Friday, August 29, 2014

State Fair Treats 2014

Yes, I dread the end of summer, but I love the Minnesota State Fair.
It is the bright spot at the end of my August.

This year, we got to go twice!

We woke up early for our first day.

We loaded up the Mundo with two backpack carriers, left the stroller at home, and biked to the Fair together.  It was a perfect morning for biking.  I love watching the priceless looks that T receives from onlookers as he rides by with all four kids on the bike.   The morning sun was shining and there was a cool breeze as we parked our bikes in the free bike corral.  It was a perfect day to be at the Fair!  Our three big kids marched in together holding hands.  Watching them, I was reminded that we have hit a stride as a family this summer.  I have loved having everyone home these past three months.  Most of all, I really feel that the kids have enjoyed and thrived with each other.  This was such a perfect picture crystalizing their relationships together.

We started at Little Farm Hands, because that is our kids' unanimous favorite (we had promised them rides later in the week when MoMo and Papa were along).  We hit two farming milestones this year.  J-Bear was big enough to farm herself (walking has its perks!), and G-Bear was too tall to ride the tractor.  Thank goodness that G-Bear is such a good sport.  She helped J-Bear by pushing her tractor instead.

Next on the list were the heavily anticipated Pronto Pups (and a turkey sandwich for E-Bear).  T treated the kids to a root beer. A few milks at the milk stand and we were all in heaven.

We were sure to try out the tractors in the tractor yards, visit the cows, color pictures at the Moo Booth, see the Big Pig and the piglets, read a few books in the Alphabet forest and watch the parade.  Our favorite new find was the sand, water and nature kids' playground outside the EcoExperience building.  This natural playspace was full of fun ideas for me and hours of fun for our kids.

 At the end of our first day, we headed home around dinner time, piled on our bikes with sore legs but full of happy memories.  E-Bear asked me if my legs hurt from walking, and I replied, "yes, but I am happy to have sore legs in exchange for such a fun day with our family."  All the kids had been such troopers on such a long day.  J-Bear and Buddy Bear had walked or been carried on our backs all day with no nap, and G-Bear and E-Bear walked the whole Fair day.  I was impressed.

Forty-eight hours later, we braved driving rain to return to the Fair for a night of rides and games with MoMo, Papa and Uncle C.  We would not be deterred by rain!  Between rain storms, we were able to fit in a ton of rides and fun.  We made the most of a stormy night!

G-Bear on the Bumper Boats
 The Bumper Boats were a huge hit.  
E-Bear on the Bumper Boats
 Buddy Bear's smiles said it all.

J-Bear was perfectly content to hang with her dad and watch the excitement.  There are so many fun sights and sounds at the Kidway!

Each of the kids got to choose three rides, a gift from Papa and MoMo.  They chose the bumper boats, motorcycles, a roller coaster, and soaring gliders.  I got to ride the airplanes with Buddy Bear.  We had so much fun!

After they had chosen all their rides, Papa offered to take all the kids on the Ferris Wheel.  What a treat!  They got to see the Fair from the highest point at the Kidway.  

T and I are amazed each year by how enthusiastic, delighted and grateful our kids are when MoMo and Papa treat them to the rides at the Kidway.  We know these moments are fleeting and won't last forever, so we are soaking up the memories.  

We grabbed a milkshake at the cow barn before we headed home for the night, this time on the bus.  I said I liked biking to the Fair the best.  The kids liked riding the bus.  Good thing we went twice.  

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dinner on the porch to celebrate Boards

T passed his Boards!

Thank you, Jesus.

Such a monumental occasion merits a night out to celebrate.
Unless you find out the news at 5:30pm on your way home with four tired kids 
and no babysitter is available.  

In that case, you go to plan B: put tired kids to bed early and get Indian take-out.
Hang a few porch lights, light a few candles, buy a few Izzes,
spring for the palak paneer AND the tandoori chicken,
and you have a veritable feast fit for ANY super special occasion.

After all, we've hoped for and looked forward to this day for years.
What a wonderful way to celebrate.
Congratulations, T.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Crabby Pants

I am the crabby pants in our house right now.  

I hate the end of summer.

Did I mention that I hate the end of summer?

I really do. 

But, as I had to remind one of our children tonight, there are many things in life that we won't enjoy, things that wouldn't be our choice if it were up to us to choose, and we have to choose to be cheerful anyway.

So there you have it, Queen B.  Time to buck up and be cheerful.  
Summer is ending whether I choose to be cheerful or not.

After lying awake the other night worrying about the start of school,
I reassured myself with this post by a friend, and woke up the next day with a plan.

