Tag Archives: family

Our Trip to Michigan 2017

2 Aug

Back in June, Travis, Emma, Annabelle, and I vacationed in Holland, Michigan, with almost my whole family—my dad, 2 of 3 brothers, 2 of 3 sisters-in-law, and the 2 nephews on my side (to be joined by 2 nieces by the end of the year!). We were the first to arrive on Saturday. We flew from Brainerd to Grand Rapids (with a layover in MSP), rented a car, and drove an hour to Holland.IMG_4540IMG_0297 (Large)IMG_0298 (Large)IMG_4541The beach house we rented through Airbnb was in a small community of private owners, right next to the mouth of Lake Macatawa, and had its own private beach, which was super nice. Would definitely recommend this area!IMG_0435 (Large)IMG_0431 (Large)IMG_0317 (Large)We didn’t know it at the time, but the day we arrived was one of the nicest days we had there. The girls were so excited to be at the beach that we dropped our stuff in the house, got suits on, and headed out. It wasn’t extremely warm, especially for being at the beach, but it was warm enough to enjoy being out there, even in water that was only 68 degrees.

Later that day, my dad, and the 4 Js (Jeremy, Jen, Jensen and Jackson) arrived. Brian and Jill arrived the following night. Chris and Meg were unfortunately unable to come because of last-minute complications with selling their condo and building a new house.

Most days were a combination of hanging out in the house doing puzzles or watching movies, kids playing on the beach or in the water, chilling, drinking, playing Kubb (which Brian introduced us to), and going on some kind of outing.IMG_0319 (Large)IMG_0335 (Large)IMG_4615IMG_4631IMG_4592IMG_4562IMG_0373 (Large)IMG_0375 (Large)IMG_0437 (Large)Sunday, we had planning to go on a hike in a state forest but turned out it was only a random trail through the woods. So instead we went to the Lake Macatawa State Park, which was where the public beach was located. We ate ice cream, watched kite flying, walked out on the break water, and played on the playground. The funny thing was, it was literally just on the opposite side of the red lighthouse and mouth of Lake Macatawa as our beach house–but it took us about 30 minutes to drive there. After seeing all the people on the public beach, we were grateful for our private one. IMG_4586IMG_4573IMG_4576Monday, Jen and I went to a used book sale at the local library while Brian and my dad bought groceries. Then we visited the Windmill Island Gardens, and learned a little about Dutch culture. We took a tour of the working windmill and learned how they grind flour and cornmeal, which was really interesting. The kids rode the carousel a couple of times, we listened to an antique Amsterdam street organ, and bought some yummy Dutch treats in the gift shop.IMG_4603IMG_4642IMG_4609IMG_4602Tuesday, Annabelle got sick. 😦 Poor little girl didn’t have much of a fever, but she got a ton of mucus buildup, so she had a hard time sleeping and just wanted to cuddle all day. That evening, the four of us did a little shopping downtown while others went grocery shopping and then we all went out to eat at New Holland Brewing, where the food was delicious (and I heard the beer was too, but I am not a beer drinker).IMG_4620Wednesday, we finally had a day that wasn’t super windy so we spent most of it on the beach. Annabelle still wasn’t feeling well, but she enjoyed snuggling on the beach and listening to the white noise of the waves.IMG_4630Thursday, Annabelle was starting to feel better, but still wanted to be carried most of the time. We debated about whether we should have her out and about, but after much hemming and hawing, we decided to go for it. We went on a Saugatuck Dune Ride and a hike at Sand Dunes State Park. The dune ride was awesome. Our girls loved it, putting their arms up in the air and squealing whenever we went around a fast turn or down a steep hill. Jensen and Jackson were a little apprehensive about the ride at times though. I don’t like rollercoasters whatsoever, but this ride was tame enough for me (while still being fun for others with stronger stomachs). Our guide, Joey, was very friendly and told us some of the history of the sand dunes.IMG_0405 (Large)IMG_0409 (Large)IMG_0390 (Large)IMG_0387 (Large)IMG_0383 (Large) Afterward, we ate ice cream, then went on a short, easy hike in the state park, which ended at the beach, where Emma and Jensen proceeded to go swimming fully clothed.IMG_0411 (Large)IMG_0415 (Large)Friday, we went to the Outdoor Discovery Center, which was a great find. There was a nature center with some impressive taxidermied animals, a kid-size zipline, a bunch of walking trails, and a birds of prey center, where we saw bald eagles, hawks, owls, and more who had all been rehabilitated from an injury and could no longer survive in the wild. Oh, and we also lost Emma on the never-ending maze of trails for a good 10 minutes.IMG_4664IMG_4647 We also stopped by the fishing pond, where Jensen and Travis both caught a few fish.IMG_0426 (Large)Saturday, it was time to pack up, tidy the beach house, and head south to South Haven to see Jeremy race in the National Auto Sport Association (the J’s had driven there the night before). We got there right as Jeremy was on the track for the Qualifier, and got to see him drive by a couple of times. Then there was a break for his class/division (whatever you call it), so we got to chat with him, see their car trailer/RV rig, and eat lunch. Right after lunch, Jeremy had his big race of the day so we all made our way up to the big spectator hill. Unfortunately, Jeremy only made it around the track a couple times before his car had a major malfunction and he was forced to exit the race, and also be done for the weekend. Such is the life of a race car driver.IMG_4666We left soon afterward for the airport in Grand Rapids. Because Travis has often flown Delta for work, and we made two separate itineraries for this trip in order to use mileage points, he and Emma were TSA Pre-check and got upgraded to first class seats on the way back, while Annabelle and I were all the way back in Row 24. Honestly, it wasn’t bad at all. I just love giving him crap about it. 😉

And that was our trip! We would definitely love to go back!

Christmas & New Year’s 2016

13 Jan

I better get posting about Christmas before it’s February, huh?

