Thursday, December 2, 2010


The creative part of my brain is still maddeningly-lacking lately, thus the continued lack of posts. My headache is much more tolerable, and I'm able to (mostly) keep up with Daniel and put food on the table, but that's about it for now. Daniel has officially dropped his second nap, which I miss terribly because that was my nap, too. By 4 or 5pm, both D and I are ready for Niels to come home. Niels is so good with Daniel and they have a good time together for a few hours each night while I get to rest.

We just celebrated Thanksgiving in Arizona with my mom and gramma, along with Niels' parents. It was really fun to have everyone together, and I'll let NIELS write those updates! :-)

I was thinking about the past 12 months, and even though I've had a few bonus health issues to contend with this year, I'm so thankful for all the good God is allowing me to experience. Top of the list, of course, is my wonderful family.

Niels continues to be an amazing husband. My life is so much better because he takes a lot of stress off my shoulders that my brain functions better. Not great, but definitely much better than it ever was before we married. He provides well for our family, we're a great team, he's my advocate to doctors and people who don't know or want to know more about my brain injury, and he's a great daddy to Daniel (who adores me).

Daniel turns two next week, and he is such a joy. He has a sweet, easy-going personality (most of the time!), is silly, and so smart! We continue to be surprised by how much and how quickly he's learning new things. His current obsessions are Elmo, trains, airplanes and the alphabet. He started to recognize letters at 19 months, and by 22 months, he knew all 26 letters by sight and sound. He was sick last month and we had to take him to hospital. He shocked one of the nurses when he sounded out all the letters of the word "radiology!"

Maybe I need to post some more of his silly stories here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lost Days

I can't believe October is almost over. After all the busyness and productivity in September, I suppose I should have expected to crash in October. But of course, I didn't. Every time I have a string of good days, I optimistically believe that my brain is really healing. You would think that after six years, I would recognize this pattern, but I didn't and I don't, and my broken brain bit me in the butt again.

Niels and I got a lot done around the house last month, getting it ready to list. We had all the bathrooms and basement painted, we replaced most of the light fixtures and mirrors, had baseboards put in downstairs, we did a TON of cleaning and de-cluttering and organizing. We met with five realtors and made frequent visits to all the local home improvement stores. The house looks really nice, but we can't yet list the house because we are STILL waiting for the outcome of my disability hearing.

So, since my brain seemed to be running in high gear, I turned my attention to the holidays, particularly the photo album I wanted to create for the grands as a Christmas gift. In my pre-injury life, one of my responsibilities was paginating each of our catalogs, that is, deciding how to place each advertised item on each page. It could be a daunting task, especially as last minute items were added. I figured making a photo album would be the same general idea, except that I didn't have the stress of a deadline (at least not a hard one, I've been known to give gifts after Christmas), advertisers or expectation. I spent the better part of two days looking at themes and formats, and then my brain crashed.

It's been one of my worse crashes since I got married and had Niels looking out for me. It's scary to crash now that Daniel relies on me to care for him all day. I do know enough not to leave the house when I crash, and I was able to function enough to feed him and keep him in clean diapers. This is where the routine we establish come in handy. I can follow it without a whole lot of thought, which is good, because there's not a lot of thought to be had. So for ten days, we stayed home, napped a lot and Daniel got to spend a lot of time with his Elmo DVD. Fortunately, we are blessed with a kid who loves to play independently. He plays with his toys, cooks in his kitchen and reads, reads, reads. On a few days, though, Niels had to come home or stay home.

I think the hardest part of these crashes, beyond the fear that I won't be able to care for my own child, is the letdown of realizing that this TBI is just not going away. It feels so great to have good days where I don't need a nap, and my thoughts come easily and I can do the things I want to accomplish and I have energy to proactively play with Daniel and I can make dinner and I'm not brain mush by the time Niels comes home. I have a vague recollection of my old life and the old level of energy that I have. And when I get those moments, I want to soak them for all they are worth because I don't know how long they will last or when they will show up again. Niels, on the other hand, watches me very closely during these times, because he knows my tendencies. He'll ask me stop what I'm doing, make sure I pace myself, get lots of rest. Usually, I listen to him, but sometimes I'm stubborn and want to ride it out. Of course, he's right and I crash.

It's so hard to come out of the fog. I feel myself going through the motions, but it doesn't seem real. This has been a foggy, foggy month. My formerly pristine house is dusty and dirty and cluttered again. My neatly stocked pantry is lacking and our freezer full of leftovers is empty. I just can't seem to shake these cobwebs. I look at my cookbooks to make our menu and I can't make sense of the recipes. I look at the stack of bills and am overwhelmed with the math. I see the messy kitchen and I'm lost at how to get started. I rely on Niels to do so much, but he can't do everything.

But I'm used to all this. It's the same cycle that's been repeating for six years now. Eventually, the fog will lift and my thoughts will settle and I'll get ahead again. The truly frightening part of this month has been Daniel's first health scare.

Daniel and I have both had a cold for a week or so. All the more reason for us to stay close to home. While I seemed to be getting better, Daniel was getting worse. Then one night, he was coughing so badly he couldn't get a good breath. We called the nurse and she thought he had croup. Niels took him into the bathroom so the steam of the hot shower could open his airways. He wasn't helping at all. After 30 minutes on the phone with the nurse, she told us to go to the ER. The most terrifying moment of my life was sitting in the back seat of the car, looking at Daniel and not seeing him breath. Fortunately, he was, and after a few very scary days, he's on the mend again. The doctors have ruled out croup, RSV and pneumonia, but not before several breathing treatments, an X-ray and many tests and exams.

