TEN years! That’s how long we’ve been married now! In our first decade of married life, we did a lot. We probably had more big changes in our lives in the past ten years of marriage than we will in any future decade. We got married; moved in together; became landlords; remodeled our first home; built a home and moved; changed jobs many times; finished graduate school (Dan); survived health issues, wildfires, and an ongoing worldwide pandemic; and had four beautiful children. We went from owning and living in our own condos by ourselves to building a family of six. The only thing that might sound crazier is that over a lifetime, a ten-year marriage really isn’t that long! We’ve actually been married less than a quarter of the time that Dan’s parents have. So, although we’ve had a busy decade, we still have so much ahead of us!
Ten years ago, we probably envisioned celebrating our first ten years of marriage on a beautiful tropical island. Four small kids and COVID-19 made that dream impossible (maybe next year…). Instead, we spent the afternoon of our anniversary in the town where we got married and took the kids to our wedding location.
We ate lunch, walked around Los Rios Street, let the kids play at a playground, watched the trains, and got gelato.
Our ten-year anniversary also means that I’ve been blogging our lives for ten years. I’m so glad that I started doing this when we got married. I can easily look back on all of the big and small events that have made these past ten years so wonderful. I love the life we’ve built and am overwhelming grateful for our marriage and four sweet babies. Here’s to the next decade of raising our babies, traveling, and making memories!
In August, before the kids returned to school, we made our annual summer trek east to Ohio to visit my family. This year, Dan joined the kids and me, and so all six of us flew there and back. It was Irene’s first time flying; her first time visiting Ohio; and her first time meeting my Dad, brother, SIL, and extended family. Our flights were uneventful (thank God!!). Perhaps the thing I’ll remember most (or that I’d like to remember most) from our flights is the positive reaction that we received from so many other travelers. People saw our family boarding the planes or settling in and they stopped us and asked how many kids we have and commented on how cute and sweet the kids are. Many people who have adult children wanted to share with us their stories of when they used to travel with their small children. When people see us out and about, it takes them back to their early family days – those crazy, but sweet days – and we just know that they are thinking that it all went by so very, very fast. Now that we have four children, we are getting stopped more and more by kind strangers who want to give us a word of encouragement, help us in some small way, or tell us how sweet the kids are.
The day after we arrived in Ohio, we went to two family parties – one with my Mom’s side of the family and one with my Dad’s side of the family to celebrate my Dad’s belated 70th birthday. It was a very busy day. The kids had fun playing with their extended cousins and it was nice that Irene got to meet so many family members. The kids went swimming at one party and rode on a four-wheeler and pet a horse (Catch Me) at the other party. They are just pretty much living their best life every single day, even (or especially) in Ohio.
Last year, my Mom bought bikes for the big girls and a bike seat for William so that the kids could ride bikes in Ohio. This year, she also bought a bike with training wheels for William. We rode the bikes around town, down the country roads, and on bike trails.
Downtown Toledo: Imagination Station & Maumee River
We spent one hot and muggy day in downtown Toledo. The kids played indoors at Imagination Station, saw a 3D movie at the KeyBank Discovery Theater (Irene and William did not make it through the entire short movie), and walked along the Maumee River waterfront.
Lake Erie: Merry-Go-Round Museum & Marblehead Lighthouse
On yet another hot and muggy day (with scattered thunderstorms), we drove up to nearby Lake Erie and visited the small Merry-Go-Round Museum in Sandusky. Irene got to go on her first carousel ride! Then we visited the Marblehead Lighthouse and climbed up to the top to get a good view of Lake Erie. My Mom has a picture of the lighthouse in her bathroom and when Lillian asked if we could visit it, I was happy that I could say yes! Dan and I were last at the lighthouse 11 years ago on his first trip to Ohio. I don’t think that we could have imagined then that we’d return over a decade later married with four children in tow!