We celebrated Christmas first just the four of us on the Thursday before Christmas. I made chicken cordon bleu (from the deli), green beans, red potatoes, and rolls, and we drank “bubbly” (which Emma loved). Then the girls opened their presents from us, and their present from Papa Dave since it was a big box that we didn’t have room to transport from Rochester. We got them some art supplies, a few books, a bouncy buddy, and a Little People nativity set. Papa Dave bought them this treehouse with the camping buddies from The Land of Nod. Within 15 seconds of opening it, both girls were drawing on it with crayon. (Seriously…) Luckily, I was able to scrub most of it off. Their favorite present by far, though, was the box that the treehouse came in. Of course.15741131_1332807960082856_4438754616654293238_n15781037_1332807950082857_3583310463122747060_n15727286_1332807923416193_7831163184979449209_nThe next day, we headed up to Travis’ parents’ house in Nevis, arriving in time for dinner. Travis’ sister and nephew, and brother and sister-in-law were also there almost the whole time we were, so we were able to spend some nice time together. Emma and Annabelle were in heaven. They love their Nana and Papa, and Aunties and Uncle, and have a lot of fun with them. Their cousin Drew isn’t so much of a kid person at age 16. 😉

Christmas Eve (Saturday), we headed into Park Rapids to have breakfast with some friends. That night, we dressed up all fancy and attended the Christmas Eve service at Travis’ parents’ Catholic church, Our Lady of the Pines. The girls actually did fairly well, all things considering! And they were adorable in their Christmas dresses.15726473_1332807670082885_2760584912961896007_n15672976_1332807490082903_846264537335391369_n15726223_1332807436749575_6890398017756359744_n15697791_1332807883416197_1671014031762530795_n15780738_1332807703416215_2116758220268045907_n

Cousins

Christmas morning, we ate the traditional breakfast of egg bake and monkey bread, and then it was time to open presents—the time that Emma had been asking about for the entire month of December. It started off well. Emma helped divvy up the presents, and was even tasked with the job of deciding who should open a present. But eventually that petered out, and both girls ended up throwing a tantrum in the middle of opening presents. Emma wanted to do something besides open presents, and Annabelle was apparently ready for an early nap, because I ended up putting her down around 11. By the time I got back downstairs, Emma was entertained with some of her new art supplies, and the adults were able to continue our gift opening in peace. Kids!

15726344_1332807373416248_4862802626677382042_n15726258_1332807200082932_8528536388724082939_nNote that Emma is wearing a tank top and shorts, despite the several weather-appropriate, cute Christmas outfits I had for her.15697526_1332807043416281_5419901375432218552_nSo tired15672964_1332807230082929_3678291493226962891_nMmmm… chocolate15697834_1332806786749640_3627580145260719665_nEmma went “Christmas shopping” at daycare this year for Nana Beth and Papa Al, and she chose a measuring cup for Nana and a fishing sinker for Papa without our help!15672680_1332806713416314_6249755915390785047_nTravis’ gift from his sister… perfect for him15780887_1332806673416318_9097940835346127866_nMy gift from Travis’ sister… love it15747611_1332807103416275_4427022023995455069_nEmma loves all thing art

The rest of our time up in Nevis was pretty lowkey. We ate a lot of yummy food and Christmas cookies, played outside sledding and snowmobiling, the guys cut down a tree and burned some brush, the adults played some games (including Speak Out, where you put that big plastic mouthpiece in—that’s quite the game!). There was only one political (civilized) discussion that we non-debaters had to break up, for fear that the discussion would last the whole night.

We stayed up in Nevis until Tuesday morning. The plan had been to head back home Monday night but the ice storm on Christmas Day made the roads pretty nasty, so we decided to at least drive home in the daylight.

We spent the rest of Tuesday and all day Wednesday at home. Travis had work off, but wanted to work on some projects (including cutting down a tree in our front yard, which almost ended up falling on our cars, due to a little miscommunication and lack of thought on my part…whoops—but all was well in the end, praise God). The girls and I went to 321 Bounce with our neighbor friends.

Thursday morning, we packed up and hit the road down to Rochester. Since we weren’t trying to get there by any certain time, we decided we could stop every hour on the 3.5-hour drive. Well, Travis wasn’t completely a fan of our many stops, but it was nice to take our time. We stopped for gas right by our house (#1), for lunch in St. Cloud (#2), at Cabela’s in Rogers (#3), and at a gas station just south of the Cities for a potty break (#4).

We arrived in Rochester just in time for dinner. My oldest brother Jeremy and sister-in-law Jen, and their two sons had arrived the day before, and my other brothers would arrive later, so it was just us, them, and my dad that night.

The four kids—Emma and Annabelle, and Jensen and Jackson—had a blast playing together. One of the cutest sights was seeing the four of them run around in circles together. Another favorite activity of theirs was jumping on the couch and building forts out of couch cushions (much to Papa’s dismay). They were also pretty wild and crazy with one of those Fisher Price ride-on toys and a little dog that you pull along behind you. Four kids is a little crazy at times!15781534_1338920992804886_5472908077247000943_n15823490_1338920989471553_969281655933574630_n15823680_1338921229471529_3041714289093367911_nOn Friday, Brian and Jill arrived around lunchtime. Chris and Meg arrived Saturday. We spent our time drinking lots of coffee, eating delicious food (frequently topped by grated Asiago), and watching animated movies that we turned on for the kids but that they didn’t end up watching. 😉 We also played outside in the ice-encrusted snow, which was great for sledding but not much else. I pulled Emma and Jensen on a sled all the way around the house, and it was a workout!15732661_10103166680174752_2259524021720836268_o15800359_10103166677405302_1021290843782300839_o15800498_10103166678178752_6830543933580665853_o15844768_10103166677744622_7747851522964179194_o15825795_1338921386138180_1443544932537754384_nThanks to my sister-in-law Jen for these great photos!

On New Year’s Eve, we opened presents in our now-traditional way (we draw names, and then try to go around and try to guess who had us), and then ate our special Christmas dinner. Everyone pitched in with various sides and dishes, and it was great! Though the orange sherbet jello salad that I attempted to make was an epic fail. Jello: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

We apparently had a little bit of trouble getting the girls down on time that night, because I was downstairs getting Emma to sleep until 11:55… though I might’ve fallen asleep, it’s really hard to say at that hour of the day. I actually made it back upstairs for the ball drop, though, and stayed up until 2 am watching bad New Year’s entertainment on TV and chatting with those who were still up. It was the first time I’ve stayed up for New Year’s since having kids I think, and it was nice! Thankfully the girls slept in the next day, and we were still able to make it to church at 10:30.

There was another snowstorm predicted to hit Rochester and the Brainerd area on Monday, so we ended up leaving Sunday night instead of the next morning. We got home around 11, got the girls to bed, and hit the hay ourselves.