And like that, October is over.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Spoon Theory

The article below was written by someone with lupus, but it's very applicable to someone with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), like me. It's been six years since my injury, but I still have to "watch my spoons," and I reluctantly realize that I will continue to have to do so for the rest of my life. I especially like the last couple of paragraphs. I constantly struggle with feeling bad for having to cancel plans and have a hard time articulating how grateful I am to friends who are willing to meet me wherever I am that day (physically and/or emotionally). So, thanks to my friend, Janice, who sent this to me, to the friends and family who stuck with me through the transition from old Jen to new Jen, to my post-TBI friends here in Ohio who have taken the time to learn about my limitations, and most of all to my amazing husband who has taken that whole "in sickness and health" thing to the limit with grace and love. - Jen

The Spoon Theory

My best friend and I were in the diner, talking. As usual, it was very late and we were eating French fries with gravy. Like normal girls our age, we spent a lot of time in the diner while in college, and most of the time we spent talking about boys, music or trivial things, that seemed very important at the time. We never got serious about anything in particular and spent most of our time laughing.

As I went to take some of my medicine with a snack as I usually did, she watched me with an awkward kind of stare, instead of continuing the conversation. She then asked me out of the blue what it felt like to have Lupus and be sick. I was shocked not only because she asked the random question, but also because I assumed she knew all there was to know about Lupus. She came to doctors with me, she saw me walk with a cane, and throw up in the bathroom. She had seen me cry in pain, what else was there to know?

I started to ramble on about pills, and aches and pains, but she kept pursuing, and didn't seem satisfied with my answers. I was a little surprised as being my roommate in college and friend for years; I thought she already knew the medical definition of Lupus. Then she looked at me with a face every sick person knows well, the face of pure curiosity about something no one healthy can truly understand. She asked what it felt like, not physically, but what it felt like to be me, to be sick.

As I tried to gain my composure, I glanced around the table for help or guidance, or at least stall for time to think. I was trying to find the right words. How do I answer a question I never was able to answer for myself? How do I explain every detail of every day being effected, and give the emotions a sick person goes through with clarity. I could have given up, cracked a joke like I usually do, and changed the subject, but I remember thinking if I don’t try to explain this, how could I ever expect her to understand. If I can’t explain this to my best friend, how could I explain my world to anyone else? I had to at least try. At that moment, the spoon theory was born. I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”. She looked at me slightly confused, as anyone would when they are being handed a bouquet of spoons. The cold metal spoons clanked in my hands, as I grouped them together and shoved them into her hands.I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.

Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.

She grabbed the spoons with excitement. She didn’t understand what I was doing, but she is always up for a good time, so I guess she thought I was cracking a joke of some kind like I usually do when talking about touchy topics. Little did she know how serious I would become?

I asked her to count her spoons. She asked why, and I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of "spoons". But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not lose some along the way, but at least it helps to know where you are starting. She counted out 12 spoons. She laughed and said she wanted more. I said no, and I knew right away that this little game would work, when she looked disappointed, and we hadn't even started yet. I’ve wanted more "spoons" for years and haven’t found a way yet to get more, why should she? I also told her to always be conscious of how many she had, and not to drop them because she can never forget she has Lupus.

I asked her to list off the tasks of her day, including the most simple. As, she rattled off daily chores, or just fun things to do; I explained how each one would cost her a spoon. When she jumped right into getting ready for work as her first task of the morning, I cut her off and took away a spoon. I practically jumped down her throat. I said " No! You don’t just get up. You have to crack open your eyes, and then realize you are late. You didn’t sleep well the night before. You have to crawl out of bed, and then you have to make your self something to eat before you can do anything else, because if you don’t, you can't take your medicine, and if you don’t take your medicine you might as well give up all your spoons for today and tomorrow too." I quickly took away a spoon and she realized she hasn’t even gotten dressed yet. Showering cost her spoon, just for washing her hair and shaving her legs. Reaching high and low that early in the morning could actually cost more than one spoon, but I figured I would give her a break; I didn’t want to scare her right away. Getting dressed was worth another spoon. I stopped her and broke down every task to show her how every little detail needs to be thought about. You cannot simply just throw clothes on when you are sick. I explained that I have to see what clothes I can physically put on, if my hands hurt that day buttons are out of the question. If I have bruises that day, I need to wear long sleeves, and if I have a fever I need a sweater to stay warm and so on. If my hair is falling out I need to spend more time to look presentable, and then you need to factor in another 5 minutes for feeling badly that it took you 2 hours to do all this.

I think she was starting to understand when she theoretically didn’t even get to work, and she was left with 6 spoons. I then explained to her that she needed to choose the rest of her day wisely, since when your “spoons” are gone, they are gone. Sometimes you can borrow against tomorrow’s "spoons", but just think how hard tomorrow will be with less "spoons". I also needed to explain that a person who is sick always lives with the looming thought that tomorrow may be the day that a cold comes, or an infection, or any number of things that could be very dangerous. So you do not want to run low on "spoons", because you never know when you truly will need them. I didn’t want to depress her, but I needed to be realistic, and unfortunately being prepared for the worst is part of a real day for me.

We went through the rest of the day, and she slowly learned that skipping lunch would cost her a spoon, as well as standing on a train, or even typing at her computer too long. She was forced to make choices and think about things differently. Hypothetically, she had to choose not to run errands, so that she could eat dinner that night.

