Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer Daze

Summer days are flying by at this point. And while we've done some little trips and quick getaways, we've had some nice quiet moments at home too. I doubt we're ever going to be that family who takes a week-long annual summer vacation to far-away locales. (And contrary to my dad's beliefs from my own childhood summers, no, Minnesota does not count. Like at all.)

So we've been enjoying small things around here.

From these photos you *might* be able to tell which child was the more willing participant. Picture #2 adequately displays her sister's level of interest while on the field.

As is typical with Avery, after being forced to participate she decided halfway through the last practice that she LOVED playing t-ball. So much so that she was running the bases and informed me that she didn't need me around anymore: "Mom, it's okay. I'm good at t-ball!"

Small Children Selfies
Somehow our kids (aka Avery) discovered how to access and successfully use Snapchat on my phone. So most of my contacts have received a photo that resembles something you might take while slightly drunk. With gibberish and drawn on purple eyebrows.

Since then they've been requesting a photo opp any time any one of us looks nice. (Putting on a headband qualifies as dressing up around here.)

The baby pool.
We went every single day for a week straight. It was so hot that there was nothing else to do that didn't make me curse my existence. 

And while on the topic of the pool... swimming lessons.
Both girls took swimming lessons for the first time ever this year. Both started at the same ability level. Bailey jumped in the pool and loved every minute of it. If they had let her stay and jump off the diving board for as long as she wanted, I would have come back to pick her up at midnight. Girl loves the water.

Avery also loves the water. But Avery also really loves her mom when anyone else might be around. (She's basically alert to stranger danger at any possible moment, even if that "stranger" is a relative she's seen 427 times.) She spent the first 10 minutes of every lesson whining for me until the lifeguards basically threw her in the pool and she became so excited with swimming that she forgot I existed.

But when it came to the "test" where the kids simply had to listen to the rules and answer one question - "What color do the lifeguards wear?" - Avery would not answer. They were basically begging her to mutter the word "red." 
Instead she refused and moaned "Mommy" like 97,000 times.
So as they were handing out all the you-passed-swimming-lessons cards to the kids, Avery came up and they were basically like, "uh yeah, better luck next year" as they tore up and burned her passing card. 

Swimming lessons flunkie right here.

Stop, Drop, and Nap
You gotta get those naps where you can get 'em because apparently sun, swimming, and scotcharoos tire a person out.

Getting moving
We participated in a fun run/walk this summer. 
Side note: low on the fun scale for me since I was at one point pushing two kids in a stroller while another rode on Aunt Beaner's shoulders.
I think Justy actually had it easier just running the damn thing!

And also in big news at the Solko house: a certain 5 year-old is riding her bike (well!) without training wheels! Not well enough that I can safely take a decent picture of her riding without fear of being run over, but pretty good.

And then there are small moments like this...
Nothing like coffee filters for hats at G-Con and Papa Lyle's house to make your day fun.

As far as the rest of summer goes, we still have a trip to Omaha on the books for next week, as well as hoping to squeeze in a quick trip to Adventureland in Des Moines for the kids' first theme park experience. 
I really hope my kids grow up to like roller coasters and water parks because their mama happens to lovvvve them!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

celebrating the 4th

The kids and I spent the 4th of July weekend with my parents and sisters at the lake house in Spirit Lake. Jared had to work the holiday, so he joined the party late on Sunday.

My dad had foot surgery to repair a cyst in his bone and two stress fractures, so only a few days post-op, this was his usual position.
But with a wife and four daughters around to wait on him (and keep his grumpiness in check), he managed pretty well.
Please notice the walker and the parked golf cart for all of his transportation needs.  

Saturday was beautiful weather and we grilled out, where I personally ate way too much food. My mom's parents also came up for the day to check out the new place.

We did manage to do a few things other than eating over the weekend.
We went and watched fireworks on the beach for the first time with all three kids. The show didn't start until after 10, so Graham was pretty much over it by about five minutes in, but Bailey and Avery were ooo-ing and ahhh-ing the entire time.