In the first morning hours, we tried on uniforms, ordered all school supplies on Amazon (hallelujah, free shipping!), stopped by school to drop off early registration forms (no long lines for us on registration night!), and went to the store to buy two remaining pairs of pants for the school wardrobes.  Then, I treated the kids to Chick-fil-a as a reward for all our hard work and spent the rest of the day riding bikes and playing in the backyard.

See, it doesn't help to be crabby.

I am also preparing to teach at a nearby university this fall.  I have never been good at multitasking logistics planning for me and the kids.  But, procrastination, like being crabby, won't help.  

Even so, there is still so much to do in our last week or so of summer vacation: 
a trip to the cabin,
a visit to the State Fair,
what else can we fit in?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Relaxing August Days

We are recharging after the fun adventures of July.

Sweet peas and green onions from our garden

Learning time has been put on hold.  Errands can wait.  
We are home together almost everyday of the week.

I have been able to say 'yes!' to requests for Duplos and Play Mobile, dress up and Legos.
No rushing, no hustling.  The schedules will come with demands in due time.

An afternoon of Duplo wands and dress up.

The sandbox is open for business.  Roman ruins and castles rule the day.

When our friends come over, our backyard is full.  We had nine kids, ages 10 and under, were playing Capture the Flag in our yard this morning.  What a sweet summer surprise!

We have plenty of walks across the street the the University Quad.  
Sometimes Papa and GG come to join us.  

Four generations on the Quad
Dinner on the porch is a luxury.  Our kids are getting good at shucking corn on the back steps.

And after dinner, popsicles are a perfect indulgence.  These three put our Zoku popsicle maker to good use.  We buy Bolthouse fruit smoothie at the grocery store and pour it into our Zoku.  Let it be known that the green smoothie looks weird, but it tastes oh so good.




Thank you, Lord, for these sweet August days.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Horse Riding in Hilton Head

"Please, mommy, can I do a horsey ride, PLEASE??"
Buddy Bear exclaimed as we rode our bikes past the horse stables.

Isn't it wonderful to be able to say 'yes' to such a sweet request?

The stables at Sea Pines in Hilton Head are lovely.  There are bores trail rides and riding lessons for guests 7 and up, and there is a petting zoo and pony rides for younger children.  Buddy Bear couldn't believe it when I told him he could ride a pony.

"I get to ride a PONY!  G-Bear, E-Bear, we get to go on a  PONY ride!"

Born ready for the pony ride...

Fortunately for us, there were no bucking broncos at this stable, only gentle, reliable ponies.
Each of the kids got two laps around the petting zoo.

Next year, G-Bear will be old enough for a trail ride.
This year, the pony was still perfect for her.

Our little big man Buddy Bear was so pleased.
He waited so patiently for his turn and smiled the whole ride.
What a blessing to be able to say yes to such an eager request.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hilton Head Memories 2014

We have returned from a wonderful week in Hilton Head with T's family.

This annual opportunity to gather together is a blessing beyond measure.

This year, as in years past, we stayed in the Sea Pines Resort community.   

As far as Hilton Head vacation options, Sea Pines is truly a gorgeous, family friendly "resort" with amazing customer service and a wide spectrum of lodging accommodations.  For the past two years, we have rented a large house, large enough to sleep all 21 vacationing family members.  However, there are also hotel options, condominiums and townhouses, with everything from beach front views to rustic wooded atmospheres.  Sea Pines encompasses two "town" business districts, South Beach and Harbor Town, both of which include restaurants, playgrounds and quaint shops.  There is also a gorgeous beach and Beach Club patio bar and restaurant, as well as a golf club and several golf courses.  Automobiles are allowed into the resort compound, but the favored modes of transportation are the red trollies or, of course, bicycles.  Bicycles are a favorite throughout Hilton Head Island, but especially at Sea Pines.  Our bike rentals were dropped off and picked up right at the front door of our rental house.

The first time we visited Hilton Head as a family was when we lived in North Carolina.
Then, we had two kiddos in a bike carriage and one kiddie seat behind me on the bike.
This year, I was amazed to look at our crew!

Thanks to all our bike riding and practice this summer, G-Bear and E-Bear were able to rent and ride their own bikes!  

Buddy Bear and J-Bear each had a peanut seat behind me and T.  

With this experienced crew, we made quick work of the trails!

We also spent plenty of time at the beach.  

The weather was hot and the water was warm.  The beach calls to all of our kids.  G-Bear loves to build in the sand,

E-Bear loved to ride the waves with mom and *especially* dad,

Buddy Bear loved the boogie board

and digging with his sister.

Speaking of J-Bear, she loved the beach too.  

