Food Sanitation for the Home Cook

I was amazed at what I learned this past summer in my Food Sanitation for Food Professionals course. After receiving my state certification for Food Protection Management, I’ve realized that this is information that EVERY home cook should know. I have developed a course for home cooks dealing with applicable food sanitation topics. I am still working on providing a video series for my long distance friends who may interested, but the dates and pricing for any in-home courses will be announced soon. Here’s a teaser:

Introduction to the course:
Food sanitation may sound boring or something that should be left in the hands of professionals, but nothing could be further from the truth! As a home cook you are often concerned about the health and safety of your family. You spend time and money to learn about nutrition and what to feed your family. Did you know that how you store, prepare, and serve the food your family eats is just as important? Your family eats at home more than any other place, and every meal provides an opportunity for you to nurture your family – or potentially harm them. In this course we’ll talk about how to ensure that you are buying quality ingredients, storing, thawing, cooking, reheating, and sanitizing properly.

For those of you who may be skeptical about the importance of food sanitation, let me tell you that no one was more skeptical than I! I am a natural-minded person who avoids prescription medicine, mainstream lotions and soaps, and harsh chemical cleaners. This course is not about buying into the FDA or USDA or bleaching everything in sight. It is about educating yourself to the potential dangers in food and how to prevent foodborne illness in your family. With this knowledge you can make educated decisions and protect your family to the best of your ability.

Foodborne Illness, aka food poisoning. Just the phrase can give you the chills as you remember that incident one time at the one hole-in-the-wall Mexican food joint. We all can think of times when someone we know has gotten violently ill off of poorly prepared food. As the primary food preparer in your home, you are responsible for making sure that foodborne illness doesn’t happen in your own kitchen.  And if you have small children, elderly people, or people with compromised immune systems in your home? This is even more essential information to obtain and implement. Those populations are particularly sensitive to getting a foodborne illness – it’s your job to protect them.

The Type of Applicable Information You’ll Receive from the Course:
Bacteria love warmth, moisture, and food high in protein or carbohydrates. They grow particularly fast in these types of food. This doesn’t just apply to meat or poultry, cooked plant based foods are at a high risk for food borne illness. That means cooked rice, beans, and baked potatoes. I was shocked when I learned this! I am certainly guilty of leaving baked potatoes out, still wrapped in foil but not refrigerated immediately. Or of leaving cooked rice in the pot on the counter before putting it away later in the evening. Leaving these types of food out of a refrigerated environment can lead to some serious illnesses. Especially baked potatoes — under the right (or wrong, in this case!) circumstances they can cause blindness and death. Yikes! Are you sure that you are handling your food correctly?

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Happy Birthday Parker

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Someone turned 5 today. It’s so hard to believe! The years have flown by and he’s growing into quite the big kid. He’s doing one more year of preschool and couldn’t be more excited. These days he’s obsessed with riding his bike, watching and reciting Robin Hood, talking about his recent trip to California and Disneyland, singing along to Oldies music, and asking a million and one questions about everything. He’s a wonderful big brother and very social and friendly with everyone. He’s got a very tender heart and a generally happy personality. He’s still topping the charts of size for his age with an appetite to match. Happy Birthday our big 5 year old. We love you!

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Culinary School:: Semester 1

As of today I’ve completed my first semester at Culinary School! Hooray! After almost 10 years of being out of the classroom, I was happy to know that I still remember how study and keep on top of assignments. It was a lot of work but I’m happy with all I’ve learned and feel like it will benefit me for years to come!

As my first semester at Culinary school comes to a close, I thought that I might share with you all some of the things I’ve learned. My courses are directed towards running a restaurant, but many of the principles end up applying to the home cook. Especially in my Food Sanitation class. I really think that anyone who cooks at home should know some of these basic skills — it’s the health of your family at risk! And Culinary Math? I think everyone can benefit from learning how to price a recipe or convert recipes from metric to US or multiply to a greater quantity.

I’ve learned so much I could do a small series on each subject I’ve learned, but I won’t go to the effort if there isn’t interest. Would y’all be interested getting the 411 on Food Safety and Math? I promise there won’t be any homework ;-) Just some basic information that might help you run your home kitchen more safely and efficiently.

