Ella has always showed little to no fear about most everything. But, when Rusty found an Ella-size-harness and offered her to go on the "big swing" I must say I had no idea how this activity was going to unfold. While she was getting all geared up and strapped in...SECURELY...she was giddy with excitement and could not wait to start swinging. After the excitement of the swing wore off, she insisted on climbing the big tower. Again, I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into but, Ella turned into a climbing Rock Star! She went right up the ladder, without a care in the world, climbed onto the little platform, and jumped off. {Side note...I watched a grown man perform this very act the day before and he chickened out once he got to the platform} My 3 year-old repeated this over and over again. Rusty even hoisted her to the very top where she dangled and even tried to climb on the highest platform but simply lacked the strength to pull herself up. Otherwise, she would have. We were all pretty amazed that she flew up 55 feet into the air without batting an eye. It was shocking really. To me, at least. Her nervous mother. After she was noticeably exhausted, I could only think of one thing that would get her out of the harness. I told her she could watch Mommy climb. My idea worked but once I was about halfway up the tower I began second guessing my brilliant idea. But, even though I had a slight anxiety attack due to my fear of heights, I, Brandi, climbed to the top of that thing and repelled down. Here are some of the shots I took of Ella in all her glory...


Ella was very cooperative with having her picture taken the entire weekend. I, of course, took full advantage. Here are a few of my favorites...

Memorial Day Continued...

The sea kayaking was short but full of adventure. I didn't want to miss the opportunity of snapping a photo of this first-time-ever event for Ella and I, so I braved it and stuck the camera in the boat. Ella was excited to ride in the kayak, and even more excited that Mama's Friend Mike was going to be our guide, who happened to find her an awesome Barbie life jacket to wear. But, after just 10 minutes on the river, she and I were battling over who got to paddle, and she insisted her view was better if she was standing up. With a lot of Mommy patience, I calmed her down, let her paddle, allowed her to sit facing me if she promised not to stand up, and we chatted our way down the river. My plan of distraction worked, and we both had an enjoyable float. We saw an otter stick his head out the river and Ella watched for Nemos (fish) and frogs out the side of the boat. At the end of the trip, our fellow sea kayakers let me know how impressed they were that a 3-year old handled it so well. I heaved a giant sigh and was ready for a beer.

The owners of the ranch have a little girl who is 2 and we were all very excited to introduce her and Ella. They immediately took to each other, and Ella wanted very much to hold Jo Jo's hand and be her friend. Jo Jo helped Ella pick out a backpack as a souvenir, and off they went like two peas in a pod.


Memorial Day

For the holiday weekend, Rusty & I headed up north once again to Wildman Ranch, only this time we took Ella Bella with us. The weather worked in our favor also, with temperatures in the low 70's every day and plenty of sunshine. It was a trip full of firsts...first 6 hour road trip for the 3 of us...first camping trip for Ella...first campfire...first sea kayaking trip for Ella & I...first roasted marshmallow...first time meeting little Jo Jo...and first time on the climbing tower for me and Ella. What an awesome weekend for everyone, and Ella was truly a gem the entire time. She proved herself to be quite the wilderness warrior. She played so hard that every naptime came early and every bedtime was at her request. By the time we got home, her nailbeds were caked with dirt and it's taking at least 2 baths to get the sap out of her hair. But, all in all, it was well worth the trip!

On our way there, we stopped at Daves Falls so Rusty could show us the waterfall he kayaked so impressively (same one from the video I posted). There, he snapped this picture of us...

That evening, we built a campfire and hung out with, according to Ella, "Mama's Friend, Mike". Mike is actually Rusty's friend and the director of the ranch. Either way, Ella was pretty smitten by Mike, constantly asking if we could "Go find Mike" all weekend....
While Rusty was working, Ella and I spent a lot of time down at the riverbankthrowing rocks and pine cones in the water while watching the boats come down the river. She happily would have hopped right on in that river if I would have let her.
We also played hide-n-go-seek. This was her hiding spot...More to come...

Weekend in Texas

Rusty and I traveled down to Lubbock, Texas for his sister, Lacey's graduation. She now holds a Masters degree in Occupational Therapy and off to the real world she goes. We celebrated with dinner on Friday night, graduation on Saturday followed by a party with the Klein family and friends that afternoon. I had the pleasure of being introduced to Rusty's parents and lots of other family members who were all very sweet and welcoming. Rusty showed me around Lubbock and the campus of Texas Tech (where he attended as well) and had beers at Cujo's & Cricket's. At Cujo's, we played Trivia and I beat Rusty pretty good. He was not impressed. I took a picture for proof...it's a little blurry but you can make out "Brandi" in the #1 spot and "Kayak" (aka Rusty) in the #2 spot. We're not competitive at all. ;)

A short but FUN weekend. Congrats Lacey!!


