Category Archives: Local

2014 – ZDub Year in Review

Greetings of the Season!

I love holiday cards! I love recapping our year, I love making them, I even like the monotonous stuffing and sticking, especially now that Taj can help. I know now everyone does cards, nor do I expect everyone too. But we sure do love getting them back and putting them on our wall. They stay there all year! Our lives are busy and our friends far away and around the world and holiday cards are way of slowing down and checking in on everyone.

Since it is not always practical to send a card to everyone, we decided to post it here. However, if you send us a card, I will send you one (well, until I run out).

Washburn holiday card 2014

Greetings of the Season 2015

We started 2014 on holiday in St. Croix sun kissed and relaxed. We then experienced an 80˚ temperature difference when we arrived home to Illinois. Although a bit under prepared for our first winter in 10 years, we survived the bitter cold, long dark days and gained a new appreciation for the glorious Spring weather that came next and perfect growing weather for the most rewarding garden we could ever imagine.

My father passed away suddenly in February. He is always missed, but ever present, especially now that I am reconnected with all my siblings. The note I got from dad after he passed thanked me for the ‘lookback’ of our year. So, to keep connected to those that knew him, our holiday card list got a lot bigger this year.

We bought our first house together, an older home complete with a RV barn, perfect for Ethan’s workshop and fall barn parties. We moved in while remodeling the kitchen, Taj helping me build cabinets and Ethan hanging them, with a stunning final product. It’s great to live in a central US location where people drive through or can make our house a destination and were rewarded with the company of all those that visited us. We also hope to make Ethan’s birthday pig roast an annual event; hopefully we won’t get rained out of backyard camping in 2015.

We took a few road trips and camping trips to Michigan, Wisconsin and the big trip across to the east coast to Connecticut, North Carolina and Georgia to see all my siblings, cousins, and some old friends too. Ethan and his cousins joined his mom and uncle on a reunion trip back to Hampton, VA and to scatter the ashes of his grandparents.

This year for my 40th birthday, Ethan surprised me with a dream weekend trip to Napa Valley. It was a magical weekend with wineries, great food and visits with friends in Sacramento and San Francisco.

We continue to get involved in our new community and learn to appreciate stateside living after being on islands for 10 years. Taj is an articulate and very social 5 year old, who continues to wow and amaze us daily. Ethan continues to enjoy his work with Diageo as the maintenance scheduler, growing his talents with SAP PM. I am now full-time with Idea Marketing Group and truly enjoy the creative marketing work.

Thank you for being part of our lives and we wish you a wonderful 2015.

Ethan, Sara & Taj

We found a vintage playground

This year was our first real tree together as a family. We never got a real tree in St. Croix. It just didn’t feel right to pick a tree out of a refrigerated trailer that was shipped from the US and we knew of a dozen stories of them loosing needles immediately, etc. So, this year, our first real winter Christmas, we decided we wanted to cut down a tree. So, we did a little research and found Larson’s Family Farm in Yorkville. Although the trees were a little smaller than what we wanted the experience was exactly what we were looking for.

The best part of our tree cutting trip was the playground of Ethan and my era there. The old-fashioned see saws, springy horses and the push merry-go-round that could definitely decapitate you if used incorrectly. It was great fun to play with Taj on these. Being the little daredevil that he is, I now understand why they don’t have them around at all town parks these days.


springy playground horse

Birthday party with the Reptile Man

Jacob, our neighbor friend, invited Taj to his 7th birthday. They had Jim Nesci of Cold Blooded Creatures to do a presentation for Jacob’s birthday. At first I thought it was a bit torturous to have an alligator and a boa for a kids party, but Jim did a great job in explaining that most of these animals were abandoned as pets and they now lived good lives. His alligator responded to commands better than most dogs! Pretty cool birthday presentation. Here’s the boys (and Jacob’s mom) with a HUGE snake.



Watched a House Burn to the Ground

It was a planned burn. This vacant house across the street from our favorite playground was up in flames just as I was on my way to pick Taj up at school. So, as a fun faalavelave (Samoan word for break from the ordinary routine), we stopped to watch the house burn with a crowd of other people.

The coolest part was the fire chief came over and let the kids ask questions. Taj was right there asking about how they protected the trees and why they were doing it. They did 8 practice drills with area fire fighters that day and we were watching them finally let it burn to the ground.

Taj has officially declared his latest grownup profession – firefighter.


