The Great Minnesota Get-Together!

Yesterday after Church, we decided to take this little sweetie on her first Minnesota adventure!
She got excited about it, can't you tell??
So where did we take little Ava??
To the Minnesota State Fair of course!!
The state fair is a big deal here and because the weather has been nice and cool, we thought it was the perfect time to take her!!  
So, we joined thousands of our closest friends for a day at the fair!
The Minnesota fair or "the great Minnesota get-together" as it's called here, is the second largest in the country, second only to Texas!  There were so many people yesterday, it was challenging to get around.  But, we learned quickly how great it was to have a stroller.  They definitely part crowds! 
Of course we had to tell Ava the real reason we love going to the fair, the food!
We started out our day with a great treat....carmel apple in a bowl with cinnamon ice-cream!! Yum!  We also had some other fair treats, like shaved ice, cheese curds, chocolate-dipped nut rolls, walleye-fries, an elk burger, kettle corn, and of!!  It was fabulous :) When at the fair, it is essential that you throw all caution and reason to the wind so that you can just INDULGE and ENJOY it!!  
Miss Ava was such a great fair-goer!  She just grinned and smiled and looked all around the whole time.  
We didn't go alone however, we went with some of my family! Here she is with her second cousin Annie, who was celebrating her birthday yesterday!
And these are some of Annie's friends, and more of my family.  Believe me, it was a sweet deal for Ava!  She spent lots of time in other people's arms :) These girls were more than willing to carry her around!
I took some pictures of some "only in Minnesota" things at the fair!
Everything, and I mean everything, that is able to be on a stick, is in fact on a stick at the fair!  For those of you who are southerners, "hot dish" is another term for casserole here.  How they put that on a stick is beyond me, but it appears they did!
This is my cousin Robyn and her husband George, and the biggest bag of kettle corn you have ever seen!  But oh it was good :) We ate in the "north woods" and then caught the "timber team" show!
And Ava smiled at everyone she saw!
Is that hat not the cutest thing you have ever seen??  Rebecca Jo, one of my blog friends, made it for her before she was born.  I have been waiting for cool enough weather to put it on her. 
 It was seriously just adorable!!  We love it Rebecca!!
They did some cool things, but it was oh so cheesy!  Next time they should strive for more tricks and less jokes :)
She didn't care though, she liked all the action!
Family Portrait :) 
Again, only in Minnesota do you need jackets and blankets and hats, in AUGUST!!  Once the sun went down, it got very chilly!  But, secretly, I LOVED it!  This is my favorite kind of weather!
Dad, the following pictures are for you!  
After 38 years at John Deere, my Dad is retiring in just a few more weeks!
Not really sure what this was all about??  Maybe powered by a John Deere engine??
While the girls went on the giant slide behind us, we took the standard, dorky fair pictures!
I wonder how many years it will take for Ava to be embarrassed by us??
Even though we disrupted her schedule and kept her up late, Ava was a trooper on her first fair experience!  Good enough to make us excited about next year!
Last time we went to the fair, it was just the two of us, but this time it was the three of us!  
I'm sure you can guess which time was more fun!!  


Motherhood, For Better or For Worse

I am hopping on Kelly's idea for a post tonight, because it interests me and I thought it might interest you too.  Since I became a Mommy, I feel like I live in a whole new universe.  There are many things that are just like I thought they would be, but there are so many other things that are totally different.  Some things have come easy and some things have not.  But, for better or for worse, they are what motherhood is all about.  So, now that I have almost 5 months of mommyhood under my belt, here is a list of what has been challenging to me and what has been a breeze...
Things That Have Been Easier Than I Thought:

-Childbirth.  Yes, I said it.  It was much easier than I ever thought it would be.  I totally remember thinking, I can't wait to do this again while I was in labor.  The whole thing just amazed me and was nothing like I thought it was going to be.  Granted, I chose an epidural, for which I will always be thankful!

-My physical recovery.  Again, I think I prepared myself for a much harder time, so I have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly I recovered and how minimal any pain was.  

-Being a Mommy.  I honestly know God created me to be a Mom!  I have had motherly instincts just oozing out of me since junior high :) It is very fulfilling for me to take care of Ava.  She brings me such joy, my heart is often overflowing with gratitude.

