Thankful Tree 2014

We had our usual Thankful Tree up this year, but it was a little bigger than before. The kids were great at initiating and writing down their own leaves. We did a paper version on the wall. It took a while for me to cut it out, so I’m re-purposing it as a place to hang our Christmas cards during December. Here’s what we had to be thankful for in 2014:


  • Anja
  • Heat
  • Space
  • That my migraine pill worked
  • Beef stew
  • Supper
  • Heidi’s teaching (the kids)
  • Warm house
  • Markus
  • Heidi
  • A car


  • Anja’s storytelling
  • Caring friends post-miscarriage
  • Snuggles with Markus
  • God’s financial provision
  • An evening with a good friend
  • Markus’s enthusiasm for Alaska
  • Halloween candy
  • The library (twice!)
  • Husband’s diligent work on the toilet handle
  • Jan Karon
  • Time playing basketball at the gym
  • Family nights
  • Worshiping with my 3rd/4th grade small group
  • Glitter snow
  • Free mittens
  • Laughter
  • Sunshine on a long day
  • Considerate friends
  • Homeschool
  • Hot soup on a cold day
  • Markus doing T25


  • Markus!
  • MOMS group
  • TV
  • Mom!
  • Snow
  • Light and darkness
  • Dad
  • The fun time I had with Malia and Nolan
  • Supper
  • Grandma and Grandpa
  • Swimming
  • Grandma and Grandpa’s arrival
  • That we got to set up the tent
  • Jungle Book
  • Happy times
  • Jesus
  • Fun, new Kindle game
  • Day and night
  • Jesus. Without him the whole world wouldn’t be here.
  • Mama
  • Christmas
  • Warmer weather


  • The Avengers
  • Candy in my Halloween bag
  • Beautiful trees outside
  • That the snow has dried up
  • Pot pie
  • Earth, because otherwise our house would be floating in space
  • Snowmen
  • Snow
  • The number 6
  • Being taken care of when I’m sick
  • Our house
  • Eating this food
  • Jelly and peanut butter
  • School
  • Fun with friends on Halloween
  • Ninja Turtles
  • Swimming
  • My new shirt
  • Building a house with blocks

Tips for Camping with Preschoolers

This past weekend, our family went camping together for the first time! Husband and I used to camp several times a summer before the kids were born, but let me tell you…it’s a different story with littles! My packing list was 3 pages of 2 columns typed! My husband thought that was nuts, but I don’t feel like we over-packed. Here are some of the things we did/learned; hopefully they can be useful to others planning to do this with small ones. Our kids are 2 1/2 and 4 1/2, if that is helpful to know.

    • Go somewhere near home. If there are storms or noisy fellow campers (see next tip), you won’t feel like you have to stay and tough it out. We were within 20 minutes of our home and knew we could skidaddle in a moment’s notice if needed. As the kids get older we’ll probably venture further out, but staying close while they are young gives us peace of mind.
    • Check the location of your campsite in relation to others before booking. We booked a walk-in site that was fairly private, but what we didn’t know was that it was also very near a group campsite. There were a bunch of very loud, drunk 20-somethings within a couple hundred feet of us that kept the kids awake until after midnight the first night. None of us were happy about that. Next time I’ll make sure to look at the full map, not just the one of our site area.
    • Bring lots of snacks. There were times when dinner was cooking (and it’s hard to know how long it will take sometimes to get the fire just right), and the kids were hungry. We were able to pull out a granola bar or fruit or trail mix and water bottles, and they made it to mealtime without getting crabby. Eating trail mix while we unpacked the car and set up.


    • Stock up on glow-in-the-dark stuff. I brought glow sticks/glow bracelets/flashing toys from the dollar store and their toy bin. They enjoyed playing with them a ton, plus it helped us keep an eye on where they were.



    •  Go to a campsite that has a park. It wasn’t right near where we were camping, but within a half mile walk. We took the kids there one morning to play.



