Minnesota State Fair

One of J’s favorite things is the Minnesota State Fair. If you know J at all, you know how…interesting…this is.

He doesn’t like large crowds, lots of noise, or any setting where he feels like he might lose a kiddo (he’s super malleable, but he still isn’t quite a free-range as his counterpart, but he’s good at stifling his worries for the most part).

Regardless, the state fair does it for him. In Minnesota anyways (ours is rather lame).

Last year I trekked the kids up to Minnesota sans J because he was in Hawaii (boo hoo, right?) and it was pretty fabulous. The weather was perfect, the kids were easy, it was a good time for all of us.  J was super bummed he missed it though, and I spent nearly a year hearing about it. I mean, in fairness, we had deep friend cookie dough for the time ever, and he missed it. I guess I likely would have sulked about that forever, too.

A huge portion of my family lives in Minnesota, including my dad, step-mom, sister, and two of my brothers, so any excuse to visit is always a good one. Plus, adventures with extra, helpful hands are always a wonderful added bonus.


J was really determined we make it up there this year, even though we had a newborn. I thought he was slightly insane (I mean, he is, but whatevs), but I loved him too much to say no. And I’m glad that I didn’t because it worked out really well and was pretty smooth-sailing.

Plus, who says no to deep fried cookie dough? For reals.


It was so nice to get to enjoy my sweet big kids and ride a few rides with them while my parents loved on baby. And she’s so chill that I could leave her for a bit and she not mind. You have no idea what a blessing that is unless you’ve ever had a baby you couldn’t be separated from for one single second without catastrophic results.


The weather was grand again, and everyone was on their A-game. We ate too much food, rode too many rides, and the kids were totally immersed in the STEAM booths set up. It was a super fun, sunshiney day.


Find It

My kids are obsessed with books, and it pretty much starts in the womb. We read every day.




And I will often find my toddlers sitting on the floor, or cozied up on the couch, looking through books on their own.

It’s not uncommon to be in the middle of something and to have a tiny human thrust the edge of a book into my leg or arm, saying, “Momma, read dis.”

And because I’m a sucker for books (it’s the only thing they know they can ask for at any store and I am utterly unable to to tell them, no, they cannot have it. So we have a lot of books), I pretty much always stop what I’m doing and read to them.

I also read to each toddler individually before bed each night, and the big kids together, because we typically spend about an hour reading from a chapter book.


Bean’s current favorite books are the “Find It” series. She requests to “read” them every night. And they came in handy on a recent cross-country road trip, as well.

The series is comprised of four different toddler-friendly board books: “Animals,” “Farm,” “Things That Go,” and “Bedtime.”

Each book has colorful pages with large pictures of coordinating theme objects or animals on one page, and a vibrant setting on the next page where your kiddo can “find” the object. Think “I Spy” for toddlers. What’s especially nice for those tactile toddlers is that the objects you are finding are outlined, so if you’re touching them you will feel them.


Bean just turned 2, and she really loves these books that are recommended for ages 0-3, and I suspect will still be entranced with them for the foreseeable future. Sweet M is 3.5 and also enjoyed a few rounds of them, but has mostly outgrown them at this point, which seems appropriate and exactly age-ranged.

We really enjoy these books, and will definitely be a staple in our family library for many years to come between Bean and baby Avellana.



***I received a set of Find It books from Timberdoodle in exchange for this review, but all thoughts and opinions are genuine and solely mine. ***

The Birth of Hazel Penelope Maru

***If birth, breastfeeding, and/or semi-nakedness is not your cup of tea, you’ll want to bypass this post.***

It’s taken me far longer than I intended to sit down and write this post. I guess that’s my life now with five sweet darlings to call my babies.

Hazel’s birth was pretty magnificent, and there is so much I want to say about it.

Let me start about 8 years ago, shortly after Basilio was born. After he was born I dreamt I gave birth in my bathtub, solo. It was very vivid and really stuck with me, even though Jaime had been cut by that point. Eep.

