Wednesday, February 3, 2016

sanity saving

We're on our second consecutive snow day today. It was a little overkill since the roads were clear yesterday and it barely snowed last night, but it was nice to sleep in. (You know you're a parent when 7 am is "sleeping in.") 

I'm working hard to keep my sanity. I don't know what it was, but yesterday was rough. Eventually I threw all three kids out in the backyard to burn off some energy. I also didn't have to hear fighting for a whole 20 minutes: Win!

And to illustrate my point, here is a recycled picture of the Solko siblings in snowpants.

Speaking of sanity helpers, I have recently become a huge fan of menu planning. I am not sure why I resisted it in the past when Jared had suggested it, but I'm loving it now. 

It's far from fancy. 
I found this template on Google images and it fits our needs perfectly. The kids and I usually eat leftovers or sandwiches for lunches, so we only need supper ideas. I post it on the side of the fridge (with some Frozen magnets near a random photo) and we're good to go. 

I think roughly half the arguments in our house used to be over what was for dinner.
Sad but true. 
I don't mind cooking, in fact I usually like it, but I hate HATE! thinking of dinner ideas every night. Every day 5 pm would roll around and Jared and I would go through the same tired conversation.
This one sheet of paper has made life after 5 PM much more enjoyable. We are bickering about supper duty less, and we are using up foods we already have on hand that need to be eaten.

And it's been surprisingly easy to think of meal ideas ahead of time. Turns out it is hard to brainstorm when your kids are pulling on your pant legs begging for food. 

In other wow-my-life-is-boring news, I'm pumped about the new cookbook I purchased. It isn't actually a cookbook at all, but an empty recipe binder that I am in love with.


We're big on food in this family, in case you haven't noticed.
We regularly find new recipes to try out and many times decide they are keepers. Most of these recipes come from favorite food websites, so they are computer print-outs. For years we had been 3-hole punching them and putting them in a regular 3-ring binder. The problem was that the sheets were too big for the binder and you couldn't see any of the tabs. And eventually none of them actually made it into the binder. Plus, while I was sorting through these printed-out recipes, I found 6 copies of the same chocolate chip cookie recipe. (They're super easy and delicious by the way. We love Mel's Kitchen!)

Now all that might sound like no big deal to other people, but I happen to love organization and orderliness. It was unacceptable. (Forget the fact that I accepted it for like 7 or 8 years.) I finally found this recipe binder on Amazon and it was was worth the money. The best part is that there are different page styles to store the recipes: full sheet or recipe cards. So you can mix-and-match to your specific needs. I think that is an awesome way to keep all your favorites in one place whether it is Aunt Ethel's handwritten cinnamon roll recipe or The Pioneer Woman's scalloped potatoes and ham. (We're having that for supper tonight if you couldn't tell!)

Friday, January 29, 2016

real, real quick

I'm sneaking in a few minutes to write a little something.

Christmas was great. 
I have non-phone, camera-quality pictures to prove it that are for now sitting on our "my book" file thingy attached to the computer (my computer knowledge is clearly vast and limitless) but have not been edited since I'm dependent on Jared to download the program I know how to use. When it comes to technology, I really hate learning new things. If my old way still works and isn't obsolete, let me keep using it! The death of our computer really threw off my photo organization mojo. 

We're currently all sick. We survived the month of December and most of January sickness free - not counting way too many lab tests and trips to Omaha - but we finally all caught something. We've all been battling sore throats for a week and I finally broke down on Wednesday and got all three kids on antibiotics. Turns out they had ear infections too. 

Jared and I are soldiering on. Mostly because I can't force myself to drag all the kids with me to the doctor's office again. My aching head can't handle that mess.

Life is continuing normally. 

We have swimming lessons every Saturday for 6 weeks. Bailey is in Level 2 without her siblings and loves it. Graham also enjoys them, in fact he is the first one out of almost 20 kids to jump in the pool. Avery... I'm so shocked (*not at all*) that she doesn't want a new person to have anything to do with her. We're halfway through and she just last week let someone assist her without screaming. I have high hopes (which will most likely die a quick death) that tomorrow will be drama-free.

School is school. I never hear any complaints, and we only hear minimal information. Already we have to pry one word answers out of them as to what they did or how their day was. 

I love seeing the progression of a kindergartner's writing. 
It is really like a brain teaser to figure out the phonetic spelling that makes up a 5 year-old's writing. 
I personally love that her snowman is having hot "koko" because I grew up in a cocoa-lovin' family. 
Cocoa and peanut butter sandwiches for the win!

