Friday, August 22, 2014

Abby's second birthday

Phew!  I'm almost caught up on the blog.  Last weekend we celebrated Abby's second birthday.  Man, two all happens so fast.

Thankfully the weather held out and though it was warm and a little sticky we got through the day without rain and the pool was even warm enough for at least Ryan to get in.  It's been such a cool summer that we've hardly used the pool at all.  That and the fact that Abby has been terrified of the pool all summer hasn't helped.  We were so excited that Ryan and Kayden could finally coax her in even if it was just for a few minutes.

Abby has NOT been afraid to go in her little purple pool though.  I think her favorite part of the whole party was when we finally put some water in the pool and let her and all her little baby friends jump in.  They had so much fun and luckily I'm friends with some smart mommies because everyone had a second set of clothes to change into.

This little trike is one of Abby's favorite birthday gifts.  She doesn't quite understand how to use the pedals but that's ok because Grandpa and Grandma McGrath were smart enough to get one with a push handle for Mom and Dad :)

Oh, and a Mickey balloon from Auntie Erin, now THAT was a win!

I was so excited to get to meet this new little one.  Her name is Brianna and she's Mike and Kristina's new baby.  She was born 5 weeks early so her quilt isn't even finished yet!  The good news is that I couldn't keep it a secrete any longer so I've already given Kristina a sneak peak.  Now I can share pictures of it with you guys!

Brianna was just the tiniest sweetest little thing.  I thought Abby was small at 5lbs 6ozs but this little peanut was down to under 5 lbs after being released from the hospital.  They got out just in time because they usually want babies over 5lbs before they release them.

Aside from the trike, her new sand and water table, and balloons, the cake, that was her next favorite part.

We'd been talking about birthday's and signing Happy Birthday and working on "blowing" for a few days before her party so I was excited when she actually knew that she was supposed to blow out the candle.  It was a little too windy that day so I'm pretty sure the candles went out as soon as we moved the flame away, but oh well, she thought she blew them out herself.

Eating the cake though, THAT was the best part of the whole day.  She was a little tentative with it at first and Ryan really wanted her to do the whole smoosh it in your face thing.  She wasn't a huge fan.  My girl likes her silverware, what can I say?

I know there are a million pictures in this post but how can I resist these "I love cake and frosting so much" pictures?

Have you ever tried to watch a 2 year old open presents?  It's like wrangling cats!!  It's fun for them for all of about 3 seconds until that first present is open and then all they want to do is play.  Especially when all the other kids are running around playing.  Look at how cute and perfect Bradley is sitting...just waiting til Abby invites him to play.

So - I actually did most of the opening but boy did Abby make out this year!  She got tons of coloring stuff which is great because it's one of her favorite things to do.  She'll even sit down with it for more than 3 minutes which is saying something for a 2 year old. She also got some clothes for fall, and some brand new toys that she's been loving on all week.

This girl and her purses!  She loves them....

Yes, I have a wrapping paper problem.  It's called "I fold it all up nice and reuse EVERYTHING!".  I haven't bought wrapping in years people, YEARS!  Try it won't regret taking the time to put it away nicely.

Baby Stella's mom was in charge of the camera during the party and boy could you tell!  I had a whole lot of pictures of this little lady.  This one just happened to be too cute not to post.

All in all it was a great day.  We had tons of family and friends come to visit and we ended up with tons of leftovers (I'll remember that for next year).  We're so thankful for everyone that came out to help Abby celebrate. We're one lucky family!

Thursday, August 21, 2014


There isn't really a good theme for this post other than "the random pictures we took while camping that don't fit into a good post" so here goes nothing.  As you know, two weeks ago we traveled through Canada and Ohio on a whirlwind trip to Niagara and a family reunion.  Well, if you know us, you'd be able to guess that instead of springing for hotels on this trip we camped the entire way.

Let me be the first to say that camping with a 2 year old is NOT the easiest thing.  Well, maybe I should say, traveling.  Camping is really no different than any other travel.  You drive a lot (kids don't usually love that part),  you do activities at weird times of the day (naps fall by the wayside and that makes kids grumpy) and you're all sleeping in the same space (meaning once they are miraculously asleep you give your husband an elbow to the ribs whenever he needs to get up and pee because he drank too many beers).

When we got to the family reunion though Abby was in cousin heaven.  There were tons of kids for her to hang out and play with.  She was by far the youngest (well, unless you count this cute little baby Cora) but I was so grateful to have some of the older cousins take charge and play with her.  Cousin Maddie even took her for a full afternoon so that Ryan, Mom, Dad and I could all go kayaking on the river.  It was amazing!!  I got 3 hours of "adult" time and even got to squeeze in some time to read a book.  I might have even got a quick nap in.  After nearly a full week of having Abby all day, all the time, I was SO HAPPY to get a break.  So, Maddie....I know I've said it already but THANK YOU AGAIN!  You're amazing.  Summer nanny job??!?!?!

