Thursday, May 21, 2015

Red Nosed cuties

In honor of Red Nose Day today, 
I present to you my three little clowns:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


And by "camping" I mean a weekend spent in the camping grey area: somewhere between a plain ol' tent and a tricked-out camper with a big screen TV and fully-stocked wine fridge.

We spent two days at Pine Lake State Park, an area with a lake next to the Iowa River about 90 miles from home. We rented a cabin for two nights and brought the tent along too. The cabins were originally built in the 1930s and renovated in the 1990s to include a small bedroom and updated conveniences - ya know, like a microwave and shower. 
So we were able to cook meals and shower three very dirty children at the end of each day. 
The large living room had a table where we played games and two futons that folded down for the kids (and Tucker) to sleep on. 

It was secluded. You couldn't drive any vehicle up to the cabins as they were tucked in a hillside near the river. There were paved and unpaved trails around the area, some leading up into the hills, which our kids particularly loved.
"Daddy, I love going on adventures."

Tent sleeping was also popular.
Psssst! for all you blog readers who've never met my children, please feel free to guess which one is the sassy one. You won't be wrong.

$1.25 giant bottle of bubbles for the win!

No camping adventure is complete without s'mores.

Their first introduction to the low-budget game that is Pooh-sticks.
Do other people call it Pooh sticks or did we watch too many episodes about that stuffed bear as kids?


Tucker loved sleeping with the kids, something we haven't let him do at home. But it was so sweet watching him curl up beside them, I might have to start giving him free-range of the house at night.

We were packing up and getting ready to leave Sunday morning when Jared voiced a surreal thought: he figures we have maybe 8 more years of this kind of stuff before Bailey starts to think it's boring. Hanging out with her parents will be something to endure instead of something to enjoy.

I pointed out to him that he loved camping as a kid and still loved camping with his family even when we were dating. And that even as a senior in high school, I would stay in some weekends just to hang out with my family. 
As long as your family is fun - or at least funny - you're still going to want to hang out with them, right?
At least occasionally?
There's no guarantee I guess. 
In the meantime we'll have to keep working at establishing traditions and making memories. 

My hope is that someday our kids look back, tell stories, and share laughs about our adventures. And misadventures. Some of my fondest and funniest childhood summertime memories involve hilariously horrible hotels, broken down station wagons, and ridiculously low-budget family "vacations" to Minnesota. 
God love him, but my dad was bordering on Clark Griswold on a few occasions. 

I refuse to worry about how lame my kids are going to find me once they reach teen-land. (Or before.)
And all that matters right now is that they love their daddy and his love of an "adventure."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Things I've learned in the last month

We must be doing something right.
In the past month or so, we've had a family pet die (RIP Baxter bunny), a close family friend die, and one of my best friend's mom die. And while we have talked with our kids about death and Heaven and that it's okay to feel sad, we haven't really talked much about what you do when someone passes away. But clearly amid all the cooking and baking and cards and phone calls and prayers and hugs and tears, Bailey has been soaking it up.
Someone dies and people are sad. 
Our job as their friend is to be their friend.

So for every death recently, Bailey has set to work - without any prompting or encouragement - coloring pictures for our grieving friends. 

For our lifelong family friend Linda, who lost her husband a month ago, Bailey drew a picture of Eddie with as many hearts as she had time to draw before the visitation started. 

For my friend Holly, whose mom's funeral was a few weeks ago, she drew a rainbow house in the sky with Holly's mom inside. Because that is what Heaven looks like to a 5 year-old. That little girl's kind heart and sweet spirit can only make the world a better place.

Too tired to wipe off the table? Do it anyway.
It's always worth it to take the time to do a quick house pick-up every night.
You never know who is gonna show up early the next morning and make you really regret your late night laziness.