First Bike

I'm shocked I even got a good shot. She lasted for all of 15 seconds...


When Spring arrives in the Neumann family, we head out to the woods and hunt for morel mushrooms. Something that has been going on in my family forever and ever. I found out this weekend, firsthand, that this Northern Michigan past time is in my blood. We're out deep in the woods a half-hour from Traverse City, not a sole around, and we hear someone yell out, "Aunt Sharon, what are you doing in my mushroom spot?!" It was my cousin. You see, around here, the true 'shroom hunter keeps their spots top secret. My Aunt Wendy has her secret spots that I don't even think her husband knows about! Anyway, I know people may think I'm crazy. Actually, I know they do because my friend Katie stopped by my house on Sunday as I was walking out the door, and she told me I was crazy. But, not only are these mushrooms, in my opinion, the tastiest on the planet, getting outside after a long, cold winter is beyond refreshing. I had a feeling it may be a little early still this weekend, but we headed out anyway only to come up empty handed. We found 1. However, it was a beautiful weekend that needed to be spent outside, and we had 2 very yummy picnics in the process.



Last weekend Ella headed to Chicago with her Dad to be a flower girl in her Aunt Kay Kay's (Katie) wedding. Pics to come on that later. With a kid-free weekend on my hands, I joined Guy on his weekly trip (a 6-hour drive) to the Wildman Ranch in Athelstane, Wisconsin. To say Rusty is addicted to kayaking and any other extreme sport imaginable is an understatement. It's what he lives for. He spends every weekend in the Spring as a raft guide for the Ranch, where he gets paid to do something he loves. To each his own, right?

We lucked out with an 80 degree Friday afternoon/evening but got dumped on with rain all night, and the rest of the weekend hovered around a drizzly and wet 50 degrees. This was all just fine since we were provided with a comfy, cozy little cabin well-equipped with heat, shower, and a toilet. It just so happened that the resident photographer for the Ranch couldn't be there this weekend so they asked me to fill in. Ha! I got paid to go on vacation! :)

I gathered up all of my belongings, threw on the TNF rain jacket Guy gave me for Christmas, and headed for the river. Luckily, the rain stopped just in time for my little outing. I found a perfect rock at the base of the last rapid (dubbed "Horse Race") and dunked half my leg in the river on the way to my seat. No big deal, I can handle a wet foot. Well, an hour and a half later the men decided to grace me with their presence. I snapped pictures of all of them in their glory. It was unbelievable to me that ANYone could have a smile on their face after spending 2 hours in 28 degree water, but they were as happy as pigs in shit. I, on the other hand, was borderline hypothermic. I raced back to the cabin, threw on both heaters, crawled into my sleeping bag and read my book. Aaaahhh. No sooner than I had warmed up, it was time for my next round of picture-taking. This trip was less eventful and even enjoyable. By the end of my day's excitement, I was ready for a glass of wine. But, it was 3:30. So, I refrained and waited until 5:00, which seemed like a more suitable time of day to begin cocktailing. Rusty and I took a hike along the river, went out to dinner, and sat around the campfire for the rest of the evening.

On Sunday, we headed over to the Menominee River so Rusty could meet up with a kayaking buddy and run the rapids a few times. I instantly took to his friend's wife (I'll refrain from mentioning names until I get their permission) who was just as sweet as ever. Come to find out, she roomed in college with a friend of mine from high school. Very small world. And, not only do they have a little girl who is a ball of energy just like Ella, but she has the exact same birthday as Ella, just hours apart! We hope to introduce the girls to each other soon and spend more time with them this summer.

Here are some pictures I took with my camera. I will post the pics I took on the Ranch's camera when Guy gets them to me.


The Easter Bunny stopped by Washington Street to deliver Ella an Easter basket filled with O's and coloring materials. Our morning was filled ooo's and ahhh's as we all gathered around to watch her open all her goodies. Since the Egg Hunt the day before was such a success, I decided to hide eggs all over the yard for Ella to find after returning home from her regular Sunday morning rendezvous with Daddy. Not quite grasping the concept that we only have Easter egg hunts on Easter, she continually asks me to find eggs nearly every time we walk through the yard. And, finally, continuing with what will be a yearly tradition, we colored Easter eggs later that afternoon. A fun-filled Easter Sunday!

I think I've mentioned this before but Ella has been calling Rusty "Guy" ever since she met him. I'm not sure why or where this came from, but it stuck, and now our entire household only refers to him as Guy. Naturally, Ella would yell "Cowboy Guy" when he walked in looking like this...