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Able to Serve

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We aren’t 100% sure that we are done having kids of our own, but we are definitely leaning in that direction. For now that decision is based on a lot of different factors (some being that since 2008 I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding for all but a handful of months and my body needs a break). Another factor that has been on my mind lately is being out of this “we’re all on the verge of falling apart and need help wherever we can get it” phase. Between health problems, house problems, and various family situations it feels like we’ve been on the receiving end of help for a looong time. And there’s nothing wrong with that, for sure. We’ve been so blessed by family and friends who’ve rallied around us to help. But by golly, I’d kind of like to not be so needy and be able to give back.

My friends seem to be going through the ringer lately. Whether from good stress or hard stress, I wish I could be doing more to be there for them. Miscarriages, moving, new babies, hard pregnancies, health problems, death of family members, parenting difficult children, hard marriages — all these things are going on right now with my friends and most of my energy is sucked up by my own three needy people and trying to run our little household.

Having kids that are old enough to be able to serve other families with me (instead if running around like crazy and making matter more hectic) would be so nice. Being able to bring people meals, help clean their house, babysit, help them move, or even just be there emotionally without kids yelling and demanding my attention. Being available for people sounds divine. I realize part of becoming a parent means choosing to serve your own little people most of the time. But getting the focus off our little corner of the universe and being a bigger part of the community is really important too.

Can I just offer a word of encouragement to those of you who are already more able to serve? It seems like people who are out of this stage often forget how hard it is or don’t feel it’s their place to offer help. Can I just assure you, if you’ve got kids that are older or out of the house or are single — young moms in the thick of it NEED your help. Most of us don’t have a ton of money and some of us don’t have family near by. Getting a young moms groceries or babysitting or coming over to clean or bringing her a coffee is always welcome. Or honestly, if you go to church, it’d be a huge blessing if you were serving in children’s ministry. Young moms who are surrounded by littles 24/7 need Sunday mornings off more than anyone. They should not have to work in the nursery too! It is a huge relief to them to say “you can’t work in nursery until you’re kids are older” rather than expecting them to be involved when they are already drained.

We’re all in this thing called life together. And as much as the American dream is all about “do-it-yourself” we really can’t survive without one another. I am looking forward to teaching and modeling this to my own kids one day. I hope you will too!

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Early Summer Recap

Since I took a rather extended break from blogging, I thought I’d recap what’s been happening in our family since May. As you all know, I visited my sister in early May. She wrote up a post about it over at her blog here. The rest of May is a bit of a blur for me. Parker was doing swim lessons twice and week, had t-ball practice once a week, and games once a week. He was also still in preschool three times a week and seemed to have birthday parties every other week. So, lots of shuttling around.

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Our little National. He pretty much liked the snacks more than the game,
but overall it was a good experience for him. 

I don’t think I’ve written about it here, but my gallbladder has been a major source of irritation for me over the last 8 months. The last week of pregnancy I had two gallbladder attacks followed by 5 more in the following weeks. I finally followed up in May with my doctor after the initial diagnosis in December and it looks like things are actually improving (from all-natural treatments) even though the doctors said that was impossible and had recommended surgery. So, I’m going to keep on keeping on and hope in another six months I’ll be symptom free. All of that probably requires a whole different post, though!

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Someone also started eating food in May.
You know how my boys eat as much as adults? Well, she does too.
SHE LOVES FOOD!

I threw a surprise baby shower in May for my oldest friend in Chicago. She has twin boys that they adopted from Ethiopia, but had never been through the newborn stage. So now that she was pregnant with their first biological child, we knew she would appreciate some newborn items. It was such a fun day and she ended up going into labor the next day (a month early!). Another friend of mine, and her sister-in-law, wrote up a post about the “POP” themed baby shower here.

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Left to Right: Me, the guest-of-honor Sara, her sister-in-law Rachel, and my co-host Rochelle.

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A small corner of the “POP” decor. It was such a fun theme to run with!

The following week was our 8th anniversary and we enjoyed a nice kid-free evening together. We always love trying new restaurants and eating good food together.