Our campsite in Canada was amazing.  Believe it or not, after booking plenty of camp sites in my life I've gotten really good at reading those little ant farm like maps and picking out the prefect spot for us to camp.  At this site we were all the way at the end of the road and only had an neighbor on one side of us.  Mom and Dad were even able to set their tent up back in the trees where we could hardly see it.  We ended up being in the area of the campground where the seasonal campers stay so they were all super friendly and quite to camp near.

Other than a general lack of sleep and schedule, Abby did great camping.  She's a real trooper. "Skeego" bites and all, I think we've successfully started raising an outdoor kid.  Trust me, she still loves her Mickey Mouse time on the iPad.  You can't win them all I suppose.

The campground in Ohio, Mohican State Park, was just as beautiful as Canada, though not nearly as remote.  There were tons of touristy things to do within miles of the campground and we certainly took advantage of them when it came to activities like the Kayak trip and climbing this big fire tower.  From the pictures (and even from the ground) it didn't look that scary.  But let me tell you, about three flights up and it started to freak us out.  We'd originally set out with Abby in tow but by the time that we reached the third or fourth flight Mom started to chicken out and I was secretly thinking I would too.  Ryan forced me to go to the top and I'm glad I did, but I was even happier to have Mom and Abby back on solid ground.  

I've got another full post coming on the reunion itself and tons more photos to share so I apologize for this slightly random assortment of stories and photos.  More organized posts to come!!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ritterbusch Family Reunion

Isn't that graphic cute?  My cousin Susie made it right before the family reunion and it has the names of all the Ritterbusch family included.  I love it.  She even said she'd have t-shirts made if we wanted them.  Sign me up!!

Other than everyone getting together for the family reunion Cathy also asked people to bring whatever family photos/memories/memorabilia they had and they set it all out for everyone to look through.  Above is a picture of the family farm that the kids all grew up on.  I think the barn is still standing today though the farm is no longer held within the family.

The Ritterbusch coat of arms.  Note:  At first when I saw it I thought those snakes were pretzels...fitting since I was a Freeport Pretzel in high school.

Cathy did a great job of planning out activities for the group while we were there.  On was this family hike to two waterfalls.  Somehow we got the meet up location wrong though.  We were at the end of the hike while everyone else was at the beginning waiting for us.  Fear not - the solution:  meet in the middle!!

A quick "girls only" photo at the falls.

Aside from the family hike Cathy also helped organize a family kayak trip (no photos of that one, I didn't want a wet camera....and, you guessed, Ryan fell in), a family 5k (my parents were in charge of the finish no running for me *smile), and campfires with smores for the kids every night.

The reunion was so fun and it was great to get together with this fun loving group of people.  We really should do it more often.

Monday, August 18, 2014

1 Family x 12 (August)

We got quite a few family pictures on vacation, but this one was my favorite.  I love how my cute hubby has a REAL smile on his face.  Not one of those dopey fake smiles he so often resorts to.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wineries and breweries....or "how we spent 3 days of vacation"

Guys - let me let you in a little secret.  If you want to travel to about 100 wineries within a 50 mile radius and you live closer to Chicago than you do Napa Valley, seriously consider going to the Niagara region.  I'm not many wineries!  Now, if you're an astute beer drinker like Ryan and I are, you might wonder why the first picture in my "winery" post is of hops, well, it's because you can take the beer drinker out of beer country, but you can't stop her from trying to find it!

Our first day in Canada we decided that we'd check out NOTL and some of the local wineries.  We stumbled on a great recommendation from a friend (thanks Dan) called Five Rows and we were all smitten.  It was the cutest winery all run by one family.  The wife and daughter in law were running the tastings while the husband and son were out working the fields.  It's so named because they started out with only 5 rows of grapes.  And though they've grown in the 7 years since they started, it still had this cute family owned feel that we just couldn't resist.  It was the 4th winery of the day and nobody had purchased any bottles yet, but something about that cute little barn and the cute family that owned it, they had us.  We walked out with 3 bottles.  The most expensive bottle I've ever purchased to be exact.

Now back to the hops picture.  So after going to the wineries on day 1 and then hitting up the Falls on day 2, we had two days left to wander and explore so on day 3 we decided we'd try to find the local breweries.  Let's just say, when in wine country, don't fight it.  Just stick with the wine and call it a day.  We eventually found three local breweries and though the beer was always good it wasn't quite the experience we were looking for.  We did however haul back a few local beers that we've been savoring and are hiding in the back of our beer fridge.

Day 4 we spent visiting a few other wineries we had on our list.  We saw some beautiful places and drank wine overlooking some of the prettiest landscaping and grape rows I've ever seen.  If you're a wine-o or have any interest in trying wines you should definitely add Niagara to your list of places to visit.  Even Abby loved it!  Well - to be fair, she liked it when we'd find rock gardens for her to dig through and a bucket to carry her rocks in...otherwise, she thought wineries and breweries were for the birds!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Niagara Falls - Canada

I've got a whole ton of posts coming your way this week and next so get ready!!  We've been crazy busy so that means there's lots to document here on the blog.

