Monday, May 29, 2017

Summer Fun with Kelly Gau Studio

I received a free creation session to facilitate this post. My opinions are my own. 

Last week I visited Kelly Gau Studio in Albert Lea, MN and discovered what true love is. True love is holding a nail and giving your 4-year-old a hammer.

When the North Iowa Bloggers were invited to Kelly Gau Studio to try out an activity for her upcoming summer creative kids sessions, I was super excited to be able to take the boys. I'd never been to the studio (and actually she's now at a new location just a block away from the old one), but had heard my blogger friends talk about it many times, so I knew it would be a fun trip. When we walked in there were beautiful lights and paintings covering the ceiling, walls, and even the floor! The vibe in the space is super fun and relaxed.

While a lot of people know about Kelly and her painting classes, she set up a different activity us that night. We were going to do some nail art. I don't know if that's the technical artist name, but that's what I call it! This activity is one of ten that she'll have set up during her ten-week summer kids program. I wasn't sure how the nail art would go with a 4-year-old, but he was anxious to try, so we rolled with it. Spoiler alert: He loved it and only required minimal help!

We started by picking a paint color and an apron. This is no small task, but the boys settled on black and orange, and found a red and a green apron. I opted for Gator blue paint and skipped the apron, although there were plenty for everyone. Once I realized Monks wasn't going to need as much help as I thought, I realized I could make my own while we were at it!

Step one was to sand the wood blocks to create a smooth surface. The boys did a pretty good job on their own, though I did help Monkey finish his up and just give it a once-over. Bug was able to do his own for the most part.

Step two was to paint! Of course both the boys enjoyed this part, and were able to complete the task on their own while I did my own. When they were finished painting we took their wood blocks over to the hair dryer and then the boys washed their hands at the kid-height friendly sink.

Step 3. After the blocks were dry, we traced hearts onto the wood using a stencil, and then it was time to pound nails. Bug was pretty well off on his own. With a few pointers from Kelly, he was able to space the nails and pound them in like a pro. Then there was Monks. He let me do the first two nails (the top and the bottom of the heart), but he wanted to do the rest. First I started the nails for him and then let him pound away. Sometimes they were crooked and I'd pound them back out. Then, and this is where the true love comes in, he wanted to do it himself. You heard me folks, I held the nails and handed my baby a hammer. Obviously it was completely supervised and he doesn't hit very hard, but anyone who has ever done any home repair or building project knows that a slight miss can lead to a very sore thumb! He actually blew me away with his hand/eye coordination - he didn't miss once! He even did one nail completely on his own! I guess all those chores with dad on the farm are paying off!

Next up, step 4, was to weave the yarn around the nails to create a design. Again, Bug took off on doing his own thing, while Monkey waited (mostly) patiently for the color he wanted. Kelly had various yarn balls available, but Monks had a very specific design in mind and only wanted red. When it was his turn I tied his starter knot (which I actually had to do for Bug as well) and tried to let him do his thing. This actually proved a little difficult as he didn't quite understand the concept. I started him out by wrapping the first several layers around the outside of the heart to give him a base and tried to let him go again. Kelly stepped in to help a couple times when he struggled. The biggest issue he had with this part was keeping the yarn pulled tight. I appreciated having her there to guide when we got stuck.

Our first creations were a success! After posing for a group photo Bug told me he knew that we definitely needed to bring his sister in sometime because this was the kind of place she would love - she's very into art and creating new things. I think she'd love the dreamcatcher session that Kelly was telling us about! To sign up for the kids' sessions you can purchase a punchcard, which guarantees you a spot each week, but for people like me with a crazy summer schedule, you can also do a drop in option (although it is recommended that you call ahead). To check out Kelly Gau studio, the summer kids club, and her other great sessions like "Paint with a Princess" you can visit her website or check out her Facebook page! I know we'll definitely be back with our princess!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Will you be my bridesmaid?

You'll notice the red bottle - my princess,
as my pre-teen maid of honor, got cherry
limeade soda instead of wine #solidparenting
I truly believe that one of the best/worst changes in the last five years has been the introduction of Pinterest to our lives. I love Pinterest. It has helped me plan a huge chunk of my wedding, find new exercise tips, given me some of my favorite meals, and has helped me plan awesome activities for the kids. However, I am the queen of the "Pinterest fail." I am also just not super creative. So when it came time to ask my girls to be in my wedding, I knew that the "new" way to do it was with a fancy, creative, adorable invitation. Ring pops, puzzles, elaborate gift baskets... when I got married in 2007 we just asked people. I think I may have texted a couple. NOW, the pressure is on.

The lucky thing about the internet age and the Pinterest world, is that unlike me, many people are SUPER creative, and are selling their super creative goods on Etsy! So what does a self-proclaimed Pinterest Fail Queen do in a time like this? Go shopping! Crafts? No. Online shopping? I'll take home the gold medal. I was able to find these simple, yet chic labels and tags, lucked into a peach moscato at Hy-Vee that was IN MY WEDDING COLORS, and put together a fun way to ask my lovely group to be in our wedding, without getting paint on my clothes or hot glue in my hair, AND without breaking the bank (I don't know if you know this, but weddings are a little bit on the expensive side).