Though I always love spending time with family, it was a hard holiday season without my mom (and the first). We miss her dearly, and talk about her often. My dad, as usual, bears the brunt of her absence, and through a series of miscommunications, ended up spending Christmas Day alone, which I feel badly about. A loss like this continues to reveal situations and circumstances that have been forever altered, and the best way forward is not always readily apparent.

Emma Grace: 3.25 Years

2 Aug

Emma was 3 ¼ years (39 months) back on July 7.IMG_20160728_172253 (Large)20160526_130356The most notable update for this post is that Emma is about 70% potty trained!

After half-heartedly and unsuccessfully trying several times, we scheduled a weekend to focus on potty training, and built it up to Emma (Big girl undies!). We also bought candy as rewards for going on the potty (Starburst and suckers have been the most motivating). She was really excited at first, and since she’s had practice going on the potty at daycare, she totally knew when she had to go (she only had one accident the first couple of days).

But then the excitement wore off, and she started refusing to sit on the potty. We changed our rewards a few times, with some success. But if she threw a fit about going on the potty, we just put a Pull-Up on her and continued suggesting she sit on the potty. She finally did come back around on the whole thing, and has been wearing undies for almost all awake time for the past couple of months.

IMG_20160729_083832 (Large)Sleeping time is a different story. She has stayed dry for some naps (she still naps from about 2-5 every day), but some naps she wets the bed, so we generally still put a Pull-Up on her for naps and a diaper for bedtime. Up until a few days ago, she was also pooping in a diaper. She’d grab a diaper, bring it to me, and say, “Mommy, I want to poop in a diaper.” HA! So she totally knew when she needed to go, but just didn’t want to go in the toilet. But a few days ago, we were shopping at Herberger’s when she had to go, and Travis convinced her to go on the toilet! She earned a freezy pop for that milestone, and has pooped on the toilet once since then. Hopefully she can keep that going, so we can keep moving away from diapers.

My experience with potty training has been both easier and harder than I expected it to be. I thought Emma would be all about it once we got going, but she wasn’t. I thought dealing with shopping and road trips would be really hard, but it hasn’t been. Sure, it’s slightly inconvenient, but I was psyching myself out on that. (And when they’re so young, even girls don’t mind popping a squat in a grass field on road trips—or at least, our girl doesn’t. J) One trick I’ve learned that has helped a ton is to cover up automatic sensors on toilets with Post-It notes so that they don’t flush unexpectedly.

IMG_20160506_105250 (Large)Matching mommy/daughter pedicures (colors chosen by Emma)

Anyway, moving on… here are some of Emma’s favorite things right now:

  • iPad—Emma still loves watching shows, mostly on her iPad (sometimes on the TV). Her latest obsessions have been the Floating Palace episodes of Sofia the First (which are about mermaids) and the mermaid scenes in Penguins of Madagascar. She has also been watching Alvin & the Chipmunks, LEGO friends, Strawberry Shortcake, Penguins of Madagascar, Minions, Brother Bear, and a few other random shows that she found by herself on Netflix.IMG_20160613_184644 (Large)

She fell asleep while watching Netflix… and pooping.

  • Books at night—After we say goodnight to Emma, she sometimes asks to read books while she “watches moons” (a toy that projects a rotating image on the ceiling and plays music) for 10 minutes. Every once in a while, she enjoys reading books during the day (which I savor when it happens!), but overall, she has too much energy for books. When we do read books together, she insists on holding them but can’t sit still enough for me to read the words.IMG_20160505_075159 (Large)
  • Helping—You name it, Emma likes helping with it. She asks to help with cooking (and won’t take no for an answer), putting dishes away, yardwork, doing things for baby, doing laundry, cleaning, putting things in the shopping cart, etc. I try to let her help as much as possible, but some things are just off-limits (like cutting up raw chicken and cooking on the stove).emma garage crop
  • Running—We’ve taken Emma on a few “family runs” around our neighborhood. She does so well! One night she ran almost a whole mile (with a few walking breaks). I think next summer we might see if there are any kid runs nearby. We’re talking about doing a local 5k as a family in September. I think Emma would have a blast! We got a bike trailer from my parents as a Christmas/birthday gift, thinking we could take Emma and Annabelle out in it. We haven’t tried biking with it yet, but a few short jogs have been a no-go—mostly because Emma’s excitement to ride in it wears off right about the time we reach the end of our driveway. She hasn’t ridden in or on something for longer than a few minutes since she was about 18 months old. She just has too much energy. Speaking of which…20160505_092501 (Large)
  • Bouncing—Emma jumps up and down in place a lot. When she’s excited, when she’s watching a movie on TV, when she’s waiting for me to go outside with her… She just has so much extra energy. She also still does this thing with her hands/arms (she has since she was about a year) when she gets really excited—it’s hard to describe but just imagine a little girl moving her hands like you do in the first part of the Chicken Dance song and waving her arms around in an excited frenzy. It’s hilarious, and so uniquely Emma. She also still does her “leg exercises” in her carseat (moving them in circles), presumably when she’s feeling antsy.IMG_20160716_001550 (Large)IMG_20160602_165216 (Large)
  • Jetskiing, fourwheeling and canoeing—This summer was the first real experience Emma had with any of these things, and she loved them! She hasn’t been a fan of riding loud things in the past, so this is a new development. And we thought she’d move around too much for being in a canoe, but she actually has done great both times she’s been out! Travis is very happy she is starting to like the outdoorsy things that he likes.IMG_20160729_182348 (Large)20160710_171838 (Large)20160618_202048 (Large)20160518_200621 (Large)20160725_093655
  • Being pulled around in a sleeping bag—This is pretty random, but one day, Emma wanted to get my sleeping bag out of the closet. One thing led to another, and pretty soon, I was pulling Emma around our basement completely zipped up in the sleeping bag (meaning she was in the dark). She can’t get enough of it! Her friend Noah likes it too. But it’s a decent workout, so mommy needs to take frequent breaks.
  • Picking raspberries—Emma has asked to pick raspberries every single day this summer (we have lots of wild ones growing on our property). But what usually ends up happening is that she picks a few and then plays with Annabelle or sticks or something while I end up picking by myself. This year, we’ve had an awesome crop of raspberries. We couldn’t pick them all, there were so many!IMG_20160629_170432 (Large)
  • Playing outside and in water—Emma still loves being outside and playing with/in water. The past three months have seen a lot of time at the beach, playground, water table, and cruising around our driveway on her trike (which she can now pedal!) and a new electric scooter we just got her. She also still loves to push/pull Annabelle around in the wagon/stroller/trike. In the past month, she has started to love floating on noodles in the water without her feet touching. She’s a pretty good little kicker too!20160720_201530 (Large)20160720_201517 (Large)
  • Sharing—Most of the time, Emma has a very generous spirit. She will share snacks and toys with Annabelle, me or Travis without being asked. (She still has plenty moments of sharing poorly, though.) One of my favorite things in the world is seeing Emma’s little arm stretched across to Annabelle’s little arm in the car, handing her a cracker or water bottle. It’s adorable!IMG_20160610_092617 (Large)
  • Being like mommy—Emma likes to imitate both me and Travis, but I think she imitates me more because I’m also a “dirl” (girl). She always says “Me have some” as she watches me get ready and put on makeup. She often emerges from our bathroom with some kind of beauty supply, the latest being a cotton pad wet down with micellar water. “I’m washing my face,” she says. Similarly…20160427_102735 (Large)20160601_211600 (Large)
  • “I want mom”—Emma is still a complete mommy’s girl. The only person that can sometimes come close is Nana Beth. Emma loves her daddy too, but for activities like fishing, roughhousing, and outdoor fun. When it comes to naps, bedtime, feeling sick, or getting hurt, she wants mommy only (unless she knows mommy’s mad at her for being disobedient, then she wants daddy!). It’s endearing, but also frustrating because I almost always end up putting both girls to bed. Travis at least does Emma’s bedtime routine though.20160506_183754 (Large)
  • Asking questions—It has begun. Emma asks “Mommy, what are you doing?” about 50 times every hour, even after I’ve repeatedly told her what I’m doing. I don’t always handle the constant questioning the best… more than once, I’ve said, “What does it look like I’m doing?”IMG_20160422_083319 (Large)

