing lingo means the sides you want to show in the end, not the sides opposite the left. With felt, it doesn’t matter, but knowing that will help clarify the linked instructions. Another helpful hint: at the start of step 5, turn the boots rightside out.

One thing we (my mom) added was to fold and hand stitch the tops of the cuffs into the boot. (Yikes, it’s not easy writing sewing instructions!)


After the boots are constructed, use a paintbrush to paint a solid gold rectangle on the tops of the feet and Js on the insides of the cuffs. Strangely, the J on Jake’s left boot is a mirror image of the right, so it’s backwards. (I’ve Googled “Jake pirate” images an embarrassing number of times while working on this costume.)


Other Jake elements

Red headband—just a thick strip of red fabric (we already had one from a pirate costume I’ve worn)

Hair—Find some mega extreme hold hair gel (that’s how the one I used marketed itself) and spike that hair straight up in front.

Thick black belt/cummerbund—you could cut up an old T-shirt or do what I did and tie a pair of black tights around your son’s waist (tuck in the ends in the back)

Wooden sword—Peter insisted we buy this instead of attempt to make it. I’m glad we did even though we payed way more than we should have on Amazon for an apparently discontinued Disney Store set of Jake accessories. It’s foam and nice and Corban loves it, plus it came with a spyglass (much better than the paper towel roll I had planned) and pouch of gold dubloons.

Tinker Bell

There are a lot of routes you can take with Tinker Bell. I wanted to be as authentic to the Disney version as possible while making it appropriate for a two-year-old (um, look at Tink…she is a mature, scantily clad woman).

My plan was to do something like this, but use a leotard instead of sewing the body myself. I found an adorable mint green leotard, but at the last minute decided the mint green didn’t look right, so ended up hand-sewing an alternative last night. It was a smart move. Here are the elements of our toddler Tink costume.

Tinker Bell’s skirt

1 1/4 yards green fabric (get something that won’t fray)
Matching green thread
Non-roll elastic (for the waist)
Ruffled ribbon/trim (for the waist)
1 roll cream or white tulle
Thin elastic (for the waist of the tutu)

I followed this tutorial for the skirt. It was simple, even for a sewing novice like me. The ruffled ribbon is a good addition to cover up the seam along the waist.


Tulle tutus are the easiest thing to make. Just loop-tie strips of tulle to a thin elastic waistband. It’s a fun touch for under the Tinker Bell skirt.


Tinker Bell’s top

White long sleeve shirt
Leftover green fabric from the skirt
Matching green thread

Cut and pin green fabric to the shirt, starting under the arm on one side and continuing all the way around the shirt. Hand stitch the fabric to the shirt, then stitch it down the side. You’ll tuck the shirt in, so don’t worry about the bottom.


Tinker Bell’s wings

This took me a bunch of finagling and trial and error. I will try to explain what I did, though.

2 white wire hangers
1 pair white adult women’s tights
Small piece of tape
Thin elastic
Glitter glue (optional—I never ended up adding it)

Tink’s wings each have a tall pointed section on top and a smaller, round part on bottom. For a toddler, one hanger is plenty large enough for each wing. First, untwist the necks of the hangers and use pliers to form each into the shape of the wings. Leave a few inches of the end sticking out from the middle and use that part to hook the two wings together by twisting them around each other.


Now, unhook the wings from one another (stay with me for a minute). Cut the legs off the tights and stretch them tightly over the wings starting over the top section of wing. I twisted them a little in between the two wing sections to help keep the shape, then pulled the open end of the tights back up to the middle after going over the bottom section.

Poke the end of the wire (the part that will hook the wings together) through the tights once the tights are in place. Now, re-connect the wings. The ends of the tights will just be hanging out for now. Wrap tape around the connecting pieces of wire to keep them together (it’s OK if it’s not totally secure at this point).

Tie the thin elastic into a loop that will fit across your little one’s back and hook around her arms. Poke the elastic into the hole of the tights on one wing and finagle it to loop around a section of wire inside, then repeat on the other wing so the wings now have elastic straps coming out from the middle.

