Get to know a local mama: MEET Erin!

Hi Erin + welcome to the BUSHBABY journal!

Let's start at the beginning -- where were you born + raised?

I was raised in Canton, Illinois, then moved to Peoria at 21 and have lived here since. Central Illinois proud! I loved growing up in a small town, and I find that Peoria has a good balance of close community with bigger city amenities, and I'm proud to call it home.

Meeting hubby + settling here?

My husband, Eric, and I met at the Taste of Peoria. We were both standing with a group of friends and kept catching each other's eye. He started to walk away, and I decided I didn't want that to happen so I chased after him, and the rest, as they say, is history.


We have one son, Ever. He just turned three! He's very smart, funny, and opinionated. Also pretty cute.

Best part of being his mom?

The best part of being Ever's mom is the perspective he brings to my life. Through him, I am able to experience everything as though it is new again. Becoming a mother has showed me my own strength, and is simultaneously incredibly difficult and immensely wonderful.

Passions, career?

We are entrepreneurs and we own JamBerry in Dunlap. A literal mom & pop shop, we opened our doors three years ago with a six week old baby. JamBerry is a coffee shop and small bakery, and we make jam 1-2 times a year. Local berries are now in season, so our days look a little different right now than they do throughout the rest of the year. Currently we are spending a lot of time picking fruit, making jam, and preparing all of our supplies to label the jars and get them on the shelf. It's one of the most popular items at the shop, and since it's such a small batch + artisanal product, it goes very quickly!

We enjoy the way the years flow, from summer jam to thanksgiving pies and holiday baking. It's nice to have a space to be present in each season.

Spring + Summer plans for the family?

As small business owners, it can be difficult to carve out personal time, but we also feel pretty strongly about enjoying life as much as possible. We have a couple weekend getaways in mind, but mostly strive to find joy in the day to day. Walking to junction city for ice cream or the farmers market, spending a whole day in pajamas at home, cooking out with friends, and working on various projects are all on the summer bucket list.

Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your life, Erin! Your little bakery sounds so sweet! {Follow JamBerry on Facebook here!} 

We love you, Dads

During the week leading up to Father's Day, we asked our audience to tell us about the most important fathers in their lives.

While we offered a giveaway as an incentive, the responses were so overwhelmingly beautiful and heartfelt that we knew these women needed no incentive at all to share these amazing words (and the wonderful men behind them) - just a simple request and a special day to tell the world about these incredible, hardworking men.

Sometimes being a dad can be an exhausting job, and the pressure to keep it all together can be overwhelming at times. Thank you to each of the women below for taking the time to thank these dads and fatherly figures by sharing their respect and admiration for all they do. And thank you to the dads who earned these words; your love and dedication make the world a better place.

Read on and please join us in saluting these family heroes, on Father's Day and always.

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My husband, Eric, works so hard to provide for us, all while keeping a positive attitude and light heart. He makes us laugh and helps us to think outside of the box. He's the daddy/husband jackpot!

Erin Harms


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My husband Bobby is a hard-working, selfless man who makes sure we have all we need. He's been amazing during this pregnancy, as he supports me and all my exhaustion and medical issues. He's my daughter's best friend and idol!

Karen Newell

My hubby Paul is the hardest worker I know. He's always fixing things or planting things, with the help of our two little ones. He always explains what they are doing and why, what tools they are using, why we grow our own food, etc. He makes sure they understand the importance of a good hard days work and the benefits of doing things for yourself. He really is the best guy I know.

Kate Davis


My husband, Colton, has so many great qualities that remind me of my dad. Without him I wouldn't have had the courage to push to create our family. We are a family of three, hopefully expanding to four, and I love that he wants to take us on adventures and share the world with our daughter, just the way my dad did.

Bridget Milburn Anderson


My husband Antonio is so selfless! He never hesitates to put everyone ahead of himself and never complains about how hard he works to support us. He makes it possible to live out my dream of being a stay at home mom raising our babies and I couldn't be more appreciative.

Tara Ramirez


Meet Dustin. He is the best father to his three boys and I am so lucky to have him as my partner in this adventure. He loves adventuring and showing his boys the world. He thrives in the outdoors and has plans to camp outside with his boys at least once a month in 2017. He loves impromptu hikes, camping, adventures, and will never turn down a bike ride to our local ice cream shop. His three major loves (besides us of course) are graphic design, taking care of this planet, and National Parks. He is actually kind of a nerd about it, but that makes us love him even more. 

Tiffany Wyse-Fisher


My dad, Joe James, has had many nicknames in his life...Smoke, General Joe, Papa. But to me, he'll always be Hero. I am 37 years old and no matter what, I know I can count on him day or night. Just last week he went to Walmart at midnight to get boogie suckers for my 6 month old who woke up congested. He literally drops everything to help me and my siblings. We are truly blessed!

