Lena’s Third Birthday – A Blue Party

1 Sep

Since Lena has never been able to celebrate a birthday with my side of the family, we decided to host a celebration in her honor while we were home even though it was a month before her actual birthdate. When I asked her what type of party she wanted, I fully expected her to respond with something that included animals and Frozen. However, she was adamant that she wanted a “blue party” and every time I asked her for clarification, she gave me the same response with increased annoyance and exasperation. Not entirely sure what she had in mind, I decided to just make all the decorations blue and crossed my fingers the birthday girl would like it. I sent out an email to our close family and friends and got to work making tissue paper puffs and streamers.

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Everyone was a good sport and wore blue much to the delight of my little munchkin. We kept it pretty simple with a backyard barbecue and a few toys for the kids.

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We even filled up the kiddie pool though the water was absolutely freezing. Apparently, the temptation was just too much and next thing we knew, Grayson and Lena had jumped in with all their clothes on. Luckily, it was a gorgeous night so we just stripped them down and let them enjoy themselves. Just a note to the two of you in the future however: your mamas do not want to hear of any skinny dipping at birthday parties past a certain age. You have been warned!

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The kids played football with Uncle Stein and Uncle Tor before heading inside for cake and presents. That’s my “little” brother on the left and yes, I can still beat him up despite him being a foot taller than me.

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Lena was super excited about blowing out the birthday candles this year which was fun as she didn’t quite grasp the concept last year. I can no longer light candles in the house because she demands I sing “Happy Birthday” to her as soon as she spots a flame. All my attempts at explaining the difference between a house candle and a birthday candle have just fallen on deaf ears.

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We opened an insane amount presents especially given the small number of people at the party. I’m not even sure where they all came from but the Bacon Bit was in heaven. Babies, books, and Frozen paraphernalia topped the list of her favorite things. My brother even drew her a custom poster with Princesses Anna and Elsa which elicited giant squeals of glee.

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It’s a bit surreal to think I sat in just about the same spot some 30 years before opening my birthday presents. I wish Jason could have been there to celebrate with us but luckily for the Diva, she’ll just get to have two celebrations this year. And if you want to see how much our little kiddo has changed in a year, you can check out her 2nd birthday party recap here.

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Lena, it’s crazy to think your birthday has come around again and you’re already THREE years old! You are definitely a baby no longer as evidenced by your giant vocabulary and even bigger personality. You’re one of the funniest people I know which delights me to no end but also brings it’s challenges in parenting you at times. Your comedic timing is impeccable and lately, when I ask you to do something you don’t like, you give me a giant sigh and tell me, “Ughhh!! You’re driving me nuts!” Touché’ little one, touché’. We’ve had a good summer together while Daddy has been away and even though we both miss him, you have been such a trooper through it all. On nights when Mama gets sad, you’re quick to offer me hugs and kisses and the other night, you even tried to nurse me telling me that “Lena milk” would make it all better. I guess you’ve been paying attention when I’ve talked about becoming a big sister and how the baby may cry and need Mama milk. I am excited to watch you step into this new role and I know you’ll do great because you just roll with the punches. Your Daddy and I love you beyond comprehension and could not be more proud of the little person you’re becoming. I hope you always remember our little mantra and that you hold it in your heart as truth: I am Lena and I am awesome; I can do anything! I am smart, I am strong, I am kind and I am beautiful. Yes, little chick, you are. You certainly are. Gratulerer med 3 års dagen; jeg elsker deg!

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More Norwegian than Norway – A Home Tour

22 Aug

I love reading blogs and have a few favorites that I frequent on a daily basis. Design Mom tops the list as there are always great links, thought provoking posts and my personal favorite: a feature called “Living With Kids.” Readers submit photos of their homes alongside a virtual interview by Design Mom herself; Gabrielle. I’m nosy by nature so getting to peek inside someone’s abode while learning about the reasons behind their decoration choices is pretty much the best, in my opinion. The styles and locations of the homes vary greatly so there’s always something new to discover.