I've changed my parenting ideal.
I've always said that a goal of mine in raising children is to raise kids that are tolerant and accepting of other people's differences. Racism and homophobia are character flaws that I can't condone. We haven't had specific talks about race or sexual orientation with our kids yet because of the simple fact that it hasn't come up. Our kids have friends of other races at school, and I have a close friend that is gay, but our kids don't see these differences yet - and that is one true beauty of childhood. 

But for the past two months I've been part of a Bible study at a friend's house. I'd never been to one before so I didn't know what to expect. But honestly - I love it. And here's the thing - it's about the Bible (obviously) but it's not just about the Bible in the way you might think. The particular study we are doing applies to everything in life - just like the Bible does as I am coming to realize. But it's in a way I never saw before. It's basically great - and many times specific - life advice, and quite often it has come exactly when I have needed it. 

And as I was doing the "homework" one day, I realized something was pretty flawed in my parenting philosophy. 
I don't want to raise children who tolerate; I want to raise children who love.
Jesus doesn't just tolerate us, He loves us no matter what.
In fact it's the Bible's biggest message.
It's that simple. 
Tolerance and acceptance is great.
But love's so much better.

I've got no shame.
Come the month of May you can basically find me trespassing in the yard of anyone who owns a lilac bush. 
My life needs a little lilac-y scent to perk it up a little.
My house needs them.
I don't have a lilac bush of my very own!
People, the struggle is real.

This year I found a very nice yard at a house that is for sale and the owners moved out months ago. Come on, no one is going to miss those 19 vases worth of lilacs, are they???
Yep, I don't feel sorry about it.

Taking the high road didn't kill me
Maybe it is completely contrary to the above "don't tolerate, love!" segment of this post, but some people are much, much harder to love than others. And there's one specific person in my life that I just don't like. In the past I used the term hate, but mehhh, I don't care that much anymore. 
There's that phrase "You can't fix stupid" - well there's also lots of other things you can't fix. And I'm finding that included on that list are egotistic, selfish, negative, and arrogant. 

"Old Vanessa" - the one who punched a bully in the face in 5th grade and received her first detention - she felt vindicated in standing up for what she believed in no matter whether it would make a difference or not.
"New and Improved Vanessa" (ie: just older and less hot-headed) has started to realize that some people just simply aren't worth it. 

It's not that I'm not standing up for myself or others, but I'm just not gonna argue with stupid/egotistical/crazy. I stated what needed to be said and left it there. Not allowing myself to be drawn into a fight goes against my nature, but the high road actually felt pretty good. So while I'm a long, lonnnnng way from loving this person, the fact that I didn't say out loud all the harsh things in my brain was a damn good start for me.

Parents want to recreate the good stuff from their childhoods.
I've written before about family traditions Jared and I are creating with our kids, but I've come to realize how much we really want to hold on to the old stuff too.
Jared has already booked a cabin at a state park this year - in fact we're doing it this upcoming weekend before the summer rush (and higher prices). He grew up taking yearly camping trips in Colorado with his mom and close family friends. And while this is Iowa and summers here are vastly different than those in the Rockies, we are embracing what Jared loved about his childhood. There will be no tent-sleeping or roughing-it of any kind this time around, but in future years I know Jared will be working hard to convince our kids that fishing is cool and sleeping on the ground is fun. 

Growing up, my favorite part of summer was my family's trips to Okoboji to stay in my grandparents' cabin. We took our kids there for the first time last summer and it brought back memories of how much I loved those days spent away from home. Just this past week my parents bought a house in Okoboji. Maybe accompanying us on our trip last summer reminded them too of how much fun it was all those years ago. 

It goes without saying how excited I am to now have a place to go with our kids during the summers. I'm excited to explore different beaches and parks, eat at new places, watch our kids light sparklers in the yard, and spend a few days here and there away from the routine of our everyday lives. It's something special we can all do together that won't break the bank. (Well, at least not my bank... Love you Mom and Dad!)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Garth, the second time around

Many of you probably already know, but I'm a pretty big Garth Brooks fan. Like I owned his first album (and every one after that) on cassette big. 