Jared and I also get a huge kick out of the drawings her and her friends exchange and send home.
Bailey and Darius were friends in preschool last year, and he is in her section this year as well. We receive weekly drawings from Darius, and apparently the feelings are mutual because Darius's dad reports he gets the same things we do. Ahh, young love.  ;)

Avery loves school too, and I find it amusing how she tries to keep up with her big sis. She gets upset that she isn't learning about the solar system like Bailey, and she wants to be able to read words like yesterday. So we've been working on sounding out simple 3 letters words, and the easel my parent's bought them for Christmas is pretty handy when it comes to practicing those skills. And for drawing rainbows over and over. Obviously.

Graham seems to be stable right now. His itching comes and goes along with the rash. But as of his last labs 7 days ago, his liver enzymes have almost returned to normal. We have an appointment with an allergist to cover some more bases, and we're using some new skin products to try and cut down on what might be some eczema related itching. He doesn't have a return appointment to his GI specialist until March, so hopefully all stays well until then.

This month I've started back on the C25k program now that we have a treadmill. We bought a nice used one from a friend of my sister Felicia and I have used it in some capacity nearly every day. (If I am going to be watching a TV show alone after the kids are in bed, I might as well walk and burn some calories while doing it. Right now it's The Good Wife season 3.) I found myself way out of running shape since I hadn't run at all since early October, but it is steadily coming back to me. 

The upcoming month promises to be busy: swimming lessons continue, our Broncos play in Super Bowl 50, Jared's mom comes for a week-long visit, Bailey turns 6 (eek! How did that happen!), a yearly Omaha cleft team visit, a pedicure date with a friend, Bible study resumes... All good things. 

But my sneaky few minutes are up. Kids are demanding lunch and my own stomach is growling. Happy weekend, friends!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

capturing our holiday spirit

Our new computer might be up in running in a newly updated office space (ie: no more green carpet, window, or trim) but that doesn't mean Photoshop is working. Or even downloaded.
So I am presenting to you our Christmas season photos with zero editing or cropping. 
(And really, I would have loved to edit some make-up onto my face in that family photo. Yikes.)

Back in November, when we actually had snow

The kids love their yearly Christmas jammies.

If you know Avery, you will recognize that this is a perfect capture of her "Oh my gosh, seriously, you guys, wait, this story is so amazing" face.

family "Polar Express" movie & popcorn night

The annual coordinating outfits for the church program...

And like a thousand outtakes






They rediscovered our tiny apron collection and now they can't cook a pretend meal in their play kitchen without one on.

Sugar cookie dough = pure enjoyment

All three kids near Santa and no one cried?!

Penning a careful and thoughtful letter to Santa

And then there is my favorite photo.
This year I was so excited to put up the trees in their rooms.  The lights wrapped around their bunk bed and the tree lit across the room just scream holiday spirit to 4 and 5 year-olds. So the tree skirt was meant for a tree about one-fourth of that size and the kids don't actually leave any ornaments on it, it doesn't matter.
This time of year is so special and magical to them that they couldn't handle sleeping in their beds 8 feet from the tree, they had to camp out right in front of it. 

Merry Christmas, everyone! Only 3 days left!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

And just like that, it's December

I started to write that I'm sorry for my lack of posting, but honestly, I haven't given it much thought. Life has been hectic and borderline crazed. And I'm not talking the "oh I have so many presents to buy and parties to attend" type of crazy.

All the presents have been bought for weeks - most of them are even wrapped - and we have a total of two Christmas get-togethers to attend.

But since I last posted - in October mind you - big, mind-occupying stuff has been going on.

We wrapped up October with a life flight and hospitalization for Avery. She was off-and-on delusional with a 105ยบ fever which prompted an ER visit. (Because this stuff always occurs on a weekend.) Children's in Omaha feared meningitis based on her symptoms so they opted for a helicopter ride over an ambulance transfer. She handled it well and with minimal drama.
Wait, I'm kidding.
She had to ride alone since the double-occupancy chopper was already out in use elsewhere. Jared and I were worried, but we tend to stay cool in these types of circumstances. After all, we have had our few share of medical issues with kids so far. I held off tears until they were wheeling her away, strapped down, only able to move her head. She looked at me and simply said, "I'm going to be sick and all alone."
She knows how to twist that knife for maximum effectiveness.

Everything turned out okay, but the next two days were tough. X-rays, ultrasound scans, straight caths, plenty of lab tests, and IV medication is a lot for an already over-the-top dramatic 4 year-old. It turned out she had a bad kidney infection. With 3 days of IV antibiotics and 10 more days of oral ones at home, she recovered easily. But really, she sure brought the drama. I am not surprised that Avery was the one to require a life flight.