But on the flip side, one of the most fun things about Emma’s current age is that she has started saying the most hilarious things that just crack. me. up. Here are a few of my favorites:

Me: “Why do you want to put a ponytail in right before you go to bed?”

Emma: “Why not?”

Travis tackles me onto the bed, pinning me down.

Emma: “Daddy, no! Don’t! … She’s too dangerous!”

“His hands are red, he’s itching them, and he’s got a pumpkin head!” (talking about an episode of Sofia the First)

….

Emma: “I want to watch my iPad.”

Me: “Not right now.”

Emma: “I want to watch mommy’s phone.”

Me: “Emma, no, you’ve watched enough shows for right now.”

Emma: “iPad! I want to watch my iPaaaaaddddd!!”

Me: “The answer is no. Please stop asking.”

Emma: “Grrrrrrrr!!!”

A minute passes in silence, then Emma looks up with a smile and says in a sweet voice,

“Watch big TV downstairs?”

I point out stinging nettle to Emma as we’re picking raspberries, reminding her to not touch it.

Emma: “Mom, that’s what I was telling you about!”

Talking about the time she fell off the dock last summer into a few feet of water, Emma said,

“Nana Beth jumped in the wa-wa. Nana Beth saved me. … Nana Beth pushed me.”

(The full story is that Emma was standing on the dock waiting for Nana Beth to get off the pontoon. She backed up to give Nana more room, but backed up right off the dock. She didn’t get hurt and Beth jumped in right after her, so she was fine.)

IMG_20160801_124917 (Large)IMG_20160708_215902 (Large)With cousin Jensen on Papa’s pontoonIMG_20160629_121329 (Large)She loves cutting! The smaller the pieces, the better!IMG_20160503_105204 (Large)I LOVE this picture — from Emma’s birthday party.IMG_20160507_125750 (Large)She’s always trying to sleep in the doorway. I don’t know why?!?!IMG_20160523_133631 (Large)She took all the clothes out of her dresser in search of her pink princess phone.IMG_20160429_083725 (Large)20160526_140341 (Large)20160518_202213 (Large)Emma loves picking flowers. She was very disappointed when we mowed our grass and all her flowers (clover, not the ones pictured here) went bye-bye!

And that’s Emma at 3.25 years!

Even More Thoughts on Grief

19 Jul

July 13th would’ve been my mom’s 63rd birthday. July 12th marked 5 months since her death.

We had the Krsnak family reunion the weekend after the Fourth with two of my mom’s brothers and their families. It was enjoyable, but bittersweet. My mom’s absence was palpable, inescapable. We all commented that it seemed like she’d show up at any moment, ready to cruise the lake on the pontoon or whip up something yummy in the kitchen.

We picked flowers from her garden and displayed the bouquet in a pickle jar. We took shots of pickle juice again, just like we did right after she had gone to heaven. We served her favorite foods: dill pickle chips, everything bagels, cucumbers in vinegar, barbeque pulled pork, snicker salad. We spread buns, bagels, muffins, and cheese slices out on plates, placed chips and fruit salad in bowls, just like my mom would’ve done. Even for a casual lunch, she’d put things on plates for a nice presentation. I never realized how much effort she put into things until trying to fill her shoes. They’re big shoes. I’m exhausted.

The human experience is so varied and multi-faceted that once I adjust to the idea of my mom’s absence in one sense, something else pops up and I have to deal with all over again. While we were in Ohio over Memorial Day, we had been relaxing on my aunt and uncle’s shaded brick patio, talking about where we should go for dinner. I had suggested sushi since Travis and I love sushi, and there’s nowhere to get it in Brainerd. Then I remembered there was some reason why we didn’t usually go out for seafood as a family… what was it again? Oh yeah… Because Mom didn’t like seafood.  A wave of grief overtook me.

It’s hard to move on and make memories and have life experiences that your loved one isn’t involved in, and doesn’t have any knowledge of. For so long, you’ve forged memories together and shared experiences together, to the extent that you didn’t even realize how much of your identity and experience of life was wrapped up with the other person. Until they’re gone. Then you see that, just like C.S. Lewis talks about in The Weight of Glory, that your enjoyment of something was enhanced, brought to fruition, by sharing that enjoyment with someone else. And when that person is no longer there to enjoy it with you, you no longer enjoy it the same way—and may never enjoy it that way again.

