Three Little Pigs 3rd birthday party

Every day, Mara asks me to tell her a story. “Three Little Pigs?” I say, knowing the answer.

“Three Little Pigs.”

At Mara’s request, the pigs are girls. Their names are Flopsy, Mopsy and Toesy. Sometimes Flopsy is the smart one who builds her house of brick; sometimes it’s Mopsy. But usually it’s Toesy.

When Mara jumps in to tell the tale, it gets very condensed.

She races on with the story, skipping words in her excitement: “Not by hair my chinny chin. I’ll huff and I’ll blow your house away! [blows] Ahhh!”

So, for Mara’s third birthday, I couldn’t think of a better theme than the Three Little Pigs.

We celebrated with two different parties (more than a month ago now)—one at our house with my parents and a handful of friends and one in Missouri with Peter’s family.

Here are the highlights. I’ll start with my pride and joy, this cake.


I painted wooden pegs to make the three little pigs (inspired by a photo I saw on another blog) and made a tiny bunting from construction paper.


The cake is my favorite simple buttermilk chocolate cake recipe (also seen here). Except I multiplied it to make four layers, and added stabilized whipped cream filling.


Despite wooden skewer reinforcement, it didn’t quite last through the party.


So maybe next time I’d cut it down to two or three layers. But it was delicious, so no complaints! (Seriously, try that recipe next time you want chocolate cake. I love it so.)

The cake toppers made a second appearance at birthday party no. 2 (I did not make this cake).



My other pride and joy were these pig party hats I made from construction paper and tissue circles (and lots of Mod Podge).


There were also a few black and gray wolf hats. Don’t ask how much time I put into them, or why, for that matter, but they were a good excuse to spend a few nights binging on “Bachelor in Paradise.”

We also brought out our traditional Mara birthday banner for both parties (here it is at party no. 1).


And the party favors were these creepy pig snouts from Oriental Trading.


We had water balloons—something that my kids are obsessed with, yet still don’t quite know what to do with once they get their hands on some. Praise hands for those contraptions that fill 100 balloons in 10 seconds. Worth it.


The kids also played “Pig, Pig, Wolf” (Duck, Duck, Goose), set off stomp rockets and built some impressive structures from our giant Jenga set.


Dinner was Portillo’s Italian beef and chopped salad. Drinks were a few growlers of beer.

Oh, and there was cotton candy! We purchased a small cotton candy machine for the occasion, and I think Mara would have bathed in the stuff if we let her.





Party no. 2 also featured cotton candy and pig party hats.


Instead of Italian beef, we ate grilled burgers, hot dogs and pork tenderloin.


And instead of “Pig, Pig, Wolf” we played lots of baseball.


Despite this fake pout, Mara had a pretty spectacular double celebration for birthday number three.



9 lovely views from Seattle

I had the privilege of visiting Seattle for the first time this past week. It was for a food journalism conference, which is just about the greatest work-related reason to travel.

Of course the food and drink were excellent. The conference sessions were enlightening. I met some very charming and interesting people and got to spend time with my Seattle-based cousin and his wife.

But one unexpected highlight of the trip was this:


Two wheels borrowed from my cousin that provided me free and fun transportation (and exercise to burn off some of the aforementioned food and drink) around a most bike-friendly city.

There is a lot of beauty in the Pacific Northwest, and between bike rides and conference events I packed in some memorable views in my four days there. Here are nine memorable views of and from Seattle.

  1. Magnolia Park


After getting off the plane and catching up over dim sum with my cousin Spencer and his wife, Allison, we jumped on bikes and headed 7-8 miles north for some hiking. On our way up a particularly long and painful hill, we stopped for a break and were met with the above view of Puget Sound from Magnolia Park.

And turning to the left… hello, city.


2. Discovery Park


Our hiking destination was Discovery Park. It was a nice maybe 3-mile loop with a section along the beach and a section up into the rainforest. Pretty foliage and more lovely water views. With blue skies!

My awesome guides.

My awesome guides.

3. Gas Works Park


On day two I ventured out on bike by myself to visit Gas Works Park. Above is the… gas works. But the real view is of the city, seen across Lake Union.


See the Space Needle?


The photos don’t really do it justice. You’re standing on the top of a very green hill with the city around you in every direction. The lake is quite active with boats and rowers.

