One month since we adopted Haddon

Well, where to begin? We’ve been home from China three (almost four now) weeks. It’s been one month, six days since Haddon became part of our family  (I keep adding to that number because this post has taken almost a week to write). Life is very different from just six weeks ago, when we left for China!

The overall theme is joy. Haddon has attached to us really well so far and we have attached to him. He is taking all the changes surprisingly well and is an overall happy kid. We love this little boy and it all feels right — like he belongs here with us.

All of the above may not seem like a big deal, but it really is. There are so many sticky spots with adoption and I don’t take for granted the fact that things have gone so smoothly and the love is naturally flowing in both directions. It’s a grace from God and we are so thankful.

I’ll go back and write in more detail about our time in China (in short, it was amazing!) but right now let’s focus on the past three-ish weeks.

The journey itself home from China was not fun. Everything went as planned — we are so, so thankful there were no delays or hitches — but traveling for more than 24 hours straight on little sleep and with a two-year-old is just never going to be easy. I felt bad for those seated around us on the flight from Beijing… they heard more than a little crying and screaming.

But our arrival in Chicago was beautiful. We were so happy to be home and my entire family was there to greet us with Corban and Mara, and signs and cupcakes. Haddon instantly perked up after crying through customs (which did get us to the front of the line, by the way) and just had a blast running around the airport with his siblings and cousins.

Haddon_122

It was a sweet greeting, and I’m so glad our friend and photographer Anna Sparks was there to document it.

The first few days home were emotional and overwhelming. Our house was a complete disaster in every way. We were jet lagged. Haddon had nights and days mixed up. I was sick for a couple days on top of being in a haze of sleep deprivation and overwhelm, grateful for friends and family reaching out yet not ready to re-enter normal life yet.

Peter went back to work right away on Monday (we got home Saturday night) and I am so grateful my mom came to help out for a few days. She helped with meals, kid-wrangling and cleaning. Without her it would have felt impossible to move beyond the piles of laundry, suitcases and just generally dirty house (that’s what happens when cats are the only inhabitants for any amount of time). It also would have been daunting getting the kids all to nap at once!

Thanks, Mom!

Haddon was overwhelmed by our house at first. In China he lived in a small apartment with four foster siblings, and then in a hotel room with us — he’s always been surrounded by people at all times. So our four-bedroom home is a change for him. For the first few days he would start to panic if he was in a room alone even for a few seconds. Nothing too intense, but it was a sign to me that we needed to keep his world small for a while, as adoption experts recommend.

So our first week was spent at home recovering, playing, cleaning, helping Haddon explore our house and neighborhood and minimally venturing out (both for Haddon’s sake and mine — I was terrified to take all three kids somewhere on my own). We cleared our schedule but still played outside with neighbors and had a couple drop-in visitors. Even with minimal stimulation the days felt busy and exhausting, for Haddon probably even more than me.

We’ve attempted to keep that quiet, low-key lifestyle up but even when I don’t go out of my way to make plans, somehow we end up doing things. That’s been fine for the most part. Corban and Mara basically beg for social opportunities, and Haddon’s attachment to Peter and me is strong and he is happy to be out and about too, so we’re rolling with it and slowly adding more as it’s comfortable.

Three across in a Ford Taurus for the win!

We’ve had friends over to play, met friends at parks, gone to beer gardens, had Peter’s parents visit for a day, gone out to eat (once), gone to church, etc. These are a lot of things that attachment experts advise against in the first few weeks, but like I said, Haddon’s attachment to us is strong and these are things that just feel appropriate and necessary for our family’s happiness. Going forward I think we’ll be at normal activity level. We even went to the pool today with friends.

One of the biggest blessings of this past month (aside from Haddon himself, who is beyond wonderful!) is how loved and supported we’ve felt from our family, friends, neighbors and even people we just met, barely know or haven’t talked to in ages. It is incredible and makes me tear up just thinking about it. The emails, phone calls, texts, Facebook messages, prayers, meals, gifts, cards, offers of help… I’ve at times felt overwhelmed but, oh my goodness, is genuine care from those around you not the best thing to be overwhelmed by? I thank God every day that He has brought people into our lives who are so supportive and generous with their words and time. Without all this support this all would be so much harder. It’s a beautiful thing to feel the warmth of community and I wish every family going through a big transition would feel this kind of embrace.

