Devon is Seven!

And loving that his name and age rhyme! Life won’t be this good again until he turns 11 🙂

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Devon is taller, has bigger feet, longer hair and fewer teeth than last year. But I could write the same things I did last year:
“Oh, sweet boy! You continue to challenge me and love me every day. You have such strong opinions, about everything, and I hope that you learn to express those opinions in such a way that you can change the world (instead of just driving your mama crazy!) You still give some of the best hugs I’ve ever had and love to snuggle while we do schoolwork.”

You love American Ninja Warrior, Harry Potter and living in pretend book-worlds with your sister. You have been in Tae Kwan Do for about a year now, but are really excited to try basketball later this fall. You want to do everything as quickly as possible, including brushing your teeth and playing piano, unless we ask you to clean something.

Since you can read now, I had to turn the computer away from you so you couldn’t read last year’s answers, but you were excited to answer these questions, none the less.

What is your favorite color? Blue. 

What is your favorite toy? “Probably the dolls.” (Dollhouse.)

What is your favorite fruit? Frozen blueberries, probably.

What is your favorite TV show? Paw Patrol.

What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Mac & Cheese

What is your favorite outfit?  Minion shirt with my jeans.

What is your favorite game? Tier auf Tier (Animal Upon Animal)

What is your favorite snack? Goldfish.

What is your favorite animal? A dog

What is your favorite song? “The Other Side” (from The Greatest Showman)

What is your favorite book? Minecraft how-to books

Who is your best friend? Judah! (even though he’s lived 4+ hours away for 5 years now…)

What is your favorite movie? The Greatest Showman

What is your favorite thing to do outside? Play with the floating steps.

What is your favorite drink? Sparkling Water

What is your favorite holiday? “My birthday!!” (And then we had a discussion about how it’s not technically a holiday, but we do celebrate it- just like last year and the year before. So then he said…) “Or Christmas. Everyone I know celebrates my birthday though…”

What do you like to take to bed with you at night? “My stuffies and my blankets. And my clock and flashlight and my pillows. And my sheets. And a whole bunch of books.”

What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Pancakes!

What do you want for dinner on your birthday? El Azteca

What do you want to be when you grow up? Probably a baker. Or an artist. Or a runner. (After reading him last year’s answer, he said, “Well, at least all of these are reasonable answers.”)

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles: San Francisco

Our trip to San Francisco involved all of those modes of transportation, and more, just not in that order 🙂

This trip started with 46 hours on an Amtrak train, from Osceola, Iowa to Emeryville, California.  This was such a cool way to travel. We slept through the rest of Iowa and Nebraska, then woke up as we pulled into Denver, Colorado. This means that we spent the whole day with gorgeous views of the mountains. We set up camp in the observation car and spent the day playing card games, reading, listening to music and drawing pictures. We counted tunnels – 63 in total and ate multiple desserts a day. As with any trip or experience, there were learning opportunities along the way – like when we had to teach our kids what “mooning” is when we saw rafters on the Colorado River 😉

The second day involved a little more restlessness, but overall, it was still a good experience! When we arrived in Emeryville, we rented a car and drove across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and checked in to our Airbnb.

The next morning we were up bright and early (thanks, time difference!) and got ready to drive up to Muir Woods. We hiked through and the kids completed their Junior Ranger booklets. We loved being able to stand inside the tree trunks to take in their massive size and enjoyed finding the banana slugs along the way. We drove over to Muir Beach, enjoyed a picnic lunch and then put our toes in the Pacific Ocean. The kids kept creeping further in until a bigger wave came their way. They weren’t able to outrun it and Devon was knocked over. Without a change of clothes handy, this ended our time at the beach pretty quickly. Weeks later, we’re still finding sand in the pocket of the sweatshirt he was wearing!

On our way back to our home for the week, we stopped to take pictures in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and then over to Lands End Lookout, where we explored ancient baths, a cave and took in some more views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Day 2 in San Francisco involved Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies (Full House opening!!), a ride on a cable car, sourdough bread, the sea lions at Pier 39, Aquarium of the Bay, Ghiradelli Square, Lombard Street and In-N-Out Burger. It was a fantastic day, full of iconic SF sights and I was starting to wonder what we had left to do. Thankfully, there was a lot more to see!

We had returned our rental car the day before, so we were completely at the mercy of public transportation for day 3. Even so, we managed to stop at the see the Tanner’s house (once again, think Full House!) The kids had watched all the episodes on Hulu, so at least 75% of our family was really excited about this! Then we hopped on another bus, detoured to our second San Francisco park and spent the rest of our morning at the Exploratorium. After lunch with a view of the sea lions, we took a Bay Cruise out under the Golden Gate Bridge and back. It was a windy, choppy ride, but neat to see things from that perspective.

By this point in the trip, we had been on a train, car, cable car, bus and boat. We had also done plenty of walking! An underground train took us partway home that night and we’d eventually take a taxi and airplane to get back to Iowa. But first, we had one more full day of fun!