4. Pike Place Market


Pike Place Market is a far more impressive place than I realized. That’s another story, but I’m including it in my list of views because if you glance up out shop windows or in alleys you might be surprised to see something like this:


There’s also the gum wall, which was completely cleaned off in November, but is back and once again quite a sight to see (and smell).


5. Out my hotel window


I enjoyed several sunrises and sunsets out this window at the Sheraton in downtown Seattle. But up 25 more floors was our conference room, which had this view of Elliott Bay that same night:


(Corban’s earnest reaction when I showed him this picture: “Wow! Look at that construction!”)

6. Rooftop of an Amazon building


Spencer took me up to the roof of one of many buildings owned by his employer, Amazon. Above is a view of Lake Union from the side opposite of Gas Works Park.

Another side of that rooftop looks out to the Space Needle.


7. The Space Needle

Speaking of the Space Needle, that night we had a cocktail hour there followed by a food and drink tasting event at Chihuly Garden and Glass, just below.

Based on my knowledge of Seattle weather, I think this view from the bottom with blue skies above is probably noteworthy.


The view from the top was spectacular. I was not expecting it to take my breath away like it did.

Here is downtown and Elliott Bay.


Below is Lake Union again. Watching the traffic flow from this vantage point was mesmerizing.


And on the other side… mountains.


From inside the glass atrium where our dinner/tasting event was held, we had another nice view looking up through some Chihuly artwork to the Space Needle.


8. Elliott Bay Trail


The next morning, I was up early enough for a solo ride along the Elliott Bay Trail. Once I got past Pike Place Market and the cruise ship docks, the view was peaceful. We finally got some real Seattle weather—misty and gray. No complaints though.


Their fall colors are quite a bit ahead of us here in Wisconsin, so this ombré wall was a treat along part of the ride.


9. Woodinville/Chateau Ste. Michelle


I only got a quick glance at winery-laden Woodinville as we headed into Chateau Ste. Michelle for a wine tasting dinner, but the scenery was lush. The grapes are all grown in eastern Washington, but this area 30 minutes outside Seattle is where many of Washington’s hundreds of wineries make the wine.

The view inside at our dinner was fabulous—or at least the food and wine was! It was the perfect end to my trip.


After that I was off to the airport for a miserable red-eye home. But these two faces that greeted my sleep-deprived face made me grin more than any sweeping sight from the previous days.


It was good to be gone and it’s good to be home.

*Side rant: WordPress really degrades the image quality once I hit publish!


Eight years ago today

Eight years ago was one of the happiest days of my life.

August 30, 2008, I married Peter.

The day was a celebration of our love. We were two youngsters unprepared and immature, but committing to life side by side.

The day was also a celebration of all the love in our lives from family and friends. The atmosphere felt magical. It was the perfect party.

So permit me a little trip down memory lane as I look back on photos from our wedding day. We’ve changed and grown in so many ways over the past eight years, but these pictures bring me right back to day one.









































On eulogizing


Last year on this day I flipped my planner open to a new week and was overcome with an unexpected wave of sadness. I had put Nana’s photo sticker on her birthday immediately after receiving the planner for Christmas, not realizing she wouldn’t live to see her 92nd birthday. In fact, she died little more than a week after I placed that sticker there.


My last hug goodbye from Nana, Christmas Day a week before she died.

Her death marked the end of a generation on my mom’s side. After her funeral, I visited the house she and my grandfather had shared for 57 years—the house my mom grew up in and I spent much of my childhood at—and just walked the rooms and cried.

That part of my life now feels like another era, encased in gold and far away from the world I live in now. It’s an emotional moment to realize a huge, unchanging part of your life is now a closed chapter, never to be visited again.

That’s not to say losing her wasn’t a great loss on its own. She was a special woman, the kindest person I’ve ever known. I miss her dearly.


I had the privilege of giving her eulogy. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I knew I could and I should, so I did.

I was a ball of nerves writing it (fact-checking, trying to sharpen fuzzy memories) and wasn’t sure how I would manage to deliver it coherently. But I’m glad I stretched myself and went through with it. Preparing for the eulogy helped me grieve by reminding me of all the joy Nana and I shared and what a full and happy life she led. It actually gave me a great sense of comfort during that sad time.

One thing that helped was that for her 90th birthday I had written Nana a letter recalling fond memories and sharing how much I loved her. I had already told her how special she was; now I just had to share those thoughts with everyone else.