Brooke (James) Massey


My favorite dad is my husband to our daughter (soon to be daughters!), Scott Starzynski. I am so grateful for how patient he is, how he searches out for ways to continually connect, and the way he fosters empowerment through positive nurturing encouragement. His consistent support helps me as I mother, and never a day goes by we are not aware of his love for us. 

Emily Starzynski


My husband, Chris, is such an amazing father! He's a big kid at heart, and is always up for an adventure! Watching him engage and connect with our daughter warms my heart and makes me smile.

Meghan Moody 


Jeff Selke is the best husband, poppy, father, stepfather, and son in law! He fulfills those roles with great love for all equally. He’s always there when he's needed with no complaints. He's a beautiful person, friend, brother, and brother in law. Our granddaughter has special needs and he will do anything to make life fun or easier for her. He’s such a special man! 

Melinda Selke


Grandpa Gary Pearsall is super special to our family, especially his granddaughter Beatrice. He always makes time to play and teach her new things, and helps fix up our house when he travels down from Moline. Grandpa Gary is our go-to guy!

Gretchen Pearsall 


My husband, Josh, is an amazing father to our daughter and son. He always makes time to play with them. He loves the outdoors and is passing that on to our kids. My kids enjoy bird watching with him, working in the garden and going on nature walks with him. 

Rachel Smith


The handsome guy on the left is my husband Andy. He volunteers as a coach for our son's soccer and baseball teams, takes our daughter to ballet class if my work schedule gets hectic and is always willing to give me a mama break if I need one, especially now during my pregnancy. He does everything with such patience and love.

The guy on the right is my dad and papa to my littles! He's the hardest working, most dedicated person I've ever met. He rarely misses a soccer game, baseball game or Nutcracker performance. He loves being a papa and we love having him as our papa!

Amanda Crusen


We love you, Dads. All of you.

- The mamas at Bushbaby and Independent Heartland 

This post originally appeared on Independent Heartland

Get to know a local mama: MEET Shannon!

Hi Shannon! Welcome to the BUSHBABY journal! Let's get started with all the fun questions!

Where were you born + raised?

Hi! I was born and raised in Peoria. I went to Washington Grade and then Peoria High, and played sports and music in most of my waking hours since kindergarten. I also spent a ton of time in Milwaukee after my dad moved there when I was very young. Peoria and Milwaukee are my two Midwest homes.

Tell us about your college years + your career path?

I studied English and Philosophy at Northern Illinois University, with the plan to go to law school after earning my B.A. But when I graduated in 2005, I was ready to take a break from school and explore. I began a glassblowing apprenticeship that lasted over a year and then interned at a law firm in Milwaukee. By that point it was clear that law school was not an investment I wanted to make, so I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, with my future husband. 

Soon after moving to Fort Collins, I began working for an environmental firm that monitored air quality for the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the EPA, and other state agencies and Federal Land Managers. I was responsible for maintaining data and reports on the NPS project website, managing the photos from our air quality sites in the parks and forests (which was an awesome gig), writing and editing proposals and scientific reports, serving as the senior writer and editor for the QA department, and writing and publishing the corporate newsletter as the editor-in-chief. 

After a little more than six years, our family moved back from Colorado so our daughter could be closer to her adoring family. We wanted to continue exploring and I wanted to be location-independent, so I obsessively studied copywriting, web design and digital marketing and signed on with several entrepreneurs while enrolled in various online courses in marketing and design. Ever since, I’ve been running a web design and marketing consultancy and also launched an ecommerce brand last year.

Your hubby?

My husband, Mike Halford, was born and raised in Springfield, Illinois. He earned a degree in Elementary Education in Illinois and taught some in Colorado but ended up taking a break to work nights so I could keep my career at the environmental firm and our daughter wouldn’t have to be in daycare full-time.

He and I both fell in love with Colorado as soon as we arrived. For me it was when I was very young, for him it was when I made him go to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and he got hooked on the canyons, the mountains, the people and the colorful wilderness. We went back to the festival several times and ended up moving there as soon as he graduated from SIU.

He is now a seventh-grade math teacher at Manual Academy in Peoria, and is entering his second year of teaching full-time in the fall. He’s amazing at teaching math and science, but even better at building relationships with kids and getting them interested in the subject matter. He’s also pretty sarcastic, which lends very well to middle school kids.

And your kiddos?

