29bday

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!)

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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.

Accomplished

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

Ridiculous

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.

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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.

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But we were able to enjoy the sun and water.

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And a gigantic bubble machine!

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

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I took some photos myself as we sauntered around.

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

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

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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.

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Kidventures

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

17. Make popsicles.

18. Kiddie pool/sprinkler. Obvi.

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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?!)

Fam-ventures

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.

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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.

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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!

Dates

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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Plus some good old-fashioned ball-throwing.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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)?

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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.

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And bunnies!

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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!

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And pink roses…

Pink roses

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

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Birthday girl and her mama.

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Little Peter Rabbit in full force.

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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.

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Cake time.

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Step one: remove and consume all blueberries.

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

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She was not into the cake. Until she was.

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And then she was really into it.

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Baby’s eye view of the remnants:

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

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Gratuitous Mara photo.

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

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Learning through food: Resurrection/Easter Story Cookies

Throughout history, food has served as much more than physical nourishment for mankind. Sharing a meal with others is a bonding experience, a sign of hospitality and respect and a way to show love. Cuisine is a huge part of every culture, and one that many people take pleasure in.

No matter how much we eat, within hours our hunger returns. As one of the essential needs shared by every person on earth, food is powerful. We celebrate with food. We mourn with food. We worship with food. It connects us to one another and to the past.

We see that especially this time of year—those who are Jewish honor Passover by eating unleavened bread as their ancestors did in their hasty flee from slavery in Egypt; the lamb shankbone on the seder plate commemorates the sacrificial lamb God required of his people that night he freed them (and for Christians this symbolism goes further to represent Christ’s sacrifice in order to free us from the bondage of sin); eggs represent new life, in the most basic springtime sense and also in the context of Jesus rising from the dead; empty eggshells remind us of the empty tomb Jesus’ loved ones found the morning he was risen; and the Lord’s supper, first celebrated just before Jesus’ death, is a sacrament that has brought Christians together in worship for millennia.

Food as a metaphor is a beautiful thing.

This weekend I decided to use baking cookies as a hands-on storytelling device with Corban and Mara. At age 3, Corban’s eager little heart is soaking in the Easter story, and I hoped to use this as another way to help it take root. At age 18 months, Mara just was excited to be helping in the kitchen with us, and that’s good too.

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These Resurrection Cookies or Easter Story Cookies can be found all over the Internet. Each ingredient and step tells a part of the Easter story with scripture and symbolism. I used this handy printable sheet to guide us, along with our shiny new Reformation Study Bible, but halfway through it was getting too chaotic to flip through the pages so I just stuck to reading the scripture verses off the recipe.

The ingredients are simple—all things we already had on hand.

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1 cup pecan halves

1 teaspoon vinegar

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the pecans in a plastic freezer bag and have your child break them into small pieces by beating them with a wooden spoon. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, Roman soldiers beat him. Read John 19:1-3.

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Have your child smell and taste the vinegar before adding it to a mixing bowl.

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Explain that Jesus was offered sour wine/vinegar to drink while He hung on the cross. Read John 19:28-30.

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Add the egg whites to the bowl, explaining that eggs represent life and Jesus loves us so much He gave His life in order to give us life. Read John 10:10-11.

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For some reason they were blowing in the bowl.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt into your child’s hand and have him taste a bit before shaking the rest into the bowl. Explain that Jesus’ friends and followers cried salty tears when He died. Read Luke 23:27.

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Of course, after tasting the salt, you have to let them taste the sugar. This was by far Corban and Mara’s favorite part. Let’s just pause and observe.

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Yes, I let that happen.

Gradually add the sugar to the bowl while beating the egg whites on high with a whisk attachment. A stand mixer helps tremendously for this recipe. As you add the sugar, and your kids lick the spilled granules off the counter, explain that even though Jesus died, the story is sweet because He did it because He loves us. He wants us to know we belong to Him. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16.

Continue beating the egg whites until they are glossy and stiff peaks form (peaks stand straight up when whisk is removed). This will take a while—10 to 15 minutes.

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While you beat the egg whites, have your child observe how white the mixture is and explain that white represents purity and Jesus cleansing us of our sins. Read Isaiah 1:18.

I’ll be honest, I had to be somewhere so I rushed it and didn’t quite let the egg whites get to stiff peaks. This was a big mistake—make sure you keep beating until the peaks stand straight up and don’t fold over when you lift the whisk out!