Moral of the story? I hereby give you official permission to a) not play TOO much into the crazy world of Pinterest when it comes to all of life's biggest moments, and b) let someone else be creative for you.

Friday, May 19, 2017

That 2nd Shift Life - Creatively Connecting With Your Spouse

A night at The Buffalo Tavern
Burlington after work
One of the things I cherish most about my relationship is our commitment to making time for each other. In the crazy day-to-day life that is work and kids and friends and family, it can be really easy to lose sight of your partner in the mix. You can easily become partners in a taxi cab service instead of partners in life who are connected and invested in each other as much as (or more than) the world around you. One of the things that can make that particularly difficult to manage, is when you have opposite schedules. I work a more traditional "first shift" job with schools, while Shon works a 2nd shift job. I am home to see my kids at the end of the school day, but Shon leaves shortly before they get out of school and isn't home again until after bedtime. It's not unheard of for the kids to go a couple weeks without any real time with him, depending on the schedule with their dad (but I'll save
step-parent bonding for another post).

So what do you do when from 7am until 11:30pm you're on opposite schedules, just in time to go to bed? Sometimes I whine about it, to be honest. It's not convenient or ideal most days. But it's our life and we make it work for us. Here are a few of the things that have worked best for us!

1. Finding a show to watch together. Right now we're watching The Game on Hulu, which consists of 20-25 minute episodes. I know, you're shocked, we're watching a show about football. Having a short sitcom we can watch together means we can sneak in an episode if we happen to have a lunch break together, or maybe catch one or two before I fall asleep for the night.

That one time I beat him at darts...
2. Naps! I've found that if I can catch a little nap after the kids go to bed, but before Shon gets home, I will occasionally have the energy (if he can get me to wake up again!) to stay up and talk or watch a movie once he gets home.

3. Bar games. I'm 30. I'm not about going out and drinking very often at this point (if at all, it seems like), but when Shon was working weekends it was not uncommon for us to plan a date night that didn't start until 11:30. We'd pick some music and, while I'm still completely terrible at it, I found that I really enjoy
playing darts! I even got my own pink set for Christmas last year.

4. We protect our weekends. If you've ever read my blog, you know that a free weekend is hard to come by, but we've made it a priority to try and protect at least a chunk of "us" time on the weekend as much as possible - usually Sundays. Sometimes that means taking the kids to the park and sometimes that means spending the day in bed with Pizza Hut Cajun fries and binge watching Netflix. It's not always easy to carve out the time, especially when it seems like there is always something coming up or going on, but we make it work.

5. Lunch dates. On days I work from home or nearby we can sometimes sneak in a date at Subway or Whoop-ti-doo's (stay tuned for that blog post because the Big Boy panini is ah-may-zing). It's not super fancy, but while some people do dinner dates, we just happen to get lunch. We work with what's in our schedule.

I know a lot of my friends are in similar situations. I'd love to hear what other ideas you've come up with!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Spring Break in Estes: A Mountain Proposal

We didn't have a long trip planned in Estes, so we wanted to fit in as many sights and experiences as possible. On day two we planned a trip into Rocky Mountain National Park before our dinner at the historic (haunted?) Stanley Hotel. Across the road from Della Terra is the Rocky Mountain Gateway gift shop and Trailhead Restaurant where we picked up gifts for the kids and breakfast before driving into RMNP. We drove around, taking random lefts and rights, taking in the views and catching photos. Eventually, since it was March, we ran out of road. We were around "Many Parks Curve" when we found a place to park and got out to walk along the road for a while. I even decided it would be a good idea to hike off the road and up the side of a mountain for a little ways. The weather was beautiful, but I was definitely not dressed for hiking in my Rampage sweatpants, sweatshirt, and KMart "Ugg" style boots. It wasn't long before my pant legs and boots were water-soaked.

We went back to the car, went about 100 yards to another lookout, parked, and followed a boardwalk around the curve to take in more views. We stood on the boardwalk, agreeing that Long's Peak was one of our favorite views of the trip. After establishing that I was getting cold (remember, mountain wind and wet clothes), Shon stopped me as I turned around, got down on one knee, and asked me to be his wife. He told me later that he had a big speech plan, but when the moment came all he could think was that he just wanted to hurry up and ask me so I could say yes. I confessed later that the first thought in my head *might* have been, "Do not drop that ring over the side of the mountain." After the obvious answer of yes, we asked another group to take our picture. Because the world is tiny like that, and the world of Iowa is even smaller, it turned out that the woman who took our picture had previously recognized Shon's Des Moines county plates in the parking area - she was from Mount Pleasant, just down the road! Remember those Rampage sweats that were not ideal for hiking? Let me tell you, if I had to do it over again, and I knew I was going to be getting engaged, I would DEFINITELY choose a different outfit! Although... Sweats and a messy ponytail and he still wants to marry me? That's probably a good sign. ;)

Our RMNP trip was cut a bit short - there's no cell reception in the park, and clearly at that point my priority was sharing our exciting news with everyone I knew. After calling the kids and asking their permission to marry Shon, and messaging all our closest friends, we went back to our suite to get ready for dinner.