Beach Day at White Star Quarry
It had been decades since I’d been swimming in White Star Quarry, a swimming hole just a few miles away from my parents’ houses. Last year, the kids and I hiked near the quarry, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the beach was closed. This year, we spent one sunny afternoon here swimming and playing in the sand. The quarry has a diving board, which I remember always being very nervous to jump off because it’s not very close to the water. The water is 17 feet deep below the board and Dan bounded off the board and into the water underneath it first. And wouldn’t you know it…Vivian ran straight off that board and jumped in right after him. Again and again and again! I got up my nerve to jump off it a few times, too. I think if we’d let them, William and Lillian would have jumped off it also. I’m always thankful to have such good little swimmers!
Miniature Golf in Fremont
After a pizza dinner at the Depot one evening, I took the big girls to the only putt-putt course nearby. It was almost dark and it was raining lightly, but the girls had a blast. They played 36 holes in about 36 minutes – ha!
Fishing at Fremont Reservoir
My Dad had bought new fishing poles for the three big kids and we were determined to break them in. After a few fishing expeditions late last year and early this year in which no one caught any fish, we were also determined to finally catch some fish! It was a slow start (so slow, in fact, that the littles gave up and took a walk around the reservoir with me), but finally, the fish under the pier started biting and they didn’t stop until all of our bait was gone! Vivian won our little fishing derby at the Fremont Reservoir and caught more bluegill than Dan and Lillian.
The kids spent a lot of time swinging at my Mom’s. She has two huge trees from which she hangs swings when the kids visit in the summer and they all look forward to spending time swinging underneath them.
The kids are spoiled with three large, beautiful resort-like pools in our community, but they loved and played for a very long time in a kiddie pool that my Mom had purchased for them.
It was wonderful to be back in Ohio for a week, although it sure did make me miss the gift of time that we had last year when we were there for nearly five weeks. We all loved spending time with family and friends. Dan and William spent nearly every night of our trip at my Dad’s, which I know my Dad enjoyed. Even though none of us liked the heat and humidity, we loved the rainstorms and thunderstorms. It was so nice to be in the country with so much space around us. It was heartwarming that no matter what, when you passed someone on a country road, they waved at you. We devoured so.much ice cream from small mom-and-pop ice cream stands in small towns. There’s a peacefulness that settles over me when I’m “home” – even with the craziness of four small children. I think that the only thing that we saw or experienced that was definitely not on my favorites list were the many (many, many) Trump signs and flags still out in people’s front yards (yuck!) [election signs are annoying during actual elections – they’re certainly even more annoying a year after an election!].
After eight days in Ohio, we said goodbye to my family and flew back to CA. Right now, we don’t have plans to return to Ohio until next year, but, of course, plans can always change. For now, I’m going to treasure the time we spent there and the memories that we made.
The past two summers (2019, 2020), we went to a resort in Colorado for a long weekend getaway. This year, since Irene is still so young and I just started a new job, we decided to wait until Christmas to visit the Gaylord Rockies Resort and instead just go to a resort that is local to us in the summertime. We spent a mid-July weekend at the Welk Resort in San Diego (technically, Escondido). Honestly, I would not recommend this resort and we won’t go here again. It wasn’t awful, but we’ve been spoiled by staying at some really, really nice places (like the Gaylord and Aulani) and this resort was dated and simply didn’t have the amenities that we would like in a resort. Even though Dan and I were not impressed with the resort, the kids loved it and we all still had a good time.
This first thing that we did after settling into our two-bedroom suite on Friday afternoon was hit the pool. Of course, the kids had a blast, but Dan and I couldn’t help but think that our community pools are much, much nicer. There was a decaying splash pad, a few pools, a hot tub, and a water slide. Vivian and Lillian loved the water slide and poor William was so sad that he wasn’t tall enough to ride down it.
On Saturday morning, we played games at one of the recreation centers and played at the playground before going to a newer pool area.
The kids ate a lot of ice cream (okay, so did we).
There was a trolley that we rode a few times around the resort (once to get to one of the pool areas and once just because we needed something to do with the kids before dinner to get them out of the condo).
There was a golf course at the resort, but we didn’t go golfing. One golfer, however, hit a ball that landed on one of our patios while Dan and William were out there, which was pretty scary since it could have easily hit William. There was also a fishing pond, but there was no shade around it and it was way too hot to fish without any shade. We stuck to swimming, playing, eating ice cream, and riding the trolley and checked out early on Sunday morning.