When we got to the end of her pretend day, she said she was hungry. I summarized that she had to eat dinner but she only had one spoon left. If she cooked, she wouldn’t have enough energy to clean the pots. If she went out for dinner, she might be too tired to drive home safely. Then I also explained, that I didn’t even bother to add into this game, that she was so nauseous, that cooking was probably out of the question anyway. So she decided to make soup, it was easy. I then said it is only 7pm, you have the rest of the night but maybe end up with one spoon, so you can do something fun, or clean your apartment, or do chores, but you can’t do it all.I rarely see her emotional, so when I saw her upset I knew maybe I was getting through to her. I didn’t want my friend to be upset, but at the same time I was happy to think finally maybe someone understood me a little bit. She had tears in her eyes and asked quietly “Christine, How do you do it? Do you really do this everyday?” I explained that some days were worse then others; some days I have more spoons then most. But I can never make it go away and I can’t forget about it, I always have to think about it. I handed her a spoon I had been holding in reserve. I said simply, “I have learned to live life with an extra spoon in my pocket, in reserve. You need to always be prepared” Its hard, the hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to. I wanted her to feel that frustration. I wanted her to understand, that everything everyone else does comes so easy, but for me it is one hundred little jobs in one. I need to think about the weather, my temperature that day, and the whole day's plans before I can attack any one given thing. When other people can simply do things, I have to attack it and make a plan like I am strategizing a war. It is in that lifestyle, the difference between being sick and healthy. It is the beautiful ability to not think and just do. I miss that freedom. I miss never having to count "spoons".

After we were emotional and talked about this for a little while longer, I sensed she was sad. Maybe she finally understood. Maybe she realized that she never could truly and honestly say she understands. But at least now she might not complain so much when I can't go out for dinner some nights, or when I never seem to make it to her house and she always has to drive to mine. I gave her a hug when we walked out of the diner. I had the one spoon in my hand and I said “Don’t worry. I see this as a blessing. I have been forced to think about everything I do. Do you know how many spoons people waste everyday? I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted “spoons” and I chose to spend this time with you.”

Ever since this night, I have used the spoon theory to explain my life to many people. In fact, my family and friends refer to spoons all the time. It has been a code word for what I can and cannot do. Once people understand the spoon theory they seem to understand me better, but I also think they live their life a little differently too.

I think it isn’t just good for understanding Lupus, but anyone dealing with any disability or illness. Hopefully, they don’t take so much for granted or their life in general. I give a piece of myself, in every sense of the word when I do anything. It has become an inside joke. I have become famous for saying to people jokingly that they should feel special when I spend time with them, because they have one of my "spoons".

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Last Day of Summer

Daniel and I have been enjoying our daily walks at Boettler Park. To celebrate the last day of summer, we took some pictures. Have I mentioned how much easier this was before he was mobile!?!

Friday, September 10, 2010

See How He Grows

Yesterday, Daniel turned 21 months old. To celebrate, we bought him a new car seat. The recommendation has recently changed to suggest keeping toddlers rear-facing as long as possible. Daniel was very near the weight limit in his Britax Roundabout, and surpassed the height limit, so our choices were to turn him around or get him a bigger seat. We opted for the latter, a Britax Boulevard.

I got sentimental comparing these pictures. When we bought the first Britax just over a year ago, Daniel was such a peanut. We sure didn't think he would go from the 10th percentile to the 95th! At 21 months, Daniel is 32 pounds and just over 35" tall!

Coming home from the hospital: 6 days old.

Last time in the baby carrier: 7 months.

Checking out the new seat: 7 months.

Filling out the Britax: 21 months.

Testing out his new big boy seat: 21 months.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fun in the Sun

Yesterday a church down the road hosted their annual family fun day. Daniel was a little young to enjoy the festivities last year, but this year he had a blast. It was really hot out, so we only lasted about a half hour, but we packed a lot of fun into our short time, as you'll see in the pictures below.
Daddy and Daniel had fun in the bouncy house.
Daniel threw himself over the edge when he was done. I love his foot in the air.
We thought of Gramma Chi as we took a pony ride, and I told Daniel about the pony we had on Grampa Elmer's farm when I was a little girl. (Also note the orange balloon in my hand. Daniel was so excited to get this!)
We spent most of our time at the petting zoo. Daniel loved the ducks and chickens.
This little piggy was quite the squealer! As you can see, it really piqued Daniel's curiosity.
All in all, Daniel LOVED the animals.
We finished our time with the inflatable slide. Both boys enjoyed themselves!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Losing It

Last weekend was my 20 year reunion. It was great to see everyone again, and it felt really good to know that while not yet at my goal weight, I'm healthier than I've been in a while.

Ever since my brain injury in 2004, my weight has fluctuated--a lot. First, I dropped about 40 pounds as my brain was burning off calories like crazy trying to heal itself. One of the crazy side effects has that my body rejected food and I couldn't keep anything down. Eight months post-TBI, I looked good, but it was far from healthy. As my recovery went into maintenance mode, I was put on some new drugs, which caused me to gain weight. Then, after I lost my job and had to switch meds again, I gained more weight. I was at my highest all time weight on my wedding day - every girl's dream, right? I went off my meds after we were married as we planned to start our family. Two miscarriages and crazy hormones = more weight gain. Ironically, very difficult pregnancy and severe morning sickness = weight loss. When our sweet Daniel was born, I wasn't happy with my body, but was thrilled with the presence of Daniel's, so I gave myself a year to heal and adjust to parenthood.

