Tuesday, July 29, 2014

First Trip to the Zoo (Lincoln Park)

This past weekend I planned a weekend to take Abby to the Lincoln Park Zoo and hang out with one of my best friends Lindsay.  At just under 2 years old we'd not yet taken Abby to a zoo, so this was a first for her. Let me tell you, of all the activities we've tried in the past two years, this was far and away the biggest hit.  I'm not sure if it's an age thing, or the fact that she loves her animal books, or just that the stars aligned and it was a great day, but Abby loved the zoo.

The weather was supposed to be hot so we headed downtown early figuring we'd get there before the crowds got thick and the heat made walking around less fun.  Plus, with a 6 am wake up time (thanks Abby!) It's easy to get out of the house by 8 *smile.

There were many things that worked in our favor but one of the biggest ones is that the zoo is free.  So, we went in with the attitude that we could stay for 5 minutes or 5 hours, when it stopped being fun, there was no pressure, we'd just split.  I payed a whole six bucks to park close to the zoo and from there on out the rest was free.  (SO NICE!).

Once in the zoo there was plenty of room for Abby to run around and since it was so empty I felt comfortable letting her explore a little on her own.  She sort of directed where we went and what we saw (with some suggestions of course).  It was nice to let her out of the stroller and let her run around a bit.

We saw so many animals.  I was really impressed with how many animals were out and active and how few people were there.  I didn't feel crowded or claustrophobic once.  Even when the tiger came out there were maybe 10 people standing around.  The busiest exhibit was the the gorillas and I think that was partly because it was breakfast time and partly because Planet of the Apes came out a few weeks ago.  We saw all kinds of animals I didn't even know the names of (I better read up before our next visit).  It was also funny to hear what Abby thought the animals were.  We saw a seal swimming and she called it a fish.  We saw a red panda (who knows what those are?!?!) and she called it a cat.  HA!

But, by far the two biggest hits of the trip: this small fountain (she was soaked in less than 2 minutes) and the cows and pigs.  See, this is why going to the FREE zoo is so important.  We could have driven 5 miles down the road to see cows and pigs.  Simple pleasures I guess.  Abby added "mingo" to her vocabulary (flamingo) and "eh-fent" (elephant) which we didn't see, but you know....who knows where these kids come up with these things?

All in all, it was a great day.  I had such a blast catching up with my dear friend Lindsay and it was great to have a second set of hands to help push the stroller, hold the camera (these pictures were all taken by Lindsay....thanks girl!), and mostly just nice to have another adult to chat with!!  After the zoo we grabbed some lunch at a yummy pizza place/brewery called Piece.  If you live in the area, you should defiantly go!!  Pizza: Good - Beer: Better.

We'll be back visiting the zoo again before the summer ends.  And, having such a success with this activity makes me even more excited for some of the activities we have planned next week for vacation at Niagara Falls!  More on that later.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


When I started packing and getting ready to go up north I knew there wouldn't be a TON of toys for a toddler so I needed to come up with some activities that were easy to pack and a guaranteed hit.  When you're traveling for a week there is no room for one-use toys.

I came across this cool bubble maker at a friends birthday party (thanks Betsy).  There is little better than bubbles to a two year old, but a bubble maker that Mommy doesn't have to blow?  That takes the cake in my book.  If you're going to buy one, get the gallon bubble refill as well, this thing churns through bubble soap like none other.

I just couldn't resist giving this little bubble session a post of it's own.  There are too many cute, artsy, pictures in here to pick just one.

Those baby curls, they slay me!!!  I just love her pretty little blonde hair.  Now that she'll finally tolerate a rubber band or clip her shaggy baby hairstyle is finally looking like something put together.  It's not quite long enough for a fully pony yet, but I better start brushing up on my braiding skills here pretty soon.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hayward - the candy store

I already shared our family picture for this month from the candy store, but there were couple cute ones that I wanted to get on the blog as well.  This this one (above) where you can tell the excitement of the candy was finally setting in.

