monument avenue 10k race recap (2017)

This was my second year running the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k, and I had even more fun this year than last!

I convinced Karl to do this as his very first race, and I was so excited to be able to start together! Any reason to see my brother is a good one, especially now that he lives several hours away from us. Credit goes to my dad, who came to cheer us on, for these first couple of photos!
Karl and I started at the same time, but we didn’t stick together- I told him I’d see him at the finish line, and I took off! I started a little fast, but I decided to keep it up for as long as I could (and pass up some of the slower groups).Apparently, I also do really weird things with my fingers while I’m running…I took the first half a little too fast, and I really started to feel it around mile 3.5 or so. I slowed down, but still tried to stay within my goal pace of 9:00 min/mile. At the finish, I clocked in at 53:34, which was an average of 8:37 min/mile. While training here in the mountains, my best 6-miler averaged out to 9:14 min/mile, so shaving off that much time made me ecstatic!Last year, I was so nervous for this race, because I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, and dealing with a lot of nausea and fatigue. My only goals last year were to finish and keep the baby safe. This year, all I could think about was seeing my family and holding my sweet little Nella at the finish line. It’s amazing how much can change in just one year. Photo-bomb courtesy of Karl!Jeff and Lelia ran too, and we met up with them afterward! Lelia gets some serious credit for doing this at 30 weeks pregnant. Mom and Dad Irwin also came to see us finish, but they had to leave shortly after.
Of course, there had to be donuts afterward, so we picked some up and hung out at Jeff and Lelia’s place for a little while. These were delicious, but I’ve realized that almost anything tastes amazing after a run.Here’s to another race down, and more to come- I’ve got the fever now!

christmastown, cousins, and crazies

The Christmas posts just never seem to end around here, right? Thankfully, it’s because we had so many family members to visit and enjoy the season with this past holiday.

A few days after celebrating Christmas at home, we headed down to visit Michael’s side of the family! Kevin and Tori flew in from Utah- it had been about a year and a half since we last saw them! We had never met our nephew Jack before, so needless to say, we were pretty excited!

I instantly fell in love with Jack (sweet sweet baby boy!), and my girls really loved playing with him, too. It was so fun to finally see the cousins together! Of course, I also had to get pictures of everyone meeting Nella! 🙂
And yes, there were plenty of Grandma cuddles for her, too.Kaya enjoyed some snuggling with Auntie Lelia!There were some presents, of course… … including a rainbow hat made by Grandma!This was the first time the older girls have slept in the same bed. At first, we heard some complaints of “she’s touching me!” and “she’s taking my animals!”, but eventually, they settled down and slept soundly.On the second day of our visit, we headed to Busch Gardens Christmastown! The last time we were there, Kaya was just 3 months old! It’s crazy how quickly everything changes with kids.
We wore our new hats made by my mom-in-law!I always love admiring the decorations. It almost feels like a world away from this one, made entirely of glowing lights and Christmas spirit.Kaya was old enough to ride the mini roller coaster this year! She was so excited when they pulled out of the station, and I knew she’d return either completely petrified or absolutely elated. Thankfully, she had the time of her life and even asked to go on it again! Seeing her so happy was the highlight of the trip for me, although hearing Michael, Kevin, and Jeff screaming all through the ride was pretty fun, too.Kaelyn was too little to ride most of the attractions, so we let her walk around and explore the brightly-lit trees for a bit.She did get to join everyone on this mini Mach Tower ride! I wish I had a better photo, but it was so dark that I couldn’t get my camera to focus. Good picture or not, these kids had a blast.I feel like I haven’t been able to go on rides for forever (being pregnant with three babies in four years will do that to you!), so it was extra-fun for me to join Grandpa Skip and Kaya on the bumper cars and flying swings. When everyone else headed to the train, Dad and I went on my all-time favorite ride. Busch Gardens calls it “Le Catapult”, but I think it has other names at different parks.Of course, we went to the Festhaus to warm up, eat dinner, and nurse the baby. It’s always nice to get a little break from the cold.
The girls really enjoyed watching the performance inside!On our last afternoon together, we took a family picture. I love having everyone all together (and let’s face it, I really lucked out and got some amazing in-laws).When we got home, they wanted a brother picture…… which quickly turned into chaos…… and… sorority squats? What?!And apparently, it only takes one minute of me not paying attention for my relatives to steal my phone and fill it up with a million surprise photos before we left that evening. I love these crazies!