While I was home visiting my parents, I thought it would be fun to document their house a la the Design Mom blog. My parents still live in my childhood home and over the past 30 years, have certainly made their mark on the place. I used to joke that I grew up in a museum and when you see the photos, I think you’ll agree that description is pretty accurate. All their design choices are very deliberate and for the most part, are either handmade or stem from the motherland. I actually think their place may be more Norwegian than Norway itself.

So without further ado, on to the grand tour!

Despite working full time and being in their 60’s, Mormor and PopPop (as Lena calls them) log a few hours a day tending to their beautiful yard. The hard work has definitely paid off as they have some of the most manicured landscaping in the entire neighborhood. One of the days we were visiting, we were even treated to a deer sighting as it took a leisurely walk through the grass and into the neighboring properties. The parental units are so detailed oriented, in fact, that even their tool shed has been decked out to match the house as well as the Scandinavian details echoed throughout the inside of their home.

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As soon as you walk through the front door, you see this hand carved bench made by my Grandpa Robert and painted by my dad. The hardwood floors were installed while I was in high school though certainly not out of necessity. My mom is such a diligent housekeeper that she had managed to keep cream colored carpets stain free and looking like new for TWENTY YEARS. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Martha Stewart has nothing on my mom. The wooden couches have been appearing in family photos since my toddler days yet still look like new. All the hand painted furniture was done by my dad in his free time (read: when he wasn’t managing his own chiropractic clinic, going to art school, or spending time with his family). Everywhere you look, there are small details just waiting to be discovered from little trolls hanging down the clock to vintage wooden containers found at thrift stores and antique shops.

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The living room and dining room share an open space and here is where you might notice that my mom has an addiction to dishware. Every holiday or special occasion is celebrated with her blue and white Porsgrund pieces lovingly collected over many years. For the record, Mama, I call dibs on this in my inheritance package ;) There is no shortage of Iittala glass, copper teapots and pewter flower vases. And that’s just what’s on display. The treasures behind the rosemaled doors are endless. During my childhood, the dining room table was usually covered in violins, bows and Suzuki books as the sounds of Norwegian fiddle music floated through the air.

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From the entryway, you’re greeted by your reflection and a rooster perched atop the pantry as you make your way into the kitchen. Lena is constantly narrating her day so we had a great time saying hello to the various animals adorning the walls while staying with the grandparents. Rather than seeing a sometimes moody teenager like I used to, I noticed hints of my mom when I looked in that faithful old mirror. The kitchen appliances, backsplash and countertops have all been updated since I was a legal resident of the household but the kitchen table where I spent many hours doing homework is still in it’s place. I remember staring out the window dreaming about the day I’d leave and now I wait patiently to spot hummingbirds at the feeder much to the delight of my animal-loving toddler. Not ones to let a surface go unstyled, my parents have utilized all the space on top of their cabinets as well. The wooden candle holders are another PopPop creation; hand cut and painted by him to showcase the traditional Norwegian costume worn by his side of the family.

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Turning around, you’ll find the staircase where my brother tried to push me to my death at one point. We managed to break several of the closet doors in the house from our regular wrestling matches though the doors have long since been replaced. My parent’s room is probably the least decorated of the whole house yet is the most tranquil. Minimal decor with white on white bedding. My mom was gracious enough to let Lena and I sleep here during our visit home and I really wish there was some way I could have packed the entire bed set into my suitcase. The master bath has a skylight which provides beautiful natural light during the day. As a kid, I always imagined someone was peeking in on me taking a shower and would sometimes leave all the lights off so they couldn’t see me.

