It’s so overwhelming to even begin writing this story; there are so many emotions that flood my heart! We had been expecting the boys for quite some time by that point, because we’d just been trying so hard to keep them in my tummy after around 20 weeks.
I woke up around 1 am on Monday, June 16, 2014, and went to the bathroom. When I went back to bed, my water broke, and I remember feeling a deep peace when I realized what had happened. I was ready to meet them, and I knew it. I so wanted to hold them each in my arms.
I woke up John, and since we’d been ready for the hospital for a few months, he got ready while I calmly sat on the bed and called Beth to come over, and then Grandma Kay (who would take over for Beth so she could go back home). When Beth got there a few minutes later, we went in to wake up Anna to tell her where we were going and that Grandma Kay would be there when she woke up; she was so excited, even in her sleepiness! We also went in to kiss Josie goodbye.
A few minutes later we were in the car and heading to United Hospital. My contractions weren’t strong, but getting more so as time went by. I remember during this time I still had such a strong feeling of peace and excitement – we were both SO excited!
In the parking ramp, I decided I didn’t need to be wheeled in, so we parked together and got out of our cars next to another couple who was going in to have their baby. In the elevator we asked them if this was their first, because they looked quite terrified. (It was.)
We had to wait a few minutes for our room (maybe 3 or 4 – it wasn’t long), and when we got there, the nurse apologized because their internet system had gone down a while before and it was throwing everything off. We, again, didn’t mind. We were just. so. excited.
By about 3 am my contractions were strong and regular, and I started to get “the shakes,” as I call them (I’ve heard other people call them tremors or shivers). They were continuous; I knew that with Josie’s (natural except for pitocin to induce labor) birth, they had been strong but not continuous through contractions until close to the end. At this point I was still only dilated to maybe a 4 or 5. They asked if I would like to have the epidural placed or the cerclage removed first, and I asked for the epidural. It went great with the exception of the shaking throughout (it’s hard to hold still when your body is involuntarily bouncing all over the place). But it worked, and although the shaking continued, the pain was diminished and I was ready for the next step.
About a half hour later, the doctor was ready to remove the cerclage, so they brought me to the operating room. And then came the only true pain I remember during the entire labor. About 20 minutes into the procedure (which normally takes place just in a doctor’s office), I was crying and I told John to ask if this was how long it normally takes. The doctor, who was very kind but whom I didn’t have nice feelings toward at this moment, said that it typically is done in just a couple minutes, but that the second stitch of my cerclage had moved up so far that she couldn’t get a good view of it and she didn’t want to cut blindly (with which I suppose I agree). Finally, another 10 minutes later, they were done, but I must have been cut or scraped somehow, because I could feel pain in that area every time I had a contraction.
They then asked if I’d like to go back to a room or stay in the OR. I knew I’d have to deliver here, so with an epidural, it meant I’d need to be moved to another bed and then back again before delivering, and I actually prefer just lying down during labor. So I opted to stay where we were, and I’m thankful they gave me that option. We sat/laid there for the next hour or two; I listened to my calming labor playlist and tried to rest, while John dozed off next to me off and on. At around 7 am, the nurses began their shift change – and I said I felt like I needed to push!
The nurse had checked only about 5 minutes before this and I’d been at a 7, but I was sure I was ready now. So she checked me again and sure enough, I was dilated all the way. There were suddenly a lot more people in the room than just the few nurses changing shifts and giving their reports! They asked me not to try my best not to push until they got the doctor there. There were two NICU teams and a lot of nurses, and then in came Dr. Cappechi. There were many doctors who could have delivered me, but I’d had a bad experience with the doctor who delivered Anna at United, so I was a little nervous. But I had met Dr. Cappechi at St. Peter’s, and I felt a strong reassurance from God that this was his extra blessing for me this morning. The only question I had for him was whether or not he would try to deliver Jude (Baby B at the time) breech if he changed positions, and he said he would, which was what I was hoping for; no one wants to recover from both a vaginal birth and a c-section if they can help it.
Dr. Cappechi started by asking if the epidural was working, and he touched a few spots to ask if I could feel it. At one point I said yes, and he looked at me with surprise. “You can feel this?” he asked. “Yep!” I responded. “That, too!” He then wanted to know if I wanted some numbing medication for that area, and I told him to go right ahead! I assume that the epidural doesn’t or didn’t work in certain spots in my body, which is why the cerclage removal had been so painful. Either way, I was not in pain anymore and was excited to meet my babies!
By the time the shift change was over and I could go ahead and push, John said there were 17 people in the room (not including the babies). I was completely oblivious to everything else going on, with the exception of John, the two nurses, and the doctor all standing immediately around me.
I was ready, and after only one contraction, at 7:35 am, Elias James was born. He came out so easily and I remember seeing his sweet hands and little head pop up as they placed him on my lower abdomen and cut his cord. They quickly took him over to the warmer to make sure he was healthy and breathing ok.