-Taking her places and getting out of the house.  This is when my experience as a nanny has come in handy.  I have never been fearful of taking her out or overwhelmed at all the work!  I know it's good for both of us, so we have been active from the very beginning.  I love exploring the world through her eyes.  There are so many things I can't wait to do with her!

-Staying at home.  I LOVE to be at home and I LOVE spending so much time with Ava.  It has been a wonderful gift to have the freedom to spend our days together at home and to be able to set our own schedule.  I will still work here and there with my wedding business and I'll do a little nannying, but nothing like I've done in the past and for that I'm extremely grateful.  After so many years of taking care of other people's kids, I am so happy to be taking care of my own :) 

-Getting her in a routine.  I almost don't want to say this, for fear or jinxing it :) but she has responded so well to my schedule for her.  She naps well, sleeps well, eats well...honestly, she's been a really great baby.  We had our difficult days in those early weeks, but ever since she was 6-7 weeks old, she has been so much easier.  I do constantly draw on my experience with other babies and try to remember what worked for each of them.  I am a lover of routine and so is she.  Plus, it's been good for me to know that all babies cry sometimes and if you stick with something long enough, they'll eventually get it :) 

-Loving her!  My heart almost can't take it. No matter how crabby she is or how badly she needs a nap, I just look at her and I'm amazed all over again about how good God is!  She is such a blessing to me, such a reminder of His faithfulness.  I just can't believe she's mine sometimes.  I am LOVING this season of life.  
-Letting go of things that just don't matter.  Somedays I feel like I'm being pulled in a thousand directions, with no end in sight.  But, Travis and Ava are my priority, my ministry for this season.  It's been freeing to say "no" to so many things I would have taken on before.  I know these days are fleeting, these days of her being "little" will one day be behind us, so I am cherishing my time with her.  And it has come much easier than I thought to do so.  She is the perfect excuse for not doing something.  After all, I don't want to miss photo-ops like this one!
Things That Have Been Harder Than I Thought:

-Breastfeeding.  Ava didn't really have any problems, but I did.  Not physically, but mentally and emotionally.  I enjoyed it at first, but not nearly like I thought I was going to. It was very hard for me to feel so tied down and to never feel like I got a break.  I thought it would be such a bonding thing for us, but really it became more of a burden.  I hung in there as long as I wanted to and then Travis and I agreed it was time to let it go.  And then, like only every mother knows, the guilt crept in.  But I'm grateful for such a supportive husband who encouraged me let it go and not feel badly about it.  It's much easier for me now, but I honestly never thought I would already have her on formula.  It goes to show you that even the best "plans" are really just ideas about how we think something will go.  Reality is often a much harsher wake-up call!

-Not feeling like myself.  Although my recovery was better than I expected, I still don't really feel like I am who I used to be.  I suppose that's ok, because I'm not the same, but I'm surprised at how often I long to go back to "her."  I don't have time for myself anymore, so I think that's part of it, but I also don't look like myself either, and that's the hardest part.  I have work to do on this body and no motivation/energy to do it.  It's been kind of a depressing summer to deal with the "new me."  Every picture I see of myself makes me want to cry or scream.  Not easy.

-Dealing with my house, which never, ever seems to be clean.  In my dreams, it would be clean and organized at all times, but I've hard to learn the hard way, that will only be true IN MY DREAMS!  I cannot stay on top of things the way I used to.  In some ways, this has been really good for me.  I needed to let some of my obsessive stuff go.  But, it's also frustrating to not have the time to just do what I need to do.  I thought it would be easier for me to keep things picked up, have the laundry done, and keep the fridge full, but it's just not.  Usually I have to pick one thing that I want to get done that day and then just live with that.  

-Making time for Travis.  No worries, we aren't drifting apart or anything, but I see how easily that could happen.  When he comes home everyday, we spend all our time with Ava.  When he calls, we talk about Ava.  When he's at work, Ava and I meet him for lunch.  All of these things are a blessing, but I do miss our time alone together.  I miss lazy afternoons, late night dinners, hours at coffee shops.  It takes more effort than ever to put our relationship first and to make our marriage a priority.  Plus, after mothering Ava all day, sometimes I forget that I'm not his mother too!  Making that mental switch is hard.  Harder than I thought.  5 and a half years together, before Ava, has given us a good foundation, but it's also created some habits and preferences that I miss.  Date nights are something we need to keep doing.