A drawing from a sketchbook I had as a kid: Nana surrounded by things I associated with her (the bottom left is a jar of Flinstones vitamins, ha!)

So two takeaways here: if you’re in a position to give a eulogy for someone you love, you’ll have to push through the discomfort and the feeling that your words will be inadequate (they will be, but that’s OK). It will be worth it, and may even be good for your grief.

Second, don’t wait for the eulogy to express your love and share your fond memories. Your loved ones would love to hear that from you today!

So on what would have been Claire Fredenburg’s 93rd birthday, here are a few photos of the sweet, affectionate, creative, fun woman I was blessed to call Nana.



With her mom (Mary) and sister, Eve (right).


Love this photo and wish I could ask her about it!



Nana loved to write rhyming poems for any occasion (she even put clever rhyming captions  on an entire family photo album). This one was published in a Carson Pirie Scott employee book of some sort (she retired from there after a lengthy career).




Dancing during the “who’s been married the longest” dance at our wedding.


Killing the dance floor with me at my sister’s wedding, exactly four years ago tomorrow.


7 reasons I love our CSA, and 2 reasons I don’t

Last year, I was torn about whether to plant a garden. I’ve successfully grown vegetables before and liked the idea of getting the kids involved with it, but like many people, I have a lot going on in my life and tending a garden isn’t my favorite way to spend my time.

So last year, I settled for potted herbs on our deck and green beans in our built-in deck planter—easy enough to water with the kids (no dragging the hose across the backyard) and I figured I’d hit up farmers markets with Corban or Mara as often as possible.

Then I started researching CSAs.


CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The basic idea is you purchase a fixed-price weekly (or bi-weekly) share of produce from a local farm and then receive a box of whatever they have to offer each week.

Each farm works a little differently, and there are a lot of options in the Milwaukee area. Making a decision can be overwhelming—I was nervous about getting too much food, not getting enough food (it’s not the cheapest way to shop), receiving produce we wouldn’t want to eat, the pick-up being inconvenient…

When I saw that one farm had a pick-up site located within walking distance of our house, we decided to go for it (LotFotL Community Farm in Elkhorn).

Writing the check at the beginning of the summer was a little bit scary, but it was a great decision. Here’s what I loved about being a member of a CSA:

  1. We ate a ton of vegetables! You have to in order to keep up with the weekly boxes, but with a steady diet of fresh, local produce—raw, roasted, grilled, pureed into hummus, etc.—our small share box was just right for our family of four (one veggie-loving adult, one good-sport-veggie-eating-when-asked adult and two kids whose appetites are still negligible).
  2. It was fun to be surprised by what’s in the box each week. (They do give you a rough idea—and recipe links—via an email newsletter two days before pickup.)
  3. We ate seasonably. Everything is freshly picked, so you know it’s in season right here right now.
  4. We discovered new produce—celtuce, anyone? Can’t get that at the grocery store, or even at the farmers market.
  5. Our grocery list was always really short (and quick—who likes spending time in the grocery store in summer?).
  6. We were almost always stocked with enough produce to throw together a good, healthy meal.
  7. We branched out from our go-to vegetables and found new loves, like sautéed Swiss chard and roasted beets.


So that was all great, but there were two downsides: the price (it ended up being roughly $20 a week, which is more than I would normally spend on veggies alone) and the fact that the constant stream of veggies, while great for our diets, also sometimes felt like a lot of work (washing, storing, meal planning, prepping, not letting it go to waste).

Despite all of the things I loved about our CSA, because of those two factors I was hesitant to join again this summer.

Then I got the email that I had won a free 2016 share (thanks to my diligent entries into their weekly trivia contest). Um… yeah, not going to turn that down!


The share we won is bi-weekly, so that actually solved both problems (price and the overwhelming task of keeping up with a weekly box). Bi-weekly has been perfect; I don’t know how I kept up with it weekly last year (must have done a lot more cooking).

I guess next year will be the true test of whether I’m committed to CSA… there is no trivia contest this year so no shot at winning a free share!

Any other CSA members out there? What do you see as the pros and cons?


Just sauteeing a little chard.


Mara at 2 1/2 years old

I wrote this post five months ago, and it’s been sitting in the drafts folder just weighing me down all that time. I think these kid update posts are starting to stress me out—too much pressure to perfectly capture the essence of a changing, growing person. So, I’m just going to get over that for now and post this little imperfect throwback… and in the future hopefully I’ll be in this space more often with shorter, in-the-moment updates on life and family (I do have a lot I’ve been wanting to share!).