In October of last year, as Daniel started to become mobile and more interested in solids, I started to focus on my own health and fitness. I decided to stay off the head meds. Our insurance doesn't cover the only one that really works, and the others have too many negative side effects. This means I don't function as well, and have to portion my time and energy more carefully. My goal was to get down to a healthy weight by the time we returned to Holland this December. I didn't want to do anything crazy, just a lot of little changes for the health of myself, my son and my husband. It took three months of walking every day (pushing Daniel in his stroller) before I lost a single pound, and I've hit several plateaus along the way as my health has caused me to take breaks from my exercise routine. But, for the most part, the scale tends to show a smaller number each week.

At this point, I'm down 36 pounds, with less than 20 to go. Since I had some conversations about this last week, here is Jen's Top 10 Tips for Losing It.

  1. Meal Plan. This has been the biggest change by far. By planning our meals in advance, I save time and precious brain power each night because I know what to make. Plus, we've cut out our grocery budget in half! As an added bonus, we rarely throw anything out. I use websites like,, and food blogs for ideas. I usually make 4-6 serving portions and freeze the leftovers in serving-size portions. Niels takes these to work for lunch, saving us $25+/week. I've found that I really enjoy cooking and we rarely eat out at restaurants anymore, which is good for my brain and my waistline!
  2. Reduce Processed Foods. We're very blessed that Daniel is a great eater. Once "Captain Mooch" started hitting us up for our food, we became much more intentional about what we ate. I read a really interesting book about teaching your kids to eat well, and that has given us a goal of getting Daniel to eat what we eat by age 2. (He's well on his way!) As part of that, we're trying to cut out as much processed food as possible. Some of the things I've learned to make from scratch: crackers, pop tarts, granola, granola bars, soft pretzels and sauces like satay and BBQ. In addition, we buy whole wheat versions of pastas and grains, organic foods where available, and check the labels on packages for the number of ingredients and whether or not we can pronounce each one!
  3. Food Diary. I didn't really think I needed to keep a food diary until I did. It was quite eye-opening, if for no other reason than to learn how many calories are in my favorite foods. I also learned how many calories I need to consume on a daily basis--about 1600--as well as the magic number to stay above--1200. As an added bonus, I found that I snacked less if I had to write it down in the notebook I kept on the kitchen counter. I write down the time, what I ate and how many calories it contains. I learned that I wanted/needed something to eat about every 3 hours. Some people write down their moods, but I'm not really an emotional eater, so I don't do that.
  4. Measure Food Portions. Buying a kitchen scale was $30 well spent. It was quite enlightening to see how small a serving of cereal or ice cream really is! It's pretty much a must when keeping a food diary. It's been very helpful for cooking as well because it makes conversations much easier.
  5. Set Goals. The end goal was pretty daunting at first, so I broke it down into 7-8 smaller goals at 5-6 pounds each. I also made a reward for hitting each goal, things like a pedicure, new outfit and makeover. Knowing the next goal was only a few pounds away was a helpful emotional trick to keep motivated when I hit a plateau. Ironically, I found that hitting the goal was reward itself, and often didn't even follow through with my reward.
  6. Daily Weigh-In on the Wii. Investing in the Wii was a great idea! I wish Wii Fit would have been around in 2004 because the balance exercises would have been a great addition to my physical and occupational therapies. I like the ability to track my weight loss and the games are a fun way to burn extra calories. Some people don't like to weigh themselves every day. My mood isn't really based on the number, but the trend up or down helps me focus on my goals.
  7. Exercise Daily. I have Daniel to thank for this one. After nearly three months of bedrest, I was pretty much jelly. Exercise started a walk in the park pushing Daniel in the stroller. I was pretty breathless in the beginning, just doing a half mile. Then I increased to a mile, then two miles. Once winter set in, I started hitting our treadmill during Daniel's two hour naps. He gives me plenty of time to complete my routine and get showered. I'll do some combination of the treadmill (up to 4 miles), a workout DVD (usually one by Jillian Michaels) and Wii Fit. I made an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what I do, and it's fun to watch the miles add up.
  8. Avoid Soda. As a general rule, I give myself lots of outs with these rules. I try to avoid the words "never" and "always." The goal has been lifestyle change, not temporary fixes. So, as a general rule, we don't drink soda. But we occasionally have it, most often when we're entertaining, being entertained, or out for a rare dinner. I drink mostly water or green tea, and Niels drinks mostly milk, tea (he is Dutch) or orange juice. Daniel drinks milk or water, and has only had diluted juice a handful of times.
  9. Make Snacks from Scratch. Going along with numbers two and eight above, I'm not against snacks and sweets. I love cake and cookies! But, I like to control what goes into them. So I've been having a lot of fun learning to make things from scratch. I've made a really yummy almond cake, a (sort of) healthy oatmeal cake, butter brickle cookies, snickerdoodle muffins and more. I've also found that if I make these things by hand, I'm less likely to over eat (I make them when we have others to share with!), plus I burn off calories doing the work--especially when I make pretzels! Contrary to popular belief, Daniel is allowed the occasional sweet, but follows a 3 taste rule--he gets 3 small bites, and that's it. Fortunately, I'm happy to say, he's not a big fan of sweets--yet!--and doesn't complain when we tell him he's done.
  10. Enjoy a Small Bowl of Ice Cream as a Reward for Good eating and a Solid Workout. I would not be happy or pleasant to be around if I felt deprived of the foods I loved. Niels and I LOVE ice cream, and enjoy a bowl most evenings after Daniel goes to bed. We have made the switch to Breyer's only, because it is made of ingredients we can name, and I make sure to measure out my serving.
***08.27.10. My aunt Lori wrote to ask about the place of raw veggies on my list. To answer, I compiled this post to list the things I changed in the last year. Veggies have always been part of my diet, although I am more intentional about the quantity and diversity of veggies we eat. I almost always have baby carrots to snack on, and try to eat a lot of spinach salads in the summer. Other veggies making regular appearances on our menu: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, onions, shallots, celery, romaine lettuce, endive, cucumbers, garlic, leeks, water chestnuts, and potatoes. Sorry, Mom, I still don't care for peas!***

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Finish Deck: Check!