At this point, I had always expected to think, “Oh no; now I have to push again!” But it was the complete opposite. All of my endorphins and adrenaline had me running on high, and I had just met one perfect baby boy and couldn’t wait to meet the other. I vividly remember thinking, “I get to do this again!” It was beyond words to describe how wonderful that felt, knowing another baby was coming soon.
As soon as Elias was in the warmer, the nurse began to push on my stomach to get Jude to move head down. His water broke sometime around here, although I don’t really remember it. He moved pretty easily, and they started monitoring his heart rate again right away, as it had dropped a few times earlier. I had asked that it be turned down during labor, but with all the people around, it was hard for anyone to look at it closely during the deliveries, so they had turned it up a bit. I would guess that about three minutes after Elias was born, the doctor asked to have the monitor turned up more; he had noticed (as had I) that Jude’s heart rate was still dropping repeatedly, with no relation to contractions, as I hadn’t had one since pushing out Elias. And then we started to lose his heartbeat all together. We would hear it slow down and stop for a few seconds, then speed back up a few seconds later. The first time it did this, the doctor asked if I was having a contraction yet, and I wasn’t. Then he told me to push as soon as I felt a contraction coming on. The next 30 seconds or so I remember being very still and quiet as we all listened to the heart beat and waited. I am thankful, looking back, that I still had the endorphins and happy feelings of having Elias born, or I think this would have been a lot scarier at the time. It felt like forever (but was really so short – a lot can happen in five minutes!), but I finally felt a contraction coming, and at 7:40 am, with only one push, Jude Robert was born.
I didn’t see Jude right away, but I remember listening for his cries. John said that they did something with his neck and thinks the cord was wrapped around him, but he stretched his skinny arm out and grabbed my finger. I was elated. They took him to the warmer right away and got him started on oxygen, while Elias was only requiring the nasal cannula for a little extra air at the moment. As they were checking both boys out, I asked how much Elias had weighed and when they said 4 lbs, 8 oz, I started laughing. He was the same size as Anna, and she had been born over three weeks later. And then Jude, being 4 lbs, 6 oz, surprised us because the last ultrasound had said that he might not be growing as much as Elias. But they apparently shared their resources quite well!
The nurses brought each baby over to me one at a time before they were taken to the NICU. I kissed Elias’ sweet head and was sad to see him go, but was also still a little nervous about Jude. They brought him to me and I got to kiss him quickly. Everyone reassured me that he was doing great now (his original Apgar score had been a little low), and then I sent John to go with the boys.
The doctor cleaned me up and said I didn’t tear at all; no stitches or anything. I was thankful for that! They returned me to my original delivery room, where I had to stay for one or two hours (I can’t remember) while the epidural started to wear off and they checked my vital signs. The tremors/shaking I’d had before pushing came back full force, and the nurse struggled to take my blood pressure with the cuff and eventually did it the “normal” way. I made a few calls from the room and had breakfast, then got the ok to get in a wheelchair and go see my babies.
I held each boy for as long as I could, and I remember feeling elated that they were here and sad that I couldn’t hold them both at the same time. But they were doing so well! They were both on just extra air through a nasal cannula by the next morning, and I was discharged from my maternity ward that afternoon.
I spent that second night in the NICU with the babies and the pump. Early in the morning, I went out to use the restroom and when I got back to the room, I felt like my water had broken, but when I looked down I realized I was bleeding. Everywhere. It had soaked through everything in about 10 seconds, and I called for the nurse, who brought a wheelchair and they brought me down to the Emergency Room.
I called John and he came over to be with me, because I was a wreck. I was scared something was wrong and also missing all of my children. The doctors checked my hemoglobin and also did an ultrasound, but everything looked fine, so I was able to go back to the NICU and rest there.
The boys were born at 33 weeks and 3 days, only six and a half weeks early, and were beautifully healthy. They also were right around the 40th percentile for weight, which was great – twins are typically smaller than other babies born at the same time, but these little ones grew really well.
Anna got to see her little brothers the afternoon they were born. She was able to go from isolette to isolette and she sang them an equal number of songs. It was just about the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. She didn’t care about the wires or any of the machines; she got to touch the babies’ hands and was just so excited that they were here. Unfortunately, Josie had a pretty bad cold and had to stay out of the NICU.
About a week after they were born, Children’s NICU was almost at capacity and they needed to take on more babies who were in much worse positions than our boys were. They requested that we transfer to Regions Hospital, which we accepted, although it wasn’t easy to make that choice. John went with the babies as they transferred them in their little pods. As he was leaving, one of the nurses watching happened to mention to another coworker that she was so happy we were making more room for other babies; I think her exact words at one point were, “Yippee!” John was not thrilled with this, as even though we knew it was for a good reason that we were being moved, it was still not an easy thing to do (you always worry about your babies, and now we also had to learn another new set of protocols for visitors, pumping, parking, etc.). He ended up mentioning the interaction with a nurse supervisor and just said that maybe staff shouldn’t talk about things like this in front of parents who are under a little bit of stress. The nurse apologized, and we made the transition pretty smoothly.
