Adventures

Two-Year-Olds and Passport Photos

A while ago we went to get our daughters’ passports. The long, harsh South Dakota winter had us fantasizing about a tropical vacation for next year so we thought we should get the passports done. Wrangling two little ones in the passport office while laying out all the proper documentation was a little daunting, but my husband and I got through it.

A few weeks later, my oldest daughter’s perfect passport arrived in the mail, featuring a Miss America-style smile and adorable hair. The next day, a letter from the United States Department of Homeland Security addressed to my two-year-old arrived. It informed her the photo taken of her by the passport office could not be accepted because her hair was in her eyes. Uf, really?

Rather than take her back in to have a professional photo done since that didn’t work well the first time, I decided to do it myself. My husband helped. We bribed her with candy. There were tears, threats, and groans of dismay. We nearly threw in the towel. Does a two-year-old really need to go to Cabo?

There is a lot of advice on the Internet about taking a toddler’s passport photo, and, trust me, I gave it my all. We sent in the photo and have yet to see if it has been accepted. Mind you, she had also fallen on the playground at daycare in the weeks prior to the photo, so has a lovely scrape under her eye for her passport photo. I couldn’t bear to just delete all the bloopers off my phone so here they are for you, dear reader.

Adventures

All 50 by 40: Wisconsin

My quest to visit all 50 states before I turn 40 is going well. I have almost exactly four years left to visit just three more states. Over Memorial Day weekend, my husband, daughters, and I packed up the car and headed to La Crosse, Wisconsin.

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I have lived my entire life in the Midwest, but have never made it to Wisconsin. Obviously Wisconsin Dells is a top destination for families because of its many waterparks, but our girls are still pretty small for large-scale waterparks. Also, having only taken four days off we wanted to visit Wisconsin without making the drive even longer.

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The Children’s Museum of La Crosse was a huge hit with our daughters.

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Grandad Bluff Park was a lovely morning hike that provided a beautiful view.

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Of course there was cheese shopping. And cheese eating.

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My husband’s friend took us on a pontoon ride down the river.

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We spent the rest of the time wandering around La Crosse enjoying (finally) some warmer weather after surviving yet another South Dakota blizzard on May 22. (Yes, ridiculous.)

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The painted herons in front of our hotel were fun to walk through. We have similar painted bison in our town.

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We stayed at the downtown Radisson in La Crosse, which was great and within walking distance of many shops, restaurants, and sights to see. Wisconsin was a fun, relaxing trip, and one we’ll probably do again.

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I only have three states left and I would love to hear your suggestions for places to go and things to see in these three.

The Updated List

Alaska (Planned for this summer!)

Michigan (I have been to airports)

West Virginia

Adventures

I’m Not Ready for This

I’m not ready for this. I have that thought often as I navigate this thing called parenthood. It was front and center when I found out I had to be induced two weeks early with my first baby, and when I went back to work after my youngest was born.

I’m not ready for this. The thought crept in again a few days ago at my daughter’s kindergarten screening.

I’m not ready for this. My aunt texted it to me a week before my cousin graduated high school.

I’m not ready for this. A friend said it recently before her oldest moved away for a new job.

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Photo by Heritage Photography

As parents are we ever really ready as the next milestone comes our way? Can we love someone as much as we love them and ever feel like we have done enough? Did we have enough time to prepare them, teach them, and let them know how loved they are?

I’m not ready for this. I know that will be my state of mind when I drop my daughter off for kindergarten in a few short months. Like with all milestones, all I can do is hope and pray that everything I have done up until that point is the best I could have possibly done.

I’m not ready for this. When we doubt ourselves as parents, most of the time what we have done has been enough. We have prepared our children by loving them, and by sending them out into the world with a supportive home to return to, be it after the first day of kindergarten or on break after the first semester of college.

With every new step, when our internal voices are telling us I’m not ready for this, we might not be ready, but they are.

Adventures

Two!

The baby of the family turned two in late April and we celebrated this past weekend with a barnyard-themed party at a nearby petting zoo.

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It was a chilly day, but that didn’t stop a lot of friends and family members from joining us to celebrate the girl.

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My mom made the most adorable farm animal cupcakes.

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The kids all had a blast feeding sheep, goats, and calves and running around to their hearts’ content.

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I took a moment to enjoy a pig cupcake. The other white meat?

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Now that she’s two, our youngest is really developing her own personality and talking much more. She tends to be quite serious at times, and likes a little alone time once in a while, especially when she’s tired. She is definitely more timid than her sister, but is a natural caretaker. When she lets her silly side show, we all roar with laughter.

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My two-year-old is getting pretty good at her numbers and colors. She loves Minnie Mouse, books, puppies, and anything purple.

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I absolutely love having two daughters and watching their bond as sisters grow.

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The baby chicks and ducks got a big smile from the girl.

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Happy birthday to our dear baby girl. We love celebrating you. E-I-E-I-O.

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Adventures

Eat Your Vegetables and Stop Apologizing So Much

It was nearly 10 p.m. one night a couple of weeks ago when I realized I hadn’t eaten one serving of fruits or vegetables that day. I had grabbed fast food on the go to a work meeting. I then got home late after attending a meeting for a volunteer group, and stood in the kitchen ravenously devouring the rest of the macaroni and cheese my husband had made for our daughters.

I had trouble getting to sleep that night. I felt lousy. I felt rushed. I felt like I hadn’t done a good job at anything that day despite giving it my best shot. I felt like I owed everyone an apology.

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Photo by Tayhart Photography

Then around midnight, a voice of clarity crept into my restless brain. It said: What you need to do is eat more vegetables and stop apologizing so much. Wow, voice of clarity (we’ll call her Lucille), well-said.