-Feeling lonely some days.  We have so many people in our life, so many friends at Church, so many family members that love seems ridiculous.  But I miss having someone in the same exact stage I'm in and relating to them on a deeper level.  Lots of our friends have older kids and several at that.  We don't know very many people who are on their first baby and I miss the support that brings.  I'm hoping as the fall starts up and we get back in the swing of things at Church that we can meet some other couples in our shoes.  I need that and "we" need that.  I think because we are in the student ministry world with so many younger, single or newly married volunteers, it just feels very isolating at times.  
So there you go, for better or for worse, I am incredibly grateful to be this little girl's Mommy.  I'll take the easy days and the hard ones too, if it means I get to watch her grow up right before my eyes.  She is worth the struggle and certainly worth the joy!  

No one ever said being a Mom was easy, right???


Are You Kidding Me???

We had the amazing opportunity to experience one of God's biggest blessings to our church this past weekend. We were gone for 2 nights on a retreat with the student ministries staff, which is something we try to do every year, before the fall kicks off and a new year is underway. This year however, was such a sweet reminder of God's favor, kindness and abundant blessing. Months ago, our Church was "gifted" with a private property that officially became ours just weeks ago. A generous family gave us 400 acres of breathtaking land and amazing resources as a retreat center for our Church to use. It was and is a significant gift for so many reasons.

If you've followed my blog long enough, you know that our Church is famous for retreats :) Between Travis and I, we must go on 6-8 retreats a year easily. One or both of us is always getting ready for or just returning from a retreat! Part of that is the Minnesota "cabin culture" I think, but also the importance our Church places on getting away to do ministry and to rest and reflect. As a whole body of believers, I'm sure we spend lots of money renting other camps and retreat centers so that we can use them. Each ministry in our Church seems to have at least 1 or 2 retreat needs a year, so add those all up and almost every month 2 or 3 groups are "retreating" somewhere. Anyway, when this gift was given, you should have seen the dreaming and drooling our staff and elders began doing! Travis came home with pictures of this place months ago, but after seeing this in person, they couldn't possibly it justice. In every sense of the word, it is unbelievable. There are so many things that make this place great and yet there is still work to do in order for it to really serve large groups and certain needs, but it is most assuredly, a lavish blessing from the Lord on our Church. It will allow some strategic ministry to occur, which is a gift the staff does not take for granted. So, without further ado, I will let the following pictures tell the story of what God has done for us!