Last week we had our second big camping trip of the year.  It all started out about a year ago when my cousin Cathy announced that she was planning a Ritterbusch Family Reunion for August of 2014.  The reunion was scheduled for 4 days and was going to be held in the Mohican State Park about an hour north of Columbus, Ohio.  The location is pretty central for our family that's scattered across the country and I knew from the  moment she sent out the information that Ryan and I would be in.

After doing a Google search I realized that we really weren't THAT far from Niagara Falls.  Well, for some perspective, my dad tells a story that when my Uncle Chuck decided to come out for my wedding (in Northern Illinois) he decided that the family was also going to go see Mount Rushmore because it was "close".  HA!  Well, maybe I should say that Niagara is closer to Columbus that we are in Hampshire, so it seemed like we should take the opportunity to make a trip out of it.

After doing TONS of research I finally settled on a campground about 45 minutes west of the Falls on the Canadian side.  Let me tell you, finding the perfect campground and the perfect site was NOT easy.  I did tons of searching online to find a park that wasn't privately owned (we tend to stick to national/state parks because they are usually the BEST when it comes to actually looking and feeling like a camp ground and being AWAY from major highways.  We HATE places that look like Jellystone or KOA's).  I ended up picking a park managed by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority called Chippawa Creek.  It was perfect and for anyone else looking for a camping recommendation for the area, this gets my vote a thousand times over.

* I think that might be my most favorite picture of the whole trip!!  It's perfect!

Since our campsite was a bit of a drive from the Falls we decided we'd go there early in the trip (Monday) and then we could decide if we wanted to come back for another day or two of if the one trip was enough.  We stayed in Canada til Thursday and then headed to Ohio for the reunion.  Turns out we decided just one day at the falls was enough for us.  We thought we were being smart to go on a Monday and try to avoid some of the people, but Canada actually ended up having a holiday on the Monday we were there.  It's hard to say if it was more or less crowded than any other day but there were definitely plenty of people there.  We spent the afternoon walking up and down the long walkway near the falls, just taking it all in.

The Falls were amazing and I'm so glad that we had the opportunity to visit. It's one of the wonders of the world for goodness sake!  We must see it at some point in our lives!  I worried that Abby would be afraid of the boat ride into the Falls (Maid of the Mist) and it was about $50 per person so we opted to have lunch on a beautiful (yet expensive) patio that overlooked the falls.  The food wasn't anything to write home about (read: $10 hot dog and $7 beers) but the view....that was worth every penny!!  Lunch was great and the prefect way to spend a few hours (with a small lady that needed a nap, badly).

Note:  Alcohol in Canada is expensive no matter where you go.  In fact, we "imported" 4 cases of beer from Illinois just to avoid having to buy much there.  For some perspective, a case of Miller Lite runs about $45 in the $50 we spent on 8 beers overlooking the Falls really wasn't THAT crazy.

The landscaping all around Canada was particularly amazing.  We visited many places in our 4 days there and we were always commenting on how beautiful all the flowers and plants were.

When we got to the Falls we ended up parking about a half mile away to avoid paying a million dollars just to park.  On our walk down to the water we ended up stopping to use the restrooms at the Hershey's Chocolate store.  It just so happened that you need to use the restrooms in the attached hotel lobby and the men's room was out of order so Ryan ended up needing to go the 10th floor.  He admitted to "accidentally" seeing the Falls before anyone else.  HA!

Interestingly enough, Dad didn't find the Falls all that impressive as we walked up to them.  This was our view from the ledge when we first got down to the walk way.  Across the river, that's the US side.  Everyone I talked to said that the Falls are nicer on the Canada side and that was hard to understand until you were actually there.  See to the right of the above picture, there is a tall glass building right near the falls.  That's on the American side.  If you were trying to see the Falls from that angle you'd actually be looking mostly DOWN at them instead of across at it.  And, the horseshoe falls would be nearly impossible to see from the US side.  See to the left of the above picture the land mass there is actually a small island and then to the very far right you can see just a small bit of white spray from the Horseshoe Falls.  The only way to see that from the US would be to take the ferry across to the island and then still you'd really only have a sideways view.

This picture (above) was taken right next to the Horseshoe Falls.  I said earlier that Dad wasn't very impressed with the Falls when we first arrived, but standing here, watching the water crash over the side, that's the part he liked best.

These two pictures were taken from a giant Ferris Wheel we went on near the Falls.  I was worried that Abby would be scared by the loud wet Maid of the Mist and the "Behind the Falls" tour was on the American side so we opted for a nice view from a little farther away.  The view from the top was amazing!! Still closer to the American Falls that was our best view, but in the below picture you can see the spray from the Horseshoe (or Canadian) Falls.  All in all it was really quite impressive and I'm so glad we tacked this part of the country onto our trip.

Abby's favorite part??  The Dino mini put put directly under the Ferris Wheel.  She could have cared less about seeing the Falls from up high, but those dinosaurs, they won her heart.  She's one funny kid I tell funny kid.