The 12 Days of Christmas a Mom Really Wants

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The Christmas season is fully upon us, which means I’m streaming my Pandora Christmas stations during all waking hours. My Christmas music streaming is done much to the joy of my husband and children, who especially love that I treat the Christmas music station as my own personal sing-along karaoke.

One of the more amusing Christmas songs that always pops up on my playlist is “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Everyone knows the song: “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.” As the song progresses we learn about all of the glorious gifts bestowed upon the recipient: Two turtle doves, three french hens, four calling birds, five golden rings, six geese a-laying, seven swans a swimming (So many birds!!)…and all the way up to twelve drummers drumming.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if my true love gave me a boatload of birds to take care of for Christmas, I’d chalk that right up there with receiving a toilet scrub brush and some rubber gloves. No thank you, sir. No, if my true love gave to me what I really wanted, it would look something like this:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me one whole day off to do whatever I wanted.
I don’t even know where I would start, but it would for sure involve a lot of not-cleaning and not-responding to the needs/wants/whims of , well, anyone not named Me. We could just stop right here with this one and be set for life, but this is the 12 days of Christmas, so we’ll keep going.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two solid days of your time checking off items from your “Honey Do” list (that I so kindly wrote out for you).
Let’s turn that “Honey Do” list into a “Honey Done” list. I know that a lot of the things on that list don’t bother you because you’re away in an office for 10 hours a day…but my office happens to be our house, and they drive me bonkers! That little patch of the wall that still needs to be painted, the rattling pipe, the drawers that still need pulls (that we already bought) installed. Please and thank you.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three (proper) massages.
No funny business, just a good ‘ol back rub. And if you’re not up to the task, you’re welcome to send me off to the spa.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four weekends per month to sleep in.
Sleep is the one thing I dream about when I am awake. You, my friend, could make my wildest dreams come true.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five opportunities to work out every week.
How amazing would it be to just go to the gym or hit the pavement any time I wanted? No need to shlep along unruly children or push a whiny toddler in the stroller. I would actually have a legitimate purpose for wearing yoga pants and running shoes every day. Yes, this would be bliss.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six hours of time washing and detailing my minivan.
I’m not sure that 6 hours would be enough time to remove the slop and grime and pulverized goldfish crackers from my kid-mobile, but you have to start somewhere. I would absolutely love to sit down in that car some day and be reminded of the carpet’s natural color and look through windows that are not smeared with sticky handprints.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven days off of bedtime duty every week.
Bedtime is perhaps my least favorite part of any given day. The cajoling, the whining, the arguing, the pushing of buttons when my buttons are already worn out from the day. How amazing would it be to just give my kids a hug and a kiss goodnight, then sit down with a book and a cup of tea while the nighttime chaos unfolded out of earshot? SUPER-amazing, that’s how amazing it would be.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight hours of quality time with our family doing whatever I plan for us.
My true love does not (under normal circumstances) enjoy “adventuring” as I call it. Neither do two out of my three children. They’re much happier staying home working on a project or playing video games with their friends. I, on the other hand, am like a caged bird that needs to spread her wings.

For one solid day I’d like to take the whole family and go to all the places, do all the things, eat at all the restaurants, and enjoy all the time together. Everyone would be happy and well-rested and cooperative and excited to see all of the wonderful things I had planned for us. They would marvel at the beautiful places in nature we would visit and they would appreciate the new culinary journeys I would take them on. At the end of the day they would thank me for opening their eyes to new experiences.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine months of carpooling service for our children.
I spend approximately 27 hours a day driving my children to and fro. If someone could just help me drive kids to school and sports and clubs and playdates I would have enough time to do, well, everything. And I’m not even asking for a whole year of driving services. Nine months, from September-May, should do just fine for now. I’m so magnanimous.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten loads of laundry completed by someone other than myself.
In a family with three young children I do laundry every. Single. Day. Of all my domestic chores, laundry is the most consistent time-suck. I would love to have help every now and then with completing full loads of laundry. And by completing, I mean sorting, washing, drying, ironing/folding, and putting away everything. Not just one step in the process as is occasionally offered, but the whole shebang.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven fresh, healthy dinners prepped, served, and cleaned up for our family.
Even though I’ve been an “adult” for quite some time now, the fact that I have to make dinner every day is still surprising to me. Growing up I rarely gave dinner a thought because it always just appeared on our dinner table at 6PM. Now that I’m in charge of the whole dinner rigamarole, however, dinner carries quite a different connotation in my mind. Dinner requires planning, time to prep, time to cook, time to clean, and will power to not lose your cool when nobody eats the meal that you’ve spent all day obsessing over. For a few days I’d love to just revert to my childhood and show up to dinner on the table at 6PM–is that too much to ask?

