WINNERS and an apology

Congratulations to the Katie Evans ebook winner:  Beth Orris!  In the spirit of keeping things honest, I admit that that's my mom, but I didn't rig the contest in her favor... PROMISE!  Here's a snapshot of the screen:

had to crop it here to exclude her email address :)

I'm thrilled that my mom won because she's been on the fence about getting a DSLR and this cinches it for her. She plans to spend her retirement snapping photos... perhaps she'll even takes a few pics of me (the hazard of being the family photo journalist is that there are very very few pics of me with the girls).  Also, she's right next door so we can learn from each other!  And really, it's all about ME :)


And the Rugrat Design Monet Roll winner is:  Christie Ewing Holmes!  I forgot to take a screen snapshot :(  Sorry, it was entry #9.  Congratulations Christie!  You're kids are going to love it and you're going to love whipping out something so stylish at restaurants!


As for the apology, this past weekend we had a wonderful OPEN HOUSE for our greenhouse/farm.  Prepping & cleaning up for that has left me beat.  Throw in normal life things and keeping up with my paid writing gigs, I'm dreadfully behind schedule with the posts I want to write for myself.  Day by day... oh dear Lord...


Check me out!

A new writing opportunity has arrived and I'm thrilled!  I'm now a writer for Word Of Mom ... the newest addition to the What To Expect When You're Expecting franchise.  I'm still feeling my way through this new endeavor, but basically we're a group of mom reporters chiming in on all things related to parenting & kids in the media.

Here's my first article... I decided to jump feet first into one of the most CONTROVERSIAL topics out there :)

*I THINK I get paid depending on how much traffic my articles drum up, so feel free to share my article to anyone you think would be interested :)


basket of babble :: Heidi update

Heidi is coming out of her shell and it sounds & looks like this "nah gab bah bab.  blow raspberries."  climb into basket.  squint at mama.  kiss every picture in every book book (but not mama).

She is a hoot!  Still ridiculously good natured, but less likely to smile, more likely to squint and purse her lips.

She's entered the stage where she actually PLAYS independently!  Digging into baskets looking for a toy...then choosing the least fun thing in there (one puzzle piece, silk scarf, drum stick).  She's dancing with us, climbing onto my lap for cuddles and story time, signing "more" and "all done"...

But mostly, she's CLIMBING INTO BASKETS for her own reading time.  Here are just two photos of her favorite activity.  If only I could teach her to put things back INTO the basket once she climbs out :)


fountain of youth

Recently, Hazel discovered a new weapon.  TRUTH.

The other day as I prepared to take the girls with me to Home Depot, Hazel said, "Someday I go to Home Depot BY MYSELF."

Surprised, I replied, "No honey, mommy or daddy take you to Home Depot."

"But someday I GROW UP!"

My jaw dropped and my heart stopped as I slowly turned toward her, the truth cutting through me like an ice pick.

"What did you say?"  I asked in astonishment.

"Someday, I grow up, Mama."  (the "duh" was implied in her tone)

Now, I don't know who told her about this concept, but I was certainly unprepared for this little girl to be so wise... and right :)

Since she LOVES to get a reaction out of me, this is now her favorite thing to tell me:  "Someday, I cross the street BY MYSELF.  Someday, I cook hot dogs BY MYSELF. and so on and so forth...covering all important aspects of life."

Fortunately, I thought of the perfect antidote to the sadness I feel.

Today, I told Hazel, "You will grow up, but you will ALWAYS BE MY BABY!"
"NO I WON'T!", was her reply.
"And I will always be your mama!", was my reply.

This concept has her a little confused, but I've got the upper hand....whether or not I ever let her cross the street by herself or not (leaning towards the latter).

Mama + Baby = TLA


A journey down memory road :: Appalachian Trail excons

Inspired by the GIRL WHO TRAVELS post, I've been doing a lot of reminiscing about past adventures.  One of my hardest & favorite teachers used to say "I learn from other people's mistakes so that I don't have to make them myself."

