Thursday, July 26, 2012

Target Toy Clearance 2012

Every year we watch for great deals on toys during the month of July at Target. Target does a major toy clearance to make room for new product and at the very end of the month usually has items up to 70% off. We take advantage of this sale to buy Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. We keep an eye out for items we know our nephew, our kids, and our kids friends would enjoy. We also buy for charity to give around Christmas time.

We have been checking our store every week when we run our errands for good deals. Already this month we managed to find a TAG reader world map for 50% off as well as some adorable super hero Little People sets for $3.74 each. This is in addition to two giant LEGOS sets we found at 50% off.

Our store does markdowns Wednesday night do I headed to our store as early as my kids would let me out the door. This year was not as spectacular as years in the past but there was still plenty of great deals. I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice variety of toys this year.

Today our Target had lots of Thomas the Train, Cars 2, Sesame Street, My Little Pony, Disney princess and fairies, LEGOS, Trio sets, Super Mario, Fisher-Price toys, and Dora the Explorer items. There was also plenty if outdoor summer toys and Target brand toys available to chose from.

The best part is looking at my receipt and seeing how for so little I can give to children. We get really excited about that!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Less Whine, More Wine

It is nap time right now and for once all three kids are actually snoozing. We spent the morning at the pool and I think it wore the kids out. Which means I can actually be productive and relax a little bit. And by productive I mean sit on the couch and update our blog. Mommy is TIRED.

Summer has been flying by this year, hard to believe that school will be starting up again in just 6 week here. Thomas got out of school  at the end of May and we immediately took a vacation and visited family in Myrtle Beach. The beach was perfect and the boys loved getting to see Logan. Brent and I were just happy to hang out and play board games with the family and drink some wine and relax. We don't get to head out and visit with his family that often so that was really nice to meet up with everyone.

We celebrated Eleanor's 1st birthday in June which was somewhat bittersweet. I was not ready for her to be 1. I think I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that Ellie is not really a baby any more. She (and the boys) get bigger and bigger each day. She took her first steps on the beach and recently has recently decided wrestling with her brothers is a great way to have fun. She is always trying to keep up with her brothers. She loves cars, dogs, and playing in the dirt. Everything she does is adorable, I really love this age it is so much fun. We had her one year pictures taken and I think I about died from cuteness overload. I don't normally buy her a lot of pink outfits but we found this tutu dress in pink and it is the most girly pinkest frilly thing ever. Yeah we had to do it. Our photographer and friend Emily Crall did an awesome job. They turned out better than I could ever have imagined and I am so happy with how they turned out. You can see them here: If you look really closely at the pictures you can tell she was playing in the dirt and eating sticks. That's our girl!

The boys have been keeping me busy too. School is out which means Thomas is home again. Adjusting to 3 kids at home all day has been a little crazy. Oliver is used to being king of the house so there has been a lot of squabbling and whining between the boys. We try to mix things up by doing play groups out with friends and visiting the park, splash pad, movie theater, and library several times a week. With summer 1/2 done I think we maybe finally have a good routine going. As long as they don't get bored they usually don't get into trouble. The thing is by the end of the day we have run out of ideas and we all get kind of cranky. You know what kind of cranky I am talking about. In our house it seems to happen between the hours of 4-6 PM right before dad gets home. We call this the WHINING hour in our house. I have not yet found a solution to this conundrum. Perhaps some wine instead of whine? Less whine, more wine. I like it.

Things are not so bad really. We try to enjoy ourselves and make the most of things. Brent has summer break from his MBA program so we have really enjoyed having him around more. We have taken advantage of our time together by visiting family in Des Moines and Chicago and finding fun things to do here in Cedar Rapids on the weekends. Summer has been pretty good to us, whining and all. I will just keep a bottle of wine on hand just in case. ;-)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer Reading

With school getting out on Thursday of next week I thought it would be a great time to share with our friends some information about summer reading programs available for kids. Summer reading is a wonderful way to keep kids brains working over summer break and several libraries and programs across the country are trying to encourage this healthy activity by offering lots of freebies and prizes.

Barnes and Noble has a summer reading program available for children in grades 1-6. Kids write down the books they have read in a reading log with a short description of why they would recommend the book. Once they have read 8 books they can bring their reading log into a Barnes and Noble store to earn a FREE book! The program runs from May 22nd to September 4. How fantastic! More details can be found online at:  Or to print out your reading log go to:

Locally, our own Cedar Rapids Public Library has a special summer reading program available. The program runs from June 1 to July 27 and is available to independent readers up to age 12 as well as younger kids that need to be read to still. Kids earn rewards along the way and at the end of the program there will be a raffle to win a bike! Registration for the program begins June 1st and can be completed online or at a participating library. More information can be found here:

Even if you don't have a child in school and have a preschooler or toddler it is never to early to start reading and making this a fun family tradition. Developing the habit of family reading time is a great way to encourage learning at every age. With that in mind each of us in our home will have our own "reading list" this summer because after all, we all can benefit from some nice quiet time and a good book. Brent already has several books he would like to read this summer and I know I have several waiting to be read as well. My boys alone check out an average of 10 books a week from our library so I know there will be plenty of new books for us to get our hands on this summer.

Plus there are plenty of fun crafts you can do to get younger kids excited about reading. You can have them make their own bookmarks, help them decorate their own library tote bag, and lots more! You can even get books on tape or audio books for long road trips. Our kids current favorite book is a sing-along called Pete the Cat. And lucky for us the publisher has a free mp3 download available online so now I can pull it up on my phone or lap top at any time! How cool is that? Get your own Pete the Cat mp3 here:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Mommy Stuff"

When you become a parent it seems like your life become too busy for just about anything. Every second of time is important. However, every once in a while I find time to chat on the phone or catch up with a friend by email. This week I had a friend ask me what I have been up to other than my usual “mommy stuff.” I kind of had to laugh. So much of my life is centered on what makes my kids happy that I actually had to stop and think because I couldn’t recall the last thing I did that wasn’t for my kids. It took me a few minutes to get out of mommy mode and recall the last time I did something for me.

When my friend asked me what I had been up to other than mommy things, the first things that came to mind were all related to my kids. I thought of how I am having so much fun with my son Oliver at our parent-child swim lessons. I thought of what I was working on with the PTA at Thomas’s school this month. I thought of how much I enjoy playing in our backyard with Ellie every afternoon and how much I love to push her in her baby swing. I wanted to talk about all the cool finds for the kids that I found at a garage sale last weekend or what I plan on doing with the kids this summer or about our upcoming family vacation.

I do have things that I enjoy and do for myself. I enjoy photography, cooking, and have recently been very active in our church and I have even started working out at the gym. However, the first things that came to mind to describe myself were my kids. My children have become such a big part of my life that they now are part of my identity. What a powerful thing parenthood can be!

 It made me stop and think for a moment about how much my life has changed. Almost every part of my day revolves around my family and more specifically my kids. Years ago my former self would have said that this was a BAD thing. “Adults need freedom and the ability to do what makes them happy. Kids need to not be the center of the home. You have to put yourself first!”  I would have said. I would be furrowing an eyebrow at the new me. How dare I give up my independence and push aside my needs and wants. 

It is funny how parenthood can change a person and transform a person’s values. This is not to say that this is the case for other people, but for me it certainly has been a truth. Before kids (and I would even say as a new parent) I had a totally different perspective. Today my world is absolutely centered on my kids! I would give up anything and do anything to better their lives. Really important things from before seem not nearly as important. There are a lot of things that I would love to indulge in. For instance photography classes, a Kindle fire or all the new technology gadgets out there, the latest and greatest fashions, and pedicures every month. Those would be nice. When you have a family though, other things become important. Swim lessons, T-ball, family vacations, and college savings become important. Our goals as a family are to do everything to make both our lives and our children’s future better. I will give up a pedicure and latte any day to give my family the experiences that will forever change their lives. 

With Mother’s Day approaching this weekend I have to admit how much I love my family. I feel blessed to have children with unique personalities that lift me up every day. I love the way they giggle and laugh, their little wrinkles on their feet after bath time, how they explore the world, their curiosity, how they love learning new things, and all the extra cuddles and hugs I get from them (sticky fingers and all). Some days are challenging for sure, but they are always rewarding.  I love that Brent and I are walking through this journey of parenthood together. We walk through it together and we never take for granted those little blessings that we get each day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Teacher Appreciation for a POPular staff

When Thomas started school in the fall I made it a priority of mine to get involved at his school. One of the ways I have been doing that is by volunteering and serving on the PTA as co-president. It has been both a wonderful and challenging experience for me as a parent. I really love the staff and families that I have worked with over this school year. However, the staff just rocks my world!
My friend and fellow co-president Carrie agrees and we decided to do something nice for our staff. With it being Teacher Appreciation Week and all we decided to get our craft on and try our hands on these adorable soda pop goodies.
We used an easy and oh-so-cute (and free!!!) printable tutorial on this blog:
We attached them to construction paper and used a hole punch and some ribbon and string to tie the cards securely around the neck of the bottles. Instant success! We delivered them in the afternoon for our staff to enjoy a nice little pick me up because even teachers need some caffeine and sugar every now and then.
So happy to have wonderful staff and teachers at my son's school! What a POPular staff they are for us!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Eleanor's Baptism


Eleanor was baptized yesterday. It was a very special day for our family. A family friend made her dress out of my wedding gown and she looked beautiful in her little outfit. Even more special, we had several family members travel up for her special day including her Grandpa Todd. Todd actually baptized each of our boys in Swea City, Iowa. This time we had the privilege of having him as a guest pastor at our church in Cedar Rapids. Grandpa Todd got to baptize Eleanor just like he had for our boys only in our new church. This was a huge blessing for our family to be surrounded by love in our church.
We actually starting attending our church Lovely Lane when I was still pregnant with Eleanor. About this time last year Brent and Thomas were traveling to see their Grandpa at the Iowa Methodist Annual Conference. We had only recently moved to Cedar Rapids and I decided this would be a great weekend to go "church shopping" as they call it. The very first church I tried out in Cedar Rapids is the only one we tried and it is now our home church! In the last year we have become very close to members of the church. We feel like this church encourages us to be stronger in our faith together as a family. We have really come to love our church and having Eleanor baptized in our new church was very special because we were able to baptize her in the presence of many people that have blessed our family with so much love.
Baptism is always special I should say. It is us as parents promising to raise our children in Christ's image of love. However, this baptism was different I think for me than it has been in the past. Every time I baptize another one of my children the promises I make when I take those vows become stronger and stronger. It could be that this is my youngest child but I really feel that each baptism has strengthened my resolve to be a better parent and a better Christian. It would seem like a simple thing, but it is very important. A good parent instills the sense of love and respect that the teachings of the bible and Jesus give to us. Likewise, a good Christian carries the cross and reaches out to others and really lives out the teachings found in the bible. Being a good parent and being a good Christian are interconnected. I am so happy to know that all of my children will have the chance to grow up surrounded by the love of family, friends and a wonderful church. As a parent I couldn't ask for anything more beautiful for our family.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Play and Learn Time

Ollie and Ellie and I have a favorite day of the week. No it is not Friday. It is Tuesday! On Tuesday mornings we visit our library and attend a play group sponsored by the United Way of Eastern Iowa. It is a free program for kids 0-5 that focuses on teaching kids through a play based curriculum. Kids play at stations for the first part of the program and end with a special circle time of songs, dancing, and book. During play time we do several activities. Sometimes we do a craft, other timed we play games or dress up. This week was sensory week. All of the sensory activities were available. Our favorite was the ball pit. It was a big hit! The kids are not just having fun though-- they are learning too! Children that attend are getting exposure to a pre- classroom setting which can be very important for developing the skills to learn later in life. The wonderful curriculum of Spanish, colors, shapes, numbers, reading and math, science and more doesn't hurt at all either!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Breaking the Elusive Mystery of Grace

In February I had the unique experience of witnessing my oldest son Thomas get ashes for the first time on Ash Wednesday. We walked up together side-by-side holding hands. He watched me receive my ashes with his big brown eyes full of wonder. Then I turned to him and watched him receive his ashes from our pastor. I listened as the pastor gently said, "Jesus loves you," and watched my son's face light up with joy as his facial expression changed from curiosity to excitement. We returned to our seats where he started asking me all kinds of questions. I was happy to answer his questions and it spun off into a great discussion about God's love and grace. During Lent I often find myself thinking about the grace that God has given us so it was great to share some of my thoughts with my son. The most rewarding thing from our discussion was that it reinvigorated my prayer and lead to some deep thought and insights that I hadn't thought of before.

For me, grace has meant several different things in my life. Each new challenge and joy has changed what grace looks like to me. In some ways you could say that grace has been an elusive mystery for most of life. As a child grace was like opening a big birthday present. The suspense and anticipation of ripping open the wrapping paper and discovering a wonderful treasure inside filled my heart with joy. I was told that Jesus loved all the little children and that someday I would meet him in heaven. My imagination made heaven into this glorious beautiful place and to this very day I still believe in a heaven that is like this. I loved listening to Genesis verses because it was full of imagery and the wonderful creations filled me with awe. Grace was a gift, waiting to be unwrapped.

In my preteen and teenage years I found grace to be something entirely different. I found myself believing in a more selective grace. Grace to me was Santa's naughty and nice list. Had I been a good girl? Did I do all the right things? I knew I better behave because God was watching me. I better not fall out of line or he might zap me with Zeus-like lightning bolts or worse! He might decide to put me in the worst possible penalty box of all--HELL. For many young people, I think this is what grace looks like. There is a perception that you have to earn grace.
Then as I became an adult grace was different suddenly. Grace felt so far out of reach. For the first time in my life I had accepted the label of being a sinner. I knew I had messed up and that I would probably do it again. I began to wonder why Jesus would die for a sinner like me. What did God see in me or any part of humanity anyways? All around me I saw pain and suffering and sinners just like me struggling to find a greater purpose in life.

It took having children for me to understand and believe in grace again. As the mother of three kids I am constantly challenged. Raising children is most definitely the most rewarding and challenging thing I have ever done. You love them unconditionally and would give them everything in the world if you could. You want the best for them and work very hard to give them everything they need. In addition to basic needs children need guidance, support, and love to grow. A parent is the best person to offer these things to a child.

However, sometimes a child rejects these things. As my children get older I am experiencing this more and more frequently. When they are young it is temper tantrums and disobedience. As they get older there are still meltdowns and disobedience but you find yourself incredibly disappointed when they do wrong. Sometimes the disappointment can be very painful and exhausting. Despite all of this you still love them and continue to do what is best for them. It is frustrating but you still offer your love and keep on giving second chances. When they fail you offer discipline and love in the same hand. It is this kind of support that children thrive under.

God's gift of grace to us really isn't any different than this. I could write a book about all the things I have done that are wrong. I am past second chances. I sometimes repeat the same mistake several times and I even struggle with some things continuously. I am not proud of it, but I am a sinner. However, I have a Father who wants me to get up and try again. Grace doesn't have to be something you search for or have to earn. It doesn't even have to be a great mystery. God does love us and wants to give us this great gift. Grace is not a secret or exclusive to one group of people. Grace is for all of us!

Someday I hope to share in greater detail what grace is with my children. There is one thing I will share with my children now and that is to never give up on growing with God because God will never give up on us! I hope that they can see that I am not perfect but that the power of prayer has taught me to be persistent and to keep trying. The journey of faith changes sometimes and can seem mysterious but with persistence you will get to where you need to be.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A bomb just went off in our house!