pre-christmas visitors

The weekend before Christmas was one full of visitors! I absolutely love it when our friends and family take the time to drive up here and spend some time with us. We’ve seen so many people move out of our town, so I always end up feeling a bit nostalgic for the “good old days” when we get to visit with everyone again.

Ben and Brittany came to Virginia all the way from Texas to visit their family for Christmas, and spent a day and a half of their trip with us. It was fun to see how much their kids have grown in just 5 months. Kaya and Caroline were instant buddies! They played together all day.Brittany got to meet the baby! Nella was pretty comfortable and took a long nap in her arms.
Brittany and I had a girls’ getaway date to the craft store and Sweet Frog. It seems like Michael always takes the kids out for frozen yogurt when I’m not able to be there, so of course, we had to take a picture to send to him and make him a little jealous.It was a crazy-windy day, and eventually, the powerful gusts caused our power to go out. Ben and Brittany were going out for Brazilian food, so we decided to join them. I’d never tried any before, but I ended up really liking it! Who knew beans and rice could be so flavorful?
Kaya was pretty obsessed with Alice. I think she was amazed that a baby could play and move so much (compared to Nella, who’s still working on learning those things)!After Ben and Brittany went home, we got to hang out with Jeff and Lelia (and Fallon)! This was their first time meeting their newest little niece!
Lelia and I got in a good run together on Saturday morning, which is always my favorite part of her coming to visit. I completed my longest postpartum distance thus far- 6.4 miles, so despite the rain and slick trail, I was happy with my progress.
They couldn’t stay long, so they headed out in the early afternoon. I’m grateful for any time I can get with so many of my favorite people!

a rainbow horse birthday party (kaya’s 4th birthday!)

Kaya had been saying that she wanted a “rainbow Chance party” for the majority of the past year. Like most people, you probably have no idea who Chance is… Well, he’s a horse who lives over at the barn I used to volunteer at during college. His pasture was right behind our old neighborhood, so Kaya saw him fairly frequently. I don’t know what it is about that gray horse, but he’s been her favorite for quite a while!

She loved her rainbow party last year, so she requested that again, too. What’s better than rainbows and horses combined?

We kicked off her party day with her favorite donuts. Daddy took the girls to our local donut shop to pick them up, and of course, Kaya chose mostly chocolate cake donuts or chocolate-frosted ones with sprinkles!
_mg_5162 This cake… oh this cake. It might not look like much, but it turned out to be a major labor of love. I actually ended up decorating the entire thing twice because it fell apart overnight… and then it started drooping again before she blew out her candle._mg_5176I think the decorations failed to stay on because I used a new death-by-chocolate recipe that was incredibly moist (and also called for using cooking spray and no flour on the cake pans when baking). It was the easiest cake ever to remove from the pans… but that also meant that the frosting didn’t stay on well at all. It tasted amazing, and I’d definitely use the recipe again, but not for a birthday cake with any kind of buttercream decorations.

