Monday, December 12, 2016

Wisconsin Dell's

Last year, our children decided to put their Christmas money together and use it for something that would be fun for the whole family. Their first idea was to install a DVD player in our minivan. Well, after a few phone calls, we discovered that the cost would be more than $2,000, much more than their combined Christmas money, even if Juan & I matched their contribution. And, the kids agreed that having a DVD player in the van wasn't worth that much anyway.

The next idea was to stay at Grand Bear Lodge in Utica, IL. Some friends had invited us to stay with them in the spring, and we all had a great time. Well, their money would get us 1 night in a regular hotel room, with 1 day at the indoor water park. With our friends, we had stayed in a vacation villa, and enjoyed the water park and adventure center, so the comparison wasn't good enough for the kids.

Papi and I were proud (and a bit surprised) at the kids' desire to wait for the right opportunity to spend their money. There were a few times throughout the year that one or another would consider pulling their portion for a more immediate purchase, but they ended up being patient and waiting.

This fall, I saw a post in one of the local home school groups on FB that someone had a timeshare at Wisconsin Dell's to rent out. The cost was just less than our children's saved Christmas money. So, first Papi checked to see if he could get the time off work. Once his time off was confirmed, we checked, and the timeshare was still available. So, then we talked with the kids. They all agreed that a 2 bedroom, 2 bath, apartment, with a kitchen and living room, plus 3 indoor water parks, for 4 days/3 nights was definitely worth their Christmas money. So, nearly a full year after they received these gifts of money, we enjoyed a wonderful family vacation.

Of course, there were a few hiccups along the way, just to make things interesting. JL got pink eye the weekend before our trip. Took her in to the pediatrician Monday morning while Papi packed the van, and the doctor said she not only had double pink eye (an uncommon, though not concerning version of it, at that) but she also had a double ear infection. So, our trip was delayed a bit for her appointment and while we waited for her medications. (The doctor did say she was free to go swimming.) While JL got better throughout our trip, JA got sick. She first got the ear infection, and the day we headed home, got the pink eye, too.

Another funny story is how we set off the smoke alarm while making dinner. I deglazed a pan with broth, and the steam that rose up set off the alarm. The front desk called to see if we were okay, and while Papi talked to them and followed their instructions (turn on stove vent, open all windows) I debated evacuating the kids and checked to see if the alarm was going off in the hallway. I didn't know at first that the steam caused the alarm to go off because it wasn't an immediate reaction. The alarm was only going off in our little apartment, and no one was evacuating. After a few minutes the alarm stopped and all was well.

The first day we went to both nearby water parks (less than a 10 minute walk, indoors the whole time) in the morning and again in the evening, with lunch, naps, and dinner in between. During nap time, JT and Papi played Bingo in the lobby, and JT won a gift card for the arcade, which he shared with the family. One water park has a wave pool and a young child area. The other has water slides, a lazy river, a small young child area, and a hot tub.

All children under 48"were required to wear a life jacket at all times. JT chose to wear one in the wave pool, but not in the shallow areas, since he is right at 48". :)

The second day, we went to the 3rd water park, which we could access via a free shuttle service. It was about a 10 minute drive. We made sure to bring a change of clothes, because the temperature was about 20, and that's a bit cold for being outside after swimming. Even so, it was after this that JA's ears began to hurt. :(

After swimming, waiting for the shuttle to bring us back.
Papi took JT and JMC out walking each afternoon, waiting for JL to fall alseep. If she's still awake, she doesn't let JMC take a nap. They were so worn out after a couple hours' of swimming each morning, that they both napped each day we were there (JA and Mami took naps, too!)

We didn't play this game, but were impressed with the size of it. We did see another family play it several times, and they never won.

The evening that JA was sick, JT and I went swimming on our own, and Papi stayed back with JA, JMC, & JL watching a movie.  JT took me on a double tube water slide, and I introduced him to the hot tub. After I rested for a bit, we went on the water slide again, and then back to the hot tub. Before we knew it, we'd been there at the park for an hour! 
The last morning, the kids decided to use their leftover Christmas money to buy souvenirs and play some more at the arcade. It was cute watching them each pick out a souvenir.