Some other stuff happened too. 
Halloween. (Yes, I'm that far behind.)
A family wedding. 
An overnight getaway for Jared and me.
Etsy business on steroids. Seriously, we're both so over Etsy right now.
The death of our computer.
The purchase of a new computer.
Graham's 3rd birthday.
Thanksgiving.
A spare bedroom/office/play room remodel.
The kids' church Christmas program.
Christmas decorating, baking, and eating. And eating.

Which brings me to our next time-filler lately...
Graham has been sick and just kinda "off" for about 9 weeks now. It started with a rash that lasted for 11 days that doctors couldn't explain, a change in appetite, mood swings, itching like crazy, and bowel changes. Some lab showed elevated liver enzymes - which aren't uncommon with an infection, and a week later they had decreased back to normal levels. 
But his symptoms didn't go away, they hung on. And a few weeks later we took him back to the doctor since he felt worse, and it turns out his labs were elevated again - this time triple normal. 

So off to Omaha to a GI specialist we went. 
An ultrasound revealed an enlarged liver, pancreas, and gall bladder. Further testing showed elevated levels of many different labs related to the liver and gall bladder. Doctors weren't exactly sure what any of this meant. While waiting for some labs to get back, they sent us home with medication for his itching and a general feeling of uneasiness. By the next week, his symptoms were still the same and his bowels changed even further. 

The specialists decided it was time for an MRCP, a specialized MRI to look at the specific structures like the ducts connecting the organs in his stomach. We just completed that this past Tuesday. 
He had to be NPO for about 18 hours, and what should have been a 45 minutes procedure turned into 2 hours. Knowledge is not power in this situation as I was nearing panic mode, knowing something was amiss for the procedure time to more than double. Turns out he had a really hard time coming out of the anesthesia. Thanks, Graham, for aging me years during those few hours!

The results were what we expected. Both his liver and pancreas are enlarged. The pancreas is so enlarged that it is causing narrowing of the pancreatic duct and common bile duct. That is contributing to his bowel changes and the elevated labs. We've ruled out every common infectious cause of organ enlargement (hepatitis, mono, etc) and now not even the doctors are sure what is causing it. We repeated more lab yesterday (Friday) and should hear back about the results on Monday. Those results will dictate what course we take next. If they are decreased we will continue to monitor, hoping it is some unknown infection that his body is fighting off. If they are the same or elevated, we will continue down the road of more testing/procedures. Even our specialist couldn't tell us what these would be because Graham is an atypical case.

So it goes without saying, we've been worried. 
I don't do well when things are out of my control; I know this about myself. And if there was a lesson to be learned from this past year, "you're not in control" just might be it. I've been working really hard to turn worry into prayer. It's helped me more than I can put into words. I'm not in control, and my worry does nothing but drive me (and others) nuts. So maybe I am actually learning my lesson a little every day.


On that note, I think I will end my way-too-much-medical-happenings update on a positive with a few pictures of our little dude on his 3rd birthday last month. 

On his birthday I baked some brownies (covered in fresh whipped cream) and he opened a couple of gifts at our house. His real party was the next day on Thanksgiving night. The unofficial theme of his 3rd birthday was apparently "anything with an engine."





Wednesday, October 21, 2015

31 Things

Because birthdays after the age of 21 border on pointless, I will save you an update on my day of celebrating with small children and an overly tired husband. 
(edited to add in photo of me with said small children. please note the birthday crown Bailey made for me in school that day. such a sweet girl.)

I will however continue what I started last year. And since I'm starting it and my birthday is already half over, it might not be anything deep or even slightly funny. But here goes...


1. I've had to trim the fat lately. And I'm talking about TV shows. I couldn't add anything new this year, and I don't have time to continue some of the shows I had already been watching previously. If 6 episodes of the same show remain unwatched on my DVR at one time, the love affair must be over. I used to love you Person of Interest, but it was time. Goodbye.

2. I never thought I would ever be able to say this with a straight face, but I love working out.

3. Frequently I work out so that I can justify eating more food. #priorities

4. I miss living on a farm. 

5. I have to send Snaps of myself in clothing in dressing rooms to fashion-forward friends in order to determine if something looks acceptable. 

6. My closet is smaller than most port-a-pots (yeah, weird reference but it's true). So women who post photos or blogs about purging their closets and getting rid of clothes they've been holding on to for a decade - I just can't relate to you. If I even bring in a new t-shirt, something old has to go.
Honestly, my dorm room closets were bigger.