Each baby I’ve had has been quicker than the last. And they’ve all had a fairly predictable schedule. I lose my mucous plug. Contractions start. And then I have a baby in my arms a few hours later. Super easy for the most part.

Well, I assumed the same would be said for our fifth babe. But we all know what they say about assuming.

Baby “Fimito” was due on the 3rd of July, and my only hope was that she didn’t come on the 4th of July. Also, I was 100% convinced that “she” was a “he.”

I attended mass on Sunday, July 7th with my big kids. Half way through I had to pee, so I excused myself to the bathroom to discover I’d lost my mucous plug.


Baby time.

By the time mass had ended I hadn’t had a single contraction. But whatever. I’d always had a baby in my arms at max, 12 hours after the loss of my mucous plug. So by 10:30pm tonight, I’d be meeting my sweet baby.


Nothing was happening.

At all.

So we ventured to the playground that hot, hot afternoon where I had maybe two contractions the whole time, but lost more mucous plug. That was weird because I’d never lost it in pieces before.


I had a few sporadic contractions throughout the afternoon/evening, but nothing that told me baby was imminent. I even texted my midwife and let her know, but went to bed in hopes of something happening around 9:30pm.

I awoke a little after midnight with a very mild surge.


Game on.

Except it was another 20 minutes before anything else happened, and I dozed in and out of sleep, not even needing to get up for the contractions because they were so mild.

By 4:30 I was pretty annoyed because they weren’t remotely close together and I was pretty sure this was going to be the longest labor of my life. I’d never had a labor play out like this before. Essentially just not progress. The contractions were effortless, and there was no bloody show or anything. I was feeling really anxious because this seemed tedious and unmoving; like an event I’d be participating in for the next few days, not hours. And I wasn’t sure if I was up for that.

My back ached so I got in the bath tub for a bit, but nothing changed. The bathtub was too small for my swollen body to provide much relief, though I dozed off and on until the water turned tepid.

The waves still erratic and sporadic, I woke Jaime up and asked him to fill up the birth tub downstairs for me so I could be fully submersed and possibly have some back relief. I remember telling him, “If this is the way it’s going to be, I’m not sure I can do it. It’s not bad, but it’s not progressing. I don’t want to do this for days if nothing is going to happen.”

“Uh…I don’t think you have a choice at this point,” he had replied.

“Yes, I do,” I had told him before heading downstairs.

I called my amazing midwife at about 5:30 and asked if she’d head over. I wanted her to tell me I was making some sort of progress because this was unlike any of my previous labors and I was fairly certain I’d still be doing this by the next nightfall.

Shortly after hanging up with her, I proceeded to get down on my hands and knees, and then laid my head down on the wooden floor. I wasn’t really aware of what I was doing or what was happening in the moment, but in hindsight I think my body was shifting baby into eject position.

Again, I had to pee, so I walked to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Sitting felt good. I peed, and then felt a pop. I hummed through a surge that came next and then it hit me that my water had just broke.

“Jaime,” I called out softly as he worked in the other room to fill up the birth pool. “My water broke.”

I think he may have said, “okay” at that point, not really aware of what I’d said.

My water breaking was quite odd to me because my water had only ever broken when I was in the throes of pushing a baby out. Sitting on the toilet, I got extra friendly with myself, and then somehow managed to squawk out, “Jaime. I feel the baby’s head.”

He popped his head in then. “Like the baby is coming out now?” he questioned.

“No,” I told him. “He’s still way up there, but I can actually feel his head with my finger, so….about that birth tub.”

I got into the birth tub and Jaime asked if he had time to go to the bathroom. For real. I told him sure, because still I hadn’t had a contraction that seemed intense, any bloody show, or any contractions closer than 13 minutes together. I had plenty of time. I mean, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew the succession of signs and progression…

A few minutes later I had a mild surge, but felt the baby’s head move down into the birth canal. This was happening, even though it wasn’t happening by the book. Not the one I followed anyway.

I yelled for Jaime to come back, and for Basilio, who I had heard awaken and scamper across upstairs, to wake up Halloway quick because I was certain I’d never live it down if she missed the birth.

