Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Double Digits, Baby!"

That's what Vali has been saying today. Her enthusiasm and spunk are contagious, and I can't help but smile to think of how happy she is to be ten years old.

We celebrated this past weekend in Lincoln at Grandpa and Grandma Di's house. Here are the kids with their cousins:


Last night we took Vali out to dinner at Hickory Park (a well-loved local BBQ place) where she got a birthday sundae delivered by singing wait staff. Friday she's taking a couple of friends to a local amusement park, so this really is more of a birthweek celebration.

This morning she opened gifts. She's getting a new bedroom since her big sis is moving into an apartment, so many of her presents were decorations for her room. But she did get a couple of things that weren't room related. Bright orange shoes, headphones, and a hair cut with BANGS!

I took this afternoon off to take her to the mall, where we shopped, ate, and goofed around.



Grandma joined us and Vali got to open up her presents.



After we got home, we took it easy by ordering pizza and having a living room picnic while watching a movie.


I made a cake, but didn't get around to frosting it. No matter, Vali wanted just the cake with ice cream anyhow!



She finished of the night by having a sleepover at her best friend's house, which is the ultimate in celebration for her.

Ten years old. It's hard to believe. I'm so blessed to have the wonderful children I was given. Happy birthday, baby girl.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Brie is currently in Uganda on a medical relief mission. She's posting updates about her trip on her tumblr blog, so check it out if you're interested. She is working with a team who cuts insects (jiggers) and their egg sacs out of the feet of Ugandan residents, many of whom are children. She is actually doing the excising herself, cutting into tender flesh; flinching internally, while keeping a steady hand, when she draws blood or hears the sharp intake of breath or a cry from one of her patients. Brie shouldn't have the capacity to amaze me. I've been her Mamma for nearly twenty years and she has been an exceptional person from the day she was born. And yet she has the ability to stop me in my tracks, frozen in awe of her character.

I have learned so much being her mom, and she has so much more to teach me. She is humble when her beauty, character, and ability shine so brightly that it's hard to look at her sometimes. I have never quite been able to achieve her strength of faith, but her unwavering belief cheers me on and gently nudges me to keep going in my own spiritual quest.

She worked her tail off this summer to be able to go on this trip. She worked at two restaurants and accepted all of the babysitting jobs she could find. When she was home, she was exhausted. She only spent a couple of nights socializing with friends. Brie chose to spend her last night home before leaving for Uganda watching The Princess Bride with her little sister. What character this young woman has. I'm ashamed to think of what I did the summer after my freshman year in college. I worked those couple of months so that I could pay for clothes, shoes, CDs, and nights out with my friends. My focus was on me at that age; I was not considering how I could make a difference in this world.

I wish I could take credit for this amazing human being. It's easy to say things like, "She got her musical talent from her dad, and she can write like her Mom." But that doesn't hold water when she takes those talents that she may have inherited from us and uses them with such force, such impact that it leaves anything her father and I have done in the dust. I know that for her entire life, Brie will inspire others to be just a little more selfless. She has already made such an impact on this world, and she inspires me to do more with the resources, the talents, and the privilege I have been gifted with. I really could not be more proud.

(As a postscript, the mom in me has to throw out a note to say that Dusty and I hit the lottery with all four of our kids. They are each amazing in their own right. I know they know this - but it feels weird bragging on one kid without at least giving props to the others.)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Weekend Project - My Garage Mudroom

My name is Monica and I'm addicted to Pinterest and HGTV. Seriously, it's a problem I have. I hate most other TV shows, but will sit, enthralled with a show that chronicles a renovation project.

The problem, though, is this. I don't have a gazillion dollars to spend on functional spaces in my house like my laundry room. You do a search on Pinterst for mudroom and you get these gorgeous custom cabinets:


(swiped from Pinterest, and of course it wasn't sourced properly there. Not my photo)

Pretty cool, right? Yeah, but I don't have the money to hire a master carpenter to do that work, and besides, I don't have the space indoors for a fancy mudroom. Maybe someday.