So… pretend this is March! (Side note: I can’t believe Mara will turn three in less than a month.)


Written March 2016: Mara at 2 1/2 years old is feisty, funny, friendly and… I can’t think of another good word that starts with “F.”


Her personality at this age is a study in extremes, equally adorable and outrageous. I don’t want to forget her little quirks.

Like her alarming consistency in saying “off” when she means “on,” “Basil” when she means “Biggles” (our cats), “black” when she means “white” and “open” when she means “close” (I’m not sure whether we should be concerned about this).

Or her love for her glow-in-the-dark skeleton pajamas, which we “charge” on the lamp every night before turning off all the lights in her room while she dances around like a crazed set of glowing bones.

Or how if you call her “buddy” or “big girl” she retorts, “I not a buddy; I Mara!”

Or how she takes it really seriously if you pretend to take a bite of her cheek, demanding that you put it back.

Mara loves to play mama to her baby doll, stuffed animals and me. It’s sweet to see our own parenting reflected in her play as she bounces her baby, talks to her in my cadence and zooms a spoon into her mouth like a train. She loves to be in charge.

She could stand on her step stool at the kitchen sink for hours playing with the water (I don’t let her waste that much water, though).


Other favorite activities include putting stickers on everything…


playing doctor…


brushing my hair…


“drawing ‘M’s” (or “the mark of the Mara” as I call it—her signature M-like zig-zag)…


being chased around, playing with flashlights, jumping off of furniture and going down slides at the park or on our Fischer Price slide in the basement.

“Watch dis! Mama, watch dis!” is a phrase I hear on repeat as she hails her audience before demonstrating a jump or silly face.

When she’s into something, she’s relentless about pursuing it. It’s a huge struggle to tear her away from her favorite activity: looking at photos and videos I’ve taken on my phone. Whether she’s set on collecting every empty communion cup from the pews at church or washing her own hands, stubborn is definitely a word that applies to Mara—so unlike her easygoing infant self.

She’s particular about what she wears and whether her hair is pulled back or in a bow (this is often more about control than it is looks). And speaking of hair, now that she has more of it she definitely looks like a big girl and no longer a baby.


She picks this outfit out a lot.

My big girl still loves (that’s an understatement) her pacifier, but is now totally potty trained.


She is getting harder to put to bed at night now that she realizes Corban gets to stay up later than her, and has learned some stall tactics to even out their bedtimes a bit. She is a very good napper and will occasionally nap with Corban on his bunk beds, but usually she’s in her crib in the nursery.

She calls people “‘bodies” (pronounced like “buddies,” but short for “everybody”). Ex: “Are ‘bodies coming over?”

We have a few book obsessions: “Snuggle Puppy” (by Sandra Boynton), “Spot Goes to the Beach” (by Eric Hill), “Mommy Hugs” (by Karen Katz), “Goodnight Moon” and a few others in heavy rotation.

Mara is still big on singing. Her little voice is a precious sound, and yes, she too is obsessed with songs from “Hamilton.”

She fell while playing on a playground about a month ago, badly bruising her cheek and developing a black eye. It looked horrible and you can imagine how many times strangers stopped to comment on it. Mara would just tell them in a no-big-deal tone, “Fell on playground.”


She waves at and says hi to people everywhere we go, and if they don’t reciprocate she says in a sad little voice, “They didn’t wave to me,” or, “They no say hi to me.”

It warms my heart to see Corban and Mara play together, often making up games to get each other excited. They are best buds and spend just about every waking moment together. It’s hard to even tear them apart to take one along to the store while the other stays home or have one ride with me and the other with Peter if we end up driving home from somewhere in two cars. If Corban is upset about something, sometimes Mara will pat him on the back, cock her head and say in a high pitched voice, “It’s OK, buddy.”


Their influence on one another is a double-edged sword—they’re either encouraging each other to behave and obey or to misbehave and drive us crazy. But as long as I can get one on board with whatever I’m trying to get them to do, the other usually will follow.

Mara is still snuggly, loving to be held and often kissing us out of the blue and saying, “I love you, Mama,” or “I love you, sweetie pie.”

Here’s a photo dump of highlights from the last few months.


Sipping great-grandpa’s cider at Thanksgiving.


Cousins at Thanksgiving.


Cousins at Christmas.


