Saturday, December 26, 2015

Two Years of Nora Jo!

This Girl.

Oh this Girl!

For the past two years your blue eyes have charmed me, your strong will has challenged me, and your snuggles have turned me into a pile of sentimental goo. You've stretched my patience with your throw-your-body-on-the-floor-kick-and-scream-and-punch temper tantrums, and calmed my frazzled nerves with a gentle hug and a sweet slobbery kiss.  

Everyday is an adventure with you, dear Nora. You keep me on my toes and give me some of the biggest rewards.
Two Christmases before you were born, we weren't yet pregnant with you. I had been hoping for months and months that you were on your way, and really trying to be patient. But that Christmas, as your older sister happily unwrapped presents and sang silly songs, I had the overwhelming feeling that someone was missing. You were missing. I thought it strange that I was longing for someone I didn't even know, but I was. I was missing you before I even knew you.
The next Christmas was a different story - you were mere hours from arrival, and I was so very excited to meet you. What a difference a year makes!

In two years, this girl has grown and changed and learned and is definitely her own person. She has strong opinions and an iron will, and the most beautiful blue eyes you'll ever see in your whole life.
Happy Birthday Nora Johanna! We can't wait to see what year three brings!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Golden Mermaids

In October we finished up our first season of parks and rec soccer. Lana and six kindergarten and first-grade boys dutifully practiced drills, ran laps, learned the rules of the game, and played games on 1/4-sized soccer fields.

It was pretty chaotic some days, but toward the end of the season, the kids were actually starting to pay attention and run plays and pass the ball. It was pretty neat to watch. Lana really enjoyed it and I'm glad we signed her up. I figured that participating in a team sport would be good for Lana, what I didn't figure on, were all the great stories we'd get out of one season of K-1 soccer. Here's my favorite:

Team Name. Really? The Golden Mermaids?
Yep, Lana's team was called the Golden Mermaids.
After one of the first practices, I heard the team gather in a circle and chant a cheer:
"Who wants to play some soccer?"
     "WE DO! WE DO!"
"Who wants to score some goals?"
     "WE DO! WE DO!"
"Who wants to have some fun?"
     "WE DO! WE DO!"

The kids cheered and practice was dismissed. I was extremely curious about the team's unusual name, so I asked Lana and we had the following exchange:
Me: You guys are the Golden Mermaids? That's a fun name.
Lana: Yeah, it was my favorite. All the boys wanted to be the Cougars. But I wanted to be the Golden Mermaids. So we're the Golden Mermaids.
(She didn't actually drop the mic here, but I feel like she would have, had she had a microphone and knew what a mic drop was.)

They kept the name, Golden Mermaids, all season. If any of the boys on the team didn't like it, I never heard a complaint, and Lana, of course, thought it was wonderful.

Thanks Parks and Rec Soccer, and thanks Golden Mermaids!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Eight years, what I would (and wouldn't) change

As of about 4:00 this afternoon, Dan and I have been married for eight years.

Eight Years.
Eight Years of goodnight kisses, morning coffee, and dirty dishes.
Eight Years of I Love Yous, inside jokes, and back rubs.
Eight Years.

In those eight years, some lessons have been learned, and some choices looked back on with bewilderment. We'd definitely do some things differently had we known better, and some things we'd never, ever change.

*Fiesta Ware.
I knew as soon as we hit Macy's with scanner-in-hand to make our wedding registry that these were MY DISHES. And eight years later, they're still exactly what I would pick. I love the durability, shape, and size, and the color is still perfect.

*Fancy Fruit Bowl.
At the same time we were registering for the above Fiesta Ware, we also scanned a beautiful, artistic silver-plated fruit bowl. It was amazing and ridiculously expensive, and someone bought it for us. However, it needs to be displayed as art, not used to hold a week's worth of bananas.