I attended one of his concerts way back in 1996. And it was glorious. I'm pretty sure I used an entire Kodak single use camera to produce the world's crappiest concert photos. Right now it irks me something fierce that I can't find the photo of my friend Sarah and me in our matching concert t-shirts to prove how awkward awesome our 12 year-old selves looked. 

So sometime last year when Garth announced he was going back on tour again, I informed Jared and anyone who would listen that I would be seeing him again in concert. No matter what. And this past Thursday night we made that a reality.

It took 3 different shifts of babysitters and a cleaning of one closet filled with old high school junk, but we were on our way to Omaha's opening night of Garth Brooks' 2015 World Tour. 

Of course, no concert road trip is complete without the Econoline van. 
Honestly, I should give it its own tag on this blog. 
She's seen better days, but after a quick battery charge and a thorough clean-out since being placed in storage back in December, we were ready to go.

And remember that closet that needing cleaning out? 
It was an absolute necessity that I wear my original Garth tee.
A necessity I tell you!
Thank God my mom is organized and loves me so.
Check out that vintage loveliness.
Pretty hot, right? 
And I got more than one compliment on this beaut, I will have you know!

We consumed some delicious burgers, onion rings, and beer and then headed to the concert.

We were waaaay up in the stands, maybe 15 rows from the top. But it absolutely did not matter. The roar of the entire crowd was something I've never heard before. When the countdown to Garth began, it was electric in there. 

We stood up for basically every single song (yes, even way up high everybody was standing) and the entire crowd sang along to every word.
And it was L-O-U-D.
Halfway through I looked at Felicia and shouted, "I'm going hoarse!"
It was by far the best concert I have ever attended. 
He sang my favorite song ("Shameless" just FYI) so life was good. But really, it was such a great concert, every song felt like your favorite song. 
Garth's still got it.

I would go again in a heartbeat.
Keep it up, Garth. Maybe in another 19 years I'll come again and bring my kids along too. ;)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Happy 4th Avery Jo!

Today marks four years since a mischievous, sweet yet uber-dramatic girl entered our lives. Since we've been up to our ears (pun intended) in pink for years, a pink and black Minnie Mouse party seemed appropriate.

We went cheap this year. 
I bought mostly plain black and pink items for the party - tablecloth, plates, napkins, utensils, crepe paper, balloons, etc - and supplemented with a few Minnie Mouse themed items. There was a Happy Birthday banner with Minnie on it, and I purchased some balloons from Amazon along with mouse-eared cupcake picks. 
Jared helped out greatly by using his Silhouette tool (which he uses for words/graphics for Etsy projects) to cut out Minnie Mouse shapes on different colored papers. We used string to make our own birthday garland and decorations for the table. 

{I was skeptical of how much he would use the Silhouette when he first bought it, but it has proved its worth in tons of ways - many of which aren't even for Etsy projects. We will definitely use it in the future to decorate for more kids' parties.}

Anyway, the party didn't break the bank and Avery still loved it. 
In fact she later called it "the best day ever." 
Well worth it.

Can't waste a drop of that frosting!

Then the next item of business was the long-awaited and begged for bike. 
We led her around the house looking for the present we "misplaced." When she finally opened the front door to look outside, she saw her bike sitting there, brand-new and ready to go. Instead of jumping with excitement, she yelled, "Hey, who parked their bike here?!" and slammed the door shut to continue looking for her gift. It took a few seconds for it to register that it was her bike, but within seconds she was on it and took off.

And she's been in constant hey-let's-go-biking! mode ever since.