Tie the loose ends of the tights together around the connecting wire, pulling one leg around the back, then tying it together with the other leg on the side of the wings that will be facing out (the side without the elastic straps), then bringing both sides around to the side with the elastic and tying them together there (so the legs are tied together on both the front and the back of the wings).



Paint glitter onto the wings if desired.

Tinker Bell’s magic wand

1 chop stick or other thin, wooden stick
Silver washi tape
White or cream tulle

Wrap washi tape around the stick in a spiral motion to cover.

Make two tulle pom poms. To make each, cut 20-30 4-inch strips of tulle (1/2-inch-wide). Lay a wider (2- to 3-inch-wide) 4-inch strip of tulle down and stack the 20-30 strips perpendicular on top of it. Tie the thicker strip around the center of the stack of strips and knot it tightly, then knot the ends around the end of the tape-covered stick. Repeat to make the second pom pom and tie it to the same end of the stick but on the opposite side. Tape the ends of the tulle strips you used to tie the pom poms together down to the stick, using the same spiral taping motion to cover them completely.

Separate the 1/2-inch strips in all directions to form a puffy ball, trimming where necessary to form a sphere around the tip of the stick.


Other Tink elements

Shoes—Make tulle pom poms as described above, but tie or pin them to the toes of a pair of white or green ballet flats (technically Tink wears green shoes).

Hair—She wears her hair in a high bun with a little ribbon around it and bangs sweeping down and to the side.

Izzy the pirate

Izzy’s shirt

Light pink T-shirt
Darker pink permanent marker

Cut the hems off the sleeves and bottom of a light pink T-shirt. Cut wide scallops around the bottom and sleeves. Outline the edges in marker, adding loops between each scallop. Outline the neckline, adding an upside down V shape at the neck (I messed this part up so it looks pretty bad).


Izzy’s bandana

Medium pink bandana or old T-shirt
Light pink fabric paint

If using an old T-shirt, cut the hem off the bottom, then cut straight up the middle as high as you can get before hitting graphics, or up to about the sternum or mid-back. Cut all the way around the shirt from that point, so you end up with a large rectangle. Cut it into an obtuse triangle.


Paint loops and dots along the edge of the triangle, as pictured.


Izzy’s pouch necklace

8-inch circle of yellow fabric
24-inch strip of felt (1/4- to 1/2-inch wide) or two 12-inch strips (or use brown yarn, string or cord)

We had a pouch lying around so I just used that, but you can easily make one by cutting a circle from yellow fabric and gathering the edges together to form a pouch. Tie the felt strips or string around the top to secure it. On the show, this pouch contains pixie dust.

Other Izzy elements

Hair—Pigtails, or if your hair is really long like mine then add braids in to keep it under control. Wrap strips of brown felt around each pigtail. Corban called me out because Izzy has a piece of hair sticking out from the front, so if your hair is the right length to do that, you should probably do it.

Boots—I just wore my Minnetonkas, but you could make boot covers like the Jake ones I made, just without the painted parts (note the pattern I used is for toddler size 8 to 10).

Pants—Izzy wears purple pants. I found these purple fleece-lined leggings on Amazon for $5. They are super warm and comfy, though not the greatest quality (but hey, only five dollars!).

Earrings—Like any good pirate, Izzy wears gold hoop earrings.



This is oh so easy, hence the reason I switched from the original plan of Peter being Captain Hook.

Hat—Bright red stocking cap.

Shirt—Blue and white striped T-shirt.

Shorts—Royal blue (it was cold so Peter wore jeans).

Glasses—He wears round glasses on the tip of his nose. (Forgot this.)

Belly—Stuff a pillow in if you don’t naturally have a pot belly. Peter was going to, but ended up not bothering.


Kidventures: NEWaukee Night Market

Food, music, art, shopping, “activities” (as I sold it to Corban)… the NEWaukee Night Market is a free open air market that sets up one Wednesday a month from June through September on West Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee.


Half our Wednesday evenings are spent with our church Community Group, so it never worked out for us to go last summer. But last month, the market finally fell on a Wednesday we were free, so I marked my calendar well in advance for it.