    • If you have room, bring an all-terrain stroller (we didn’t have room). Husband was fine with carrying the kids on his shoulders in turn, and we had paved trails which worked great for our umbrella stroller, but if we’d planned on doing any long walks, Markus wouldn’t have made it with his short little legs!



    • Do a lot of your cooking in advance. We had these excellent Campurritos, pre-marinated fajitas that just had to be heated in a grill basket, hobo dinners, and pancakes, all which were made in advance, stuck in the cooler, and just had to be pulled out and cooked at the site. Most of them were in heavy duty foil that we just stuck in the coals (wood), and the pancake batter I kept in two separate bags–wet and dry, then mixed the two and shook it up, cut off a corner of the batter bag and squeezed it into the pan. Easy peasy! And hobo dinners are basically a hunk of hamburger, some spices, onions, potatoes, and veggies (I used carrots and green beans) wrapped in foil and tossed in the coals to cook, too. Tongs were helpful to have along to rotate the foil packets. Since I didn’t have to spend a lot of time doing meal prep or clean-up, I was able to engage with the kids and even have some time reading in the tent during nap time!



    • Plan activities for the kids. I had about 10 different activities at the ready: play dough, coloring, the glow sticks, scavenger hunt, bubbles, hiking, playground, paper boats, leaf/nature rubbings, singing around the fire, ghost stories, board games. We only ended up using about half, but it was nice to know we had things to fall back on.




    • Make your own hand-washing station. I read this in the comments on someone’s blog, and it proved to be a very valuable tip! We put this jug at the end of our picnic table along with a bar of soap and a towel and we didn’t have to use hand sanitizer (which neither husband nor I like) all weekend.


  • Bring your own potty. It was SO NICE to not have to use an icky outhouse with the kids. I get hives thinking about public bathrooms, so outhouses are like a living nightmare for me. We brought Markus’s little toilet and both kids used it. Between that and our hand-washing station, we only had to leave the campsite for fun and to get wood or drinking water. It’s over there…on the right. 🙂


So, what are your favorite camping-with-children tips? We enjoyed ourselves and wouldn’t mind going again sometime, and I love learning from others!

Sidenote: For anyone wondering  what happened to Anja’s nose, she tripped over the fan in her room last week during a power outage and split open the bridge of her nose. It was terrifying to be in the dark, not knowing what had happened and trying to stop the blood (we’re still trying to get it out of the carpet). Ended up in the ER and got 12 stitches, including some sub-dermal. She was very brave and continues to handle it well.

February recap

This winter has been a little busier work-wise than normal, so this blog, which normally sees much activity in the winter months, has languished.

I long ago gave up hopes of making regular appearances here, but I definitely miss the time I used to have for visiting others’ little spaces on the interwebs. 😦

Here are a few February highlights:

Husband and I got to attend a marriage retreat, which was fabulous and just what we needed. This is at the “dress-up night” banquet.

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I’ve had that skirt since high school. It fits a little differently now, but it was nice to get another wear out of it. 🙂

Markus transitioned to a toddler bed (since he was climbing out of his crib 10-20 times a day/night anyway, we figured this just made it slightly less dangerous).

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Anja and I made a bunch of valentines for her classmates. We used this printable butterfly version.

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I made a spur-of-the-moment decision while the kids were napping on V-day to have a tea party as our snack. Nothing too special, but it seems special to them! The cupcake frosting had been frozen, so its texture was a bit iffy, but both kids and Daddy assured me it tasted fine.

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We’ve had out the marble run a couple more times. They both enjoy it.

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Anja and Daddy went to the Daddy-Daughter dance again this past weekend. She has talked about it–I kid you not–probably weekly since she went last year, describing what a good time it was, so she was stoked to go again. Her hair was too short to do any fancy up-dos this year, but I dug out my old curling iron and was pleased with the results.

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Husband wearing a tie twice in one week has never happened before, I don’t think. He’s not a fan, so we appreciate him being such a sport! Markus came out the door after them and decided he needed to be in a picture, too.

