st louis family vacation, day 1

Last week we loaded up the minivan for a trip to St. Louis. At the last minute we decided to leave a day early, as there was winter weather in the forecast. Thankfully we did or I think we would have been stranded on our farm. A whole blizzard hit Minnesota. But just 8 1/2 hours south in St. Louis it was 78 and sunny with trees in full blossom and tulips and daffodils at their peak. I mention this just so that you, too, can file this fact away: that when it is still full blown winter in Minnesota, you could get to much warmer weather in just one day of driving. It's sort of amazing to me!
 We packed a picnic for our first lunch and found a fantastic small town playground and picnic area (with bathrooms!) in New Hampton, Iowa. This is a new family favorite destination. We had a blast, ran around for an hour, could be as loud as everyone needed to be, used the bathrooms many times, ate ham and cheese roll ups and basically marveled that we were not wearing winter coats.
Ivar was in full-boy-glory, teasing me that he might fall in the water, exploring how close he could get, watching a frog swim by and then he found the treasure of all treasures: laying in the bottom of the stream was an abandoned play gun.
Could there be anything more thrilling for an 8-year-old boy?!! Rory helped him fish it out with a long stick and then they hung it in a tree so that it's rightful owner might find it again and wonder how it got up there.
Oh, and then they found half of a crayfish. Clearly this rest stop was epic and full of adventure and excitement. We were glad we hadn't stopped at McDonalds. That would have lacked so much!
Then we got back in the car for the long haul. It took us 11 hours to travel the 8 1/2 hours we had to drive. Which isn't terrible! 2 1/2 hours of stops was pretty impressive to me. I kept saying, "we're making terrible time, but we're having a great time!" Though in the last 30 minutes Alden had had enough and let us know his frustration until he fell fast asleep. We got to Uncle Mark and Aunt Jane's house around 8:45 and transferred the little two into bed while the big two explored the house and where we would spend the next two days...

Knocka Knocka, it's Hattie Joy

Hattie is 3 1/2 and is a pure delight. Many nights I will wake in the middle of the night to a quiet knocking on our door (that is not completely closed anyway) with her speaking, "knocka- knocka, Mama. Knocka knocka" And when I get up to open the door she'll tell me she doesn't want the tornado to get her, while climbing into our bed squishing her pillow in between our pillows. I'll collapse next to her and if I open my eyes, her bright eyes will be staring at me, her whole face smiling. It's sort of a highlight of my life right now. And after a while she will get carried back into her own bed because she moves around too much.

Hattie loves to be a helper. Ivar and Elsie have morning chores and she will always ask me, "what's my job?!!" And then no matter what I say she'll protest, "At's too Ard!" And I tell her, "no, that's not too hard, and Hattie, you can do hard things. So go and pick up the crayons in the livingroom and put them back in their tupperware..."

Most of the time she calls Elsie Mary, and refers to herself as Laura.

When I tell the girls to go and put on something nice for church, Elsie will come down in a lovely dress with tights and jewelry and Hattie will run down holding her favorite overalls, "these nice!" She has worn her overalls the last three Sunday's in a row. I keep meaning to get a picture because she and Elsie contrast each other in such a comical way to me. But she does tend to get a lot of compliments on her overalls. :)

When I think about Hattie I always just feel so glad that she is ours. I feel so grateful to be her mom. Her bi-annual big appointments continue to go really well and they continue to watch her as an interesting and special case who hasn't needed cranio surgery yet. We meet with a speech teacher to work on certain sounds that are hard because her pallet is so, so high and her tongue can't reach behind her teeth. So we are working on that, but boy she is one very active, outgoing, friendly, enthusiastic, passionate three year old. And the joy of our home.

Elsie's Cookbook

Last Saturday Elsie made her first recipe, asking me to not tell her a thing or help her because, "then it wouldn't be my own recipe!" She had an idea and just wanted to try it. So I left her in the kitchen and only came in to help her put the mini cakes in the oven.

As it turns out, 4 eggs, 1.5 cups of sugar, 1.5 cups of flour, 1/3 stick of melted butter and a handful of chocolate chips do make for edible and yummy mini cakes in a cupcake pan! We were all totally impressed for a recipe that never creamed things together or anything. It was just a dump and stir recipe.

The next day was church potluck and she told me excitedly, "You can make my mini cakes! I have the recipe all ready for you!" In the end I made chocolate pudding with thin mints crushed on top (by the way, I had more people ask me for the recipe on this one, than anything I've ever brought before! Ha! Instant pudding! File that one away for your next potluck!!!) and when Elsie saw her face fell and she said, "Did you not really like my mini cakes?"

Oh dear me. "No, no, I loved them. I just wanted something easy to make and didn't want to bake. But you're right. Many from our church would LOVE to have one of your mini cakes. I will make those next!" So after the kids went to bed I made a dozen mini cakes following Elsie's recipe and then make a card to set by them, "Mini Cakes, Invented by Elsie Groves" exactly as she wanted me to write.