That quote has served me well many many times as I strive to do just that.  HOWEVER, when it comes to traveling, sometimes the most memorable events are the mistakes/accidents!  Throughout the next month, I'm going to share some of my "favorite" travel memories.  Flooded bathroom in Moscow? check!  Geriatric excursions in the Alps?  check!  Crouching under boulder during hailstorm in Wyoming?  check!

My first tale... looks like this (in my memory):
scene from O Brother Where Art Thou

When Farmer Jake and I started dating, we were both really active in our outdoor interests (as opposed to now when our gear collects dust).  He had been section hiking the AT (Appalachian Trail) for a few years and had made it from Georgia to North Carolina.  I had fallen in love with back packing, but had only really explored the Adirondacks and was anxious to jump on the AT bandwagon.

After a few months of dating, we loaded up our gear (after I was revolutionized and retaught by this book)

Jake had just returned from an intense 5-week backpacking course with NOLS and I was a bit awe-struck by his expertise.  I would (and will) follow this man ANYWHERE.  However, now I do so with a bit more insight and a bit less perpetually-pleasant-nature despite the circumstances (which reminds me, I'll have to tell you about our first real date... that left me black & blue for weeks).

You see, Jake was a marathon runner.  Without effort, he is always in shape.  Without training, he ran an ultra marathon (70 miles).  He hasn't run for at least 2 years, but I'll bet you my retirement account (joke's on you!) that he could up and run a marathon right NOW.  Freak?  Yup!

So, hiking the AT with this guy was naively ambitious of me.  Hiking North Carolina's trail was naively hard core of me.  It looks something like this:  switchback, switchback, switchback VIEW of mountain range, switchback, switchback, switchback, VIEW of valley, REPEAT.  FEEL THE BURN!

Try as he might, Jake could NOT keep down with my pace (as opposed to keeping up, get it?).  Ever the loner, I encouraged him to walk ahead for large chunks of the day.  Actually, I just wanted to sweat and curse in peace and not keep up the "chipper, ever glamorous Julie routine".

It WAS a beautiful hike.  Beds of pine needles, crisp streams, backpacker camaraderie with the others on the trail, gourmet meals (Jake actually RISES BREAD in his pack while hiking!  My mind was blown.  It's why I married him.).  So many good memories.

One NOT SO GOOD MEMORY relates to the "Oh brother" picture.  I kid you not, that's almost EXACTLY how this memory looks in my brain.  I'm sure time has embellished it a tad, but not much, I promise you.

One afternoon, as I was enjoying a particularly shaded & level stretch of the trail, I was in my groove.  My pack seemed lighter and my pace seemed quick.  I was thinking, "I haven't seen Jake for a long time, surely he'll be waiting just around the bend".  Bend after bend, he wasn't there.  I began to feel a little frantic, thoughts constantly returning to 
In this book (an excellent, quick read!), Bryson tells a horrible story about 2 women hikers who were murdered on the trail.  Try as I might, I could NOT get that story out of my head.  

Determined to catch-up with Jake and gently (we were still in "new relationship" mode) admonish him for leaving me for so long, I continued to hike.  Along one particularly lonely stretch, I heard strange noises.  

From behind I heard the sound of RUNNING.  I turned to see TWO MEN IN JUMPSUITS running down the trail.  And I'm not talking about two REI clad hikers, no, I'm talking about 2 middle aged, unhealthily thin, nonbackpack wearing men....wearing JUMPSUITS (did I mention that?).  

"Was there a prison break?" was my first thought.  My second was "HOLY CRAP THESE GUYS ARE GOING TO NOTICE THAT I'M ALONE.  PLAY IT COOL".  I let them pass, thankfully, they barely noted my presence.  Clutching my Nalgene bottle like a deadly nightstick, I continued to hike in the same direction as they went, what choice did I have?  

Worried that they were crouching, prepared for attack around each corner, I about jumped in to Jake's lap when we met up not much later.  From then on, he was only around to be out of sight for 5 minute increments!