Today we've invited a few friends over for a play date (hey, Mom wins too!) to make it feel more special. We're going to have a few more cupcakes and continue to celebrate Miss Avery Josephine. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

one year on MyFitnessPal

Today marks one total year using the MyFitnessPal app - logging food and exercise every day.
Or almost every day.
I took a week off from food logging while we vacationed in Colorado and when Jared and I went to Mexico last month. I also took off a handful of other days when it would have been almost impossible to correctly log my food - the 4th of July, a couple of birthday parties, etc. But I still checked in and logged exercise even if I wasn't logging food entries. 

Personally, I love MyFitnessPal (MFP). I tried a few other times in the past to lose weight - usually just working out more often, but I never incorporated actual calorie counting. I think that is why MFP has worked so well for me. Anyone who knows me - or knows Jared or my sisters or my freaking entire family - knows that I love to eat. 
That whole "Don't live to eat, eat to live" thing... 
Uhhh... yeah, not a firm believer in the truth to that yet...

The biggest piece of knowledge I have gained over the past year is portion size. I know it sounds simple, but it was eye-opening. I was consuming double what I thought I was. It took a good two or three weeks of logging and eating normal portions for my stomach to adjust. So basically for a couple weeks I thought I was starving - because I was finally eating a normal amount of food. But after that initial adjustment, it hasn't been that hard.
Do I sometimes eat double portions? 
Hell yes. 
But it's because I am making the choice to, not because I don't know any better and am deluding myself. 

MyFitnessPal is great for the fact that I eat what I want and see how it fits into my day so I can still meet my goals. I never went into this believing I would only eat "clean" foods. I wanted to find a balance so I could be healthier and still enjoy the foods I like. And I have achieved that. If I want pizza I better work out so I can "afford" the calories. It's about balance and learning a way to live after all the pounds are shed.

And speaking of -
so far I have lost 32.5 pounds
The first 30 came off in the first 7 months.
Face-to-Face:  One year difference

Since Christmas time I have had to shift my focus from weight loss to other fitness goals. After a while the scale stops changing as quickly as before, and it became important to find other things to work on. I've switched up my workout routine a few times, and believe me, I am grateful that spring arrived so I could get a break from the workout videos!

The weight loss has been great, but I try to focus on the other things that I've accomplished or am working toward.
Non-scale victories if you will.

* I lost 3 pant sizes
I went from a size 16 (ugh, I hate to even type that out...) to a size 9/10 in jeans. And those 9/10's are even getting a bit loose now. I also now wear medium-sized shirts.

* Smaller ring size. 
I had to resize my wedding ring down 1 1/2 sizes because it was literally sliding off my finger multiple times a day.

* Increased confidence
Let's get real here, I avoided the bathroom mirror frequently. And if I were to catch a glimpse when I was getting in the shower? Terrible. I don't feel that way anymore. I've worked hard. And while I still have more work to do, I am proud of the changes. 

* A better role model
Kids are little sponges. And as much as you can tell them to do something, they seem to learn by example best. Our kids eat more nutritiously because we are eating more nutritiously. They are more active because we're more active. They see mom putting in the effort to take care of her health, and that is a message I think is important to send to our kids.

* Improved health
So other than all the benefits we all already know of, I was surprised by one. I went to the doctor for my recent hand probs and was stunned to learn my pulse (which for my whole adult life has been in the mid-80s) was 58 bpm at two separate appointments. Clearly all this exercise is not only helping my waistline, but also strengthening my heart.

* Better sleep
This one has been a bit less obvious, but before I started working out, I would go to bed exhausted and fall asleep for a half-hour or so and then startle awake. And I couldn't go back to sleep. I don't have that problem anymore. (Now if I can just convince my kids that sleep is something we shouldn't fight...)

* Challenging myself
Lastly, I'm proud that I've stepped out of my comfort zone. Not only in just starting to use MFP or exercising in general, but that I have looked at something, thought it was hard, and decided to try anyway. Whether it was a 50 minute HASfit video that looked difficult or starting running, I've tackled some things that a year ago I wouldn't have dreamed I'd be doing.