Whether walking with Nana in the waves for the first time, 
sitting with her cousin O in the umbrella tent, 
or digging with her siblings in the sand, 
J-Bear was all for it.

When we got tired at the beach, we walked back to the house to relax at the pool.
Poolside, there was plenty of Jedi jousting 

and squirt gun fighting.

I was amazed by how well all the cousins were swimming this year.  Among our own crew, G-Bear and E-Bear were swimming independently like fish the whole week.  Even Buddy Bear was comfy as he could be in his froggy floatie.  J-Bear preferred the pool deck :)

Before dinner, we often made time for a bike ride to the playground for a playdate.

The playground in Harbor Town is amazing.  
The boys loved the seesaw and the treehouse is fantastic.

Before dinner, we might get to enjoy a little pre-meal entertainment.

Our crew performing "Five little monkeys sitting in a tree" on stage before dinner at South Beach.
 The cousins even did a talent show together one afternoon, complete with dramatic plots and dances.

One of our favorite outings of the trip was a bike ride to Harbor Town to get a treat. 
T and the boys chose to get root beers and G-Bear chose an awesome popsicle.  
The boys finished their root beers over the next 3 days.

 The days were long, filled with treats from Nana and the cousins.
We were often reminded, however, that seemingly little moments and connections can be the most meaningful.  I asked the kids to share their favorite part of the day one night as we were brushing our teeth.  G-Bear replied, "My favorite part of today was sitting next to Mommy on the trolly."  Wow, let me tell you, it was amazing to make the list of favorites given the awesome day we had enjoyed.  My eyes were misty.

Let it not go unwritten that Nana and Aunt A are a huge reason that the trip was so special.  They both put countless hours of energy and organization into making the week flow smoothly and enjoyable for all.  However, they certainly were not alone. T's family is one that is accustomed and delighted to pitch in together to create a fun time.  Hopefully, the fun times and memories are a foundation for joy-filled, loving relationships, especially between these cousins.

Nana, cousins, 
we love you.

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Grocery Bag

I have a confession to make.  I have not done much meal planning this summer.  Spontaneous schedules, afternoon bike rides and sunny days have gotten the best of me.  I love summer, and this summer I have had very little interest in spending lots of time in the kitchen (or even planning meals, for that matter.)  As a result, most of our meals have been simple favorites or outings with family and friends.  Along the way, however, I have found these summer favorites.  Each recipe is ready with fresh, summer ingredients in 30 minutes or less.

Day One
Pasta with fresh tomato sauce from Martha Stewart Living
with cranberry romaine salad and grapes
I pureed the sauce because my kids are skeptical of diced tomatoes, 
and we used penne pasta.  The meal got rave reviews.  Top with capers, chopped basil and parmesan for an extra treat!
Photo and recipe from

Day Two
Fresh mozzarella and tomato sandwiches with homemade pesto,
a fresh fruit and veggie
We've all been there:  returning home exhausted from summer adventures to find a basil plant that is ready to burst.  Or, perhaps I just can't fire up the kitchen or we are in need of an easy picnic solution.  This meal fits the bill.  I can send the kids to pick basil, and by the time they are back I have sliced the mozzarella and tomato.  A few whirs in the food processor and our pesto is ready.  Any favorite bread will do; lately we have enjoyed pretzel rolls.  Here is my favorite pesto concoction:

Happily Ever Johnson Pesto:
2 cups fresh basil
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 fresh parmesan
1/4 cup olive oil
Squeeze of a 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients to a food processor and process using the pulse feature to desired consistency.

Day Three
Thai Larb in lettuce wraps with quinoa
If you have had one too many burgers, but there is still ground beef in your summer fridge, then this recipe is for you.  You can use any ground meat with delicious results.  Brown the meat, toss with the sauce and serve with quinoa in lettuce wraps.  My kids love these "Thai Tacos."

Day Four
Saag Paneer from Indian Cooking Unfolded
with basmati rice, pineapple and sweet corn
We tried this as a new tofu recipe and loved it.  I puree the sauce ingredients in a food processor for simplicity, spend a few minutes over the stove and the kids devour every bite.

Day Five
Trader Joe's chicken apple sausages wrapped in crescent rolls
with a favorite fruit and veggie
Are you sensing a theme to our summer meals?  This one is perfect for a late night dinner emergency when everyone is hungry and ready for bed, or for an mobile evening dinner main dish.  Wrap the sausages in the crescent rolls and cook according to the crescent roll package instructions.  

It takes creativity, fortitude and a quick prayer now and then to put dinner together during these special summer months.  More and more, I appreciate it when my children pray "give us this day our daily bread" during our Lord's Prayer, because I know I need the grace to make it happen!

Blessings on your kitchen.