We just got new carpet. It's beautiful. Well, not really, but it's CLEAN. And I want it to stay that way, so we have instituted a 'no shoes on the carpet' and 'don't use the front door' rule. So I needed to create a space in the garage for the kids to dump their shoes and hang their crap. My garage is an icky, unfinished thing. Not the fancy, shiny garages you see sometimes on HGTV, so I wasn't looking to make something fancy.

How hard could it be to whip something up? Dusty has the tools, I'd just borrow them from him.

There was a 6 foot long board hanging from L-brackets in the garage that I knew I wanted to use as my bench seat for two reasons: 1.) it was free. 2.) it was narrow (11 1/8 inches wide) and I needed something narrow so that I can get out of my van when it's parked int he garage. So that was the starting point of my plans.

I knew I wanted a 0.5 inch overhang from the top board, and I knew I wanted to make a basic bench with an apron and legs on each end and in the center. And so from there, I drew up my plans. How technical is this? It's so completely not to scale that it's funny.


I started making the plans at about 6:30 on Friday morning. I wasted some time on the internet, and finally decided to go for it. At 8:30, I woke my awesome son up. It's his summer vacation, you know, and he wasn't too pleased to be hauled out of bed to help me at Menard's, but he got up anyway, and was relatively cheerful about it. (I do so love that kid.) Here he is after finding a duster called "Dustin" at the store. He still looks really sleepy, doesn't he? This must have been before I bribed him with a McMuffin from McDonald's.


Jake helped me find the boards and haul them to our cart, and put them in the van. And when the sheets of plywood that we chose for the backing didn't fit in the van, we hauled them back and returned them at the courtesy counter. (Dusty would later go back and get me two nice sheets of 4x8 foot paneling that he hauled home in his giant truck that I refuse to drive.)

We got home and I got to work on the bench.  I used a miter saw because it was easier to lug upstairs and into the garage. But I didn't miter any of the trim edges or anything - I didn't get that fancy - I only cut straight cuts.

Here's a progress shot as I was finishing up the bench. Don't make fun of my messy garage:


After I finished the bench, I screwed the panels into the wall. Our house is a giant pain and finding studs was difficult. They're supposed to be 16" apart, right? Wrong. NOTHING in my house is standard. So frustrating. But I somehow managed to get the panels up on the wall. And then I started trimming it out: (That black thing in the corner of the picture is a handle from a bicycle that hangs from the garage ceiling)


I added more trim. I didn't really know what I was going to do design wise. I pretty much winged it. 

(Dusty hates when I do stuff like this. He's a planner, measure twice (no four, five times!) cut once guy. I kind of decide on the spot what I'll do.) 

I used cheap materials - not nice trim or anything, because again, this is going in my crappy garage. If you were going to do this in a nice area, I'd suggest using actual trim, and probably mitering the edges, etc. But I didn't do any of that. The outside trim is made from 1x3s and the interior trim is made from1x4s. Just to make things confusing, the bottom two horizontal strips are 1x2s. Why? Well, the bottom strip couldn't be drilled into the wall because there is a row of concrete block beneath my drywall. So I knew I had to glue it to the paneling, and I wanted something fairly light that would stay put. The strip above it (at the bench height) because I thought it would match well. Doesn't really matter, and if you were to try this in your home, you could use any dang thing you want.

So eventually, I was done with the construction and it looked like this:


I did all of that in one day, but took most of the day, and boy, was I exhausted and sweaty. Natalie hung out with me for a while in her pack and play in the garage, but was scared of the saw, sander, and drill noises, so she had a Daddy day instead.

Saturday was painting day, and honestly, painting was a bigger pain in the rear than construction. I painted the trim and that was fine, but the paneling did not want to take the paint. I sanded the crap out of it, really roughed up the surface so it'd grab the paint, and after three coats of primer, I was able to put on the color.

It's called "mellow yellow" and I love Behr Ultra, but this is not really very mellow, is it? I'd say it's cheerful yellow instead.

Speaking of 'yellow', Nati knows the word now and loves to say it. She doesn't even really massacre it. It sounds mostly like 'yellow' which kind of makes me sad. Why can't she start with an adorable 'lellow' or something?