Our last full day was also Chloe’s 9th birthday! In her honor, we had a second breakfast of crepes before hanging out at our third park of the trip. We stayed closer to home and spent the day in Golden Gate State Park, with most of our afternoon at the California Academy of Sciences. Of the three museums we went to, I think this was everyone’s favorite. There were a variety of exhibits, including a planetarium show and live animals.

After dinner, we found a rolled ice cream place, because – birthday!

Before heading to the airport, we had about a half day left to explore. We stuck close to “home” – and more importantly, our luggage we didn’t want to cart all over the city – and explored even more of the enormous Golden Gate State Park. We saw the Japanese Tea Garden from the outside, played at park number four and even saw police officers on horses 🙂

Right as we arrived at the airport, we got a notification that our flight was cancelled. They couldn’t get us home until the next day, so we stayed in a random hotel and let the kids watch movies all evening. That was a rough ending to the vacation, when everyone was tired and potentially a little cranky. On our way home, I tried to say “yes” to the kids as much as possible, to make the experience as bearable as possible. I’m not sure how successful my plan was, but we made it home in one piece!

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Chloe is 9!

Oh. Chloe Mae. I cannot get over the fact that this is your last year in single digits. A friend pointed out that you’re halfway to adulthood, and I would have preferred if she’d kept that piece of information to herself 🙂 You wear size 6 (!) shoes, love to remind me that your hair is longer than mine, and are ready to jump on the “I’m almost as tall as you” bandwagon any day now. You fit the role of big sister well. You’re a great caretaker, a rule follower and can be a little bossy at times.

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You enjoy traveling and seeing new things, but can be a creature of habit like your mama. You ate cheesecake for 4/4 desserts on the train ride out to San Francisco! We spent your birthday trying to cram in a few last sights before our trip ended – and filled it with yummy food, including crepes and rolled ice cream.

I know the coming years will be trying at times, as you perfect the eye roll and test the limits of your independence, but I can’t wait to see who you become!

  • What is your favorite color? Purple
  • What is your favorite toy?  Drawing stuff.
  • What is your favorite fruit?  Raspberries.
  • What is your favorite TV show?  The Voice
  • What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch?  “Anything that’s not leftovers. Just kidding. Maybe fish sticks and mac and cheese. That’s better than leftovers. Unless the leftovers are leftover brisket. Then that’s my favorite. Remember when I ate that as a leftover for lunch like 5 days in a row?! Ok, that might be exaggerating. But still.”
  • What is your favorite outfit? My sequin flip shirt and Justice jeans.
  • What is your favorite game?  Clue
  • What is your favorite snack?  Nutella banana tortilla wrap up
  • What is your favorite animal?  Monkeys….and dogs. And flamingos.
  •  What is your favorite song? Rewrite the Stars and The Other Side– both from The Greatest Showman
  • What is your favorite book? Cupcake Diaries series
  • Who is your best friend? Nya
  • What is your favorite movie? The Greatest Showman
  • What is your favorite thing to do outside?  “Play cowgirl. It’s me and Devon’s game.” A few questions later… “Will you go back to the outside question? Put down floating steps. I like doing those too.”
  • What is your favorite drink? Sparkling lemonade iced tea
  • What is your favorite holiday?  Christmas
  • What do you like to take to bed with you at night?  “Tangled blanket and George. And Olaf. And my pillow.”
  • What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?  Bacon and…. bacon.
  • What do you want for dinner on your birthday?  Biscuits and gravy.
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? A baker.

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Winter Escape: Sanibel Island

I hate winter. I can’t stop saying it. I have been wanting to take a break from Iowa winter and travel somewhere warm for years, and 2018 was the year to make it happen! In late January, we spent a week on Sanibel Island, Florida.IMG_3071

After traveling all day and then stopping for groceries (because that’s the kind of traveller I am…) we rushed straight down from the condo to the beach. My mom and stepdad were joining us on the trip and when my stepdad took this photo, I thought, “I’m done. We don’t have to do anything else. This is what I needed.”

Even though I thought that, we totally did more.

 

We spent our first full day hanging out on the beach, looking for sand dollars on the sand bar and exploring Sanibel Island. The birds in the courtyard by Jerry’s Foods was an immediate hit with the kids and we made many trips back over our few days there.

 

We did more exploring the next day and finished off our day with a “fancy” dinner at the hibachi grill at our complex. The food was delicious and it did my soul good to walk to dinner in my dress and sandals.

 

On our third full day on Sanibel, we went to the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve. In addition to learning about Ding Darling, his Iowa roots and all the animals at the preserve, we also quizzed math facts and state capitals in the car throughout the day. So we totally counted this as a school day 🙂 PE was spent swimming in one of the heated pools and we finished off our day with ice cream at Pinnochio’s.

 

The kids spent the morning of our fourth day at Sanibel Sea School, learning all about seahorses and other sea-related things. Aaron and I were busy not being with the kids, so I can’t say exactly what they did 🙂 I do know that they had a lot of fun though! We spent another afternoon hanging out at the beach and collecting a few more shells. Fun fact: Sanibel Island, Florida has some of the shelliest (That’s not a word. I don’t care.) beaches in the world!