Boy Friends

After picking up Ella from school today, Jeff sends me a text stating that he thinks Ella and Luke have a crush on each other. Interesting, I thought. Because whenever I ask Ella about Luke she smiles and blushes stating, "Luke is so silly". Now, mind you, I have always had close "boy" friends so it should come to no surprise to me that Ella's two best friends at school are Jacob and Luke. According to Ella. Apparently, Luke's mother stopped Jeff today and told him that when she and Luke were driving the other day, Luke called Ella "beautiful".

And so it begins...

Easter Egg Hunt

The Saturday before Easter, Ella and I met up with her friends Arie, Didier, Elyse, and Marin for the big Traverse City Easter Egg Hunt. It was actually more of an organized mob-of-children-free-for-all, but nonetheless the kids seemed to get a kick out of it, despite the frigid temperatures. Ella quickly filled her basket to the top with eggs, and I was pleasantly surprised that she didn't body check anyone during the process. But, once she got wind that the Easter Bunny was there along with the Moomers Cow, she bee-lined it for both of them demanding all of their attention. No surprise here. Last year at Cherry Festival, the characters at a Children's Cherry Picnic ended up leaving because Ella wouldn't stop following them around. My mom thinks it's a necessity to take Ella to Disney World this year because of her infatuation with characters. I, on the other hand, think she may go into cardiac arrest at the first sight of Minnie Mouse. Anyway, it was great seeing all the kids, and even running into our friends, The Banton's as well.

The Big 9-0

As mentioned earlier, on April 2 my Grandma Ella (Ella Rae's namesake) turned 90 years young. Wow. My parents, Ella, and I all piled in the car once again and headed for Iowa to celebrate. It was great to see Grandma again and she was just a ball of energy and so excited to see all of us. Especially Ella Rae. Ella has become the best little traveler and seems to really enjoy our road trips. Thank goodness because we Neumann's love to travel. Especially by car. Once we got there, Ella was thrilled to play with the cousin's again and had a ball at the indoor water park that was at our hotel. Although, we were pretty disappointed that children were not allowed in the hot tub since this is a favorite of mine and Ella's. Boo! The party for Grandma was a success, and we were able to share with the rest of the family the progress we had made on the family tree and Grandma's Life Album. A few months ago we learned that Grandma was diagnosed with Dementia. And, even though she couldn't remember most of our names, you could tell it meant a lot to her that we were there. So Happy Birthday to Grandma and may you live another decade!

Family Picture Project

For the last year or so, my Dad and I have been sorting through hundreds of old family photos his family, dating all the way back to the early 1800's, provided by his mother and my grandma, Ella. Included, among the hundreds of photographs, are probably 150 original black and white photos from the families of Grandma Ella Stahr-Neumann and my late Grandpa Don Neumann.

This is what our step-by-step process includes:
1. Scan all pictures. (Total so far: 1,490)
2. Caption all scanned pictures with names and birth/death dates, if possible.
3. Compile DVD with all pictures for preservation. Distribute copies to the rest of the family.
4. Sort physical pictures by family (i.e. Neumann's, Stahr's) and [attempt] at chronological order.
5. Compile scrapbook of Ella's life for her 90th birthday...Completed! But was so thick, it turned into 2 albums.
6. Gather information and create a family tree of the Stahr's and the Neumann's, with birth/death dates.
7. Compile scrapbook of Grandma Ella's ancestors...the Stahr Family
8. Compile scrapbook of Grandpa Don's ancestors...the Neumann Family

Currently, we are working on the family tree that goes as far back as my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, who was born in Germany in 1815. With this tree, we are able to match most of the pictures with names, and taking it a step further by gathering birth/death dates for everyone. With all of this information combined with some amazing original photographs, we will compile 2 separate scrapbooks...one for the Stahr family (Grandma Ella's side) and one for the Neumann side (Grandpa Don's side). I can't even tell you how much time we have all put into this project, but the information/memories are priceless to us and our future generations. A true labor of love! So, in case anyone was wondering what I've been doing with my spare time, this is it.

When the picture project began last year, my goal was to be able to present Grandma with a scrapbook of her life by her 90th birthday. Here are a couple of pictures of this first completed project. With summertime approaching, I'm not sure how far I will get with the next 2 albums this summer, but I hope to have it all completed by this time next year.

Dad's Family Tree So Far...

Grandma Ella's Life Albums...
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Computer Virus

I haven't posted lately b/c our computer has had a virus which has prevented me from downloading the pictures off of my camera. Boo! But, my wiz of a mother saved the day and it is now fixed. Prepare for post overload. :)


A conversation between Ella and I while she took a bath last night...

Ella said, "Look at my boobies Mama".

I responded, "Yes, I see."

Ella - "Other people's boobies?"

Me - "Noooo" (a little confused at this point)

Ella - "Naaaahhhhh...We don't touch other people's boobies. We touch other people's boobies and they will break. That will make the people cry."

Me - "Exactly."