Jaime stood behind me as I squatted in the birth pool. The next push I was crowning, I could feel her mushy head and for a nanosecond wondered if I was maybe feeling a butt instead because it was so soft and I’d never really paid attention to feeling things when my other kids were crowning. But it didn’t matter at this point, there were no backsies, this baby was coming out one way or another.

My butt felt like it was going to rip open so I pushed hard without a contraction, I needed baby to move on out. I felt her head slide out and I reached down into the water. I kept pushing as her shoulders slid out, wrapped like a present with the cord around her shoulders and torso.

Instinctively I unwound the cord and brought her tiny body to my chest. I kept murmuring, “don’t touch me” over and over to Jaime throughout the process. And then when she was in my arms I was in such awe and amazement over what I’d done. I’d brought our child into this world without the aid or need of anyone else. It was extraordinary to me.

I asked for towels as I held her near my chest, and sweet little Morgan came down the stairs to see his new baby sister.

It was beautiful.

It was the most primal, surreal, amazing experience ever. I still can’t wrap my brain around it.

Shortly after my midwife arrived, and my closest friend, Greer. Though I honestly cannot remember in which order. And then my birth photographer. I’d been texting with them all, and had sent them texts when my water broke so baby was coming.

Morgan had the pleasure of helping to cut the baby’s umbilical cord, and then I wanted to go upstairs to my bedroom. Freja woke up at that point.

We still hadn’t picked a name yet. We had a few top contenders for girls, and zero for boys. So a few hours later, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, Jaime and I chatter.

Itzel. Zella. Penelope. Eloise. Elowen. Hazel.

Those were the contenders.

But Jaime wanted Hazel. He’d wanted Hazel from the beginning of my pregnancy. And I’d wanted a Penelope since I was pregnant with Basilio and we’d chosen Lennox Penelope if he’d been a girl. But I also didn’t want people to call her “Penny” so I settled with Penelope as the middle name and not first.

And by golly, she is such a Hazel, that I’m glad I didn’t push for anything else. Because he’d have given me it, but I’d have been so, so very wrong.

And Maru had all ready been chosen, for a boy or girl middle name even though it is technically a “girl” name. It’s the Spanish nickname for the name Eugenia – my paternal grandmother’s name. And only one letter different from the name Mary – my maternal grandmother’s name. A derivative of Eugene, for St. Eugene (the saint of dysfunctional families, which seems a bit humorous). It was a non-nonnegotiable.

And that is how we went from a family of 6 to 7, and I felt like a freaking superhero goddess, because I’d once dreamt I delivered my own baby without help, and then I really did.

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Well Enough

The thing is, I’m a pretty lousy housewife. I’m not tidy or well-organized, and I rarely have a warm dinner waiting when my husband gets home (I do feed our kids, just not him 😬). I’m great at creating a budget, but not so hot at sticking to it because something always comes up with 5 kids (usually a trip to the doctor).

I’m not going to win mother of the year anytime soon. I get frustrated too easily. I spend more time telling my kids it’s good for them to be bored than I do actually enjoying fun activities with them. My “playing” skills are limited to reading them books. All day. I have no grace when it comes to bed times because I need that hour after they’re asleep to recharge the introvert in me. They will probably remember the mother of their childhood constantly saying, “Is that kind or helpful?” about nearly everything.

I spent last night reading through grad school programs and then just laughed; because I won’t have that sort of time for way too many more years to come. And at that point I won’t have anything to write down useful enough to get me accepted. Can shower one handed while holding a newborn? Good at making mediocre dinners while wearing two babies (as depicted)? Stellar butt-wiper of tiny humans? Great middle of the night cuddler even though I hate being touched while I sleep? I’m not sure any of those will help… .

I am constantly saying I am behind on everything in life. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get caught up. Not enough cups of coffee to keep me running. But maybe I’m not so behind. Maybe I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Exhausted, sometimes a little depleted, but gosh darn it, so well loved. I just hope that these 6 humans I live with and adore so very much will one day be able to look back on all this crazy beautiful blur of season and say the same: that I loved them well enough.