I've learned a lot in a year.
I've learned you have to want it badly enough to put in the work. 
If it were easy, everybody would be running marathons and rocking their 6-pack abs around town. It didn't work before because I didn't put in the work. As simple as that.

I've learned that it is about me. 
I'm doing this for me. There are times when other people don't notice changes or encourage and support you like you wish they would, but you're not doing it for them - you're doing it for you. Keep on doing what works for you.

I've learned to be flexible. 
As in all areas of life, rigidity can make things a lot harder. I prefer to work out in the late morning or early afternoon. But that doesn't always jive with a husband that works night shift, so I've had to adapt. I was in the groove doing my cardio-plus-weights videos and then I broke my hand. Had to adapt. Sometimes what was working before stops producing results and you have to shake things up. Being flexible just makes the whole process easier.

I've learned how important goals are. 
At first the goal is usually losing weight, but when that's accomplished - now what? I've set new goals for working out and most recently a goal to run a 5k this spring/summer. That's something I never thought I would do. It really is amazing what you are capable of when you put your mind to it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

sisters' weekend 2015

This past Friday-Saturday-Sunday was spent at the 3rd Annual Ellis Sisters' Weekend
And yes, it's just as glamorous as it sounds.

We met in Omaha this year. 
And this mom was more than ready for the escape.

 We met up for drinks at a wine bar before dinner on Friday night.

Then we ate at Kobe Japanese Steakhouse. And it was delicious. 
As a first-timer, I was slightly picked on.
I wish there was video evidence of all the tossed shrimp pieces I caught in my mouth, but alas, there is not.

Saturday morning we woke bright and early to partake in a 5k walk/run in support of Child Abuse Prevention - a cause that is near and dear to all of our hearts.
We walked most of the race as planned, with a sprint toward the end as it was beginning to rain heavily just as we crossed the finish line. 

The afternoon was spent shopping. 
Side note: H&M is my new fave.

We checked into our downtown hotel later on. 
It wasn't the best. (See also: my shitty TripAdvisor review)

The chlorine and chemical levels in the hot tub should not make you feel like your eyes might be bleeding after 10 minutes.  But hey, I'm no expert.

And now for the yearly photos:

And this last one is so ridiculous, clearly only the sister wearing a shirt of a cat in glasses could have requested it.

Also, it sucks being the one holding out the camera - No, I actually don't prefer that extra chin and non-existent neck thankyouverymuch - and I vote Justy does it next year.

Although I think this one might be my favorite of the weekend.
Love the unbridled annoyance, Beaner.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Solko family randoms

Nothing new and noteworthy has taken place around here recently. We're just hanging out, hoping that these beautiful 70ยบ temps stick around.

Here's a quick snapshot of our last week.

Yes, Batman sucks his thumb and uses his pliers instead of a cape in a pinch.

Giddy up.
Hello Kitty and cowgirl boots are clearly a "do."
Right, Glamour magazine?

This little honey has been all about playing mom to Bun-Bun. 
Overheard last week, my personal favorite:
"Ugh, this kid is driving me crazy!"

Jared's dad and step-mom were in town for a one-day visit this past weekend.
Tiny picnic table? Check.
Shades. Check.
Cheetos. Check.
There you have it, folks - the recipe for toddler happiness.

In other random news, I'm still training for that 5k. In fact it's going well enough that I'm hoping to actually run my first ever race next month sometime. I completed the 20 minute run yesterday and it was not nearly as painful as I feared. I get a pretty awesome feeling of achievement upon finishing each time, so it feels worth it. cast should be coming off today. Hooray! It's not that I'm all that excited to get off the sidelines and back on dish duty, but this thing is kind of a drag. Mainly I need it off so I can enjoy myself thoroughly at the 3rd annual Sisters' Weekend. And it's this weekend - eeeek!

We are spending the weekend in Omaha this time - doing a 5k walk/run Saturday morning and spending a night in a downtown hotel. I'm excited to get away for a day or two and spend time with some of my best friends. 
See ya soon, sisters!