Our new builder (Charis) has been a godsend in helping us get our current house ready to market. Neither Niels nor I are gifted in the home repair side of things, and with a toddler around, time is a bit short as well. So we're very grateful for Todd's help in recommending folks who can do the jobs we need to do faster and better than we can!

The first big project to be completed is the deck. We had the wood painted and the ceiling finished. The same guy also power washed the entire house and cleaned the gutters. Here's a look:



Monday, August 23, 2010

Midwest adventure - Day 9

The BIG travel day...

The itinerary is simple: Big Lake, MN to Green, OH.
The distance: 800 some miles.
The Travellers: a car, 2 adults and a 20 month old.
Estimate travel time: 15hrs.

Rise and shine at 7am so we could be packed and ready to roll at 8am. Jen woke up with nice killer headache, I woke up with the runs. However, D was happy and that was just fine with us. A lot better than the reverse... ;-)

We said our goodbyes to the family and to Big Lake and de Jongs were Ohio-bound. The drive was pretty uneventful. A stop at Black River Falls, WI at the local Culvers for food and drinks (and go juice for the car), another stop just before Janesville, WI, a stop at the Indiana Turnpike and a splash-and-dash on the Ohio Turnpike were the non-driving events of the day. Jen and D slept for a couple of hours and I listed to 2 books on CD.

So, we left at 8am and a few minutes before midnight we rolled into Green, OH. D and Jen asleep for the last 2 hours and I was tired but surprisingly awake after 800 miles and - with some persistence - only 14hrs of travel time.

Home... nice!

Midwest adventure - Day 8

The last day in Minnesota... Time sure goes fast. Today we are moving our base camp one final time from Brooklyn Park to Big Lake. So, the morning consisted of breakfast, packing, pictures and our goodbyes to the Rossings.

When we went to Kitchen Window yesterday we spotted another great place to check out; International Market Square. A design mall for home furnishings, kitchens and bathrooms. We couldn't pass up an opportunity like that since we don't have anything remotely similar back in Ohio.

We saw some very nice kitchens (among others, Poggenpuhl) all with high-end Miele, Wolf and Gaggenau appliances. Probably above our price-range, but the Sharp Microwave drawer (about $495) might make it on our list of appliances. Daniel was great in the stroller we had on loan from one of Jen's high school friends and he entertained himself testing the acoustics of the converted old factory/warehouse that hosts the market place.

Since we promised Jen's brother and sister in-law we would be at their place in Big Lake by 2pm we quickly jumped on I-35 to Route 10 straight to Big Lake using the same route Jen used to take when she was living there. Amazing how build-up the northern burbs are compared to 20 yrs ago.

In Big Lake we also got a final visit from Jen's dad (and brought 12 ears of corn for us to take home as well) while D was entertaining himself with the trains of his cousins. Around 3pm the boys wanted to go swimming, so D and his cousin got into their bathing suites and headed over to the neighbors pool. D was relaxing in his swim vest inside a nice floater and his cousin was showing off his diving skills.

Jen and I got ourselves all dressed-up and ready for Jen's 20yr high school reunion at McPete's on Route 10. We knew we would be a little over-dressed for a what turned out to be a bowling alley and a bar but we heard about the dress code about 1400 miles too late... ;-)

On our way we drove by two more places where Jen used to live and made to the reunion a little after 5pm. The reunion was a lot of fun. I finally put a number of names and faces together after hearing about them or reading about them on Facebook. They served a nice chicken dinner and a fabulous cake followed by plenty of socializing and plenty of friendliness inducing liquids...

Anyway, we finally left around 11.30pm when the party was still going but we still had a 20min drive home and a slightly longer drive tomorrow...


Friday, August 20, 2010

Midwest adventure - Day 7

Today was a nice quiet day at the Rossing Ramada. Daniel slept well, we slept well so we were off to a good start. We had no major plans other than to go swimming in the afternoon. In the morning we just hung out at the kitchen bar and Jen went through the recipe books finding some good ones that more than likely will appear on this blog in one shape or form later this year so stay tuned and keep an eye on Jen's Online Cookbook (link can also be found somewhere on the right side of the page).

Niels went outside to play some soccer with one of the girls but not only was it muggy, it was also buggy, so we went back inside after about 30 minutes. A little later our host came back from an errand and after D woke up from his nap we all got the Maple Grove Community Center swimming pool. It's a very nice location (which we still need to find something similar near our place in Green, OH... yes, suggestions welcome...) with an indoor/outdoor pool that we thoroughly explored for about 3 hours. Meanwhile, Jen and our host were exploring the local Trader Joes and came back with a bag full of goodies. On our way back we were surprised that D made it back to the house, but once we put him to bed he was down and out in 5.