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve months of a housecleaning service.
Can I get an amen?! Admittedly, I am a terrible housekeeper. I love clean, but I despise cleaning. I mean, I’ll do the basic bed-making and vacuuming and putting things away, but I need someone to get into all the nooks and crannies. Someone to come in and mop up the dust bunnies and scrub the baseboards, and rub the fingerprints off our front windows. Someone to make my home presentable, even if it’s just for the 2 hours between elementary school drop-off and preschool pick-up.

So, there’s my twelve days of Christmas list. No partridge in a pear tree or calling birds (They’d just mess up my house and add more noise to the usual cacophony, anyway)–although I really wouldn’t mind the five golden rings.

Now it’s your turn–what’s on your twelve days of Christmas wish list?

Great Wolf Lodge For First-Timers

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, people standing and indoorThere are certain rights of passage that you go through as a parent: Your first holiday with kids, your first vacation with kids, your first bout of sickness with kids. Each is momentous in it’s own way, and each has its own challenges.

As a mom living in the Pacific Northwest, I am going to add to my list of parenting rights of passage an overnight trip to the mecca of family getaways: Great Wolf Lodge (Hereto referred to as GWL for the sake of blogging brevity). I have been aware of this milestone for quite some time–for several years we would drive right past the gargantuan Hotel/Resort/Water-Themepark just off the shoulder of I-5 every time we drove from California up to visit our family in Washington—but we had never taken the plunge. I knew it would be exciting (for the kids) and expensive (for the parents) but I really didn’t know quite what to expect.

Last week we finally had a good enough excuse to book ourselves a stay GWL. Jacob had broken his arm on the second day of school and his cast (that couldn’t get wet for 8 weeks) finally came off. That paired with no-school and no-work days for Thanksgiving (and a great deal on our stay for going mid-week) combined to make it the perfect getaway timing for our family.

This was our first stay at GWL and, while I know that there are still a lot of intricacies to maximizing your time/money I could still learn, I did come away with a few tips for those of you who are considering your own maiden voyage.

  1. Timing, timing, timing!
    GWL, like all resorts, bases their pricing on peak travel times and filling their hotel to capacity. Basic supply and demand. For GWL, this means you can pay anywhere from about $150 per night all the way up to over $1000 for ONE STINKING NIGHT. That’s a pretty big range! If you’re like me and you see the $899 per night price tag pop up and you feel like you’re going to faint, maybe consider going at a different time. Like a Tuesday in the middle of January. Sure, it may not be ideal timing, but think of how many extra goodies at GWL you could spend your additional $600 on (and, trust me, there are a LOT of extra goodies to spend your money on) if you go off-peak!

    There are also several ways to score a “deal” on a stay at GWL. You can check the “Deals” tab on their website, sign up for their mailing list and get deals emailed to you, look for vouchers on Groupon (they come up a few times a year), or use your PTA membership for a discount. Any way you cut it, this won’t be a cheap stay, but at least you can take some of the sting out of your final bill.