Christmas morning.


Loving the snow…


…but loving the hot chocolate afterward even more.


Thankful for thick glass.


So much love for the baby gorilla statue at the zoo.


…and for the woman in the medicare ad.


Blankets, doughnut pillow, purple pacifier and life is good.


Great-grandparents while visiting Florida.


Florida vacation… Mara was calling the sand “snow.”


Cousins in Florida.


Check out that mug. Mara was not interested in making friends with the lady at the post office who took it. (Passport was for the cruise we went on in April.)


Madison zoo (it’s free).


Those sweet little hands!



Corban at 4 years, 3 months old

Before I let any more time go by I want to capture the fun and ferocity that are Corban and Mara right now. Let’s start with my firstborn.


It is so much fun to see Corban’s mind at work* as he soaks up new ideas and begins to see how they are applied in real life. I can practically see the lines being drawn as he connects concepts across different experiences—when he learns a new word then hears it used the next day in a different context, puts letter sounds together and sees how they form a word or starts to grasp the connection between the faces on his “Presidents of the United States” placemat and the characters in “Hamilton.”

Speaking of “Hamilton”…

Both kids are obsessed, but we are taking a little break from listening to the cast recording because Corban is starting to pick up a little too much from it. He and Mara both love a few songs enough that Corban has them just about entirely memorized, including phrases like “I’m the ‘damful’ that shot him,” (as he pronounces it) and “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.” It makes me so, so happy to share things like brilliant musicals with them (and it is pretty fun that Corban’s starting to learn about our country’s history because of it), but we are switching back to children’s catechism and scripture songs for a while—music with lyrics that are 100% OK (and wonderful) to repeat.


Corban also is obsessed with his Wildlife Fact File, a.k.a. remember those binders with pages about various animals that would come in the mail? Peter’s mom found one at their house from back in the day, and we read a few pages every day and learn so many interesting facts about animals.


Photo credit: Wade Tregaskis


He loves to be read to in general, and we all enjoyed intentionally reading through the “Jesus Storybook Bible” start to finish in about three weeks during Advent. Other current favorites are still Beatrix Potter stories, “Where the Wild Things Are” and nursery rhymes/fairy tales from anthologies.



Corban is also very into his Sunday School class and Primary Praise (children’s worship) at church. He often asks when he is going to go to preschool (this is probably partially because adults ask him this ALL the time) and I know he would love it if we decided to send him. But as of right now we have no plans for 4K (for a variety of reasons).


Perpetual bedhead


While last year was all about pirates, this year is shaping up to be all about super heroes. That’s the favorite game these days. Corban also is a card shark—Go Fish, Uno, War and Slapjack are popular in our house. He plays endlessly with little action figure-type toys, animals and cars, but is also a very physical kid, always climbing on things and jumping off furniture. When he plays outside it’s all bikes and sports. He doesn’t usually opt to color or do art unless we have a specific activity planned.

He and Mara are two peas in a pod, always playing together. They love each other well but do fight over toys like any siblings.



Like I mentioned, Corban is starting to understand how letter sounds form words. He sounded out a word almost fully by himself the other day (“Max”) and it felt like one of those special parenting moments like when he took his first steps. He is far from actually reading, but I just recently started working with him a little more intentionally using some Montessori methods for learning letters/words and it’s crazy how even just a tiny bit of that goes a long way when a child is ready for it. He has this letters activity book that he loves, and I’ve noticed recently he seems to be “getting” it and can complete the activities correctly on his own. We are more of a “learning through play” style family, but his brain seems to be ripe for phonics right now.


Corban continues to be very inquisitive and a HUGE fan of the question, “Why?” My response is almost always, “Why do you think?” and I would encourage every person who hears this question from a child to respond that way. Corban almost always has a theory in mind and a lot of the time he’s right, or he’s looking at it in a way that I hadn’t thought about.

I simply relish how uninhibited he is with sharing his heart with me and asking questions about life. This age is also sweet because everywhere we go and everything we do is a learning opportunity. I love how curious he is and it’s fun to explain life to a kid who devours everything you say!


“Learning” about senses and nature on a hike. Also saw a hawk eating a dead animal–wildlife in action!

Some recent firsts

The other weekend I took Corban to see a musical at FirstStage, “Just a Little Critter Musical.” It was geared at the preschool set but was just as entertaining and thought-provoking for parents. Every kid in the place seemed to be enthralled, including Corban. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next preschool-geared show there.