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My old bedroom has been converted to a guest room and when we arrived, my mom had set up my old American Girl doll (it was Kirsten, of course, because she’s Swedish) for Lena to play with. You can just make her out in the corner wearing a hand knit sweater by my Grandma Eva and sitting in a bed carved by my Grandpa Robert. For one birthday, my mom had even made some custom clothing for her complete with tiny buttons and lace all of which she had washed and pressed in anticipation of our arrival. On the dresser is my mom’s very first doll which was purchased in Norway. My grandma traveled back to see her family with my my mom, her twin and their older sister in tow – all by herself. Grandma Eva was also cloth diapering at the time and would have traveled for over 24 hours just to get home. It made my solo trip with Lena while pregnant look like a walk in the park. Though it is somewhat fun to think that I’m following in my grandma’s footsteps from the opposite direction – living in Europe and traveling home with my kiddos to meet their family. Inside the cabinet are more family treasures and staples of my childhood. Aside from carving beautiful furniture, my grandpa also loved creating characters out of wood – you can see everything from trolls to farmers and I used to love watching him create these pieces in his woodshop as a kid.

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My brother’s room has now become part office, part guest room and definitely has the coolest bed in the house. My dad created this Viking ship bed for him when he was little and I was insanely jealous of it though I never would have admitted it to him. I was a really, really weird kid at times and used to put my boogers in the dragon’s nose. Sorry Stein. Jealousy is an ugly beast. This room boasts the second out of three grandfather clocks my mom has at her house and I’m looking forward to the day when I get to display one of them in my house. My grandpa made one clock for each of his eight grandkids though all our moms seem to be hoarding them from us. I somehow lucked out with artists on both sides of the family as evidenced by this intricate cross stitch made by my paternal grandma, Beatrice. It was a birthday gift for my dad and I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours it took her to complete it. She was an amazing artist and if you were lucky enough to get your hands on a piece of her art, you would be hard pressed to tell which side of the cross stitch was the front. She definitely passed that meticulous eye for detail down to my dad.

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Down the stairs and past the kitchen is the last main room of the house which we always called the rec room. This used to be where we’d watch TV and play as kids. There were many slumber parties, wrestling matches and even an incident involving an attempted fart lighting which resulted in a burnt pair of pants that happened in this room. It’s now a small sitting area and my mom’s weaving studio. We grew up playing under this loom and helping my mom thread the warp. Lena played on it a bit and maybe as she gets older, she will want to learn to work the loom like Mormor.

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Out the back door is the “hytte” or Olaf’s house, as Lena has affectionately named it. My parents are pretty smart and figured out that if they stayed under a certain square footage, it wouldn’t require the permits needed for a full-blown structure. They wouldn’t be able to run electricity to it but they could run an underground extension cord from the house in order to plug in a CD player and electric stove. The exterior looks like a mini version of the main house with beautiful landscaping and details all around. Inside, there are bunk beds, a rocking chair and a small table for enjoying coffee or hosting a tea party with scones and clotted cream (specially made for a certain granddaughter visiting from England). As usual, my parents went above and beyond in decorating the interior and here you’ll find the third of three grandfather clocks, as I mentioned. It smells like Christmas in the hytte year round thanks to the pine covered interior. I foresee some special nights in here as the grandkids grow up and enjoy their very own playhouse at Mormor and PopPop’s place. And if you look closely, you’ll see one of the only American decorations in this entire collection – the snowman by the door. My parents were part of a home tour at Christmastime so all their rooms were dressed to the nines with holiday decor. My dad found this snowman at a local thrift store and they dressed him in my little brother’s old Norwegian hat and sweater. Knowing Lena’s love and affection for the movie Frozen, my mom thought she might enjoy pretending it was her very own Olaf. She guessed correctly and I imagine Lena will forever associate this snowy friend with her grandparent’s house.

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So there you have it! A little peek into my childhood home which perhaps provides some insight as to why I identify so much with my Norwegian heritage. While I was embarrassed from time to time in my childhood by our diehard pride of all things Scandinavian, I have to say it’s pretty amazing to know that my kids will grow up seeing this and learning about where they come from in such authentic surroundings. And as my mom likes to remind me, my brother and I will get to decide how to divide all of this up once she’s gone (morbid, yes). Though she’s quick to point out that we won’t be getting it until that day comes! Ever the Norwegian realist.

