Riviera Maya

It’s that time of year again…vacation! Thanks to the help of my mom, once a year Joe & I prioritize taking a trip together, without our kids.

This year we chose to go to Riviera Maya in Mexico. Like other years we chose to stay at a Park & Fly hotel in Chicago the night before. This year though, we chose to pick a different hotel that’s a bit closer to the airport. Driving into the parking lot we immediately knew it wasn’t worth the $50 savings. When checking in they asked us to leave our keys with them for the duration of our trip, which seemed shady. As trusting Midwesterner’s we ignored our gut and surrendered them. We got in late and had to be up early for our flight so we were ready to hit the hay. 

Of course as luck would have it, some people in the room immediately next to ours were there for a party. For hours we endured loud music, banging on the walls & screaming. Finally at 1:30 a.m. I decided to call the front desk, but no one answered. Luckily, it was due to the fact that the staff was on their way to kick our neighbors out. Through our peephole, we counted 35+ people that filed out of the small room. 

Not the best start, but luckily it didn’t set the tone for our trip. We had a direct flight and all went smoothly, landing us in Cancun by noon. We arrived at our resort, Secrets Silversands and grabbed a drink while we waited for our room to be ready. It was exceptionally windy the entire time we were there, but the weather was the worst on the first day. We had dinner at Himitsu and ate some of the best sushi I’ve had in a long time. Every night there was live music after the nightly show & the singers the first night were phenomenal. Unfortunately it began to rain so they had to stop after 30 minutes, but that didn’t stop us from sitting in the rain until bar time.

On day 2 we laid low & visited the excursion desk to plan out our trips & spent the remainder of the day drinking in the pool. It was very cloudy so I was cold a lot of the time, but it still beat Wisconsin. In fact when we talked to the kids they informed us it was snowing & sleeting. We had the best of intentions on having dinner with a Canadian couple that night but after a long day of drinking in the pool, we fell asleep before making it out :( 

12189634_10101405191472416_4242653828440681218_n (1)Day 3 was the first of our excursions and an early start to the day. Joe loves history so we booked a trip to Tulum to see the Mayan Ruins and afterwards, we swam with sea turtles in Akumal. Our tour guide, Uri was amazing and he spoke four separate languages and translated everything he told us in English & French (he also speaks Spanish & Russian)! The ruins were amazing to see & the views of the ocean we’re irreplaceable. On our way out we ran into the Kennedy’s, who were staying in Cancun. If we weren’t in Mexico, I would have bought a lottery ticket because the odds of that happening were slim to none. Such a small world we live in!

After the ruins we packed up & headed to Akumal “Place of the Turtles” to swim with the turtles. We didn’t know what to expect, but were delightfully surprised as we saw over 20 turtles, 2 stingrays & many other fish while snorkeling. You’re not supposed to touch the turtles, but a baby kept swimming right next to me that it was hard to not run into it. We also saw another turtle with a fish suctioned to it’s shell. Uri called it a parasite, but assured us that it didn’t hurt the turtle. 

After snorkeling we had a local lunch at a beach clubhouse and I had two of the best margaritas I’ve ever had. It was a great day! We got back in time to sit in the pool for a little bit and made plans to eat with yet another Canadian couple that night. We did make that dinner & my Shrimp Ravioli was to die for. 

Day 4 was our next & last excursion where we visited four types of cenotes. Our first stop was The Fire or ‘K’aak’ cenote where we zip-lined into the water and swam to a cliff to jump from 30 ft high. The water in all the caves are fed from underground rivers, so everything was very clean, but also pretty cold! Our next stop was The Earth or “Lu’um” cenote where we rappelled into fresh waters. This was by far our favorite. We hiked up the trails and arrived at a platform. Our guide, Pedro – who was also super friendly & awesome – didn’t really setup (I think on purpose) what we’d be doing at this stop so when we climbed to the top of the platform, we saw the most amazing view. There were zip lines running straight down into a cave & that was the only way in. Our next stop was The Water or ‘Ha’ cenote where we were able to snorkel and see the rock formations and incredible underwater lillies. Our last stop was The Wind or ‘Iik’ cenote where we ziplined 300 yards across the open water at 60 ft. high.

Day 5, our last day – we had originally planned to go into Playa del Carmen, but later chose to stick around the resort & relax before leaving. We went to the beach, Joe snorkeled in the ocean, picked up the kids souvenirs & swam in the pool the remainder of the day. We met a very nice couple from New York & had the best French onion soup I’ve ever had at dinner that night. We had a 4 a.m. wake up call, so we made it in early night, packed our things and headed for home.

For once the travel both there and back went very smooth and were sort of uneventful. We made it home on time to watch the Badgers lost to Notre Dame for their chance to make it to the Elite Eight. Not the ending we were hoping for, but we were happy to get to see it.

Raising kids is hard work. Life is busy and it’s so easy to not prioritize the things that matter the most. Our annual vacation sans-kids so important for the health of our marriage and I hope we continue to prioritize these vacations until death do us part.