Before leaving the area, we toured the Deer Park Winery & Auto Museum next door to the resort. The museum had well over 100 vintage cars and a ton of other old “stuff” (radios, Barbies, bikes, and so much more). It was hot outside and in the buildings, stuffy, and really not that exciting for the kids, but still kind of interesting. The wines looked unimpressive and so we did not participate in any wine tasting.
Even though we won’t go back to this resort, we don’t regret spending the weekend away together. We love our big family and four kiddos and making memories together while on vacation is sweet no matter where we are.
In early 2021, we embarked on an adventure where we were determined to visit and play at every park in our city. Our city has 31 parks in total – some have playgrounds, some have walking trails and grassy areas, some have dog parks, and one is even a skate park. When so many fun places for kids were shut down during the pandemic, our city parks, when they reopened in Fall 2020, provided our young and active family a place to run, play, and make outdoor memories in a safe place. The kids absolutely loved the challenge we put before them – explore all of Lake Forest’s parks! They started looking for the stone park sign at each park we visited and each time they found it, they scrambled up it and insisted that I take a picture. The kids hadn’t been to most of the parks before, so they enjoyed each “new” park and every time we visited a park, we marked it off on our park “to do” map that I kept in the glove compartment in my car. We played at many of these parks in the weeks and months right after Irene was born and so our adventures and time together at them – now with four kids – will always hold a very special place in my heart.
This blog post highlights each park that we visited and some of my special memories from our time at the park. We definitely can’t wait to revisit many of our favorites!
1: Alton Park
We visited Alton Park a few times during the pandemic. One vivid memory from a day not pictured below was when we picked up Chick-fil-A for lunch and then had a picnic lunch here. I was still pregnant and so I mostly sat and watched the kids play. This park has great shade, so it’s nice to visit year round.
2: Baker Ranch Community Park
The Baker Ranch Community Park is right in our neighborhood and is a favorite of ours. Recently, William participated in soccer for the first time at the park. We love that we can walk or bike to this park from our house.
3: Barker Ranch Dog Park
The Barker Ranch Dog Park is literally in our back yard. We can look out any of the windows in the back of our house and see it (although the trees between us have grown up over the years and mostly obscured it). We no longer have a dog, but when we did, we would take him here to run around. Now, we mostly just walk by it on our way to other neighborhood parks.
4: Borrego Park
Borrego Park is a favorite because it has a playground, is by the library, has picnic tables, and has big grassy fields to walk around. If we have to do a run to the library, we often stop to play here. Also, if we had time before or after swim lessons, which were nearby, we’d stop here to play. I remember during one visit right after Irene was born, the middle kids were playing at the park and I was in the car (facing the playground) nursing tiny baby Irene. At some point, William needed help or was crying and the other adults at the park were so confused as to where his parents were. No big deal – I was just trying to figure out how to be a mom of four and be multiple places at the same time!
5: Borrego Canyon Overlook Park
The Borrego Canyon Overlook Park was a “new to us” park. We’ve only been here once, but my memories from that visit are vivid. The big kids played at the playground while I sat in the car and nursed Irene. One of the girls found a forgotten doll toy at the park and desperately wanted to bring it home, but I made them leave it there in case the tiny owner came back looking for it. Drama and tears ensued, of course. But up until we had to leave, everyone had fun!
6: Cavanaugh Park
Cavanaugh Park has the absolute smallest playground at any of the city parks, but, of course, the kids still had fun playing on it. They also loved running and playing on the long stretch of grass at the park.
7: Cherry Park
The playground at Cherry Park was recently completely rebuilt and the kids absolutely loved the new equipment. Lillian was thrilled to master the monkey bars here and I was happy to sit by sleepy Irene in the stroller and read. There are no bathrooms at this park, so my other memory from it was a newly potty-trained William peeing in all the bushes!