A meal from a friend… huge blessing!

Some areas to note about Haddon (if I’m on top of things I’ll update monthly (OK, maybe bi-monthly?) to track progress):

Play

Haddon plays independently really well — his favorites are toy cars, our play kitchen, musical instruments and the kiddie pool (he would probably choose to live in that thing). He runs around with Corban and Mara but otherwise I think it’s still hard for him to truly play with them — both because of the language barrier and because he tends to be really possessive of the toys he’s playing with. I’m not sure if that’s an issue relating to being in an orphanage setting or just normal toddler behavior. Probably both.

Language

In China, we tried to speak to Haddon in our limited Mandarin and not throw too many English words at him. He came to us speaking simple Mandarin sentences, but I’m not sure how wide his vocabulary actually was/is. We have learned some basic Mandarin words and phrases (which, by the way, I love and want to continue learning) and can generally figure out what he’s saying as it relates to a need or desire.

But oh is it exciting to watch him learn English! Upon our arrival home,  he had learned to say “I love you,” “good morning,” “diaper” and “bye bye,” without us really trying too hard to teach him.

Within his first day or two home he knew our cats’ names and “gentle” a.k.a. our mantra to him when petting the cats (also, he’s obsessed with the cats! They can usually cheer him up if he’s fussy). He calls both Corban and Mara “Co-ban.” Slowly but surely he’s started using more and more words on his own and in context: All done, potty, baby, fish, deer, otter, dog, ball, baby, banana, fan, drink, milk, hungry, etc…

I remember how exciting it was when we first realized Corban understood certain words and could point out pictures we named in books. It’s no less exciting to hear Haddon point to a picture of a ball in a book and say the word in English, or say to me at dinner “milk” and “drink” when I forgot to bring his cup to the table. You can see his little mind at work as he looks at something and tries to recall the right word in English. It doesn’t happen super often but more and more he is attempting to speak English and it feels just as magical and unexpected as hearing our biological kids speak their first few words.

Physical development

Well, we’ve had three doctors appointments so far and many more scheduled. Some of them are standard appointments every adopted child has: child development center for initial evaluation, pediatrician for vaccines, ophthalmologist, audiologist, dentist. It was not mentioned in his medical file but we learned our first day with Haddon that he walks on his toes on his left foot, causing him to limp. So for that we’ve seen a neurologist and rehabilitation doctor and will also see a physical therapist and orthopedic specialist. We’re certain we’ll have follow up eye doctor appointments based on our observations. So by the end of the summer our doctor appointments count will be well into double digits. It’s kind of like cramming all the visits you have in the first few years into a few months.

The important details: Haddon has cerebral palsy, which affects the muscles in his left leg. It’s a scary diagnosis but doesn’t change what we already knew about him: he’s smart (cerebral palsy is caused by a brain injury but it does not affect cognitive abilities) and he still gets around just fine, running and playing like most kids, and with therapy should be able to walk fairly normally. Right now it looks like treatment will consist of a leg brace and physical therapy. We have started doing ankle stretches with him and already his achilles tendon seems to be loosening up a little.

Haddon seems small compared to Corban and Mara, but is on the growth charts at around 30-40% for both height and weight. So he’s small for a Sherwood, but not that small really. It still feels like none of his clothes really fit, though! I think he’s somewhere between size 24 months and 2T, if that’s even possible. He wears about size 5 1/2 or 6 in shoes (but his only shoes that fit really well are from China so I don’t know that they translate exactly to a U.S. size).

Attachment

We’ve been blessed with quick attachment to and from Haddon. He started calling us Mama and Baba on day one and really seems to understand we’re his and he’s ours.

We have not been super strict about letting other people pick him up or help him with things when we’re in social settings. I never wrote a letter to friends and neighbors explaining attachment or cocooning, like some adoptive families do, and honestly have not really laid out any “rules” for friends and family (don’t feed, don’t hold, don’t offer too much affection, etc.). I figured Peter or I would just be there with him anytime he’s around others and be able to take care of his needs. Well, with two other kids in our care it doesn’t always work out that way! But I think we’re beyond the point of it really mattering, and since Haddon is pretty wary of strangers to begin with it hasn’t been a big deal if someone helps him tie his shoe or holds his hand while he walks up a couple steps. He does not show indiscriminate affection and is quite shy around new people.

