this is 35.

A little over a month ago I packed up my old, chipped coffee mug and my lucky green Sharpie marker–and left the only job I’d ever had.

For 13 years I’d loved that place. That job. Those co-workers. But over the past year I’ve learned to listen to the Universe when she whispers–even if what she’s saying scares me. And lately–she’d been raising her voice.

So I listened. I packed it all up. And gave that place and that job–and those co-workers–all my love and all the peace signs.

It was time.

. . .

I turned 35 last month. My baby turned 4–his golden birthday. My mom turned 60. And my big boy is headed to kindergarten in three short weeks. All of that–and an upcoming change in latitude for our family–had me feeling like this was the summer to be present.

This was the summer to unplug–to soak it all in. Because time–it’s fleeting. It’s precious and it’s fleeting. And for whatever reason– I could really feel it flying by. I wanted to live it–really live it–before summer cooled to fall.

I turned off all the notifications on my iPhone–and unplugged my computer. I turned off all the bad news on TV and hid the iPad. We got out there. I was present with my self–and my people. And we lived it up.

The adventures were good–and the memories were made (more on that later this month). And for all the active yin packed into our summer days, we packed an equal amount of lazy yang into our summer nights.

It was an awesome summer–and I’m grateful.

. . .

It’s August now–and if I inhale deep enough I can smell fall. My heart and soul feel happy–and re-energized. So does my brain–unplugging for a bit will do that for you.

It’s time to figure out what’s next for me–for all my Markers (even the green Sharpie). Remembering to slow down as much as we speed up. Staying present–really present. More writing. A new place–a new job. A new school for Johnny. Some more unplugging, for sure–because it felt so good. So many adventures await–for all of us.

This is 35. And it’s a good place to be.

us. on the morning of my 35th. photo credit: Pops.

ode to the minivan.

Full disclosure. I sell cars. I have since college. I work for Napleton’s Toyota of Urbana, formerly O’Brien Auto Park of Urbana. And they’re paying me to write this post. So read it. Share it. Click on and through the links. And if you’re in the market for a new vehicle (Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi, Mazda or anything pre-loved) give us a shout. We’d love to earn your business. You will help me convince my boss this kind of advertising works–the honest mom kind–and I’d love you forever for that.

Also full disclosure. I would have written this post anyway. Even if they weren’t paying me. Because I really really really love my Toyota Sienna Minivan. And I want to tell you allllll about it. 

. . .

I remember my girlfriend Carrie telling me once that she loved her minivan more than her husband.

It was before I had kids so I didn’t really *get* it. I thought maybe she’d (we’d) just had one too many glasses of wine. And we had. Or she was trying to flatter me–her favorite car salesperson. And she was.

But at that time she was a mom of two little baby girls–and she was 100% serious.

Five years and two kids later–I get it, Carrie. I feel you. Sorry Danny. Haha. I love my Swaggerwagon so hard.

. . .

I got pregnant with Dean when Johnny was just a few weeks old. I was lugging around a heavy infant seat and soon realized I’d be lugging around two heavy infant seats. I felt the need to make my life as easy as possible. So I traded in my SUV for the mother of all vehicles–literally. The minivan.

We bought our Toyota Sienna four years ago. And I love it just as much today as I did that first day we brought it home. Here are my top ten things I love about it–in no particular order.

1. Smart Key and Power Sliding Doors and Rear Lift Gate. Look ma, no hands (literally)! Unlock, lock and open the sliding doors and lift gate with the click of a button. So handy for a mom who has her hands full.

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2. It’s spacious. Mine fits eight passengers. Plenty of room for my good vibe tribe. Here’s a pic of us from a few years back–Danny, Uncle Nic, Nanny Carol, the boys and Grandpa Hat and me (in the way back). We ride around like this all the time. So. Much. Space.

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3. The back-up camera and parking assist. I can see what’s behind me. And my van beeps at me when I get too close to anything–like the side of the garage–which I hit twice with my old car that didn’t have this feature.