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She is SO hard to get decent smiles out of right now! I ask for a smile, get some sort of weird face, and then tell her just to keep her face straight. I crack a few jokes, and then I can at least get something genuine-looking, if not “perfection.”

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That’s about it so far. How has your month been? I wish I had some great craft, or even some clean house photos, to post, but my crafting has been finger paints and cotton balls and glue and popcorn and rice.

The Whole Life Nutrition Elimination Diet: Phases 2 and 3

Here’s a quick update on our progress with the elimination diet. Read more here if you are playing catch up.

Days 10 to 15: Phase 2

On Day 10 we introduced lemons and limes to our diet. We included it in smoothies, in our water, in our salad dressings, and to Husband’s delight, had some lemonade (he likes variety in his beverages). My favorite recipe was a lemon lentil soup.
On Day 13 we added in wheat-free tamari (kind of like soy sauce). We had it on asparagus and greens, in our collard wraps, and on our sunflower burgers.
Neither of us noticed any strong reactions to these foods.

Days 16 to 28: Phase 3

Phase 3 involves reintroduction of foods that sometimes cause irritations in people. We began with root vegetable pancakes (which tasted so delicious! yay, potatoes!) and breakfast greens. I noticed quite a few symptoms related to potatoes, so I am going to re-test those. I ate almost an entire pineapple by myself, though, and had no problems with that! 🙂 We’ve had several meals that we both enjoyed a LOT, including Curried Vegetables with Indian Fried Rice as well as Coconut-Lime Chicken (which we introduced two days before Easter to prepare us for some meat….Husband wanted his ham!). Husband continues to not notice any particular sensitivities and accuses me of hypochondria when I mention any of mine. I think I’m sensitive to bananas as well (boo, because I used to eat them almost every day!).

Overall impressions:
1. Husband’s family has many digestive issues, and he thinks he may have a mild case of IBS. He has trouble digesting most vegetables.
2. We’ve both lost weight on the diet. Not incredible amounts, but enough that we both feel better about our bodies. I’m guessing quite a bit of it was inflammation/water retention. I’ve noticed that my abdomen and face areas have slimmed the most, same with Husband.
3. We’ve decided that we are going to try to eat “Phase 3 style” most of the time with occasional treats, depending on what we find out during the Challenge Phase.
4. The diet continues to be a problem socially. Virtually everything served everywhere contains at least one of the Challenge foods: gluten, oats, corn, soy, dairy, eggs, or yeast. We both hope that none of these produce monumental reactions in us just so we can participate in social functions without feeling like a burden.
5. Things I miss the most: cheese and peanut butter. Sunflower butter and almond butter on rice cakes with dried figs or raisins have been a staple snack for me. Surprisingly, I don’t miss baked goods as much as I anticipated, though we also haven’t had them in the house… 😉

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Collard Wraps with Sunflower Pate

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Sunflower Seed Burger with side of avocado and pear

The Whole Life Nutrition Elimination Diet

Husband and I started the Whole Life Nutrition Elimination Diet (“a strict plan designed to promote cellular healing and to allow for the identification of foods that cause an immune reaction”) on April 2nd.  Our reasons?

  1. To see if we could find any triggers to some of the symptoms in our bodies (me = eczema, Husband = migraines)
  2. To show our daughter, who is currently on a gluten-free diet, support
  3. To improve our overall diet (though we had already been using a lot of the recipes out of the book, this seemed like a good jumpstart to get even more whole foods into our meals
  4. To lessen our salty/sugary/fatty cravings
  5. Because what I know about nutrition has expanded so much even since I wrote this post

So here is a little re-cap of our experience so far.

Days 1 and 2:  Green smoothies (with no banana or citrus) and water

Day One was actually the hardest for me.  I could drink as many smoothies as I wanted, ruling out hunger, but the ones I made were really disgusting.  I ditched some of the book recipes and started doing my own recipes (but, of course, including lots of spinach, kale, cabbage, parsley, etc.), and they were slightly tastier.  Don’t get me wrong–I love a green smoothie, but almost every version I’ve ever made has included banana and almond milk, and our blender left a significant amount of pulp.  Using a straw helped me gag them down until I got the hang of “good taste” ratios.  That night I went to bed feeling shivery, nauseous, and achy, much like the flu.  The book says that’s to be expected, so I didn’t worry about it.