We also took both kids to their first movie at the movie theater this past weekend, “Zootopia.” I think Peter and I loved it even more than the kids. Corban enjoyed the whole experience but keeps talking about this one borderline scary scene (which thankfully Mara and I were in the bathroom during). It felt liberating to be able to take the kids with us to the movie theater (Mara was pretty antsy, though).


Peter bought a used Nintendo 64 late last year and introduced Corban to his first video games (much to my chagrin, though I probably need to lighten up). We will play Mario Kart, Starfox or this WWE wrestling game (which Corban somehow wins at) maybe once a week. Corban is quite into it (that might be an understatement). The nice part is that we play together as a family.

A few words I’d use to describe Corban:

Observant, social, silly, curious, loving, cautious.

Up next: Mara update (and more posts that have been sitting in drafts, hopefully soon!)

*work, work.

My top 5 favorite podcasts of 2015

2015 was a year of creative energy for me. I can pinpoint more than a handful of moments when I felt inspired to do or create in very exciting and diverse ways. These moments stand out as personal highlights of the past year, moments I’ve been bursting with enthusiasm, awe and new perspective.

Music, painting, handwriting, food, hiking, photography, sewing, journalism, Gospel understanding… these are all areas I explored or grew in last year with much excitement. One theme stands out in a huge way: storytelling.

It’s just been everywhere for me this year, an appreciation and love for good storytelling and all the many ways stories are told. I’ve studied it, I’ve thought about it, I’ve been taught about it, I’ve practiced it, I’ve come across it, it’s come across me.

One of my favorite places to go for exceptional storytelling is my podcasts app on my phone. It’s no news that 2015 was the year of the podcast—the medium simply exploded. Podcasting is the new blogging and I have no complaints about that.

The art of audio storytelling is so rich. It has given me daily inspiration and fascination in the past year (thanks to a handy cord my in-laws gave me as a Christmas gift last year that lets me plug my phone into my car speakers and listen to podcasts on my commute). I’ve learned so much from my favorite podcasts and been absolutely captivated by many episodes in 2015.

So as I look back on my favorite feeds, here is a list of my top podcasts and episodes of the year. I could gush about all of them and recommend almost every episode, but I narrowed it down to some favorites.

Mystery Show

This podcast is only slightly about mysteries. It’s mostly about people. In each episode, Starlee Kine takes you on an adventure with twists, turns and fascinating conversations. There are only six episodes so far, so you might as well listen to all of them, but my top three are:


Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich turn science into story with Radiolab. Although it’s clear that from their perspective, science/evolution/nature are the ruling forces in the world, there are many moments when listening that I so clearly see and marvel at God (they don’t see it that way, but the evidence speaks for itself). This year I feel like the episodes have been hit or miss, but when they hit, they are out of the park. Here are my favorite episodes of the year (admittedly, they are the less-sciency ones):

  • Sight Unseen. I cried walking in to work. This was one of the most moving pieces of radio I’ve heard.
  • The Rhino Hunter. This is the kind of journalism I wish every media outlet would do. It tells a story the headlines do not. Fascinating exploration of the topic of hunting and conservation.
  • La Mancha Screwjob. This was so much fun to listen to. Another peek into a culture I never think about: professional wrestling.
  • Smile My Ass. Another fun episode, about “Candid Camera.”
  • BONUS: Three episodes from 2014 are some of my favorite podcast episodes ever so I have to recommend them: Hello (talking with dolphins), Outside Westgate (the Kenyan mall terrorist attack) and Juicervose (autism).

Reply All

Reply All is a self-proclaimed show about the Internet. It took a while to hook me—I don’t think the storytelling is as gifted as with NPR podcasts, but the stories they uncover are just as interesting. It’s one I always look forward to listening to.


This quickly became my favorite when it was new. It’s similar to Radiolab, but with awesome female hosts. One episode from its first season stuck with me the most:

This American Life

Just incredible storytelling. Almost never disappoints. Here are a few standouts:

  • Put a Bow on It. Multiple “Hamilton” references, plus it’s just fun.
  • Abdi and the Golden Ticket. So many times I’ve been transported across the globe by a podcast. Excellent example here.
  • NUMMI 2015. I heard bits and pieces of the original NUMMI episode (about a GM and Toyota partnership) back in 2010 and it’s always stuck with me. Still fascinating.
  • Same Bed Different Dreams. Part of it’s about North Korea. Enough said.
  • BONUS: The Radio Drama Episode from 2014 is freaking amazing. It was my first exposure to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work (“Hamilton”) and I still sing the songs in my head.