Or this one where she couldn't help be stare at the brightly colored candy jars.

And of course, this one.  This is what a sugar coma looks like.  And yes, she's got about 3 blue sharks all shoved in her tiny mouth (Daddy!).

And, for anyone that's wondering, we LOVE this baby pack.  Of all the "baby carrying" things we bought this is by far our favorite piece.  We even choose it over the stroller most days.  It's lightweight and we're lucky because so is Abby.  It holds kids up to 40 lbs and with our little peanut weighing in at just under 24 lbs we've got plenty of room to grow.  Abby likes it because she's up high and can actually see things at our level.  She doesn't squirm too much in it and has hiked for 2-3 hours this way.  If you're a new or soon to be parent and tend to be on them move as much as we are, seriously consider something like this.  You'll thank me later!

The brand of ours is Sherpani but I checked the site and I don't think they make them anymore.  We got it on super sale at our local REI where they carry many other similar packs.  I sound like a salesman but seriously, I'm not.  Just some good advice from one Mom to another.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Up North 2014

Just one short week ago, I was in the north woods of Wisconsin.  I've written about my families lake house before and all of the special memories that this place holds for me.  You can read that post here if you are interested.  My mom's family bought our lake house here when she was a kid and back then it was even tinier then it is today.  I'm not sure how they ever fit two adults and seven kids in there, but with the lake and woods outside there really is no reason to stay inside!!

Nobody lives at the house full time, its more of a vacation spot for our family and the other siblings in Mom's family. So, that means that there is a never ending list of projects that need to be done and each year we tackle another one.  In the past we've done things like paint the house and the garage, re-roof the garage and many other smaller projects I'm not remembering now.

This year's project; rebuild the woodshed.  Well, it didn't originally start as a "rebuild" but after pulling all the old wood out and reevaluating just how sturdy the current structure was, it was clear that we needed to start from scratch.

Here's a good picture of the old woodshed we had.  You can tell it needed some work.  On top of pulling out all the old wood, we also needed to split and stack lots of NEW wood.  Late last summer a huge storm came through at the lake and it knocked over a few of the oldest tallest trees in our property.  One of which hit the house and damaged the roof.  Peggy said Eddie needed to remove 4 trees to even get out the driveway.  So, as you can imagine, storm cleanup has taken us a long time and we're still working through it.  Luckily Peggy and Ed were at the cabin when the storm hit and Joe was able to come up the next morning to help.

But, the vacation was NOT all work and no play.  We had plenty of time to just enjoy ourselves.  In fact, I think I even snuck in a nap almost every single day! THAT is the definition of a vacation for me!!

I read three books, played endless games of Yahtzee (I won $7 Yahtzee bucks baby!!) and Cribbage, ate lots of S mores, waded in the lake with Abby and swatted about 8 million mosquitoes.  There were so many mosquitoes on this trip that "skee-go" is not an official word in Abby's vocabulary.

Just what did I do with those Yahtzee bucks?  Well, on Friday Ryan and I took our bikes on a little bar crawl.  The roads and lakes of northern Wisconsin are spotted with bars and local dives.  We rode our bikes about 10 miles and stopped for drinks at the three different bars we past.  Surprisingly for 3 pm on a Friday most of the places were pretty empty.  We chatted with a cute older couple that had just moved back "home" at the our first stop.  At our second stop we grabbed some chairs on the deck and watched the lake/boats.  It was funny when we saw a white pickup truck headed down the road and realized it was my Dad out to grab more ice.  We tried our hardest to convince him to join us at our third stop be he needed to get the ice home.  Our third stop was pretty close to home and the most packed of the three bars.  We ate cheese curds, drank $3 Miller Lites and decided it was time to drink the "free" beer we had at home.  It was a ton of fun and I think we need to make Bike Bar Crawls part of our vacation "must do" list every time!!!