I’m so glad I did! It was energizing to see that area of downtown–not “bad,” but relatively lifeless for being in the heart of downtown–made vibrant by Milwaukeeans out on a beautiful weeknight enjoying a curated sampling of local culture.


Had we not had Corban and Mara with us, I would have loved to peruse all the booths of local makers. From what I saw, it was like a classy craft fair, with people selling handmade items that appeal to modern taste.


Instead, we said hi to Peter’s co-workers at the Pick ‘N’ Save nacho bar (only $1), ate fancy tacos, roasted marshmallows, danced to music, watched an ice sculptor and a painter at work and stumbled upon an outdoor story time hosted by the Milwaukee Public Library.


I love events like this that are friendly to any age.


There are two more Night Markets this summer: Wednesday, Aug. 19 and Sept. 16.

This was on my big list of summer fun. See the full list here.


Sciency fun: Pool noodle marble track

We checked off another at-home item on our big list of summer fun the other week, and it is too good not to share.

Inspired by this blog post and the fun my kids had at an exhibit at the children’s museum featuring golf balls on wooden tracks, we made this genius creation: a marble track.


It cost $3 total for two pool noodles and a giant bag of marbles at the dollar store. I used a serrated bread knife to slice the noodles in half, taped them end-to-end with patterned duct tape and then let the fun begin. It took less than five minutes to make our giant track.


Corban has been having a blast with it for the past week. He’s gotten more confident in creating his own configurations, experimenting with different heights, curves and items at the end for the marble (or “narble,” as he calls it) to roll into. I love how he’s unknowingly learning about velocity and friction–but to him it’s just fun. Yay physics!


Mara likes to help but sometimes gets in the way of big brother’s fun, so I’d say this is more appropriate for ages 3+ (I find it just as much fun as Corban, so it’d be great for older kids too). The shorter race track version like my inspiration would be easier for younger ones.


Our cats are fascinated by it, too, so this is definitely something the whole family can enjoy!


Homemade Strawberry Coconut Lime Popsicles

We’ve been steadily checking items off our big list of summer fun. Today, since the weather was a bit meh and I was feeling estranged from our house, we stayed home and finally got around to making popsicles.

These recipes all sound fancy and fantastic, but it was 7:30 a.m. and I had two tiny helpers, so a real recipe wasn’t going to happen. Here’s what we improvised instead.


Strawberry Coconut Lime Popsicles
Makes about 8 popsicles

1 can coconut milk
10-15 frozen strawberries
Juice of 1/2 lime
Maple syrup, to taste
Unsweetened, shredded coconut

Do not shake the can of coconut milk before opening. Open and skim off the layer of cream from the top (reserve for another use — like coconut whipped cream!). Add about half the remaining coconut milk, frozen strawberries, lime juice and maple syrup to a blender and blend until smooth, adding more coconut milk if needed. Add a handful of unsweetened coconut flakes and pulse until combined.

Sprinkle a pinch of coconut flakes in the bottom of each popsicle mold and fill each mold with the puree. Insert the popsicle sticks and freeze until hard, about 4 hours. For us, that meant lunchtime!



Great success!

They aren’t too sweet, but were a huge treat to the kids. Mara mowed hers down to a stump then traded me for the remaining half of my popsicle. Nice move, little one.



My progress on 100 life goals

I officially have less than one year left in my 20s. This feels big. But also inevitable. And right, I suppose. I mean, I have two kids. I’ll fit right in when I hit my 30s. (I’m certainly not rushing it though!)


My 29th birthday was one of the best. It fell on Friday, one of my usual days off work. It included doughnuts (hello, National Doughnut Day), a hike with a friend and her kids (Wehr Nature Center — on my big list of summer fun), a massage at The Pfister in the afternoon and dinner with  Peter at Ardent that night. The whole day felt like a mini-vacation.

One of eight (actually more like 10) courses at Ardent. Escargot with garlic puree and parsley cracker, among other things.

One of eight (actually more like 10) courses at Ardent. Escargot with garlic puree, fennel puree, parsley crisp, etc.

30 seems like such a milestone year, and one that people often use as a deadline to accomplish a set of goals. I love hearing about “30 before 30” lists, but I think my 20s have been pretty epic on their own, so I wasn’t planning on tackling one myself.