When I'm asked to give advice to newlyweds, I always tell them if they have TV, get a DVR. They think I'm joking and silently wait for the punchline, but I am absolutely serious. Dan and I have never once had a fight about what to watch. An argument about Downton Abbey vs. Sunday Night Football has never occurred in our home. I can record all the cheesy Hallmark movies I want, and he can record his myriad of Discovery Channel shows.

These two. Oh these two.
If we had to go back and pick out our kids, these are who we'd choose.
Every. Single. Time.
Oh these two.

*Real Christmas Trees.
After years of insisting that only fresh-cut, real Christmas trees would ever be in our house, we broke down and bought a gorgeous fake tree. Now we're kicking ourselves for not doing it sooner. It's perfectly shaped, drops no needles, requires no watering, and is certainly less of a fire hazard than the real thing. We can switch the lighting scheme based on our whims, and we know it will fit every year.

*Inside Jokes.
I love that Dan and I have certain phrases, words, or even sounds that bring on laughter. Of course they make no sense to anyone else, but when timed properly, can bring one or both of us to our knees laughing. These inside jokes are used to diffuse potentially awkward situations, or just to embarrass the other in the aisle of the grocery store.

*I Do.
Just two words, but they've certainly made all the difference. Saying yes to Dan, yes to marriage, and yes to this life we've built together are all decisions I'd absolutely make again.

Happy Anniversary Dan! I love you!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

To Lana on her first day of First Grade

Dearest Lana Jean,

Well, guess what, Sweet Girl? You made it! You got through summer and school days are here again. I know you think nothing could possibly beat the wonderful time you had in kindergarten last year, but I promise you, first grade will be it's very own special kind of adventure. You will come to love your new teacher, make new friends, gain new responsibilities, and take on new challenges.

As excited as you are, the questions you've been asking make me know you're a bit nervous too. Yes, there will be more reading. There will ALWAYS be more reading. Yes there will be more math. There will ALWAYS be more math. This year's reading and math will be tougher than last year's, and just like you worked and practiced in kindergarten, you will work and practice in first grade. There will ALWAYS be more work and more practice.

I want so many things for you dear Lana. I want you to have nice friends to sit with at lunch. I want to never forget to send you with a lunch. I want you to take risks and try new things. I want you to love your teacher and everything you're learning. I want you to keep trying on the days you think you don't love it anymore. I want you to be willing to try, be willing to take a chance, and be okay with failing if it doesn't work out. I want you to think critically and creatively, act kindly and respectfully, and love purely and fiercely. In short, I want you to keep on doing what you've always been doing. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and I'm so stinkin' proud of you my heart could explode.

You have so much to share with those in your class. They need your sweet encouragement and contagious enthusiasm. They need to hear your belly laughs on the playground. They need to see you reaching out to the shy girl. And they need to teach and share with you too. (Maybe you could learn from one of them how to tie your shoes, because Daddy and I completely dropped the ball on that little life lesson.) Please, continue to recognize the special and unique in others, just like we want them to see the same in you.

This morning, you were dressed and ready by 6:15. I love that you spent so much time planning your perfect first day outfit and accessories. You dutifully packed your lunch and paper work-filled folder in your Minnie Mouse backpack. Prayers were prayed and pictures were taken. Last year's newly-created tradition of First Day of School Donuts was (of course) followed and then Baby Sister and I gave you hugs and kisses and sent you on your way. I was a bit surprised when, at the playground gate, your ran back to me, insisting on one more kiss and one more hug. Oh Dear Girl, I will ALWAYS give you one more kiss and hug.

Have a great day, and don't forget to be awesome!

Love you,

Monday, July 20, 2015

I hope you have one just like you......

I hope you have one just like you.

I remember hearing that saying, those words, as a teenager. My mom and I were arguing about something, and neither one of us would budge. (Likely it wasn't much of an argument. My mother had stated a law. I didn't like it, whining ensued.) I thought I was right and she was wrong. She was loving me in a way I didn't understand at the time, likely protecting me from my own bad judgement. But I saw none of that. My strong will versus her compassion, authority and experience. I'm sure raising me (and in my defense, any of my siblings) wasn't easy. And I'm sure those words, I hope you have one just like you, were meant to serve as a warning, or perhaps to remind herself that the day would come when her feisty, strong-willed daughter would deal with something oh-so-very-similar.