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4. Dual View Entertainment Center with ear phones. They can hear their show. I can hear my music. Win. Win.

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5. Sun Shades. Keeps the sun out of their eyes. So I don’t have to listen to them whine about it.

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6. Climate Control. Backseat passengers can control their own AC and heat. And the driver and front seat passenger can control their own too–perfect if one of you is cold blooded and the other is hot blooded. And now you’re singing that song.

7. Navigation with touch screen. Because one of us is always getting lost. And the other hates asking for directions. You can guess who is who.

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8. Safety Features (Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock Brake System, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Brake Assist, Smart Stop Technology, Blind Spot Monitor, Front and Rear Parking Assist, Air Bags, Latch systems in four locations, including lower anchors and tethers on outboard secon- and third-row seats. Child Anchor Locks. Ummm…all that because of all that precious cargo. Enough said.

9. Eco Driving Indicator, MPG. Soooo, I may have a little bit of a lead foot. Or I did. Before I discovered this feature that lights up to tell me when I’m driving in a way that conserves gas and emissions. Now I drive super slow. Boom.

10. These hooks on the back of the way back seats. And the way these way back seats fold down. The hooks are great when I actually remember to bring my re-usable grocery bags to Schnuck’s–or when I don’t (they hold plastic bags too).

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Or if I clean out my closet and want to drive around for three months with three bags of clothes I need to donate to Goodwill. Please tell me you do that too. Whoops. And four bag chairs I drag around all week for Saturday morning TBall games).

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. . .

I could probably come up with 100 things I love about my minivan. Tons of cup holders, tons of nooks and crannies to hide snacks and hair bands, the hands-free Bluetooth phone, a CD player (yes, I still listen to CDs), satellite radio and USB port, how my husband looks driving it, etc.  But you get the gist.

And something else to love? Toyota is offering $1000 rebate or 0% for 60 months (to qualified buyers) this entire month of May. What’s better than free money? Nothing. Nothing is better than free money.

Thinking about a minivan? Come see us at Napleton’s Toyota of Urbana. Tell them I sent you. And get some Swagger(wagon) love in your life. You’ll thank me, I promise.

a morning at aikman wildlife adventure

We loaded up the minivan bright and early this morning. Coffee and croissants from Art Mart–and two kids who couldn’t wait for our little Saturday morning adventure.

We drove south on I-57 to Arcola (exit 203)–and then another five miles west through the gentle, rolling hills of Amish country.

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We passed horse and buggy after horse and buggy–all the way to the former Rockome Gardens location.

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My childhood friend’s little sister Kelsey and her husband James Aikman just opened Aikman Wildlife Adventure in Arcola. The concept has been James’ dream for some time–and finally became a realty when the park opened earlier this month.

Aikman Wildlife Adventure is a 40-acre wildlife park and refuge for animals of all kinds. Their mission is to provide the highest quality of life possible to all wildlife in need while maintaining a family friendly environment through interaction, education, conservation and by creating an experience of a lifetime.

And it was–really, truly–an experience of a lifetime.

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The park boasts a 20-acre animal sanctuary–with a gravel path to drive through. And will soon offer a walk-through area with large animal habitats (bigger than most zoos), animal rides, a huge budgie aviary with a walking path and feed sticks, a large petting zoo and a playground with a pavilion and picnic area.

We took a behind the scenes tour with a park guide. You can too, for $25/person until Memorial Day. Or you can drive your own vehicle through the safari for $20/vehicle.

It was one of the coolest things we’ve ever done as a family. I’d highly recommend it. We toured the indoor and outdoor habitats and saw over thirty species of wild animals including HYENAS (my little Lion Guard fan-kids freaked). Check it.

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Wild Turkeys. They eat the parasites out of manure. You learn something new every day.

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The ass of an ass. I said ass, twice.

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Oh hey, zebra.

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Bison. Are. Big. (And friendly, just like Johnny.)

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These camels. My favorites. Fabio and Randy. Just wanted to smooch us all day.

