Have you heard crickets lately from this blog?! Millions of excuses as for the lack of entries, but a smart reader who knows our family, doesn't need an excuse. We are busy, life is crazy and blogging/writing has taken a backseat.
BUT, I couldn't let 2015 pass by without a recap post. I love looking back on our recaps (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), and for my own keepsake the tradition must continue.
This year I couldn't pick just one picture per month because I have shared so little on this space, it was hard to choose. Instead, I didn't limit myself, and hopefully this post helps summarize our year. The kids are getting older, life in some ways feels easier, in other ways not so much, but honestly, all in all, 2015 was a great year.
January started like it always does; a fun long weekend to the waterpark with family and friends. This trip always helps us to get through the long, cold winter, and the kids have really come to enjoy the tradition.
In mid-January we gathered for a family party to celebrate my dad's 64th birthday. It doubled as a Packer play-off game party, though without the ending we wished for, the Packers season ended that day.
One word described the winter of 2015: cold. We spent a lot of time inside while wind chills reached dangerous levels and outside play and snow fun was nearly impossible. Books, movies, and games overtook a lot of our January weekends.
We usually try to schedule most of Charlotte's annual check-ups early in the year. In February she visited the cardiologist, gastroenterologist, and ENT doc. All three gave her a clean bill of health, and we are now able to go two years between visits to the cardiologist and GI doc. Whoo-hoo!
In mid-February Katherine & Mike attended the father/daughter dance; the last time Mike will attend with only one of his daughters, as in 2016 Charlotte will be able to go as well! It was during this month that Katherine's interest in swimming increased, and she joined the swim team. Swimming has become a big focal point in her life this year, and has really given her a positive team experience to look forward to each week.
March was a tough month for my extended family, as a a health crisis hit someone close to us. Luckily, treatment would go well, and and despite a rough few months, the outlook is positive. Our family rallied together and tried to help in anyway possible, including going on with life as "normal" (as per the wishes of the individual) and celebrating family birthdays.
This year it has been fun to watch Charlotte & Jack's relationship grow and change. Jack, our "spirited, wild child" keeps us on our toes, and has become Charlotte's best bud and worst enemy. They can get into some major trouble together, but their relationship challenges them both to grow and explore together.
We are always anxious for warmer temperatures to arrive after months in the tundra. This year was no different, and the first week of April we enjoyed milder temps during the kid's spring break. We stuck close to home and visited the zoo and a few parks, as well as gathered with family for an Easter celebration.
Towards the end of the month we started to prepare for Jack's second birthday which falls on the first day of May. Since birth, Jack has tested our ability as parents. Very needy, hard to please, and oh so active. We were/are a bit scared to see what the "terrible twos" hold for Jack, as every other stage we have passed through with him has been so much harder than it was with any of our other three kiddos.
And though Jack keeps us on our toes, he also brings us so much laughter. Katherine and Jack seem to have the closest bond at this point, as she really cares for him and loves to mother and take care him. We celebrated Jack's second birthday early in May with a family party at our house; luckily the weather was beautiful and we were able to spend a lot of time outside. Our truck-loving newly turned 2-year-old walked away with a fleet of new vehicles, much to his delight.
In early May, I went with Missy to a two day inclusion conference in Illinois. While I was one of the few parents there (most who attended were teachers), I came home armed with an arsenal of new information and lots of inspiration. Charlotte's 4K year was coming to a close, and I was determined to make 5K a better experience for her.
While I was gone, we had family helping at home with the kids; Kate sent me the photo below one morning during school drop off, and I couldn't help but wonder when did my baby grow up?!
May also brought Mother's Day. A day usually not filled with much rest and relaxation for me, but rather a time to reflect on how incredibly blessed to be a mom to these four.
Charlotte and her good friend Quinn started a dance class in May, which continued throughout the summer. She had a great time, made some good friends, and really enjoyed it. We ended the class when school started this year in hopes to make the transition to full days easier, but it may be something we revisit in the future.
My eldest son is always excited when baseball season arrives, and the rest of us enjoy an occasional game as well. The Brewers had a pretty awful season this year, but Will is a devoted fan and never seems to mind.
During the last week in May we experienced THE scariest event I have ever had to go through as a parent. We were eating dinner, (stir fry--something we have almost once a week) and Jack asked to try a cashew off of my plate. He ate it, and within a couple minutes became pretty cranky. Katherine glanced over at him and notice a red rash forming on his face. We quickly realized that he had hives, and they were spreading fast. We determined he needed to go to urgent care, so I quickly got him in the car to leave, and Mike stayed with the other three. Not more than two minutes from home he started to wheeze, vomit, and looking in the rearview mirror I saw him trying to cry but couldn't get the sound out. I pulled over and called 911. The seven minutes I spent on the phone with the 911 operator waiting for the ambulance to arrive were the longest of my life. He never stopped breathing, thankfully, but continued to wheeze and gasp for air. Thankfully, the ambulance arrived and were able to give him a dose of epi. After four hours in the ER, a few more doses of meds, he was feeling much better.