And now here I am. Two dear and precious daughters later, I have thought (although yet to say out loud) to both of them. I hope you have one just like you. 

In the frustrating, you-are-on-my-last-nerve times, I picture my daughters grown with their own brand of strong-willed babies, struggling just as I am. I see a tow-head asking question after question about EVERY. SINGLE. THING. And accepting no easy answers. I see dark eyebrows furrowed and little feet kicking the floor in the middle of another temper-tantrum. I see spilled milk due to dancing at the table (after being told not to) and the arched back of a toddler, refusing to be strapped in her car seat. I hear whining from the backseat from the girl who insists a milkshake is certainly her divine right, and I hear the screams and NONONONO from the tantruming toddler who has just been told she can't play with the contents of the knife drawer.  Oh yes, I think. I hope you have one just like you.

Then after we all break to our separate corners and calm down, we can stand each other again. Apologies can be made. Naps can be taken. Snacks can be eaten. Talks can happen in regular voices. Hugs can be given. I remember that not only do I love my daughters, I actually really like them too.

The big girl and I can talk about her myriad of important questions and I can figure out what it is she's really asking. (Yes, if our house caught fire, Mommy and Daddy would make sure you and Nora were safe before we rescued the TV. No, our feelings don't actually look like cute little Pixar characters. Yes, Daniel in the lions den and Moses on the mountain were both neat guys, but no, they weren't BFFs.) I can marvel at her creativity and intellect and see glimpses of the awesome young lady she's growing up to be. I can admire her curiosity and desire to always want to know more and learn more. I can see the care and compassion she has for animals, strangers, family members, and inanimate objects. Oh yes, I think. I hope you have one just like you

After a nap and a snack, the toddler and I can regroup and be friends again. I am no longer the big, bad Mommy and she'll offer me her tightest embrace and wettest kiss. She'll bring me a peace offering of every single toy from the giant toy box and we'll play together on the floor. She'll laugh and I'll put the sparkly pink tiara on her head and she'll spin in circles. I can sit, amazed at the growth and development that has gone on right in front of my eyes for the last eighteen months. I can be awe-struck by how truly beautiful this child is. Then, with her thumb in her mouth, she'll curl up in my lap and put her head on my chest. Her little body will contort around my soft and squishy bits; my imperfections her comfort, and we will both be in our Happy Place. Oh yes, I think. I hope you have one just like you.

Of course we could do with less whining and fit-throwing. But if that is the price for heart-to-heart talks and sweet snuggles, then I'll continue to pay. And I'm sure I'll continue to think (and probably one day say) that same time-tested phrase. Because truly dear ones, I hope you have one just like you.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Highly Effective Father

Happy Father's Day!

Dan has officially been a father for six years, although based on his love for his daughters, one would think he's been a dad much, much longer. As if to drive this point home, Lana's birthday actually sometimes falls on Father's Day. It seems fitting that the birth of his oldest child should be celebrated at the same time we recognize him.

I read an article recently called 10 Traits of Highly Effective Dads. It's interesting and made me think about how effective Dan is as a father.

Oh, let me count the ways:
(Bold headlines are from the article. Italicized comments are mine.)

1. They keep their lives de-compartmentalizedThey are the same man, husband and father regardless of where and when.  Dan is Dan is Dan. He's the same man at church, at work, out watering the garden, or roughhousing with the children.
2. They realize that their manhood and fatherhood is directly tied to their relationship with God.    I think Dan learned this from his own Dad and it was the most natural thing in the world to continue in his own life.  
3. If married, they uphold their wives as their number one friend and co-worker in life.  I've never not felt that I was Dan's number one friend and co-worker. I'm also his number one fan!
4. They practice the discipline of meekness.  They exemplify the combination of humility and strength.   Dan is strong for our family, not strong at our family. He's a solid disciplinarian, but has never punished out of rage or anger. He's also a great comforter when little hearts are hurting. 
5. They’ve tied their hearts to the hearts of their children.  Dan knows the relationship he has with Lana and Nora is so completely unique and special. He knows he is their first hero and one of their two most important teachers. He doesn't take this responsibility lightly.

