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Friday, February 20, 2015

Play & Potty

Monday was not only President's Day, but also "Mid-Winter Break" at school.  Which cracks me up, because here in the Mitten we usually have enough snow days that at least one should qualify as a Mini-Mid-Winter break, but hey- I won't complain about a day off!  My good friend Michelle came over with her three kids to play for the day.  It was a great day!
Michelle & I were roommates in college & grad school 

How many kids can fit inside one pack n play filled with balls?  Hmm, let's see...
The older 2 kids, Jenna & Blake.  Jenna always says she is going to marry Blake.  I am ok with that!

Daddy horsin' around with his crew
Fun in a tub!
Lauren, Hannah, Tanner (yes, the one picking his nose), and Tyler

Another thing that has kept us busy lately is Potty Training- but this time around, with such success!  I am proud to say that Lauren & Hannah have successfully become Potty (& poopy!!!) Trained!!!  

If you don't care to read about Potty Training, I completely understand- just skip on down, friend! 

Lauren proudly showing me her potty.  Tyler is enjoying a book on the seat, but he has no interest in actually using it to potty.
Hannah proudly showing me how well she can go potty.
A few months ago Lauren was showing signs of readiness.  I gave it the ol' college try, but ended up stopping.  She was not progressing as fast as I thought she was; the house was still under construction so the others would use our time in the bathroom to get into trouble; and I was getting frustrated.  Many moms I talked to said to just wait a few months and try again when there was interest.  A friend recommended putting the potties out in the open instead of using the bathroom.  So I followed those tips, and BOOM- one day the girls were ready.

How did I know?  Well, they both kept on ripping off their diapers.  Over and Over and Over.  I quickly I realized it was because they wanted to potty like a big girl- and so away we went!  I already had the potty and lysol wipes, but I did not do any type of reinforcer other than praise for potty.  They simply loved the cause & effect of it!

I also used an OT-ish technique of breaking down the task & allowing them to master each step before progressing to the next.  With the first try, I had Lauren wear underwear and ended up washing them a LOT and even throwing a few pairs away.  This time, I let the girls run around naked on the lower half for days as they learned that urge=gotta go!  I wanted quick success with no pants or undies to get in the way.
Once they were successfully going potty on the toilets with little to no accidents on floors, I added pants.  I only gave them pants that were easy to get on & off (still, no undies) and had a stack of extra pants within reach for when there were accidents.  They had to learn to pull pants down and pull them back up (or put them back on) after going potty.  Hannah is quite the diva who does not like being told what to do at all.  At first when she balked at the idea of pants, I just gave her the choice: would you like the pink or purple pants?  That made it all ok ;)
Once they mastered pants, I finally added undies.  We also started using the bathroom toilet more, which they prefer.  They are doing awesome and while we still have some accidents, overall they are about 95% there.
OK, so quickly I need to mention poops- for those, I did use bribery positive reinforcement.  I do NOT like cleaning poo out of my brand new carpets and was desperate to stop that asap.  I told the girls that if they went poop on the potty, they would get a cookie.  It was an Oreo- very, very high stakes since we never usually have those around!  Within 3 days all poops were in the toilet for both girls!  However, my resident Diva took it to the next level- she was able to control her poo to have 5-6 small bowel movements throughout the day to try to maximize the cookie thing.  I quickly addressed that one, telling her only cookies for bigger poops.  Smart girl-- she might be the death of me, lol!  The cookies are almost gone and yesterday both didn't even ask for them any more, so I think that means we have mastered the poop training, too!

Insert me doing a happy dance right now!!!

Hope you get to enjoy some time with family and friends this season!



Friday, February 13, 2015

Goodbye Badge, Hello Trees

Last week our family made a HUGE change-- After 14 years working bravely as a Police Officer with the Grand Rapids Police Department, Andy decided to make the leap and turn in his badge to pursue his tree care business full time!!!

Before he officially retired from the Police Department, we got some great photos of the kids with daddy in uniform.  The little ones will probably have little to no recollection of their daddy the Police Officer as they get older, which is a weird thought to me since the GRPD has been such a part of our life!  Especially when they were born, there was SO MUCH support from not only the other Officers and their families, but also from the support staff and people we met through their birth.

Over the years Andy has worked third shift street patrol, the Vice Unit, and Community Policing.  He has seen a lot in his 14 years, and he has made a ton of close friends at the department.  There are so many good people who work hard there every day, and Andy has already told me how much he misses them.  The third shift rotating schedule, however?  No, I admit we do not miss that at all!