The horses are from Playmobil. They really are so cute and well-made, and I’m glad I chose these!_mg_5189This little girl loved her cake so much (and couldn’t wait to play with the horses, of course)!
_mg_5170 _mg_5174 She was so excited for us to sing to her!_mg_5200 _mg_5202 Seriously… this cake was almost as fudgy as a brownie. Mmm._mg_5206 _mg_5208 Some of her presents included undies…_mg_5211 …a Hello Kitty shirt…_mg_5212 … and a “Chance” stuffed animal. She had asked for a “Chance snuggly animal”, and her reaction was just as adorable as I had hoped._mg_5216 Chance has gone everywhere with us ever since. I think he’s going to be a long-term favorite!_mg_5217 Her big gift was this horse stable from Grandma Debbie. I think Lelia and I enjoyed playing with it just as much as Kaya!_mg_5225During all the present-opening, Kaelyn had a good time goofing off with Uncle Jeff. These girls sure do love their aunts and uncles. 🙂
_mg_5220 We kept the decorations as low-key as ever, but we did surprise her with these cute horse balloons!_mg_5232 She also got to wear a fun rainbow tutu, which pretty much made her day!_mg_5237 _mg_5240 Jeff and Lelia brought their puppy, Fallon, so my girls had a great time playing with her all weekend._mg_5246 After the party, we cooked breakfast for dinner. French toast…_mg_5248 … scrambled eggs, and bacon!_mg_5249

Kaya even had a perfect day in Primary at church on Sunday. She got to stand up in front of everyone with her special birthday card while everyone sang to her (and I might have teared up watching from the back of the room… motherhood does crazy things to you!). They also had a lesson about God’s creatures, so her teacher brought in a cat for them to visit with (if you know Kaya, you know she loves cats)!

With all her rainbows, horse gifts, playing with Fallon, and holding a cat in Primary, I think she really had the perfect birthday weekend.

Happy Birthday Sweetie! I hope this is one you remember!

a rubber ducky birthday party (kaelyn’s 2nd birthday!)

I’m finally blogging about Kaelyn’s 2nd birthday party! Anytime I take a lot of photos all at once, it seems like it takes me a while to actually go through them all and share them. I definitely snapped a lot of pictures that day (June 25th), in part because I’m still adjusting to the lighting in our new home, so I kept changing my camera settings and trying different things. Many of these photos aren’t perfect, but I’m grateful I have them to remember my littlest’s special day.

Anyway… Grandma Debbie came up to stay with us for a few days, and as seems to be tradition, Kaelyn took a nap on her right before the party! We started our celebrations at 2 pm, so this little catnap was actually very much needed in order to avoid an afternoon meltdown._MG_3257 Kaelyn absolutely loves rubber ducks and gets SO excited anytime she sees one that she has to yell “QUACK!” over and over again. I knew she would be ecstatic with these rubber duck balloons!_MG_3261 Hugs for the ducky!_MG_3264 Uncle Karl and Kaitlyn brought her some more fun balloons when they arrived!_MG_3407This was one seriously happy little girl._MG_3267 I made her cake super simple this year. The only real goals were for it to look like water and have some bubbles and rubber ducks on top._MG_3269 I used this lemon cake recipe (minus the blueberries) with this frosting recipe, which I think pretty much equaled perfection. What’s better than a lemon cake on a summer day? (Not to mention, I almost always make chocolate cake, so this was a nice change!)_MG_3276 _MG_3293 We started the party off with Kaelyn’s favorite food- pizza!_MG_3280 _MG_3282_MG_3283 _MG_3291_MG_3307 Soon it was time to blow out the candle (and she was still in love with her balloons)!_MG_3317 _MG_3314I am so blessed to call these two precious girls mine.
_MG_3325Kaya was extremely excited for the party, and it wasn’t even her birthday! She is definitely looking forward to her own special day in a couple of months._MG_3320 _MG_3329 Kaya ended up helping Kaelyn blow out the candle, because she had absolutely no idea what to do! We completely forgot to “practice” beforehand._MG_3333 Well… this is the best family picture we could get. I kind of think it’s hilarious._MG_3334 She loved her lemon cake!_MG_3345 Everyone had blue lips afterward…_MG_3347After cake, she opened a few gifts.
_MG_3353 _MG_3355 We gave her this VTech Horse Stable that both girls have loved building and playing with together._MG_3357 My mom’s friend, Susan, sent her this stuffed penguin and a couple of books. She loves stuffed animals so much that she snatched it out of the bag as fast as she could, with the biggest grin on her face._MG_3362Uncle Jeff and Auntie Lelia gave her some money for her 529 college fund. It’s definitely something she will appreciate when she’s older!_MG_3360