This is a video game that involves shooting giant spiders. 

JA made quite a few baskets!

Baby-wearing at it's finest. :)

Car is loaded up, we're all checked out, and ready to drive home after a quick stop at a local restaurant.

We didn't go here, but it was right next to where we stayed, and made us think of one of our nieces. 

We did stop here before leaving the Dell's. Everything here is plant-based (vegan), so we enjoyed key lime and chocolate espresso "cheese" cakes, and Papi had a banana split. We also had hummus, and milk steamers. Everything was delicious, and the people were very friendly. This is the only time we ate out while in Wisconsin, and it was definitely worth it.

JA turns 12!

At breakfast, she reminded me that in a year she'll be 13, and only 2 years later she'll be 15!

This year, JA had a complete menu planned for the day, and it wasn't until the night before that she had any ideas of activities, her thoughts had been centered on the yummy food she wanted. :) So, we had birthday pancakes, atole de elote, Red Robin for lunch, shrimp scampi for dinner, and pumpkin pie for dessert. For fun, we went to a local nature preserve, and Grandma, JA, and I went for pedicures. All in all, a great day!

Saturday, December 10, 2016


This fall, JT began learning to play the viola through the String Project at our local university. For 10 weeks, he met each week with the whole orchestra (all beginners in 3rd or 4th grades) and also in a small group of just viola students. The classes are led by a university professor and university students studied to become music teachers. Last night, they had their first concert. Here are a few of their songs:

Swim Team

(Originally written September, 2016. Update below.)
This summer, the boys participated in swim team for the first time. JMC was invited to join the team by his swimming teacher, and JT asked to join the team with his brother. At the beginning of the summer, they had each had 2 semesters of lessons, and though comfortable in the water, neither one could actually swim.

By the end of the first week, JT could swim the backstroke an entire length of the pool (25 yards)! It took JMC several more weeks, and he still prefers lessons and practices (when his teacher is in the water with him) to meets when he is on his own. By the end of the season (after about 6 weeks) JT could swim freestyle, backstroke, and breast stroke; JMC could swim freestyle about 15 yards.

Swim lessons begin up again this week, and I'm excited to see how much they'll continue to improve. JA takes swim lessons, too, and we hope that she'll be able to join the swim team next summer as well.

Update: JA, JT, & JMC all participated in swim lessons this fall, and the most improved was JA! She is now excited to try swim team next summer. Lessons begin again in February, and I'm sure they will all continue to improve. :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Big Move

Last fall, we began investigating the possibility of moving from the mobile home to a house. It took about 6 months of looking into things, but we got the go ahead in March of this year. We began looking at houses, and also began to prepare the mobile home for sale.

Papi put in new floors in the kitchen, both bathrooms, and the laundry room. He also replaced the kitchen faucet, and the insulation under the girls' room (thanks to a smelly raccoon family who had moved in!) Before we even put up the for sale sign, we had some interest, just through word of mouth in the neighborhood. Then, we put the sign up, and had received a few different offers, though not all at the same time. Just as one offer would fall through, another would come up. A contract was signed the end of May, the night before I left for the annual Lilla Rose convention.

When we began looking at houses in March, the very first house we walked into was a definite possibility. This was in March, though, and our mobile home hadn't sold yet, so we were not in a position to make an offer on it. We just kept looking at houses, two or three every few weeks, and waiting for our house to sell. We did visit that first house again, after we had seen about 10-15 others, to see if it was still our favorite. In mid-May, the house was taken off the market. I was a little disappointed, but knew God would have the right house for us when the timing was right. Our realtor looked into things and said the house was still for sale, just temporarily off the market. So, once our house sold, we made an off on that first house. It was accepted that same night(!) though it took over 2 weeks to get the purchase agreement signed and official.

The boys at our celebration dinner. (The pics uploaded out of order...)

The shrubs removed from the front and back on after the first day of yard work.

This had been completely filled with shrubs and weed-trees.

Amazingly, this is after the first round of cleaning. There had been several metal dog crates, a pool, and other assorted garbage. Originally, we didn't know the concrete slab was there.