In the following days we found that he not only has a severe allergy to tree nuts (and mangos...because they are considered a tree nut! who would have thunk?!), but peanuts as well. We now carry an epi pen where ever we go, read labels like crazy and are careful to avoid all nuts and food processed in factories with nuts. Our house is "nut-free" and we have become accustomed to informing others of his allergy in an effort to make any environment he visits safe for him. Unfortunately a 2-year-old doesn't understand that he is allergic to nuts and needs to avoid them, so we have to be incredibly careful of his surroundings.
Our family is now the crazy allergy family that requires gluten-free, nut-free items whenever we visit...oh, and I am a vegetarian on top of all of it too...makes ya want to invite us for dinner, doesn't it?!
As with most times in life, the stressful times in May were quickly followed by more relaxed celebratory times in June. We celebrated Charlotte's 5th birthday (and my 35th!) with a "tutu dance party" the first week of June. Homemade tutus for all! It honestly was probably one of my favorite birthday parties we have had; the pure joy on Charlotte's face the entire day was incredible.
It is hard to believe that is has been five years since Charlotte's arrival; five years of this blog, five years since our world changed into something we never expected. It is amazing the evolution that occurs after you have a child with a disability; it is definitely not static, we are constantly growing, learning, and changing in an effort to discover what works best and provides Charlotte with the best opportunities. We are in a good place; we have surrounded ourselves with good resources, good friends, and good schools & educators. We have no idea what the future holds, but it is definitely not a source of constant worry as it once was.
We trekked on through June...the kids finished school, and summer camps and classes started. Charlotte was able to attend summer school for the first time with the big kids, and with all of my part-time jobs on break for the summer, I was able to spend my mornings with Jack (and Missy/Bennett) doing fun 2-year-old things. It was *almost* relaxing, and such a change from the past two summers!
In mid-June Will had the opportunity to be the "play ball kid" for the Brewers. This is what I wrote on FB about this super cool experience: "You know those times in your life when you get to witness your kid(s) experience something so cool, it almost brings tears to your eyes, as you know how exciting it is for them? Tonight was one of those nights. Will was chosen to be the "play ball kid" at tonight's Brewer game. Pretty sure it was the best night of my 7-year-old, baseball loving son's life. This kid knows every player, every stat, and faithfully watches every game and highlight even though the Brewers are in the midst of a not so great season. He will be talking about this one for a long time."
The last week in June we spent up north with my family. We rent a big cottage every summer and spend the week skiing, tubing, swimming, fishing, kayaking, jet skiing, and more... we had a great time, despite the 36 hour power outage ;-). We are looking forward to a repeat of the week this coming summer.
We headed to Mike's parents for the 4th of July weekend. All of his sisters also come for the weekend, and it is a great mid-summer trip. We enjoyed fireworks, cookouts, and hiking at a nearby state park. The kids love spending time with their cousins and always comment they wished they lived closer.
Summer school continued into July, in addition to little league for Will and long-course season swim for Katherine. Katherine also spent a week at Girl Scout camp; a first for her, and an experience she loved. A week with her best friends spent canoeing, swimming, lacing, and a whole lot more. She can't wait to go again this year.
With all the summer activities, some of the best days were the ones we didn't have to rush out the door in the morning, and instead could hang around and play in the pool. We spent some lazy summer mornings with friends; the adults drinking coffee on the patio, the kids entertaining each other in the yard.
Mike and I celebrated our 11th anniversary during the last week of July. We did a kid swap with Missy & Chris and were able to escape for TWO whole nights, something we haven't done since I was pregnant with Katherine. We visited a winery, bummed around Madison, and binge watched the current season of "Orange is the New Black" while enjoying good food and drink.
(The absence of nuts in our house due to Jack's allergy has been tough for me. I took advantage of our getaway and indulged in some of my favorites... )
We returned our end of the bargain and had Missy's boys for a couple nights upon returning from our getaway. We ended the month by a visit to a local petting farm, always a favorite for the kids.
Summer school ended in July, as well as all other activities. We spent the first few weeks of August catching up on fun activities around town while highly anticipating our big vacation which was quickly approaching.
In mid-August we packed up the mini-van and drove a mere 20 hours to visit the Atlantic Ocean. We traveled caravan style with Missy and her family, and had an amazing 10-day vacation. It is hard to imagine a trip with 7 kids ranging in age from 2 to 9 to be relaxing, however, it truly was. The kids all had a great time, and our only complaint was how quickly the week was over.
All good things must come to an end though, and another 20 hour drive home awaited us. Thankfully we found out on this trip that all four of our kids are great car travelers (Jack included...which shocked us!), and we are excited to plan our next road trip.
August ended with a couple low-key weeks with not many planned activities before school started. The last weekend in August was Will's annual Brewer Game birthday party with four of his good buds.