Farmland Math

Somehow Sweet M is 3.5. HOW? And as precocious as they come, much like his big sister. I’m always finding ways to keep that little brain of his busy and challenged; not that he can’t do that on his own, but it often leads him  into quite a bit of mischief. Which seems on par for a three-year-old.

He loves “doing school” like Miss H and Mr. B, and I’m constantly on the lookout for more fun ways to incorporate “school” for him that is still primarily play based – because play really is the school of children! I want him to love learning, and I want for it to be as organic as possible.

So when we came across Farmland Math on Timberdoodle as a part of their full preschool curriculum, we knew it was for us!

Farmland Math is a set of fun, brightly colored animals, a waterproof farm mat (that flips to a dinosaur terrain on the opposite side – can’t beat that!), and a small 36-week long teacher’s guide.


You could 100% ditch the teacher’s guide and simply, talk, and observe, and still get in so much new knowledge and hands on learning if you felt compelled, but I really like having the teacher’s guide because I like having ideas. Also, it allows my nine-year-old to “play” math with him while I’m nursing the baby or Mr. B does is AAR lessons. Although she is stellar at playing with her younger siblings, she also really loves to feel in charge (what oldest child does not?), and this is a great, fun way for her to get her fill of that.

Farmland Math guides kiddos through counting, sorting, recognizing colors and patterns; all those early math skills they need to be successful later on in life. But it does it in such a fun, playful, age-appropriate manner that no one sees it as “school work” (unless that’s what they’re wanting and you so you tell them it is so!).

I particularly love the chunky, colorful farm animals. They’re great for getting the “work” done, but then Sweet M and Bean (2), can also play and entertain themselves for quite a while on their own with them. And because it’s all so durable and easy to clean, I know it will last through Sweet M and Bean, and that even baby Ave will get to enjoy it when she enters her preschool years! And when school should be play, it’s great to see the materials work for both school use and every day play use; it makes you feel confident in your investments.


I really cannot recommend Farmland Math enough as part of your home school preschool or simply as another fun addition to the playroom.

Cat Crimes

We’ve been super busy with a newborn around here this month (whose birth story I am hoping to get up soon!).

We were fed so well and loved on her first week of life. And the kids are all adjusting so well, as they love her to absolute bits (not surprising, she’s fairly scrumptious). J has been a professional toddler wrangler so I can cozy up with our darling Avellana (her Spanish nickname that J dubbed her – not her legal name) and just drink up all this newborn bliss. Because even after 5 sweet little babes, it just does not get old.

And our big kids? They had the awesome experience of getting to spend this past week with their grandparents up north, but before that they were doing a stellar job of being helpful and self-entertaining.

They’ve been reading lots of new books, and building crazy Lego and Plus Plus contraptions, as well as playing lots of games together. I love that they both enjoy playing board games and the like, because they are getting big enough to play games with each other without the need of adult help – and they can play with J and I! I mean, games that are actually enjoyable for us, too (you can only play Candyland so many times before the colors all start to blur together…)

Their newest favorite game to play comes from Timberdoodle, and is called Cat Crimes. H and B were both super excited when it arrived, and could not wait a second to start playing. Lucky for them, the toddlers had all ready been put to bed, so it was safe to take it out and have a go of it.


Cat Crimes is a fun “who done it” logic game, with increasingly more difficult challenge cards, so kids (and adults!) can up the complexities and difficult level as desired the more rounds that they play.

It’s rated for ages 8+, and Mr. B is almost 8, but it could most definitely be played by younger kiddos, too. I think they both would have been able to grasp it and enjoy this game as early as 6. And at almost 8 and 9, they are able to play it over and over again without any adult assistance, which has been lovely these past few weeks.

But it’s also such a fun-filled, brain-working game that J and I enjoy popping in for a round when able as well. I definitely see Cat Crimes as a game the whole family can enjoy, and it will be in heavy rotation around here. So if you need a fun game that helps work on their logic skills (but is so fun they have no idea it’s helping their brains expand!), Cat Crimes gets four big thumbs up from Miss H and Mr. B!

