Living the Life

We are absolutely LOVING all of the family friendly fun in the QC area!  Here’s some bits and pieces we’ve been enjoying lately…..

Going to the Zoo!

The girls loved riding on the train and going through the tunnel.Zoo TrainDaddy & Evie on the Train

We didn’t pay to feed the giraffes, but still had fun watching them get fed.  They are so tall!  I always wish I could go in and stand by one of them.  They just seem like such gentle giants.Feeding the Giraffes

Lion Statue at the ZooThe lion stood up when we were in front of him and started to almost roar impressively.  Then it turned into this odd seizure-like noise as he arched his back over and over as if he was in some serious pain.  There are times that “wild animals” in captivity aren’t quite the real deal. haha  It was still exciting to be able to stand so close.
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Our first attempt at a self family shot.  The girls weren’t sure how to handle it, but at least the parents look happy, right? 🙂Selfie at the Zoo

Family Fun Day!

DSCF7045A park just a few minutes from our house offers free family fun days a few times over the summer.  They had a couple of giant bounce houses that Abby loved playing in…. until it started raining.  It was still fun for a while though!  We’re looking forward to the next time and hopefully better weather.

Family Museum!

This is definitely one of Abby’s favorite places to visit.  She would probably be thrilled to spend every other day enjoying all of the fun pretend play they have to offer.

Being a veterinarian and taking care of her beloved puppies is heaven on earth.DSCF6985ablog

Delivering mail to all of the different businesses.
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Evie enjoying the ride and trying not to get too bored.  She recently decided she won’t fall asleep when we are out and about.  It’s just way too exciting!DSCF7000ablog

Launching our boats in a high speed water race!Boat Racesblog

Cooking with Daddy in the little house.  The sink was so realistic in appearance that Abby wondered why it was broken and no water was coming out. *Disappointment*
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Caleb and I enjoyed the silly screens….. perhaps even more than the children did.  (okay…. definitely more than the children did)
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John Deere Pavilion!

DSCF7096blogThis is a place I frequented as a child.  I don’t remember enjoying it quite as much as Abigail did, but they also have a lot more to climb on than they did in years past.  She LOVED all of the big equipment!  Of course I loved when she pointed directly at the giant combine and squealed, “Let’s go up in the combine!”  She’s not going to grow up lumping combines/tractors/construction vehicles all into one category.  They each have their own name!
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The “face in hole” concept wasn’t really registering this time, but she did enjoy “peeking through the little window.”
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The pavilion has a couple little areas where kids can play with toy tractors, farm equipment, and animals.  Abs set right to work building pens for the horses.
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The trip isn’t complete unless you make a pit stop at the John Deere store.  Abby thought this bear and John Deere chair would make excellent additions to her bedroom (didn’t happen).DSCF7122blog

Parks!

There are tons of new parks to discover and explore!  When you wear matching jackets, they are even more fun.
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Daddy giving our little climber a hand (or two).IMG_0050blog

Evie hopes Daddy is being careful way up there….

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Such a colorful park!  This odd climbing thing was actually pretty fun.  Yes, I had to give it a try as well.

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Frisbee Golf!

There are a few frisbee golf courses nearby and we have been desperately wanting to give them a try.  This is hands down one of Abby’s favorite things to do (and ours too)!  We knew she loved it, but she still surprised us with how extremely into it she was.  She was all business out there!  We ended up going two days in a row and have now walked through holes 1 – 14 out of the 24 hole course.  It’s big!  We are excited to see the rest soon!
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IMG_0201There were a ton of different playgrounds scattered throughout the course, but Abby wanted nothing to do with them.  “Oh, no, no, no!  Let’s play more frisbee golf!!” she cried each time we tried to convince her that going down the slide would be pretty fun.  We did manage to get her to try out some spider swinging with Daddy the second day.  She liked it more than she thought she would!
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We had read up on this course prior to visiting and saw from the reviews that this was easily going to be the most difficult course we had ever seen.  It didn’t disappoint.  There were areas you had to throw over parts of the lake, yet not overthrow or it would still land in the water.  I got a kick out of the water on the tee maps! haha  Crazy hard….
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Cabz getting it done with and without his little helper. 🙂

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There were a bunch of holes down humongous hills and often the targets were literally a foot or two away from the lake.  We had to do quite a few short throws but it was still a lot of fun.  IMG_0152

Walking the course was exciting in and of itself.  Check out this strip in between parts of the lake.  It was crazy long and you were supposed to throw it way down this and then veer to the right (all without losing your disc in the water – uh huh….).  That little bit of grass far ahead and to the right is still on the way to the target.