Keepin’ Up

Last week we celebrated St. Patrick’s day. Even though I’m Irish (no clue on what percent) I didn’t grow up celebrating that holiday. I mean, I celebrated in college, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to the day than donning your favorite green attire & drinking copious amounts of Guinness & Jameson.

So as I was planting evidence of a sneaky leprechaun throughout our house at 1:30 a.m. the night before, I wondered how I got here. In fact when I posted the evidence of Sneaky Sam’s (yes our leprechaun has a name) arrival on Facebook the next day, I caught flack from one of my most honest friends (which also makes her one of my favorites).

stpattysIn fairness I saw the comment coming, because as I was toilet papering both kids rooms, I knew how ridiculous it was to 1) be wasting two roles of perfectly good tp and 2) to be making a mess I’d have to clean up. And even more to her credit – she knows me & knows I hate “stupid” things like that. In fact, I’m the mean mom who refuses to do Elf on Shelf.

So why did I do it and what does this have to do with keeping up?

St. Patrick’s Day is just one of MANY holidays and events that have changed from when I was a kid. Valentine’s Day this year did not consist of a handmade card & a piece of candy. Instead Ella got Will an oversized, robotic dinosaur. In return he got her a large beanbag chair for her room…plus the card, candy, etc.

Easter is in one week. My mom called to ask what she should get the kids! Ella wants a new bike (note: that does not say needs..it says wants). She has been told she’ll have to use the money she’s saved to buy it herself. When I was discussing it with my mom, she suggested maybe we could get it for her for Easter. What?! It’s Easter. You get jellybeans & hunt for Easter Eggs, you do not get a $100+ bicycle.

Everywhere you turn, there’s pressure to do more. Go bigger. I HAD to decorate for the leprechaun. He goes to every kids home and if he didn’t pitstop at our house, the kids would wonder why it was different for them. “Why doesn’t the leprechaun like us?” It’s expected..and not just by our kids. Our teacher emailed a reminder ahead of time. Everyone asked our kids if they saw the leprechaun and what tricks he pulled and treats he left behind.

Right now as my aforementioned friend is reading this, I can hear her thinking something like, “life’s not fair. Kids need to learn that they don’t get everything they want. If you hate doing it, why do you?”

All valid points and again, things I whole-heartedly agree with (it’s why we’re friends)! However some battles aren’t worth fighting and if it only takes two rolls of toilet paper to make our kids happy, then I’m going to do it because…it’s easier.

And please don’t be mistaken, I’m still not doing Elf on the Shelf, because ain’t nobody got time for that!


Overdue Update

A new year is supposed to bring new resolution’s and a renewed energy towards the things that matter. Apparently that did not apply to this blog…as it’s now March and I haven’t wrote since November ’15 :( It’s not that this doesn’t matter to me, because it does (a lot), but so much has happened since I last wrote that it hasn’t allowed for the focus necessary to write anything meaningful.

My last post came from a place of sadness. We had just lost my grandpa and our dog all within the same week. That alone is excuse enough to take a break from writing (in my opinion), but there have been many other things that have prevented me from writing.

The largest distraction has been our business, Kella Design. Earlier in 2015 I had made up my mind that I was going to dive into our business full-time. On top of our other career commitments we had been juggling Kella at the same time for far too long. While it’s been the best decision we’ve made in a long time, it’s also taken a lot of time & energy.

We celebrated several special events, including Ella turning 7! It seems like each year we have the same number of parties as her years on this earth. In addition to her family bashes, this year she was able to plan a friend party that was complete with hand painting pottery. We’ve attended several other birthday parties too. One for 3 of our 5 nieces – in the beginning of February the twins turned 1 already (I bet their parents don’t think it went as fast) and Paige turned 10 at the end of the month (how did that happen?) It was nice to spend time with family and we had a blast sledding.

Of course Christmas was in there as well and Santa even decided to bring our kiddo’s a new puppy. He’s been a fantastic addition, minus the fact that he almost died shortly after joining us. After a several days at the emergency vet and a whole bunch of money later, we think he’s on the mend.

The kids have been busy as well. Ella is still in gymnastics, but also participated in poms and recently finished her first basketball camp. For the first time she actually showed some interest and practiced to improve her skills. That’s a major improvement for her, so we’re pretty proud! I was also able to talk her into chopping her hair off (finally). There really was no other option, as her long hair was impossible to take care of and it had to go – however, I was only able to push her past a trim by convincing her to donate it to Locks of Love. We just attended her Spring Music Recital at school and she was very happy to have us there.

Will has fully committed to making the year of 3 his own. He is still a very sweet little boy, but not necessarily to us! If I counted how many times he tells me that “he’s not my best buddy” each day, I would have to focus on nothing else. Despite that, he’s been great at daycare and has even been recognized for his kindness to his friends! Let’s hope this threenager phase is over soon. He’ll soon finish up swimming lessons and we just signed him up for soccer. He still loves building with his blocks and has really embraced music. He & Ella sing and entertain us with their guitar’s more than most pro’s.



I grew up as a tomboy in small town Wisconsin. Rough & tumble and needing no favors from anyone. I was hell bent on showing everyone I was just as capable as all the boys I was raised with and could hold my own in any situation.