Another idea that I’ve been mulling over quite a bit recently is from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves:that each individual person brings out a unique aspect of someone else, so when you lose a friend, you not only lose them, but also the facets of the personalities that they brought out in other people. You lose the dynamic they brought to the group.

I love my family, and always look forward to spending time together. I inherited that quality from both of my parents, who would (and did) bend over backwards, and move heaven and earth to spend time with and help out their family. But I’ve discovered since my mom’s death that the thing I enjoyed most about being with my family, was being with her with my family. She, in many ways, was the hub, the turnstile, the bonding glue. Our family dynamic will never be the same.

Looking through photos of my mom the other night, I was reminded of how much fun my mom was. She was never afraid of looking silly or doing things that were beneath her. She’d wear funny hats and costumes, play in the sand with the kids, make us all answer an icebreaker question despite our groaning, coordinate games and activities like a contest to see who could spit a cherry pit the farthest.

Last Thanksgiving, we were sitting at the dining room table of Travis’ parents’ house, eating dinner. There was a lull in the conversation and I thought to myself, “This is the moment when Sheri Moen would ask everyone to say one thing they were thankful for.”

Even though I’m consumed with missing my mom, I’m not devastated. Because I know that she is still alive in heaven. Her soul still exists. She is still conscious, and having experiences. She is with Jesus, and in His presence there is fullness of joy. It’s like my mom moved to a foreign country. I won’t see her again for the rest of my earthly life, which I mourn, but I will see her again. At the same time I see her again, I will also see Jesus, and we will all glory together in God’s goodness and love for the rest of eternity. That is my hope in the midst of this earthly grief.

Memorial Day 2016: Ohio Trip

23 Jun

This year, one of my cousins got married the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend in Zanesville, Ohio. Zanesville happens to be only 1.5 hours from my aunt and uncle who live in Green, Ohio (outskirts of Akron). Even though I have seen them fairly often in the past 2-3 years, I hadn’t been to visit them in something like 20 years, so we decided to make a week-long trip out of it!

Since the uncle we were visiting is my dad’s only brother and we’d be flying out of the same airport, we asked my dad if he wanted to join us. He did, so we met up at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport (Travis, the girls, and I flew in from Brainerd) and rented a minivan together once we got to Cleveland.20160525_112648 (Large)The Wednesday we flew in, we stopped by the Cleveland Aquarium right after leaving the airport, mostly to minimize the amount of driving we’d be doing (it was about an hour drive between Cleveland and Green). Annabelle was mostly interested in climbing on things, but did enjoy seeing the big fish and sharks. Emma enjoyed running around on her own (too much), trying to touch the sting rays in the interactive area, drawing on the chalkboard areas, and using lots of hand sanitizer–looking at fish is not quite exciting enough for her, though I do think she liked the glass tunnel (that’s always my favorite part).

After the aquarium, we hit the road and spent the rest of the evening hanging out with Noel and Pat at their house, and grilling burgers for dinner. We stayed at Noel and Pat’s house the whole time we were up in the Cleveland/Akron area. Travis, the girls, and I slept in their really nice fifth wheel camper (which gave us a bunch of room to spread out), and my dad slept in their guest room. I usually dread nighttime on vacation because the girls have a track record of sleeping horribly, but they actually did REALLY well. Almost better than they do at home!

Thursday, my dad helped Noel work on one of the camper’s slide-outs that was broken, and Travis, the girls, and I headed to the Akron Zoo. It was a really fun time! Annabelle is old enough to enjoy looking at animals, and Emma had a blast running around.IMG_20160526_180420 Emma asked to ride the carousel, so we all went on it. Annabelle did not like how the animal she was riding moved up and down. She started crying the minute the carousel started moving, but was fine if I just held her. Emma loved it though.

Emma also asked to ride a little train they had in the kids’ area. It was $2 a person, and looked completely lame for an adult, so we convinced Emma to ride on it by herself if she really wanted to go. And she did! Another mom befriended her in line and offered that Emma could sit with them, but when they opened the gate to let them get on the train, Emma wandered down to the caboose at the end and sat all by herself! Her expression was priceless.

When she got off, I told her that I was proud of her for being so brave and riding the train all by herself, and she told me, “I was scared.” Cutie.

At the river otter habitat, the zoo had a clear plastic slide that went through the river otter tank. There were a bunch of kids there going down the slide over and over. Emma went down the slide a bunch of times too, but the last couple of times she went down, she stopped herself halfway done and tried to climb back up. The last time, I had to reach/climb up into the slide from the bottom and pull Emma out because she refused to move. And that was that.

Friday morning, Travis and Noel headed to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton while my dad, Pat, the girls, and I headed to an outdoor pool in nearby Hartsville. The one thing I had forgotten to pack (there’s always something!) was a swimsuit for myself. I thought I could get by without one, but once we got to the pool, it became apparent that it would really be nice if I had a suit. So my dad and I went to Target as quickly as we could (still took us about 45 minutes roundtrip with traffic, even though the store was only 6 miles away) and I bought a suit. Once we got back, we stayed at the pool for about another hour. There was a big (lazy) waterslide that I tried to convince Emma to go on with me, but she refused. She wouldn’t even go down the kiddie one after sliding off the end into the water a little too fast. Annabelle had a blast climbing on the kiddie waterslide. I took both girls through the water falling from the mushroom/tree thing, but neither of them liked it.

After the pool, we packed up our stuff and headed down to Columbus to see my oldest brother Jeremy, his wife Jen, and their two boys, Jensen and Jackson. We went out for pizza at a place called Bexley Pizza Plus. It was delicious! We sat out on the patio, and Emma and Jensen had a great time running around chasing each other. After we got back to the hotel, Travis took Emma to the pool for a bit while I put Annabelle down for bed.

20160530_162109 (Large)Saturday was the day of my cousin’s wedding. We ate the hotel’s continental breakfast, and then swam in the pool for a bit before getting ready for the wedding and driving the hour from Columbus to Zanesville. Once we got to Zanesville, we quickly ate soup and salad at Olive Garden before heading to the church.