All in all, it was a wonderful trip.  However, the memory of those two men haunts me on every solo hike I go on!  I wish I knew the story behind that encounter... or perhaps it's better I don't!

YOUNG and eager to start our adventure!  Notice how my pack looks SO much bigger :)  Truth be told, I was carrying our clothes and double sleeping quilt.  Jake had all the heavy gear and food (sucker!).


Lovin' this: Date A Girl Who Travels

I found this through Jane Anger's (aka Amanda aka 1/2 of Tymanda) link on facebook.  Thanks Jane!

My comment says it best:  "Not only do I LOVE this post, it made me LOVE MYSELF a little more this afternoon as I watch kids play at my feet and remember that this rooted phase of life IS just a phase... because I AM A GIRL WHO TRAVELS :)

Read the post here:  http://www.solitarywanderer.com/2012/02/date-a-girl-who-travels/


Rugrat Design :: GIVEAWAY

So, who read that title and thinks I'm giving away a Rugrat?  I sure do have a few to spare ;)  Also, who wishes I'd stop starting every sentence with "So,"?  I can't control it!  Is it a PA thing?  Yes, let's blame my home state.

ANYWHO... you probably drooled over the adorable-ness of my 1-year old on Mother's Day.  Didn't see that post?  It's here.  Though she would elicit drool even if she was wearing a garbage bag (unbiased opinion), her dress was fit for a queen!

Recently I reconnected with a friend from college and was super excited to discover her Etsy business, Rugrat Design.  Her kids clothing line is exactly my style.  THIS coat makes me weak in the knees!

Some things never change and she's just as sweet as I remembered.  She sent me a gift box stuffed with items for my girls... and even a skirt for me!  Perhaps I'll post a photo of myself in the future... perhaps!

Her designs are low maintenance, the styles grow with the kid for YEARS of wear and are REVERSIBLE!  2 outfits for the price of 1!  Perfect for certain toddlers who like to smear peanut butter on their clothes at breakfast.  Perfect for the mama who likes to dress her kids in cute clothes on vacation, but has a really small car.  Perfect for having something fresh for each season.  Catch my drift?  Reversible kids clothes is where it's at folks!
Hazel in her reversible jumper.  Ties at the shoulder for quick adjustments.  (my model was refusing to stand up.) I had both girls in the more fall/winter prints since it was chilly out.  I can't wait to bust out the aqua paisley print on the reverse!

Heidi in her reversible pinafore dress.  Can you imagine how cute this will be as a tunic top next year?  

Each girl got a dress, a snack bag AND a mobile monet roll.  SWEET!  My absolute favorite is Heidi's pinafore style dress.  AACK... she is selling these dresses for $15 right now. Hurry, head over there and buy before she comes to her senses and triples the price (seriously, everywhere else that dress would be at LEAST $45!).  I've already washed Heidi's dress twice and it looks as good as new.  Granted, a quick touch with the iron is needed, but only after the dryer... not in between wears (since you start with TWO clean sides ;)

The snack bag makes us so much more chic and eco-friendly at church (anyone else low enough to resort to a constant stream of snacks in order to keep the kids quiet?).

Hazel asks for snacks 100,000 times a day.  At least she's now a stylin' muncher!

the velcro kind of closes itself which makes it harder for Heidi to immediately dump her Cheerios!

The crayon rolls are awesome for leaving in the purse for any impromtu coloring.  I've found that Hazel, my almost 3yo, enjoys taking the crayons in and out of the pockets as much as she enjoys coloring.  Another 2fer ;)
and I quote:  "Mama, I HINK (think) we should mail this to Annie"  Hazel asks to mail things to her cousin Annie ALL THE TIME!  Last night she wanted to mail her daddy's dufflebag after she saw that I have a suitcase.  Clearly, mama and daddy don't each need luggage.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Ideal Mama Day Gift :: the gift of time

As a young mother, I fantasize about TIME.  Uninterrupted naps.  A few quiet minutes to be still.  Time alone.

As a "seasoned" mother, I'm pretty sure my mom's perfect Mother's Day gift is time TOGETHER.