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Scimitar-Horned Oryx. Native to Egypt. Hunted for its horns, nearly to extinction.

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Jacob’s Sheep. Three horns, yo.

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Shelters like these are built around the property to provide some protection from the wind.

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Me and My Llama (Going to the Dentist) used to be my favorite song. I’ve been singing it all day today.

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Owners James, Kelsey and Asa Aikman take us through an indoor habitat.

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HYENAS! They aren’t named Janja or Jasiri–at least not yet. But their naming rights are available along with their adoption–for any of you fans of the Lion Guard.

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Exploring the grounds. And playing on pallets. Because pallets are fun. Ha.

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Looping back around to the camels. Because camels are my spirit animal. Unload your burdens, baby. Lay it all on me.

We ended our tour in the gift shop–and learned a little more about SABLE. SABLE (Saving Animals By Lasting Encounters) is a non-profit entity established for the feeding, caring for and housing of animals. The organization partners with Aikman Wildlife Adventure to help educate guests of the park about the animals, their habitats and the conservation efforts taking place there.

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You can also make a donation through SABLE to adopt an animal at Aikman Wildlife Adventure. Your donation is tax-deductible and covers the costs of bringing the animal to the park, covers the animal’s food for a year and covers all the animal’s veterinary care. For more information or to donate, e-mail James at james@aikmanwildlife.com.

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The Aikman Wildlife Adventure is open Friday and Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday noon-5pm. For more information visit www.aikmanwildlife.com or visit their Facebook Page.

So grab the kids and hit the road–it was a 35 minute trip for us, door to door. We had a blast this morning–thanks to the Aikmans–and learned a lot. Plus it was a very quiet ride home too. Win, win, win. Boom.

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We can’t wait to go back. Thanks James, Kelsey and Asa.

for the love of all things art mart. how one little letter written on art mart stationary changed our lives forever.

I got the call sitting in the second stall of the ladies room at my office. I recognized the phone number right away. Our attorney had a potential birthmother–she was due in August. And she just knew this was it–this was our baby.

She asked me to make a scrapbook–to put together some pictures and include a handwritten letter. And she asked me to drop it by her office that evening–so she could share it with this young woman.

I remember her saying this scrapbook was very important–and I knew it was. And I remember her saying time was of the essence.

Time was of the essence. Ya, it was–and I didn’t know how to scrapbook.

My knees started shaking–and my hands too. And I’m sure there were tears in my eyes.

I think I told my boss I needed to run an errand–I don’t remember now. I do remember my car practically driving itself down Vine Street though–straight to my happy place.

. . .

My mom would take us to Art Mart all the time when we were young. My brother and I would share ham and cheese croissants and a Pellegrino–and my mom would sit with us under their café umbrellas, quietly and peacefully filling an hour or two of her long day.

In college, I lived on the east side of campus. And I was an Art Mart regular–I never strayed from those ham and cheese croissants, but I traded my bubbly water for anything black, bold and caffeinated. I’d study for hours and hours under those café umbrellas–refilling the good coffee over and over again.

After I graduated, I started working in Urbana. I’d swing by Art Mart for my caffeine fix before work. And sometimes I’d swing by for cheese and olives–and a bottle of wine–after work.

When our attorney told me to make that scrapbook for our potential birthmother, I drove straight there.

I bought a coffee and a little box of pink, flowery stationary cards. I sank into a chair at my favorite table and started writing to her–under a café umbrella.

I don’t remember exactly what I wrote. I think I wrote about Danny–and about myself. And I think I wrote about us–and our story. I know I apologized because I wasn’t a scrapbooker. But I told her I hoped my words in this special little box from a special little store in my hometown would be good enough-and she’d choose us anyway.

Our birthmother said she knew we were the ones right when our attorney handed her that box of pink, flowery stationary cards–she just had a feeling. And the rest–as they say–is history.

. . .