We took the opportunity to take a quick trip to Uptown Minneapolis to Kitchen Window; an awesome kitchen store that finally gave us (well, we do had to buy it...) our much coveted Raclette set. It is a raised grill plate with small pans that you can either put on top or below the plate to grill your meat, veggies, tators or what not. Really cool and the De Jong family, Holland branch has made that a Christmas and Easter eating tradition. We plan on doing so ourselves as well.

Back at the Ramada we joined the hosts in making a double portion of Manicotti that we are now about to eat.

Bon Appetit, Eet smakelijk, Enjoy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Midwest adventure - Day 6

Today was a very relaxing day. In the morning we just hung out at Jen's sister and brother in-law. Daniel finally was able to take a nice nap in his Pack 'n Play since we were actually stationary long enough for him to take his morning nap. Novel concept, eh? Anyway, he slept for almost 3 hours. Go figure, it's been a bit of crazy week for him so he was due for a nice long one.

While D was sleeping, Jen was able to help her sister out taking her newborn for a few hours in her own room while reading some magazines. I was updating the blog, packed the car and taking with Jen's brother in-law about universal design and how we could incorporate that into our initial house plan drafts.

D finally woke up around 1.30pm so we said our goodbyes and we packed up the remaining things including the Pack 'n Play and we went back to the MOA when stores are actually open... I know, mall opening hours are NOT designed around toddler sleeping hours.

The special event of today was a powwow of some of the local Indian Tribes commemorating the native veterans with Indian music and dance. Pretty impressive. On the shopping note, we actually bought D something new, something we normally don't do. However, a brand new snow-suit and some size 9 - GASP - shoes for our little bigfoot.

We also stopped by Jen's sister who works at the main level Bare Escentials and gave Jen a make-over. Once she was done I had flash-backs to July 29, 2007 when Jen's sister did the make-up for our wedding. Deng, I truly married up. Love you, Sweetie!

Around 5.30pm we made our way back to car to get to our new base camp in Brooklyn Park where we arrived only 15mins later than our original ETA due to some rush-hour traffic to be greeted by friendly smiles and hugs and a good dinner.

As I'm typing this, the kids (D and the 2 kids of our hosts) are either already in bed or in the process of going to bed so the rest of the evening is going to be laid-back conversation catching up on the last year. Gosh, has it been 13 months since we were last here???

Time sure flies when you're having fun.

Midwest adventure - Day 5

Today was another day with not a lot of driving. Well, not driving hundreds of miles that is, since going from South St. Paul to Buffalo to Big Lake and back is still a good amount of driving. Anyway, we left the house around 8.15am heading for Buffalo to meet a former High School friend of Jen that graduated a year later and ended up marrying one of Jen's brothers High School friends. Yes, it's a small world sometimes.

But before that we wanted to see the 'Delano' house where Jen and her brother lived for the first few years of their lives. We ended up having to drop by Jen's dad's house to pick Jen's dad up to show us since we didn't have either accurate direction or recent memories. Heck, it's been 30-some years since Jen last was there and they moved when she was about 5. And no, Jen is still 29... ;-)

We briefly stopped at the house and walked around after dad called the daughter of the current owner (did I mention it's a small world sometimes?) to make sure it was okay. It brought back some memories and was nice to see Daniel walk around where his mommy walked around when she was his age.

After dropping Jen's dad off at the house we went to see Jen's friend who lives on the other side of Buffalo on part of her in-laws former farm. The total size of the land is 200-some acres, so pretty much half the family has their own plots all in about 1 or 2 blocks from each other. Daniel was pretty content playing with the toys of the three boys that lived in the house so Jen and her friend could catch up on the last, eh, 20-some years... ;-)

Next up on today's itinerary was Big Lake where Jen went to High School. We drove around town a little bit and Jen was surprised about how much the town has grown in the last 20 years. It was a small sleeper town of about 2200, but now its a true Twin Cities bedroom community complete with light-rail commuter train access to downtown Minneapolis.

We drove by the house where Jen used to live when she was in High School and also saw some of the houses of some of her friends in the same neighborhood. Our main planned destination here was Jen's brother's house where her sister-in-law and nephew were eagerly awaiting Auntie Jen and Uncle Niels. We had lunch together and after lunch the train set came out. This made for some happy boys (yes, both D, his cousin and I) trying to figure out how to lay the tracks.

D was more interested in playing with the actual trains then the tracks that his cousin and I put together and to top if off the family dog constantly wanted to be right in the middle which didn't help keeping all the tracks in their desired location either. Ah well, the boys still played while Jen and her sister-in-law where looking at pictures on the couch while it was pouring rain outside.

Soon the rain stopped and it was time for D's cousin to show me how well he could swim, but first we had to put D down for his nap. We didn't bring the Pack 'n Play (oops) but after some co-sleeping with his daddy D slept by himself on the futon for probably close to an hour. This was a BIG occasion since it was the first time he took a nap in a 'big boy' bed instead of his Pack 'n Play or crib. Good job, D!

D's cousin took me and the dog to the neighbors who have an above ground pool he's allowed to use. He showed me his super-hero goggles and how well he could swim, dive and retrieve sunken objects. He also showed me how to the use his water-gun (squirt tube). While we were swimming we started to see the grill being fired up so we got out and went back to the house where D was waking just in time for a nice grilling dinner.