Lute Reunion 2014 – Part 2

21 Aug

For the second and final day of our reunion, we kicked off the festivities at one of our favorite Tacoma restaurants, The Rock. They have a huge selection of wood fired pizzas not to mention a great range of drinks on tap. In the olden days, we would host celebrations here, consuming their infamous Bucket drink before heading next door to listen to live music at The Swiss. While a few people in our group indulged in some adult beverages, the majority of our requests centered around glasses of milk, extra ranch dressing, and as many napkins as they could spare. Times, they are a-changing.

After a delicious lunch, several meltdowns (most of them by my little angel), and multiple potty breaks for the kids and pregnant women, it was off to Parkland; the home of meth labs and Pacific Lutheran University. I’m not exaggerating when I say that our school was planted in the middle of America’s armpit. Parkland’s glory days, if it ever had any, have long since passed and what’s left is a sad, dismal, and very run down community. While on campus, also known as the Lute Dome, it’s easy to forget where you are thanks to some beautiful landscaping and architecture. However, as soon as you step foot off school property, the reality of your surroundings hits you like the aroma of Tacoma. I’m fairly confident that our little college rental house was adjacent to one of the more active meth labs in town. The cast of characters that came in and out of that little blue shack was almost unbelievable and their antics entertained us to no end. From knife throwing contests, fights over stolen belongings to a woman jumping on the back of a car then being driven down the street, there was never a dull moment. I even had a chance to chat with one of the residents who informed me his name was Cowboy Wayne just after offering me a box of Lucky Charms produced from the large trash bag he was carrying around. Seriously. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

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As we descended on campus, I couldn’t help but hang back and laugh at the scene in front of me. The stroller mafia had arrived. Tyler, ever the smart aleck, made sure to tell all the students we saw that “life sure comes at you fast.” They seemed unimpressed by his assessment while the rest of us laughed hysterically.

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The Lute Dome had undergone a massive face lift since our heyday and we barely even recognized the updated facilities. Gone was the old cafeteria and in it’s place was a fancy new restaurant. We wondered what excuse the current students would have to explain their freshman 15 weight gain given such fancy meal options. We had always told ourselves they covered the lettuce in calories so the anorexic girls wouldn’t starve to death. And that’s why we’d gained weight despite eating salad with each meal. It obviously wasn’t the half gallon of ranch dressing on top, the cinnamon toast for dessert or the swirl cones we had to have in order to be fueled up for the walk back to our dorm!

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Luckily, not everything had changed and the Chris Knutzen room was still intact. This was the infamous location of the freshman orientation dance where the stars aligned and our friendship was formed. Ashley treated us to her signature dance move in honor of being on such holy ground and then we did a poopy diaper change in the hallway because kids.

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Next it was downstairs to the Scandinavian Cultural Center. I had never planned to attend PLU as it was so close to home and my family had been volunteering there for so many years that I felt I’d already explored all it had to offer. As luck would have it, my first few months at PLU coincided with a cultural center exhibit all about my family. So there were childhood photos of me wearing my Norwegian costume and playing my fiddle plastered all over the bottom floor of the University Commons building. It was great because any new friends I met at college could just go to the Center and see the most embarrassing photos of my childhood. Not wanting to miss a photo opportunity, the stroller mafia insisted I get a picture in front of the Scandinavian flags. We attempted a group shot as well with fairly vocal protests from Lena, Emmett and Eden.

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Carlee and Chenda bonded over their roles as Diversity Center advocates and as Dino likes to remind us, this was also where Carlee tried to convince Chenda he was a bad choice for her. Aside from being one of the only male nursing students, Dino was also infamous for an incident involving a water fountain and some choice body parts. Luckily, Chenda didn’t listen to Carlee’s sage advice as the world would be missing two of the cutest girls you’ve ever seen – Kennedy and Reagan.