Gently fold in the pecans.

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Drop the mixture by spoonful onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper. Explain that these mounds represent the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matthew 27:57-60.

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Can’t resist a little taste.

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By this point the scripture passages were background noise, but I still was able to have meaningful discussions with Corban about the symbolism. Since this wasn’t his first (or last) time hearing about these concepts, it was fruitful as another way to let the story sink in.

Now it’s time to put the cookies in the oven. Close the door and turn off the oven immediately. Have our child put a piece of tape over the door and explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed and secure. Read Matthew 27:65-66.

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Now go to bed. Ask how your child feels to leave the cookies until tomorrow, and explain that Jesus’ friends were very sad when He died and was placed in the tomb. Read John 16:20, 22.

Leave the oven closed until the next morning. Then remove the cookies and have your child examine them.

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The sides of the cookies will be cracked. When they taste them, they will find that they are hollow. Explain that on Easter morning, Jesus’ friends were surprised to find the tomb empty. Jesus was alive! Read Matthew 28:1-9.

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Now I have to confess that our cookies were not hollow. (Womp womp.) I believe it’s because the egg whites were still at soft peaks rather than stiff peaks when I stopped beating them.

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But do you see these faces? Do they care?

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We pretended they were hollow. The kids were still excited Jesus was raised from the dead. And mostly just thrilled to be eating cookies at 8 a.m.

I’m sure this activity will bear more spiritual fruit as they grow older, but I think baking is a wonderful teaching tool even at this age—or maybe especially at this age. Food has that way of connecting with us all.

Mara at 18 months

At some point while I was busy playing silly games, wiping away tears, dancing around like a crazy person and kissing her soft head, Mara became a full-blown toddler. It hits me over and over again, but it did again last night as she walked over to the step stool to wash her hands after dinner, chatting to herself and needing very little help from me: she’s not a baby anymore. (Cue the waterworks.)

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I struggled to differentiate personality traits between Corban and Mara when she was an infant, but over the past six months or so Mara’s distinct personality has emerged loud and clear. Key Mara-isms:

She loves dancing and has impressive rhythm (no idea where that came from) that gets put to use when she hears any music, including random background songs, tunes from musical toys or the singing of her family members.

She loves to talk, and is picking up new phrases right and left. Last night it was, “Where’s my purple?” (Her purple pacifier… a.k.a. the glow-in-the-dark one–genius invention.) She went through a recent phase where she very clearly let us know everything she wanted (“I want milk!” “I want ‘fier!” (pacifier) “I want baby!”).

Speaking of wants, Mara certainly is persistent. I never would have guessed that the laid back baby who snoozed and smiled through her first 10 months of life with nary a whimper would stand up to her brother so fiercely when he takes a toy from her, or slam her body to the floor, flailing her limbs in defiance,  when she’s forbidden from playing in the cleaning supply cabinet. Yes, she’s really a toddler now.

No, Brother, you may not usurp my lawnmower.

No, Brother, you may not usurp my lawnmower.

Speaking of pacifiers, while going through pictures from the last few months, the obvious has become even more obvious: she almost always has a pacifier in her mouth. She loves that thing, and her pink crochet blanket. Time to start cutting back on the daytime paci usage.

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Mara has always been snuggly and, to my delight, still loves to cuddle. She’s still a mama’s girl and we enjoy lots of affection (as do her friends).

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My theory is that because she was so happy to be held and carried, she didn’t crawl until her first birthday, and then didn’t walk until shortly before 15 months (which I realize is not abnormal, but seemed late compared to her peers). But before long she was running, and now she keeps pace with Corban and all his shenanigans.

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She still is cool with being worn in the Ergo carrier, which was very handy when we went on vacation to Hawaii in January. She got to ride along on many hikes and walks and see some pretty spectacular sights.

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She even snoozed on Peter’s back while he skiied (at home–not in Hawaii).

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When she’s tired, she’ll just lie down on the floor or ground with no regard for her surroundings.

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Mara loves to get dressed, get her socks and shoes on and wear random items. Her most ridiculous quirk: wearing my underwear around her neck like a necklace. She does this all the time. I’ll spare you a photo.

Mara can be quite fearless and independent in certain situations. For example, she sees a slide and she goes for it. Sometimes 10 times in a row.