While in China, Haddon seemed to be more attached to Peter, but since day one here at home he switched into Mama mode. I’m sure it’s because I’m the one home with him every day and I put him to bed most nights. He does ask about Baba throughout the day though (he started repeating, “Baba at work,” and that seems satisfactory even though I know he has no idea what it means).

Sleep

I don’t even want to know how many hours in the past month we’ve spent lying silently next to Haddon’s crib waiting for him to fall asleep. Every naptime and bedtime in China meant lights out, all of us lying down and pretending to sleep. It wasn’t always a quick process.

At home, Haddon sleeps in a crib in his own room. For the first few weeks, I would lie down on the floor next to his crib while he fell asleep. If he would wake up in the middle of the night (a normal occurrence at first, especially with the jet lag!) I would go back in and lie down. He would cry if I would get up and leave before he was asleep, so many nights I spent hours lying there (and falling asleep myself).

After about two weeks or so of that, I was going crazy feeling like I had no time away from the kids, and Haddon was taking longer and longer to fall asleep, watching me closely to make sure I wasn’t going to try to sneak out. It wasn’t working for any of us.

Now, one of us puts him to bed with a story, prayer and song, then tucks him in so he’s turned toward the wall (and not straining to watch us) and sits in the rocker in his room for a minute or two before leaving. He sometimes cries for a minute before quieting down and going to sleep. Although I think it was necessary for us to make him feel comfortable and secure in the first few weeks by lying down in his room, this is now a much better plan for all of us.

We had sent Haddon a care package in China with a photo album and a stuffed panda, and I’m so glad we did. His panda (or Mao Mao, as he calls it — panda is Xiang Mao in Mandarin) is his comfort item and he holds it and pets it while he falls asleep. When he’s tired and fussy, if we hold him and give him Mao Mao he calms down right away.

Food

Haddon is a good eater for the most part. His favorite foods are meat, eggs, dried seaweed, grape tomatoes, bread and fruit. Unfortunately there aren’t many vegetables I can convince him to eat, and oddly he doesn’t seem too crazy about rice. He eats very independently and is skilled with a fork and spoon.

Even though the milk in China is different from our milk (the stuff he drank was shelf stable instead of fresh), Haddon didn’t bat an eye at the switch to regular milk. He loves the stuff and drinks a lot.

We hit up our local Chinese grocery store last week and Haddon got really excited about some snacks he spotted there. It was cute and we stocked up on some of the snack foods we became familiar with in China (we are all fans). It’s nice that we have a local spot to find those things.

Potty training

I am back to cloth diapering. It was a tough reality to face at first but I guess it’s like riding a bike.

In China Haddon was not potty trained at all that we know of, but from the start he has shown signs of being ready. We didn’t want to push it until he was fully adjusted here though.

Well, looks like we are already boarding the potty train (ha) and I think the cloth diapers will be packed up again before long. Haddon has gone on the toilet a number of times in the past week, and has even initiated it himself a few times, saying “potty” to us. He gets really excited each time he uses the toilet successfully, so I think it’s time to make a sticker chart and make it official. He’ll be three in just over five weeks so this isn’t surprising.

Family dynamics

This has been a big adjustment for Corban and Mara too. They are handling the changes well (both the new brother and me being home full-time), but it can be a test of my patience since there are still the normal arguments and competitions but with a third one thrown in the mix.

There are times when Mara wants to be babied by me, and times when she tries to baby Haddon. Neither scenario goes very well. I think one-on-one time for her and me is going to be important in helping her get the attention she desires. Today was a rough afternoon for Mara so tonight I took her to Costco with me after Peter got home and it really changed her mood around. She was such a delight (and oh how much easier it is grocery shopping with one kid instead of three!).

Corban verbalized some disappointment in the early days with the fact that Haddon doesn’t speak English (yet). I think the language barrier makes it harder for them to fully connect right now — they are eager to show and tell him things, which is tender and adorable, but since he doesn’t understand everything there’s still a disconnect. There have still been a lot of sweet moments. When Haddon wakes up in the morning or after nap, the first thing he says is, “Corban?”

Corban is often eager to help Haddon out, and he still calls him by his Chinese name, HaoLei, most of the time and I find that really sweet. All three kids love listening to this CD we have that includes traditional English and Mandarin nursery rhyme songs. That music in particular has been a connection point for them, I think.