Then a few weeks ago I came across a list of 100 life goals I wrote my senior year of high school. It was for an assignment in religion class, to simply write down 100 things, large or small, attainable or bold, you want to do in your lifetime. It’s certainly a good picture of what my priorities and passions were at age 17 (six of them related to the musical “Rent”).

I thought it would be fun to assess, roughly 11 years later, how many of those goals I’ve accomplished, how many I still think I have a shot at and how many I no longer have any interest in pursuing (there are quite a few!).

As it turns out, I’ve only solidly accomplished 19 on the list — 20 if I stretch it a tiny bit (which I am). More if I stretch quite a bit (but I won’t). So…

My version of 30 before 30

I’m going to pick out 10 more from my list of 100 goals to try to knock out in the next year. Then I will have completed 30 of my 100 goals by age 30.

Here’s a breakdown of my list. Some of them are truly embarrassing.


1. Study abroad — Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2006

2. Get rush tickets for the touring production of “Rent” — St. Louis

3. Work in a coffee shop

4. Go snowboarding — took a lesson; after half a day still couldn’t make it down the bunny hill without falling

5. Live in the city–any city — Buenos Aires and Milwaukee

6. Throw the best birthday parties for my kids — probably too soon, but counting it anyway

7. Participate in Relay for Life again — shortly after meeting Peter he walked laps around Stankowski Field with me at 2 a.m.

8. Scrapbook the rest of my senior year

9. Learn to crochet or knit — both!

10. Never stop writing — don’t think I could

11. Sing my children to sleep

12. Plant and cultivate a vegetable garden

13. Drink coffee but never become addicted to it — starting to become debatable whether I’m addicted

14. Get to know the person sitting next to me on an airplane

15. Take a photojournalism class

16. Sail on Lake Michigan

17. TP someone’s house — I know this happened at some point in college. Maybe we TP’d our own house? What a terrible life goal!

18. Get a massage

19. Write letters home by snail mail during college

20. Be in the audience of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno — I was in the audience of The Late Show with David Letterman (far inferior, in my opinion) but I’m counting it anyway

To accomplish before age 30

21. Sleep under the stars

22. Keep in touch with Mr. Stracco — high school AP English teacher

23. Help paint a mural

24. Write a song and perform it

25. Run a mile in under 7 minutes

26. Do the splits — if it’s gonna happen, I suppose it’d better happen soon.

27. Take guitar lessons

28. Go to a Reel Big Fish concert — hmm… looks like they will be in Madison this month.

29. See a concert at the House of Blues

30. Watch all of my friends’ favorite movies at least once — I need to decide who will be counted in this elite group considered “all of my friends”

31. (an extra one just in case) Raft down the Colorado river — we are going to Colorado this summer so this could be a possibility

Sort of accomplished

32. Win a photo contest — I was a finalist in one in college

33. Never buy another greeting card; only make them — technically I have bought a card or two over the years, but I still make 95% of them (not counting blank notecards)

34. See “Wicked” on Broadway with Idina Menzel — saw it in Chicago and Milwaukee, but no Broadway/Idina

35. Run a 5K or another race once a year until I’m 75 — I think I may have missed a year or two

36. Be an anchor for the NBC news — I reported for the NBC affiliate in college, but never anchored

37. Always have lip gloss with me — I do usually have some sort of lip balm. You have to understand this absurd goal in the context that I was a lip gloss addict in high school.

38. Have my own column in a newspaper — My grandma Nana used to call my Journal Sentinel cooking blog my “column.”

39. Stay in close touch with my high school best friends — I’m saying “sort-of” to it because while we do keep in touch, it’s probably not the closeness that I anticipated at age 17 when they were my world. This is normal, since none of them live in the same state as me, but I do treasure their friendships and aspire to grow closer to them rather than further apart.

40. Build a house with Habitat for Humanity — I helped paint the interior of a Habitat house…

41. Decorate a house on my own — I mean… yeah-ish, but our house still has a ways to go.

42. Celebrate Crazy Sweater Day every Dec. 5 — this is a holiday I invented when I was 16. I was a crusader for it in college, but it’s sort of slipped into oblivion.