 

On our last day on Sanibel Island, we went on a naturalist led boat cruise around Tarpon Bay. They also had a touch tank and several animal shells and skeletons to look at on land beforehand. It was fun to learn more about the history of the island and some of the animals who live there, but the best part was the dolphin spotting in the bay before we even left for the cruise! We spent the afternoon soaking up the sun, or swimming if you were under the age of 30, before finding seafood for dinner one last time.

When we got up to go to the airport the next morning, Chloe told me, “It isn’t nearly as fun to wake up early when we’re going back home!” So true, baby girl!  Even so, our kiddos continued to be great travelers, we made it home safely and we all warmed up enough to survive the rest of winter.

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Here’s to 2018!

For our family, and many others I know, 2017 was a rough year.

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I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. It certainly wasn’t all bad. I delivered a healthy baby to help complete a family. Our kids continued to do well with their schoolwork and enjoy homeschooling. We travelled to view an eclipse in totality and explore the mountains. Most importantly – we were healthy, safe and had a roof over our heads.

But looking back, it just feels like there were a lot of struggles for our family and those we love. There are many things from this last year that just plain sucked. Over the course of the year, we learned, or were reminded, that we can’t control others’ actions; only our own reactions. We learned about perseverance and taking things one day at a time. And we learned about love and loss, firsthand.

While 2017 may have been a year of unintended lessons learned, we’re hoping that the start of a new year gives our family a sort of fresh start. While life continually gives us chances to learn from our mistakes and struggles, we’re looking forward to the lessons we can learn from our triumphs and adventures in 2018.

Follow along and I’ll do my best to keep you up-to-date on our adventures – by plane, train and automobile!

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My 6 Months as a Cow

Remember when I shared about giving birth to someone else’s baby and feeling like a cow? Yup. Still true. You can definitely draw some connections between me and a dairy cow right now 😀

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This is my view several times a day. It almost always involves Georges sitting right there and I’m usually working, helping a child with schoolwork or eating at the same time. Ain’t nobody got time to spend several hours a day just hanging out!

It has been 6 months since I gave birth. In that 6 months of pumping, I have pumped over 13,000 ounces of milk (or over 100 gallons!) About 5,000 ounces has been sent to a milk bank that feeds preemies. The rest has been donated to 13 different babies in 5 different states. I have pumped in cars, airports and even under a nursing cover while walking into a rest stop. (My mom loved that 🤣)

IMG_2756Thanks to my fancy tracking app, I can also say that I’ve spent about a month’s time pumping. That doesn’t count the time spent bagging, washing or eating all the foods 🙂

There’s a weird emotional component to pumping after a surrogacy. Almost every surrogate I’ve talked to who has pumped will agree. I’m so happy I’ve been able to help feed so many babies, but the time commitment and toll on my body (I’m almost making enough to feed triplets!) – plus a vacation at the end of January – means it’s time to start weaning.

My days as a cow are almost over!

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DMonster is 6!

Oh, sweet boy! You continue to challenge me and love me every day. You have such strong opinions, about everything, and I hope that you learn to express those opinions in such a way that you can change the world (instead of just driving your mama crazy!) You still give some of the best hugs I’ve ever had and love to snuggle while we do schoolwork.

Schoolwork. Starting kindergarten with you has been another challenge this year. You are a smart little boy, but you only want to do school when you want to do it. I often remind you how lucky you are to be home, but you don’t always believe me 🙂  You love to spend your time playing pretend with your sister or outside getting as dirty as possible.

If it were up to you, you would eat pancakes or mac and cheese for every meal. Maybe, if you’re feeling crazy, you’d pick chicken strips and fries. Deep down though, you’re not a picky eater. Another favorite meal is salmon pasta with a spinach salad. Just like pretty much everything else though, it needs to be your idea!

You were so happy to celebrate your birthday by playing mini-golf with family. You wavered between wanting to run with the big girls, and stopping to take care of the little boys.

I love you forever and always, cute boy!

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What is your favorite color? Blue. 

What is your favorite toy? Doll house – “especially the bakery I got for my birfday.”

What is your favorite fruit? Bananas.

What is your favorite TV show? Fuller House.

What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? “Ummm…still Mac & Cheese I think.”

What is your favorite outfit?  “My Paw Patrol socks, my Paw Patrol shirt and blue pants.” *giggle*

What is your favorite game? Ticket to Ride (First Journey)

What is your favorite snack? Fruit snacks

What is your favorite animal? Dogs

What is your favorite song? “You’re Welcome” (from Moana)

What is your favorite book? The Penderwicks

Who is your best friend? Judah

What is your favorite movie? Moana

What is your favorite thing to do outside? “Shoot bows and arrows.”

What is your favorite drink? Apple Cider

What is your favorite holiday? “My birthday!!” (And then we had a discussion about how it’s not technically a holiday, but we do celebrate it- just like last year.)

What do you like to take to bed with you at night? “All my stuffies and Emoji pillows.” (There’s about a million stuffies now-a-days.)

What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Pancakes!

What do you want for dinner on your birthday? Hickory Park

What do you want to be when you grow up? “An artist or a cook. Or a donut shop owner! …Who has a food truck!”

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