That thing in the background, its our working outhouse.  Yep, we use an outhouse at the lake.  It's not that we don't have running water or plumbing at the house, because we do, but the septic field isn't really set up to handle larger crowds and well, we've been using it all our lives so why not keep doing it.  Plus, there something intriguing about telling your friends that you still use an outhouse :O)  Why we're sitting in front of it?  Well, that I really can't explain.

One of our first nights at the lake we all went out fishing and I let Abby stay up past her bedtime to come along for her first fishing trip.  She liked looking in the bucket with all the fish we'd caught and jumped up and down whenever we got excited to be catching one.  But the real highlight of the trip was when Joe held a small crappie down at her level so she could touch it.  The fish couldn't have been more than 6 inches long so he was tiny.  All of a sudden he did a little flip of his tale and get loose of Joe's grip.  He jumped right out of his hand and into Abby's life jacket.  Her eyes got as big as saucers and she just stood there looking stunned while the fish flopped around in her life jacket.  She started to get nervous and exclaimed "shishy stuck!!!" about 18 times before we could get it out.  She's even got the black crappie stain on her PJ's to prove it!

My peanut was pretty scared of the water most of the trip.  Partly because it was cool and partly because the lake is so 'big' to her, and probably mostly because she just hasn't been in the water as much this year as she was last year when we had her in swim lessons.  We're working through her fear though and helping her to realize that it's fun.  By Friday she was ready to walk in all by herself and had a blast throwing little rocks from the lake floor into the water.  That is until one of the dogs pushed her off the pier!!  She went in from head to toe.  Luckily Grandma was there to save her.  She cried for a bit, but after a snack, a quick outfit change and an episode of Mickey to help her forget she was doing just fine.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

1 Family x 12 (July)

I've got a few posts coming up on our vacation in northern Wisconsin, but for now I'm going to start with this teaser pic from our time in Hayward.  Ryan was excited to take Abby to her first candy store.  This kid, she ate more candy than she needed, but she had a blast.  Uncle Eddie even gave her her very own dollar to spend on whatever candy she wanted.  Ryan picked out blue shark gummies for her and she loved them.  I guess she's got her Daddy's crappy sugar candy.  That's ok, this way I get all the delicious chocolate for myself!!!!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

We're fairy godparents!! - Stella's Baptism

This past Sunday weekend was a big one for us.  We had a wedding shower on Saturday for Karen, Jamie's new sister-in-law and then Sunday we had baby Stella's baptism.  Other than a few times when Abby was teeny tiny, she hasn't been to church much (our fault, I know) so she's wasn't accustomed to being quite and sitting still.  She didn't make in on the stage more than about 30 seconds before she was wiggling to get down and run to grandma.

Abby free we were finally ready to listen.  Stella and another baby both got baptized on the same day and the Brackemyers and Ryan and I all joined this church officially on Sunday as well.  See, I told you it was a big weekend!!

Doesn't baby Stella look JUST like her dad??  She's the sweetest little baby girl and Ryan and I are so excited to be her godparents.  For those of you that are new to the blog, or don't know our history, Jamie and I have been friends for about as long as I can remember.  We've been on many many family vactions together, had more sleep overs than I can count and enough memories to fill this whole blog.  I can't wait for our two little peanuts to have the same tradition as they grow up together and become the best of friends.

Jamie - I think THIS is  the moment....the moment when you realized that Stella had pooped.  And, not just a little, A LOT!!  Nobody really realized it happened until the baptism was over and Jamie rushed off the stage and out the side door to the bathroom.  Let's just say there was a lot of poop, one long white dress, and not enough wipes in the world to make it all work.  Stella had a little wardrobe change and life was good again.

Baby Stella, we are so excited to be your godparents and we can't wait to watch you grow up!!  This is just the beginning of many "firsts" in your life and we're excited to be on this journey with you.

Friday, June 20, 2014

What's on my kindle? - Summer edition

Everyone and their brother has been doing cute little "what I"m reading posts" so I figured I'd get on the band wagon.  I'm a huge kindle lover and an avid reader.  It's not unusual for me to have 2-3 stories I'm reading at one time with a list of 10 other books loaded on my kindle....plus a paper list with books I've not yet bought but want to read.  It's really quite crazy!