After the first round of tree removal in back.

JMC helping under JL's watchful eye (and I was right there taking the picture.)

Family room before we painted

We knew going in that that house was being sold "as is" and that there would be some work required before moving in, as well as for a few years to come. We were able to inspect the house (well, Juan & his friend J inspected the house, even the attic(!), I walked around and reminded myself of the layout and room sizes, since it had been 2 months since we'd last been inside.) That inspection relieved some concerns, especially in regards to having to gut the bathroom; it needed a very thorough cleaning, and some new fixtures, but we'd most likely be able to put off a complete bathroom remodel. This was great news.

Beginning to move kitchen things over, before replacing appliances

JA helped paint the family room

Watching the city workers pick up the shrubs from the curb

One of our first meals at the new house, before we had moved any furniture over.

After painting.

After removing the overgrowth from the front

All of the furniture was moved in just 2 trips with a pickup, a minivan, a 15 passenger van, and a trailer. Note the playhouse on the roof of the van. :)

More helpers. I think I counted 13 or more that day, plus the people watching our kids and helping pack.

In July, we were notified that we could move in 2 weeks before the closing, which gave us 1 week to work on the house before we had to be out of the mobile home. This also saved us the hassle of moving to a rental home for one week and putting everything in storage. That week working on the house was amazing! So many people came over and helped with a million different tasks; cleaning the bathroom, painting the paneling, removing wallpaper, pulling out shrubs, removing a raised flower garden that was improperly placed, cutting down tree/weeds, and much more. Other friends watched our kids during the day so I could get work done at the house. 

The downside to all of this is that had been the week set aside for packing, so when moving day came, the mobile home wasn't ready. No worries though. While some people were moving the furniture, others stayed back to pack the kids' rooms, the kitchen, and even the master bedroom. What a blessing that was! I was at the new house directing traffic, and Papi was at the mobile home directing things there. The deadline to be out of the mobile home was 4pm Monday, and we did it, just barely. 

Grandpa and Papi moving out the old washer and dryer

JL helped "decorate" her new room. :)

Papi and his friend J bringing my new washer and dryer

The first big rainstorm brought some unwelcome surprises in the form of water through the entryway light. Papi fixed the problem the next day by putting up flashing where the 2 levels of the roof meet and no flashing had been put up.

Papi working on the roof

Moving round 2 of overgrowth removal to the curb

Checking out a toad that was found hiding under the branches

It's so exciting watching them haul the branches away.

The girls at our dinner celebration after the closing.

Mami & Papi after the closing.

JMC, Papi, & Grandpa removing the old rusty dishwasher

New dishwasher and oven delivery

The boys filled a little pool the neighbors gave us. 

Pictures of the front & back of the house before we did any work to it.Look at all that overgrowth!

There is still so much to do at the new house. 7-10 years' worth of yard work that we still haven't caught up on and quite a bit of interior work to be done, in addition to finishing the wonderful task of unpacking. The important things are done though. Carpets have been cleaned, and we can change the flooring in a few years; walls have been wiped down (previous residents were heavy smokers) and the rooms are slowly getting painted; all the appliances have been replaced (a true necessity in this scenario); and most of my books have been unpacked. :)

We have big plans for this home, and would love to stay here for quite some time. We'll do a little each year, and as needs arise. As far as our plans to stay here, those are just our plans; we'll have to see what God has in store for our family. Whatever His plans are, they will be good.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Swedish Meatballs (THM - E) by Papi

I (Mami) have been following the Trim Healthy Mama plan for just over a year now. It takes a bit of study to fully comprehend, but it is also VERY forgiving, so you can get started right away while you learn the finer details. The best part? - the only essential item is the plan book, and you can get that at the library! Everything else is just extra, and not required at all. No supplements, special ingredients, or anything else. Those things are available, of course, but they are not required to be completely successful.

This is where most blogs would insert a disclosure that any links are their affiliate links & they make money if you click them. Well, not here. I'm sharing because I love this way of eating, and I get absolutely nothing out of it, other than knowing more people are eating yummy foods while becoming healthier. :) Besides, I don't post regularly enough, nor consider myself enough of an expert, to make it worth having an affiliate link. There are some bloggers who do an amazing job explaining the plan and creating new recipes, so their time and effort are truly worthy of having an affiliate link.