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Ashley’s old workplace had long since been remodeled but we did reminisce fondly of her stellar work ethic in the Games Room. I’m not actually sure how she stayed employed as she tried to call in sick with some of the lamest excuses I’ve ever heard. In the absence of the game room, we snapped a photo of The Cave – home to various talent shows and campus parties including our first Halloween where Ashley dressed in hair-print hammer pants and toted around a giant boom box.

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To finish up our reunion tour, we posed for photos in front of our old dorms and even attempted to break into Dino’s room. Ashley noticed the screen was loose and within minutes, had it removed despite Carlee’s protests. It was good to see some things hadn’t changed. And yet, things had changed as evidenced by this photo of our former wild child Cali girl breastfeeding her son in front of Foss Hall. I think I speak for the entire group when I say this is a sight none of us ever thought we’d see (love you, Smash!).

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I am so thankful I got to see all these friends again and am still grinning at the thought of how far we’ve all come. Dino and Chenda, thank you so much for opening your home up to all of us. I don’t blame you for making Noah sleep outside in a tent because he is kinda hairy, has a faint scent to him and would probably have scared your children in the middle of the night. Carlee and Ty, I am sincerely hoping Logan grows up to be a modern dance enthusiast just so Tyler is forced to sit through more performances. Ashley, you’ve been blessed with the world’s most laid-back child and are doing an impeccable job at being his mama. It’s so cool to see you in this new grown up role but I’m also glad that old crazy Ash is still in there, too. Noah and Annie, I can’t wait to see what your little bun in the oven will look like. I have no doubts you’ll be great parents despite all our jokes at Noah’s expense. Also, Noah, way to land a hottie who’s also super athletic. I’m kinda impressed. And finally, Dave and Ashley, a big congrats on the birth of Harrison! I’m sure he will be well-loved by his big brother and sister not to mention be a brainiac with both of you as his parents. Love you all; time to start planning the next reunion!

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Lute Reunion 2014 – part 1

20 Aug

Living so far away from family and friends can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, I miss out on pretty big events in my friends’ lives – bachelorette parties, weddings, babies, etc. But on the other hand, I get to have amazing reunions once we do all meet up again. Through some miracle, all my college friends were going to be in Western Washington at the same time so we decided a reunion was in order. We all met within our first few days at Pacific Lutheran University and have been mercilessly mocking each other ever since.

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First up: Ashley and Carlee. I met Ashley in my very first college class which also happened to be September 11, 2001. As if starting college wasn’t emotional enough, we were also processing a major event in our nation’s history. She was this crazy, carefree California girl with gorgeous, long black hair and I immediately knew we’d be friends. She introduced me to her roommate, Carlee, a bubbly, girly, cheerleader from Vancouver, Washington, and the rest is history. We navigated the rather awkward young adult years together and the memories and photos from that time are priceless.

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Being the social butterfly of our little trio, Ashley insisted we attend the freshman orientation dance. There we encountered Dino, Noah, Tyler and Dave. These four had been thrown together in the dorm across from us and were ready to mingle. Tyler had come from a small Mormon town in Utah and what he lacked in his dance abilities (I’m sure he’ll dispute that assessment) he certainly made up for in confidence. Dino hailed from Montana, had a permanent smile on his face and perpetually looked like he was up to no good which was usually true. Noah was along for the ride, showing off his moves and scoping the ladies while Dave somehow seemed to have just gotten roped into a bad situation he could only hope to escape from.

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Over the course of four years, we were together through the good times and the bad. From break ups and make ups, prank wars, international travels and even some scary car accidents, we were all there for each other. Carlee and Tyler ended up getting married; Dino somehow convinced Chenda, one of the smartest girls in school, to marry him, and Dave stuck with his high school sweetheart, Ashley E., through it all. It came as no surprise that Ashley, Noah and myself were the last to get married but we all managed to find great partners and in just a few short months, we’ll all be parents of at least one child.

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The weekend of July 26th, we descended on Dino and Chenda’s house traveling from England, California, Utah and other parts of Washington state. Oddly enough, Dino and Chenda settled in my hometown and found a beautiful home with amazing views of the Puget Sound. There were ten adults – three of us who were pregnant, seven kids and three dogs in total. I can’t possibly count the number of pack and plays and baby monitors in tow not to mention the various bottles, cups and baby food. Needless to say, it was a very different type of celebration than we used to enjoy.