There were a lot of great things about being at Regions. It was a lot quieter, for one, and the boys were also able to be in one large room – TOGETHER! Jessica Shurts came to visit the first night we were there and the nurses let me hold both of my boys in my lap while Jess took a few photos. I hadn’t realized that they would let me hold them both, so to have them in my lap together, and to see their faces at the same time, right next to each other – it was just incredible. These are still some of my favorite photos of Elias and Jude, and I’m so thankful Jess was able to be there to capture such great shots of a really meaningful moment for me. (Thank you again, Jess!)
On Thursday, June 26, Josie got to meet her brothers. Our whole family was finally together, if only for a few minutes. Josie held each of them and gave them lots of kisses, while Anna continued to sing to them. So sweet to see the love they had for their brothers right from the start!
Also on that day, the doctors informed us that it was likely they could go home in 7 to 10 days, as they were starting to eat well from a bottle and had been keeping their temperatures up on their own. They had a few breathing and heart rate spells throughout the past week and a half, but nothing too alarming. Typically once you noticed it, they got themselves out of it, but Elias had one heart rate spell that took a lot of work to get it back up (nurses rubbing his legs, moving him, etc.). Because of that, he had to be monitored one full night at Regions before being allowed to go home. That Sunday, going home became much more real; they said they could probably go home the next day if Elias passed his heart rate test. So John went off to buy some diapers, because we didn’t have any at home!
Elias passed his test beautifully and on Monday, June 30, after only two short weeks in the NICU, the boys were given the green light to go home. We packed them up in the minivan and the girls welcomed us home with lots of gusto. And we began our life as a family of six (with four under four!).
I can’t finish this story without thinking of all of the help, support, and prayers we received over the course of the boys’ pregnancy and newborn stages. A huge number of meals were brought, our girls were always well taken care of, our house was cleaned and laundry done, money and gifts were received, babies were fed so parents could sleep. I am so grateful for all of the many people who supported us through their immense generosity; it made the time considerably easier than it could have been. If you helped us in any way, THANK YOU. You were Christ to us, and we hope we are able to do the same for you some day.
To help us prepare for the next two members of our family, my sister-in-law and sisters offered to host a baby shower for us. There are a surprising number of items that are needed (or at least very convenient to have on hand) with two little boys on the way, not least of all a whole new double wardrobe of boy clothes.
Even though I was on bed rest, the shower went really well and was so much fun! It was, of course, MN Twins-themed, which worked out especially well when we learned that the babies were boys. (But no, they will not be named Justin and Joe… sorry, all you other Twins fans!) A couch was pulled out for me to lie on as we all enjoyed the stadium eats (brats and hot dogs: some of this pregnant woman’s favorite foods), the gifts, and the conversation with a lot of friends and family. I couldn’t resist sharing all of these photos that my mom took, because the decorations at this shower were amazing!
Thank you to everyone who helped plan this fun night, and to all of you who were able to attend. We are so grateful that you are all a part of our lives!
When I say “winter,” I mean the time of year when there is snow on the ground here. And this year that lasted quite a long time. I may be starting a bit early with a Thanksgiving picture (I can’t remember now), but it definitely lasted past Easter.
These are just a few of the events from our lives this past winter, and I wanted to make sure I hit most of the highlights. Unfortunately I’m sure we’re missing a lot, but still, it was a pretty fun winter… even if we did have to stay indoors almost the entire time.
Our newest little niece (and first on Sara’s side of the family) has arrived! Ellie Jo was born on Thursday, July 18, and is already stealing hearts. She was 6 lbs, 3 oz, and surprised everybody by being born three hours away from home, three and a half weeks early. We’re so excited to welcome her to the family and can’t wait to see her again soon.
My grandpa passed away on March 14. We had the services last week, just before Holy Week began in earnest. My sister wrote (and husband read) a beautiful eulogy, which made us laugh and cry. And while it was good to see so many family and friends, it was also hard to say some last goodbyes to Grandpa. Thank you again to those who wrote, called, and sent flowers and cards.
Only a few days later, we were at Easter Sunday, where we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and, with hope, “look forward to the resurrection” of our own bodies someday. While we continue to pray for Grandpa and for our family members who will miss him, we also remember the joy he brought to our lives and look forward to meeting him again.