Tim and Mary’s wedding was held at a beautiful Catholic church and I’m sure the 1.5-hour service was wonderful–we just didn’t hear almost a single word between the low volume on the priest’s microphone, the echo of the wooden pews and stone walls, and the screeching/crying/whispering/banging/general chaos of the 40 kids in back. Seriously, there were a lot of kids at the wedding. One of the only things I did hear the priest say at the end of his homily was, “It sounds like a rainforest in here.”

Even though Emma colored on her own and Annabelle’s face in washable marker and threw one of the hymnals at Annabelle during the service (causing me to remove and discipline her), I think our kids actually did pretty well, all things considered. (But as we continually discovered during this vacation, there is a huge difference between things “going well” in terms of no major meltdowns and things “going well” in terms of getting to actually pay attention to and enjoy what you’re there for. By that latter definition, things definitely did not go well. But let’s be honest, they never do when you’re at a wedding with young kids.)

After the service, we checked into our hotel and got situated, and then headed to the reception, which was about 40 minutes away on Mary’s family’s farm. It was such a lovely evening–the weather was perfect, the reception was such a great mix of rustic farm charm and wedding formal, they had rented a bouncy house for the kids. Emma had a blast playing in the bouncy house, with various other toys, and running around the farm. Annabelle, on the other hand, had a hard time. She’s just at a hard age where she isn’t content to just sit or be held, but is also very limited in what she can do, especially outside on a farm where there is either cement or hay fields to crawl on. We made do, enjoyed as much of the reception as we could, and headed home a little before 10 pm.

IMG_20160529_114622Sunday morning, we snuck in a quick swim before meeting my whole family in the hotel lobby for the continental breakfast. We chatted for a little over an hour before we all needed to pack up and go our respective ways. Travis, the girls, my dad, my aunt and uncle, and I all headed back up to Cleveland to go to an Indians game at 1:10 pm.

Emma was very hesitant about going into the ballpark at first (she’s never been anywhere like that before) but once we got in, she relaxed. I, however, was extremely frustrated for the first few innings because the girls were thirsty but we had read online that you couldn’t bring sippy cups or water bottles into the ballpark, and there were no cups or straws to be found (neither Emma nor Annabelle can drink out of a water bottle without a straw). I did, however, see many people who had brought their own sippy cups in! Grrrr….  Luckily, as I was complaining, a lady in front of me overheard and offered me one of her straws that she had brought along for her toddler. I was so grateful! That helped settle me down.

I seriously didn’t watch really any of the game, but Travis said that he saw enough of it to feel like it had been worth it. And it was really for him that we went, so that’s good enough for me. Besides sitting in our seats for about 20 minutes total, we raced a ghost runner to first base (one of the kid activities they had), ate $6 hot dogs (Emma and Annabelle both almost ate an entire one by themselves!), and checked out the Kids Club area, which had a bunch of Step2 toys and its own private viewing deck (where Travis caught almost an entire 2 innings while “watching” Emma!).IMG_20160530_090701There was a big tunnel slide in the Kids Area, and just like at the zoo, Emma stopped herself halfway down and wouldn’t come out. So Travis had to go in after her, but by the time he had gotten to where she had been in the slide, she had decided to go down and was already out. So he popped out the bottom looking like he had just gone down the slide by himself, ha.

Sunday evening, we were feeling burned out and wishing that we had gone home that day instead of staying until Tuesday. But Monday (Memorial Day) ended up being really fun and redeemed our longer stay. We stopped by a car show on a whim and ended up staying a couple of hours. While my dad and Noel looked at cars (they were loving it!), Travis and I played at the playground with the girls. Then we ate a free picnic lunch, complete with ice cream bars. We also stopped to look at the two pink cars we saw (Emma’s favorite color) and take pictures. IMG_20160530_160012After naptime, we drove to the Erie Canal and checked that out. Beautiful, but hot.

For dinner, we ate ribs and corn on the cob at Noel and Pat’s, and then went out for ice cream at Pav’s Creamery.

Tuesday morning, we were up bright and early to catch our flight from the Cleveland airport back to Minneapolis/St. Paul. We had a 3-hour layover there before our flight back up to Brainerd, so my dad ate lunch with us at Rock Bottom before taking off. The rest of the layover we spent walking on the moving sidewalks, playing at the airport playground, getting coffee, eating snacks, changing diapers, and checking out the nursing moms room (very nice, I might add!). It actually was a very enjoyable time. The girls were having a blast. The thing about kids is, they don’t care that they’re playing on a playground at the airport. A playground is fun anywhere! The play area also had coin-operated rides, and the girls rode those probably a half a dozen times.

We made a lot of great memories during our week in Ohio, and it’s always great spending time with family (seriously, it’s one of my favorite things in life), but we were SO GLAD to get home. Traveling with young kids is no joke. I may have been a homebody before having kids, but I really am one now. Like they say, with young kids, you don’t go on vacations… you go on family trips. Now I need a real vacation!

Annabelle Lyn: 11-12 Months

1 Apr

Annabelle was 11 months on February 27 and 12 months on March 27 (Easter Sunday). I can’t believe she’s ONE!20160327_131923 (Large)Annabelle has changed so much in the past 2 months!

Size

Annabelle is still wearing almost all 12-month size. Through 11 months, some 9-month things still fit but a few days after her birthday, I boxed up everything smaller than 12 months, and got out her 18-month stuff (which is still a little big on her). She’s wearing size 4 diapers.

Her 12-month checkup was today and she is now 29 inches tall (53%), weighs 21 lb 5 oz (72%), and has a head circumference of 19 inches (99.3%).

20160327_125457 (Large)Eating

Annabelle is still nursing about 3 times during the day and a couple times at night (just because of teething). She has figured out how to suck on a sippy cup and tip it up so we’ve started giving her whole milk in an effort to move toward weaning but she seems to prefer water (and nursing).

20160224_114520 (Large)Annabelle’s favorite foods are purees (though we’re trying to be done with those), yogurt, cheese, toast, puffs, strawberries, green beans, mandarin oranges, raisins, pears, peaches, and applesauce. She has tried and liked grapes, cottage cheese, broccoli, corn, peas, and cooked carrots (but we haven’t fed them to her very often). She’s not a huge fan of blueberries, rice, black beans, or butternut squash. When she doesn’t like a food, gets sick of eating it, or is done, she starts throwing her food on the floor behind her. If she wants more, she wails for a bit and then waits to see if you’re listening before continuing. She also gets a kick out of feeding the dogs, and pretending to give you a piece but not letting go of it.