After packing up the car (and probably leaving a paci behind) we drove over to see Jen's bonus parents. They live down the road from Jen's brother and family so it was a quick 15min drive to get there. When we pulled-up they were already waiting for us outside. We ended up staying for almost 2 hours and D wanted to explore the grounds a bit so I took him for a little bike-ride around the property. He loved it. When we move to a more quiet neighborhood NOT on a blind-S-curve on a busy road on a hill he's going to have so much fun learning how to do it himself.

All good things come to an end so we said our goodbyes - and made some loose plans for them to come over to Ohio in the fall - we made our way back to the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, the TomTom chosen 'fastest' route turned-out to be anything but due to some hefty road construction and a serious accident on the west-bound lanes even closing the highway between the 2 closest exists.

During the drive Jen was firming up our itinerary for the next day since we're moving base camp from South St. Paul to Brooklyn Center (north of MPLS) tomorrow. During that call we got hungry and stopped at Culvers (yes, AGAIN!) but this time we were a little too late. Closed. Bummer. However, earlier on the trip we did pick some Old Dutch Dill Pickle potato chips which we can't seem to get in Ohio, so we ended up snacking on those instead. We can think of worse compromises... D fell asleep about 30 minutes before we got to the house and was tired enough to keep sleeping when we moved him from the car to his Pack 'n Play and stayed asleep until the next day. Such a good boy.

Speaking of sleeping, we did the same. G'nite!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Midwest adventure - Day 4

Wow, Day 4 already. This one was a bit different, a LOT less driving and some time to do things. At least that how we planned it. In the morning we went to the MOA (Mall of America) to meet Gramma and Gramma Ann for breakfast before they were taking off heading for home in Arizona. With some confusion we finally met up around 10.30am and decided to do the Aquarium together.

We got a wheelchair for Gramma Ann and Daniel got to ride in Gramma Ann's lap. On the way to the Aquarium we went through the Nickelodeon Universe (used to be 'Camp Snoopy') but Daniel is still a couple inches too short for that.

The Aquarium was really nice and with Toddler Tuesday it saved us a significant chunk of change on the tickets. Daniel loved the Aquarium, especially the tube (where there is a glass tank all around you). That was also where Jen took over Gramma Ann's wheelchair for a bit since the overall Mall experience, the loud noises and colors of the Nickelodeon Universe and the mirrors in the Aquarium (together with pretty much zero downtime since we left on this trip) made Jen just a tiny little bit dizzy. Okay, enough dizzy that she needed a wheelchair cause her balance was off due to her dizziness. Daniel found the touch-me tank and some stairs to climb while Gramma and Gramma Ann were looking at the green screen picture taken at the entrance.

Once back outside we said goodbye to Gramma and Gramma Ann and we went for lunch at... Culvers... for the 2nd day in a row! One of the perks of the Midwest I guess. Daniel was asleep before we left the MOA parking lot so we just did the drive-thru and found a place in the shade to enjoy our butterburgers.

Next stop was a SuperTarget (another thing we don't have at home, at least not anywhere close) and since D was still sleeping Jen got her toenails done. After a quick run through Target we met up with Dad at IKEA since he was in the same area as well. We showed Dad a couple of our kitchen ideas and a few other things we liked before we all headed back to Jens sister's house for dinner; home-made Mediterranean Pizza made by Jen and her other sister while Dad and me got the missing ingredients at the local Cub Foods.

Dinner turned out to be excellent (hey, did you see Jen's cooking endeavors lately...) and after Dad left we all turned in for an early night.

Tomorrow: Big Lake

Monday, August 16, 2010

Midwest adventure - Day 3

Another day, another drive... This time it was a round-trip down family history lane in Northern Iowa, just south of the MN state line. Yesterday it was Jen's maternal family, today it was the paternal family that was the reason for the drive.

A quick 3 hr drive (did I mention these Midwest trips require some driving?) south of the Twin Cities we arrived in the bread-basket of the US in between the corn and other crops, John Deere outlets, New Holland tractors and other farm-related industries. Lots of small towns, but most of them seem to be doing pretty well with painted houses, maintained lawns and kids playing in the (smaller) streets. A bit of a throw-back to days gone by that I don't mind seeing restored.

Jen's dad came from a family 10. He was the youngest boy and grew up among the farms here. He talked at lengths about his upbringing (not always easy, but kids still had food, fun and each other) to prepare us for some of the stops were we met a good number of his brothers and sisters. We drove through the places where he grew up and went to school and pointed out a number of locations where he spend a summer, had friends and went to high school.

The last stop on Algona was the most impressive, with 4 of the Abbas boys and 2 of the Abbas girls together with some of their children and grand children. Jen met up with some of her cousins she hasn't seen for over 20 years. She did found one of them on Facebook recently and some of her aunts that have some computer skills found us as well and were surprisingly well aware of our live. For some all this information can be scary but if you have family literally all over the States and on various continents it is pretty much the only way to keep everyone informed without spending every single minute on the phone telling the same story over and over again.

On our way back we drove through the towns were Jen's dad was born and went to church before heading back to the Cities again. We also passed a very impressive wind farm. We've seen a couple of those farms back in March when we took a slight detour through some of rural Iowa (actually, we later found out only about 10 miles from where we were today...). It's nice to see a new, renewable industry appear next to farming that truly fits-in with the pretty self-contained society that still seems to thrive here.

We also made a stop at another Midwest adventure staple; Culvers. If you heard of them you know why, if you haven't, look 'm up and when you get there you take one bite of your butterburger and a sip from your frozen custard and you know what we mean. Love it. It's the only fastfood place we got to and is truly leaps-and-bounds above the rest. Even the book 'Eat This, Not That' came to same conclusion.