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Seeing my friends as parents was a bit surreal as this was my first time meeting everyone’s kids. Lena kicked off the weekend with a bang by falling face first down a hill and then cracking Dino’s daughter over the head with a plastic golf club. Within the first hour, I think all the kids cried at least once and someone may have even pooped their pants. It was awesome.

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We spent the day listening to classy tunes by Guster, 50 Cent, and Yellowcard, among others, and reminiscing on how young and dumb we once were. As usual, Noah was teased mercilessly by Tyler and Dino though once Dave arrived, the mockery was a bit more spread out. Dave’s wife, Ashley, was a great sport to come hang out with all of us as she was having contractions by the minute and would end up giving birth just a few short days after our big get together.

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We’re all a bit competitive so when someone suggested a left-handed throwing contest, it was game on. These pictures bring me so much joy. Despite appearances, this is a group of highly educated and successful individuals boasting jobs in healthcare, finance, and education with a few master’s degrees thrown in as well. I love my friends.

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The first day of our Lute reunion was a great success filled with food, laughter, and monitoring baby cams.

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Baby on Board

19 Aug

So, we are having another baby! We waited a while to share the news with everyone and I suppose this is technically our official announcement aside from some gorgeous maternity photos my cousin posted on Facebook (thanks, Laila Eva!). I opted to go through the NHS for this pregnancy which means I’ll get the full British experience. The NHS is the national health system here in England and so far, I have been absolutely blown away by the quality and standard of care. I am incredibly lucky to have easy, low risk pregnancies and aside from fairly constant nausea in the first trimester, things were otherwise the same as always. It took a few weeks to get me registered into the NHS system so my first appointment was at 15 weeks. That appointment consisted of a series of questions to determine what type of pregnancy and birth I was having/wanted. The midwife took my blood pressure and weight and that was the extent of the physical exams. I did ask her to listen for the heartbeat as Jason was convinced we were having twins but luckily, we only found one! After a pretty traumatic initial OB appointment with my first pregnancy, I was so relieved that this time around went so much better.

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They scheduled me for a dating scan at a local hospital a couple weeks later just to make sure we were all correct on my estimated due date. Everything checked out great so sometime around the fourth of December (give or take a few days, of course), we can expect to meet our newest addition! My favorite part of this whole experience has been the amount of literature and resources the NHS have provided us with regards to a healthy pregnancy and available services. The entire experience is in your hands and you are fully supported in whatever decisions you decide to make about your personal health. I am of the mind that less is more when it comes to medical interventions so we will be opting out of many of the tests and procedures that are standard or “mandatory” in the States. My midwives have simply asked what we’d like, checked the box for declining service and we’ve moved on – no lectures or condescending comments. I can’t begin to explain how refreshing and empowering it is!

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Since Jason has been gone since early July, he missed out on the gender scan. I will never forget the look of sheer panic on his face when the ultrasound tech told us Lena was a girl and I just didn’t want to miss that moment again. So we decided to leave the gender of this baby a surprise and that way, we can share the experience together once he/she is born. We both *think* it’s a boy but who knows?!

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Speaking of Jason being gone, we have missed him like crazy and the first week or two were pretty rough without him. He’s been TDY before but this was the longest and the first one where Lena really noticed his absence. Technology has been our best friend and my computer screen is covered with kiss marks from my little monster attacking her daddy during FaceTime sessions. We took these photos on our way home from a 4th of July party and I love how it captured the relationship between these two. The Bacon Bit has her daddy wrapped around her little finger and the worst part is, she knows it. They’re a couple of peas in a pod.

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It’ll be fun to see how she does as a big sister. I’m not sure she fully grasps what my big belly means for her life but she’s been very sweet; giving kisses and asking to rub coconut oil on my tummy each night. We hope these two will grow up to be close companions and there for one another. And as Jason pointed out, at the very least, Lena now has someone to help her pick out a nursing home for us when we’re old and wrinkly!