6. They honor their child’s gender and unique giftedness.  Dan will be the first to tell you, he's been, um, surprised by having two little girls.  But surprise does not equal disappointment or regret. He's used to the dancing and singing, doesn't mind all the pink, and only mildly freaks out when vacuuming up glitter. He's also been able to effectively bond with the girls over dirt and 4-wheeler rides.
7. They are great listeners and make themselves available for those “by the way” teaching moments and conversations with their children.  Heart-string moments often aren't planned, but just happen, and Dan is there to catch them when they do. Lana will take 20 minutes to tell a 2 minute story, and Dan will listen (or at least pretend to) until she gets to the point and they can de-brief.
8. They make their children feel special and believe in them.  Just as she knows her ABCs, Lana knows her Daddy thinks she's special. He takes her for special milkshake-dates, lets her "help" in the garden, and is told how awesome she is. She knows she's loved, and she knows she'll always have her Daddy in her corner. (Nora likely knows all this too, she just can't verbalize it yet.)
9. Mercy and grace are a part of their households.  There is nothing fake about Dan. When he messes up, just as we all do, he'll apologize and ask for forgiveness, even to his children. I've had to do this a time or two also, and know that's it's humbling and hard, but necessary. He then easily offers the same forgiveness he's been given. 
10. They take care of the fundamentals or basics.  If there's a problem, or a need to be met, Dan is on it. This man works harder than anyone I've ever known. It's part of his DNA, and likely he'd be a hard worker even if he didn't have kids. But I know he works harder because he's got a family depending on him. 
So, according to that list, Dan is an incredibly effective dad. Of course, I would agree!
Happy Father's Day Dan! You are loved, appreciated, and adored by the two little girls and the big one too!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Year 6 kind of ROCKED!

This girl. THIS. GIRL. Oh how I adore THIS GIRL. Lana turns 6 years old today. Cliche to say, I know, but dang, where oh where did the years go? This year was huge for Lana. She started kindergarten, lost some teeth, kept learning what it really means to be a big sister, and really started to think about others.

Lana's independence grew, as well as her shoe size and height.

Kindergarten was definitely this year's highlight. Having an identity separate from Mom and Dad was new and exciting. To many, many small people, I will here and forever be known as "Lana's Mom," and that's just fine with me.

Lana learned to read, mix potions, calm a mad sister, and put away her own laundry.

All while making up silly songs, telling us story after story, figuring out how she can help, and remembering to look fabulous at all times.

Happy birthday, dear one. May this year be better than last and may you keep growing and learning and loving always.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Letter to My Daughter's Kindergarten Teacher, Part 2

Clear back in August, I wrote a letter to Lana's (at that time unknown) kindergarten teacher. You can read it here if you want, but the short version is it's filled with all the worry and excitement typical of a first-time-sending-a-kid-to-school mom. I had lots of feelings and really, really wanted Lana's new teacher to understand her. I shouldn't have worried; Lana's teacher was amazing and our girl blossomed and sparkled under her guidance. 

I didn't send the teacher the first letter. It was really more for me than her anyway, as I had all these feelings to work out. But today, on the last day of school, I did send this letter:

Hi Miss Hood,
A mere 'Thank You' does not begin to do justice to the sheer amount of gratitude you deserve from Lana and her family. Under your tutelage, our excited and imaginative little girl became a confident, empathetic, curious First Grader. You taught her so much more than proper pencil grip and how to clap out syllables; you taught her to love learning, explore, and keep on asking questions. Dan and I enjoyed hearing about how lumber and pressboard are made, as well as who was King or Queen Bee for the day.  You taught her (and then she taught us) what sound stretchers are used for, how counters make addition easier, and to take up the whole space when writing capital letters. 
Lana has appointed herself as your Number One Fan. Days with substitutes were all given low marks, and evening prayers were sent up, asking for your speedy return. During school breaks, Lana counted down the days until she would get to go back to school and see you again. I'm not particularly proud to say it, but we're pretty much bribing her to get through today, this last day of school. Promises of playing at Silverwood, followed by two weeks of camp, just might be enough to temporarily make up for the loss of her lovely and dear Miss Hood. There was some emotion at breakfast this morning, and I'm not sure how much good my follow-up pep-talk did. I think she came to school dry-eyed, but I cannot guarantee Lana doesn't end the day as a weeping puddle at your feet. 

Your impact on Lana has been tremendous. A quick comparison of First Day of School Lana and Last Day of School Lana is all the proof one needs to see that. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You taught, guided, shepherded, and loved on our girl for the past nine months. You brought out her hidden confidence, challenged her to be more responsible, and encouraged her to run wild with her imagination and creativity. We could not have engineered a better, more positive kindergarten experience. A thousand more times, thank you.

Have a wonderful summer break. You deserve weeks and weeks of quiet and rest and relaxation. I hope we're blessed again to have you in five years when Lana's little sister, Nora, is entering kindergarten. (Is it too early to put in a teacher request now? Emoji)

Thank you again,
Shelle Lenssen

Friday, April 24, 2015

Through Lana's Eyes

Lana has gotten involved in photography through our local 4-H club. She and I have gone to club meetings and learned lessons on proper camera holding, camera safety, light, shadows, flash, and subject matter. Although the classes are meant for the kids, I'm sure I'm not the only parent who has learned a lot too : )

I'm also learning about my daughter through this project. The things she finds interesting and beautiful are amazing to me. She has her own eye and way of looking at things, and I love that these traits come out when she takes pictures.
Doesn't this picture make you think Lana was tilting her head to make a silly face just to make her sister laugh? Isn't that exactly what a kid would do?

Lana has been playing around with focus and I love how she got the nearest branches clearly and the others make a neat fuzzy background.

Doodling and note writing are two things Lana does when she's supposed to be paying attention to the photography class speaker : )

After the unit on shadows, Lana took this picture of the shadow web made by the willow tree.

Those same branches that Lana photographed a month ago, are very, very different today.

I like how she contrasted the hard of the road with the soft of the flowers.

I'm sure Lana will take dozens more photos before we finally decide on one for the fair in September, Until then, I can't wait to see what she sees next!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The #1 Reason I Make Pancakes

Why, oh why did I get up early on Valentine's Day to make special pink and heart-shaped pancakes for my family?

Because this is my reward.

A smiling baby is the single best reason I know.

For smiles that sweet, dear Nora, I will make you pancakes every single day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"What do I do with all that ground beef?"

For the past four years, Dan and I (well, really, mostly Dan) have grown feeder steers in our pasture and had them butchered in the fall for freezer beef. Our freezer and bellies have been happy with our high-quality, delicious steaks, roasts, and ground beef, and from what I've heard, our friends that have purchased half- or quarter-sized beef sections from us have been satisfied as well.

When I talk with interested parties about the possibility of filling their freezers with beef, one of the first questions I get, is always, "What in the world would I do with that much ground beef?"  Ha! I have to laugh when I hear this, because ground beef is the backbone of many, many meals around our table. In my humble opinion, ground beef should be considered the hammer or screwdriver of the working mother's toolbelt. Ground beef is why dinner can be ready in 22 minutes and why there will be tasty leftovers for lunches the next day.

Growing up, my mother's go-to weeknight meals of 1) spaghetti and 2) tacos both used ground beef. Many an evening in our house started with Mom asking me or my sister to check and see if we had either red sauce or tortillas in the pantry. The answer would determine the night's dinner. This happened at least twice per week. Please, don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with tacos or spaghetti, I just want to branch out and use ground beef in other ways. (If you're wondering, the $0.88 can of Hunt's red sauce from Winco, paired with a pound of quality ground beef makes an excellent, meaty, and flavorful pasta topper. And a packet of taco seasoning with ground beef, some lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and ranch dressing will make the kid-friendliest tacos you'll ever serve. BOOM! Two family dinners with ground beef are done.)

