Get to know a local mama: Meet Jenni


I was born and raised in the small town (6000) of Independence, Iowa. I always swore I wouldn't live as an adult in a small town but having kids made me really appreciate the closeness of community in a small town so we live in North Pekin (1500) Quite a bit smaller than my hometown but only 10 minutes from the big city!


I attended Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa, which at the time had one of the top 3 Professional Photography programs in the country. I graduated with an Associate of Applied Arts degree in Professional Photography in 1999.

Meeting hubby + settling here?

I became very close friends with 3 couples in Peoria in after meeting them on a convention cruise. I moved here in 2009 to be close to them as they were like family. I lived in an apartment building across from OSF when one night right before midnight, the fire alarm went off. That night I met my neighbor across the hall and he calmed my nerves as we were evacuated from the building. We hit it off instantly and got married in Las Vegas with our parents and siblings by our side on 11/12/13. Ryan works as an automotive technician at Velde.


We have 2 girls. Arianna is 5 and Nola is 2 ½. The night I met Ryan he told me he wanted to name his daughter Arianna. Nola is named after the acronym for New Orleans, Louisianna.

Passions, career?

I am a Certified Professional Photographer with Blissful Images. I have owned my own business now for 15 years! I love to give back through my volunteer work with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. My favorite things are working on our home we gutted and transformed from a hoarder house to our dream home, vising friends in our favorite city, New Orleans and cruising on Carnival Cruise ships.

Best part of being their mom?

Experiencing life through their eyes is my favorite. I never knew I could love do deeply as I do. Ryan and I didn't get to travel when we were kids so we prioritize that for our family and strive to take them places and show them things we didn't get to.

Summer plans for the family?

Our first family trip to Wisconsin Dells and a Cubs game in Wisconsin at the end of the month.

Helpful activities to keep you little ones active, to pass along to other local families?

My kids love going swimming, to the park, walking around our neighboorhood and playing in the yard. They are always wanting to be involved with things at home so they often are helping with household chores as well as starting to cook. I love their independence! Our 5 year old will make scrambled eggs with toast and clean up after and is so very proud of herself. I love to encourage their independence!

Guest Post by ABBEY: The More We Get Together

We are happy to share insight into "Miss Abbey" as many of us know her by.

Born + raised?
I was born in Peoria and Lived here my entire life until leaving for college.

College + career? I received my undergrad at Saint Louis University and my graduate degree in Speech Language Pathology, at Gallaudet University in Washington DC. After graduation, I moved to Virginia Beach with my husband and worked in an elementary school for 5 years, serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing population, preK-4th, as a Speech Therapist. We moved back to Peoria in 2009 and I started Communication Junction to continue sharing my passion for early communication and language development.

Your hubby?
My husband was born in St Louis, but moved to South Africa when he was three months old. His father is from Johannesburg and his mother from Peoria. At age 15 he moved back to Peoria with his mom and sister. He graduated from Woodruff Highschool. He received his undergraduate degree from South West Missouri State University (now Missouri State) and his graduate degree from University of Virginia. After graduate school he received a Commission from the Navy and was active duty for 6 years. He is currently serving in the Naval Reserve and is a Civil Engineer, locally, with River City Construction.

Your kiddos? Owen (9 almost 10) and Colin (8) keep us going. Both are involved in local running and summer swimming. Owen, who will be in 5th grade, also enjoys acting, singing, reading and "all the sports". Colin, entering 3rd grade, enjoys Martial Arts, being home and reading.

How did Communcation Junction meet Bushbaby? Bethany and I originally met when I stopped into BushBaby shopping for my kids. We quickly became great friends and CJ was invited to petticoats in her 1st birthday party. From there we have continuously looked for opportunities to work together, combining our love for children, outdoors and fun!

Thank you ABBEY for sharing you with us!  You can find Abbey at Bushbaby on the first Saturday of every month.  We have taken Sign + Sing to Donovan Park through September 9th, starting at 9am.  We will be back at Bushbaby in October at 9:15am.  For more information on Communication Junction events, find them on facebook or on their website.

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.}