In mid-October we went on our (final?!) annual trip to the North Shore over MEA weekend. The tradition started when Terry, a friend of the family, invited us to go along with his family one fall. My family has been going ever since. I was in elementary school when we started going, and it’s sincerely been the highlight of the year for us; I think it occasionally even beats our Christmas time together. The last five years we have also had the Cahills join us to add to the fun. And you can bet that over the past ten years, between the “kids” getting older and bringing more people, the level of alcohol consumption (and food, for that matter) has increased exponentially.
We are really heartbroken to see this tradition end, but we still greatly enjoyed this year’s trip and hope to start new traditions as time goes on. Still, it was hard to leave that Sunday!
First – happy birthday to Auntie Traci! We love you!
We traveled down to Eyota in late September to see my family as well as the Kramer family. I grew up with the Kramers and the families have stayed in touch pretty well as we’ve grown, but one thing we always enjoyed growing up was having a big brunch together after church on Sunday. My sisters decided it was time to do it again, so we managed to pull it off and had a good time, with the exception that Brian (Josie’s godfather) couldn’t make it. (We missed you, Brian!) His wife Brianna and daughter Hailey were able to spend the day with us, though, which was great. Anna doesn’t get to see Hailey often, but we hope that they’ll get to be good friends as they get older now that they’ve moved closer to the Cities. The two girls were born only two weeks apart, and Hailey is our goddaughter.
My parents wanted to have some family photos taken, so Dan offered to follow us around and get some outdoor shots. He did a great job! Take a look through this gallery for a few of the highlights, both the good and the bad.
Our Sweetest Pea is now past two years old. She did really, really well at the doctor’s office last week, which I suppose is encouraged by the fact that there are no more shots for a few years! She is definitely a growing girl; her height and weight are both at right about the 50th percentile (34 inches and 26.4 lbs, respectively), and if you do the “times two” method (see #2 in this link), she will be approximately 5 feet, 8 inches when she’s grown up. (I was curious!)
Her head remains in the 70th percentile. She has come a long way since the tiny 4 lb., 8 oz baby I delivered two years ago! She now can sing a few songs, count to 10 (if you make her do it “for real” – and sometimes to 13), knows most of the basic colors, and pretty much doesn’t stop talking. She is such a ham and is turning into a very sweet little girl who likes to give hugs and kisses; we really enjoy her antics!
We celebrated her birthday with immediate family and some close friends who live nearby. It was a beautiful evening, and although she had a few meltdowns during the afternoon before the party, she was the perfect party hostess that night in her cute pigtails and pretty dress. She didn’t even bat an eye when her friend Lucian blew out her candles for her! We did relight them and she “helped” me blow them out again. She really enjoyed the balloons, the family, the friends, the brats, the puppy cake, the candles, the presents… pretty much everything! We couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate her birthday. Thank you so much to all of you who came – we love you all and were so glad to have everyone there!
(Click on a picture to view a larger image and to go through the gallery.)
For Anna’s birthday and just because, my parents took her to a Twins game. (Yes, she’s been to more games than I have in the past year. If the Twins were doing a lot better, I’d be complaining a lot more, but… they’re not.) From what they told me, she had a GREAT time. Even in the really warm weather, she wanted to keep going back to their seats outside in the sun, while it sounds like Grandpa and Grandma were pretty much dragging her indoors to cool off every so often. We have trained her well, though; every player was “Goe Mauer” and she even got Tony Oliva to say hi to her, even if she wasn’t too excited to talk back to him! She also really enjoyed the light rail ride and is still, a month later, talking about the train in conjunction with Grandpa and Grandma.
Thanks for taking her to the game, Mom and Dad – we hope she grows up to enjoy the Twins as much as we do!
My grandma and grandpa are called the “Big G’s” for Anna’s sake – they wanted something easier than “Great-grandma/pa Hammel.” The Big G (grandma) happens to almost share a birthday with Anna; they’re just a few days apart. (And happy birthday to the other “big G,” Grandpa, this coming Saturday!)
This year was the Big G’s 70th birthday, so a party was thrown at – where else? – the American Legion in mid-August. We drove down on Friday and stayed at my parents’ home, complete with beautiful sunsets overlooking the farm and the rolling hills. The party was that night, and we got to see a lot of family, including my great-aunt Toot, my aunt Kel-lee, and her new baby boy Caden, who all traveled up (sans husbands and another child) from Arizona to celebrate with us. It was so great to see them and spend time celebrating all that my grandma has done in 70 years, including raising four awesome kids. Anna got her fill of the Big G’s favorite candies, which were all set out on the table. Every person’s lap she encountered was another opportunity to ask for “sickles, peas” (Skittles, please); and of course, no one wanted to disappoint her. Happy birthday again, Grandma! We love you!