We also did some swimming.
And by "we" I mean the kids swam and Fe attempted.
That's a Dear-God-this-water-is-cold face.

We played some serious
and not-so-serious games of darts.
While checking out local garage sales last month we found a dart machine for $30. It was a bargain and had an immediate home in my parent's basement, which was my bedroom for the weekend.

Another highlight of the weekend - at least for the kids - was the toad they captured and "saved." For a full day they kept an eye on it and even named it: Ribbet.
Makes sense.
The poor thing spent one night in a large container with grass and water until we made them set it free the next morning. I was shocked by how much both girls loved holding it. 

And finally, we did a little Ellis girls throwback - holiday style.
It's a different house now, and Fe isn't wearing a shirt featuring Disney characters, but the rest is basically unchanged.  ;)

Can we talk about that one-piece outfit with belt I am wearing? Bonus points to me for the skirt that isn't really a skirt at all.

Friday, July 3, 2015

living room re-do

Have you ever just lived with something each and every day and never even realized how much you disliked it? 

We moved into this house 3 years ago and since then we've just sort of "gotten by" when it came to our living room. We've played musical couches, getting an old one reupholstered (badly - and thankfully cheaply) through my husband's job and then inheriting one when Jared's grandpa passed away. Nothing wrong with passing down a perfectly good couch, but a beige couch didn't add much to our already beige walls and beige carpeting.

Seriously, it was neutral heaven. If we were selling our house on an episode of House Hunters, I'm sure we'd be an HGTV realtor's dream. No crazy colors to look past here! 

One day I just was walking through and it dawned on me, "Man, I hate our living room."
It's true. I have never liked those curtains. They were a cheap Ebay find and they "got us by." 
Noticing a trend here folks?
For three years. More than enough time to get by and go out and buy something else! 

Because of the slightly weird layout of the room with multiple entries, we have tiny little spaces on the wall. I feel like the room had no personality and didn't give the sense of family that I was wanting. (Besides the scattered kids' toys that practically scream Hey, a family lives here!)

So we finally went and bought a couch that we picked out and wanted. 
And it's leather. 
Because we have a dog that will randomly eat grass and puke wherever he happens to be sitting. And a son that strip down and sit on furniture completely naked. A beige fabric couch is essentially the least compatible fit for those scenarios and small children in general.

So the plain curtains are gone, replaced by a bolder color and pattern. 
Bye bye beige couch, my sincere apologies for all the times Avery peed on you.
This new couch is a napper's paradise; Jared and the new couch have already completely bonded.

Jared built two sets of shelves to custom fit the small available wall spaces in the room.
They're simple and allow for much more decorative touches to be added to our room. I love displaying photos, especially ones of my babies when they were tiny and squishy.
The drawing on the right is the first real drawing Bailey ever did: a rainbow. Truly fitting because our eldest is all about hearts, butterflies, rainbows and sunshine.

We're still finding where things look good, tweaking as we find a new photo or old item, which might be obvious as one frame appears two places. ;)

I love our updated living room. Some people might not see a huge difference, but I actually like sitting in it now. Even with those mountains of toys as far as the eye can see.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

June jumble

Summer is officially underway. And when it comes to blogging during the summer craziness, ain't nobody got time for dat. (Sweet Brown, you still light up my life, girl!) Or at least it feels that way.
We've been busy with small 3-day getaways and trips to the baby pool. 

And in the evenings I have been making it my goal to catch up on all my neglected television shows. It's a little sad when you feel like you truly have your shit together just because you finally finished the season finale of Downton Abbey four months after it originally aired. 
Right now it is Game of Thrones
Shhh! Nobody spoil it! 
We have 4 episodes left. Jared and I have been able to safely avoid any spoilers on social media and TV so far. I love that show so much, it's like I want the episodes to drag on forever and never end, but I also want to binge watch them in one day so I can find out what happens. 