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IMG_0159There was absolutely no way we were going to get our stroller through this course, but little twerpy Evie loved her K’tan excursions!

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Evie also enjoyed a little bit of swinging before it was time to head.IMG_0216

We were (silently) cracking up over how serious Abs was taking it.  She declared herself the winner as we wrapped up and headed home because, as she pointed out, “Daddy threw it into the trees, and Mama threw it into the trees, but I didn’t!  I’m the winner!”  Alrighty, then….

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Why I’m not a Chicago Girl

When we were living north of Chicago, we would get so many comments like, “Wow!  You must love living so close to Chicago!”  “Don’t you take the kids there all the time?!”  etc., etc.  The truth is, we honestly didn’t think it was all that great.  Living 45 minutes north of Chicago, meant just DRIVING there was rough with children.  In addition, everything was SO INCREDIBLY PRICEY.  When you’re trying to save up for a house, spending 80 bucks for a trip to  the Shedd Aquarium (bearing in mind you will be lucky to get even two hours out of your money before the kids are absolutely done) just doesn’t seem like a great idea.

We tried the Lincoln Park Zoo once with Abby, before Evie was born.  We had looked into all the wonders Chicago had to offer and this seemed like the one good idea.  It had fun animals, we could walk around, take breaks as needed, pack a picnic lunch to save money, and *drum roll* it was FREE.  Of course, even though we were there right away there was absolutely no free parking left so we enjoyed the stressful experience of driving around looking for parking before finally just forking out $25.  Boo.  It did end up being pretty fun but wasn’t something we would want to experience more than once (MAYBE twice) a year.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say most people probably enjoy Chicago for its shopping and food.  Throw in the group who like walking around taking pictures from the Sears Tower and in front of the Bean and I think we’ve covered it.  This would explain in a nutshell why I don’t love Chicago.  In fact, I don’t even really like it.  I don’t like shopping.  I don’t like spending money on eating out.  And you would have to offer me a very generous sum of money to convince me to go up in the Sears Tower.  Heights aren’t my thing.  I’d take a picture in front of the Bean if I happened to see it, but I’d rather take one in a good ol’ Iowa soybean field (I know, I know, groooooooooooan).  Finally, I don’t like the mobs of people (especially with children – it’s just stressful trying to keep track of everyone!) and lack of nature.  There are buildings and stores and people everywhere.  I didn’t realize how much I needed the country until we lived in the city.  Give me a big, green field with a herd of goats over a crowd of Chicago folks any day!!  I think I go into survival mode in obscenely large crowds and just feel stressed until I get out. hahaLeia

Even though we weren’t living IN Chicago, we were in a big city.  There were basically never ending cities all connected to each other and it took roughly an hour driving to get out into the country.  Shopping at Wal-mart on the weekends was actually downright terrifying.  The store was so full of people that I would get claustrophobic.  I had to be ready to yank Abby out of the way of careening carts at any given moment because everybody was rushing around getting stuff and most of them were MAD.  People’s attitudes were all, “GET IN.  GET OUT.  AND GET OUT OF MY WAY.”  It felt like over busy, yet oddly isolated, lifestyles were the way to go.

Maybe this way of life was strange for me because I grew up in such a small town.  Everyone knew everyone else via some sort of connection or relative and you couldn’t drive anywhere without at least a few people waving at you.  Most days it felt like people went to Wal-mart just so they could make some friendly small talk with a neighbor.  We didn’t even have a super Wal-mart most of my childhood and it made the newspaper’s headlines for about 2 years straight before and after it was built!  Life just felt more relaxed.

Chicago living is probably vastly improved if you’re a lover of busy city life, have older (or no) kids, or are enjoying a weekend visit.  Totally different experience.  Or maybe I just didn’t know where to find the good activities and have an atrocious time adjusting to big city living.  That could definitely be part of it.  Farm girl who can only handle so much city = me.