Saturday was a relaxing, sleepy day. Anna ran around with Copper, and we all really enjoyed pizza and then a campfire outside that evening. The next day we found out that as relaxing as it had been, we had still apparently worn Anna out, because on the way to see her friend Hailey, she fell asleep in less than 20 minutes in the car – something that rarely happens anymore! She did wake up and we had a nice time visiting with Briana and Hailey before we finished our drive back home. We were sad to see that weekend end, but we get to go back already this weekend and are excited about that!
We had a beautiful summer and are sad to see it end, even if the new school year has brought some fun and exciting changes: a new niece is about to be born, and John started teaching theology classes this fall, which I’m sure will lead to some great dinnertime conversations as he reveals what 17 year old boys think about Christ and His Church. We realized that although we did manage to post a few times this summer, we just couldn’t catch everything. Here are a few things we missed that we’d like to share with you.
We had our attic re-insulated a few weeks ago (okay… so maybe more like 6 or 7 weeks…), so while the dust was heavy in the air, the girls and I escaped down to my parents’ home near Rochester. We had a great time just hanging out around the house, while Anna of course loved playing with, terrorizing, and giving treats to the puppies. (Both Copper and Sparky were there, as my sister and brother-in-law were living with my parents for a month before moving out of town.) This trip also explains our recent deluge of blog posts; I finally had some downtime to put together the pictures and videos I wanted to share.
The highlight of our trip happened the first morning we were there. Viola Gopher Count is the second oldest continuously running town celebration in the US, and I attended some part of it probably every year until I went to college. I hadn’t been there in oh, about ten years, but this was a great year to go again! The weather was great, and Anna got to really enjoy the parade, while Josie – who already loves to be outside – smiled and cooed for us all afternoon.
We of course had another fun time visiting my family. Thanks for letting us hide out for a few days, Mom and Dad! We love you!
Ming Arf-Arf = Grandma with the puppy
Bapa Arf-Arf = Grandpa with the puppy
These are Anna’s names for her grandparents (John’s parents are Ming and Bapa bears – because they have stuffed bears she plays with there), although the “arf-arf” has since evolved into “puppy” and “Cah-poo” (Copper – their puppy’s name). We visited them twice in the last month, the first for a family wedding in mid-May. Anna enjoyed her time with her aunties and uncle, as well as all the dancing at the wedding, and, of course, the puppies.
In June we visited again for another wedding reception and then a belated housewarming-slash-50th birthday party for my parents. Once again the dancing and puppies were a hit with Anna, while Josie enjoyed being passed around from person to person on what turned out to be a beautiful but very warm day. John and I got to play a few rounds of Beersby (a frisbee-related backyard game my sister and brother-in-law set up) and enjoy a little bit of baby-free time.
Thanks, Ming and Bapa, for having us down and for some great memories! (Oh… and for all the pictures!)
As I write this, Josephine is now about 100 hours old and doing pretty well, all things considered. She was under UV lights for a while to stave off jaundice, a nice little gift from two parents with bloodtype O+ and the fine Minnesota climate. She was taken out from under the lights and the isolation chamber this morning. This means she is still hanging out in the special care nursery because of her feeding tube, but she’s now in a bassinet at least.
Yesterday I busted Sara out of the hospital where she’s boarding and took her to lunch at Great Waters in downtown St. Paul; it was nice to have a burger and just be a couple for an hour or two in the middle of all that’s going on. Then today we had Easter at our house with grandmas and grandpas from both sides of the family and Sara’s sisters. Again Sara got to take a few hours off to help Anna hunt for Easter eggs.
It’s hard to say what the near future will bring for our family. Josie is five weeks premature and needs to learn how to eat properly. Once her suck reflex has fully kicked in, we will be able to take her home. If you are reading this, please say a prayer for our family, and especially for little Josie that she grows strong quickly so our family can all be home together. Also please ask Josie’s patron saints, Joseph and Mary, to pray for her too!
It’s been a difficult past few days for me as a dad; I want nothing more than to have all my girls home with me. But we are connected by love, prayers, and the support of our wonderful family and friends, and I can’t ask for much more than that.
And now, some photos:
(If you made it this far, you get one last story.)
Last night I had given Anna a bath and was putting her PJs on in her room. She kept asking for a song, but after I started each one of her favorites, she shouted, “All done!” Confused, I asked her, “What song do you want?” at which point she began saying “Night night” in a deep voice and following it up with “Picka picka!” (her version of birdies tweeting.)
I eventually deduced that she wanted me to sing “Goodnight Ladies” from The Music Man, which you can watch here. This evolved into me exchanging the word “Anna” for “ladies.” Then she shouted out, “Baby! Baby!” So I sang “Goodnight, Baby…” and she began to wiggle, grin, and clap.
What a sweet big sister. I was a proud poppa last night.
(We apologize for the lack of a full Christmas post. I guess we’ll make this fun and do a musical/pictorial version!)
“During Christmas vacation, my true love gave to me…
Merry Christmas to one and all.