43. Have at least three children — two down…

44. Plant and cultivate a flower garden — I’ve planted flowers in our yard before. I wouldn’t say I’ve cultivated them.

45. Work in the restaurant industry — I worked at a bagel shop and a sandwich shop in college, but I was thinking sit-down restaurant when I wrote the goal.

46. Get published in a magazine before age 20 — I interned for Time Out Buenos Aires for a few weeks before my 20th birthday, but wasn’t published till months later.

Still on the list

47. Finish all the books I haven’t finished reading this year [senior year of high school]

48. Organize all my photos and keepsakes

49. Find and keep a pen pal

50. Sew a quilt

51. Invent a secret recipe for delicious brownies

52. Pass said recipe down to my children and grandchildren

53. Donate an item to the Benet auction [my high school’s annual fundraiser]

54. Ride in a hot air balloon

55. Participate in a triathlon

56. Start a business selling handmade greeting cards

57. Learn all the constellations

58. Teach all the constellations to someone I care about

59. Model for a catalogue — hahaha, but who knows…

60. Go scuba diving

61. Call in to a radio show and get on the air — I kind of don’t want to ever do this, but again, who knows…

62. Teach

63. Direct children’s theatre

64. Visit Riano, Italy, where my grandfather was born

65. Meet at least one original Broadway cast member of “Rent”

66. Accompany someone on piano

67. Be in a commercial

68. Make a beautiful scrapbook for each of my children and present it to them when they graduate high school

69. Photograph my way across Europe — hmmm how much of Europe would this entail?

70. Go camping in the Boundary Waters again

71. Raise a baby chick from egg to adulthood

72. Voice a cartoon character

Um, no

73. Play intramural Frisbee in college — I played pickup games, does that count?

74. Go to Mass each Sunday in college

75. Drive aimlessly around the country without a plan or a map — this no longer sounds fun to me

76. Own a bookshop — bad financial decision

77. Play Belle in a stage production of “Beauty and the Beast” — I wish

78. Rescue an injured wild animal and nurse it back to health — cliche

79. Become fluent in another language (Spanish or Italian) — I think that ship has sailed

80. Run for a political position

81. Be the editor-in-chief of COSMOGirl! magazine — I adored Atoosa

82. Fly an airplane

83. Publish my journals

84. Audition for “Rent”

85. Work on a political campaign

86. Never live in a house with white walls — white is in! None of our walls are white though.

Just good advice

87. Show my family I appreciate them through my actions

88. Be known for my generosity more than anything else

89. Always remember what it’s like to be a kid

90. Wake up early during the summer

91. Never spoil my kids but spoil my grandkids

92. Be able to say, “I am fairly agile. I can bend and not break, or I can break and take it with a smile.” — The Ataris Dashboard Confessional anyone? I still love these lyrics.

93. Marry my soul mate and stay married forever

94. Never miss an opportunity because of laziness

95. Listen more than I talk


96. Talk to Todd, the Starbucks employee at Barnes and Noble — ???

97. Capture the majesty of a gothic cathedral in words

98. Put a flower on Jonathan Larson’s grave — he’s the creator of “Rent”

99. Get back the roll of film confiscated from me when I saw “Rent” tonight

100. Maintain my undefeated chess record — I had played one game when I wrote this list

101. Have something I say become a famous quote

102. Burn incense and write poetry on the roof of an apartment with a view of the lit up city of San Francisco at night — LOL. This does sound nice, though.

103. Give a homeless person the last, crumpled ten dollar bill from my pocket — dramatic much?

104. Meet someone from the “Rent” message boards — major LOLs

Conclusions after typing up and reading this list:

-I guess it was 104 goals.

-Can you tell I like(d) performing?

-Can you tell I’m right-brained?

-This pretty much sums me up at age 17.

So the countdown begins! I’ll keep you posted as I hopefully cross off the next 10 goals from the list before my next birthday.

Kidventures: Family Kite Festival

We’ve checked a few small things off our summer to-do list so far. Hit up the New Berlin farmers market, went to one of Peter’s softball games, bought tickets for SummerStage, booked a massage (for my birthday tomorrow afternoon!). A few other things are plotted out.