Although we grew up thinking the QC area was the biggest city ever, we now recognize (and deeply appreciate) the much slower pace of life is has to offer.  Shopping is back to a much more social and friendly experience.  People wave and smile as they drive by.  Speaking of driving….. even the “busy” roads feel empty and SO slow now.  And it seems there are endless fun things to do!  There are so many wonderful, child-friendly activities within quick driving distance.  I’m still beyond thankful that we are back in good ol’ Iowa – a place we can definitely call “home.” 🙂

Sweet Sleep

Sleep.  I think so many things when I hear that word…..

“I wish I had more of that.”

“Isn’t it nice when my girls have really solid nights – wait for it – ON THE SAME NIGHT!?!”

“Interrupting nap time should be a federal offense.”

“And it’s definitely not weird to plan your day around nap times.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if I could fall asleep instantly like my husband when given the chance?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if I could at least sleep as soundly as he does when I DO finally go to sleep?”

And it goes on…. ha ha  Even though my girls are typically pretty good sleepers, I am not.  I inherited some odd sleeping problem (probably something like insomnia) from my mom’s side and as long as I can remember I have had trouble sleeping.  A normal night for me means taking an hour or so to initially fall asleep (no matter how exhausted I might be) and at least one random wake up for anywhere from 30 min – 5 hours.  I try to forget how bad it was when I was pregnant and then first stage nursing… yikes!  Naps aren’t my thing, so it’s good I can function on small amounts of actual sleeping.

Sometimes my kids drive me insane.  It’s the truth.  They are so lovably full of endless amounts of energy.  And Abby’s non-stop chattering…. don’t even get me started. ha!  It’s funny though…. no matter how crazy our day was or how much they wore me to my last frazzle, the second they are asleep I start missing them.  So, I creep on them and take pictures, because… obviously that’s how I cope.

Abigail will take her “stockins” off at nap time if she’s feeling hot.  Usually she sets them on the floor next to her bed.  Apparently her hands were cold the other day, since this is how I found her…..  I was relieved to realize those were indeed her arms and not her legs!
Sock Hands at Nap Time

Evelyn can’t fall asleep unless she’s holding on to something.  If it isn’t my hand, then it might be her car seat handle.Hanging on to my carseat at nap time

While having nap time at Emmy & Papa’s house, Abby was determined to stay awake reading.  Maybe next time. 😉Fell asleep trying to read

Play-Doh Carrots

Play-doh CarrotsI saw this idea via The Imagination Tree and knew I had to make them for Easter!  They’re a great alternative to candy!  These would also make super adorable party favors.

This craft was quick and easy and turned out better than I hoped!  You’ll only need a few supplies:

Evenly divide your play-doh based on how many carrots you’re making.  Take one section and roll it into a rough cylinder.  Smoosh it down into a decorating bag and be amazed as it becomes a carrot.  Gather the top of the bag directly above your carrot.  Twist it a few times to help seal the play-doh in there.  Finally tie two pieces of ribbon (carrot leaves) around the top to secure.  Repeat with all of your carrots!Play-doh Carrots 1

The play-doh recipe I used made about 8 carrots, but the amount will really depend on how high you’re filling your bags.  If you go smaller, you might want to cut off part of the bag tops.

If you’re not in the play-doh mood, but still want to enjoy some carrot fun, you can fill these with anything orange!  Some ideas include: jelly beans, goldfish/other orange crackers, orange candies, etc.

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Beef Tamale Pie

This recipe edited from Taste of Home is one of those all-in-one meals that lets the crock-pot do its thing.  It’s quite healthy and tastes delicious.  You can easily use a different cornbread recipe in place of this one.  Just keep an eye on it, especially the first time you try it, so it doesn’t overcook.

Beef Tamale PieSlow Cooker Beef Tamale Pie 1
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups frozen corn
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans rinsed/drained
  • 1 (14 1/2 oz) can diced tomatoes with chilies
  • 1 (10 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 package (8 1/2 oz) cornbread muffin mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-2 cups cheddar cheese

Brown beef in skillet.  Stir in cumin, salt, chili powder, & pepper.  Move beef mixture to your slow-cooker.  Stir in corn, onion, bell pepper, black beans, tomatoes, & tomato sauce.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or heated through.