But I digress. Here's the thing all painted:


I hope it doesn't scratch or peel. It probably will. If you are thinking of doing something like this, my suggestion would be to attach the framing directly to the wall if you have smooth drywall. (I don't. Our garage has this nasty popcorn textured walls that are falling apart, hence the paneled background.) Or, if you don't want to do that, use plain plywood that will take the paint, or use real wood paneling instead of the plasticky kind we got. Mine looks nice right now, but it will probably end up getting scratched when a fifteen pound backpack covered with dangling rainbow and kitty-cat key chains smacks up against it a thousand times.

Anyway. Yesterday, I added hooks and found the shoe bins to put under the bench.  And you know what? Those stinking hooks were the most expensive part of the project at $3 each! Highway robbery, man. But they do look nice. Here is the finished product, with an adorable model showing off the sturdy, utilitarian bench:


The shoe bins are actually plastic flower planters. They're kind of hard to see in that picture. I saw them at Home Depot and knew they'd be the perfect size. Like I said, I needed something narrow so I could still open the van door with it parked inside, but I wanted them to be big enough to hold shoes. These were perfect, and only $10/each. See how it looks with the van in there?


And finally, one last shot of it. Isn't Natalie's raincoat adorable?


I'm pleased with the outcome and I think it may have lit a carpentry fire in me. Again, it's definitely not a Pinterest masterpiece, but it's real life, man. The kind of real life that's me, anyway. Also, it's functional and cheerful, and it'll work perfectly for us.

There are LOTS of ways for me to improve upon my handiwork. I'm thinking my next project might be to make a privacy screen that hides the trash and recycling bins from the street. Dusty thinks that completely ridiculous, but I feel like it'll add to the curb appeal of the house. Plus, projects are just plain fun.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Photo Journal: Family Vacation - Custer 2013

Earlier this year, my brothers and I tossed around the idea of going on vacation together. It sounded fun to me - the kids could play together, the grown ups could play together. Win/win. We didn't know where to go this year, but Erik and Kim had already booked a cabin in Custer State Park in South Dakota, so we looked into the rest of us tagging along with them. It worked out that there were cabins available near theirs, so we booked it and looked forward to a fun long weekend in the Black Hills.

The vacation didn't disappoint! Here are some of the highlights:

nati and vali near the ranch store sign

My sister-in-law is due in a little over a month. She was a trooper going along this late in her pregnancy!

zak and molly at the prairie dog stop

Nati thought the prairie dogs were 'kitty cats' and whenever they'd disappear into their tunnels, she'd say, "Kitty cat, where are you?"

nati watching a small group of prairie dogs

Closeup image of a prairie dog eating

Most of our family photos from the trip are like this. Someone's looking away, or I'm wearing a dorky Kermit t-shirt... Oh well.

Reha family in front of prairie dog village

And then we have my goofball brothers:

Keninger boys in front of a prairie dog statue posing like prairie dogs

Here are some magnificent shots of the Badlands. The badlands is a national park where you can see amazing buttes that have been eroded by the wind. It's a stark, desolate view, and so completely different that what we see daily in Iowa that our mouths stood open for a while looking at them.

Reha kids in the Badlands

Brie with the badlands behind her

Zak and Molly Badlands

Our next stop was Wall Drug, which was a huge tourist trap of overpriced shops. The kids loved it, though! I wasn't a huge fan of the crowds there, but I did enjoy the billboards along the interstate before we got there. There were dozens of them, all with a different theme. Homemade pies at Wall Drug! Free Ice Water at Wall Drug! Donuts at Wall Drug! There were so many things advertised on the billboards in colorful cartoons. It's a genius way to market, actually.