7. I have a love-hate with our Etsy business right now. 
Love that it's growing. Hate that it's growing.

8. My faith is stronger than it's ever been.  

9. I have a book where I write down funny things my kids say. And I actually fill it out. Avery gives us a lot of entries.

10.  Since having kids - or maybe it's with age? - I don't like spicy stuff as much. I used to loooove buffalo wing sauce. Now I can barely handle the mild stuff. What is happening to me?!

11. I lack any courage to cut my hair into a style that could even halfway be considered edgy or even slightly non-conservative. I will probably have this same hairstyle until I'm 90.

12. Speaking of, I have zero desire to live that long. By all means, take me when you're good and ready Jesus, but if I hit 84, I think that is long enough. 84 has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

13. I still don't miss Facebook.

14. I've learned over the past year that being a friend doesn't require talking on the phone daily/weekly/even monthly. It boils down to being there when it counts, when things get uncomfortable and people's lives are far from their best. Close friends have lost loved ones this past year and I've realized that listening, baking cookies, or just speaking their family members' names is a big deal to someone struggling. Many situations or discussions feel awkward, but true friendship can be hard or awkward while still being real and effortless. And it's worth the work.

15. By having my nails painted, my I-have-my-shit-together life meter goes up quite a few points. Clearly a manicure means I must have my life in order, right? Wait... what? You're not fooled??

16. Caillou - most annoying kids show ever. I'd rather watch Barney every minute for the rest of my life than suffer through an entire episode of that show.

17. My family and friends know me so well, they bring me coffee and fountain pop for special occasions. In fact, I received one of each this morning.
(Can anyone say caffeine overload?)

18. All four of my grandparents are still living and in moderately good health (and actively spoil my children with plentiful amounts of cookies). For someone who is 31 to be able to say that, it's kinda rare. And awesome.

19. I used to think that maybe 4 kids would be even better than 3. I now know better. Four would be much, much worse. 

20. Jared and I have domestic patterns a tad bit altered from the usual gender roles. He bakes more than me, I mow the lawn. It works for us.

21. This past year a friend commented that she loves that I keep it real because she knows I am not trying to pretend my life is perfect. I took that as a huge compliment. 

22. I never get tired of Disney movies. 
Or Golden Girls re-runs.

23. I am a much happier and well-rounded person if I am awake before my children wake up. I prefer a good half-hour head start on the little monsters.

24. In a dream world situation, I would have a part-time job. This stay-at-home stuff is mentally harder than I ever imagined and most days I am dying to escape this house without kids in tow. 

25. When we can, we walk everywhere. Gotta get those Fitbit steps in!

26. I carry a purse so large that is lovingly referred to by Jared as luggage.

27. I'm anal and borderline-obsessive about photos. All of our kids have their own photo albums and each photo is labeled on the back with the date, who is in it, and what was going on. 

28. But, oddly enough, professional photos aren't that important to me. I didn't even have newborn photos done with our kids. Both the girls were in the NICU and it wasn't important in the grand scheme of things at the time. So with Graham it felt wrong to do them since his sisters didn't get any. And it's been over two years since our last family photo.

29. Having a vacation planned - even if a year ahead of time - motivates me greatly in the day-to-day monotony of life. It's important to have something to really look forward to and work toward. (Speaking of, any non-extravagant, no-kids vacation ideas, blog friends?)

30. I could spend 6 hours in Target. Every time I go I look at my watch and say, "It's been two hours?! I haven't even looked at half of what I came for!" True story.

Annnnnnd....
31. I'm way too boring to keep this up every year.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

FALL{ing into leaves}

I know, I know. Write it down. 
After practically months of radio silence, I am writing three posts in one week. 

Part of the motivation is that I've taken more photos. Something about the changing of seasons, I seem to get the camera out more. You're doing exciting new things, whether it's toddlers donning bathing suits or snowsuits or listening to squeals as kids jump in piles of leaves. Which is precisely what we did yesterday.






We had a nice pile of leaves thanks to a huge wind storm earlier this week. Our leaves hold on until there is snow on the ground - no lie - and I will be out there raking them up in about, say, 6 weeks. Until then we used all the neighbors' that had conveniently blown in our yard.

And real quick, can we talk about this missing-tooth smile? 
Our big girl lost her first tooth this past weekend while biting into her favorite snack - an apple. 