8: Concourse Park
We visited Concourse Park on a sunny winter day after picking Vivian up from school (her school days ended at 10:45am (yes, AM!). We often went to city parks on our tour on the days when all three big kids were home (or, well, home by mid-morning). Vivian shared her free lunch from school with Lillian and William and the kids snacked and played, often while I sat and read (I didn’t have four kids to play with them – they have each other to play with!). One of the highlights at this park was seeing the garbage truck come while we were there! We also walked around the grassy field and the kids tried out the exercise equipment on the path (and William peed in the bushes…).
9: Darrin Park
When we visited Darrin Park, the playground was closed for renovations. We still took a walk around the park and peeked through the construction fencing to see the changes that are being made. And, of course, the kids had to find the stone sign and take a picture on it. We can’t wait to visit here when the work is all done!
10: El Toro Park
El Toro Park was the first city park we visited after Irene was born. She was just a few weeks old and after I got the big kids settled on the playground, I went and sat in the car next to it to nurse Irene. Halfway through her nursing session, William came over to the car crying because he had stolen another kid’s chicken nuggets and eaten them and the kid had gotten mad at him. He had one nugget left in his hands, which he dropped in the street and then picked up and ate before I could stop him. Then he told me he had to pee and proceeded to do so in the street between parked cars. This episode was one of my early introductions into mothering four small children. An ironic twist to this story is that William had stolen the chicken nuggets from a girl who Vivian used to go to preschool with a few years ago.
11: Etnies Skatepark of Lake Forest
No one in our family skates, but we wanted to mark Etnies Skatepark of Lake Forest off our tour list and we thought the kids would get a kick out of watching the skaters.
12: Foothill Ranch Community Park
It was a cold and cloudy day when we played at the Foothill Ranch Community Park. I think Vivian and Lillian had been here before, but it was “new” to the rest of us. Our trip to this park happened right after William had bitten Lillian at home and left huge bitemarks and blood on her upper arm. It was a day that we desperately needed to get outside and play.
13: Heroes Park
Vivian hasn’t gotten a chance to visit Heroes Park, but the three little ones have. We went here a few times between Vivian’s 8:15am morning school drop off and Lillian’s 9am morning school drop off. There is no playground here – just baseball fields – but the kids had fun walking (or running) around the perimeter of them.
14: Lake Forest Park
If you’re not looking carefully, it’s easy to miss the small playground at Lake Forest Park from the street. The kids had fun playing with the wood chips under the play structure and walking through the “forest.”
Montbury Park doesn’t have a playground, but the kids still loved exploring it via the walking trail, and, of course, searching out the stone park sign. We visited this park on another early morning between dropping Vivian off at school and swim lessons.
17: Mountain View Park
Mountain View Park is close to preschool and has two great playgrounds (and exercise equipment), so we went here often before or after preschool drop off and pick up. It also has good shade, which will make it nice to return to in the summer.
18: Nature Park
Because the Nature Park doesn’t have a playground, we could visit this park during lockdown when all the playgrounds were closed. This park is just down the street from our neighborhood, has lots of great shade, and has some fun pathways to explore. Before the pandemic, the city hosted an annual dinosaur event here. The last time we attended it, though, Vivian was 2 and Lillian was a newborn and Vivian freaked out at the mechanical roaring t-rex at the entrance. We haven’t been back to the event since then!
19: Peachwood Park
My memories from Peachwood Park include sleeping Irene, swinging kids, a sunny winter day, and, yes, William peeing in the bushes.
20: Pebble Creek Park
We visited Pebble Creek Park on another sunny winter day. Irene was still sleeping away most of her days and so, once again, I sat on a park bench and watched the big kids play while reading my book.
21: Pittsford Park
Pittsford Park is a city favorite. We’d been here before for the city’s annual snow/sledding day on the hill at this park. During our official tour, we played here and also went to a birthday party here. Lillian, especially, loves this park because there are small monkey bars that she can easily reach on her own.
22: Portola Park
Portola Park is the city’s newest park and it was the last park we visited on our tour. According to my original map, this park didn’t have a playground, but that’s just because it was still under construction. The kids were very pleasantly surprised when we visited it and it had an awesome playground and climbing structure. There’s not much shade at this park since it’s so new and the trees are young, but of course, the kids don’t care about that.