I always want to remember Corban and Mara’s intense eagerness to give Haddon his gift they picked out — a really cool toy car — on our first night home. That night they all wore matching pajamas and were giddy with excitement.

Overall, things have gone really well in our first month with Haddon. Each day brings new discoveries and joys, and we couldn’t be happier that he is part of our family.

Our family is growing! Why adoption?

In two weeks, we will legally be a family of five!

IMG_4578-.jpg

No, I am not pregnant — and this is something we’ve been actively anticipating for much longer than nine months: adoption.

So, first, the exciting details. It’s a boy. He is 2 years, 9 months old. He lives in Harbin, China. His English name will be Haddon, after (or inspired by) the theologian C.H. (Charles Haddon) Spurgeon. Peter and I leave in just over a week to bring him home!

Reed (3).JPG

I had intended on documenting the entire process from the start here, but instead found it easier to share this journey via conversations and prayer requests to friends rather than by sitting down and typing it out. At some point I do want to go back and write more about the details that led us to this point, though.

IMG_6704.JPG

First, I’ll tackle a question I’ve gotten (not surprisingly) a lot. What made you decide to adopt?

I think if we didn’t have biological kids or were older than we are this question might seem nosy, but for a relatively young couple with a healthy boy and girl, adoption is puzzling, or at least curiosity-inducing, to a lot of people.

I understand why and don’t begrudge anyone for asking. Most people think of adoption as something for people who can’t or don’t want to have biological kids. Adoption is a great choice for those people.

Or they think of adoption as something for very saintly people who want to give unfortunate children a better life. Adoption is the only way millions of kids worldwide have the opportunity to grow up with a family. (Though I would say saintliness is an unhealthy motivation for anything in life, including adoption.)

The reality is adoption fills a need and desire for both parents and children, and I think it’s healthiest to acknowledge both parties’ needs.

So the short answer to “what made you decide to adopt?” is because we want more kids and there are kids out there who need families.

IMG_4564.JPG

From the start of our relationship, Peter has talked about wanting to adopt. Before then, I had never really considered it, mainly out of ignorance. It just didn’t cross my mind, but I had no qualms about it. As we talked about it more and because Peter felt strongly about adoption, it quickly became a foregone conclusion as we thought about the future. We are fortunate to have come to know a number of adoptive families over the years and that just encouraged us even more.

So the superficial “why” I sometimes find myself reciting to people quickly when they ask why we are adopting is, “We’ve just always wanted to.”

But there’s more to it than any of that. Why do we feel called to be one of those families when it would be far easier to just have more biological children? Why would we choose to take on the expense—monetary, emotional, mental, physical—of adoption?

Our deeper motivation comes from looking at our status in relationship to God. Through Christ’s redeeming work for us, we “receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5) We are born under the law, but through Jesus we are called sons of God, receiving the full inheritance of Christ.

In Romans 8:14-17, Paul writes:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The Creator of the universe loved lowly, little me enough to adopt me as his child. Adoption is a beautiful, mysterious picture of our relationship with our Father—not because we were born His, but because he pursued us and made us His own children.

I’m not equipped to explain it all very well in my own words, but John Piper has an excellent exposition on adoption, where he lays out eight similarities between God adopting us and us adopting children.

Number seven is especially moving to me. A snippet: “The distance between what we are, and what God is, is infinitely greater than any distance between us and a child we might adopt. God crossed the greatest cultural barrier to redeem and adopt us.”

Jesus paid the greatest price for our adoption, so any cost we bear in adopting our son is pennies in comparison. We rely on God’s grace for the strength we will need for the job (just as with parenting our biological kids) and rest in His promises.

CIMG7426.JPG

Berenstain Bears Halloween costumes

We did another full-fledged family costume this year for Halloween. Last year it was Jake and the Neverland Pirates. This year: Berenstain Bears (yes, that’s how it’s always been spelled).

halloween2016-09

Corban discovered the Bear family thanks to the extensive collection of books my parents have from when I was a kid, and these past few months we have been compelled to read multiple Berenstain Bears books a day. You can’t get away with shortcuts with Corban either—he notices if you skip so much as a sentence.