Honorable mentions go to TED Radio Hour, which always inspires or teaches, and Death, Sex and Money, which I’ve just started to listen to. Oh, and, of course, Serial, but I don’t need to tell you about that one.

What are your favorite podcasts?



Pirate-themed 4th birthday party

Ever since Halloween, Corban has had his heart set on a pirate birthday party.


I thought this would be a good age to have his first “kid” birthday party (as opposed to past birthdays where we’ve either just had family or invited all of our friends). We kept it small (by our standards) and resisted the urge to invite everyone we know, instead letting Corban pick a handful of friends and their families.

The invite

Of course every party starts with an invitation, and I’m game for any excuse to mail one. I used this ship font to make it in Photoshop. (This site has a bunch of awesome, free pirate fonts.)


I wanted to add an interactive element, so I cut bands from red construction paper and tied them around the invites with baker’s twine.


Inspired by all my reporting on hand lettering (for this story) I attempted a little pirate lettering on the envelopes. Not easy!


I also get giddy over picking out stamps, and was pleased with this vintage rose option in stock at our post office. I know, nobody notices stamps, but it made me happy.

The decorations

On to the party itself! I think this was the most fun I’ve had planning a party.


To start, I designed a few posters to get printed as engineering prints (black and white) from Unfortunately there are no Staples stores near us, so although the prints are a steal, the shipping fee is not. Anyone know of a place near Milwaukee for affordable engineering prints?


For the banner, I just cut 8.5-by-11-inch black paper into quarters and painted the white letters on with a paint brush. The framed skulls and anchor are also just white paint on black paper.


I found a bunch of huge black frames in Corban’s closet. I bought them on Clearance from Michael’s YEARS ago and never had a use for them, so decided to put them to use for the party. I desaturated and upped the contrast on some Halloween photos of Corban and us dressed as Jake and his crew and printed them out.

Then, of course, there wasn’t really anywhere to hang them so they ended up as the backdrop for the drink station.




I also framed some Jake quotes (possibly will be putting the designs in my etsy shop). However, as my mom observed, most of the kids couldn’t read and most of the adults probably didn’t recognize the quotes. Oh well!




My mom put up crepe paper, which is still hanging because I love how festive it is.


This was my favorite detail (printable from etsy).


The food

We kept it really simple. Jimmy John’s sandwiches for lunch (our go-to for parties), chips, veggies, dip, grapes and pirate bananas. I forgot to put out the cheese I bought.


I saw this pirate ship-from-a-loaf-pan idea on Pinterest and attempted to re-create it using my favorite chocolate cake recipe. The results weren’t quite Pinterest perfect, but still fun. I used this fudge frosting recipe.


I also made vanilla cupcakes using this recipe (which I will definitely be saving) and this vanilla buttercream frosting. Flags are just toothpicks and red Scotch tape.



The games

We gave Corban his birthday gift the night before the party—another Jake toy to add to his collection of pirate ships—and I had all of his pirate toys out for the kids to play with as they arrived.


I also offered each child a red bandana, spyglass, pirate sticker and Jake temporary tattoo.

Peter made a little “walk the plank” game that none of the kids really paid attention to.

We had name tags out with a framed sign to help everyone find their pirate names. Peter’s name was the best—Stinky Creeper Chumbucket. I designed my own version of this and changed a few names.


The first official game was a treasure hunt. It needed to be appropriate for ages 19 months to 6 years old, so I drew pictures of spots around our house on index cards, with a red “X” on the back of each card. The kids (as a group) had to use the picture to figure out where the next clue was.



They got pretty into it (at least the older ones did).




The treasure hunt ended in the basement, with little goodie bags and treasure map sticker activities for everyone.


I had way too much fun picking out junk for the goodie bags. In each bag there was a bag of fruit snacks, pirate stamper, pirate notepad, gold doubloons and stickers.


Next we played pin the eye patch on the pirate. The pirate face is a framed engineering print, and I punched the eye patches out of black paper using a 2-inch circle punch and painted the kids’ names on.



After the party, my heart was full. It means so much to have friends and family who love our kids. Corban and Mara had a blast, and I actually felt like I was able to relax and enjoy it (which can be hard when you’re hosting). It was a really sweet celebration of our boy and we all felt very loved.