23: Rancho Serrano Park
We were surprised to learn how close Rancho Serrano Park is to our house. One Friday afternoon, the girls and I visited the park and went for a walk (and scooter ride) through it. It doesn’t have a playground, but it has a nice walking path and lots of mature trees – it would be a great park for a picnic.
24: Ranchwood Park
Ranchwood Park is a true neighborhood park. It’s sandwiched between rows of houses and has a fun playground. We visited this park with my mom when she was in California visiting us. There’s a little “stage” area by the playground and the kids sang and danced and put on a show for us.
25: Regency Park
Regency Park is basically just a large grassy area. It doesn’t have a playground or walking trail or even a stone sign. But, it’s a city park and was part of our tour. This park is near Vivian’s best friend’s house, so one dreary, rainy day, she joined us and we wandered through the park. Since there really is not much to see or do at this park, afterward, we hiked up and over a little hill to the Sports Park, which provided more play opportunities for the kids.
26: Rimgate Park
We’ve been to Rimgate Park a few times. It has a three awesome play structures, a great walking path, mature trees, and exercise equipment. My most vivid memory from our most recent visit here is of me leaving the stroller caddy on the sidewalk outside of the park and then driving away. It wasn’t until hours later that I realized I had left it there when I loaded all the kids into the car. And wouldn’t you know it…when I returned, it was still sitting on the sidewalk, exactly where I had forgotten it!
27: Serrano Creek Park
Little Irene was again just a few weeks old when we visited Serrano Creek Park. She spent the time sleeping in the stroller and wrapped on me. The big kids played at the playground, peeked next door at the horses, and accompanied Irene and me on a walk by the creek.
Tamarisk Park has a great playground and the perfect hill for rolling down.
30: Veterans Park
Veterans Park was recently renovated. It doesn’t have a playground, but it does have a beautiful little lake. This park is very close to preschool and we often went here in between morning drop offs. The kids love walking around the lake, through the butterfly garden, over the bridges, and by the mosaic flags.
31: Vintage Park
And that brings us to park #31! The last park on our tour – Vintage Park – was a “new to us” park, but one we ended up going to many, many times. It has a fun little playground and a big hill to explore. This is also where William’s Spring music class was held (on the basketball court in the shade).
Completing this tour and visiting all 31 parks in Lake Forest was so much fun – way more than I anticipated. The kids, as I stated above, loved the challenge and looked forward to each new park visit. This tour provided us with nearby, free, outdoor entertainment at a time our lives and in history when we needed just that. Many times when we visited these parks, we were the only ones there. I encourage everyone with young kids to do your own city park tour. Now that we’ve officially completed our tour, we’re ready to go back to our favorites!
On June 12, 2021, when Irene was five months old, she was baptized according to the rite of the Roman Catholic Church at Corpus Christi Catholic Church. Fr. Tim Ramaekers baptized her (he also baptized Lillian and William) and her Aunt Anna (my sister) was her godmother (she is also Lillian’s godmother). It was a small and short ceremony with just our immediate family, my sister, and my niece, which was very good because William was only interested in running around the church and playing with the lit candles. Irene was a perfect angel during the ceremony and she looked as sweet as could be in our family’s traditional baptismal gown (handmade by Dan’s godmother, worn by Dan 38 years ago, worn by Vivian 7 years ago, worn by Lillian 5 years ago, and worn by William 3 years ago). Even though it was a bit crazy with William, it was special for the older kids, especially Lillian and Vivian, to see Irene’s baptism. Vivian has been studying the sacraments in catechism and was about to participate in her First Reconciliation.
After she was officially welcomed into the Church, we celebrated with lunch at Puesto Los Olivos in Irvine.
That’s it! We now have FOUR baptized babies. Thank you, God!
After completing our holiday homestretch, we have had a bit of holiday reprieve. We did, however, celebrate the patriotic summer holidays, which, thankfully, required no gifts, decorations, travel, or special foods. I’ll celebrate that!
The girls are old enough now to begin to understand the reason why we celebrate Memorial Day and to reinforce the meaning behind this holiday, we went on a family walk through the Field of Honor at Castaways Park in Newport Beach. It was pretty cool to walk between the hundreds of flags standing tall and read about the men and women who were honored at individual flag poles.