May God abundantly bless you in 2012.
Yes, you read it correctly. An intoxicated maze. No, the maze was not drunk, but the people entering it may have been slightly so.
It all started with a Groupon. My sister Traci bought one for cheap admission to the Amazing Mirror Maze at the Mall of America, thinking that she’d use it when a friend was visiting. That never happened, but she did mention to John that she still had to use this Groupon and was thinking maybe the sisters/brothers-in-law could do it together. I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Traci: I have these Groupons I need to use. We should all go together!
John: That sounds okay. But you know what would make it really fun?
Traci: If we dressed up in costumes?
John: No, but that would be awesome too. It would be really fun, though, if we went to a bar first!
Traci: Wow! Like, have some beer? That would be amazing! (Ha! Amazing! Like the Amazing Mirror Maze!)
Both: Let’s do it!
Okay, so the conversation didn’t exactly go like that, but John did make the suggestion and Traci did think it was a great idea, so the plan was made. Unfortunately, we forgot all about it until the day of, and didn’t have anyone to watch Anna, so she got to join in the fun. (The maze, people, not the drinking. We’re not that kind of parents.) It also meant I decided to stick to Shirley Temples, but I did get to cart Anna around in her stroller and watch five people get slightly tipsy and then try to go through a mirror maze. I do have to say that it was quite entertaining. Totally worth the money spent! (Also, it turned out to be a good thing I didn’t drink, as I found out I was pregnant the next day.)
In the autumn of 2005 I was tired, stressed out, and swamped with work. It was my first year of teaching, and I was quickly learning how stressful the profession it can be. However, a four-day weekend was quickly approaching, and I could at least look forward to catching up on grading quizzes and planning lessons.
All that changed when Sara called and invited me to head up north with her family for four days of watching Lake Superior waves crash on the strand, drinking beer, playing games, and hiking. Despite how wonderful it all sounded, I still needed convincing that leaving all my grading behind was okay. Seven years later, I’m glad I decided to go, and we’ve gone back every year since.
Each year we’ve rented out the same cabins at the Gooseberry Park, though the sleeping arrangements have changed a bit over the years. Since 2009 Sara’s parents and sisters have used one cabin, while we have stayed in another with our friends Luke and Angela. This year saw a few more changes to the usual cast of characters. Our crew included Sara’s mom and dad, middle sister, youngest sister and husband, our friend Angela and her two boys, and family friends the Ottjes family. We occupied two cabins and a hotel suite in all.
Anna did a great job on the three-hour car ride up to the cabin, and she enjoyed watching Lake Superior. The weather was uniformly beautiful—50 degrees and sunny, which we all appreciated. We played a lot of games including cribbage, 7 Wonders, Carcassonne, and Bowls, and spent most of our time drinking beer and eating delicious food. Every night one family hosted dinner, so we got to sample everyone’s cooking at least once (it was all excellent!). On Friday several of us piled into two cars for a worthwhile trip to the tiny Castle Danger Brewery; it’s here that I fell in love with their Nestor Grade amber ale. However, it was not a hit with the rest of the group, and that night we had a beer tasting back at the cabin during which, surprise of surprises, my homebrew took first prize in a blind taste test! Saturday we took our usual trip to Gooseberry Falls in the afternoon, attended mass in Two Harbors, and returned to play games and watch the World Series.
All in all, it was another relaxing weekend, and we’ve already booked our cabins for next year!
As long as I can remember, my family has always owned a camper. I know that my parents had a tent when I was born, but they moved into the pop-up era soon after, and since then they’ve upgraded every few years. It made for some great summer vacations, because we’d pack up everything in the camper and head out for weeks, usually going west. No, we weren’t “roughing it” by some standards, but it made for fairly quick and easy overnight stops to our main destination. (Maybe not so “easy” if you ask my dad, who usually ended up doing most of the work…) We LOVED it. There are so many great stories from those trips; most of them involved all of us in very close quarters, laughing until we cried.
John and I haven’t been camping a ton since we got married, but we have made a few trips, and we were able to take Anna out in a tent at least once this summer. And although she hasn’t stayed overnight yet, she has also enjoyed Grandpa Jim and Grandma Sherry’s camper. One of these times was over Labor Day weekend at Lake Elmo Park Reserve.
My family grew up going camping with my uncle and aunt, Scott and Denise, and their four kids, every Labor Day weekend. We used to go somewhere new each year (I just have to mention El Rancho Manana; it was the best in all of our minds because we WON the scavenger hunt! Free s’mores supplies, camping gear, and ridiculously happy memories were OURS!). Somewhere along the line we stayed at Lake Elmo and we’ve been going there ever since.
This year we weren’t able to enjoy the entire weekend, but we did go out for one day. Here are some pictures of Anna enjoying herself. I hope she gets to grow up with wonderful camping memories, whether with us or with her grandparents.