Grandma Debbie gifted her a rubber duck water table. Obviously, she has absolutely loved this over the past couple of weeks!_MG_3369 After gifts, I tried to get a couple of pictures of her in her birthday outfit, mostly to no avail. She did like standing next to Fallon (Jeff and Lelia’s dog), though._MG_3376 _MG_3380 We had to test out the water table, of course. Everyone ended up getting pretty wet!_MG_3384 _MG_3388 Kaya insisted that she needed her swimsuit… and when she came back out after changing into it, she was still wearing her undies and socks, haha!_MG_3392 We had one happy (and tired) princess at the end of the day. I really think this was the perfect birthday party for her._MG_3398

We love you, Kaelyn!

one million visitors

We’ve had a whole lot of visitors since we moved into our new home- not quite one million, but we’ve enjoyed hosting both sides of our families. It’s also been nice actually having a real guest room for them to sleep in!

My dad came up for a few days before Karl’s graduation to work on some house projects (repairing shelves, getting the dryer working, sanding down closet doors, and replacing all the locks were some of the things he did). Karl came over to hang out and help, too!_MG_1765 My mom arrived the day before graduation. The girls are always SO excited to see her! It probably doesn’t hurt that she always brings them some sort of surprise- this time it was sneakers for Kaelyn and new socks for Kaya._MG_1772 _MG_1778 Jeff and Lelia came to stay with us the next weekend! They were going to their friend’s vet school graduation, so in between those festivities, we got to spend some time with them. Lelia and I had a great 5.6-mile run together, and of course, their favorite nieces were more than happy to cuddle and give kisses._MG_2101My mom and dad-in-law stopped for a quick visit as they drove through here on their way home from Utah! _MG_2390We cooked breakfast for dinner and went on a walk to the playground.
_MG_2401_MG_2395_MG_2396

It’s been a busy month, but we’re so glad we have a fantastic family who wants to visit and spend time with us. We can’t wait to see them all again in just a few weeks for Kaelyn’s birthday party!

monument avenue 10k race recap

After being a runner for just over 7 years, I finally completed my first race! I probably never would have done it if Jeff and Lelia hadn’t signed me up, and although I will admit to being very nervous in the days leading up to it, I’m glad they encouraged me to do something new.

I was worried about the weather (it was projected to be freezing with some serious wind gusts), running around so many people (I always run alone!), and just coming out of it with a pace that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed about. Thankfully, mother nature surprised us all with much warmer temperatures than we were expecting, and all those other worries ended up not mattering at all.

Also, I apparently look very serious when I’m running.
0025

Since this was my first time, everything was new and amazing to me- all the people holding hilarious signs (my favorite was a lady with her dog: “Keep running, the dog farted!”), some people’s costumes (one person was wearing a full-on unicorn suit), the live bands, and just the surge of collective energy between all the runners.

Michael kept these super-cute kids entertained just a few tenths of a mile before the finish line while they waited for me. He snapped some photos, and they’re just too cute to not include, so…

Apparently Kaelyn was keeping my gloves warm for me!

Jeff, Lelia, and I all finished within a few minutes of each other. I think we were all freezing as soon as we stopped running!

I think Lelia summed up the day best when she posted this picture below on Facebook, so I’ll quote her here: “I cannot begin to express the love and pride going on in this picture. We’re one hardcore family!”