4th of July
Last year’s pandemic 4th of July was very, very subdued. No city 5K, no kids’ bike parade, no fireworks, no neighborhood potluck, no pool parties. This year, everything (except the 5K) was brought back to celebrate our country’s birthday (thank God – and scientists! – for vaccines!). We spent the entire weekend in our neighborhood enjoying being around people again!
Can you believe that the next holiday is Halloween?! And…oh my…even though that sounds so very far away, it’s really only three months from now! Until then, though, I’m going to enjoy the stretch of time without big celebrations.
We are just coming out of our annual birthday season and finally entering ordinary time in our household. Within five weeks in April and May, two-thirds of our family celebrates birthdays. It’s a fun and special time that I can’t dwell on too much, though, or else I’ll be a crying pile of mush. Every year just seems to fly by faster and faster and the kids are getting bigger and bigger. As exhausting as parenting them all is, I want to hold on tightly to these little years and savor each memory made with them, especially the birthday ones!
Although COVID-19 restrictions have finally, after a year, been easing, we still celebrated the Spring birthdays conservatively this year at home with our family, once again skipping the larger birthday parties. Next year, though, I think we’re going to have to have some big birthday bashes to make up for two years of missed parties! Honestly, the kids didn’t even ask about parties this year – what they got most excited about was waking up on their birthday morning and coming downstairs to a decorated kitchen, presents from family, a homemade birthday cake of their choosing, a special dinner of their choosing, and being with family. The older girls are well versed in our family’s birthday traditions and they eagerly look forward to them.
Vivian is SEVEN
Vivian always starts our birthday season off in early April. We celebrated her in all of the usual ways that I mentioned above, but she also got to celebrate with her grandparents on our Spring Break trip. She hadn’t seen Dan’s parents in 1.5 years, so it was a wonderful birthday treat for her to finally see them again after so long.
Vivian wears the badge of being the oldest child in our family proudly. She reminds me so much of myself in so many ways (good and bad!). She is very smart, an excellent reader, perceptive, snuggly, curious, and friendly. She loves playing on the monkey bars, dancing, reading, Daisy Girls Scouts, swimming, riding her bike, crafting, and watching movies. She’s taking dance (tap, ballet, jazz) classes now, goes to swim and Spanish lessons, and attends catechism classes. Just like I did as a kid, she has her head in the clouds a lot of the time, yet she still somehow notices things and retains information very well. As my first baby, she will always, always hold a very sweet spot in my heart. She was born to be an oldest child and I can no longer remember her as a baby. She’s our big girl and it’s fun watching her grow up right now (even if it also hurts my heart a little bit).
William is THREE
William is next in our birthday lineup, only a week after Vivian. Normally, the third birthday is when our kids really start to get excited about birthdays and they have their first real party with their own friends. The pandemic didn’t really allow for that, so we’ll have to go big for four next year (four! how will that be possible?!). William still got to celebrate, though, with balloons, presents, and a homemade cake.
William is growing into a little boy. My sweet little baby is now a rambunctious, active, wild, crazy, and willful boy. He has tested us in ways that the girls never did, but like his sisters, he is a big snuggler and loves fiercely. He’s about to start preschool and soccer, is an amazing swimmer, and enjoyed two sessions of music classes this winter and spring. He loves everything related to construction, trucks, and building; Blippi; dirt; and books (especially ones about construction). Now that I have to put Irene to bed and spend more time caring for her, William has gotten closer to Dan. Nearly every night now, Dan bathes William and puts him to bed. His rocking nights with me are over, but he loves his new closeness with his daddy. No matter how old he gets, though, he’ll always be my forever prince as the only male child in our family.
Dan is…Getting Older
As usual, Dan’s birthday was wedged in between the three older kids’ birthdays and was celebrated without much fanfare. Nobody really cares when you turn 38. We got him a gift and wrote messages for him in his keepsake notebook, went out to dinner, and baked him a delicious homemade red velvet cake. I also kept the kids out of the house all afternoon so that he could enjoy a little bit of quiet time to himself.