Annabelle has eight teeth (the four in the middle on both top and bottom) and has been working on her bottom molars for what seems like forever (it’s probably been 3-4 weeks). They’re just now starting to peek through her gums.

20160227_121527 (Large)20160302_181722 (Large)Sleeping

Teething means that Annabelle’s sleep is not the greatest. She’s up 2-3 times a night, usually the first time about 3 hours after we put her down, then again 4 hours later, and then up for the day between 6 and 7 am. There has been a night here and there that she has slept through the night, but that is definitely not the norm. The fact that she does is occasionally though gives me hope that once teething is over (or at least stops for a while), her sleep will improve. PLEASE!?!?!?!20160229_130737 (Large)Annabelle is moving toward dropping her morning nap and only takes one nap a day about half the time. If she does take a morning nap, it’s short — 20-45 minutes. When she only takes one nap, she’ll go down around 12:30 or so, and sleep until 2:30 or 3. Which means that Emma and Annabelle no longer nap at the same time (single tear). Emma is moving toward not napping at all, so some days, I just have her do an hour of “room time” (usually 15-30 minutes of reading/playing, and then 30 minutes of watching the iPad) so that I still get a chunk of sans-Bisk time.The benefit of Emma not napping is that she goes to bed at 7:30 instead of 9:30, so Travis and I actually get an evening together! Some days, that’s totally worth no break during naptime. And if I’m taking care of one kid, I might as well be taking care of both of them and have them both go to bed early!

IMG_20160308_145014 (Large)Development

Another potential contributor to Annabelle not sleeping well is that she has exploded in gross motor development! Around 11 months, she started leaning forward on her hands and then sitting back, so that she could sort of scoot in a circle doing that. Then she spent 2 weeks getting in a crawling position, and sitting back down. Then she spent about a week getting in the crawling position, inching forward a bit and sitting back down. Finally, about a week before she turned one, she started crawling for real! Now she’s all over the place and into everything. It’s about time. 😉IMG_20160315_164426 (Large)

She has also gone from sleeping in one position all night, to sleeping on her side, to rolling on to her stomach and getting mad because she (thought she) couldn’t roll back, to sleeping on her stomach 80% of the time by choice. In the past couple of weeks, she has started to sit up in her crib when she’s unhappy, and just this past week started pulling herself up to standing in her crib (and pretty much everywhere else she can).

20160327_184133 (Large)In addition to pulling herself up, she can climb stairs, cruise furniture, and take steps when you hold her hands. She did NONE of this a month ago, and had been so “plateau-ed” in that area, so it is seriously amazing to see her take off in gross motor development!

Annabelle loves to squeal and say “dada” — in a loud voice, normal voice, or whisper. She also likes to whisper “ssss… ssss…” and shout “ha… huh…” noises. She has said “mama” (but doesn’t often) and loves to say “uh oh.” Similar to her sister, she loves being held upside down, spun in a circle, dropped on her back onto a bed, steamrolled, and pulled/pushed in a stroller, wagon, swing, laundry basket, sled, you name it.IMG_20160322_191514 (Large)

Her personality is mostly mellow but there are definitely times when she gets wound up and shows similarities to her boisterous sister.

Annabelle puts up with a lot of rough play from Emma, and has a pretty easygoing personality about most things, but does not like being held up or thrown high in the air. She is also very hesitant about different textures. In the past 2 months, she’s experienced snow, grass and sand, and didn’t like any of them. I also showed her a wire heart covered in garland and she wouldn’t even touch it. These things haven’t really been a problem yet, and hopefully they’re just like her reactions to food — once she experiences it a few times, she warms up and it’s no big deal.12779106_1084627788234209_8896076473531583942_o

Annabelle tasting the frosting on her birthday cake:

She ended up eating most of the frosting, but hardly any of the actual cake.

A few habits Annabelle has that I do not like are scratching my chest and grabbing/pinching my chin while nursing (it seriously hurts!), and also biting me when she wants to nurse.

Annabelle also had her first scrape in the last two months. We were at a local pool and I had placed Annabelle, unstrapped, in her carseat under the watch of my friend while I went to the bathroom to change clothes. Annabelle leaned forward and fell out on her face on the rock floor, got a bruise on her forehead, and a scrape on her chin. Poor baby and mommy fail!IMG_20160304_101758 (Large)

And that’s Annabelle at ONE YEAR!

Grief.

21 Mar

My mom is dead. My mom died.

I keep repeating those words in my head, unable to comprehend this truth. We knew it was a possibility, even a probability, for so long and yet now that it’s happened, it doesn’t feel real.

Other times it feels like a stab in the heart. Or like an elephant sitting on my chest. Like a nightmare I can’t outrun. Like someone else’s life I am observing. Like the whole world is different. Like the world is the same and I’m different.

With two young kids, I don’t have the option of sitting around grieving. And to be honest, even though spending extra time in bed or on the couch sounds appealing, I want to keep moving forward with life – if for no other reason than my mom would’ve wanted me to. Even in her last weeks and months, she was worried most about how her death would affect us, how we would handle the gaping hole she left in her wake. She was concerned about other people so much that it drove me crazy sometimes!

She loved being a mom, and for the past four years, a grandma. There is hardly any aspect about mothering now that does not remind me of her. When I nurse Annabelle, I think of my mom nursing me until I was over 2 (so she said, I don’t remember it). When I rock either girl in my arms, I think of my mom, who loved, loved, loved rocking babies (no sleep training for that woman!). When they cry, I think of how she wouldn’t have been able to stand it—her momma bear instinct was too fierce.

Those reminders of her make me want to be a better mom. A mom who is more patient, loving, kind, gentle, self-controlled and self-sacrificing. I want to “major on the majors” and make sure I find time for the most important things, not let my days get eaten up with things that don’t really matter (even if they’re things I enjoy). I want to live my life with joy and passion, to pursue my dreams, to make the best use of my days. I want to enjoy being a mother, to truly embrace my role and not just view my girls as impediments to my freedom and personal time (which I do sometimes because I’m selfish). I want to be compassionate and patient with my girls, to hold them when they’re crying, to get on their level and understand what’s wrong instead of getting mad that they’re being difficult. Because life is short, and I want to look back on these years able to say that I loved deeply and lived well.