And wouldn't you know, she got LOTS of attention and compliments on her original recipe. And it all made for a new favorite Elsie memory. Then we came home and she insisted on making a pie. Again with no instruction. She crushed graham crackers for the crust with butter and then made a similar filling with lots of eggs, lots of sugar and coconut flour. It was sort of like a baked custard.

Then she told us she is starting a cookbook. What fun!

Elsie is 6 1/2 and a complete wonder to me. She comes down from her room every morning dressed for success, complete with accessories, the right shoes and a hair style to coordinate. She is a joyful girl, very shy in new situations and loves to laugh and be silly. She helps me with the little kids, and often has more patience than I do, using a loving, falsetto voice, "No, no, Alden, you cannot throw your food on the floor. Are you trying to tell us you are all done? Then you say All Done." And Alden will repeat her. In these moments I try to take notes on how she does it...she is so dear and sweet.

She will talk nonstop while working in the kitchen with me, "Mom, I don't really want to be doing this, and I'm like sort of mad about it on the inside, but I'm like, I just have to do it. And either I can do it mad or I can do it happy but I still have to help and so then I choose happy so I can be more joyful because it's more fun to be joyful, right mom? I just wouldn't want to be mad every time I have to work, or we would all be mad a lot because there is a lot we have to do each day and I'd rather be happy..." And on and on and on and on.

I love having her companionship and look forward to eating more egg and sugar based recipes from her upcoming cookbook.

Little Baby Groves

Meet Little Baby Groves...with its fist rubbing its eyes! All six of us went to the ultrasound and while we were watching the baby flexed its arm, visibly drank some fluid (we could see it swallowing!) and put its feet all the way up over its head.  We were all very impressed.

It was so fun to all be in that tiny dark room together. The kids did great and this time around Ivar and Elsie understood what they were looking at. We had a little ultrasound tutorial before we left, explaining how the head will look and the body. It helped a lot so that when the nurse turned on the tv, they knew right away what they were seeing. Hattie was mostly confused and still asks if the baby, "came out of you?!!" I think she thinks we left the baby at the clinic. Which is terribly sad to me. But she also is convinced that she also has a baby in her tummy that will come out in summertime. So, really, all of it is just a lot to comprehend.

This pregnancy has been very smooth, except right at 19 weeks my energy levels tanked. It actually was the day I turned 38 and I thought it was just a sign that I am indeed older and that exhaustion just set in when I turned 38. For about 10 days I felt completely wiped out by mid-morning. But then I realized that I had, at that same time, stopped taking my vitamin B complex because I had run out. So I went to Walgreens, bought another bottle (and a Reeces peanut butter egg) and added vitamin B complex into my prenatal and iron supplement routine. Literally within hours I felt back to my normal self.  It brought my energy back, and I would sell the stuff door to door to tired moms if they would listen to me! It helps so much! (though I still will take a nap from time to time because there is lot going on around here...)

We are now 22 weeks along and baby is moving and grooving and I am in love. I am so thankful for this little life and feel ready to do it all over again. What a precious gift.

"firewood!" with Alden

Recently while at the zoo Alden called every mammal "a kitty!" and everything else "a birdy!" When we got to the taper, I asked him what that was, while looking at the large black and grey ant-eater type animal in front of us. He looked a long time and then said, "Firewood! Firewood!" And began running back and forth along the glass divide, positively thrilled by all of the fallen, dead trees in the taper exhibit. I'm not even sure he saw the animal.

It was so funny to me because this boy LOVES firewood. Just like Ivar loved "balls!" Alden's passion is firewood! Each morning of the winter he helped Rory build the fire and proudly helped bring logs to Rory. He even points out fallen trees while driving, "Firewood!"

It is nice he has this passion as we have many piles of firewood all over our property and even more trees that still need to be chopped up after the storm in September.
Alden is 21 months and is happiness around here, as well as a lot of work. He spends his every waking moment moving items from room to room. Alden begins his waking day yelling, "Ellllsie! Elllsie!!! I awake! Elllsie! Elllsie!" And then Elsie will get out of her bed and help him get out of his crib. He and Elsie are very close. One time the rest of us were at a playdate but he was left home napping while Rory was at home working. Rory said when he woke up he got him out of his crib and then Alden proceeded to cry for Elsie nonstop until we came back home. He did not appreciate being left out.

Ivar has his own special nick name calling him Oden and telling him to "grow up quickly, Oden, so I can take you to my new tree fort." Alden also adores his dad and if he ever sees Rory's truck pull up he will yell continually, "Daddy, Hooome! Daddy Hooome!" and wait in the kitchen right by the door to the garage, not taking his eyes off of the door, patiently waiting for Rory to walk in.
This boy is a joy. He is always a little dirty, loves to snuggle and be held close, thrilled by tractors and trucks and wants to be "outside!" all day long. We have a fun spring and summer and fall ahead of us!