I’ve carried that mentality throughout my whole life and until recently I’ve always valued & appreciated it. When getting a flat tire, I change it myself. When a house needs shingles, a fence needs built, a heavy object needs moved… I’m right there. I have defied gender stereotypes and always been proud to do so.

Along with the free feeling of independence, comes another set of side effects. When a female is trying to defy the norm, it requires a tough exterior. There is no crying when someone wrongs you because you’re not supposed to. There is no asking for help, EVER … because it admits defeat.

That makes the people around you begin to think that you don’t need anything from them. That was the point of being so stubborn all those years, right? However, that also means they think they can treat you a little bit differently because you’ve shown them that it’s ok.

Your coach is always harder on you because, “you can take it.” Your boss always has the highest expectations from you because you consistently meet them. People in general aren’t as sensitive to your feelings as they should be because they think you don’t have them.fierce

Now that I have a daughter of my own I think more about things like this. Who do I want her to be? How do I want her to be treated?

I am still proud that I can do things on my own, however I don’t like that I’ve trained those around me to expect it.

I absolutely want her to be independent and strong & she’s already fierce, but I don’t want it to come at the cost of how she’s treated by others. I want her to feel valued & appreciated and not get walked on because she’s trained people to think that it’s acceptable.


Small Packages

It’s been a while since I last wrote. I’ve wanted to but couldn’t bring myself to put words on “paper.” The pressure of writing something perfect enough to encapsulate my feelings is next to impossible.

On Saturday, September 19th, I lost my grandpa Jim. It’s been well over a month since he left us and yet I still haven’t processed the magnitude of our family’s loss. He played such a critical role in my life, it seemed required that he would always be there.

My grandpa was a strong man, in fact one of the strongest I have ever met – so when we got the call that it was time for his family to come, I was skeptical. He had fought and conquered so many times before, I was sure that this was just another of those times.

My grandma & grandpa have 4 children and amongst them, there are 11 grandchildren and amongst us we’ve provided 13 great-grandchildren. When we got to the hospital almost the entire family was there, surrounding the man who had started it all and unlike what I was told on the phone, he was in great spirits. Obviously tired, but alert & aware, cracking jokes and telling us stories from the good ‘ole days. He made sure he saw & talked to every last one of us and specifically asked to see each of his great-grandkids, taking his oxygen mask off so that they weren’t afraid and he could see their smile one last time. If it wasn’t for his stubbly, unshaven face, it would have felt almost like any other Friday night growing up.

That’s right – almost every Friday night (and a lot of other days & nights of the week) of my entire life was spent with my extended family. It likely started off with a sporting event, to which my grandparents were in the stands cheering us on. They never missed a single event that any of their 11 grandchildren competed in – and let me tell you, we competed in almost everything a small school has to offer.

He was always there supporting us and yet after much reflection I’ve realized – he NEVER asked us for anything. He gave us everything he had and dedicated his life to his family and in return, all he wanted was our love. Even that night as he shared his final words, he didn’t ask any of us to do anything for him. He worried who would care for grandma, about the house and some of his remaining projects yet to be finished – but he didn’t ask a single person to do something for him. Ever.

The conversation I had that night with my grandpa would be the last. I’m so grateful for that time and I know how fortunate our family was to receive that gift. On Saturday, grandpa was still with us – but no longer awake or responsive and passed away peacefully that afternoon. We planned a beautiful memorial service and a record setting number of people showed up to pay their respects. It’s no surprise though, my grandpa impacted everyone he met and even though I grew up in a small community, the impression he left was unmeasurable. My brother gave the eulogy and couldn’t have delivered a more perfect tribute. I’m including it here because I want to preserve it for anytime I need to come back to remember.

They say when it rains, it pours. We returned home and the very next day our chihuahua of 11 years, Narley passed away. Similar to grandpa, I luckily spent some extra time with him that morning before heading to work. Like every other day, I put him in his dog bed when I left. Unlike other days though, when we returned home he didn’t greet us with his wagging tail & snorts. Narley was not just a dog, he was our family. He was our baby before kids and there is no way we’ll ever be able to replace him.

It seems crazy, but Grandpa Jim and Narley had more similarities than one might think. If good things come in small packages, they were the best gift possible. Both were small in stature, Grandpa weighing around 150 lbs. on his best day and Narley topping out at 9 lbs. Despite their small size, they were extremely protective & loyal to the ones they loved. They were always excited to see me and their most important shared trait – they loved me, for me.

I’m not sure how we’re supposed to move on, but I do know we’ll be forced to do so. Already this past weekend we had to take our kids first Halloween photo without Grandpa Jim. Although I was strong at the time, I needed some air so I stepped outside grandma’s house. Blowing in the wind, I was comforted by the sound of the beautiful chimes from grandpa’s funeral.

For now we’ll take one day at a time and be sure to count our lucky stars for all of our blessings and remember that we are Jim Boylen’s legacy.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 10.23.09 PM297512_858946852056_401662845_n11696308_10101172414374586_916636918221162181_o