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How eight years have flown! Happy to be by this man’s side through all of life!

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We’ve changed over the years — just a touch, eh?

Then in June my parents came for a week long visit. They were at the tail-end of their month long roadtrip and it was so nice to spend those days with them. The weather was perfect for some fun outings and sharing life together. We even took a trip into Chicago for a fun-filled day together. They wrote all about their trip here and here.

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We love having grandparents around!

Culinary school started in June and I’ve been busy with two classes – Culinary Math and Foodservice Sanitation. Both have involved a ton of homework and have been fairly interesting. No actual cooking yet, but I know this is all laying a foundation for what’s to come. Brian has also been ramping up his photography business and used me to do a lot of modeling for some new promotional material — which meant a haircut and make-over for me!

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Ladies — he is making me look super good. If you want to hide your “problem areas” and see yourself in a new way, he’s your guy. Well, he’s mine, you can’t have him. But you can have your pictures taken by him. ‘Cause he’s fantastic. Seriously.

Brian’s grandfather (Pop) came at the end of June and has been staying with us ever since. He has had extended stays with us every summer since we bought our house and has been instrumental in making our house a home. He is a ridiculously hard worker and has helped transform our space. This time he built a shed attached to our back door, providing us with some much needed storage space since we don’t have a garage. So thankful!

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Hard at work. Do you know many guys in their 70’s that could pull this off?

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When he’s not working, he usually can be found with one of the boy’s attached to his hip. They love him so much. Every 5 minutes, “I’m going to go say ‘hi’ to Pop!” 

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My dear friend Rochelle’s baby turned one at the end of June and we had a great time celebrating him. I made this fun Dr. Seuss quilt to celebrate the occasion. It looks way crazier in the photo than real life — but it is definitely colorful and whimsical!

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Brian’s work had their company picnic at Blackberry Farms — it was so wonderful! I never knew this place existed but we’ll definitely go back. It’s definitely worth a visit if you live in the area! Pony rides, train rides, boat rides, play area, hayrides, carousel — fun for everyone! Then, as you know, my grandma passed away on June 30 and then I turned 30 on July 1. Fourth of July we spent at a parade, barbecuing, and watching fireworks.

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Fun times at the parade. The boys LOVED it.
And Parker got to see the fireworks with just mommy and daddy,

which is a very special treat!

Then my best friend from college came and visited for a few days. It’s always nice to catch up and spend time together with someone you have so much history with. She ended up flying out the same day that I was leaving for my grandma’s memorial.

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Playing at Turtle Splash pool in West Chicago. We had so much fun!

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The boys loved watching Megan play games on the iPad.
I loved having help with these crazies. It’s the little things!

I spent a whirlwind four days in my hometown with my parents and sister. It was so surreal being back in our childhood bedroom chatting before falling asleep. Almost like the last 10 years never happened and my third baby wasn’t asleep in the next room. The memorial was a wonderful celebration of my grandma’s life. I hadn’t seen most of my extended family since her 85th birthday, so seven years. I didn’t even recognize most my second cousins they’d grown so much!

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Being silly with my family.

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Of course we had to take some time to get to the beach.
Here’s my little bathing beauty with a Papa-built pool to play in.
Can it get any cuter??

So that brings us up to date. Sorry for the info/photo dump but I felt like I needed to get things out there. It’s been a busy season for us so far — let’s see what the rest of summer holds!

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30

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So, I had a birthday earlier this month. Kind of a big one. You know, the big 3-0. It’s really the first birthday that has a tinge of “whoa, I’m getting older” to it. Before that it’s all fun and games and driver’s licenses and voting. But 30? Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.

It’s funny because all I’ve ever said since the dawn of time is “I just want to be older.” I’ve never been one to look back at childhood and think, “I wish I could be a kid forever.” I love growing up. I love being an adult and getting to eat dessert whenever I want. I love having a family and a husband and a house and a life of my own. I’ve always wanted others to take me seriously and I feel like age and experience have a weight that no amount of maturity can manufacture. So, yeah, getting older is what I’ve always wanted.