Lillian is FIVE
Four weeks after William’s birthday, our sweet Lilly Belle turned five. I can hardly believe it. To me, she just doesn’t seem older than three. She’s a little peanut at only 34 lbs. (15 lbs. less than Vivian and only 4 lbs. more than William – even though she’s exactly two years apart from both of them), but she’s a mighty girl. For her birthday, my mom was in town, and so she got extra love from her beloved nana. My mom baked Lillian an incredible triple chocolate cake that she had requested; I cooked spaghetti, as requested, for her birthday dinner; we decorated the kitchen with balloons; my mom and I took her to a special dinner at Ruth’s Chris; and she opened presents. Her main gift from us this year was an electric scooter which she loves and is a whizz at riding. Lillian also got to celebrate her birthday at preschool, which was a big deal to her, especially since she missed out on that last year when preschool was closed due to the pandemic.
Lillian is our super sweetie. She is a total middle child – always wanting to please us. She is kind and thoughtful, a good listener (much better than her siblings!), and a big love bug. If she makes a mistake, she quickly fixes it (for example, if she leaves her shoes out and you ask her put them away, she does it right away and apologizes for leaving them out). Lillian remembers things so well – nearly every day she reminds us of a special trip or place we went to up to a year or more ago (it makes me so happy that she holds these memories in her heart at such a young age). She picks physical activities up quickly (like riding a bike and electric scooter), is a great swimmer, loves crafting, and is very helpful. She takes Spanish classes like Vivian does and wants to try gymnastics again. I can’t even believe that she’s going to be starting kindergarten soon. She loves pretending to read and we’re so excited for her to really learn how to read. It’s amazing how far she’s come in five years after starting her life with major surgery and a NICU stay. We love her to pieces.
Whew…that’s a wrap! Four birthdays in five weeks. It’s good that Irene and I are outliers – I’m not sure that we could eat any more birthday cake in such a short period of time!
Now that Vivian is in elementary school, we have real Spring Breaks again, which we haven’t had since college. Last year, our Spring Break trip was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, even though Vivian was only going to school less than part-time and had a very flexible schedule, we still scheduled our Spring Break trip during the week that her school was closed. Since Irene wasn’t yet three months old yet and my energy level is low, we decided to travel somewhere within driving distance in California. We also joined Dan’s parents for the trip, who hadn’t seen us in over a year and a half and who had not yet met Irene. Long story short – we spent four nights and five days in Piedra, California, which is in the foothills along the Kings River east of Fresno.
I’m sure that Dan’s mom will write a wonderful and in-depth review of our trip on her blog, so I’ll stick to the highlights here.
Hilltop Home Away From Home
We stayed in an amazing house on a hilltop overlooking a breathtaking valley and the Kings River. It was accessed via a mile-long dirt road that we shared with grazing cattle.
We hadn’t planned on going fishing on this trip, but there were two poles sitting on the front porch of our rental house and the local markets sold bait and tackle, so we went! We went fishing in the Kings River and in Pine Flat Lake. We didn’t catch anything, but the girls learned how to cast fishing lines and they are now hooked (pun intended). We can’t wait to take them (and hopefully catch some fish!) more often.
Hiking in the National Park
We took one day to drive to Kings Canyon National Park and explore and hike there. We hiked a two-mile loop on the Big Stump Trail. The kids hadn’t been hiking in months (and Irene had never been hiking), so they were pretty energized on the trail. There was snow and mud, uphills and downhills, and plenty of nature for them to examine.
We checked out the Kings Canyon Visitor’s Center (which was mostly a gift shop, due to COVID) and then hiked just over ½ mile on the General Grant Tree Trail in Grant Grove.
There isn’t a whole lot to do in the area where we were vacationing, but I found a “big cat rescue” center (Project Survival Cat Haven) and we toured it. Think Tiger King, but in California. We actually learned a lot on our tour and the kids enjoyed seeing the different big cats.
Visiting Grandma and Grandpa
The kids spent a lot of time playing with Dan’s parents, their Grandma and Grandpa, and playing with the many, many, many, many toys that they brought for them. And, like I said above, Irene got to finally meet her California grandparents for the first time.