Eating more vegetables is pretty straightforward, but what about the apologizing? I apologize a lot. Even if I don’t say the apology out-loud, I often have thoughts like: “Did I offend that person? Was that too harsh? Should I have done that differently?” Most of the women I know do the same. Why do we feel this need to apologize constantly?

I even see it in my four-year-old, who often apologizes for things that truly do not warrant an apology (dropping a toy, mispronouncing a word, writing a letter the wrong way), and I can’t help but wonder where she got that? From watching me? You won’t catch most guys apologizing incessantly for the minutia of the day.

When I look at my young daughters and all the other amazing women in my life, I am often overcome by just how much I want for them. Sometimes, though, the message is simple: Take care of yourself and stop apologizing for everything. There’s a time and a place for a sincere apology, but chances are, others are not criticizing your actions as harshly as you are. That’s Lucille talking again.

Adventures

Because Someday She’ll Leave for College

I took this picture of my youngest daughter the day after she was born. It was one of those lulls in visitors at the hospital and my husband had stepped out to spend some time with our oldest daughter. I just sat there with her by myself looking at this perfect new baby, foggy from the post-Cesarean pain meds, but so happy and in love. I just wanted to soak in every moment, already so aware of how fleeting these moments are.

She is now almost two years old and my oldest will start kindergarten this year. I’m constantly looking for ways to be more present and enjoy every moment. If you have been following A HOUSE WITH CHARACTER, you’ll notice I don’t post as much as I used to. I have started really limiting my time spent on social media. I love connecting in those ways and I’ll keep blogging at least a few times a month, but right now the connections I have with my girls are most important to me.

I often struggle as I strive to be a more present and mindful parent. I don’t want to be distracted by my phone, the endless laundry, or whatever work stress is on my mind, but those issues inevitably arise. I don’t want to be the mom who loses her cool when her toddler spills cereal on the floor for the umpteenth time that day, or my four-year-old is whining because I won’t give her candy.

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I am still a big proponent of parents making time for kid-free experiences like travel, date nights, and outings with friends, but I try to schedule that time thoughtfully. Our travel plans include our kids more often than before and we are loving that. (Ask me again when we are half-way through our flight to Alaska in July with a two-year-old and a four-year-old.)

I have also found that if I make a little more time for self-care, whether I’m stopping at the gym to run a couple of miles before I pick the girls up from daycare, or making some time to read during that small window of time when they are asleep and I am not yet, I an actually a more present, less stressed version of myself.

The quality moments with my two daughters are definitely not extravagant. Some of my most enriching moments with them involve reading a book together or playing “Baby,” a silly game we made up where I sit on the floor and hold out a blanket and the girls run to me. I wrap them in the blanket and they shout “Baby!” Don’t tell the people at Parker Brothers or they’ll surely steal that million-dollar idea.

At the end of the day what I remind myself when I feel like I can’t do it all is that they won’t always need me this much. Someday there will be no cereal on the floor, no diapers to change, no 5:30 a.m. wake-up calls on Saturdays, and no sleepless nights. Someday they’ll go off to college and I’ll be so grateful for every single moment of parenting small children through the good, the bad, and the sticky.

Adventures

I Know I Should Stop Comparing, but Her Curtain Rods Are So Much Nicer Than Mine

Purusing Instagram, Facebook, and lifestyle blogs can be a fun way to decompress, get decorating ideas, and find inspiration. It can also be a soul-sucking rabbit hole leading to excessive comparison and feelings of inadequacy. Case in point: A couple of nights ago, while perusing a couple of lifestyle blogs I like to follow, I found myself comparing my living room curtain rods to the beautiful ones in that woman’s post.

Yes, my curtains rods. That’s what it has come to, ladies and gentlemen. I was just about to launch an intense search for new curtain rods, tie-backs, and valances, thus ordering $100+ of stuff I really do not need, when sanity began to regain hold of me.

Psychiatrist, author, and public speaker Marcia Sirota wrote: “Choosing not to compare ourselves to others doesn’t mean that we should be complacent. It’s appropriate to be always learning, growing and changing, but we’ll be more motivated to change when we already feel good about ourselves.”

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Photo by Tayhart Photography

The truth is, my happiness is not driven by the same factors as those that drive the happiness of the woman with the perfect curtain rods. Sure, we probably have something in common. We want to be good mothers, and we enjoy connecting with others through blogging, but that could be where it ends. I have never met her. I don’t know her deepest secrets, just that her curtain rods are cool and she loves shiplap. We all live different lives, have different stressors, different sources of joy.

The curtain rod comparison didn’t fill me with despair or make me genuinely feel horrible about myself, but it did prompt me to ask myself some questions. Will spending $100 on new curtain rods fulfill me and bring me true joy? No.

Then what will? Spending a Saturday afternoon playing with my daughters. Reading a good book. Talking with my husband on the couch after the girls have fallen asleep. Beating my personal record for running two miles, which by the way, is not fast by any standard but mine.

Speaking of running, when I run on the treadmill at the gym after work, I’m not worried about how fast or slow the person on the treadmill next to me is. I’m just trying to jam out to some White Zombie and not fall off the track. That’s life.

I have been guilty of posting false perfection, too, and my goal moving forward will be to be more self-aware of that tendency most of us share. When I post something on the Intranet, I want to make sure I am doing so for the right reasons.

Sharing a piece of our lives, connecting with others, even offering nutrition, fashion, or decorating ideas are all worthy reasons of being active on social media. It’s OK to be proud of something once in a while, or to show off a cute new puppy, outfit ideas, or flowers from a loved one. When we are reading others’ blog posts and social media content, let’s take it with a grain of salt and just be happy for them. Let’s find joy where we can, help others feel good, and try not to fall off the track.