 Andy with Jenna age 2...  and Andy with Jenna age 6
Daddy & Lauren
Daddy & Tyler
Daddy & Tanner
Daddy & Hannah
~Daddy, our Hero~
This has been a decision Andy and I have been discussing and praying about for several years now.   I am immensely proud of him and every person who works at the department.  Immensely grateful, Immensely honored, Immensely proud.   It is such a difficult job.  I think there will be aspects of the job we both miss, especially the people and the wonderful community of support Police Officers and their families have.  This will forever be a part of us.

So why the change in career?  I probably don't need to tell you being a Police Officer can be a very thankless, high-stress job.  Andy is an active, dare I say thrill-seeking person to begin with, and so when he started tree work as a hobby I was not surprised.  What did surprise me, however, was how much he enjoyed it!  As his expertise and skills grew, Oak Meadow Tree Service flourished first as a part-time job and then as a career.
Last year Andy arrived to the point where he was so busy with trees that he could not physically do both jobs.  He literally was working all day and all night & slept much less than his body needed (going to a night of Police work after cutting trees all day is not fun).  Not to mention the kids and I missed having him around!  We knew the time had arrived to make the change.

Hanging around in our yard :)
Andy rigging up Jenna & swinging her from a tree
Can you believe that is Andy and Jenna up in the bucket?
She is going to be a great apprentice someday!

Safety First!!!
Daddy and Jenna playing in the trees

Using a crane to remove a dead Maple tree

We are excited to start this new phase of life.  While we know it is a giant leap of faith, we trust God will provide.  

If you live in the West Michigan area and are in need of tree service, storm damage clean-up, or tree care feel free to browse the Oak Meadow Tree Service website here and give Andy a call!

(of course I needed to end this blog with a plug!!!)



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homemade Yogurt!

Yogurt.  It is delicious, nutritious, and we go through TONS of it!  I buy the jumbo pack of single flavored yogurts plus 2 tubs of plain or vanilla yogurt every single time I go to Costco (which is just about weekly).  And in a week?  Whoosh!  Gone.  Guaranteed.

When my sister Cindy told me she had a recipe for homemade yogurt, I was skeptical.  I thought it must be difficult to make.  Or taste kinda weird.  However, she is a fantastic cook and has great taste.  She is a mom of 3, raises tons of chickens, and always has great tips for using natural products.  She also has her own business, Cindy's Suds, where she makes the most amazing soaps, balms, soaks, and more (check it out here!).  So- decided to give it a try.

The recipe is absurdly simple.  I will give you the steps along with her recommended time-line:

5:30 PM-  Step 1
Pour 1/2 gallon of whole milk into crock pot on low (you can use 2%, but that turns out slightly thinner to me).  Cover with lid; cook 2.5 hours.

8:00 PM-  Step 2
Unplug crock pot.  Let it sit for 3 hours.

11:00 PM-  Step 3
Whisk in 1/2 cup of plain "starter" yogurt and re-cover.  Wrap the crock pot in a towel or blanket and let it sit 8 hours.

It's all nice and snug under that blanket ;)
7:00 AM- Step 4
Put in fridge.  Enjoy later that day!

The result is thick, creamy "normal" plain yogurt that you feel good feeding your kids.  You probably could add maple syrup, sugar, honey, or vanilla flavoring right away if you like it sweet but I tend to flavor it as we eat it.  Cindy says you can use this yogurt as the "starter" the next time around too.  We have yet to try that, only because we go through it so fast.
This is what it looks like later that day.  It will probably stay good for a week.  My kids inhale it usually within 2 days!

My favorite way of serving my homemade yogurt: with a spoonful of strawberry jam and some thawed frozen berries.

So do the kids like it?


Bon Appetit!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

When Grandma Came to Visit...

...we had so much fun we forgot to take pictures!  
Here is the one picture I have that proves grandma was here:
A happy grandma snuggles a happy Hannah :-)
My mom & stepdad live about 5 minutes from us, and Andy's parents live about 10 minutes away.  We are so thankful to have parents/grandparents that live so close!  However, since my parents retired about 6 years ago, they have taken to becoming SnowBirds.  For those of you not familiar with this term, it refers to people (usually retired) leaving this cold state of Michigan during the frigid months and returning just in time for the thaw & bloom of Spring.

However, let me clarify- they do not "vacation", but rather they volunteer (often at different National Parks) for the Winter months.  The last 2 years, they decided to stay here and "volunteer" at the Niemeyer Homestead! But, alas, this Fall they set out for Arizona to volunteer at a Buenos Aires National Wildlife Rescue.  To say we miss Grandma and Grandpa is an understatement!

Grandma needed her grandkid fix, and so she arranged to come and stay with us for 2 weeks after the New Year.  She came on a snowy day and unfortunately was stuck in Chicago for 2 days while the weather cleared up.  I had a very sad Jenna those 2 days!  Thankfully my Aunt & Uncle live in West Chicago and Aunt Nancy was planning on visiting anyways, so mom stayed with them and arrived safely on a Saturday.