My sister Traci and I hosted our little sister Beth’s Bachelorette Party the Saturday before the wedding. I drove down to Traci’s apartment Friday night so we could finish up a few details and so I could see her new, awesome apartment in SmallTown, Minnesota. When Saturday morning started out with Traci locking her keys in her car, I was praying that this wasn’t a foreshadowing of a problematic party, but everything went off better than fine.
We all met at Chateau Kramer (family friends who were sweet enough to let us use their home for our overnight party) around 12:30. The group of us boarded our party bus, driven by our cousin Sam: policeman by day, bachelorette party bus driver extraordinaire by night… at least for one day.
We first drove to Whitewater Wines, a vineyard about 40 minutes from Rochester. Let me tell you, if you are looking for a nice tour, many delicious wines to taste, and the friendliest people on the planet, this is the winery to visit. We each had 15 (yes, FIFTEEN) wine tastings for only $6. And they weren’t skimpy on the samples, either! I think we were all feeling pretty good by the time we left. Not to mention that our Bachelorette, Beth, had an extra glass we had given her, so she was double fisting it through most of these. To top it off, Beth agreed to take a dare to drink a glass full of the wine dump. She did make over $50 doing it, but that couldn’t have tasted good. Never underestimate my baby sister; if food and money is involved, she WILL take the dare!
Once we had all finished, we all agreed that this was a place to revisit. We had gotten progressively louder throughout our time there – there were 12 women, after all! – and I am pretty sure the hospitable staff was ready to see us go. But let me just mention one more time: their wines were great!
Our next stop was Salem Glen Vineyard, only a few miles from Rochester, and it was okay. We had called ahead to make reservations but somehow they didn’t manage to move some tables together for us, so we ended up at two separate tables; not a big deal, but odd when calling ahead apparently did nothing. Not to mention that they were going to charge us an extra $2/person just for having a group over 10, but thankfully they didn’t end up doing that, and the service was friendly while we were there. I wasn’t as impressed by these wines (we were given tastings of seven wines here), but that could just be my preference. Either way, Bethany Jo was well on her way to feeling like a rock star!
After that we headed to dinner at Glynner’s Pub. Our bachelorette wasn’t feeling very well toward the end of dinner, but we managed to make it back to the house, where we enjoyed a game, gift opening, snacks, Rummy Bears, and… a performance of “Super Trouper” from Mamma Mia by our mom (Sherry), our “second” mom (Laurie) and Beth’s newest mom (LeAnn). Mom and Beth both love the movie and had joked about Mom doing this at her bachelorette party; I think she was happily surprised!
We slept, we woke up, we rehashed everything that had happened the day before and talked about how great the party was. Truly, there is nothing quite like a fun girls’ night out. There’s just something exhilarating about it, and I hope everyone else had as good a time as I did. Thank you, Traci, for all the help planning, and thank you, Bethany, for being a fun bachelorette! We love you and congratulations!
Last week was an absolute flurry of activity as we prepared for and eventually celebrated the wedding of Beth, Sara’s baby sister, to her one-and-only, Jeff. We headed down to Eyota on Thursday afternoon and enjoyed dinner at Mr. Pizza in Rochester with Sara’s family, including Aunt Kel-lee, Uncle Rob, and cousin Xander (who travelled from Arizona) and Uncle Joe, Aunt Kari, and their three girls. Later that night, Anna managed to bash her face on Grandma and Grandpa’s entertainment center; she would spend the rest of the weekend looking pretty tough with a big bruise under her eye. But that didn’t stop her from helping Grandpa fix a leaky faucet!
Okay, let’s be honest; Grandpa still had to call a plumber on Friday. But we were busy decorating the local American Legion and holding the rehearsal at a parish in Rochester. We set up tables, hung lights from the ceiling, made dozens of ham sandwiches, and generally made the place ready for the wedding reception. Lots of folks came out to help, including our goddaughter, Vyctoria.
The rehearsal went off without a hitch. I spent most of the time keeping the Sweetest Pea amused while Sara (now a Matron of Honor!) practiced entering and exiting the church. That night we attended the groom’s dinner, held at a park in Eyota, ate food, and visited with family. Oh, and we also got some nice presents from the happy couple–Sara for being the MoH, and me for lectoring. In fact, we used my present on Sunday when we drove back up to the Cities. (I received a Battle of the Sexes quiz book.)
Saturday, the wedding day, was gorgeous–partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid 80s. I had one job while Sara went to the salon to get her hair done: keep the Sweetest Pea out of trouble. I failed. She tumbled off a recliner and banged up her nose good, and was not a very happy camper after that point. However, she was good for Grandpa Jim while I ran some quick errands around town. I got very strange marching orders on Saturday: decorate the bridal suite. Looking back, I still can’t believe anyone trusted Beth’s dorky brother-in-law with the job, but I did my best. Chocolates? Check. Streamers? Check. Fake rose petals? Check. Peanuts and Cracker Jacks? Check. (Don’t ask.) Car window paint? Check.