In a separate bowl, stir together cornbread mix & eggs.  Drop in spoonfuls on top of beef mixture.  Cover and cook about 45 min – 1 hour longer or a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.  Sprinkle desired amount of cheese over the cornbread.  Cover for a few minutes until the cheese melts.Slow Cooker Beef Tamale Pie

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Abby loves listening to her copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!!  It’s one of those winners that is fun to reread (again, and again, and again…) which is definitely a plus for her parents who are still trying to maintain their sanity.  We may or may not have 90% of our children’s books supply memorized by now (and thanks to garage sales, we have a ton).

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom PreschoolLittle Page Turners gave me the idea to take this rhythmic, swinging book to a new level of fun.  I cut out a card stock tree trunk,  leaves, and 2 coconuts (just like in the book) and used good ol’ Elmer’s glue to assemble a coconut tree.  I used contact paper to laminate it once the glue dried.

I set the tree on the floor and Abby found each lowercase letter as they appeared in our story.  She loved making her letters climb up into the tree just like the book!  Of course I had our tree slowly tip as it became loaded down with letters.  When I read the page where all the letters fall out of the tree, Abby got to grab the bottom of the tree trunk and pull it up while her letters tumbled off.  That was definitely the highlight. 🙂

This was very easy to put together and provided a lot of fun!  It gave us a new way to read, “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and Abby loved flipping through the book and playing with the activity on her own as well.Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Activity

We used these foam magnet letters.  I have seen so many letter magnet sets and these are my favorite for a few different reasons.  Mainly, I love that the letters are all normal looking!  Every other set I’ve seen will use difficult toddler font for lowercase ‘a’ or ‘g’ (kind of like the font I’m using now…. haha) or the lowercase ‘q’ that doesn’t have a defining tail.  While I do want Abby to be able to recognize a variety of common fonts, it’s sometimes nice to have activities (especially early on) where she doesn’t have to work at just trying to figure out what letter she’s looking at.  Another reason I like this particular set is that the magnet covers the entire back of the letter.  It isn’t like the plastic sets where there are a 1 or 2 small magnets stuck in the back.  I don’t like those kind as the magnets eventually start falling out and there goes your fridge fun.  Not to mention with a baby reaching mobile stage, I don’t need one more thing to keep out of her mouth.  These magnets stick really well to the fridge, but aren’t strong enough to support papers/pictures.  Oh!  Also, all of the vowels are red, which might be fun/useful for later on.

Goldenrod Toast with Ham

This is a meal I was introduced to by Caleb’s parents.  Growing up on a farm, I ate my fair share of eggs, but they were either fried, scrambled, or an omelet. 🙂

The classic way to eat this meal is meatless, but as usual…. if at first it doesn’t have meat…. ADD IT!  I can’t think of too many dishes that aren’t dramatically improved by meat.  Must be that farm girl in me.  Sausage, ham, or bacon all make excellent toppings.  If you can’t choose between them, just have all three.

This is a pretty forgiving recipe, so feel free to vary egg & milk amounts.  I made a larger batch because I wanted leftovers.

Goldenrod Toast with HamGoldenrod Toast with Ham1

  • 9 or 10 hard-boiled eggs
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 3 cups milk
  • about 2 cups diced turkey-ham
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • toasted bread

Start out by peeling your eggs.  If you have a cute helper like I did, you may find a few remaining shell bits on your eggs.  Simply give them a quick rinse under the faucet and you’ll be good to go!Goldenrod Toast Hard Boiled Eggs

Pop the yolks out, use a fork to crumble them up, and set aside (this picture was before I had fine-tuned my helper’s work).  Chop the egg whites up and set aside.  Don’t chop them too small – about quarter sized.Goldenrod Toast Yolk Crumbs

Melt your butter in a sauce pan.  Stir in the flour, salt, and pepper until smooth.  Pour in the milk and bring to a boil.  Cook and stir for a couple minutes or until thickened.  Sometimes it thickens up well, other times it likes to stay a little more on the thin side.  Honestly, it doesn’t affect the taste and will work either way!

Add the egg whites and stir for a couple minutes or until heated through.  Saute ham in olive oil for a few minutes or heated through.  I like mine a little browned.

Spoon sauce over toast, sprinkle with ham and yolk crumbs.  You can make it easier to eat by ripping the toast up before adding the toppings, but it won’t look quite as attractive. 😉Goldenrod Toast with Ham