I could give a quick intro to Trim Healthy Mama (THM) here, but there are so many blogs that have done an excellent job already. So, check out Gwen's Nest for her Quick Start Guide,  and then play around on Pinterest to see sample recipes and find links for other bloggers' "cliff notes." To get all of the details & the reasoning behind the plan, you really need to read the plan book, but this will give you a good start. If you'd like, you can check out my THM board on Pinterest, too. :) (Two other THM bloggers I really like are Briana Thomas & Mrs. Criddle's Kitchen.)

Papi is an amazing cook, and he also happens to like a challenge. When I was following an elimination diet to try and figure out JL's allergies a few years ago, he made me the most amazing meals, even when I was down to only 6 ingredients for the first 2-3 weeks. Now, with THM, he's still able to invent the most amazing meals, all while staying on plan. (Most of the time. Like I said earlier, THM offers a lot of grace as opposed to strictness, so we do eat off plan sometimes.)

OK, back to the recipe. Papi created this last night, and everyone just absolutely loved it. We're talking seconds and thirds for everyone except the 3 year old. It was that good. Please note, Papi doesn't measure, so most measurements are approximate, and if no measurement is listed, go by taste or appearance. :)

This is a "E" meal for Trim Healthy Mama, which means it has protein and healthy carbs, and very little fat. I try to eat an E meal about 5 times each week, but there is not hard and fast rule about it, just try to find the right balance for you. (Read more about the different meal types in the Plan Book.)

Swedish Meatballs
serves 6-8

3 lb ground turkey (very lean)
Italian Seasoning
Minced Onion
Garlic Powder
Black Pepper
2 T cold coffee
3 T THM Baking Blend (I make my own from the various recipes on Pinterest, or you can buy some from the THM online store. Just be sure to use a FP version (very low carbs and very low fat)

Combine well, form into Tablespoon-sized meatballs, and brown a few at a time in a skillet sprayed lightly with coconut oil spray. Then bake at 350* for 15-20 minutes to cook through.

2 cups chicken or turkey stock
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 tsp. xanthan gum (or gluccomannan)
1/2-1 cup unsweetened almond or cashew milk

Boil stock to reduce by half (approximately 1 cup). Add celery and onion to the skillet the meatballs were browned in. Deglaze for a minute, then add the reduced broth. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Blend (using a stick blender) with the xanthan gum. Return to low heat and stir in milk to desired consistency.

1.5-2 lb dry noodles (brown rice, corn flour, or "Dreamfields" pasta)

Boil pasta as normal. If using brown rice or corn flour pasta, be sure to rinse slightly with cool water to prevent stickiness.

Serve all together, spaghetti and meatballs style. :)

Sorry I don't have any pictures, we ate it all too fast, but I'll be sure to update with pictures the next time Papi makes it. Hopefully soon!

JMC had a June birthday, too

Well, the summer got the best of me (moving across town to a fixer upper didn't help, but more about that later!) and I'm just now posting about our 3rd June birthday. :)

JMC turned 6 this year, and he began planning out his day well in advance. Of course there are 2 important things to consider when planning your special day: the food, and the fun. So, birthday pancakes for breakfast, pizza at Monical's for lunch (the kids all had reading program coupons, and JMC thinks it's just the best that they earn them in time for his birthday each year), and oatmeal for dinner. Pizza and oatmeal are his favorite meals.

For fun, he wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese, and to play miniature golf. The weather cooperated, and we were able to do it all. Yay!

Here are some of the highlights (or better known as, Mami remembered to take some pictures.)

I forgot to get birthday pancake pictures on JL & my birthdays, so I got a combo pic.

We had 2 teams, guys & girls. JL was asleep in the stroller, so I bowed out after the first 6 holes, and got to watch everyone else from the shade. It was great! I snagged a few pictures, too.

A quick pose after finishing miniature golf

So big!

A selfie after his birthday photo shoot

He asked for a frog cake again. :)