Ahh! September has arrived, and with that came the beginning of a new school year. 4th grade, 2nd grade, and Kindergarten this year awaited our older three. To say the nerves were high for Mike & I as Charlotte started at the "big school" is a bit of an understatement. However, after a couple tough transition weeks, she has settled into a routine and is having a fantastic first year of elementary school. I don't blog a whole ton about the details for respect of her privacy when she gets older, and that of her school/team & peers, but know that she is learning a ton, growing a ton in all aspects, and has an amazing group of people working with her. I am sure we will hit bumps in the road, but for right now, we are enjoying what has been a relatively smooth ride.
Fourth grade has treated Katherine well, and the same for Will in second. So far, so good this year. We are thankful the kids love school, and love their teachers.
With the big kids all in school, my part-time jobs started back up. One of them being watching B a few days a week while Missy works; Jack and B are the same age, and like the Jack/Charlotte dynamic they are also each other's best friends and worst enemies ... they fight like siblings, but entertain each other and have a great time together as well.
September 12th marked Will's eighth birthday. Our empathetic, sensitive concrete/literal thinker makes us so proud and brings us so much joy; for his big day he choose to have the entire family over for a baseball-themed celebration. I bet you are surprised to find out that someday he wants to be a baseball player?!?
October always seems to be a busy month. Short-course swim season is in full force for Katherine, and Will started basketball. Throw in a few plays, and weekend playdates and it seemed every weekend was full.
Halloween brought a bunch of fun activities, and the kids all thoroughly enjoyed it. Charlotte talked for weeks about being a witch and turning everyone into a frog, and all the kids had a great time trick-or-treating this year. The biggest bummer was not being able to bring the majority of the Halloween candy into our house due to nut contamination...the bigs were bummed, but we made a deal and replaced their candy with a Costco case of gum (an obsession of theirs).
It was in November that Will finally lost his first tooth! Our kids are slow with teeth; slow to get them and slow to lose them. So even though he is eight, and most of his peers started losing teeth in Kindergarten, he has been anxiously awaiting this day for a long time. Thankfully the tooth fairy rewarded his patience nicely. A few days ago he lost a second tooth as well, much to his delight.
In early November we took a weekend trip to Minnesota to visit Mike's family. His sister had a baby 11 weeks early, and we wanted to be able to attend the baby shower and congratulate everyone in person. Mike & I were able to go to the NICU and meet Natalie, who is now home from the hospital and doing well. We anxiously awaiting another visit hopefully sometime soon as Katherine is dying to meet her cousin since she couldn't go into the NICU. Our eldest has a huge soft spot for babies!
The day we returned from Minnesota, Mike celebrated his 36th birthday. Getting closer to 4-0 ...though I am not far behind.
Jack's favorite place to go during the day while the kids are in school is Trader Joes. Unfortunately the other customers aren't always exactly happy to see him pushing his own cart down the always busy aisles. We are working on walking not running while shopping.
In 4th grade, the kids learn about immigration, and in doing so participate in a simulation where the kids come to school dressed as someone coming through Ellis Island, and learn about what one may have experienced during that time. Katherine proclaimed this to be her favorite part of 4th grade so far.
During the past few months Charlotte has been bitten by the Barbie bug...bad. She loves, loves, loves her Barbies and is building quite the collection (thanks to inheriting Katherine's old collection, as well as a whole ton of new ones for Christmas!).
Maintaining holiday traditions when you have kids with food allergies, to but it bluntly, sucks. It is such a struggle to find safe treats, baking supplies, and other seasonal food. As illustrated below, sometimes we get lucky and something we thought would be forever banned from our house, we discover in the least likely of places. It is almost like a game now, and Katherine has become quite the label reader. We now shout "jackpot!" when we find the nut-free AND gluten-free label on the same package.
December is always a blur, as it seems to go so fast. Weekends were packed full of swim meets, basketball games, zoo class, and the usual Christmas traditions. Tree decorating, breakfast with Santa, Christmas concerts, and time with family. In addition to all of that, a few weeks ago, Mike's youngest sister got a job in our area, and stayed with us for a few days while looking for an apartment. We are super excited to have her close by, and loved having her here.
A few last pictures before I sign off for the night...
I am a sucker for matching Christmas pajamas.
This year was the first picture we have ever got with all the kids and Santa...usually at least one is upset and doesn't want to go near him (something we never have forced). Jack didn't want to sit on Santa's lap, but was happy to stand near him.
Running off energy with these free spirits during weekly open gym.
They both love fancy, sparkly Christmas dresses. And so do I.
Best impulse buy of a Christmas present for Charlotte; matching outfits for her and "baby boy" her beloved doll who comes everywhere and is usually naked. We are all happy to see baby boy clothed now, however, the cashier at Costco looked confused when she asked Charlotte her doll's name and she replied, "baby boy."
Merry Christmas, 2015.
And there ya have it...another year has come to a close. As usual we look forward to what 2016 will bring, as life here is never boring. Happy New Year everyone!