Fly kites at the lakefront was on the list, and the other weekend we did the next best thing: watched other people fly kites at the Family Kite Festival.



It was a gorgeous morning to be at Lake Michigan, in part because there wasn’t much wind. Probably not exactly what the kite festival organizers were hoping for.


But we were able to enjoy the sun and water.



And a gigantic bubble machine!




Corban took hold of my DSLR camera (with the strap around his neck) and shot some photos.




I took some photos myself as we sauntered around.





And by late morning, the wind started to pick up a bit, and the sky began to fill with kites.





We left just as the crowds and wind were picking up, but it was still a perfect Milwaukee spring morning.


Summer to do list: 50 things to do in Milwaukee

Summer is perfect and yet so fleeting here in Wisconsin. So we try to stuff as much outdoor fun as possible into three months. I’m sure this will be even more intense once the kids are in school.

I’ve realized in the past year that it’s not only OK but good not to plan something for every day of the week. Our schedule fills up without a whole lot of effort, and on days when we have nothing planned I’m either relieved to have no pressure or appreciative of the opportunity for spontaneity.

On the flip side, it’s frustrating when activities we’ve been wanting to do slip off our radar because of lack of planning.

So this summer, I want to strike a balance between filling our days with friends and fun and taking a break to relax in our backyard. I want to be intentional about hitting up certain places and activities, and also leave room for impromptu whimsy. So I’m creating a list to help guide my planning in both areas, as well as a few other categories.

Here is my Milwaukee summer to do list.



Weekday (non-workday) adventures with the kids and friends.

1. Milwaukee County Zoo. We got a zoo pass a few weeks ago and have used it three times already. I love our zoo as much as the kids do, and many of our friends do too, so I foresee this as a default activity on nice days.

2. Imagination Station. This fully accessible playground in Oconomowoc looks rockin’.

3. Farmers markets. Corban and I had a lovely date at the Tosa market one Saturday morning last fall, making me realize farmers markets are excellent spots for one-on-one kid time. This season I’d like to hit up Tosa again (live music, and it’s near train tracks), plus New Berlin (near a playground), Waukesha (on a river) and West Allis (huge). Here’s a map of all the markets in southeastern Wisconsin.


4. Urban Ecology Center. Playground, nature center with turtles and snakes, trails and public art. Sounds perfect (minus the snakes, but Corban will love that).

5. Fox Brook Park. This Waukesha County Park has a lovely little beach and playground.


6. Fly kites at the Lake Michigan shore.

7. Walk the Milwaukee Riverwalk and meet Peter for lunch at Bartolotta’s Downtown Kitchen.

8. Fox and Branch concert. This kid-centric music duo has a regular lineup of free concerts.

9. Wehr Nature Center. Hiked there for the first time a couple weeks ago and it is an oasis.


10. Splash pads/pools. There are a bunch of options (this map isn’t even up to date), but I’d like to try tot time at David F. Schulz Aquatic Center, Cool Waters Family Aquatic Center (they open at 10 a.m., earlier than many pools) and any splash pad in our vicinity. We just finished a much-needed session of swim lessons for Corban so I want to keep him in the water this summer.

Activities at home

Quiet mornings, rainy days and other fun at home.

11. Backyard camping. Complete with campfire and s’mores. The sleeping part could very well be disastrous, but in that case we’re only a few feet from our beds.

12. Make play dough. Easy enough, right?

13. Make soap clouds. Trippy.

14. Balloon ping pong.

15. Marble race track. Judging by how much they love the golf ball tracks at Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, both kids would go crazy for this.


16. Treasure hunt. Need to figure out the details of this.

17. Make popsicles.

18. Kiddie pool/sprinkler. Obvi.


19. Yoga. Or at least play around with some kid-friendly poses.

20. Neighborhood bonfire.

21. Outdoor movie night. After the kids go to bed.

Weeknight fun

Forget bedtime. It’s hard to resist all these fun summer weeknight activities.