My daughter, Raina, is our little Colorado native. She loves snow and cold weather. Raina was born on the first snow of the year in 2011, and her birthday fell within 24 hours of the first snow in subsequent years until we moved back. She’s a little mountain girl and explorer and is always asking to go outside. She even helped me design a t-shirt to that effect that she plans to wear anytime she wants to make that point clear to everyone around her. They will be available soon at Bushbaby, in fact, so she’s hoping her plan works for other kids as well! This little nature girl always wants to play outside, and when she’s inside (and can’t go out) she is always asking to read a book, watch a Disney movie, and/or have “one more chocolate chip.”

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Raina has a rare condition called FOP that is cruel and progressive, and she was diagnosed last December after years of tests and questions. The disease sucks but thanks to a ton of focused research and scientific breakthroughs in recent years, there is more hope for an effective treatment and eventually a cure then ever before. This is amazing for such a rare disease, so we’re holding up hope that she will still be hiking and exploring when she’s our age. You can read more about it here.

Now that summer is underway, what are some things your family is doing? Summer bucket list?

We have hikes, camping and live music on our bucket list for sure, as we will have every year. And we haven’t been back to Colorado as a family since moving home to the Midwest in September 2015, so we are planning a long trip out there to catch up with our friends, our family and our mountains. We’re also planning to explore parts of the Rockies that we didn’t have enough time to visit when we were working full-time and raising our little one.

Since you are "new" to the area (moving from Colorado) what would be your favorite places to take the family?

We love Peoria and Central Illinois so much more than we did when we were college grads anxious to leave home and explore the rest of the country. Locally, our family loves Mathieson State Park, Buffalo Rock, Forest Park, and the Rock Island Trail. But we have a long list of more places to discover, including the Black Hills and Badlands, the Bloomington area and several Southern Illinois natural areas.

As far as city life, we love having all the quality live music around that Peoria seems to be bringing more of all the time, and we also travel to St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee often to catch some of the bigger acts that we used to drive down to Denver and Red Rocks to see all the time. Milwaukee is our favorite city for food and culture but we’re also finding so many great spots in Peoria, BloNo and Champaign that weren’t around when we left the Midwest in 2009.

Can you tell others about your business + your upcoming projects you have with us at Bushbaby?!

I’m super excited to be working with Bushbaby in both of my businesses this summer! Bethany and Shopfront Creative are working together on growing the Bushbunch by adding a great selection of Bushbaby gear and gifts to the website, expanding Bushbaby’s value to its current tribe with more opportunities to gear up for the outdoors, and becoming an even better resource for Little Adventurers as they get out and explore. 

My ecommerce brand, Independent Heartland, is also partnering with Bushbaby to encourage more children and families – in our community and beyond – to go outside, explore, get dirty and nurture lifelong relationships with the happiness, value and sanctuary that only nature can provide. We are working together to sponsor and outfit kiddos in local outdoor explorations this year, which we believe will to help inspire others to follow our trails (and, of course, blaze their own). We are beyond excited about this partnership!

Well, thanks so much for joining us on the Journal, Shannon! Your websites are gorgeous + your family seems full of adventure -- ENJOY your summer! {Everyone -- be sure to check out her two businesses! We love encouraging others along the way.}

#MYadventure: Spring Break in FLORIDA with Sonya's family

Another installment in our #MYadventure series!

Let's travel with Sonya's family to FLORIDA! Sonya works part-time at BUSHBABY + loves sharing her family's adventures here -- hoping to inspire other families to find their own adventures!

It was February + we were slogging through this strange winter, itching for a little travel at Spring Break. My husband + I checked in with the big kids {21,19+17} only to find out none of them would be available during that week. Not surprising of course, considering the crazy lives they live, but still disappointing.

We're slowly adjusting to this new stage of parenting, with the older kids developing their own values + managing their own schedules apart from us. Over the years we have traveled all over the US with our five kids + love how travel + exploration have formed our family. Thankfully, we still have two middle schoolers at home, who have to come with us where we go!! :)

We picked a rental condo on the beaches of Panama City Beach + invited my parents to join us. Many condos + houses can be rented inexpensively in this area through websites such as VRBO, Homeaway + AirBnB. It takes some time, but navigating each site is customizable according to desired dates + number of people. It's actually fun to look at all the possible locations!

We decided to keep the vacation simple + booked four nights. We started planning the meals, to keep the budget low + to enjoy lots of down time. We were coming out of a stressful season + heading into a crazy May. So we wanted to enjoy the beach, hike a little + read a lot of books.

Honestly that's pretty much how it worked out. Our girls {13 + 11} are suberb travelers by this point -- they read, listened to music + snacked for 12 hours there + back again. They brought plenty of books they were into {including Twilight for the 13 yr old + Fablehaven for the 11 yr old}, as well as a few games + their headphones, of course.