The Endless Summer: Taj’s Ninja Turtle Themed 5th Birthday Pig Roast

We like to party. We also don’t like ordinary, so when Ethan said he wanted to roast a pig before the winter, we decided to combine his pig roast with Taj’s 5th birthday. We also wanted to get to know some neighbors and invite them, so we did.

Last weekend was 70, unfortunately it was 40 degrees the day of Taj’s party. We hosted the party in the barn. Ethan put the pig on by 8am as planned. By 11am, the bouncy house was up, the food was out and Taj was so happy to have all his friends over.

We asked that people bring canned goods instead of gifts and although I think Taj might have been too young to grasp this concept, our real goal was to let people know that they didn’t have to bring a gift to come. He got plenty of gifts and we’ll be dropping a good amount of canned goods to Green Harvest food pantry.

canned good birthday party drive


excited birthday boy with pinata

Taj was so excited for the pinata. Thanks to Reggie for making it go a little faster.


firepit and ethan's chairs

It was a chilly afternoon, but Ethan finished his adirondeck chairs last week, just in time for relaxing and warming up by the firepit.

In the barn, we had a few electric heaters going, some places for coloring, plenty of food and beverages.



barn party

Ninja turtle birthday cupcakes. Meijers did most of the work, I admit 🙂


work buddies

Ethan and some friends from work.

While cleaning up the next morning, we found cups with ice still in them. We giggled about this and Ethan got picked on for over buying ice. I guess we still aren’t used to stateside cold parties.



You know its a good party when stuff gets left behind. If you own any of these things, let us know and we’ll get them back to you.

Thanks everyone for coming! Taj had a great weekend.





Beware of the troll under the bridge and ghosts in the tree.

Halloween is my favorite time of year. From costumes to decorating the yard to Taj’s birthday, it is all one big whirl of fun.

We all know I miss living on an island, however I like to highlight the benefits of living in Suburbia and trick-or-treating and decorating your yard definitely ranks up there.

We are just starting to compile the decorations and this year, we added up lights on the tree and red lit graves. We also were in need of a bridge over the gut in our yard. When it rains, it gets a little muddy and we didn’t want trick-or-treaters to have to endure this. Besides our mailbox is over there. It became the troll bridge. Taj tells us they are make believe, but he does warn us that they live under there. Note the plastic bag ghosts in the tree.

homemade turtle shell costumehomemade Leo TMNT costume

This is the first year that Taj is totally ‘in’ to Halloween. He not only chose his costume, he got us to join along.

family ninja turtle costume

And the best part of Halloween is that it is Taj’s birthday next! It was a little more difficult to convince Taj to give up his candy for the pinata this year 🙂


Stefie likes fishing but not when Mr. Fish swallows the hook.

Thanks mom for Taj’s fishing pole. A great gift, however you neglected to do one thing; take him fishing! He’s been talking about it non-stop since your visit and I haven’t the foggiest idea of how to fish. So, Steffie and I decided to take him to the stocked Plainfield Fishing Resort (and one of the most dated, DIY websites I’ve seen in a while, thanks for the chuckle). An interested onlooker advised us to trade in our nightcrawlers for the grub-like white worms instead and once we actually got through getting them on the hook, we were lucky enough to keep Taj’s attention for a dozen or so very small fish.

I dunno, I think someone that loves to fish should teach him because I don’t think I did the ‘sport’ justice. Sister Leah and Casey might have to help.

Look, I got one!



We started another project. Corn hole boards with an island twist and two silly ladies 🙂



Holy garden batman!

There is something amazing about having a backyard garden. I was never very successful with my garden until we moved to Illinois. Maybe it was my visiting farmer friends that guided us well, maybe it was fabulously handy hubbie that built the framework, but realistically it was the great Illinois soil and particular climate that gave us a garden full of veggies for a season. I even canned my first tomatoes for the winter. It feels great to eat not just healthy, but self-grown food.

We did learn some things for next year, but hey we’re learning.

1. Keep different peppers separate because you can’t tell which are ripe green or not ripe green.

2. Peas and beans need more space.

3. Lettuce doesn’t work with really long days and bolts very quickly, same with brocolli



vacation cucumbers gone yellow

Over the vacation, no one harvested and some of the veggies got too ripe. Check out the size of that cucumber.


bouquet of kale


backyard garden harvest illinois

All summer long we had veggies like this!


chicken eggs in the briar path

This wasn’t at our house, but I do dream of getting backyard chickens next year.


Kale antlers.