Grandma shared a trundle bed in Jenna's room and snuggled with Jenna each morning, telling her "adventure stories".  The kids enthusiastically preferred gamma over momma in nearly every situation.  My mom helped watch kids so I could tackle some of my ongoing organization projects.  She watched the kids overnight so Andy & I could go on an 11-year Anniversary overnight date.  She babysat the kids when I went to work.  We even went to this really cool local fun spot, Catch Air, with her and Mimi (Andy's mom)!  It was really, really nice to not only have her visit, but to stay with us!
Oh wait!  I got her in a second photo!  She is that lady on the right, watching my kids swing on balls at Catch Air :-)

It was so nice to have grandma here and we can't wait until she and Grandpa come back in the Spring!

Who do you really enjoy coming by to visit?



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year, New Addition!

Happy NEW YEAR!!!!!!

2015.  You know you're getting old when the new year reminds you of a sci-fi movie!!! ;)

First, Some Christmas hi-lights.  We had Christmas as a family Christmas eve morning, had Andy's family over Christmas evening, and my sister's family the day after Christmas:
My four mischievous sweet little 2 1/2 year olds!
Lauren, Tyler, Hannah & Tanner

Eating cookies after Church the Sunday before Christmas
~Best Friends~
"Look at dat, Lolo!"

Showing Mimi their cool noisy, powered trucks.  (We were in desperate need of some boy toys!)
Jenna is a pro at doing the 2-baby hold!

We had a lovely Christmas, and yet I was very ready to pack up all the Christmas gear and put it into storage for the next year.  There is something about the start of a New Year that makes me want to organize, de-clutter, and try to maintain order!!!  But this year, I have a whole new reason who I am trying to organize, de-clutter, and maintain order:

So for those of you curious, here are pictures of how our house transformed over these last 6 months: 
The "old" kitchen and dining room area.  Note front door is to the left.

And the "NEW" kitchen:
This view is from the front door.  The entire positioning of the kitchen was turned around.
This view is from our front door and reveals the new addition in the back.

The old siding and back view of our house (right after foundation was poured for new addition)
Building the addition
And the finished exterior!
Meanwhile, inside...
The upstairs new room
Our Under Construction lifestyle for a while
During the construction the upstairs and downstairs were partitioned off, so the kids literally had one room (the living room) to live and play in.  I also would make their bedroom a fun zone, but I had to get all the toys out for naps because you don't want nap time to turn into play time!  Of course, the main living room where we spent most of our time was right next to our master bedroom- where daddy had to sleep many days because he works third shift.  That was not fun.

Try telling 5 kids to be quiet.  It doesn't work!!!  So poor Andy got very little sleep and knowing we were being loud with little options just seemed to add to my stress levels.  Many a days it was just so much "easier" to pack the 4 kids up in the van and go to Costco or Target rather than getting in the worker's way and waking daddy up!
The downstairs addition playroom
The new bedroom (a.k.a Jenna's room, first studs, then drywall view)
Not only did we add on space, but we also did some bedroom shuffling, arranging, and changing.  Jenna got a whole new room, and even picked out her own paint color.  Somehow the toddlers who slept in cribs this summer became little monkeys who enjoyed climbing out of their cribs as the Fall wore on.  SOOOO, now we have 5 BIG KIDS with big kid beds and thanks to the addition, now have separate girls/boys rooms.  No more toddler beds---- ever!!!  At first I was a little sad, but now I am more use to it- my little babies are growing up! (insert choking sob here).

Annnnd- the finished product!!!!

Our upstairs addition
View from the back slider doors, you can see my lovely kitchen in the background!

Jenna's old room is now the girl's room.  Hannah & Lauren share the full bed.
The only problem with having monkey children is that they like to climb wherever they can!
Peek-a-boo, Tyler!
The boy's room.  Despite the 2 beds, the boys still share the one bed right now.  Our kids snuggle- they know no different!
Jenna's room!  Her walls are pink and she LOVES the trundle bed from Mimi & Papa's house.  Perfect for sleepovers!

The play room downstairs

Life's a ball!
It has been a long 6 months and I am so very glad it is over and now we get to enjoy our new space.  But man, suddenly it feels like sooooo much space!  Instead of being squeezed into one room, I find myself loosing track of where everyone is, and you KNOW with four toddlers silence is often anything but golden!

As we get to know our new house and I spend my extra time organizing toys, clothes, & figuring out what furniture should goes where, we eagerly await a visit from my mom tomorrow.  She will be coming back to town and staying with us for 2 whole weeks!!!  We are all so excited to see her and just wish Grandpa could visit too, but he is busy volunteering in Arizona and picking up the slack for my mom while she is with us ;).

Hope you New Year is off to a happy, productive & safe start!