But I'm taking a break from television and making an effort now, folks. (Full disclosure: it took me 5 days to finish this post. "Game of Thrones" did indeed suck me in. And PS - I'm not happy with you George R.R.) 
Anyway... here we go!

Jared and I were able to take off for a few days for our anniversary. Last year we explored the Amana Colonies here in Iowa. We decided that it would be fun to do that again - a local vacation to somewhere new. We ended up in Dubuque for two nights. 

I booked a zipline adventure for both of us at Sky Tours in Dubuque. It was 9 separate ziplines over Union Park, which used to be a huge recreation/theme park back in the mid-late 1800s. Neither of us had ever done a zipline before, so it was a new experience for both of us. 
We had a great time, and I would highly recommend it. I am not scared of heights, but I thought I might have some apprehension with it. Nope, none at all. Jared and I both loved it.

We spent the rest of our days exploring around Dubuque and Galena, IL (about 25 minutes away) - shops, parks - random vacation stuff.

We hit up the Fenelon Elevator which is basically a Dubuque landmark. It was built by a businessman in the late 1800s as a shortcut to his house up on the hill so that he could fit a nap into his daily lunch hour. It was a fun little stop and the view from the top was great.

We also took in a movie one night - a rarity for us. We went to see "Spy" with Melissa McCartney. Honestly, I haven't laughed that hard at a movie in a long time - maybe ever. It was so good, I would go see it again in the theater. Heck, I might even buy it when it comes out. And it's probably been a good decade since I've bought a non-Disney movie so that's saying something.

In less fun news, Graham has started potty training.
I'll spare you the boring details.
Just let me tell you, underwear are not some magic trick to make your kids use the toilet. I'd hoped they would be, but alas, they are not.
Especially when your child is this ornery.
I read somewhere that parents had success talking up the underwear. 
You know, like, "We don't want to pee or poop on our superhero friends. We don't want to poop on Batman, do we?"
So I did that.
I talked allllll about how Batman isn't to be peed on.
And about one hour later Graham came to me and proudly announced:
I pooped on Batman!

Yep, that's about how well it's going... 

We spent a few days at my parents' newly-purchased home in Okoboji. Actually its address is in Spirit Lake, but the Okoboji habit is going to be hard to quit.

We brought along some items to help my mom decorate and moved some furniture. (A couch might have fallen down the stairs on to Jared, but we won't dwell on that...) We helped with some finishing touches here and there and basically just hung out. 

Aunt Beaner was there for the weekend and she came armed with a present for each kid. Now G-Man can run around the house in only Batman underwear and a matching hat.

We eventually left the kids with my dad and he promptly took them to the nearest available water and let them get wet. Hopefully there will be many fishing excursions with Papa Jeff in their future.

Okoboji has plenty of beaches, but we picnicked and eventually settled at the one we always went to when I was a kid. The adults sat and soaked up the sun while the kids shoveled sand.  

The plan is to spend the weekend of the 4th up in Okoboji too. I've never been there over the holiday weekend, so I'm excited to see the fireworks and hang out with family.

Right now, this week is Vacation Bible School and let me tell you, as a helper for games, there is no need to exercise outside of Bible school. Playing tag with elementary and middle school students is no joke! All three of our kids are attending: Bailey and Avery are in separate classes this year and Graham gets to hang out in the nursery since I'm volunteering. They're loving it and particularly enjoy the novelty of bringing their own lunch.

Other things have been going on around here too, including t-ball for the girls and redecorating our living room. Bye bye, beige! I will post an update featuring a little color soon, especially now that Game of Thrones won't be occupying my available free time. 

I hope everyone is enjoying summer as much as we are!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Memorial Weekend and my first 5k

Memorial Day weekend has always included a local town's yearly celebration. I grew up attending elementary school and middle school in Lytton, so Gala Days was something we always did. The town has grown smaller, the school was shut down as schools consolidated, but there is always Gala Days every May.