But 30? Oh, it comes with a few wrinkles, a smattering of grey hairs, stretched out skin from childbearing, and achey joints. It comes with the stresses of life and bags under my eyes from not sleeping for 5 years. I’m just old enough that highschoolers start to look at my like some foreign creature and all I can think is, “I was you, like, yesterday!”

My grandma died the day before my birthday and as much as it saddened the day for me, it also put things into perspective for me. Because turning 30 is no big deal in light of life ending. A precious life, as I’ve already said. It also reminded me that with my genes, I’m likely to live to past 90 and am only 1/3 of a way there. That’s a lot of life ahead (of course, in the Lord’s hands and timing) and that’s something to celebrate.

So after all my freaking out ahead of time, the actual day was just a smooth transition into the next decade of my life. My sweet husband organized babysitters throughout the day so we could go on three dates — one for each decade. He had me pick out a whole new ensemble with jewelry, a fancy new dress, and jacket. He swept me away to a wonderful restaurant and we celebrated over delicious food and good conversation. If that’s what it means to turn 30, I’d certainly like more days like that! 

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Made for This

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For me, becoming a mother felt just about as natural as writing with your toes. It was a violent transition on my body, on my emotions, and my social life. It took years for it to feel like second nature. Maybe it’s easier for some people, but it was rough in many ways for me. Most of which I struggled with privately or amongst close friends and pretended like everything was hunky-dory for everyone else. And in many ways I didn’t realize how hard it was until it wasn’t that hard any more. All that to say, for a long time I didn’t feel like I was made for motherhood. Not one inch of my pregnancy-torn body was made for this. Not one ounce of my personality lent itself to isolation, constant irritation, and mindless activities. None of my dreams or research or hopes lined up with the reality of motherhood.

But now as a mom of three I feel different. I feel a groove. I feel that even in the hard parts of parenting, that I was made specifically for this job. To grow little human beings. To give birth to them. To nurse them. To feed them, bathe them, clothe them, comfort them, wipe their tushies, kiss their boo-boos, wake up early, go to bed late, and take care of a whole lot of needs in the meantime. That’s not to say I don’t think I’m also made for other things — oh boy, am I! I have dreams, goals, plans, and a life that doesn’t involve being a mom. But the majority of my day is filled with mothering my brood and it doesn’t feel like a fight any more. Through pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding in particular I feel like I’ve learned more about who I am and how strong women in general were designed.

Women were made to nurture. This is most obvious in the fact that our bodies can grow an entire human being from scratch. Our bodies defer to the growing baby long before we even know it’s there to be cared for. I remember losing a ton of weight in my first trimester with Parker because of extreme morning sickness and my doctor was like, “Your baby is getting everything it needs. Your body might suffer from nutritional deficiencies but your baby is just fine.” Whether we are choosing to be selfless or not — our bodies often choose for us. Of course women nurture in plenty of other ways that have nothing to do with babies, but I think the fact that our bodies were designed to nurture is very telling. We nurture children with our bodies in pregnancy (or with prayers and hopes, waiting for an adoption), with milk from our bodies in infancy (or from bottles of formula mixed with loving hands), with food from our hands in the rest of childhood, with our touch from day one, and with our words throughout their life.

Women were made to be strong. And soft. The way that men are strong is totally different than women. We were built to withstand waves of contractions that would bring the strongest man to his knees. We were built to keep pushing after hours and hours of intense pain, no sleep, no food, and 9 months of discomfort. We were designed to endure unspeakable heartache from miscarriages and unfulfilled hopes for children. We some how muster strength to fill out another demanding pile of paperwork for an adoption, while mourning the loss of what may never be in our own bodies. We were made to nurse a helpless babe who doesn’t sleep and does a serious amount of damage to our most feminine parts. We push through hormonal challenges and depression and post-partum body issues and make hard decisions to do what’s best for our babies. We were built to become soft through all this strength. To leave pregnancy with curves and rolls that we’d rather not have. To become vulnerable with our hearts, now that a piece of ourselves is walking around outside of us and we can’t fully protect it. This combination of strength and softness is unique to women and it’s beautiful.