She gave me the best pep talk just minutes before the race. It was so heartfelt and motivating that I replayed the words several times in my mind as I was running… and I might have been tearing up a bit, too. I also started to tear up anytime I saw little kids holding stuffed animals on the sidelines, waiting to see their moms run by. Oh, motherhood-induced emotions.IMG_20160409_103042Here’s my official race time! I felt really great about how I did.monument10kclock My official pace was 9:12 min/mile, and my GPS watch said my splits were as follows:monument10ksplitsOf course, after running a few miles, you need to replenish your energy with donuts, right? Jeff and Lelia took us to a little donut place in Richmond called Sugar Shack, and it was amazing. That one on the bottom left is covered in KitKat pieces!

We spent some time relaxing with Jeff and Lelia at their apartment before heading back to my parents’ house for the rest of the day. My girls loved playing with their puppy, Fallon, and actually ended up tiring her out pretty well.

I’m so glad I was able to have this experience with some of my amazing family members. If you’ve never run a race… try it! I’m not sure when my next one will be, but this most likely won’t be my last.

the last of the holiday shenanigans

The weeks leading up to and following Christmas were packed with visitors and activities, so, I’m combining all these random moments into one post, and then I promise I won’t talk about Christmas for at least a couple of months. 😉

When we arrived home from visiting my parents on the Sunday night before Christmas, we spent a couple of hours with Jeff and Lelia, who had come into town while we were gone. We hung out for a couple hours, ate pizza, and exchanged gifts. Kaya and Kaelyn could not have been more excited about their new dress-up clothes! We’ve got a couple of fairy-winged cowgirls on our hands._MG_0462 _MG_0459 Jeff and Lelia surprised me with a race registration for a 10k in the spring! I’ve been running for 7 years now and have never entered a race. Insane!

Apparently I found the whole thing to be pretty hilarious…_MG_0451

On the night before Christmas Eve, our little family went out for Chinese food. I think my girls eat more in one sitting at this buffet-style restaurant than they typically do all week. Michael, can this be a new Christmas Eve Eve tradition? 🙂

The next morning, I made a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls to take to one of the seminary students. They had a class auction (where they could use their hard-earned “seminary bucks” to get rewards), and he bought both the tickets I put in. I’m flattered that someone likes these so much! We had a couple left over… so of course, they didn’t go to waste.

During naptime, we wrapped some presents, watched “A Christmas Story”, and snuggled some guinea pigs…

And of course, we made a few more gingerbread cookies._MG_0599 A few days after Christmas, we went down to our local Inn, where they always have a beautiful Christmas tree display._MG_0620 Kaya instantly fell in love with a glowing reindeer statue…_MG_0601

I dressed the girls up in their matching Christmas dresses (from Grandma Debbie) with hopes of getting a nice photo of them together in front of one of the trees. They were kind of being crazy, so this is the best we could do. I love my silly kids, and they both love their Kitties._MG_0634On New Year’s Eve, Ben, Brittany, and Caroline came to visit! They moved to Texas back in August, and this is the first time they were back in Virginia. I’m so glad we got to spend a whole day hanging out with them.
_MG_0647 Caroline was so sweet and so good at giving big hugs…_MG_0638 We got crazy playing Wii and just catching up. And yes, I have a blinking problem. Haha._MG_0651

I can’t believe that they will be a family of four next time we see them! I’m so grateful for good friends.And that wraps it up for 2015! 🙂

potatoes and seagulls (thanksgiving with the Irwins)

We’re already almost two weeks past Thanksgiving, and here I am still writing about it! Blogging gets hard during the holidays… there’s so much to blog about, but so little time to actually write it all!