And some mad props to the Tooth Fairy (Fairies?) who remembered to show up Saturday night despite being at a bachelor/bachelorette until 2 in the morning. Only one slight hiccup: she just forgot to take the tooth with her when she left, so she had to make a repeat trip the next night so the tooth could be added to her collection. Hey, no harm, no foul.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

etsy lately

As most of you know, Jared started an Etsy shop almost two and a half years ago. Jared has a seriously creative mind. In our house, he always picks out all the paint. Not only is he a good judge of color (Him: Is it more of a purple-grey or a blue-grey?  Me: Wait, what? Grey is grey! Right?), he can envision what things will look like before he ever makes the first cut for his latest project. So his Etsy shop was opened at my request so that our house wouldn't be completely cluttered by all the things he was tinkering around making in our garage.

It was a slow start. 
Which was to be expected. And which was actually a good thing. 
It took quite a while to learn the ropes of it all, especially how to tag listings so they can be found by searching customers and discovering the secret to mailing items so you don't lose your ass in shipping costs.

For a long while we were super excited to get one order a month. 
Seriously. 
And months where he got two or three, we were ecstatic about it. Last year around this time we saw huge growth in his sales as people started to shop for the Christmas season. Usually there is a pretty large drop off in sales after the holiday season is over, but for some reason this year that didn't really happen. Thanks to more learning (and lots of research on Jared's part), sales have continued to grow. 

It's been exciting - it's a little rush to know people (strangers!) love and want to buy something you're hand-making - but it is also a little overwhelming. We've both had to gradually change our mindsets. Before when getting only an order or two a month, Jared could easily complete the order before ever receiving another. His goal was to be complete before moving on to the next item. But last month, he had at least one order every single day. 
Say what??! 
We were so not prepared for that. 
And this month has proved to be more of the same.

Now it's not possible to make it down to zero pending orders. He works a full-time job after all. So there is always this "I have 12 orders to get out" mentality hanging over his head - and mine too. I'm definitely a person who never procrastinates. So knowing there are plenty of orders still needing to be completed, and then hearing the little cash register sound go off on Jared's phone signifying a new order, it kinda makes my inner organization queen cringe. 
But it's a good problem to have, as long as Jared can keep up.

Organization is key, and it proves difficult when you are running a small business out of 20 extra square feet in your garage.

Speaking of the little space Jared works out of, here are some photos I snapped the other day of him in action.

More information learned along the way: proper personal equipment is a must. Jared has been wearing the ear protection since the beginning (because he likes his tunes and NPR) but the mask was a recent purchase. Turns out he was coughing a ton from all the sawdust he was inhaling. And purchases like a new sander that is hooked up to a system that collects all the dust is a big plus too - it's annoying to have to clean an inch of dust off your bike daily. 

It's definitely a family affair. 
Truthfully Jared does probably 90% of the work involved, but I do my part in correspondence with customers during the day while he sleeps and packing up and mailing items to be shipped.
Oh, and keeping the kids out of his hair while he is working can prove to a full-time job also. 

Fairly often Graham will collect his tools and head outside to do some "workshoppin'" with his dad. The scrap pile can get pretty large so there is always some wood for him to cut, hammer, or screw.


Bailey and Avery also like to help out when they can.
Bailey actually does helpful things like learning how to apply paste wax to completed wood projects. 
Avery does things more along the lines of playing the keyboard in the basement and singing nonsensical songs loudly while we package. Very loud is her speciality.
So see? they're both helping in their own way. 



And we all have to put up with random stops for boxes, whether they fit in the vehicle or not.


If you're interested in seeing more items that Jared is currently creating, make sure to follow him on instagram @brandnewtome or check out his Etsy site.

Friday, October 9, 2015

October 8th

Jared turned a whopping 31 years old yesterday.

We all know it's downhill after 21, but the kids and I (with some help from Fe) still tried to make the day a little bit more special.

When it comes to any celebration in this family, food is the main event. We all love food.
This year Jared broke what is clearly the most important tradition - having cake for your birthday - and requested peanut butter chocolate dessert. 
I had my doubts. 
But I made it. And it was easy. Like did it in a half an hour and never had to turn on the oven easy.

It's not the most presentable thing you've ever eaten - although those classy as hell candles really take it up a notch - but believe me when I say it is delicious
I bolded and italicized the word "delicious", it is that good. 
Like I said, I had reservations. But it was amazing.
And because I know there are some fellow chocolate/peanut butter combo lovers out there like me (hello, to my Reese's holiday devotees!), I am linking this ridiculously easy recipe.
You're welcome.

We had a meal, complete with fancy platters and bowls that we received for our wedding and hardly ever use. And we ate said meal with mandatory party hats on our heads because that is how crazy we roll around here.


Happy Birthday Jared! 
I hope we made you feel special for the day.