At this time it was already closing in on 9pm so we made sure to head straight back to South St. Paul. Another day in the books, another 400 miles. The total stands at 1400 some miles... and it's only day 3. Yaiks... ;-)

Midwest adventure - Day 2

Our trips to the WI/MN clans always come with one major downside; seeing everyone requires lots 'o driving since they live quite a distance away from each other. Case in point was Day 2 of our Midwest Adventure 2010.

The day started in Oshkosh at the Meyer residence with a superb scones-breakfast home-made by our friends. Amazing. We needed to be on the road at about 10:30am since we were expected to be at a family gathering up in the Northwoods (Hayward, WI) at 3pm. To give you an example of the lots o' driving: Oshkosh to Hayward is 350 miles and almost 5hrs... We made sure we had plenty of food, drinks and gas since we had to make it a straight shot.

So, at exactly 3pm we pulled into the driveway and were greeted my Jen's mom, her brother, gramma, aunts, uncles and nephews. One of Jen's aunts got married last Friday so we had a nice dinner topped with some awesome wedding cake. Daniel (DJ) was having a great time with his cousins AJ and CJ (...) exploring the 20 acres, the chickens, the pool, the piano, the toys found by the grammas when they went garage-saling and mooching off our dinner. He was - strangely enough - a little afraid of the dogs. Not sure why, but not a big deal when there is 20 acres to roam.

Cousins DJ & CJ
LOVE this picture of Daniel and Gramma Ann playing PattyCake
Mom and her Grandsons
Four Generations
My brother and our boys
Siblings, not Rivals
Uncle Chris and the boys
Gramma Ann with 3 of her great-grandkids: AJ, DJ and CJ
The Newlyweds, Lori & Tony, with DJ and CJ
Daniel LOVED this keyboard!
We left Hayward at 7pm to head for our final destination that day: South St. Paul, MN. Short 2hr trip, only 130 miles. Easy peezy... ;-) We were met by Jen's sisters, her brother in-law and the new niece. Jen ended-up holding her for quite some time. The picture of her holding her new niece was exactly the same image I saw last year when Jen's sister was holding Daniel on that same couch...

After showering Jen's sister with a number of Daniel's old toys and other baby-related material we talked for a little bit before everyone went down to sleep. Tired of the total of 900+ miles over the last day we actually made it in bed before 11pm. I guess that is a first for me/Jen for the last 5 days or so. Such are the blessings of the driving on our Midwest Adventures.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Midwest Adventure - Day 1

After a bit of a stressful week it was time to relax and take our 'annual' Midwest trip. Over the next couple days we'll be on lakes, in cities, on many an Interstate and other highways and meet many friends and family, most of them we haven't seen in a year or so.

Day 1 was the leg from home to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to see a great couple whom we last seen in Des Moines where they got married in March. The trip was pretty uneventful but there were some delays going through Chicago, even on a Saturday in the middle of August.

A little before 4pm we got into town and after a quick Target trip we got to our destination. The host is an avid Packer fan, so Jen thought it was a good idea to wear our Brett Favre Viking shirts... Always good for a laugh.

The rest of the night was filled with meeting some of the hosts' family, eating a fabulous home-cooked dinner, good convo and... upon special request... Settlers of Catan. We thought them the Cities and Knights version since it's infinity more dynamic than the original but way to hard to explain if you don't yet know the basics. The game took a good 3 hours and with some additional Q&A on a couple of marriage-related topics we all went to bed. Unfortunately, even with the time-change the clock was showing 1.30am meaning we had been up almost 19 hours.

Nite, nite...

Daniel with Anissa & Mark Meyer

Day One: still bright eyed and bushy tailed!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Updated Online Cookbook

Niels and I were talking with a friend lately, and realized that other than when we're on the road, we can't even remember the last time we ate out for dinner. This has been our year of eating healthfully, and a big part of that has been cooking at home. We really enjoy having family dinners and I think it's important for Daniel to see us make that time a priority. It occurred to me that when I travel, I may want to have access to the recipes I've made, so I can keep cooking even when I'm not in my own kitchen.

Pasta & Grains

Lemon Dill Chicken (04.12.10)
Chicken Diane (10.28.10)

London Broil (04.24.10)

Dutch Delights
Dutch Almond Boterkoek (03.17.10)
Dutch Letter Cookies (04.02.10)
Stampot, aka Boerenkool met rookworst (04.11.10)
Hutspot (step-by-step) (04.22.10)
Indonesian Chicken Sate (step-by-step) (05.05.10)
Bitterballen (step-by-step) (05.05.10)
Dutch Macaroni (06.03.10)

Misc. Meals
Basic Quiche (02.22.09)
Rice Pizza (05.26.09)
Bubble and Squeak (09.28.09)
Stromboli (08.08.10)

Sides & Salads

Blondies (03.07.09)
Pumpkin Roll (09.12.09)
Banana Bread (01.26.10)
Almond Poppy Seed Muffins (03.31.10)
Spice Cake (04.03.10)
Spice Cake (04.14.10)
Homemade Granola (07.30.10)
Pita Chips (08.02.10)
Anissa Meyer's Almond Cherry Scones (09.15.10)
Fresh Apple Cake topped with this frosting. (09.22.10)
Apple Crisp (10.20.10)
Baked Kale Chips (01.08.11)

Sauces and Soups