The property is nestled in the hills of Wisconsin, in a valley, outside of a charming little town.  From the second we arrived, Travis was on a mission to get in that barn and get on a 4 wheeler!  That barn houses several of them, in addition to a full shop, a full bathroom, an exercise room, and an office with a gorgeous view.  
But, we aren't the only ones who were there to check it out.  There are 4 peacocks, 2 roosters, and several dogs who also roam the property at all times!  And yes, the roosters did officially "cock-a-doodle-doo" every single morning :) 
This is the barn they live in and where the horses used to live too.  Sadly the horses were sold, as they were just too much work and money to take care of.  But, in no way has this place lost any "charm" :) 
Ava agrees.  She was quite "charmed" the whole time we were there!
I followed the peacocks around while they strolled through this adorable little prayer garden.
You know, the one with the cobblestone walkway and gazebo?  I mean, could this place get any cuter??
Well, yes, actually.  Here is the greenhouse and potting shed.  
I was trying to get as close as I could to that beautiful blue peacock, but I encountered a few problems.  First, I don't like birds.  They creep me out.  Second, every time my camera made the slightest sound, they stopped and looked right at me, making me fear for my life :) And third, such fear kept me a safe distance behind them, so I would be ready to run for it at any moment!  I know, lame, but I'll say it again, I don't like birds.  Or flying insects.  Really, anything with wings.  :)
But I digress.  
Here is a smokehouse in the garden.
And a view of some of the beautiful flowers that were in bloom.
When this place was built and designed, they thought of so many details.  My interior design mind was just in Heaven.  There are all kinds of fun signs and decor all over the property, a great blend of vintage, old farmhouse and new modern technology.  
Yes, I was trying my hardest to convey that very thought to my little apprentice :) Don't you think she's really meditating on that principle??
One of the biggest draws to this place are the activities they built.  At first glance, you may think this is just a silo, but oh no.  Inside is a incredible climbing tower!  
And of course, when you're hot and sweaty from climbing, you could just jump into the olympic sized pool that is outside :) Well, you could actually jump, dive or slide into that pool, it's really up to you!
Or you could lay back and soak up the rays...
Or dip your feet in...
Or relax in the hot tub!  Now don't worry, that hot tub has been turned off for quite awhile, so the water wasn't actually hot.  It was just warmer than the pool.  Perfect for babies and children on a breezy day!
Ava and her friend Julia sure liked it!
Not only does the climbing tower live in this building, but so does a full size, beautiful gym, along with 2 locker rooms and 2 bunkhouses!  
For some reason, I never took any pictures inside, but to call this a gym is almost a mistake.  It's so gorgeous and so well done, it's really more like rec center.  
And because it was more than 100 feet away from the farmhouse we stayed in, Travis felt the need to hop on the 4 wheeler to get there :) A theme for our stay.  
Now, I won't tease him too much about that because before we even got there, I kept hearing about the amazing trails and all the views that we could see.  So, we handed Ava off for a few minutes and I hopped on the back with him so he could show me what he was talking about. When we got to the top of this "hill", I was just as mesmerized as he was.  This is a wonderful picture of some of the property from a little cabin.  
Yes, he is smitten.
And yes, so I am I.  It was gorgeous!!
For those souls who love isolation, this is the cabin you could sleep in.  But for those of us who worry about bears, this is the cabin you could quickly peak inside, before heading back down the hill to level ground and civilization!!  
It was a fun ride and little Ava was waiting for us when we got back :) 
We stayed inside the lovely, old farmhouse.  It was full of antiques and beautifully decorated spaces, like this cute little nook at the top of the stairs.  
We stayed in this room, in a king sized bed nonetheless, but all of the bedrooms were wonderfully charming. 
And so was the bathroom.
Although praise the Lord, it had been upgraded to a more modern feel :) 
This was one side of the porch, where 90% of all the meetings took place :)  With the perfect weather we had while we were there, it was heavenly.  
But, I have saved the "creme de la creme" for the end of our tour!  In response to my husbands pressing request that we ALL 3 go for a ride, I threw my motherly instincts out the window and agreed to take Ava (in the sprinkling rain) so that we could see this darling little cottage he kept talking about.  This just might Travis' favorite picture of all time!  It contains his 2 favorite girls and his favorite toy :) Plus, for the first time, I can CLEARLY see Travis in Ava!  This look of hers is so totally him.  I couldn't believe it when I saw it :) 
But, back to the cottage....umm, is that amazing or what???
At any second we really believed we might close our eyes and a Disney princess would come out the door, skipping and singing a little tune :) And the fish would jump out of the pond and the birds would get the clothes off the line...ahhh....can't you picture it??
Well, as if it couldn't get any cuter on the outside, it was actually darling on the inside.  Here is the little bed, but more importantly, look at those windows, the stone walls and the stone floor!!  I was drooling just as much as Ava over this place!
It had a tiny little bathroom and this sideboard, with a door the led out to...
a private little porch.  
Ok, seriously, is this place for real??
Oh wait, I forgot the little loft upstairs too!  Unbelievable.  Makes me want to watch Enchanted again in the worst way!
But, that wasn't the only little gem hidden away in the woods.  On the other side of the property, Travis took us to this sweet little chapel.  Yes, it also as cute on the inside as the outside, and you can also sleep here too, but at this point it was raining a little harder and I wanted to get Ava back, so no pictures.  But, imagine the most charming little pale blue and while chapel and there you go.  
So yes, it was an amazing retreat to say the least.  Not only was the property unreal and totally breathtaking, but the times we got to spend as a youth staff family praying, planning, laughing, dreaming, eating and having fun were just as great.  The Lord has been good to us indeed.  To think where he has brought our Church in the last year and to see his blessings poured out is a privilege.  We can't wait to see all  the ministry that will take place here over the coming years!  The sky is the limit!!  And we're so glad that we got to spend a couple nights here before we get to come back in October...I know, nice, right??