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)
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I've been heard...

Six years after my brain injury, and three years after I applied for Social Security, I finally had my hearing on Wednesday.

Niels and I arrived about an hour before the hearing--I was a bit paranoid about getting lost! My lawyer arrived about a half hour before. He checked out the disk with all the documentation/evidence and we went into a little room to talk. Everything was current, so that was a relief. Then he talked a little bit about what to expect. He said that first the judge would ask some basic questions about myself (age, education, address, social security number, etc.), then he would ask questions about my health, then my lawyer would ask questions to bring up anything the judge didn't address, then the medical expert (ME) would give his opinion, then the lawyer would ask questions based on what the ME said, then vocational expert (VE) would give her opinion, then the lawyer would ask questions based on that. He said if the ME said I couldn't work, we'd stop at that point. If the ME said I could work, and the VE said I couldn't, we'd stop there because we won. If she said I could work, then we'd bring in my husband to talk about my meltdowns (which I don't remember).

We walked into the meeting room, and I was surprised to see that the judge, ME and lawyer all had computers to look at my file. The person running the recorder was also there. Unfortunately, the VE was not. She didn't call in or anything. I was pretty upset about that because after waiting 3 years to plead your case in person, the person who we were really looking to help me out wasn't there. I hope she wasn't in an accident or anything, but still, very, very strange that she just never showed.

Everything went the way my lawyer said it would. After being sworn in and giving basic details, i was asked a lot of questions about my prior work, my accident, my therapies, my routine today and limitations I have. My ME, who is about EIGHTY, said I should be able to work. (My lawyer said afterwards that this guy NEVER says anyone can't work). He did say I should avoid any factory work where I have quotas. The judge looked at him for about 5 seconds and said, "That's it?" and kind of smirked.

Since the VE still hadn't showed up or called at that point, my lawyer called in my husband to testify. He talked about how we work very hard to order my days, limit my social interactions and try to avoid crashes. He explained what happens when I get overwhelmed and how poorly I deal with stress (my body basically shuts down and i can appear drunk or even catatonic). He also pointed out how he could tell when I was close to crashing, and even pointed out how I appeared at that moment--eyes starting to glaze over, speech slowing down, etc.

The judge decided that he would have the VE listen to the transcript and then answer questions he would submit. Then my lawyer will have the ability to ask follow-up questions. Since she wasn't there, my lawyer said it would likely delay my decision another month, and said not to expect anything for at least two months. Sigh. My original hearing was in April, so it's a bit frustrating that I'm have ANOTHER delay. Yet another example that God is in control and I am clearly not.

So now, I wait.

Monday, August 2, 2010

First three years of forever!

I have grand plans to go back and make some posts about the last few months, but for now, I'll give another update. Like Niels said last month (!), we've had a fairly low key summer so far as I've been recovering from my surgery in June.

July has been focused on our plans for the future. The big news is that we're prepping our house for sale. We are planning to build a new home that fits our international, spread out family a little better (read: room for out-of-town guests!) in a nice, quiet neighborhood. We found a lot about 2 miles from our current home, and have selected our builder, Charis Homes.

We have been following Charis for nearly three years, when we first viewed one of their models when Niels' parents were here visiting over our first Christmas. They specialize in Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) construction, which is extremely durable and energy efficient. They are also excited about some of the universal design elements we have in mind. We've been having a lot of fun touring homes, pouring over floor plans and taking Daniel to all the home stores in the area! We meet with our architect on Thursday so we're really getting this ball rolling! If you're a Facebook friend, you can see some pictures of our ideas.

We've been interviewing realtors as we've been getting a few pre-renovation market analyses. Our builder has also been very helpful with getting quotes for the repairs we're doing. In addition to the usual decluttering and depersonalizing, we'll be
  • renovating the master bath (removing the triangle jacuzzi and replacing it with a regular size jetted soaker tub, adding a second vanity, replacing the shower door and light fixtures, and painting.
  • refinishing the hardwood floors
  • finishing the deck (soffiting and restaining)
  • painting the bathrooms
As if that doesn't make us busy enough, we'll also be heading to Minnesota for my 20 year high school reunion!

And in other big news, after three years of waiting, I'm finally up for my Social Security Disability hearing on August 11. It's been such a long process and I'm quite nervous about it. If you are the praying kind, we'd certainly appreciate your prayers for a fully favorable verdict from our judge. It usually takes 4-6 weeks to get the verdict, so you can imagine that I'll be waiting with bated breath.

On a related note, my health has been a challenge for the last several months. I had a uterine cancer scare in the spring that thankfully ended well. Then I had my surgery, and a few complications that have made a 4-6 week recovery more like an 8 week recovery. Fortunately, my mom was able to come for 3 weeks to help out with Daniel, and Niels was able to work from home for 2 weeks after that. My stitches are almost all closed and I'm looking forward to getting back to my previous fitness routine. I've lost 35 pounds so far this year, and am 20 away from my goal. The last few weeks I've been feeling the effects of our busier schedule so my headache has been worse and I've had more bad days than good. I'm also fighting some nausea, double vision and cognitive fatigue. I always do, but it's been more challenging lately.

On that note, I'm going to take a nap with Daniel now!

Daniel, 19 months, LOVES bubbles!

Celebrating our third anniversary on July 29, 2010.