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Ghent

18 Aug

For our final day in Belgium, we did a quick tour of Ghent. I had made a short list of a few places we really wanted to visit including a mustard factory, an 8-generation candy shop, and a local meatball restaurant called Balls of Glory. Unfortunately, we somehow forgot that most of Europe shuts down on Sundays so all the places we had hoped to see were closed. However, we did happen upon a great little outdoor market with all sorts of random treasures just waiting to be discovered.

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The architecture and colors of Ghent were truly beautiful and I so wish we had been able to experience it all when everything was open. After two full days of exploring, Lena was done playing tourist and becoming increasingly uncooperative by the minute.

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While she may look jovial in these photos, they were actually snapped mid-whine; don’t let the face fool you. Rather than make all of us miserable, we decided to shorten our tour of the city and do a quick drive by of the major sites before heading back to the car. With a sleeping toddler in the backseat, we took our time driving back to the Chunnel, stopping at a few places for snacks and drinks plus a few potty breaks for the preggo.

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All in all, it was a great extended weekend and we’re already planning our next cross-border trip!

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Brugge

15 Aug

After our day in Brussels, we were off to Brugge. We decided to stay in Ghent as the hotels were a bit cheaper and we had found an amazing deal on a swanky Guest House close to the train station. So we parked the car, crossed our fingers we were reading the parking meter correctly, and navigated the train system into town.

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Brugge was beautiful and much more our pace that Brussels. A bit less touristy with waffle, chocolate and beer shops being few and far between. As usual, Lena had her own agenda on what she wanted to see and how she wanted to get there. Traveling with a toddler isn’t the most relaxing thing ever but luckily she’s just a little thing and can be thrown over Daddy’s shoulder when needed.

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While we enjoy looking at beautiful buildings and exploring the historical significance of new places, our favorite part of traveling is definitely the food. Most of our travel budget goes toward delicious meals so when we happened upon this little gem of a restaurant boasting an organic menu, we were excited. And Reliva did not disappoint! We were seated in a private, enclosed garden at the back of the restaurant with views of the local clock towers barely visible above the vine-covered walls. The waiter was quick to bring pencils and paper to keep the Diva occupied after recommending a delicious local brew for Jason. We both ordered a seafood dish (totally out of character for me) while Lena had some of the most delicious spaghetti we’d ever tasted. It was definitely the highlight of our day though the cuddles from my little barnacle at the end of the meal didn’t hurt either.

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After our delicious lunch, we strolled toward the Church of Our Lady, stopping for the obligatory tourist photos along the way. The interior wasn’t as ornate as some churches we’ve seen but was beautiful in it’s simplicity. We timed our visit just right for capturing the light behind this stained glass window. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing these massive walls of color and story.

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On our way to the Market Square, we were nearly tramped by several horse drawn carriages, much to Lena’s delight. They were traveling faster than the cars and gave far less notice of their presence. We also found an amazing little Christmas shop where we purchased our one and only souvenir from our Belgium trip: Christmas ornaments. After purchasing a pickle (for the baby on the way), a wooden Noah’s ark (Lena’s choice) and a nutcracker for Jason and me, we realized our Belgian trinkets were actually German. So we didn’t quite get an authentic keepsake but the memories will be fun nevertheless.

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Our final stop on our Brugge extravaganza was a visit to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. It was originally built in the 12th century and is home to a relic of the Holy Blood. The interior was incredibly ornate with every surface boasting meticulous detail.

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As a reward for being such a trooper all day, we treated Lena to a horse and buggy ride before heading back to the train. She was giddy with excitement until we got into the actual carriage and then it was all business. Our tour guide gave us a running commentary the duration of the ride but we could neither hear nor understand him so that was a bust. After all the excitement of being pulled around by the horsies, Lena passed out long enough for us to stop in for one last beer at De Haalve Maan Brewery.

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