So whether you feel like it is natural to be a mother or not, know that we were made for this. In ways that might not make sense right now. Or in ways that might not seem natural until you have a junior higher or even a full grown child. But this call to motherhood is a good one even when it’s a ridiculously hard one. We were made for this.

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A Tribute to Jean

I know most of you won’t connect with this post, but it’s one I want to share anyway. It’s the eulogy I gave at my grandmothers memorial service. A woman who lives selflessly for 92 years deserves to be talked about.

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Jean Meadows holding Monica Jean as a baby

Good afternoon. My name is Monica Jean. I’m Jean Meadows’ youngest grandchild. I’m so thankful to be here together with all of you to remember her on this bittersweet day. My grandma was something else, wasn’t she? She was the most beautiful person I’ve ever known, inside and out. I can think of many words to describe her — sincere, loving, generous, funny, and gifted — but most of all I think of the word LIFE.

She was so full of life. Her joy for life and for her family was always readily apparent in her smile, in her funny stories, and in her excited “AH”! Her faith in God fueled her joy. Whenever she was feeling particularly blessed, she would say, “How great thou art, Lord!” knowing that all of life’s blessings came from him. Her faith wasn’t just personal, she was life giving to others. Not only did she give life to so many of us sitting here today, she gave life in a spiritual sense too. She made you want to be the best version of yourself because she really believed you were the best. She made everyone feel like they were unique and precious — every baby captivated her and every life was valuable to her.

Every visit with her left you feeling like your life and interests were important. Whether I was completing my first sewing project or had a new game to play or a new subject I was interested in, she always showed the greatest enthusiasm and would say in her sweet voice, “Well, isn’t that wonderful?” You always knew she meant that you were wonderful and that being with you thrilled her. I never once felt like she was in a hurry or didn’t have time for me. I know that’s how she made everyone feel. Most people use retirement as a time to indulge themselves, but my grandma? She gave herself to everyone else. She spent her last decades giving her time and talents to bless others. Whether she was teaching me to play tile rummy or how to knit, she was always patient, kind, and encouraging. She really didn’t have a selfish bone in her body.

I remember countless weekends at her home, watching her quilt, knit, tat, or make dolls. All with the intention of giving the final product to others. Over the years she made me Barbie clothes, scarves, wash rags, sweaters, and blankets. She did this regularly for every child, grandchild, and great grandchild. As you can see — there are a lot of us! {side note: 4 kids, 12, grandkids, 36 great-grandkids — not counting spouses} And she wouldn’t just make things for family. I wouldn’t hesitate to guess that every one of you has received a handmade gift from her. I can vividly remember her talking with excitement about making blankets for children who had been displaced from troubled homes. She wanted them to feel love in the form of a warm handmade quilt.

Grandma was always serving. For me that meant finding my favorite cereal in the cupboard when she knew we were coming for the weekend. Or her making my favorite sandwich with the right kind of pickles, after I’d spent the morning swimming in her pool. And holidays? Even in the midst of large family gatherings she managed to make every single one of us feel loved. She made personalized stocking and filled them with presents for each family member (and anyone else who might’ve tagged along). She always served out of sincere love. She never made you feel like an obligation. It always seemed like second nature for her to believe the best about every one and make the best out of any situation. She carried a sense of humor through many challenging times and lit up any room she was in. We were all recipients of her great love — but no one more than you, Baca. Or, as some may know you, Grandfather. I feel as though I’ve been a witness to one of the great love stories of the ages. The way that grandma loved you has taught me how to love and honor my own husband.

I am so blessed to have known my grandma for 30 years. She was there the day I was born and for dozens of birthdays, holidays, special occasions, and summers. Having her in my life has inspired me and changed me in countless ways. I feel honored to be named after this great woman. I’ve passed down her name to my own daughter, Avery Jean, and hope we can live up to her legacy. I’m so sad that she is no longer here but am filled with joy knowing that she’s even more alive now than when she walked this earth. The last time I saw her she remarked that she’d had such a great life. I’m sure if she could talk to us today that she’d say, “and it just gets better.”