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Nice hair.

She loves to sing and amazes me with how quickly she picks up on songs — both melody and lyrics. “Let It Go” (of course) was the first song we recognized her singing many months ago. Her theme song, “Miss ‘Mara’ Mack,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” are other popular ones. I did a double take when she started singing (without lyrics) “Into the Woods” the other week (Corban and I sing, “The woods are just trees, the trees are just wood,” and she picked up that tune). And yesterday it was “This Little Light of Mine.”

Since I already sound like a gushing mom, I might as well continue. I am thoroughly delighted by Mara’s artwork. We color and paint with watercolors regularly, and I want to frame all of her work as serious abstract pieces. It must be that 18-month-old lack of inhibitions that makes it seem so not contrived. (Feel free to smack me next time you see me for making serious comments about a one-year-old’s artwork.)

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Although she’s not small (by any means) for her age (around 80th percentile for height and weight), people often think Mara is younger than she is. Chalk it up to the hair–or lack thereof. She’s got the baby mullet in full force. Those wisps are so soft, though!

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Some highlights over the past few months…

Flower girl in Uncle Noah and Aunt Lindsay’s wedding.

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Enjoying some nice, spring weather (today it’s snowing, though…).

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Hawaii fun (separate post to come on that).

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Serving as Corban’s watercolor canvas.

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Fun with friends visiting a couple weekends ago.

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Winter hiking (more babywearing for the win).

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Favorites:

  • “Where is Baby’s Bellybutton?” book
  • Pointing out and naming body parts
  • “The running game” (she and Corban start by the front door and race into Peter’s outstretched arms in the family room)
  • Showers/baths
  • Sitting on the potty
  • Snuggling “babies” (stuffed animals)
  • Drawing/painting
  • Milk
  • Duck, duck, goose
  • Ring around the rosie
  • Dancing!
  • Playing “show” (singing/dancing with a toy microphone behind our puppet show curtains while we watch)
  • Playing outside

Stats:

  • 25 pounds, 5 ounces
  • 33 inches
  • Size 4 diapers (cloth diapers during the day)
  • Size 18- or 24-month clothes
  • Size 5 shoes
  • 1 afternoon nap
  • 7 p.m. bedtime and 6:30 a.m. wakeup
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A ‘Peter Rabbit’ themed 3rd birthday party

I have several things I have been wanting to write about for the past few months, so I’m just going to catch up in chronological order. First on the docket: Corban’s 3rd birthday party! (Yes, it was back in December, but… time flies!)

As hinted, we had a Peter Rabbit-themed party with Peter’s and my immediate families. Our little Peter Rabbit was excited to have four grandparents, one great-grandma, two aunts, four uncles and one cousin all come in from out of town for a “bunny brunch.”

I kept things really simple, but still enjoyed playing around with little details for the party… starting with these paper invitations.

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Keeping it old school with handwritten invitations. I gave them a little modern update with some “font” mixing.

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Kudos to Peter for picking out these farmers market stamps. I love a good coordinating stamp.

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We said the party was at Mr. McGregor’s garden, so…

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The brunch menu started with carrot and beet hummus with crudités in a clay baking pot.

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It’s sitting on a cube from a Peter Rabbit block set my aunt gave Corban for his birthday.

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I used the other blocks in the set as part of the table decorations…

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…along with burlap, radishes, a watering can and lots of kale and carrots.

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The menu was very simple, but it still managed to destroy my kitchen, my sleep and nearly my spirit the night before. But in the end it was worth it. :)

Breakfast strata (adapted from this recipe from Food52 — I added sausage and zucchini, eliminated mushrooms and generally futzed with it).

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Fruit salad (tried to keep it easy with grapes, honeydew melon and pomegranate, but I owe my mother-in-law big time for seeding the two pomegranates!)

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Cinnamon rolls from scratch. Oh yes! This was my first attempt at homemade cinnamon rolls and I would definitely recommend this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. It’s simpler than other recipes I came across since it only requires one rise. They’re topped with a coffee glaze (not a strong coffee flavor though).

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Roasted red potatoes, sweet potatoes and purple sweet potatoes — nice and colorful.

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For drinks we had coffee, orange juice, mimosas and chamomile tea (a Peter Rabbit reference: “Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: ‘One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.'”).

It was a relaxing meal.