This is a good thing, though: good moral lessons, childhood reminiscence, enjoyable storylines. Naturally, Corban draws connections between the Bear family and our own family of four. He is Brother Bear, Mara is Sister Bear.

So despite a new Star Wars obsession that has them plotting next year’s costumes already, they were excited to dress up as the Bear family for Halloween.

You can’t just go out and buy a Berenstain Bears costume (I looked and came up empty), so we had to get a little bit creative.

Thankfully, I came across this Etsy shop, which sells handmade embroidered Berenstain Bears masks. They only come in kids sizes, so they looked slightly off on Peter and me, but they were perfect for the kids. Without these masks the costumes would have been really obscure, especially since the Berenstain Bears are not normal-looking bears.

Brother Bear was the easiest: blue sweatpants and a red long-sleeve polo (found at Old Navy).

halloween2016-08

Papa Bear was simple, too: Overalls and a yellow plaid shirt.

My original plan for Mama Bear was to buy a blue nightgown and paint white polka dots onto it, but upon realizing how expensive even the most basic long-sleeve nightgowns and dresses are (at least the ones that I could find), my mom offered to sew me a dress. She has years of sewing experience and has made many Halloween costumes throughout my life, and I’m grateful for her expertise and eagerness to help! She used blue polka-dot fleece fabric and modified a basic dress pattern, adding a white collar.

Sister Bear was my project. For her shirt, I just used fabric paint to paint pink polka dots onto an old long-sleeve shirt of Corban’s. I could have bought a pair of regular pink overalls, but Sister’s overalls are slightly different—they have scalloped straps and a straight line across the front and back (no bib). So after hunting around unsuccessfully, I got inspired by something I saw on how to turn an old pair of jeans into shorts overalls.

halloween2016-07

I bought two pairs of pink fleece sweatpants (thank you, Walmart) and went to town. First, I cut two rectangles out of one leg of one of the pairs of pants in order to bring the waistline up to nearly chest-height. I sewed those two pieces together then sewed them to the waist of the other pair of pants.

halloween2016-03

Unfolded:

halloween2016-04

No hemming needed with fleece; yay!

For the straps, I put the newly modified pants on Mara, measured the length the straps should be and cut a scalloped pattern out of poster board.

halloween2016-01

I took the other extra pant leg and cut along the seams to create two long rectangles of fabric. I folded each long rectangle in half lengthwise and cut the scalloped line out of the open side. Then I pinned the edges to prepare to sew them:

halloween2016-02

I carefully sewed along the scalloped edge.

halloween2016-06

Then I turned them inside out and ironed them flat (in the photo below, the top strap shows it before being turned inside out and the bottom one after).

halloween2016-05

I sewed the front of the straps to the front of the pants, and my mom sewed snaps onto the inside of the back straps and back of the pants. The snaps ended up being unnecessary, though; Mara just pulled the straps up over her arms. I did end up pinning the shoulders of her shirt to the straps so they wouldn’t fall down (thanks to the double layers of fleece, you couldn’t see the pins).

halloween2016-10

Oh, and the kids were super excited to wear these gorilla feet slippers we spotted at Walmart. They look enough like bear feet, I guess. They weren’t the easiest to walk in while trick-or-treating, though.

I also concocted some furry gloves for all of us by sewing some felt pieces to cheap cotton gloves to make it look like fur was coming out of our sleeves. If I were to do that again I would have hot-glued the felt…my quick hand-sewing job didn’t really hold up. Mara also refused to wear them, so there’s that.

It was a fun Halloween weekend: costumed play date party Friday morning, adult party Friday night (my solo Mama Bear costume isn’t quite as cute without the rest of the fam…), pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating Sunday and a Halloween party for the kids at our gym this morning.

14883513_10104365931006220_4755394197375787757_o

Hard to believe we are entering November already!

Past years’ Halloween costumes: Pirate/Tinkerbell (2015) | Peter Rabbit/bumble bee (2014) | mouse/cat (2013) | lobster (2012)

On eulogizing

IMG_0287

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.

Nana

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.

Nana7

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.

Nana2

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.

Nana8

Nana3

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

Nana6

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

Nana4

Nana5

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).