Chasing Fireflies

My kids recently had a friend over and stayed up late enough to go outside and catch lightning bugs with J. Sorry, fireflies. Apparently “lightning bugs” is a term of my youth, and not couth with my kids, ha.

Because we are typically pretty big sticklers about bedtime – I prefer happy well-rested kids, because it makes me a happier momma – they rarely get to stay up late enough in the summer for the fireflies to light up the skies (I mean, 10pm is past my bedtime). So when we had the opportunity to check out the super fun game Chasing Fireflies from Timberdoodle, we were all over it!

Although the game says it is for ages 4+, all four of my kiddos – aged 9 years, 7 years, 3.5 years, and 22 months – loved playing this game. It was so much fun to watch them run around, finding the blinking fireflies around the yard (and maybe they had some drippy ice cream to go with it).

They broke off in teams so they had to work together to find their colored fireflies: green or blue. And off they went!


There are two jars of fireflies that come in the game Chasing Fireflies. A few of the fireflies had to have their batteries re-positioned to get them lighting up, but otherwise, they were flawless and well-loved straight out of the box. Sweet M even wanted to take a jar of blinking fireflies with him to bed! He sure does know how to re-create my childhood.


It was also really nice to see my boys working together to chase down their fireflies, as opposed to knocking heads: I loved that this game has the ability to be as competitive or collaborative as one may want. And that as few as two people can play (or really, even just one kiddo would still delight in running about, chasing down the fireflies on their own!), or that larger groups of kids could play in teams.

Chasing Fireflies is top notch and I would recommend it over and over again for any preschool or elementary-aged kiddo! And I have four babes who all unanimously agree – which is saying a lot!




*** I was given the game Chasing Fireflies from Timberdoodle in exchange for this review, but all thoughts and opinions are genuine, and mine alone. 

Florida Vacay Pt. 3


Let me continue.

Basically Florida was a blast. The water was warm, the sand was soft, and the weather was gorgeous.

To make it just that much better, Miss H had the amazing surprise of one of her oldest friends coming to visit for the weekend from Jacksonville! I mean, I loved it too because her momma is one of my dearest friends, but the surprise for H made it all the better.


It’s one of the things I love most about kids. How they can go ages without seeing each other or speaking to one another and then they just pick up how they left off. Miss H and her friend M hadn’t seen each other since before we lived in Hawaii – eep! And they were knee deep in fun and giggles in pretty much minutes.

And it was so nice for me to have a friend to just chill out with and talk to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so fortunate to have a husband that I so deeply adore and who is truly my best friend, but man! There are just some things a woman can relate to better. And having a friend who you don’t have to be guarded around or worry about judging you is kind of a magical thing.


Miss H’s other epic surprise was….


Okay, before you judge me too hard, we had agreed long, long ago when we first moved to Hawaii that we would make this dream of hers happen. But time slipped away and it never happened, and I didn’t want her to be the person who grew up and still remembered how her parents promised to take her to a Broadway show in NYC and never did….err….swim with dolphins (I definitely don’t have any lingering thoughts over my own childhood, haha).

So, we made it happen.

And it was pretty epic. Both the experience and her reaction.

She loved the dolphins.


But she was also pretty crushed. She deplored that they lived in an exhibit and were essentially circus animals, because she wanted them to be free as animals are meant to be. It was definitely hard for her animal-loving heart.

So I call it a win-win. We were able to carry out our promise and she was able to do something amazing, but she also was able to truly see the situation for what it was, and I find that to be pretty amazing for a 9-year-old.


Over all, it was a fantastic week and a half and we definitely need to get back to a life of low key, lazy beach days. It’s just so good for our souls.

Florida Vacay Pt. 2

So I’m not going to lie, when people say things like “it’s not really a vacation with kids” I’ve never truly related to that. Like, for sure it’s different. In one scenario you are solely responsible for entertaining and keeping yourself alive, and in the other you are responsible for a lot of people.