Different points on our motherhood journeys.

Our road trip to Chicago succeeded in giving us BOTH what we need.  I have been SPOILED ROTTEN!  Meals in delicious, unique restaurants.  Shopping w/o the baby (they actually hired a babysitter for afternoon shopping!).  Movie w/o the baby.  Long car rides when all I could do was... BE.

My mother got time with just Heidi.  Something neither of them often gets.  All weekend, 9 times out of 10, Heidi stretches out of my arms in order to be with her Llama; fulfilling her Mother's Day gift to each of us.

Hazel and her father are having a BLAST!  Not the teary "I WANT MAMA" evenings that I feared when leaving on this 4-night trip.  She is flourishing with the non-stop attention from her dad... and judging from the joy I hear in his voice, the feeling is mutual.

Each of us is connecting, growing, breathing, enjoying special times...

To all the amazing women out there...whether you are raising/ raised/ dream of/ let younger friends into your heart...HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

*one outtake from this morning's photo shoot:
classic Heidi facial expression

**Like her dress?  Stay tuned for more goodies and a giveaway from Rugrat Designs later in the week!


Four peas in a pod :: Happy Mother's Day

Mother's Day falls at such a perfect time.  Graduations, summer vacations, blooming flowers, spring planting, first picnics... so many things to cheer and energize.  

As for me, I'm in my groove.  FINALLY writing every day.  Regularly putting healthy meals on the dinner table.  Lovin' up my sweet girls.  Happily married and planning an exciting future with my husband.  Whittling down and prioritizing all my "shoulds" (marriage, kids, healthy foods, write. PERIOD.).

I have much to be thankful for.

Last year, Jake surprised me with this necklace that I had fallen in love with on our "babymoon".   This year, while emailing with Irina from My Little Kawaii, I mentioned how much I love her peapods and asked if she ever made them with 4 peas... to represent my Kosker quartet, "four peas in a pod".  She then surprised me and made this felted pea pod which hangs proudly in my kitchen.

HOWEVER, this Mother's Day, I've ripped my quartet in half!  SCANDALOUS!

Heidi and I are livin' it up in Geneva, Illinois (suburb of Chicago).  We're spending a blissful long weekend with my mother and our dear life-long friends, April & Whitney.  We did this a few years ago (here) and soon Whitney is moving to London... oh darn, guess we'll be heading to London for our next weekend away!  I'll share more about our wild weekend soon :)

Jake and Hazel also have a jam-packed weekend planned and she is sooo excited!  Wonder how many s'mores she's going to eat on their camping trip?  


I want to THANK YOU

One of my more peculiar, self-sabotaging, persistent, annoying, shameful traits is my inability to write THANK YOU notes.  It would be an entirely different matter if I wasn't keenly aware of this fault.  If I was a person who simply didn't send thank you cards and didn't think twice about it, I would probably live 10 years longer.

image from here  
After every holiday, I purchase or make thank you cards.  I make detailed lists with little boxes next to each generous gifter, which I will CHECK with satisfaction when the card is completed.  I update my address list.  I buy stamps.  I place all these items in the same spot.  AND THEN THEY SIT THERE SNEERING AT ME.  You didn't know that thank you cards were sinister, did you?

MINE ARE!  They beacon me with their bony cardstock fingers.  They mock me each time I pass by.  They haunt me in the previously blissful state between awake & sleep.

And yet... there they remain.

Heidi's thank you cards (from her birthday on March 30th) have been cluttering up my buffet for WAY OVER A MONTH.  I know that it would take less than an hour to get this monkey off my back....

...but I'd rather write this blog post.  Perhaps it's time to shove them in the box with her birth thank you cards?  'Cause that's how I win.  I show those creepy creepersteins who's boss and pack them away.

If only my dear mother hadn't taught me the importance of thank you cards.  If only I could crash through this mind trap and tame those beaconing cards...


Best day of Hazel's life :: switching to Aperature mode.