The wedding ceremony itself went very well–the groom was dapper in his tuxedo and the bride beautiful in white, though it was the Matron of Honor that caught my eye. The Sweetest Pea even did well sitting on Grandma Kay’s lap, even though she had missed her afternoon nap.
Of course, no wedding would truly be complete without one teensy weensy little problem, and it occurred after the ceremony. We piled into a party bus that had been rented for the wedding party, only to find out that despite having been fixed the week before, it would not start. Uh oh. We sweated it out in good spirits and were just arranging alternate transportation when, miracle of miracles, it started! Hurray! The only downside was that we had worked our way through our supply of alcohol in the meantime, so we had to stop at a liquor store to fill back up. In the end, the happy couple still arrived at the reception hall on time, and we ate, drank, and danced the night away. And like all weddings the Nigons put on, it was an absolute blast. Around 10 PM I got to see an amazing rendition of the Total Eclipse of the Heart sung by none other than Sara, Traci, and Beth. Wow, I’d pay money to see that again!
On Sunday, we were a little stiff and tired out, but we had fun sitting around at Grandpa Jim and Grandma Sherry’s house, watching Jeff and Beth open presents. I took a few family photographs, and then we headed home. It was a fun weekend, but infinitely more important was that we finally got to see two of our favorite people tie the knot. May your marriage be blessed, Jeff and Beth!
We’ve been very busy so far this June, and this weekend was busier than most. This past Friday Beth and Traci, Sara’s sisters, came up for a girls’ night. They watched movies, ate nachos, and hung out at the park with Anna. I spent the evening with my dad; we attended the American Beauty Project concert at Orchestra Hall. It was excellent, and as an added bonus, we were treated to some natural fireworks after the concert in the form of a lightning storm that rolled into downtown Minneapolis around 10 PM.
On Saturday, I headed to the State Fair grounds in St. Paul with my father-in-law and one of his friends for the Minnesota Street Rod Association’s “Back to the 50s” car show. This is a yearly event where over 11,500 classic cars are shown, though not a single one built after 1964 is allowed. I’m not a big gearhead, but this is the third year in a row that I’ve gone to the show, which should tell you something about how spectacular it is!
On Saturday afternoon, we packed up the car and headed to my parents’ condo. My cousin Sherri was visiting from Omaha, and we had a good time drinking beer, talking, and celebrating Father’s Day together. Sherri had not seen Anna since Thanksgiving and commenting that she is getting So! Big! Sherri also got to meet Genevieve, now jokingly called Dino Baby because she makes screeching noises like a tiny T-Rex. Father’s Day proper we had an especially fun time; the whole family headed to Canterbury Park for an afternoon of horse racing and people watching. Many of us had exceptionally good luck. My dad and I picked winners in three out of four races, and my winnings managed to cover Sara’s losses (sorry dear!). Looking back, it was a weekend packed with fun.
This week we have very few items on our schedule and are just enjoying being home together with Anna. Since it’s been raining on and off all day, she used part of her afternoon indoors to peruse the bookshelf.
Dear Grandpa Jim,
You are my favorite grandpa with a mustache. And with a puppy! You are so sweet to me because you come and visit a lot, and you know that I got my habit of rubbing my feet together from you. Thank you again for the tickets to the Twins’ game last week (Mommy will be posting about that soon), because I had a lot of fun and I can’t wait for you to take me to more as I get older! Thank you for being a funny, loving grandpa and I will hopefully see you via Skype very soon. I love you!
Your Anna Banana
Dear Grandpa Rob,
You are my favorite grandpa with an apple. An iPad, I mean. Or a Mac. I’m sure I’ll learn these things as I grow up, and you’ll be there to teach me. I love to come visit you and spend time playing on the floor with you; you are so good at keeping me happy! Thank you for taking me to watch the horses yesterday. I really liked them (Mommy will be posting about that too)! Thank you for being a wonderful, loving grandpa and I can’t wait to spend all night with you next weekend. I love you!
Your Anna Kateri
You are the BEST daddy in the entire world! And I know, because I’ve seen a lot of daddies. You are the best at making me smile and giggle. You encourage me to be daring by flipping me upside down and throwing me in the air, and those are two of my very favorite things! You also help me see the world differently by putting me up on your shoulders, and I know that you’re very thoughtful because you’re always very careful that I don’t hit my head when I’m up there. You are so good at being a daddy and I am so blessed and lucky that I get to grow up with you around, teaching me how to love God and love everyone around me. Thank you for being there to play when I’m happy and snuggle when I’m sleepy. I love you very, very much!
Your Sweetest Pea