Yes, it has happened again. The laundry bomb went off in our house. It is amazing how quickly laundry piles up in the house when you have kids. Yes, that's right, there is laundry all over the living room!

Not to worry though, it is CLEAN laundry. I get points for that at least. This week has been so busy I just haven't had a chance to sort, fold, and put away our laundry. You know it is bad when you start to run out of laundry baskets. The worst thing is when you have to go rummaging through the piles to find matching pairs of socks. Don't lie! I know you have done this too! The worst part is I still have 2 loads in the wash and 2 waiting to be done. Laundry is everywhere right now!

That got me thinking about how much laundry our family does in a typical week. We do on average a daunting 14 loads a week. That is 728 loads of laundry in a year!!! Here are our numbers broken down:

--1 load of towels a week
--3 loads of cloth diaper laundry a week
--2 loads of boys clothes
--1 load for the baby
--1 load of kitchen towels and bibs a week
--1 load of jeans
--1 load of gym clothes and socks/undies
--1 load of darks
--1 load of lights
--2+ loads of miscellaneous things (Includes anything like sheets, bedding, and of course the "oops the kids" category for accidents and spills).

That is a lot of laundry! That doesn't even include all the other things I do during the day like the dishes, cooking meals, picking up the same toy over and over, and sweeping the floors (which I need to do still today by the way). Forget deep cleaning, I just try to keep it "tidy." Although I should mention I did scrub the floors and bathroom down this week. I surprise myself sometimes!

So husband dear...if you are reading this you should be asking yourself what does this mean??? I will tell you what it means. It means Valentines Day is coming up and that you really really love your wife. Did I say really enough? Because you REALLY just love her so much. I don't ask for much. You know diamonds and jewelry are not my kind of thing. But flowers, well those are nice. Or you could let me sleep in one morning next week. That would be perfect. I am sure you will think of something. You always come through.

Your loving wife

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mom needs some donuts!

I think I will treat myself to some donuts this weekend. That is right, THIS GIRL has been working hard at the gym and is finally seeing some results. In January I lost 10 pounds! A huge huge victory for me!

My focus this month was to get my body used to what it feels like to you know... EXERCISE again. I would like to be in a position this spring that I can go jogging with Oliver and Eleanor in the double jogger. However, I have to be decent shape in order to do that. So cardio for me it is!

All month I have been increasing my workout in intervals. Week 1 I started out by walking for 2 minutes on the treadmill and then jogging for 3 minutes. Then I would repeat it. I did this each week until I was able to exercise for a full 25-30 minute period. Week 3 I increased how fast I was running and by week 4 I increased how long I was jogging for. By week five I was running for 5 full minutes and walking for 2 minutes. I now run 1.8-2 miles in a daily workout. My goal is to gradually increase how long I run for until I no longer need walking intervals. To any veteran runners out there this might not seem like a big accomplishment, but for me this is huge progress. You are talking to the person who did not like to run the mile in high school and would walk the last two laps. I am not a runner by nature. Scratch that, I am not an ATHLETE by nature! So *me* enjoying running, well that is just super!

As it turns out, exercising at the gym has some nice perks I had never even considered. On days I go to the gym, the kids all play in the nursery. Why is this so wonderful you ask? Well first off, mommy gets a nice little break from sticky fingers clinging to her legs and baby spit up down the front of her shirt. Even better, the kids tire themselves out and have a blast playing with new friends. In fact, they run off so much energy that they enjoy taking a nap when we get home! BONUS! However, the BEST part is I actually get to take a shower! Not just any shower, it is a "no kids invading the bathroom, no interruptions" kind of shower. The kind you have time to get dressed afterward, and can brush your hair and maybe put on some makeup! Hallelujah rejoice! What a nice little perk!

So maybe I don't need those donuts after all! My perk is getting a shower! Lovely isn't it? Parenthood problem #9017 solved.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Proof I am actually working on my New Years Goals!