I felt much better after a good night’s rest, and we continued with the green smoothies on Day Two.  I have foumd my favorite recipe to be the Minty Green Smoothie on page 97.

Days 3 to 9: Phase 1

Day Three was GREAT for me.  I was so excited to be able to eat real food again, even if not very many foods.  We feasted on lettuce wraps with sweet potato, brown rice with seaweed, adzuki beans and avocado, seasoned with cumin and sea salt.  Yum!  At this point Husband has complained about 3,487 times that “this diet sucks!” and I’ve told him I’d rather have him quit and support me verbally than stay on it and be such a whiner, but he is even more of a stubborn mule than me and presses on.  We eat more of the book’s recipes, like Lentil-Brown Rice Casserole, Coconut Quinoa Pilaf, and Sunny Sunflower Seed Burgers, and he complains a little less (I already knew he liked these recipes from before we started the diet).

I really have noticed a huge change in my sweet cravings. I still like a fig now and then, and maybe a nice medjool date after supper (they have never tasted so caramelly delicious before!), but I’m not wishing for cookies in the afternoons.  This makes me happy.  I do, however, miss peanut butter like it’s my long lost child.  Husband buys me a little tub of sunflower butter, and I spread it on brown rice cakes with slices of fig, and I’m golden.  Though between the two of us we’ve gone through half the tub in 6 days.  Oops! 🙂

The hardest part so far has been the social aspect.  I already was attempting to abstain from gluten most of the time (though haven’t been as good about it since Christmas, other than for pastas, breads, and basics like that), but having to bring my own separate meal to small group meal night wasn’t fun.  It also wasn’t horrible, though. I didn’t feel bad about what I was eating, and I was glad to not have the “I ate too much fatty food” feeling afterward.  Husband was pretty bummed on Saturday, though, when he went to guys’ night and munched on a bag of sunflower seeds and dried fruit while the rest of the guys had beer and wings and cake.  He, too, survived.  But neither of us would want this to be a long-term thing, where we can’t eat anything anywhere because it most likely contains gluten, corn, soy, oats, yeast, dairy or eggs.

I’ll post more later, since we’re now beginning the “re-introducing foods phase” with lemons and limes.


I want to send a big thank you to Shelley for introducing me to this cookbook and for being the guinea pig on the diet, which encouraged me to give it a go.

Dallas, Day Five

had breakfast at hotel
packed up and checked out
drove to Northpark Center and walked around
had (the acclaimed) brunch at Blue Mesa Grill (****1/2 out of *****, it was fabulous)
returned our rental car and passed the rest of the afternoon at the airport
flew home where some sweet friends picked us up
hugged and kissed our kids a bunch (though Markus was a bit tentative around us at first!)

Cool floral arrangement in the lobby of our hotel (blurry)


Most of the containers at Northpark held cacti, which is not common in malls around here!

Crowded Blue Mesa. The brunch is so popular you usually have to wait awhile to get in.

Again, not the typical Minnesotan brunch – it was Tex-Mex fare. But oh so good! And the first meal of the trip that we didn’t split. 🙂

Apparently all-you-can-drink mimosas are a big deal in Dallas. I was able to finish one, and that was enough.

Cool dude at the airport. 🙂

I ran around in that thing pictured behind Husband on Anja’s behalf. It made music. I took this picture for her as well (creeeepy!).

That’s that! Our Dallas trip. Have you gone anyplace lately?