No matter where we go, we find fun things to do and make so many wonderful family memories. The kids talk about our adventures all the time and I am amazed at what they remember. For example, a few days ago Lillian was reminding me of the time that we stood in the back of the truck and looked up at the night sky to find constellations, stars, and planets. It took me awhile to realize that she was remembering something from our trip to Arizona a year ago, when she was still only three years old! I love that the experiences that we have with the kids truly stick with them, even at such a young age.
Before kids, I thought Christmas was the end of the holiday season (or maybe New Year’s Day). I was wrong, though. Now, there’s Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter to celebrate big with the kids. So from October through April, we celebrate ALL the holidays. Thankfully, the other half of the year, we get to take a break (whew!). We just finished up the extended holiday crunch (thank you, God!). Here’s how we celebrated this year with four little ones:
We don’t go crazy for this holiday of love, but I do pick out special outfits for the kids (mostly from what they already have in their closets), buy them some chocolate and a few trinkets/books, and bake some of our favorite Valentine’s Day cookies (see a list in this post).
St. Patrick’s Day
Again, I don’t go crazy for this holiday. You won’t see me helping my kids make leprechaun traps or buying Lucky Charms for breakfast. I did bake some holiday favorites like soda bread, cutout sugar cookies, and Guinness brownies; the kids wore green outfits from their closets; and a leprechaun left a trail of gold coins from the kids’ rooms to a hidden pot of gold. This year, the kids also got to participate in a community scavenger hunt and earn holiday prizes.
We go a bit bigger for this holiday – dying eggs, baking (I baked a lot this year for Easter, but ordered takeout for our Easter dinner), Easter Bunny visits, church, and Easter baskets.
Since our state’s and county’s COVID numbers are declining, the kids even got to visit the Irvine Park Railroad’s Easter event to ride the train, hunt for eggs, and play games.
Our #fourthandfinal child, Irene Jane, was born via scheduled c-section after 40 weeks and 2 days at 9:46am on Monday, January 11, 2021. Her birth was not my easiest (William’s was), but also not my most painful (Lillian’s was), although my overall recovery from it was probably my most difficult. She was our biggest baby at birth at 8 lbs. 11 oz. and she had the most hair out of any of our babies at birth. She was 20″ long. Her middle name is in honor of my paternal Aunt Jane, with whom I am close. We also found out after she was born and we had picked her name that Dan’s maternal grandmother’s middle name was Irene, which is a nice coincidence.
My hospital stay with Irene was the shortest out of any of my births – just over 48 hours. Part of this was due to COVID-19, but part was also due to the fact that she is our fourth. The nurses and doctors clearly expected us to know what we were doing. No one ever asked if I needed help feeding Irene or if I wanted to see a lactation consultant. I don’t think anyone really even asked if I had questions about her care. She was our fourth birth and all of the nurses assumed that I knew what I was doing. And…I can say that finally, after four kids, I do think I’m getting the hang of it. But, it honestly has taken four kids! It’s a shame that now that I do finally feel a little confident in this whole having-a-baby-thing, that I’m done doing it.
Irene is now seven weeks old and is the absolute sweetest little thing ever. She has, so far, been a very easy-going baby. She kind of has to be, though, as she doesn’t have the luxury of just peacefully sleeping and eating when she wants or on a set schedule. She’s constantly being awakened to pick up or drop off one of her big siblings and her meals are squeezed in between all of their activities. She seems to be fine with it all, though, for which we are very thankful.
I have never been a fan of newborns – until now. This time, with Irene, though, all I want to do is hold her and snuggle her and freeze time, even if it means little sleep and frequent nursing sessions. Now that I know that this is it…this is the last time that I will snuggle a newborn baby of mine close and that I will sniff my own newborn’s head, well, now I appreciate it and don’t want it to end and I get choked up about it on a daily basis. All I can say is that life is truly a wild ride. And it’s a blessing to experience each part of it.
Without further tears or sentiment, let me introduce you to sweet Irene, our beautiful fourth baby: