Category Archives: boy

Birthday lessons

July is a huge birthday month in our family. Beginning early in the month, we celebrate 10 human birthdays and one very large dog’s. And the following month doesn’t slow down much either. There must have been something in the water from the years 1925 to 2006.

The month kicks off with the birthday celebration of my oldest nephew Owen and ramps up a few days later as we mark the 90th birthday of my grandfather, Ed. Our recent wedding travels limit us from being there in person to celebrate this year but from 9 to 90, there are plenty of lessons these two have taught me over the years. Things like:

The meaning behind the phrase, “I remember the day you were born.”

owen birthday, birthday lessons, nephew

Your choice in beer should align with that of your favorite sports team, whichever relationship develops first.




And when it comes to extracurriculars, choose something you can play as you grow older.




Blondes really do have more fun.



You can dance if you want to.

owen turns 7 surfing birthday party simply social blog


And more than anything, remember, family is everything.





Happy Birthday to all of my favorite guys this month!




Super Spring Break

If you couldn’t tell from my overgramming last week, my nephews (and my sister) came to visit us to celebrate their spring break. Unfortunately I spent most of the week at work, but I’m grateful for the afternoons and evenings I spent brushing up on my toilet humor, identifying fire ant hills and avoiding getting jinxed.

Days were spent punching water spouts at the splash park and evenings cheating at mini golf. We even managed a second attempt at the beach since the first time was ‘too boring.’


On Thursday, we celebrated Jake’s 5th birthday the only way Jake prefers to celebrate, with superhero masks and store-bought cookie cake.

IMG_4663IMG_4664IMG_4669IMG_4670IMG_4671Friday we had a picnic at the beach and then spent the afternoon drop-kicking waves to cap off the trip. And is it just me or did we do so right next to a Nana lookalike? IMG_9943



We miss them already but we’re soaking up the quiet and resting up the busy months ahead.

Lessons in layer cake

Some of you may remember when I made my first attempt at an ombré cake back in March for my
Mom’s birthday.

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It wasn’t a complete flop but I rushed through it, failing to execute the preschool-mastered skill of color order. Yes, it still tasted good and fit in with the whole St. Patrick’s day theme that weekend, but I knew I’d need to try it again when I could devote the time and patience it took to not screw it up.

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So in celebration of Matt’s birthday this week I decided to give it another shot.

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My first tip with making this cake is to do it on a Sunday afternoon when you have no commitments other than careful measuring and wait time. If you’re anything like me, you often try to multitask when you cook and bake.

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This is not the cake to do that with. This layer cake is a special occasion type of cake because it is equal parts time-consuming and indulgent. From the cake to the buttercream icing, there’s no shortage of butter and that’s a good thing. Throw out your paleo/whole/vegan/healthy eating plan for enough time to eat a slice. You can thank me later.

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Ombre layer cake 

  • 1 1/2 C unsalted butter, softened (can substitute 1/2 C vegetable shortening if you want)
  • 3 C sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 C flour (sifted)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C whole milk
  • 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Ideally this is the time to grease and flour all four of your cake pans. Oh you don’t have four cake pans? Me neither. Grease and flour two of them and set aside.

In a stand mixer, whip butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar 1 cup at a time. Add eggs one at a time until each is combined.

In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt.

In a liquid measure, combine milk, buttermilk and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients into wet one cup at a time, alternating between milk mixture and flour. Try not to overmix.

Place four medium bowls out on your counter. Divide batter into each bowl evenly. For me it was just under 2 cups of batter per bowl. Add no food coloring to the first bowl. I like to use gel food coloring as I find it’s a little more accurate.  Add one toothpick of color into the second bowl and mix until combined. Two for the next and closer to four for the final one. The key here is to only mix the batter until the color is combined as the colored layers already tend to be a little tougher than those that aren’t.

Need another photo to take a break from the instructions? Me too.

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Once your layers are colored, pour the first two into your two baking pans and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. These layers are thin so they will cook relatively quick.

Remove from oven and let cool on rack for 5-10 minutes. Add a layer of parchment or wax paper to your rack before you flip them out of the pan to make turning easier for you when they are cool. Trust me it helps. Wash and dry your pans to bring them back to room temperature before you bake your other two layers.

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Once your second batch is out of the oven and cooling you can start on your buttercream icing. This stuff is indulgent so I usually keep it pretty thin. That being said both times I’ve made this cake I’ve had to make extra buttercream icing to get it covered so go ahead and make a bunch.

Buttercream Icing

  • 3-4 C powdered sugar (sifted)
  • 1 1/2 C unsalted butter
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 3-4 TBL whipping cream

Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. Cream butter in a stand mixer and add powdered sugar slowly so as not to go all King James on your kitchen. Add vanilla and cream and whip it until peaks form. Refrigerate it until you are ready to ice the cake.

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Once your layers are cool, wrap each of them in plastic wrap and freeze them for a few minutes. this will make the icing process much easier.

When you are ready to ice your cake, check your layer order several times before you place them on your cake stand. Trust me. The two middle layers look a lot a like and can be very deceiving. Do a rough ice and then finish it off with, you guess it, more buttercream.

I like to keep this cake in the fridge between servings because let’s face it, it’s going to take you at least a week to eat it all. Offer it up to friends or strangers that you just met. Everybody loves a good layer cake.

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Dunk tanks and Explosives

This weekend I flew home to celebrate my nephew’s 8th birthday, complete with a mix of water sports, explosives and cotton candy. I know what you’re thinking. What else could a bunch of 8 year-old boys want, right?

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I can take little to no credit for the party or the details because my sister handled it all herself. Perks of moving thousands of miles away I guess. Since Owen’s birthday falls just after the holiday, he’s chosen to celebrate it outside shooting water at his friends for the past several years. And this year was no different, except that he decided he wanted it to be Fourth of July-themed as well. Talk about a practical kid!

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My sister rented a cotton candy machine and a dunk tank. We held the entire party outside in my parent’s backyard and sprinkled in a few kid-friendly fireworks, complete with a Jake-led water gun crew to put out the flames once the show was over. These boys are all on a baseball team together so it was the perfect mix of sports and sugar.

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owen's 8th birthday, golden birthday, red white and blue themed party, fourth of july birthday party ideas, water sports, dunk tank, firework birthday party, boy birthday party ideas, cotton candy

Happy Golden Birthday Owen! I’m so glad I was able to celebrate with you this weekend!




Cupcakes and Ice Delis

Please accept my apology for ignoring the blog late last week. I had plans to fly home and surprise one of my best friends for her 30th birthday and I was not entirely confident in my ability not to spill the beans. All of them. All over the table and the floor. I love surprise parties, but I get really nervous having to lie to people to pull them off. When you use as many words as I do in a standard conversation, you really have to tread carefully. Fortunately, recently moving out of state gives you a pretty good excuse for missing large events so I had a pretty good alibi.

I flew home Friday evening just in time to join the celebration and catch up with some of my girlfriends. It was a great weekend with friends and family and lower humidity.

baseball game, nephews, little league baseball, boys


grace, puppy, bailey, chocolate lab, toddler, hugsice deli, boys, family, snow cones, summer, nephews

Here’s hoping I can get a few projects started at my parent’s house before they read this and call to stop me. Have a great week!



Moving Day

Hey there. Me again. Back after a brief hiatus with more photos and fewer words. I promise I’ll be back on a regular schedule once we are all moved in but until then I hope you’ll settle for a photo update of the last few days.

Friday was spent down in Champaign celebrating with family and friends before the 5th running of the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. Technically this year marks the 6th annual race but this was the 5th year of our family running let’s just go with that.

christie clinic illinois marathon, racing, half marathon, champaign, family,

It was so nice to see my Champaign family and to squeeze the little ones before we leave. We were blessed (and cursed) with nice weather throughout the weekend as well, making for a very hot race the next day.

christie clinic illinois marathon, racing, half marathon, champaign, family,

Jake and Owen came over for the youth run on Saturday well-prepared with their under armor superhero shirts. I missed the run but highlights included Jake getting a side stitch approximately 30 seconds into a 1K distance, Owen blazing to the finish and Jake asking the volunteer why he was getting a medal if he didn’t win.

Saturday evening we celebrated our move with some of our closest Chicago friends. I feel very blessed to have had these girls (and guys) in my life over the last 6 years and will miss them so much. It’s so nice to have a bunch of people to look forward to visiting each time we come back though.

chicago going away party, haymarket pub, friends, Chicago

Approximately 4 hours of sleep later we were onto Sunday where we celebrated the upcoming arrival of the first grandchild on Matt’s side. If you can’t tell by the shower colors, it’s a girl.

girls baby shower, tassel garland, candy bar, sweets table, diaper cake, pink baby shower,

5 or so hours of sleep later it was moving day. Chicago sent us off just about the same way it treated us all winter long with gray skies and wet conditions but we made the most of it. We had a bit of a fiasco with our movers last-minute so we called in some family to help us make the trip. Once the truck was packed, Matt and his brother started the trip down and I headed to Springfield to pick up my dad and Finn.

spring weather, chicago moving day, moving truck

I’m not typically one to consider signs but I am now convinced that Bloomington hates me. You may recall I ran into a big winter storm coming through Bloomington a few months back so I guess it’s only fitting to get hit with a tornado warning on my last trip home.

So dad and I hit the road early this morning with the hope of making it to our new home in a day or so. Matt and his brother are of course already nearly there thanks to a few naps and a lot of caffeine.

Next stop, Florida.


Happy Birthday Jake!

Today is my youngest nephew Jake’s fourth birthday.

jake turns 4, what 4 year olds say, 4 year old funnies

It’s hard to believe we’ve only had four years of this precocious kid, but the laughter and joy he brings to our family is immeasurable.

It seems like just yesterday I was begging the concierge at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn to go wake up my dad so we could make the drive from Chicago to Springfield in time for Jake’s arrival. Fortunately for my sister, he came much faster than his older brother and fortunately for my dad and I, the concierge agreed.

brothers, jake birthday, jake and owen

Jake’s 4-going-on-14 personality can partially be attributed to his older brother Owen. Even with a good role model however, it’s been clear from the beginning that Jake would dance to the beat of his own drum. He’d also beat a lot of things, but let’s save that for later.


Jake is all boy. He has been from day one. If something can be used as a weapon, you better believe he will find a way to use it as one. If an object can be scaled, he will climb it. If there is a song to be sung, he will sing it with utmost enthusiasm. And if there are miscellaneous items missing from any one location, he’s your pirate and those items make up his booty.


He’s sweet too though, often telling his mommy how much he loves her, snuggling with Nana and letting his brother pick him up and carry him even as they get closer in size. Yes that last one is also because he’s incredibly lazy but let’s go with sweet for the sake of this paragraph.


But beyond all these traits, the thing I love most about Jake is his sense of humor. He’s funny. And not just in a toddlers do funny things kind of way, but in a this kid has pure comedic timing and he’s going to get into a lot of trouble over the years kind of way.


I can’t wait to be along for the ride. Happy 4th Birthday Jake!

Jake dances to pitbull from Sarah Murphy on Vimeo.

Everything is Awesome

My apologies for the delay in posting and for getting this tune in your head for the rest of eternity.

I traveled home this weekend to see my family and pick up my pooch. I was supposed to pick him up the weekend before but the roads were bad so we pushed it off a week. By this point Finn had been vacationing at Nana and Papooch’s palace for nearly three weeks. They insist that he was ‘no trouble at all,’ but 100 pounds of bark and fur surely takes its toll on empty nesters after a while. So on Friday, under sunny skies and cool temps, I headed south to Springfield.

Everything was awesome until I hit Bloomington.

winter road conditions, bloomington, winter weather, accidents

I like to think I’m pretty comfortable driving in the snow but this was some of the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced. The whiteout hit so fast that it caused miles of pileups and accidents. I think I heard on the radio once I was through Bloomington that there were at least 40 cars involved. Fortunately my self-talk and yoga breathing helped me through the worst of it and I only added an extra hour or so to my trip. It could have been much worse.

I made it home and was greeted by this crazy dude shortly thereafter.

Wet puppy kisses. Awesome.

Since it was Valentine’s Day, we celebrated with the boys that evening. Apparently there is way more candy involved in the holiday than I remember as a child.

valetines day candy, boys, valentines day

Please note the Pease’s box from my dad. Awesome.

We kicked off Saturday with a gymnastics class for Jake at a new gym in Springfield. Jake was pretty pumped to try it out, especially after Owen told him you got to wear sweat pants to class each time.

jake gymnastics class, little gym springfield, simply social blog

Sweat pants and hanging apparatuses? Awesome.

Each class the kids work on basic skills like log rolling, hanging on the bar and listening to the teachers. Jake spent most of his first visit attempting an unsupervised back flip on the rings and running into the wall and falling for laughs from the audience.

Watching Jake in a gymnastics class. Really Awesome.

After the class we grabbed lunch and then went to see the new Lego movie, hence the theme of this post. My sister and I laughed just as much as the boys did, especially when they used subversive adult jokes and mispronunciations of common human items like golf balls, band aids and super glue.

On Sunday I spent the morning playing in the snow with this guy. I know one dog who is going to be very sad when his unlimited supply of snowball snacks have melted.

swissy snow, greater swiss mountain dog, finn, puppy

We headed back to the city later that afternoon in time to celebrate the birthday of the last of the baby season girls, Ella. Well not really. She was asleep by the time I got there and I just wished her a happy birthday from the door and then snuggled up on the chair until her parents got back home from the JT concert.

ella first birthday, simply social blog

photo credit Leanne Benkso

Birthday cake and Justin Timberlake. Awesome.

By now you should have sung the “Everything is Awesome” song in your head at least three times. If not go ahead and click play again and I’ll leave you with one more.

greater swiss mountain dog

It’s supposed to break 40 degrees today. AWESOME!

Have a great week!

on holiday lulls

I must admit I’m feeling a bit melancholy now that Christmas is over. Perhaps it was the mid-week occurrence or the late Thanksgiving this year, but it just doesn’t seem like it should be over yet.

I am very grateful for some time off work to celebrate with friends and family, but I can’t help but feel that familiar let down now that the season and year are coming to an end. It all just flew by so fast! One minute Mariah is telling me I’m all she wants for Christmas for the 75th time, the next I’m surrounded by piles of boxes ready for the recycling bin.

Wah. Wah. Wah.

It could be that we typically plan a ski trip between Christmas and New Years, but this year our schedule just didn’t work out. Note to self: plan a vacation after Christmas next year to avoid the post-Christmas lull.

So instead of living in the lack of Christmas present, let’s reflect on the recent Christmas past, shall we?

In the last week, we cheered on the Illini to a win over Mizzou in the annual Braggin’ Rights game:

Illinois Mizzou Braggin Rights game, st. louis, broadway oyster bar, basketball, arch

Best friends were made, vans were tested for capacity limits and cousins were reunited on a cold and rainy Saturday in St. Louis.

On Monday, we shopped:

I had the pleasure of hanging with one of my nephews earlier this week where we were tasked with completing other family member’s last minute shopping. Since running errands doesn’t exactly thrill most 7 (or 29) year-olds I decided to turn the day into a scavenger hunt.

We started at Target, an oh-so familiar location for my nephew, where I picked up a few items and got a lesson on the difference between regular and SWAP Force Skylanders. Once we were ready to check out, the clue for our next location was given.

Within a few hours, we had 5 stops under our belt and were ready for lunch. We hit up local favorite McCormicks, where Owen drew in some a la carte clues to signify our trip to back to Target and the chocolate chip cookie we were having for dessert.

scavenger hunt, nephew, frozen movie date, disney's frozen

Our final clue took us to the movies to see Frozen. To fit with the theme, we bought an ICEE that cost us as much as our ticket and giggled our way through the afternoon. Frozen was a super cute movie. Funny jokes for kids and adults alike and minimal scary parts. I say that because I only had to remind O once that I wouldn’t dare let a Disney princess die on my watch. We agreed that Olaf was our favorite, followed closely by Sven the reindeer who reminded us of another big goofy animal we both know well.

sven frozen swiss mountain dog puppy

The rest of the time,  we baked:

thumbprint christmas sugar cookies, holiday sugar cookies with sprinkles, red and green christmas cookies

My mom and I share the habit of continuous baking. It’s a blessing really. As the holiday drew near, we alternated use of the oven to bake batch after batch of holiday treats, well-knowing we had more than enough to go around. Scones, muffins, cookies, quiche, cookies and more cookies. Even the boys got in on the fun by icing a few of my leftover sugar cookies. My favorite was the green present on the right that J layered with surprise sprinkles.

kids royal icing christmas sugar cookies, present cookies, snowman cookies, holiday iced sugar cookies by kids

When Christmas Eve finally rolled around, we headed to mass and then home for dinner and presents.

christmas tree christmas presents simply social blog

We traditionally change into pajamas for this portion of the evening, but Jake introduced a new wear your Halloween costume element to this year’s festivities. Who doesn’t love to watch Captain America open Christmas presents?

christmas presents captain america, christmas tree, simply social blog

As usual, we all ate too many sweets, got too many gifts and had a wonderful holiday.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday as well. I’m off to try and sweat out some more sprinkles and reminisce about one heck of a year.

Photographic ramblings

Today, instead of my normal ramblings, I’m going to pretend to be a photographer and share with you a “client post.” You know, kind of like this one. Just kidding. Can you tell I spent incessant amounts of time swooning over her yummy light skillz? Can you believe a daughter of writers would allow skillz to be written in her blog? Yeah me neither.

I’m no photographer. I have a camera with a decent lens that I use for pretty much everything (i.e. cookies and pumpkin muffins). I’ve taken a few photography classes so I am at least confident enough to have avoided my auto setting for a few years now, but I still have a long way to go. All those things considered, my sister still asks me to get a few shots of my nephews each year for her Christmas cards.

Let me tell you how it goes down.

Can you bring your camera home this weekend?

Sure. What for?

I need a picture of the boys. 

A picture. Just one. No pressure right? Wrong.

Nearly every year we get stuck with crappy weather. Combine that with my amateur photog status and some very impatient boys and you’re in for a real treat. Photographers don’t get paid enough. Come to think of it neither do I. They may make those shots look easy but chances are they had to reference farts, poop and butts at least 50 times in order to get a good smile.

simply social blog, photography, nephews

I wonder what kind of faces you would get if you used this tactic on girls? 

The moral of the story is that even though we had less than ideal settings last year, my favorite images were the ones where I could see the boys’ personalities come out. And that’s something that I think shines through even without yummy light.

simply social blog, photography, nephews

So this year I was excited to wake up to warm sunshine on Sunday morning. I immediately text my sister and said that we were coming over before church to take advantage of the good light and the not-yet-sleepy-or-hungry-or-cranky boys.

Wouldn’t you know just as we pull into the driveway the rain starts. You can read more about the storm we had this weekend here.

Believe it or not in just about 10 minutes, I managed to get the boys to agree to 4 locations, all of which were surrounding my sister’s house. Here’s a tip for parents who want a good shot of your kids. Don’t make it too difficult. Take pictures of them where they live, where they play. They will be more likely to agree with you if they don’t have to work as hard. If that doesn’t work, bribe them with candy.

We started on the porch swing but I wasn’t loving the shadows and I didn’t have much time to manipulate my camera for fear I would lose them forever.

photography, children, nephews, springfield illinois, simply social blog

So we quickly moved over to the side of the house to get a few shots along the brick wall. My sister had originally wanted to go downtown to get a similar shot, but I was hoping we could capture the same effect just a few steps away.

photography, children, nephews, springfield illinois, simply social blog

The little one is best when you catch him off-guard…and before he runs away. Don’t ask him to smile. Just patiently wait for him to let his guard down and he’ll give you the sweetest look ever.

photography, children, nephews, springfield illinois, simply social blog
There were a lot of what I like to call “the lookaway” photos in the bunch. But here’s a tip. If you snap fast enough, the lookaway can lead to a lookrightatcha.

photography, children, nephews, springfield illinois, simply social blog

So now we are on the side of the house walking to the backyard. Knowing how much the older one likes to pose with his hands in his pockets I decided to have them stand against the fence.

photography, children, nephews, springfield illinois, simply social blog

This is how it started.

photography, children, nephews, springfield illinois, simply social blog

Serious pose. #nailedit. I’m nearly 30 and I still just look constipated whenever I try it. I’d love to show you the next in the series but I don’t want to ruin the surprise for those of you getting this year’s Christmas card. Hint-they both smile and look at the camera. I love surprises. Sue me.

We’ll end with my favorite photo of the bunch. If I could go back I would have taken the 10 seconds I needed to adjust my focus so Owen isn’t blurry. But had I done that I might have missed out on my favorite Jake face.

photography, children, nephews, springfield illinois, simply social blog

So there you have it. 4 locations in one. 10 minutes. HOHOHO Merry Christmas.

photography, children, nephews, springfield illinois, simply social blog

Hope you are having a great week. Be sure to hug your photographer the next time you have a session.