Dallas, Day Three

slept in
had cereal and juice in hotel room
drove to Dale’s Donuts (****/*****) (so small they don’t have a website, but we found them!) – two cake, three glazed, all delicious! (cake donuts had a hint of vanilla)
had Whataburger (**/*****) (Texans call it “waterburger”) for lunch, split a bacon cheeseburger and fries. It was meh
Fossil Rim – fed lots of animals while we drove, took video, bought shirts for the kids
Off the Bone BBQ (****/*****) in south Fort Worth for dinner. Had brisket and ribs with potato salad, fried okra and peppers/pickles/onions mix. Super-good and cheap.  These hole-in-the-wall restaurants have really cemented our opinion that they almost always do it up better than chains.  A. Mazing.
came back to hotel
worked out at the hotel gym
watched “Pretty Woman”
went out to TGI Friday’s for late-night apps (potato skins, boneless wings, fried green beans)

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I always get the best shots of Husband eating. It’s kind of my thing.
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So from far away these might look kind of like MN cows (dairy), but up close they are HUGE (and for beef). You know…everything is bigger in TX. 😉

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I will spare you the embarrassing Blair-Witch-Project-style video from when a European Red Deer stuck its head in the window of my car, but let’s just say that my mom nearly emptied her bladder watching it. Good comedy. And a zebra pulled the same stunt with similar effects. All over there are signs saying, “These animals behave as if they were in the wild.” My foot. They are trained, because pretty much every car has bags of food for them, to walk up to your vehicle and beg. Wild animals DO NOT DO THIS.

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If you haven’t had fried okra before, you’re missing out. 🙂

Dallas, Day One

I don’t have a great April Fool’s post.  Just not enough energy…

However, last week I had a photography workshop near Dallas, TX. Husband came along, and we took our first vacation together since pre-Anja. It was a fun five days, and I came back feeling so relaxed and refreshed. I’m posting a little re-cap here for posterity. 🙂

Woke at 4 a.m.
de-iced plane for an hour
got charged a ton for a rental car, 52% tax
Mattito’s for lunch, had cheese enchiladas (***/*****)
Drove around and walked around Highland Park, looking at homes
Drove to hotel and checked in, took a 2-hr nap
Went to Bartley’s BBQ (****/*****), had brisket, sausage and ribs and homemade bun, carrots and potato salad
Drove to Gaylord Texan but it cost $15 to park
Drove to Fort Worth Stockyards and walked around, most things were closed
Drove to Wal-Mart for some supplies (klassy, but we couldn’t afford the stuff at the hotel)
Back to hotel, TV and bed

Early airport shot:

Cool ceiling at Mattito’s:

The rental Tahoe:

Walking around:
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Our hotel room:
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Information Addict
Creative (they can coexist!)


Love you, Hon!  Happy birthday!

*Not me, Husband.  🙂

**He claims this is why I was finally able to overcome the almost 2-year age gap between us.

A Night Away

Two weekends ago Husband treated me to a night away. It was a celebration of sorts, marking the end of my busy season with work. I needed it. Oh, did I mention it was a night away ALONE?

Through Living Social (love their deals!), he got me a night at a very nice hotel in Minneapolis, the Hotel Ivy. I also got a massage at their shwanky Ivy Spa Club.  The massage was overall pretty good, but the lady did something weird to my hip that made me nauseous for days and is still giving me slight pain.  It felt strange when she did it too–I should’ve just spoken up and asked her to stop.

The hotel was probably one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in. Clean, simple, understated room (sorry I’d already made myself at home before I took these pics).

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Luxurious bathroom. Oh yes, I soaked in that tub.

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My room didn’t face the city, so my view wasn’t the best, but that didn’t stop me from taking several photos out my window. 🙂

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I ordered room service from their restaurant, Porter & Frye, for both dinner and breakfast. It was fine–nothing spectacular, but not bad. Pricey. Breakfast came with all these cute little bottles of stuff, and I got to thinking about how anything I don’t use will probably be tossed out. That made me sad, and since I was paying $20 for eggs, I took all the little bottles home with me (obviously not the salt and pepper).

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Happy, refreshed mama. With unwashed hair–sorry ’bout that.

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And I came home to this guy, who had recently been gifted some jewelry by his daughter.

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It was a good time away. Thanks, Hon!