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(At least for the adults.)

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I wanted to do some sort of guest book type thing, but not anything too formal, so I printed out some cards and asked everyone to write a little time capsule message about Corban. This worked since the party was all family.

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The cake was chocolate carrot cake, a compromise between my theme obsession and Peter’s desire for chocolate cake. The recipe was a State Fair winner, but next time I would pick either chocolate cake or carrot cake and not combine the flavors.

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Decorating the cake was a blast. I taped a popsicle stick to the invitation and stuck Peter in the middle of the garden. Chocolate cream cheese frosting made good dirt.

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I used this easy method to make the carrots and radishes (but used a wide, round pastry tip) and a star tip for the lettuce.

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The “three.” shirt was a steal from Old Navy (much, much easier than sewing a shirt like I’ve done in the past!).

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(A little egging on from Aunt Lauren…)

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We forewent the afternoon nap for him, and instead relaxed with family. It was so sweet to have everyone hanging around our home.

Of course there were presents, too.

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This Hot Wheels set was the big winner. (Thanks, Uncle Brian!)

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After Mara’s nap the two of them got to work playing with every new toy simultaneously.

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I love big bashes with lots of friends and family, and I seriously considered having this be a kid party and just inviting Corban’s friends, but in the end I think a small family brunch was the perfect way to celebrate this year. Corban got to spend quality time with those who love him most, and vice versa. And the fact that Peter Rabbit was included in the festivities? Well, that just made it extra-Corban-special.

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DIY Christmas card box from a produce box

In year’s past, I’ve hung the Christmas cards we’ve received with ribbon on our kitchen cabinets. I loved being able to see the smiling faces of our friends and family and the beautiful holiday designs of the greetings they sent, but this year that just seemed like too much work and too cluttered.

Instead, I was inspired last night by the cardboard box housing the clementines I had just purchased. It’s a nice box, so why throw it away?

I pulled out some gold card stock, scissors and a glue stick and in less than 20 minutes had transformed it into something worthy of sitting on our coffee table.

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First, I traced each side of the box onto the gold card stock.

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Then I cut them out.

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And glued them securely to the sides.

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The blue insides kind of ruin the effect, so I glued some card stock over the blue parts, too. Had I a tad more ambition and time I would have covered the entire inside.

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There you have it!

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Our friends and family are really killing it with cute photo cards this year.

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I also love how the shape of the box sort of looks like Bethlehem’s skyline (at least how it’s portrayed as we often see it).

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It’s also nice having them out at kid-level so Corban can browse through them at his leisure. He loves seeing his loved ones’ faces.

Of course, that also means they’re at Mara’s level and thus will probably end up strewn around our family room most of the time…

How do you store or display your Christmas cards?

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Happy 3rd birthday, my favorite little boy

Three years ago today, my favorite little boy came into the world.

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On Corban’s third birthday, the biggest thing on my heart is overwhelming appreciation.

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Appreciation for God’s loving creation. For the incomprehensible detail of our bodies, minds and hearts. For the privilege of witnessing this little boy’s healthy growth. For Corban’s curiosity and sense of humor, his funny phraseology and lack of self-consciousness. For his abiding love for his family and friends. For the luxury of spending time with him (even if every minute isn’t easy — sometimes far from it). For the gift of being a mom — his mom — and the growth that it has brought to me as a person and a Christian.

Corban’s first two birthdays made me reflect a lot on his birth and newborn days, but this year I’ve had to consciously bring back those memories. No, at age three Corban’s birthday is all about Corban at age three. He has been eagerly anticipating it for months (ever since Mara’s birthday in September) and has reveled in the rituals of songs, gifts, family visits and cake. He also knows that December 8th = his birthday, so while there has been some confusion between what was his birthday party (Saturday) and his actual birthday, all I had to tell him was that today is December 8th and he understood that it’s “still” his birthday.

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It worked out for me to take the day off work today, so we’re headed to the children’s museum and out to lunch with Peter. I considered setting up a play date with his friends today, but that would distract me from spending time focused on him, so we’re keeping it low key. We celebrated formally with family on Saturday, and I’ll share the details of the Peter Rabbit-themed party soon.

I just can’t overstate how thankful I am to be entrusted with this little life — and to be able to celebrate a happy, healthy “big boy” today. I don’t want to take for granted what a blessing this moment in time is.

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