Corban at age 4

I told Corban his birth story for the first time the other day. I relived out loud the joyous memory of meeting him for the first time, and he was all smiles. I think hearing it made him feel very special and loved, and that makes my heart leap.

Then I relived it on my own yesterday. This is the first year since Corban was born that I worked on his birthday. Walking out of the building at 5:30 p.m. unexpectedly brought me right back to that exact place and time four years earlier, when I hurried to my car in the freezing cold, tears pulling from my eyes due to the wind, mind racing with nerves and questions, knowing I was likely going into labor.

The memories were so vivid, it felt like I could have been thrown right back into that night (only it was much warmer and I was walking to a different parking garage this time). How little has changed since then, and yet how very, very much.


On his 4th birthday.

Corban and Mara both have this birthday book, which includes a questionnaire for each birthday. I sat Corban down yesterday to record his answers using the StoryCorps app (which is excellent, by the way).

There’s one point in the interview that embodies the spontaneous and surprising hilarity that is a hallmark of this age: he gets frustrated with me and calls me a “nasty [or possibly naughty] hedgehog.” No idea where that phrase came from.

Here is the full interview.

The photos I rifled through for this post are a measuring stick for the subtle changes Corban has gone through between his third and fourth birthdays. Not just in his appearance, though look at the comparison from last year:

The changes that were more apparent in the photos were the fears he’s overcome and the skills he’s acquired in the last year. He’s matured in measurable ways.

For example, in January, this was as far as he would get in a pool without screaming.


And here’s Corban today at swim lessons.


He even jumped in without holding the teacher’s hands for the first time today.

And last year at Lindner Pumpkin Farm, he was afraid to ride the barrel train. This year…


Last year at Cozy Nook Farm he was afraid to feed the cows. This year…



He’s a machine on his balance bike (I’m betting age four is going to be the year he rides a regular bike without training wheels).


He learned how to ride the big kid swings this year, and is pretty successful at pumping his legs.


(He must have worn that outfit every day this fall, ha.)

Corban at age four is is so very observant. He sees, hears, learns, remembers everything (good or bad). He is curious—he’ll “Why?” you till you give up answering, and then some—and is so refreshingly open (though I’m starting to see some self-awareness creep in on this trait I love so much).


He loves us and his extended family so purely and fervently. And he is so cuddly. It. is. glorious. I want to snuggle his soft little self forever.

But he’s not so little anymore! At 40 pounds, he’s getting harder to pick up.


He is definitely an extrovert at this age, in the sense that he loves being around people. He takes advantage of every minute with his aunts, uncles and grandparents, and asks every day if he’ll get to see his friends. It’s a huge challenge to get him to leave any social situation.



Corban can be so sweet and loving toward Mara. In some ways, I know he looks up to her.


Of course, they fight and bicker at this age (and probably will at every age), but I am so thankful they have each other and pray they will remain close. It makes me so happy to see their relationship develop as they play and scheme together.


Corban is also very active and loves sports of every kind. Baseball, racquetball…


He became obsessed with mini-golf this summer, and has played in three states with more holes-in-one than me.


He was so excited to go to dance class with our nanny’s daughter recently. I think he was expecting something a little more wild than preschool ballet, though.


Bocce ball… he’s on it.


Snow… he doesn’t ever want to come inside.


Hiking… he’ll complain at first, but then hike two challenging miles and proclaim, “I love hiking!”




Some other favorites:

  • Jake and the Neverland Pirates
  • Beatrix Potter stories
  • Go Fish
  • Candyland (and other board games)
  • Toy cars and trucks
  • School buses (I always know when there’s a school bus nearby)
  • His “activity books” (these two preschool workbooks he does)
  • Playing outside
  • Building forts
  • Taking pictures with my big camera
  • Sunday school, and any songs with hand motions they do in church
  • Candy/treats (ever since Halloween this has been a big thing)



Sunday school Christmas song this past week.

Being Corban’s mom has slowly but dramatically changed my heart and grown my capacity to love in new ways. I love every part of him, even his tantrums and lies and ridiculous stunts and unreasonable behavior. I can’t imagine stopping loving him.

It is such a sweet, small picture of God’s love for me. Beautiful.


We did have a little birthday party for Corban on Saturday that was so much fun. I will share details soon!