Yesterday was CAMP BLAST.  A FREE day at Camp Lutherlyn, the greatest place on earth.  Farmer Jake and I met at Lutherlyn, we both worked on summer staff (separately, he's old), we go there as often as possible, we support them financially any time we can scrape an extra dollar out of our budget, our girls were both baptized there, I met my brother-in-law there (you're welcome, sister), we met many of our best friends there...

Though Hazel has been there many times (she surprised me by remembering that last year at Heidi's "birthday"/baptism, we had cupcakes.  she was temporarily disappointed to discover that cupcakes aren't always served in the Amphitheater), yesterday was the first time she was old enough to partake in some "camp" activities.  She's a happy girl, so I've seen her giddy with glee many times.  But yesterday, she positively GLOWED!

1/160s, f/5.3, ISO 400
Hazel and Susie.  Another "LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT" brought to you by Camp Lutherlyn!

As for me, I dug in to the 2nd chapter of Katie Evans Photography e-book... EXPOSURE.  This entailed me spending a lot of quality time with the camera's owners manual.  Oi Vey!  I found buttons I'd never even noticed!  The more I read, the more questions I have.  These cameras are so fancy that every lesson refers to other lessons and I embark down an endless road of fiddling with settings.  I hope/pray/am confident that by the end of the month, I'll have mastered some of these elements and understand some of these settings.

Yesterday my goal was to experiment with APERATURE.  Katie has a great crash course on aperature on her blog.

However, *CONFESSION*, the above picture was taken on "Auto".  I just couldn't risk missing this moment!  For most of the day, as I snapped away, I would randomly spin the aperature adjustment dial:  Take one pic, spin dial, take another pic, spin dial, take another pic.  Each time, I panicked and all understanding of aperature went out the window.  So, I figured I'd take multiple pics of the same things and hope one of them was SPOT ON.  

Now, aperature is more about the focus.  However, when shooting on "A", as YOU adjust the aperature, the camera adjusts the other settings.  So most of my experiments ended up being way too bright!  Here's a peek at two consecutive shots and the difference in the exposure:
let's all pretend we don't notice that my daughter is a bully.

The sad thing is, THOSE are my best examples.  It was a day of pitiful shots (and changing wrong settings when I thought I was changing aperature)  :)  

The SMALLER aperature (f/10... it confuses me to no end that HIGH NUMBER = SMALL APERATURE) photo is over exposed, the movement is blurred and the grass in the top of the frame is in focus.  The LARGE aperature (f/4.8) was more appropriate for the situation as the girls are in focus and the background begins to blur.

Here's hoping for hitting the learning curve this week...

Feel free to enter my ebook giveaway and join me on mastering your DSLR!


BYO marshmallows

This post brought to you by Flood Wood Care. All opinions are 100% mine.

I have a dream... for bunches of my friends to show up on Friday or Saturday nights and make themselves at home around our campfire.  They will come uninvited simply because they love the space and know that it is available to them.

We have a circular driveway which surrounds this space:
Blech!  NO ONE wants to hang-out here!  boo hoo!  or to put a positive spin on it... a BLANK canvas.

Last year we had it filled and (mostly) leveled.  We planted some grass and trimmed some overgrown trees.  However, it needs some MAJOR work!  I would like to:
  • add a fire pit (the type you can toast your piggies on)
  • add seating around fire pit (wooden benches with backs?  increase the comfort factor with a few throw pillows and won't have to bring all the chair in every night!)
  • add twinkle lights
  • have low-maintenance, perennial gardens encircling 2/3rds of it
  • refinish the picnic table
  • repaint and recover the circular table & matching chairs
  • balance the fire by adding a water element
  • grow grass (a novel idea)
My vision:  
 plus this: 

I have a LONG way to go!  I'd LOVE any tips from my Koskereaders on what kinda of plants would work well in this area!

Let's start with that patched-up picnic table.  Last year we moved it aside when we were having the space filled & leveled.  However, the dump truck took out one side of it.  Farmer Jake repaired it and it's better than ever, but an unpleasant mix of new wood and aged wood.  It needs a nice stain.