  2. Choosing a Room
    There are several types of rooms to choose from. We opted for a middle-of-the-road suite that had 1 set of bunk beds, a twin bed, a Queen bed, and a pull-out couch. The kids’ area of the room (bunk bed + twin bed) was separated by a half-wall from the “adult” portion of the room (queen bed + pull-out couch)–in theory this is nice, but everyone can still see and hear everyone else. My kids are weird sleepers and I don’t like being anywhere near them at night time, so maybe next time I’ll just book them a room down the hall with a grandparent so I can sleep in peace 🙂

    When you book your GWL stay online you have the option of (generally) choosing your room location. The main things to consider for a room location are mobility and noise. By mobility I’m referring to how mobile you are and how easy it is to access the things you want to do. GWL is HUGE and if you get a room at the far end of a corridor (as we did) you could spend 10 minutes just walking to the lobby (and that’s if your kids are actually cooperating and walking at a normal human pace, not the sloth-like crawl that they get into when they’re tired/hungry/unwilling participants in the labor of movement).  By noise I’m referring to the fact that you’re literally in a hotel run over by packs of exuberant children. That being said, if you can, I would opt for a room on the 1st floor (lobby, Starbucks, restaurants, and gift shop are on this floor) or the 2nd floor (arcade, spa, ice cream shop, and pool entrance are on this floor). I would also request a room that is at least 5 doors down from any stairway or elevator…I honestly don’t know how the people sleeping right next to a constant slamming door full of screaming children survived the night. 

  3. The Magical Bracelet
    When you check in to GWL you get a pair of wolf ears for each of your “pups”, a map of the resort, an activity schedule, an ID wristband for each guest…and no room key. You see, the magical (adult) wristbands that they give you at check-in are actually your key to everything. They are your room key. They are your credit card. They are your admission ticket to the water park. Everything. You just scan your wrist and you’re good to go–no keys or wallets to schlep around. I loved this concept.  My dear husband, however, was paranoid as anything that somebody was going to chop off his hand when we weren’t looking and start charging massive amounts of ice cream to our room without our consent. I guess just don’t lose your wrist, and you’ll  be fine.
  4. So Many Extra Goodies To Spend Your Money On
    From the arcade to the mini golf to the high ropes course to the on-site Build-a-Bear to gem mining to a kiddie-spa there is an abundance of “extras” you can add to your (already pricey) GWL stay.  They do sell combo packages (starting at about $35) that give you access to some of the extra activities, so that could be a good option if you plan on doing several activities during your stay. Do your research ahead of time and decide the types of activities or a price limit you’re willing to spend on extras. Then–and this is important–try to set your kids’ expectations for what you will/not be doing once you arrive. Meltdowns over alluring arcade games and adorable stuffies are still sure to arise, but at least you gave everyone fair warning.
  5. Speaking of Extras…MagiQuest
    I had done my due diligence in researching the many extra activities of GWL and I determined that we would allow our children to play the much-lauded MagiQuest game (along with $10 of spending money per kid that they could waste however they wanted). The only thing I knew about the MagiQuest game was that my kids would 100% beg me to play it, and that there were wands involved. I also found out that I could borrow the wands from friends before we left so I wouldn’t have to buy them.

    So, feeling quite proud of my forward-thinking, I borrowed three wands assuming our MagiQuest adventure would now be a bonus freebie. I talked it up like crazy because I had thought ahead and borrowed the wands. Big mistake. Turns out, even after you buy the wands (for the bargain price of about $40 PER WAND) you still have to pay $15 per wand to play the game. And, since I’d already talked up the dang wands so much I pretty much had to cough up the money to activate them. Two out of my 3 kids played with their now-activated wands for a few microseconds before they decided the game was too boring/confusing, and the third kid would only play with my direct supervision and participation (which basically defeats the purpose of a kids’ game, in my opinion). Some kids love the game, and maybe yours will, too…but next time I’m saving my money and using it to buy an extra Mai Tai at story time.

  6. They Have MaiTais at Story Time
    Just thought I’d throw that little tidbit out there. They also have poolside margaritas. And they’ll bring you wine and a cheese board to your room. Nothing says good ol’ fashioned family fun like a bunch of parents cutting loose among a sea of children and animatronic wild animals.
  7. Dining Options
    As far as I know, every room at GWL is equipped with a microwave and mini fridge. This means you can bring basically all of the kid food groups (salty snacks, sugary treats, unhealthily-quick breakfasts, processed junk) along with you. Bringing some of your own food along could save you a bundle (the buffet breakfast was $18 per adult).