22. Pewaukee Lake Water Ski Club show. Every Thursday night. Waukesha has a water ski club, too.

23. Cheer on our church’s softball team, of which Peter is a member.

24. New Berlin Concerts at City Center. Haven’t made it to one of these free summer Wednesday night concerts yet.

25. NEWaukee Night Market. Music, art, food, etc. in the streets of downtown Milwaukee, four Wednesdays this summer.

26. River Rhythms. Free Wednesday night concerts at Pere Marquette Park. Somehow, I’ve never been to this. The lineup is excellent. (Side note, why is everything on Wednesday night?!)


Weekend outings to enjoy with the whole family.

27. Pewaukee Beach. Do some late afternoon beach bumming then grab dinner by the water.

28. John’s Drive-In. Just heard about this place, but a throwback spot with root beer floats sounds right up our alley!

29. Fishing at Greenfield Park.

30. Old World Wisconsin. We have never been to this step back in time. Might as well go while both kids are still under 4 (a.k.a. free).

31. Canoe the Milwaukee River. It’s worth it to join the Urban Ecology Center simply for the benefit of free canoe, kayak, bike (and more) rentals.

32. Green Meadows Petting Farm. A preschooler’s paradise.

33. Berry picking. We still have strawberries in the freezer from Barthel Fruit Farm last June. Best strawberries I’ve ever tasted. I wouldn’t mind going back this year, or heading up north a bit to pick blueberries.


34. Bastille Days. In the city of festivals, I love that this one is a true street festival, with free entertainment and a mini-Eiffel Tower. And beignets.

35. Brewers game. Would love to take the kids now that they’re old enough to get excited about it. Corban went to one (vs. Cardinals) game so far this year and loved it.


36. Wisconsin State Fair. I love everything about it.

37. Milwaukee Parks Traveling Beer Garden. Sip a pint of Sprecher while the kids play on the playground. Looks like it’s coming to Greenfield Park this year, yay!


Adult time, just the two of us or with friends.

38. SummerStage at Lapham Peak. The outdoor theater has several plays and concerts this summer. Looks like a good lineup to choose from.

39. Brenner Brewing Co. tour. I bought a Groupon for this, so we definitely need to check out this new-ish art-centric brewery.

40. Art Bus. Never done this, but have heard it’s a good time.

41. Biloba Brewing Co. Family-owned craft brewery in Brookfield.

42. Escape MKE. Another Groupon purchase. This is a timed mission where you’re locked in a room with a challenge to accomplish. Teamwork!

43. Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. We have tickets so need to go to a performance in June.


Me time

Because there are things I like to do that Peter doesn’t.

44. Summerfest. We’ll be out of town for more than half the festival this year, but there are bands I wouldn’t mind seeing every night that we will be in town (not that that’s feasible…). Let me know if you’re game for some music!

45. Massage. I now have two gift certificates for massages, and I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to carve out time for myself to use them. So it’s on the list.

46. Bike the New Berlin Trail. It’s been a long time since I’ve biked, but I’m itching to get out there once again.

Road trips

Our kids are not at great ages to travel, but we’re doing it anyway.

47. Door County. Booked! Peter and I have our first solo getaway planned since we became parents. Can. Not. Wait. We are staying at an adults-only B&B/lodge in Ephraim, Wis.

48. Camping. Ideally, this will happen twice: mid-summer via a canoe trip on the Lower Wisconsin River (a.k.a. paradise. It is beautiful.) and early fall with a group from church.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 1.33.09 AM

49. Branson, Mo. Family reunion time. Waterpark. Theme park. Hiking. Cousins karaoke night. Etc.

50. Colorado. A house rental impulse buy with friends at a live auction, but I don’t think we’ll regret it.


Would you look at that, an even 50!

I know that’s a lot, and I don’t expect to do it all. I’d just like to consult this list as we plan out our summer and as we find ourselves with free days. Nothing wrong with plain old playing with toys at home or walking to the neighborhood parks, but Corban and Mara do a LOT of that, especially when I’m at work, so this is my counter to that.

Bonus: I didn’t put this on the list because we’re doing it today, but hiking and picnicking at Minooka Park is also a great summer activity!