Entrez-vous, Flood® Wood Care, "The Wood Care Specialist".  I think they can help me take one giant leap forward with beautifying my space.  I'm all about any product that makes it simple and easy to take care of outdoor wood furniture.  I have no time for peeling paint, cracked varnish or blotchy stain :)  Now my biggest problem is deciding what color stain to go with...   oh, and figure out how to make those circular benches (ahem, Dad, need a project? *batting my eye lashes*).

Flood® Products are the best option for those of us that want high-end looking wood furniture for a DIY budget!  Maybe I'll like my picnic table and benches so much that I'll be brave enough to tackle one of the THREE porches on our house that are in dire need of a deep clean & refinish.  maybe... ;)
Visit Sponsor's Site


Here's the carrot

Hi friends,

I hate being annoying, but it comes SO naturally to me!  That SocialSpark contest I told you about, well, I went from the top 50, to the top 10!  Pretty sweet!  And that's just from my nearest and dearest bloggy friends jumping on board.

I wanna end with a bang... and win those Mac computers!

Help me win and I will have a sweet giveaway just for those who got me there :)

This all has to be completed by 11:59pm tomorrow (Friday).

Thanks! Here's my link:  http://izea.in/r1IO9


This one's for you Nato! #CoronaRita

This post brought to you by Chili’s Grill & Bar. All opinions are 100% mine.

When I was in college, my roommate was a hostess & waitress at Chili's.  Though I have many nice things to say about "Nato", one of the sweetest things she would do was to bring me a take-out container of tortilla chips and skillet queso.  YUM-O!  Now, when hubs and I leave "the farm" and drive somewhere with restaurants, I cross my fingers and toes hoping to find a Chilis... just for that appetizer!
Google Image Result for http___www.findthatlogo.com_wp-content_uploads_2011_07_chili-large-logo.jpg.jpg
Yes, there is NOTHING better than scarfing down skillet queso while retaping twinkle lights around your dorm room at 2am.  Anyone else have fond memories of trying to create a non-flourscent environment in their room while battling cinder blocks which repel all forms of adhesive?  PLUS, I'm a little finicky and insisted on taping EACH twinkle light so that they all pointed in the same direction...  There's a good reason why I've only had 3 non-relative roommates in my entire life (and I married one of them!).

Oh yes, Nato and I had a lot of fun!  We had a mini fridge stocked with hot dogs, pickels & strawberry daquiri WINE COOLERS.  We were the epitome of HIP college students :)  (for the record, I fell out of bed the first time I saw her snack on a hotdog and pickel at 10pm!  no, I was the HEALTHY roommate, chugging Mountain Dew and inhaling cheese puffs.  oh, my taste buds have come a loooong way.  my arteries and heart are so thankful!)

Now that we are older, wiser & classier, I'd LOVE to meet up with Nato and catch-up on the past way-too-many-years-since-we've-connected!  However, this time, I want to sit in a booth, each with our OWN appetizer of skillet queso and sip on a the perfect girls night out drink:  CoronaRita sm.jpg

Mmm, a CoronaRita at Chili's!  We've come a long way from those tasty wine coolers and hidden liquor cabinet amidst our sweaters!  Does this bring back memories for anyone else?

DISCLAIMER:  You must be 21 years or older to drink alcoholic beverages and as always, please remember to drink responsibly!
Visit Sponsor's Site

shameless and hopeful

Hi friends, in typical Julie fashion, I'm joining the party in the 12th hour.  See, after a month of ignoring a contest on SocialSpark, I've decided to try.  They're currently offering a prize package of about $3,500 of Mac products to the member who refers the most people.

My referral link:      http://izea.in/r1IO9

This would change my world!  A computer that works!  A Mac!  Two Macs!  Photo editing awesomeness!

I see that one of the top runners has referred FIVE people.  I've referred 3!  So, even if you never actually use your blog or never intend to write a sponsored post, PLEASE take a few minutes to sign-up.  The contest ends tomorrow (Friday) @ 11:59EST.

If I win, I will be rewarding my "helpers" ;)