Anyways, I was thinking that I'll start to do these posts every so often for anyone that wants to follow along.  So, without further adieu, here's a quick glance at what I'll be reading this summer.

1. The Leftovers - What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished?  Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?

That’s what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened—not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children. 

Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized community. Kevin’s own family has fallen apart in the wake of the disaster: his wife, Laurie, has left to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne.  Only Kevin’s teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be.  Kevin wants to help her, but he’s distracted by his growing relationship with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th and is still reeling from the tragedy, even as she struggles to move beyond it and make a new start.

2.  Kill Shot - In the year since the CIA trained and then unleashed him, Mitch Rapp has been steadily working his way through a list of men, bullet by bullet. With each swift and untraceable kill, the tangled network of monsters responsible for the slaughter of 270 civilians in the Pan Am Lockerbie attack become increasingly aware that someone is hunting them. Rapp is given his next target, and finds the man asleep in his bed in Paris. In the split second it takes the bullet to leave Rapp’s silenced pistol, the trap is sprung and he finds himself in the fight of his life.

The next morning, nine bodies are discovered in one of Paris’s finest hotels—among them the Libyan oil minister. Back in Washington the finger-pointing begins in earnest as no one wants any part in what has become an international crisis and potential embarrassment for the CIA. Rapp’s handlers have only one choice—deny any responsibility for the incident and pray that their newest secret weapon stays that way.

Rapp must avoid capture or die quietly. One person in the group, however, is not prone to leaving such important things to chance. Rapp has become a liability, and Stan Hurley will not allow Rapp to be taken alive by the French authorities, even if it means killing him. Operating on his own and outside the control of his handlers, it will soon become clear that nothing is more dangerous than a wounded and cornered Mitch Rapp.

3.  This Is Where I Leave You - The death of Judd Foxman's father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years. There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd's wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio- shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public. Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva-and spend seven days and nights under the same roof. The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed and old passions are reawakened. Then Jen delivers the clincher: she's pregnant.

4. The Fault in Our Stars -  Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

5House Girl - Weaving together the story of an escaped slave in the pre–Civil War South and a determined junior lawyer, The House Girl follows Lina Sparrow as she looks for an appropriate lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking compensation for families of slaves. In her research, she learns about Lu Anne Bell, a renowned prewar artist whose famous works might have actually been painted by her slave, Josephine.

6. The Road - The searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other's world entire," are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

7. The Fourth Turning - First came the postwar High, then the Awakening of the '60s and '70s, and now the Unraveling.  This audacious and provocative book tells us what to expect just beyond the start of the next century.  Are you ready for the Fourth Turning?

Strauss and Howe will change the way you see the world--and your place in it.  In The Fourth Turning, they apply their generational theories to the cycles of history and locate America in the middle of an unraveling period, on the brink of a crisis.  How you prepare for this crisis--the Fourth Turning--is intimately connected to the mood and attitude of your particular generation.  Are you one of the can-do "GI generation," who triumphed in the last crisis?  Do you belong to the mediating "Silent Majority," who enjoyed the 1950s High?  Do you fall into the "awakened" Boomer category of the 1970s and 1980s, or are you a Gen-Xer struggling to adapt to our splintering world?  Whatever your stage of life, The Fourth Turning offers bold predictions about how all of us can prepare, individually and collectively, for America's next rendezvous with destiny.

8. The Invention of Wings - Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

9. Tree of Smoke - This is the story of Skip Sands—spy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong—and the disasters that befall him thanks to his famous uncle, a war hero known in intelligence circles simply as the Colonel. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war in which the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, and its gritty, sympathetic portraits of men and women desperate for an end to their loneliness, whether in sex or death or by the grace of God, this is a story like nothing in our literature.

**  Book description are from Amazon.