If you've never experienced dinner at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, I would definitely recommend a visit. While a bit pricy, the food was excellent, and the atmosphere was what I was looking for in a "nice" restaurant - not too stuffy, but more upscale than we would typically go to at home. It was worthy of dressing up. My only complaint, if you can call it that, was that other people didn't necessarily feel the same way. So while I was looking forward to a dinner where I could wear my new dress (as were most other patrons), others felt as though jeans were appropriate. Not that others' clothes should affect my evening, but it did detract a little bit from the ambiance I was hoping for. The service was great, and we had our pick of local game meat and craft beers to choose from. It was the perfect way to celebrate our big day. It was also the perfect way to get another picture of our engagement day so I could ditch the sweats and ponytail!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Spring Break in Estes Park: Day 1

Over spring break, after a whirlwind visit to Kansas City to see Legoland and Sea Life with the kids, Shon and I made the 11 hour drive out to Estes Park. At first we were going to spend the night in Nebraska, but since late nights are sort of Shon's thing (#2ndShiftLife), we ended up driving straight through and getting a last minute room at the Quality Inn. Free wifi, free breakfast, and clean room with a mountain view? Yes please. The lovely woman at the desk even gave us a discount for it being so late.

We spent day one driving around Estes getting the lay of the land and visiting all the little shops, including, obviously every single one of their Christmas stores. I would love to hear from anyone who knows why there are 57 Christmas stores in Estes Park, but I'll save that research for another story. We stopped to visit the exact spot where my mom and step-dad got married, sending them a quick photo, and of course, Shon listening patiently as I replayed the events of that day 11 crazy years ago (down to finding the Safeway where mom got her flowers and posing on the rock where they took their wedding photo).

For lunch we ate a ridiculous amount of delicious food at Ed's Cantina and Grill - we had queso with ground bison, and I had a bison taco, a lamb taco, and a chicken and avocado taco. All three were excellent, but my favorite was the chicken. Someday I'm going back to try the chimichanga. Unfortunately the chimi is a new discovery for me, and I had no idea about the amazingness I was missing out on.

After a full day of shopping, Christmas, and old school rock candy, we were able to check into our actual hotel, the Della Terra Mountain Chateau. A destination wedding location, Della Terra is home to several very private suites with private balconies and hot tubs. And the bathroom. Oh my goodness, the bathroom.  Someday when I win the lottery and we build our dream home, it will have this bathroom.The trick is, if you go in the off season, you get the rooms for half the price of what you would pay during tourist season. We borrowed a movie from the theater room, ordered room service, and I'll be honest, I crashed early. Altitude plus a full day of walking plus a full stomach? I didn't stand a chance.

Stay tuned, it gets better!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Celebrating My Athletes: Easy ways to make an event feel special

Hyvee meatloaf pans, Gatorade, beef jerky,
 Snickers, protein bars, and chapstick
This spring I've been inspired by my lovely friend Lori, who always has clever ways to celebrate her children. So for the big events in my athletes' lives, I've been doing a little celebrating, myself.

In the last few weeks, the princess had her state meet a(qualifying all three events to USTA national in June!), we had our first (and second) Rampage wins for Shon and Bug (my little ball-boy), and Bug had his first baseball game! It's been busy in our house, as you can tell, but making these events special was important to me. Of course you'll notice that the Monkey was sort of left out, but don't worry, he got his own treats on the side so he didn't feel left out at all.

I wanted to take a few minutes to post some pictures of the "creative" (I don't know if I have a creative bone in my body, but I tried) gifts I came up with. If you're ever in the mood to make the people in your life feel special before a big event, I completely recommend checking these out! Everything pictured came from the local grocery store or from Dollar Tree, and the kids (and Shon) were beyond excited for their treats! Don't worry, not all of the ideas included candy. For state week I just chose fun items, and of course on the final day she received flowers. For the football game and the baseball game, I tried to think of things that would fuel their bodies or they would enjoy on the sidelines. You'll notice that hydration and protein were key themes.

From L to R: Dollar store pot, soil, seeds; clearance Easter candy; king size Starbursts

From L to R: Dollar store water glass; dollar store emoji notepads; dollar store erasers and a Milky Way

Beef jerky, Twizzlers, Sunflower seeds, Body Armor 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A new season, a new gym mom

Life is strange. There are a lot of curve balls that you just never see coming - appropriate since tonight was the start of Bug's baseball season. I've started more than one new chapter in my life since I last sat down to write on my blog, and with new chapters you'll see a new me, and new types of posts! What kind of new posts will you be seeing as summer approaches? Well, you'll still see gym mom posts, of course - we've still got tumbling (though the world of power tumbling is a bit different than the gymnastics life I miss so terribly), baseball, and Rampage football of course, but we're adding in youth football later this summer! You'll also see some new thoughts on blended families, wedding planning, and I've headed back to school!

Stay tuned!