Nana10

Nana9

Nana11

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

Nana13

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

Nana12

Pirate-themed 4th birthday party

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

pirateparty17

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.)

pirateparty000

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.

pirateparty002

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

pirateparty006

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.

pirateparty00

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?

pirateparty01

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.

pirateparty04

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.

pirateparty05

pirateparty07

pirateparty06

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!

pirateparty10

pirateparty09

pirateparty11

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

pirateparty12

This was my favorite detail (printable from etsy).

pirateparty005

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.

pirateparty16

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.

pirateparty25

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.

pirateparty02

pirateparty24

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.

pirateparty14

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.

pirateparty26

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.

pirateparty27

pirateparty08

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

pirateparty18

pirateparty19

pirateparty20

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

pirateparty21

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.

pirateparty15

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.

pirateparty004

pirateparty23

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.

pirateparty22

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.

corban4thbday24

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.

mara18months06

And here’s Corban today at swim lessons.

corban4thbday-01

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…

corban4thbday09

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

corban4thbday11

corban4thbday12

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).

corban4thbday07

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

corban4thbday10

(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).

corban4thbday18

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.

corban4thbday22

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.

corban4thbday14

corban4thbday08

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

corban4thbday04

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.

corban4thbday15

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

corban4thbday13

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

corban4thbday00

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.

corban4thbday16

Bocce ball… he’s on it.

corban4thbday03

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

corban4thbday19

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

corban4thbday02

corban4thbday01

corban4thbday000

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)

corban4thbday17

corban4thbday23

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.

corban4thbday06

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

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.

halloween2015-4b

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).

halloween2015-3b

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:

halloween201506

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

halloween2015-6

Somehow we wrangled 15 kids into a Halloween party photo.

halloween2015-5

There’s my Izzy costume.

halloween201502

halloween201500

This poor pumpkin didn’t stand a chance.

halloween201507

Carved a pirate pumpkin.

halloween201508

And got a little fancy.

halloween201501

Eager to start trick-or-treating.

halloween201503

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

halloween201504

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

Now, for the costume tutorials…

 

jakefamilycostumes

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.

jake00

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.

jake1

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.

jake2

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.

jake01

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:

jake02

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

jake03

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)

jake04

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!)

jake05

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.)

halloween2015-1b

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.

tink01

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.

tink02

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.

tink00

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.

tink1

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).

tink03

tink04

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.

halloween2015-2

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).

izzyshirt

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.

izzy00

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

izzy01

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.

halloween2015-famb

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.

Kidventures: Family Kite Festival

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

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

kitefest00

kitefest01

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

kitefest02

But we were able to enjoy the sun and water.

kitefest05

kitefest06

And a gigantic bubble machine!

kitefest13

kitefest17

kitefest12

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

kitefest03

kitefest04

kitefest10

I took some photos myself as we sauntered around.

kitefest11

kitefest09

kitefest08

kitefest07

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

kitefest14

kitefest15

kitefest18

kitefest16

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

Summer to do list: 50 things to do in Milwaukee

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

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

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

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

Here is my Milwaukee summer to do list.

summerlist07

Kidventures

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

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

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

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

IMG_7446

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

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

summerlist03

6. Fly kites at the Lake Michigan shore.

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

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

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

summerlist00

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

Activities at home

Quiet mornings, rainy days and other fun at home.

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

12. Make play dough. Easy enough, right?

13. Make soap clouds. Trippy.

14. Balloon ping pong.

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

summerlist01

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

17. Make popsicles.

18. Kiddie pool/sprinkler. Obvi.

summerlist05

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

20. Neighborhood bonfire.

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

Weeknight fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fam-ventures

Weekend outings to enjoy with the whole family.

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

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

29. Fishing at Greenfield Park.

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

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

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

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

summerlist06

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

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

summerlist02

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

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

Dates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

summerlist04

Me time

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

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

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

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

Road trips

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 1.33.09 AM

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

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

—–

Would you look at that, an even 50!

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

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

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

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

In the garden

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

gardenfun00

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

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

gardenfun04

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

gardenfun01

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

gardenfun02

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

gardenfun03

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

gardenfun05

gardenfun06

gardenfun07

Plus some good old-fashioned ball-throwing.

gardenfun08

gardenfun09

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

gardenfun10

gardenfun11

gardenfun12

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

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

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

plantsaseed00

plantsaseed01

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

plantsaseed02

plantsaseed03

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

plantsaseed04

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

plantsaseed05

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