More resources: 50 things to do in Lake Country this summer | 100 things to do in Wisconsin this summer | Things to do for free or under $5 with kids in Milwaukee | 50 family fun spring break ideas13 rooftop spots to check out

What’s on your summer to do list? What else should I add to mine?


In the garden

Last weekend we were at my parents’ after our niece’s birthday party, and Corban helped his Papa with a little gardening.


I’m torn about how much gardening to do this year. It’s a lot of work, so I’m tempted to take a year off… but I know the kids would love to “help” and it’d provide some great teachable moments.

My dad is already a month in with spinach, lettuce, beans and all sorts of other seeds.


Some new ornamentation was added to their backyard since our last visit. The concrete stepping stones we made for my grandparents in 1999 have found a new home now that their house is being cleaned out.


Corban still has a little growing to do to catch up with my 13-year-old hand.


And I found that apparently my hands have grown just a tiny bit since then.


The afternoon felt like a taste of summer—warm air, lush grass and a long evening of grilling and relaxing.




Plus some good old-fashioned ball-throwing.



I’m finally starting to move my camera off automatic setting. With some shutter speed adjustment, I captured this little sequence:




To bring this back to gardening, we did do a little planting adventure yesterday, using the planting kits in the goodie bags from Isla’s party. We dubbed it “Curious Corban Plants a Seed.”

Since we can’t grow plants inside due to mischievous kitties (see my solution for fresh flowers here) I have been wanting to make mini terrariums using some glass jars from our bathroom. These little pots were the perfect size for that.

It was pretty magical watching the freeze dried dirt pellets grow into a pile of soil.



I potted the soil and little fingers were eager to push in the seeds.



It’s a “shrinking plant” that reacts to your touch, so this could be fun once it grows.


They will probably outgrow the jars quickly, but by then hopefully we can plant them outside.


Even after all this fun and a good chunk of hours spent doing yardwork this weekend, I’m still torn on the to-garden-or-not issue. What would you do? Take a year off and focus on landscaping and a few potted herbs, plus trips to the farmers market? Or plant some tomatoes and zucchini and pray for regular rainfall (less manual watering = less work)?

First birthday sign

A garden/bunny-themed first birthday party

Our dear niece Isla turned one last week and over the weekend we attended her birthday party on an especially sunny, warm spring day. So beautiful, in fact, that the party was held outside! (Not something to be taken for granted in April in Chicagoland.)

My sister, Lauren, kept the garden/bunny theme simple and subtle. Here are some of the details that made this party casual yet adorable.

The spread was sandwiches, an incredible salad that included figs, avocado and roasted chickpeas, some addictive dips and popcorn.

Bunny-themed first birthday party

And bunnies!

Bunny-themed first birthday party

First birthday sign

Isla’s monthly photos lined the patio door as we swooped inside and outside throughout the afternoon.

First birthday photo collection

First birthday photo collection

Lauren made the cake — strawberry cake with strawberry cream cheese frosting. Isla’s smash cake was blueberry (her favorite food) and Corban enjoyed a dirt cup (“gummy worm cake,” as he called it yesterday when he mentioned out of the blue, “I liked Isla’s cake!”). Pictures of those to come in a minute.

Pink strawberry first birthday cake

There were four little ones in attendance and they each received one of these sweet bunny baskets filled with a little seed planting kit, a chocolate bunny and rabbit ears (where were those when I was making Corban’s Halloween costume?!).

Bunny-themed party favors

Look at that glorious patio sunshine!


And pink roses…

Pink roses

The kids donned their bunny ears for an Easter egg hunt in the backyard.


Birthday girl and her mama.



Little Peter Rabbit in full force.



Isla’s cousin was not cool with wearing his bunny ears or sitting still for the group photo, but no worries… he successfully photobombed it.


Cake time.


Step one: remove and consume all blueberries.


Why are you trying to shove this other junk in my mouth when I see BLUEBERRIES?


She was not into the cake. Until she was.


And then she was really into it.



Baby’s eye view of the remnants:


Proof that Corban loved his “gummy worm cake.” I don’t blame him; dirt pudding is the best.


Gratuitous Mara photo.


And we’ll end with a look back at one year ago. Crazy how much they’ve all changed!