As a mother, I have a whole new appreciation for Art Mart. I’ve fallen in love with its owners, Courtney and Brian (and their two boys). And I’ve fallen in love with their toy store too–especially the laxative train table. Anybody else’s kids always get the urge to poop when they play with the Art Mart train table? What. In. The. World.

They opened their new bigger (14,000 square feet) location today–the old Carter’s Interiors building at 1705 S Prospect Avenue–and I couldn’t be more excited. They’ll have all our same favorites–pretty stationary, ham and cheese croissants and the good coffee. But now they’re going to offer extended hours, a wine tasting area, a larger selection of cheeses, salads and sandwiches, more baked goodies, more cool clothing, more homegoods and a bigger toy store with more activities for the kids. Win, win, win, win, win, win and win.

And they’ll still have those Art Mart café umbrellas (they’re getting them cleaned right now)–so you know where I’ll be with my coffee and my ham and cheese croissant. Here are some pics I snapped this morning. It’s really incredible–kudos to the Art Mart Crew. Check them out today–we’ll see you there.

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the best selfie ever. me, and art mart owners courtney (behind the green onions) and brian mckay

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alllllll the toys.

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alllll the croissants

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alllll the wine

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allllll the cakes

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allllll the cheese

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alllllll the homegoods

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alllll the stationary

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alllllll the coolest stuff

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alllllll the fly clothes and accessories

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alllllll the ingredients

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alllll the treats

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thumbs up from us

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we may or may not eat all three meals here today.

stream of consciousness. and stream of photos.

Every once in awhile I feel the need to write about nothing at all–to just get some random thoughts out of my head and onto my computer screen. This is one of those days. Plus some pics. So you don’t get bored.

. . .

I fell–hard–on my run Monday. I was running on the road–trying to stay off the icy snow-covered sidewalks–and I tripped on a raised piece of concrete in front of a construction crew pouring the foundation of a new house in our neighborhood. I really crashed and burned. My left knee is so bloody and bruised–and swollen. I’m treating it with my hippie oils, but it’s seriously so gross. If you don’t like blood, guts and gore– scroll really fast past this pic.

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Bad right? And now I’ll probably never be a teen model.

. . .

When my Grandma Eleanor died last fall I took a package of little fish Dixie cups from her kitchen. She’d pour juice in them for the boys when we’d go visit and they loved drinking anything out of their *real* cups. I remember there were hundreds in the package when I brought them home from her place that day. The boys have been using them for a little drink of water every night before bed.

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Johnny used the last little fish Dixie cup yesterday–and it took my breath away.

. . .

The floor underneath the chairs where my kids eat is disgusting. It’s always covered in little pieces of food–right now it’s fried cauliflower rice from last night–little pieces of fried cauliflower rice are e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. I could vacuum every day and night though and that floor would still be disgusting–and I would be worn out. So I just leave it there and clean it all up on Fridays. But I feel like anyone who comes over in the meantime probably frowns upon my housekeeping skills–I’m looking at you mom (and you mother-in-law). Ha.

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Oh–and they probably frown upon that Christmas tree still hanging out in our hearth room too. Whatever. I can’t help myself–I just really like twinkle lights.

. . .

I took the boys to gymnastics class at CGA this week. It’s the first organized sport we’ve ever attended–and they loved it. Winter days at home with little boys can be rough on a mom–so this was a welcomed excursion. Their coach was incredible and made them both feel so awesome and confident in their newfound tumbling skills. And they both fell asleep in the minivan on the way home–for the win-win-win.

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And would you look at these Puma jumpsuits from Nanny Pat? I can’t even.

. . .

And last but not least–Red Velvet Oreos are back. My girlfriend Molly dropped a package in my mailbox Sunday at 2pm–I love her so hard for that. They were *all* gone by 4pm.

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We did eat them with some pears–so I feel good about that mothering. Ha. They are so dang delicious. Go get some now.

. . .

Ok, that’s it for this week’s stream of consciousness. And I feel better. What’s on your mind this week? I’d love to hear all your random thoughts too.

Oh and PS…remember these fly beauties? Want to win them? Yesssssss.