One of my favorite ways to use ground beef is in meatloaf. Remember meatloaf? Remember the dry puck of meat you and your sister would slather in gallons of ketchup and try to choke down? Remember dinner table fights with your parents about cleaning your plate? Remember how you used to loathe meatloaf? Yeah, this most certainly is NOT that meatloaf.

I originally came across this recipe for individual-sized meatloaf-minis in a Cooking Light magazine. I made it for my family and Dan and Lana ate the meal with gusto, and I put to bed my former assumptions about meatloaf being not-so-delicious and a chore to eat. I also made these meatloaf-minis for a ladies meal-swap group I was a part of, and everyone was grateful that I included a copy of the recipe with the meal.

I made a few changes to the recipe based on my family's preferences, but I have no doubt that as-written, the meatloaf minis would be oh-so-very-scrumptious. Here are my changes:

1. I didn't use fresh breadcrumbs. The ones in the canister from the grocery store worked great for me.
2. I omitted the horseradish. A) I didn't have any and wasn't going to buy a whole jar for just this recipe, and B) Dan HATES this stuff and wonders why it even exists, thus leading to point A.
3. Instead of regular, run-of-the-mill cheddar, I like to use Cougar Gold. It's awesome cheese for any occasion, and I think it makes this meatloaf extra-fancy.

When I try out a new dinner recipe, I mentally score it based on a few categories. Here's how the meatloaf minis did:

Loved it! A hit with the grown-ups (me and Dan) as well as the oldest daughter. I don't think Nora's eaten it yet because I haven't fed it to her yet, so the verdict is still out for her.

Dan and I pack our lunches to work everyday, so I really try to make dinners that can be reheated easily and are still tasty the next day. These foil-wrapped meatloaves transport easily in lunch containers and re-heat nicely in the microwave and are still delicious.

This recipe is very easy to follow, but it does take a little bit of time to chop all the ingredients. For me, it's not a meal I can do on a weeknight start-to-finish. If I make this on a weeknight, I have everything chopped and mixed up the night before so only the baking is needed the next evening.

I love a good freezer meal and have been very happy with how these little guys freeze and re-heat well. I freeze them fully-cooked, so all that is needed prior to serving is a thaw and a quick heat in the microwave or oven.

Give this recipe a try. I'm sure you and your family won't be disappointed!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Happy 1st Birthday to our Nora!

On December 26th (yep, that's right, the day after Christmas, impeccable timing, isn't it?) Nora had her first birthday. Of course, because she's a member of the inconvenient birthday club, we spent the bulk of her special day travelling across the state to see friends and family on a post-Christmas holiday. Dear Nora was strapped in a rear-facing carseat for seven hours, with only limited breaks for food and freedom. Not how anyone, especially an active one-year old, would choose to spend their birthday.

Even though it's a few weeks later than Nora's actual birthday, I hope yesterday's morning of free-play and cake destroying makes up for the seven hours of confinement. It's a good thing babies have short memories and they're really, really cute.

Blue eyes, porcelain skin, baby-soft cheeks, and a sweet, sweet half smile. Oh how I love this girl! 

Hug Momma? Hug?

Nora is my winter baby!

We then got down to the business of cake-destroying. Nora's Grandma made her a delicious cake for eating and smashing on her actual birthday, but a day of driving, limited naps, and a roomful of strangers did not a happy girl make, so we did a birthday cake re-do at home on the floor. 

And Baby did not disappoint.
The first birthday is the only one that is acceptable to sit around shirtless eating cake, right?

Yay for cake!

Happy birthday Nora! You are loved and adored by many. And right now I just want to pinch those chubby thighs, zerbert that squishy belly, and devour those delicious cheeks.