Sisters' Weekend: 2014
Sisters' Weekend: 2013

Thursday, April 9, 2015

new focus and goals

This week marked one year of exercising. And not just here and there exercising - consistently exercising 5 days a week. I added in MyFitnessPal at the end of the month, so my 365 day streak on that site is quickly approaching. Annnnnd I'm a nerd, so I'm excited about that. 

I thought today I would take a quick look back at how far I've come - not something I usually do visually. It's one thing to weigh yourself and know those numbers, it's a whole other ball game to see a picture side-by-side.

The "before" photo is from November 2013. Not the start of my journey (I feel corny even saying the word "journey" but I can't think of a better replacement) but basically the same as my start weight last April. The "after" is a photo I snapped in Mexico a couple of weeks ago. And in case you're wondering about the round circle on my stomach - it's the site for my insulin pump. #diabetesprobs

Recently (and for the past couple of months) the scale hasn't budged much. I've noticed my jeans and some shirts are a little looser, so I'm not complaining too loudly. I would like to ideally lose another 8 pounds to reach my goal of a healthy BMI, but it isn't the end of the world if it doesn't happen. I've gotten less rigid in my definition of success. Success isn't just a number on a scale, it's how good you feel. And it's taken a long, lonnnng while to realize it, but I feel good where I am at right now.

Since coming back from vacation, I broke my hand. As expected, it's made things challenging. As many of you know I love my HASfit videos and was nearly finished with the 90 Day Warrior Program. I had 7 days left, but right now I can't complete the last week since I can't lift any weight. It sucks to come 12 weeks into something and get stopped on the homestretch.

But honestly... I was getting a little stir-crazy anyway. These Iowa winters leave everybody trapped indoors and I am pretty sick of exercise videos. With the weather getting nicer, I've been reevaluating what I want to do and achieve. A big thanks to my deadbeat hand for expediting that process!

I decided to finally use the Couch-to-5k (C25k) app on my phone. And I downloaded a running app to track my route and pace. Right now I am still in the phases of interval running, so the following route is actually 19 minutes of running (approx 10:30min/mile pace) and 18 minutes of walking. 

I don't know how accurate it all is, but it's nice to have another tool in the tool belt for evaluating progress. Plus having no access to a treadmill, I had zero idea what pace I was running at, which is a helpful piece of info when logging exercise in MFP. My route looks a little crazy because I am still figuring it all out. Plus I backtracked a wee bit when I realized I forgot to pee before leaving the house and had to duck into the public library quickly. I ended my workout doing some extra running around our block. 

I don't know how the rest of this 5k training is going to go. I hadn't really ever thought of running one before; this is just a new way to challenge myself. I've never been much of a runner (unless running sprints in high school track counts - Spoiler Alert: it really doesn't). Right now I am fine with the intervals. It's the 20 minutes straight next week that scares me. But I will cross that bridge when I get to it. Just like I have everything else.

For any runners out there, I appreciate any and all tips you can offer.
Over the last week I have come to appreciate the necessity of stretching. Yikes!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Day

Look at me - getting a post out on the same day it happened! Write it down, people!
Truth be told I have nothing else to do while Jared dozes away on the couch before work, but I'm still giving myself the credit since I am currently chicken-pecking out these words.

I digress.


family photo

 so random, but I love it

most pictures looked a little something like this

Weiss family great-grandkids posing with their found loot

And on a non-Easter side note, today marks 10 years together for Jared and me. 

A whole freaking decade. 
That's crazy, right? 
But then again, as I have been reminded of plenty this weekend, I am old.
(Try telling high school kids that only a few people had cell phones when you were their age and that texting wasn't even a thing until college. I swear they look at you like you're a martian.)
2005 doesn't seem all that long ago.
But then again, I'm getting up there in years...   ;)

Happy Easter!