Anyway, the day after Thanksgiving, we headed down to Michael’s parents’ home for our second celebration involving turkey! 🙂

Jeff and Lelia came too! The boys got to work on their multitasking- peeling potatoes while making the goofiest faces possible. I think they pretty much nailed it._MG_0062We had a delicious dinner… I’ll admit it, I can never resist eating an extra homemade roll (or two) on Thanksgiving._MG_0070Dad was working some long hours for the outage, so we didn’t get to see him for too long, but it was enough time to goof off with his grandbabies. _MG_0076Grandpa makes her giggle._MG_0072Don’t worry, there were lots of calm cuddles from Grandma, too._MG_0068The next morning (Saturday), we slept in (yes, you read that right… amazing), and headed over to the ferry to feed the seagulls. Kaya was so excited to ride on a boat._MG_0092_MG_0085_MG_0097She loved throwing pieces of bread through the gate and would laugh and squeal when the birds caught them (especially if they plunged down into the water)._MG_0100My mom-in-law can get the birds to take the bread directly from her hand!_MG_0081After getting off the ferry, we thought we’d just turn around, get right back on, and head home… but the line was long, so we decided to try out one of the playgrounds in Jamestown instead. It was the biggest playground I’d ever been on… and probably the coolest.

I mean, any playground that has a boat to play in has to be ranked pretty high on the awesomeness scale.
_MG_0104We spent some time just enjoying the unseasonably warm weather._MG_0109_MG_0116_MG_0120

And the very coolest part of this park was the huge ZIPLINE! Kaya surprised us all and went on it twice!

A video posted by Tara (@tarairwin) on

After about 40 minutes or so, we headed back to the ferry. Kaelyn actually stayed awake for the ride home and loved looking at the birds for the first time._MG_0122_MG_0125Simple outings like these oftentimes turn out to be my favorites. I love seeing the wonder and joy of the world through my children’s eyes.
_MG_0126

a “rainbow rainbow cat” birthday party

I can’t believe it, but Kaya’s 3rd birthday party has already come and gone! It always feels like I spend more time preparing for it than the amount of time the party actually lasts.

This year was the most fun by far, because she had been asking about her birthday for months (especially after seeing Kaelyn have a special cake and presents). She all but counted down the days… she was so excited! When she woke up on Saturday morning, she immediately looked down the hallway to see if I decorated… and the biggest grin came over her face when she saw the streamers. She ran through them and excitedly proclaimed “it mine birt-day!” several times.

Michael took her down to the local bakery (a.k.a. the best place in town) to get some special birthday donuts. Can you tell what kind we like the most?

_MG_9252We practiced singing and blowing out the candles at breakfast! 🙂 _MG_9254 _MG_9255 We moved the table and put up some balloons and streamers (thank you to Lelia and my mom for lending me a hand)!_MG_9267 _MG_9269 Kaya’s request this year was a “rainbow rainbow cat” cake. I actually made it the day before the party, so for once, I didn’t stress about getting it done on the morning of. The ruffles are buttercream and the little cat is made of fondant. Kaya saw the cat a day early, and immediately told me “I want to hold him”. I told her she had to wait until her party, and she said “But I need him!” in the sweetest, most tender little voice. I guess he looked enough like a real kitten, then, to get that reaction out of her. 😉_MG_9261 Uncle Karl and Kaitlyn came. I think he spent the whole party trying to win Kaelyn over. He even hand-fed her some pizza! She alternated between crying when she saw him and wanting to sit on his lap…_MG_9271 Uncle Jeff and Auntie Lelia drove up all the way from Richmond!_MG_9272We sang “happy birthday”, and she was beaming the whole time. _MG_9276 _MG_9278 _MG_9281 She even blew out all three candles on the first try!_MG_9284 We had cake and ice cream, and then it was present time! Honestly, we were all starting to crash a little at this point, especially the birthday girl. Going two days without a nap and eating a ton of cake will do that to you!_MG_9288 She was spoiled with a Fisher Price DoodlePro, a stuffed Daniel Tiger, and lots of books!_MG_9290 Michael and I gave her a “GoGo My Walking Pup”, and she wasn’t so sure about having a robotic dog around at first, but now she loves walking and “feeding” her. (also, present-opening apparently makes a HUGE mess!)_MG_9299We had an amazing party and a wonderful weekend.

And because I just love these little videos that Google automatically puts together, I have to share this one:

We love you so much Peeky! Seeing you truly enjoy your day was my favorite part of everything.