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They could be yours. Hop on over to Stella and Dot this weekend and place a little order to be entered to win. I’ll announce our winner Monday. Happy Weekend.

the santa visit. and christmas magic.

There was this Christmas. A holiday season–five years ago–I’d rather soon forget.

I remember locking myself in my bathroom that Christmas Eve. Crying. Sobbing. Cursing. And then praying. Begging for some Christmas magic.

There aren’t any pictures. There weren’t many smiles. That Christmas I was just doing my best to keep my head above water.

. . .

Johnny was born the next August. And I found out we were pregnant with Deano that October.

So the next holiday season I was high on life–and Christmas magic. I remember feeling like my heart was so full it might explode–and cover everything in its path with red plaid flannel sheets and green striped footie PJs and cozy fuzzy slippers and hot cocoa and Grandma’s spritz cookies and Frasier fir candles and crackling fireplaces and the most sparkly twinkle lights you’ve ever seen.

This was our Christmas card picture that year. The cards said JOY in the bottom, left corner. Joy–that was an understatement.

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(Kenny Kim took this photo of us. He took our wedding photos too. Check him out, he’s amazing.)

I didn’t take Johnny to see Santa that year. I don’t remember why. I was probably scared to expose him to germs–looking back I was a ridiculously overprotective first-time-mom. Eh, we live and learn.

The next three years though–we rocked the Santa visit with another cute little baby and even cuter Christmas card pictures. Poor Santa, poor Deano.

. . .

This year feels different–better. My kids are older and they *get* Christmas. They love it–Santa, the Elf on a Shelf and all my favorite things.

I’ve come a long way since that sad Christmas Eve five years ago. I’m grateful for that–I’m grateful for all of it. Christmas magic is alive and well around here. And this is my favorite holiday season yet.

. . .

Here are some photos from our Santa visit last week. He’s at the The Virginia Theatre from 5pm-7pm the 16th too, so go if you haven’t already.

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on compliments. and saying thank you.

We’d made it through the second week of December and all its holiday-jazz. But just barely.

We’d had a lot of fun. And not a lot of sleep–are my kids the only kids who have coughing fits every hour, on the hour, all night long for an entire week? Big yawns.

I was tired. I looked tired. And the only thing that could breathe a little life back into my weekend was a basket (or three) of chips with white cheese sauce and a Margarona the size of my head.

So we loaded up the minivan and made our way down First Street to our happiest of happy places–Fiesta Café. We ate and drank–and laughed. And Danny took this picture of me with the cutest little Cyborg of all the Cyborgs.

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I posted it to my Facebook page and my girlfriend chimed in about having the same kind of week and eating at the same kind of Mexican restaurant across town. Then she complimented my hair.

I should have said, “I love you for saying that. Thank you.”

But I didn’t.

I replied to her comment, saying I used the “cover your dark circles, make your hair less greasy filter.” And we traded self-criticisms about ourselves and our saggy-mom-parts for the next hour, with a few other moms chiming in.

Then my college girlfriend hit us all with a response too good not to screen-shot.

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Vessels of awesome–that made me laugh out loud. But she was so right.

Why is it so much easier for me to criticize myself than accept a compliment?

Compliments–especially about my looks–are hard. They’re hard for me to accept on a good day when I’ve slept– and my dark circles are covered–and my hair doesn’t look like the Exxon Valdez oil spill. But accepting a compliment on a bad day? That’s almost impossible for me.

It’s not that I don’t love myself, because I do–although self-love is a newer concept for me. It’s more that I don’t want anyone to think I love myself too much. Because no one likes a narcissist. Or an egotist. Or a vain mom who thinks her kid is the cutest little Cyborg of all the Cyborgs and her greasy beachwaves rival Gisele’s. Ha.

But I can do better. We can all do better.

Beautiful. Hard working. Talented. Amazing. Vessels of awesome. We are all of that. I am all of that. And the next time someone compliments me–or my hair, I’ll just say thank you.