Back when I was younger, the carnival with its various rides and games was a huge highlight. It kicked off summer. We participated in all the kiddie games, competing in categories like the three-legged race and the egg toss, to win tickets.

Thinking back on all that triggered an impromptu trip down memory lane. So bear with me as I review old photos from the mid-80's. If nothing else I know my grandma Connie is gonna get a kick out of them - she's a very loyal reader and all. :)

The carousel, a summer fair staple
There hasn't been one at Gala Days in many, many years simply because it is too expensive. In fact, our kids have never ridden on one. We might have to change that. Summer Bucket List perhaps?

Awww... it's toddler Vanessa.

And then another sister gets added and suddenly you have a constant car companion.
This scene was repeated frequently throughout high school as I drug Fe along everywhere with me.

Apparently the cars are a hit no matter what the decade because our kids were pretty pumped about them too. Of course they had to make sure their friends could ride along too. And in case you are having a case of deja vu, you'd be correct since this is almost the exact scene from last year's Gala DaysGraham tried to climb in with the girls but was promptly booted from the car. He recovered quickly and found his own ride.

We enjoyed the yearly parade too. Bailey and Graham rode on a horse-drawn trolley and threw candy with friends while Avery stayed back to collect all the candy. Later we got some homemade pie and watched Graham dominate the bike race. Watch out - he has officially mastered the strider!

Saturday morning was a big deal for me. 
I've been training for a 5k for the past 8 weeks or so. It was kind of a random thing. I started running after I broke my hand and couldn't lift weight anymore. I used the Couch-to-5k app on my phone and it was really helpful. Before Saturday I had only run a complete 3.1 miles one other time. 

My sister Justy has been occasionally running for the past few years and ran long distance in high school, so I recruited her to come along with me. 

There were about 80 or so runners in this particular race. I felt ridiculously nervous, especially considering how extremely casual this race really was. I knew I wouldn't have a problem finishing, but the nerves were there regardless. The weather was perfect for a race; we couldn't have asked for a nicer running day.

Our pace was a bit ridiculous at first. We simply joined the pack and started churning away. The clear leader of the race was a high school classmate of mine who ran in the Boston Marathon this year. Simply put he was quite a bit more advanced than everyone else there... At 3/4 of a mile my running app announced that we were running at a 8:45 mile pace - waaay faster than I ever run. (I usually maintain a 10-11 minute mile for the entire run.) We dropped down the speed a bit for the rest of it. On the last mile I told Justy to go on ahead because I could tell she was picking up speed as I was losing it, so she embraced her kick and finished ahead of me.

My running app messed up and kept the clock running after I crossed the finish line, and the race coordinators didn't write down exact times for every person (I told you it was casual) so I am figuring my time was 32 minutes based on the splits from my RunKeeper app. I was really surprised with that time. My goal was to finish, but I also was hoping to run it in under 35 minutes. I achieved both of those and felt a nice sense of accomplishment once I was done.


I will probably run another 5k again. Next time I will be more cognizant of establishing my own pace. But I also know that is easier said than done. It feels like human nature to try to keep up with the person ahead of you. The other runners obviously push you to up the pace which in turn can make your time faster and make you a better runner. So it's both good and bad.

As far as my next goal(s), I think I will work on increasing speed, sticking to 1 mile or 2 mile distances. I much prefer to run 2 miles over a longer distance. Hopefully as I work on that, 3 miles will become easier. I'm also trying to get back into doing some short HIIT videos at home again. Taking two months off from that has me feeling back at zero when it comes to weights. Hopefully it comes back quickly.

On Sunday we spent the day at my parents'. My dad was bursting with excitement to show the kids the surprise he had in store for them. I wish I had taken video of the "big reveal" because they were so pumped. 
Now they have their very own Ranger just like Papa Jeff. Watching both girls learn how to operate it (and almost run down Graham many, many times) led to an afternoon of laughing until we cried. I'm positive this is going to be a favorite for a long time to come.

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."