Maybe because I’ve never been a partier or a drinker really, and don’t find that to be “fun” or even a little bit relaxing, being responsible for other humans doesn’t typically feel that tedious or as if it’s taking from the vacation. I genuinely enjoy being with my kiddos, as terribly crazy as they often are. And fortunately J does, too. I wouldn’t say we’d never do a totally kid-free vacation, because maybe some day, in the future, we will. Who knows? But for now, we enjoy having them with us, and we are super fortunate that we’ve built a relationship where neither of us feels underappreciated or whatever if we don’t have constant (or if we are being honest, like any) one on one time with each other.

All that said. This vacation was exhausting. Oh my gosh. It wasn’t even the kids, ha. I think it was my rotund stomach and the extreme sleepies of third trimester pregnancy. I was lucky enough to get several naps in, to sit on the beach or in the water and take a load off while J primarily care for the littles, but still. It was exhausting. But no more exhausting than if we’d been at home.

The kids were so happy to be on the beach. It’s really all that Sweet M and Bean remember, and they talk about it daily. Bean even squealed, “I love da beach!” while M inquired, “Shouldn’t we be living here always?” I told him I’m working on it. I’m not sure how many more years, or even months, of cold I can withstand. I thought I wasn’t bothered by cold and snow. And then we lived in Hawaii and I realized I was wrong. So, so, so very wrong.

There is a completely different sort of vibe and atmosphere to being near the water. Life is just more mellow and calm. Everyone is more chill. It’s the way life is supposed to be. Or at least mine anyway. I am not cut out for the hustle and bustle of busy life.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of photos of beach life. I’ll write later about H’s fun surprise. Well, both of them!


Florida Vacay Pt. 1

We just got home for our last hurrah vacay before baby Fimito makes his appearance in a full short weeks (WHAT!?)

But our drive down is getting a post in itself. As well as our time there because I’m a busy lady and need to get some stuff done theoretically (but I’m also exhausted, so it’s nice to have an excuse to sit!).

Anyway, we decided to drive down and split the drive into two days, stopping at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, which we get into for free with our Wonderlab pass – woot woot! And then traveled another hour or so south and stayed the night in Montgomery, before finishing an easy drive the next day to our destination in Panama City Beach.

We departed on a Sunday, and two days prior the air conditioning went out on the van. For serious. It needed something specific and they couldn’t get the part in until Wednesday (three days after we were set to depart) so we made the drive with no air conditioning. 35 weeks pregnant. With four kids. Yep, we are cray cray. I would not have been cut out for the Oregon Trail, that’s for sure!

But the kids were stellar. We left at around 6:30am, and made it to Birmingham at 1ish. And everyone was mostly happy and amenable. We stopped a few times to stretch and run around, but they’re mostly pros at this point, even though Bean is still not a fan of the car at all (she wasn’t such an agreeable traveler on our way back…).

I made J listen to all the Janet Lansbury under the sun with me. Literally hours. The whole way. He is such an amazing human, haha. Because he even actually listened. No ear plugs or anything, bahaha. And would stop it to ask questions or discuss things that we agreed with or had concerns about. I still marvel at what a good man I married sometimes.

The McWane Science Center was totally worth it. We spent about 3.5 hours there and definitely did not get through it all. It was so nice to get the kids out of the car for the afternoon and play. And they thoroughly enjoyed it.


It’s all very hands on and fosters lots of thought and imagination. And they have a huge section for the under 6 crowd that the babies loved! (Although, I guess they’re toddlers +. I should stop calling them babies all ready).



After that we loaded up again, let the kids enjoy some Wendy’s for dinner, where when asked what she would like Bean replied, “ketchup.” I turned around to look at her and she furrowed her little toddler eyebrows at me and sighed. Yes, she sighed. Pray for me, guys. And then said, “Chicken nuggets.”

And then we unloaded in Montgomery for the night, where we woke up to this sweetness before heading to PCB.


To be continued…