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On eulogizing

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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).

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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Just sauteeing a little chard.

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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.)

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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.”

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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).

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Other favorite activities include putting stickers on everything…

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playing doctor…

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brushing my hair…

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

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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.

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She picks this outfit out a lot.

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

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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Sipping great-grandpa’s cider at Thanksgiving.

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Cousins at Thanksgiving.

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Cousins at Christmas.

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Christmas morning.

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Loving the snow…

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…but loving the hot chocolate afterward even more.

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Thankful for thick glass.

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

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…and for the woman in the medicare ad.

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

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Great-grandparents while visiting Florida.

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

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Cousins in Florida.

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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.)

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Madison zoo (it’s free).

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Those sweet little hands!

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo credit: Wade Tregaskis

Books

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.

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School

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).

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Perpetual bedhead

Play

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.

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Learn

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.

“Why?”

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!

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“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.

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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).

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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:

Radiolab

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.

Invisibilia

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?

 

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Pirate-themed 4th birthday party

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

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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.)

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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.

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

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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.

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To start, I designed a few posters to get printed as engineering prints (black and white) from Staples.com. 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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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This was my favorite detail (printable from etsy).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And here’s Corban today at swim lessons.

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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…

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

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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).

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

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(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).

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Bocce ball… he’s on it.

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

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

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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)

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Asleep while hiking.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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:

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

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

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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:

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

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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.

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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).

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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:

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

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Somehow we wrangled 15 kids into a Halloween party photo.

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There’s my Izzy costume.

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This poor pumpkin didn’t stand a chance.

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Carved a pirate pumpkin.

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And got a little fancy.

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Eager to start trick-or-treating.

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

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

Now, for the costume tutorials…

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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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)

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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!)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
Pliers
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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

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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.

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Smee

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.