Today I did some grocery shopping. Being the awesome mother that I am I even did it with a cranky 3 year old and a 7 month old who has recently decided she doesn't need a morning nap. Using my super amazing powers as a mother, I got all of us out the door and managed not to forget our grocery list. I *may* have bribed Oliver by telling him he could have a sucker if he would be my helper. However, in our house we call that an incentive.

Our goal today was to work on goal #1--feed the kids. I went to the store to buy our weekly groceries and lots of fresh produce and healthy alternatives for us to eat. Our meal plan for the week included several kid-friendly meals with healthy options. Here is our meal plan for the next week:

Friday-- Stir Fry (Happy Chinese New Year by the way!)
Saturday-- Tacos
Sunday-- Homemade Pizza from scratch
Monday-- Pasta with tomato basil and beef sauce
Tuesday-- Crockpot Salsa Chicken
Wednesday-- Church Dinner Night (mommy doesn't cook--YES!!!!!)
Thursday-- Mac & Cheese and Veggies

The next goal was to organize our refrigerator with healthy eating and young children in mind. I filled small containers with fresh fruit and cheese for little hands to have easy access to. I also made sure their favorite yogurts were right in front. Most importantly, I keep water bottles for each of my boys on the top shelf. When I am busy with the baby and they need a glass of water they can grab it themselves. A wonderful lactation consultant from Iowa City gave me this perfect little tidbit of advice and really it is genius! The other thing I did was make the top shelf a place for leftovers. We never seem to grab them unless they are the first thing we see. Knowing this, I put all of our leftovers and extras from this week on the top shelf. Hopefully this will cut down on food waste in our house.
So there you have it--I am actually working on our goals for 2012! And now you have proof of all of my hard work!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


2011 was a pretty wild year. In a nut shell we moved to a new place, we had a baby, and I officially switched to staying at home full time. Lots of changes in the Schenk household meant mommy was a little bit crazy (I said a little bit so don't lock me up just yet). We some how didn't find the time for blogging.
2012 will be better--I think. Brent just started an executive MBA program which is proving to be harder on me than it will be for him. Week one is over and the poor guy had to endure living in a suave hotel with housekeeping and a catered lunch and dinner for every meal. Hardly roughing it. Meanwhile, our household was on the brink of catastrophe that would match any apocalyptic nuclear meltdown. Our week involved strep throat, a blizzard and a funeral. Oh, and the Packers lost to the Giants. In all seriousness, I am hoping that at this point the rest of 2012 will not repeat itself.
There really is a lot of good things to look forward to this year. I may just be crazy (see first paragraph) but I have lots of goals for this house. In the spirit of making new year's resolutions here is what I would like to do this year.

1) Feed the kids. Starving children just don't look happy in family photos. JUST KIDDING. I feed my kids. However, this year I think we are going to try and incorporate more fresh fruit and veggies in our meals and we are going to try and eat more unprocessed food and organic food. If we can find the time this spring I would like to start a family garden too. Maybe I can make the kids do the work for me! :-D
2) Become debt free. Bye bye student loans! Dave Ramsey says I should kick you to the curb! Cheetah meet budget -- you have met your match!
3) Blog something. 2011 was a bad year for blogging. Even if I said I would double my posts from last year I don't think it would be enough! So here is to hoping for one post for each month!
4) Don't be a hoarder. In 2011 we got rid of stuff. Lots of old clothes and boxes of forgotten items. This year I want to continue to get organized. Less stuff has meant less cleaning. As the president of Bad Housekeeping I can promise that less cleaning is a good thing. Getting organized will be our goal this year.
5) Go running with a donut on a stick. Not really but yeah kind of. Now that the baby is older that means I can send her to the gym's childcare. Which pretty much means mommy has no excuse to NOT use the gym when we pay a nice little price tag for it. What is a mom to do when she hates the elliptical? I think I will just have to find a nice little carrot on a stick for me to chase after. I have some health and fitness goals for this year. I think if I do them I should get something nice, like a piece of chocolate cake that I don't have to share with the kids. Then again, maybe food shouldn't be my reward....

Well that is my food for thought today. Here is to a wonderful rest of 2012!