Wall Drug Billboard

The kids loved the place:

Vali with a fortune teller machine at Wall Drug

Vali with an Annie Oakley statue at Wall drug

My brothers had some fun there too:

zak and luke posing with a statue of an old time prostitute

Next up was Mt. Rushmore:

Landscape of Mt Rushmore

The kids enjoyed the ice cream just as much as the view:

reha kids eating ice cream at mt rushmore

Family shot:

rehas at mt rushmore

After leaving Mt. Rushmore, we finally made it to our cabins in Custer State Park. Doesn't this look relaxing?

cabins at custer

val and dusty wearing matching hats and sunglasses

In the early mornings, the girls and I got up and sat in the woods exploring and listening to the sounds of nature.

vali showing nati a pinecone in the forest

There were a lot of small pine regrowth and Nati looked like a giant among them!

Nati near a small pine tree

This is one of my favorites:

Nati handing me something she found in the woods

We spent a lot of time driving on twisty, turny mountain roads. The views were amazing, though:

mountain view from the road

These are some shots from our trip up the Needles road. These rock formations are called needles because of how tall and thin they are:

jake at needles

vali in the mountains

brie at needles

Nati was sleeping in the car, so she's not here, but this is a great shot of the older kids:

brie jake and vali at needles

dusty and me in front of mountains

Brie with her Auntie M:

Brie and Molly

This is how narrow some of the roads are in these mountains. Kinda scary in a minivan!

narrow mountain road

One of my favorite parts of the vacation was a chuck wagon dinner that my sister-in-law planned for us. It was so totally cheesy, but I think it might have been my favorite activity of the trip! We took a hay ride through the wildlife loop where our wagon leader had us sing along with her to songs like 'O, Susannah!' and 'Red River Valley'. We drove to a clearing where there were picnic tables set up and had a steak dinner where there was an old time band playing in the background. The group then got together to do the hokey pokey and the chicken dance and we said farewell by screaming "Yahoo!!!" to the mountains and listening to the echo. It sounds so dorky, but it was a blast.

chuckwagon ride

Nati got to sit like a big girl on the wagon ride. She clasps her hands together like this when she's pleased with herself. I love it:

nati on the chuckwagon ride clasping her hands together

brie and nati at the chuckwagon dinner

the chuckwagon band

The guys had to get up and dance to some Elvis:

guys dancing

Here's a little hokey pokey:

hokey pokey at the chuckwagon dinner

This is the only shot I have of the whole crew, but it's a good one. Here we all are (minus my brother Sam and his family since they were unable to join us on the trip):

all of the fam at the chuckwagon dinner

More goofball scenes:

luke and zak dressed up like old time bandits

This is a picture of Legion Lake in Custer, which is where we stayed:

legion lake

vali at the legion lake sign

Got Buffalo? South Dakota does! There were hundreds of bison on the wildlife loop when we drove through:

large bison and a small bison together

bison calf

large male bison

landscape with many bison

They would walk right up to your cars. We spied one of them licking my brother's car in front of us!

bison walking in front of cars on the wildlife loop

We went on a tour of the Cave of the Winds. I love caves and rock formations, and I have memories of caves in SD from when I went there as a kid, so I was excited to do this tour. This is the natural opening of the cave we toured. It's only about the size of a beach ball. The cave acclimates its pressure to the outside pressure, so depending upon whether there's a low or high pressure system going on, the wind in that opening either blows out or sucks into the cave. Very cool.

cave of the winds natural opening

We had the little ones with us on the tour, and so I felt sort of bad for everyone else who chose the tour we were on, because three babies makes it a bit rough at times, but they weren't too terrible down there. Will is enjoying the view here:

will and dani looking at the ceiling

Some of the views from the cave:

spidery rock formations

These natural formations look like animal crackers!

animal cracker ceiling

The rest of the photos I have are from relaxing around the fire at the cabins. The kids got to get together and play, and the grownups had some nice downtime too.

campfire scene

vali and izzy with sparklers

another campfire scene

I started taking pictures of the kids playing with sparklers:

sparkler art

heart shaped sparkler art

My brother suggested that we have the kids spell out "Custer" with sparklers. It turned out great!

Custer Sparkler Art

And then the grownups had to spell out their word too:

keninger boys spelling beer with sparklers

And that about sums up our 2013 vacation to Custer State Park in South Dakota. We had a great time and are hoping to go somewhere together again next year.