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Miss E at Five

Miss E at Five

Miss Ellen turned five this last week. I was really worried that in the midst of all our preparation and travels for the funeral she would feel overlooked, but instead she basically got to celebrate her birthday for an entire week.

She had a party in Cedar City, UT with my family a few days before her birthday. We all rented a condo together through VRBO and had a party after Glenna’s funeral. She also got several gifts from Noel’s side of the family, but none of them were staying in Cedar so they missed the party.

On her actual birthday, we woke up in a hotel, also in Cedar City, and then spent most of the day driving home. We still tried to keep it special though. The night before, Noel acquired THE LAST Frozen ballon in Cedar City. She’d requested two things for her birthday and that was one of them. We stopped in Grand Junction, CO where we picked up  a 1/2 dozen cupcakes we’d ordered. (They were overpriced, but I was feeling guilty about the whole spending 9 hours in the car on your birthday thing.) We got lunch at Spoons Bistro where she got her requested chicken nuggets. (Side note: if you’re ever driving through Grand Junction and need a place to eat I sincerely recommend Spoons Bistro. The food is better and healthier than you would get at fast food. PLUS, eating there helps support HopeWest, a hospice/palliative care/grief support center there – all organizations that have a tender place in my heart.) We arrived home around dinner time and ended the day with pizza and the last of the cupcakes.

She took treats to school the next day and then on Saturday she had a big party with friends. I had wanted to invite a small number of friends, but every time I asked her who she wanted to invite she would name different people. We ended up inviting her entire preschool class as well as a few friends from church. I was secretly relieved every time someone would RVSP no, but we still had 10 kids show up. The party was only an hour and half, but still exhausting for me and fabulous for Ellen.

At five, Ellen is as spunky as ever. She is always loved by her teachers/instructors, but they often tack on a little note that she could be a better listener. From experience, I know what they really mean is she could look like a better listener. She’s not very good at holding still, but she’s listening and generally does well on the skills being tested. She’s also extremely inquisitive. She asks LOTS of questions and I find myself constantly explaining things ranging from science to the rules of society. She has her own unique sense of style and will not take notes on her outfits. I’ve learned it’s easier to just let her wear whatever crazy thing she wants. She’s currently interested in gymnastics, but adds a little bit of an American Ninja Warrior flair to her attempts. She’s my little sidekick when she’s not at school. If she had her way we would just cuddle and read books or watch Dancing with the Stars. I love watching her at the park with her preschool friends. She loves running around and playing, but she’s also not afraid to go off by herself and play in the weeds or zoom around on her scooter at top speeds. (There’s a picture in “Olivia Saves the Circus“of the main character riding a scooter – you can actually see it in the sneak peak on the Amazon link – that I often think of when Ellen is riding her scooter.) I love that she’s not embarrassed to just be Ellen. She’s a crazy mix of girly (dresses and endless accessorizing) and unkempt (her hair and general approach to life). She’s definitely both the sugar and spice in our lives.

Cooper Turns 6

Cooper Turns 6

This year, Cooper was sick the week of his birthday. He had a rough couple of nights with a croupy cough and I kept him home for two days. The day before his birthday, Ellen was inconsolable from the moment she woke up. She had a fever and just wanted to be held. I gave her medicine and it finally seemed to kick in after about an hour when she became deliriously happy. After 45 minutes she crashed again and fell asleep in my arms.

Poor Ellen

Generally, she’s the type of kid that doesn’t get slowed down by a cold,* so her behavior was concerning to me. I called our HMO and they were able to get us in that afternoon. Of course, the appointment fell during the period of time when her second round of pain medication was working and all the nurses seemed somewhat skeptical and I may have felt somewhat vindicated when her rapid strep test came back positive.  They ran a test on Cooper too, but it came back negative. Since strep doesn’t cause coughs, we figured he just had a cold and nothing more. They said they’d send it to be cultured just in case and let me know if the longer test came back positive. We went home and continued birthday preparations alongside house sanitizing.

Birthday Morning

The morning of his birthday, he seemed pretty healthy when he woke up. It was the first night he hadn’t woke up with a coughing fit and he was really excited to go to school. We let him open a new outfit and a game from grandma before going to school.


He’d chosen to take berry and marshmallow kabobs for his birthday treat and there was no way he was going to miss sharing them with his friends.

Scootin' to School

He really wanted to ride his scooter to school and I decided to let him even though I knew we’d be late. The secretary is pretty used to giving us tardy slips anyway . . . When we walked into the classroom several of the kids yelled, “Happy Birthday Cooper!” and he just beamed from ear to ear.

New Shoes

We’d bought Cooper new shoes for his birthday, but they didn’t fit. He was pretty upset that I wouldn’t let him wear them to school, so I told him we’d try to find some that fit when he was done. As we were walking into the store, I got a notification that the long strep test had come back positive and I just had this image in my mind of him handing out fruit kabobs to every kid in his class . . . We quickly tried on shoes and I even let him by the blue ones he wanted even though I wanted to buy the black ones (because they were cheaper).

Connect Four

Back at home, we played one of Cooper’s new games while we waited for the doctor to call, then swung by the doctor’s office/pharmacy to get Cooper his antibiotics. **

Present Poser


Marble WorksWhen Noel came home from work we let him open the rest of his presents from us and from the family. Pretty much every gift was met with excitement.

Tres Leches Cake Blowing Out Candles

We had empanadas for dinner followed by tres leches cake. (Happy Cinco de Mayo!) Every time someone asked Cooper what kind of cake he was going to have for his birthday he would say, “The one with cherries!” because of the picture of this recipe. We made sure to buy maraschino cherries for the occasion.

Piñata Helper

We’d given Cooper the option of going camping or having a party with friends for his birthday. I really thought he would choose camping, but he was very excited about having a party with friends. Even though we didn’t invite everyone in his class,*** I was still kind of overwhelmed by the guest list.  Cooper has gone to a couple of birthday parties and they’ve all been pretty fancy. (Think: rented petting zoos, build-a-bear, and playing sports at an indoor sports complex.) I didn’t even entertain any thoughts of competing with that for something like a child’s birthday party. Our plan was to draw with sidewalk chalk, blow bubbles, play some games with balloons, beat a piñata, and have cake.

Bubble Madness

The weather of course, had other plans. An hour before the party there was a torrential downpour complete with hail and thunder. Luckily, I had a backup plan. We kept the bubbles on the porch and drew on black construction paper with sidewalk chalk at the kitchen table.

Balloon Madness

I cleared as much as I could out of the main room in the basement for balloon games. It was a little bit crazy to have 10 kids running around the house, but the kids had a lot of fun. I like to call it controlled chaos . . .

Mike Wazowski

Mike Wazoski piñata

We’d hoped to do the piñata on the porch, but by the time we got to piñata time thunder was booming again and we decided it was best to stay indoors. I made a homemade paper mache piñata that looked like Mike Wazowski from Monster’s Inc. It held up really well to the hits of 12 kids.  (Ellen and a friend joined in.)

Piñata Goods

I made little fabric bags out of scrap fabric (really easy) and put homemade play dough, homemade robot crayons (kids helped me make these), and skittles in each bag. Then we put all the bags in the piñata. I thought this would cut down on the fighting that would occur when the piñata broke, but not all of the little boys were able to process that idea. We figured it all out in the end though.

Blowing Out Candles Dulce De Leche Cake

Cooper chose a Dulce de Leche cake for his birthday. I don’t think the other kids were used to such fancy cake and a lot of it got thrown away, BUT I have no regrets about making it because I got to eat some of it and I have very high standards when it comes to eating baked goods.


This was us after the kids left. I should mention that we also ran 11 miles that morning, so we were pretty much exhausted. I think Cooper really loved it though and that’s what matters most.

New Toy

*One time, I took Cooper to the doctor because I thought he might have an ear infection. While we were there, the doctor looked at Ellen’s ears too and discovered she not only had an ear infection, but two. While we waited at the pharmacy she ran around like a crazy person and almost toppled a display for online prescription renewal. My dad happened to be with me and I remember him saying, “If this is what she’s like with a double ear infection, are you sure you want to get her the antibiotics?”

** It’s always a tiny bit stressful to me when both the kids are on antibiotics because Ellen is allergic to the ones Cooper takes so I have to be extra careful not to mix them up.

*** One day after school Cooper was listing off names of people that said they were going to come to his party. I panicked a bit because we hadn’t invited everyone and I didn’t want him talking about the party at school. I told him, “Buddy, you can’t talk about your party at school. We didn’t invite everybody and we don’t want the kids to feel bad.” He started to cry and told me very firmly, “Mom, they’re not bad kids, they’re good kids!” Sometimes the literalism of autism can be fun. I told him, “You’re right, they’re good kids. I meant, we didn’t want them to feel sad.”

Ellen Turns Four

Ellen Turns Four


Ellen has been looking forward to her birthday since Christmas. (Admittedly, I felt very much the same way four years ago about her birth day, but with a lot more hormonal angst.) For months she would frequently tell us, “My birthday’s next!” This year, her birthday fell on a Monday which is a pretty busy (and very Cooper-centric) day for us and I was really worried about how to make the day feel special.


The Saturday before her birthday we took her to see Zootopia. The kids thought the movie was hilarious and it had a depth and sense of humor that also appealed to adults. After the movie was over though, Ellen was disappointed that we didn’t have cake and threw a minor fit when we reminded her that it wasn’t actually her birthday yet.

Birthday Cake

To torture her even more, I made her cake the evening before her birthday. She went to bed before it was frosted, but she was still pretty upset that I’d made cake, but didn’t let her have any. She chose Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake. A choice I’m pretty sure she made primarily because of the sprinkles.

Morning Cake

The morning of her birthday she was very excited to see the finished product and even more excited that I’d saved the scraps I’d cut off the layers to make them level for her to eat.

Morning Presents

We let her open one present before Noel headed off to work and Cooper to school.


Then she and Cooper played with balloons instead of getting dressed and eating breakfast. Cooper was late for school, but it was the probably the first reason for checking him in late that didn’t annoy me terribly. (Some examples of previous reasons for being late include: Cooper wanted to wear the blue socks not the white ones, Ellen didn’t want to wear a coat, Cooper stared at his breakfast for 20 minutes and then decided he actually wanted to eat it when it was time to get in the car, and everyone slept in because we didn’t leave Urgent Care until two hours past bedtime.)


Noel hadn’t left for work yet when we got back which delighted Ellen. She LOVES her dad and cries if she doesn’t get to give him a big hug and a kiss before he goes to work.

Shopping Girl

While Cooper was at school I took Ellen to Target. She had some birthday money and I told her she could pick out a present. I think she enjoyed wandering the store looking at everything more than she actually enjoyed the toy she chose. We wound through the toy aisles for almost an hour with her exclaiming, “Look mom!” close to a thousand times. My patience with this exercise was probably my greatest birthday gift to her.

Play Dough

After we picked up Cooper, Ellen had a brief period of time that she could play with her My Little Pony play dough set that she chose. This picture is the last documentation of the colors being separate and recognizable.


Cooper had speech therapy in the afternoon and Ellen and I built this impressive marble run.


We spent a few minutes at home prepping dinner and then headed to swim lessons. Ellen loves swim lessons and is extremely confident in the water; however, she is not the most well-behaved pupil. When the instructor is helping the other kids she’s always jumping into the middle and splashing or trying to swim across the pool. One particularly bad day, Ellen got put in “swim lesson time out” so the instructor could uninhibitedly help the other kids. She graduated with excellent ratings on all of her skills, but the suggestion that she needs to listen more. It’s kind of funny because when I signed the kids up for lessons I worried a lot about how Cooper would handle them and he ended up being one of the best behaved kids in the class.

Birthday Cake

After showering off, we headed home where we opened the rest of Ellen’s gifts, skyped with some family, and then ate macaroni and cheese and cake.

Crazy Hair

This picture is from a few weeks later, but is a pretty good indication of Ellen’s personality. She’s feisty and spirited, but has the most tender moments when she’ll ask deep questions and genuinely listen. She’s sassy and full of energy, but never passes up an opportunity to snuggle. She can throw the hugest tantrum about absolutely nothing, but she always compliments my outfit choices. She hates having her hair done, but loves twirly dresses, jewelry, and having her nails painted. She will fight you tooth and nail to do anything that wasn’t her idea, but then will surprise us by volunteering to help empty the dishwasher with great enthusiasm. It’s sometimes a rollercoaster, but we’re glad to have Ellen in our lives.

Black Friday Birthday

Black Friday Birthday

I honestly did not expect to feel apprehensive about my 30th birthday. I’ve never considered 30 to be old and after a few decades of people consistently underestimating my abilities because of youthfulness, 30 seemed to represent a legitimacy of adulthood I expected I’d embrace with open arms. But as my birthday drew nearer I felt the dread mounting. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m kind of known for being a bit negative about all of my birthdays, but this year my level of enthusiasm was abysmal. It didn’t help that my birthday fell on Black Friday – it just didn’t seem like a good omen. To try and feel better about it I looked up countless lists about what’s so great about being 30 and came to the conclusion that I am not your typical 30-year-old. It should have made me smug and confident that I apparently have my life more together than the average 30-year-old, but then I mistakenly googled “great things about being 40” and I related much more to those lists. I’ve always been very proud of my general maturity, but suddenly worried it had cost me the carefree youthfulness everyone else my age supposedly spent the last decade enjoying. A few days later when I couldn’t remember my debit card pin at Costco and had to write a check I mentally saw a woman twice my age fumblingly in her purse for a pen. My soul felt old. The only young thing about me was how childishly moody I was being about my birthday.

I don’t know if everyone could sense my dread (they probably could, I’m not great at hiding my emotions), but my family really pulled through to make 30 be a celebration. My mom made some of my favorite foods for breakfast and then watched the kids so Noel and I could go to the Brigham City temple with my sister, Hope, and her husband, Joe. My dad grilled salmon on cedar planks for dinner and Noel made a delicious S’mores cheesecake for dessert. Everyone’s gifts gave me a good laugh. My parents gave me 30 gifts, some serious and thoughtful (new running clothes) and some weird and hilarious (care bear folders and a wristband proclaiming, “Band against porn”), and Hope and Joe gave me a bunch of things in quantities of 30 (pennies, lbs of flour, cough drops, etc). To cap off the day, Noel whisked me away on a surprise getaway to the inn in Cache Valley where we spent the first night of our honeymoon almost nine years ago (if that doesn’t make me feel dated). I’m still feeling a little ambivalent about turning 30 and thus far have not been overly impressed with what this new decade has dealt me (an awful cough and my first real job rejection), but I’m glad that I have a good support network around me that will stick by me and love me unconditionally until I come to terms with my age, real or perceived.

Golden Birthday

Golden Birthday

I get pretty excited about birthdays, but especially excited about birthdays with special dates like a golden birthday or the time Noel had a birthday on 12/12/12. Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to Cooper’s fifth day, probably since the day he was born. This is also the first year that Cooper has anticipated his birthday. Ever since Ellen’s birthday whenever the subject of birthdays comes up he would tell us, “My birthday’s next!” The Sunday before his birthday they sang to him at church and gave him a little gift. When we picked him up he beamed, held up all five fingers, and whispered “I’m five!” When I broke the news to him that it wasn’t actually his birthday he was pretty upset, but then when I showed him the calendar and talked about the next couple of days of birthday fun he brightened up.


About a year ago I learned that the fire stations in our district do free tours if scheduled four weeks in advance and I put a reminder on my calendar to call and schedule the tour a month before Cooper’s birthday. Once the date was set I prayed there wouldn’t be a fire since fires would take precedence over the tour. (Then I felt bad and prayed no one would have to be involved with a fire as it seemed less selfish . . . ) We invited a handful of friends from church and preschool and started the party at the fire station. The firefighter that led our tour was really great with the kids. We had one of those small world moments when he noticed Cooper was wearing a CTR ring and told us that he too was LDS and used to attend meetings at our building when he lived in the area. After the boys had their fill of hoses and trucks, we headed back to our place for lunch. I let Cooper choose the menu and we ended up having Mac n’ Cheese and Churro Cupcakes.

The day after the party was Cooper’s actual birthday.

CincoHe woke up early and perched on top of the couch grinning over his presents, waiting for Noel to get back from a run so he could open them. Our schedule was pretty normal (school and speech therapy), but he was excited to take fruit kabobs to school, show off some of his new toys to his therapist, and have a “special” lunch at Costco.

That night we finished our fiesta with fish tacos and chocolate tres leches cake. I thought for sure he’d be completely worn out from all the excitement, but about an hour after bedtime I heard Woody announce, “There’s a snake in my boots!” and went into his room to find him huddled under the covers with several of his new toys.

Tres LechesBecause we hadn’t done enough celebrating, I took him to the zoo the next day where he got his free birthday ice cream cone and ride on the carousel. I was kind of glad when the birthday celebrations were finally over, but I really did love what a kick Cooper got out of everything. Even though mothering him sometimes stresses me out or makes me emotional, I’m truly blessed to be his mother.

Miss E Turns Three

Miss E Turns Three

This was the first birthday that Ellen anticipated. For weeks she’s been telling us that “Ellen’s birthday is next.” When it comes to planning anything for my kids, I always turn to Pinterest and not in the way you would expect. Pinterest is a great way to visually display options which is perfect for kids who are young or struggle with verbal communication. This year, Ellen chose a Chocolate Covered Strawberry cake (check out the review on our food blog) and a trip to the zoo to see the animals. There’s a gallery below that details the fun we had.

Moonlit Birthday

Moonlit Birthday

Full MoonEven though this time of year can be a bit hectic, I do my best to be intentional about the ways we celebrate and that includes birthdays. A dear friend offered to watch our kids so Noel and I could go do something. When I was pondering what to do, I looked at the calendar and noticed that the Saturday before Noel’s birthday was going to be a full moon and I began planning a moonlight snowshoeing trip. While I generally do not consider the sun setting before 5pm to be a positive, on this occasion it certainly was. We snowshoed, got burgers, and were still home before 10pm. (Can you tell we aren’t big night owls?) We’re always amazed at how much ground we can cover when we aren’t carrying or herding kids.

Noel's BirthdayOn Noel’s actual birthday, we had homemade Indian food (the best Indian food we’ve found around here so far ;), walked around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights, ate chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, and put the kids to bed while we enjoyed a night in with a new movie – an introvert’s dream birthday. Hopefully he felt loved in the midst of all the hullabaloo of the season.



My birthday and Thanksgiving have always been synonymous to some degree and this year they fell on the same day. The last time my birthday was on Thanksgiving, a family fun run went awry when we took a wrong turn. We ran miles further than planned and found ourselves trespassing in a construction zone as we deliriously tried to shortcut to our car. I remember miserably singing “happy birthday to me” under my breath while everyone argued about whose fault it was that we’d missed our turn. (There is a strong contingent that still maintain I was the reason . . . ) It was a memorable birthday and probably the only Thanksgiving where I netted negative calories.

Actual Fun Run

This year, Noel decided it was a good idea to celebrate my birthday on it’s own special day (as birthdays were intended ;). I told him all I wanted was to go on a trail run to the rock that overlooks Golden and eat lunch without any kids touching me. A good friend kindly watched our kids so we could do just that and it was marvelous.

We had Chinese takeout for dinner (one of my guilty pleasures) and stayed true to tradition by having birthday cheesecake instead of regular cake. We made a variation of this chocolate peanut butter cheesecake and it was absolutely delicious. After the kids were tucked into bed we watched Much Ado About Nothing on a projector Noel borrowed from work and went to bed at a delightfully reasonable hour. Clearly I’m still a twenty-something that knows how to party . . . or at least I can claim to be for one more year.

Our Four-Year-Old

Our Four-Year-Old

When you live far away from family, birthdays tend to stretch out over a couple of days as the gifts, cards, and phone calls trickle in. Fruit is still his favorite food, so Cooper was pretty excited when this edible arrangement showed up from Noel’s Aunt Brenda a couple of days before his birthday.

Edible Arrangement He’s been coveting the Thomas the Train and Cars 2 rugs at Lowe’s. Every time we go there he’ll drag us to that section of the store (the kid also has a pretty good memory) where he’ll stare at the rugs longingly and throw a fit when we tell him it’s time to leave. Grandma Glenna gave us some money for a rug and we took him to make the purchase a few days before his birthday. He debated for awhile before choosing the Cars rug and grinned from ear to ear as he carried it to the checkout.

Cars RugOn his birthday he woke up to a living room with gifts and balloons. He kept saying, “It’s my birthday” over and over again as he tore open the packaging.

GiftsWe had a fun outing at the park scheduled with some of our friends. We brought some of Cooper’s favorite treats (popcorn, applesauce, and flavored milks) to share.


Unfortunately, we had to cut our playdate short to get Ellen to a doctor’s appointment. She’d woken up with a head to toe rash and we needed the doctor to confirm what I suspected was an allergic reaction to amoxicillin. (I’m allergic to it too, so I wasn’t super freaked out.) Fortunately, Cooper was really good about leaving the park when our time was up.

Spotted Baby
I kept telling everyone at the park, “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious!” The rash actually looked worse on day two, but I didn’t take any pictures.

After our trip to the doctor we picked up Noel and went out to lunch and made a quick run to Target for Benadryl. Back at home, Ellen took a nap and Cooper and I made his birthday cake. He really loves helping and I’m trying to let him even though I don’t always find him helpful.

Cake MakingWe had Noel’s cousin, Jaimie, and her husband Wolfgang who are recent Denver transplants over for dinner. They were even nice enough to bring Cooper a present. It combined two of his favorite things: Legos and Thomas the Train. We think they might be vying for the title of “The Favorites.”

Jaimie and WolfgangFinally it was time for the cake and Cooper couldn’t have been more excited.

Birthday CakeHe even blew out all the candles by himself. We made sure his slice of cake had lots of berries.

Blowing Out the CandlesCooper has really grown a lot in the last year. He’s talking more and mastering a range of skills from riding his bike to recognizing letters. He’s really good at puzzles and has been praised for his “math skills” so perhaps we have an aspiring engineer on our hands. (Apparently pattern matching is considered math at the preschool level, who knew?) I know I’m a wee bit biased, but he really is one of the sweetest kids you’ll ever meet. Happy Birthday Cooper, we love you!

Miss Ellen Turns Two

Miss Ellen Turns Two

It’s a little strange to have Ellen turn two. We officially don’t have any babies in our house and we’ll no longer be counting anyone’s age in months. Ellen is feisty and opinionated, but also undeniably lovable. She adores Cooper and they are already quite the dynamic duo. He keeps her in line and she helps him be more outgoing.

This year, she was savvy enough to get excited whenever we told her she was going to have a birthday soon, which made it more exciting for Noel and me. We spent a lot of late nights working on a play kitchen and I saved a bunch of the decorations from a church activity I’d helped put on earlier that week so we were able to fill the front room with a lot of balloons.


Ellen of course took great joy in opening her “PRESENTS!” since she was allowed, encouraged even, to destroy something.

The kitchen was a big hit with both of the kids.
The kitchen was a big hit with both of the kids.

Ellen enjoyed a fun morning with Cooper away at preschool. She got to play with her new toys without interference from her big brother and then she got to go shoe shopping which is every girl’s dream. Good birthday karma was in the air since we were able to find the only two pairs of clearance shoes in her size: a pair of tennis shoes that met my requirements and sparkly dress shoes that met hers.

She accumulated more presents throughout the day thanks to various mail delivery services and took great excitement in opening every gift, even the clothes.

Birthday Dinner

For dinner, we had pepperoni pizza and Jone’s soda. The soda cans even had pictures of a Golden Retriever, which absolutely delighted Ellen.

Birthday Cake

We’d asked Ellen whether she wanted a berry cake (my preference) or a chocolate cake (Noel’s preference) a few days earlier and she didn’t deliberate at all before squealing, “chocolate cake!” I narrowed the chocolate cake choice down to three cakes and then we showed her the three pictures side by side on the computer and asked her which one she wanted. She repeatedly chose Double Chocolate Layer Cake with Raspberry Filling. With a few adjustments for altitude and coffee avoidance (even if we were coffee people I cannot imagine the effect it would have on Ellen . . . ) the rich dessert was made.

Birthday Candles

She didn’t quite get the blowing out the candles thing, even when Cooper demonstrated (unasked I might add) three times how to do it.

She was quite skilled at eating it however.

After a much needed bath she thought she was entitled to a night in our bed and tucked herself and her favorite stuffed animals in.

We indulged her for a little bit, but eventually made her sleep in her crib (which she miraculously has not even tried to climb out of yet).

Happy Birthday Miss Ellen! We’re so happy for (most of) the spice you add to our lives!