We did both long + short beach walks and loved seeing the huge groups of rays from our balcony (or even along the beach when we were walking at dusk). The water is crystal blue, the sand white + soft. SO beautiful! Our area of the beach turned out to be almost empty whenever we set up our little umbrella + chair collection. There are many activities to do in PCB, but don't miss Conservation Park. Hiking + biking were perfect for our little group.

Whatever the season for your family, embrace the opportunity to explore different areas + expose your kids to nature of all types!

See Sonya's other two posts in the #MYadventure series here + here. It's so fun to see adventures that other families head out on! If you would like to share about an amazing place your family went, just contact BUSHBABY! We'd love to welcome you to share here on the journal.

Guest Post by LORI: The Nest Program {a place for a child to truly grow}

Welcome, Lori, to the BUSHBABY journal. We're so happy to get to know you + hear a bit about the special class you teach in Peoria!

Hello! My name is Lori.

The Nest is my parent/child class that I’ve started from my home here in Peoria Illinois. My class follows the model and philosophies of Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf Schools) and the principles and practices of LifeWays North America.

“Young children thrive in a home or homelike environment that offers beauty, comfort and security, and connection to the living world of nature.” ~ Home Away from Home.


As mentioned, The Nest follows the same practices found in LifeWays:

  • the need for relationship-based care (bonding and continuity)
  • recognition of living arts (domestic, nurturing, creative and social arts) as central to the advancement of children’s social, emotional, and intellectual skills

The Nest is a parent/child class for children 18 months- 3 1/2 year olds. An adult must accompany the child. I mostly have the mothers join in with their children but I also have had fathers, grandparents, and a couple of nannies bring the children. It is great fun especially to see the men dive into the class with such enthusiasm!

The class follows a gentle rhythm that begins as soon as they come through my front door. Rhythm is essentially our main topic that we cover here at The Nest. Life becomes simpler and less stressful for both caregivers and children when a supportive rhythm/routines are established. After slippers have been placed on feet, we pass through to the bathroom to wash hands to a song. Once little hands have been washed, they roll dough out at their table to a fun baking song. I place the baking sheets into the oven and it is time for free play for the children while I take the adults for a simple sewing project. No sewing background needed! The children play nicely with the wooden and handmade toys placed throughout several downstairs rooms. There are no plastic or electronic toys for the children to play with. Play is how children learn. When they play without the use of technology, they learn to create, problem solve, and to internalize emotions.

“Play is the work of the young child” ~ Rudolph Steiner.

After free play and sewing time, we all clean up to yet another song that leads right into circle time! Circle time consists of finger plays and seasonal songs for the adults and children to do together. Children love it when their adult sings along!

“Emphasis is on loving human interaction with warm speech, live singing, verses, and stories rather than technology.” ~Home Away from Home.

After a few songs, the aroma of freshly baked bread calls us into the dining area for snack time. The parents and children set the table together. Once the table has been set and a singing blessings has been sung, it is time to eat! A basket full of fresh hot bread rolls, a variety of fresh fruits and veggies await to be served. We are working on teaching our children to pass the dishes around the table and other table etiquette.

Once snack time has come to an end, clean up songs are sung and amazingly, the chore of sweeping, washing dishes, and tables with the children becomes fun and pleasant. While the house is in the middle of this cleaning frenzy, I quietly set up my table for the puppet show.

The shows are usually nursery rhymes or classic stories brought to life through singing puppets! The shows are usually very short in length due to the attention span for this age group. Some of my previous puppet plays have been: The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Elves and The Shoemaker, Willow The Witch, and Baa Baa Black Sheep.

“Foundation for lifelong literacy is fostered through storytelling and puppetry; through individual lap time with a book; through poetry, verse, and music on a daily basis; through drama; and through the daily interactions of play and movement in a healthy, secure environment.” ~ Home Away from Home

Finally, it is time to say good-bye. We all join hands in a circle and sing a lovely good-bye song to end our two hour class.
It has been a passion of mine to work with young families to help them through this most wonderful yet exhausting time of raising their children. Today’s society is pushing for our children to advance intellectually too soon! Studies have shown that children’s mental capacities are not ready for this until the age of around seven years. My hope for The Nest is to allow the families and their children to slow the pace down and enjoy life as it is because time really does fly and children are children for a very short time!

Thank you, Lori for inviting us to a day at your class -- it sounds + looks just lovely!

Lori Harms is a graduate of Illinois State University in Elementary Education and a LifeWays graduate (More info about this child-development training organization based in Milwaukee Wisconsin here).

For information on The Nest Program and registration forms for upcoming sessions go to: The Nest Program