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Full, yet Empty

Life has been very full lately. Family visits, busy schedules, full Summer days, BBQs, classes, homework, building a home business — FULL. And yet my absence here has been rather intentional. I’ve felt empty of anything new to offer. My thoughts are often about my own little life and surviving crazy days with three children, four and under. Writing about it used to feel like a release, but has felt like one more thing on the to-do list. And so I’ve often just ignored it and gone on my merry way. But today I want to write. Today I want to remember.

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Today I found out the my dear grandmother passed away last night. Her health has been in decline for a long time. This wasn’t a surprise. She’s 92, lived a full life. Loved Jesus. Was loved very dearly by her large family. And all of those things that I thought would be a comfort — knowing that she was in heaven and that she lived her life well and long — they really just don’t dull the pain at all. Of course there is something more jarring about an unexpected death of a younger person, but death is ugly. It is painful. And it hurts. No matter when it happens.

I’ve gone almost 30 years without having someone I loved dearly passing away. I know that I’ve been very blessed in that. But I also had no idea how much it would hurt when someone close to you died. I thought that I’d be so relieved that she was in a better place that I wouldn’t feel that much pain. But somehow this death, her death, it reminds me how wonderful she was. What a huge part of my childhood she was. How perfectly gracious and funny and generous and beautiful and giving she was. How I want to sew with her again and hear her love story again. How she always showed up on my birthdays and had handmade gifts to give me. How she would serve her family and never complain about difficult times.

Of course I’m happy to know that my grandma Jean lived a full life. But now I feel so very empty knowing she’s no longer a part of mine. She will always be a part of me — I even share my name with her and my daughter. But she’s no longer here. And it hurts. I long for the day when death will lose its sting and these tears will stop flowing. I love my grandma Jean and hope I can live my life as well as she lived hers.

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A Girl’s Weekend

A couple of weeks ago I was able to spend four lovely days visiting my sister in her new home in Virginia Beach. Hubby watched the boys and I flew off with my baby girl for a weekend away, of sorts. Since my sister has a daughter and her husband was working for some of the trip, it was a mostly girls weekend! For two girls who grew up on the Pacific it was pretty fun to be exploring this beach town on the Atlantic. 20140512-214232.jpg

My sister moved to Virginia Beach in December and got to experience a real winter for the first time. Now, it’s no Chicago, but they had their share of snow days and chilly weather. Now that their weather has turned warmer, I certainly enjoyed visiting and thawing out a bit. Virginia Beach is kind of a mix of Midwest and Southern California beach culture. Everything was beautifully green (while Chicago was mostly still brown and leaf-less) and warm.

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It was also Avery’s first time meeting her Uncle Alex, Aunt Leah, and cousin Zoe. As usual, she was a happy peach and made friends quickly. Even Zoe (who generally doesn’t love babies) warmed up to this smiley little girl. What a pair they will be in a few years!

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And the beach. It never gets old to be at the beach — even when the sun isn’t setting over it like the Pacific! It was Avery’s first time in the sand and she loved it! She kept digging her toes in and loved feeling the grains in her hands.

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Sisters in front of Neptune.
Our highschool mascot was the Tritons so this is sort of appropriate.

 

 

 

 

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Zoe and Leah along the beachfront.

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Getting snuggly with my sweet niece. I hadn’t seen her since August and she has changed so much! She’s becoming quite the little lady and was fun to be around. She knows every word to a huge number of songs from the 50’s and 60’s. Is there anything cuter than a four year old belting out “Downtown”? It definitely took me back to our childhood!

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At a beachfront restaurant getting some fresh seafood.
I generally avoid seafood in the Midwest, it kinda weirds me out.
But on the coast, can’t get enough of it!

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Zoe inherited Parker’s Halloween costume and loves to play dress up.
Avery enjoyed it too!

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On a quick walk during Zoe’s ballet class — I told you it was green!

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I’ve only been away from the boys a couple of times, but it was much easier leaving them knowing they were in their daddy’s capable hands. They were just tickled pink about their “boy’s weekend.” What a nice getaway. Many thanks Leah and her family for the hospitality and time together!

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helping you take control of your home and kitchen