As we sat by my mom in her last hours, my dad, older brother Jeremy, sister-in-law Jen, younger brother Chris, and I all took turns rubbing her arms and hands. Her freckled hands were as familiar to me as my own. They were her instruments of serving and healing. Those hands cared for us, patched wounds, massaged backs and legs, changed diapers, blew noses, washed bodies, applied sunscreen, dried hair, cooked meals, wiped tears.

I find myself wishing I could talk to her in prayer like Jesus. Even though we were blessed with time for saying goodbye in long, heartfelt conversations, I find myself replaying what I said and wondering, “Why in the world didn’t I bring up more fond memories, instead of her being left alone with all the kids for hours by my dad and grandparents, and her throwing the hairdryer in anger at me when I was being extremely difficult? Did I even tell her that I thought she was an amazing mom and friend, and loved her to the core of my being?” So I ask Jesus to tell my mom that I love her and miss her, and that those aren’t what I think of when I remember her.

Instead, I’ll think of how she was my favorite person on earth next to my husband and babies. I’ll think about how familiar and dear she was to me, and how genuinely I enjoyed being around her. Yes, it’s true her worrywart tendencies drove me crazy sometimes, but isn’t that a mark of true intimacy? I’ll think about the weeks last summer that the girls and I spent with her while Travis traveled. Precious memories. I took them so very much for granted. If I had known then that she’d be gone by now…

But here’s the thing about watching someone die from cancer or disease: you often don’t know what to do or say. Even as a Christian with the greatest hope in the world, I stumbled through conversations and interactions because I just didn’t know. You can’t fully understand what the other person is experiencing, and you’re dealing with your own hard, mixed emotions about the whole situation. You want to be positive, but not Pollyanna. You want to be encouraging, but realistic. You want to empathize with their sorrow and fear, but not contribute or add to it. You want to ask about the situation, but you also want to distract them from it.

What I decided early on, especially since it was my mom, was that I was just going to show up and be real. I was going to try hard to point her to Jesus, and remind her of the hope she had in Him, but if I didn’t have the words, or know what to say, I’d just be there anyway. And I’d say, “I’m not sure what to say.”

Same with being by her side in those last days. What do you do in that situation? I wasn’t sure, but before I even left my house, I determined that I would not let my weird hangups or fear of awkwardness make me regret not doing something for her or with her at the end of her time on earth. So I sat by her on the bed, holding her hand. I hugged her, and rested my head on her shoulder when I saw tears in the corners of her eyes as she listened to a music therapist named Julie sing Beyond the Sunset with just her voice and an acoustic guitar. I wiped her mouth, dotted chapstick on her dry lips, and told her through sobs that this wasn’t the way I’d remember her—that there was this picture from the Mexican family reunion where she was playing a guitar made out of a skewer and aluminum sheet pan and laughing. That’s how I’ll remember her.

My brother Chris called the Tuesday before she died. “They don’t think she has long left,” he said. Even though I had visited her in the middle of January and said what I wanted to say, how do you not rush to the bedside of one you love so dear? So I packed up and hit the road with Annabelle (Travis would follow with Tina Tornado on the weekend so that I could have some quiet time with my mom), arriving in Rochester Tuesday evening. As I was unloading the car, my dad took Annabelle up to see my mom. He said she just lit up when Annabelle entered the room.

That night and Wednesday, she was alert for 30 minutes or so every few hours. Wednesday night, my dad woke up Jeremy, Jen and me in the middle of the night, thinking that the end was near. But her heart was stubborn and held on for all of Thursday too. That was a long day. Some extended family came to visit. The music therapist and hospice nurse came for a bit. Several times, we thought the end was close, but she recovered, heart beating, lungs breathing.

Thursday night, we went to bed around 10:30. About 12:15 am on Friday, I woke up to my dad nudging me and he simply said, “She’s gone.” I got up and followed him into the hall, where we talked to my brother and sister-in-law a bit. We said good night and headed back to bed, but the second I got under the covers, I was like, “What am I doing? I can’t go back to sleep right now!”

So I headed upstairs and asked if I could see her. And it was true: she was gone. Just the shell of her earthly body remained. Her soul, the real her, was in heaven with Jesus. Chris said truthfully, “Now we’re the ones to feel sorry for.”

My dad called the funeral home and they said they’d be out in 30 minutes to take her body. So Chris went and got Jeremy and Jen, and we all stayed in the bedroom until the funeral home people arrived.

While they carried her body out of the house, the rest of us moved into the kitchen and Chris jokingly suggested taking shots of pickle juice (one of my mom’s favorite things) in her honor. “Let’s do it!” I said. So the five of us said, “Cheers,” and drank shots of pickle juice at 1:00 in the morning.

Early afternoon on Friday, Travis and Emma arrived, and the rest of our time down in Rochester was a blur of funeral preparations, seeing extended family and chasing wild kids. That was one of the hardest weeks of my life, and I was relieved when I could finally retreat to my own home and familiar comforts. I see vaguely now that part of the reason was that I wanted to escape the relentless reminders of her absence, a luxury my dad doesn’t have.

Two weekends ago, I returned to Rochester for the first time since my mom died. As I walked in the door of my parents’ house and saw a peace lily from the funeral my dad had placed on the piano, it hit me afresh that my mom was gone. It was just his house now. Little by little, evidences of her decorating, organization, presence will disappear. We boxed up unused medical supplies and sorted through her clothes, personal items, jewelry, shoes, and purses while I was there, making piles of things to keep, things to sell, things to throw. I know it’s time to do these things but it still just feels too sudden, too soon.  I haven’t been able to delete her contact from my phone because it feels like I’d be erasing her. I know it’s not… but still.

Grief is a process, and as the hospice chaplain told us, it’s different for everyone. When I focus on this earthly life, I am devastated my mom died. But when I remember the hope of heaven, and the fact that she’s there now, I feel peaceful. As one of the wonderful sympathy cards we received says (in the words of M.B. Anderson): “God confidently assures us—in the great symphony of life, the final refrain for the believing heart is triumphant, everlasting JOY.”

We’re sad on earth, but my mom is celebrating in Jesus’ presence. We saw her earthly life end, but she is living a glorious beginning.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:54-57)