    There are several on-site dining options that allow you to eat “out” while still in your bathing suit and/or pajamas: a buffet restaurant, a sit-down bar and grill, a pizzeria (takeaway only), a poolside burger shack, and even a Starbucks. There is also a Dippin’ dots and a “bakery” (you can buy stale donuts and cupcakes, but I can guarantee nothing is actually baked there). The food is so-so quality and a bit on the spendy side, but nothing outrageous. And, while nobody’s giving our Michelin Stars to The Wolf any time soon, I thought the food was fine (and my kids loved that we got pizza for dinner AND burgers for lunch, all in the same weekend!).
    If you want to put on real clothes and shoes, you can even venture off-site. Within a 5-minute drive there are several fast food restaurants, a Mexican restaurant, and a couple of coffee shops.

  8. The Waterpark
    The main draw of GWL is its massive indoor waterpark. We’re talking: kiddie splash pool, wave pool, family play pool, hot tubs, and waterslides galore. All indoors and heated to a balmy 85 degrees year-round. They’re also quite generous with size requirements. I was worried that my kids wouldn’t be big enough to go on most of the water features and I’d have to quell in-water meltdowns, but that wasn’t the case. Hannah (age 3) was able to do the kiddie pool, the huge climbing structure/medium-sized water slides, the wave pool, the family pool, and the hot tubs. Jacob (age 7) was able to do literally everything (including the massive hurricane slide that I wouldn’t even go on).

    You may want to bring your own flip-flops and towels and/or robes to wear while you walk from your room to the pool–the hallways and lobby are definitely not as warm as the waterpark. Pool towels are provided at the pool, but you have to check them out and there is a fee if you don’t return them.

    The water is quite chlorinated (For obvious reasons–just imagine what happens in a pool full of over 1,000 children…). Wear swimsuits that you don’t mind getting ruined by chemicals, and definitely bring goggles if you have sensitive eyes. You may also want to bring water bottles and a few snacks to get you through the long swim sessions (Just sneak them in under your towels, because the official rule is “No outside food or beverage” poolside).

  9. Included Activities
    GWL offers a number of free (!) activities for their guests including crafts, evening story time, the “clock tower show” (creepy animatronic animals singing weird songs), a nighttime pajama dance party, and early morning (9:00 AM) family yoga. My kids were so-so interested in the activities, but it’s nice to have options.
  10. How Long To Stay
    Now, this is open to interpretation…or your idea of how much insanity you’re willing to suffer through for your childrens’ joy. We stayed for one night, which was plenty for us. You are able to start using the waterpark and activities at 1:00 on your day of arrival until 8:00PM the day you check out. That means in our “1 day” we got two very full days of activity and one sleepless night. Some people like to go for a few days so they can experience all that The Wolf has to offer, so it’s your call.

The final verdict: I’m glad we went! It’s a long drive, and it’s expensive, and it’s utterly exhausting…but it was absolutely worth it all. Our kids were in paradise and the smiles on their faces and the memories we made together were priceless. We’ll definitely be back again some day…after we recover from our first trip.

10 Lessons I’ve Learned From Being Broken

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In order to appreciate what I’m about to tell you, you have to understand how I got here.  Some of you already know this story, so bee patient (pun intended…you’ll see why!).

Back in July I did something that I rarely do: I weeded my garden. I deeply regret my poor decision to partake in this activity, and I have already promised myself never to do it again. Under the best of circumstances, weeding is a mundane and terrible task. On this particular occasion, however, my garden weeding actually changed the course of my life.

I had been weeding the flower beds in front of our house and I was nearing the end of the final bed when I decided to pull up a clump of dead/dying flowers/weeds (Don’t ask me what the plant actually was because I know next to nothing about plants. It was ugly, though, so I decided it had to go.). I was in the zone (which is code for I was trying to get this horrendous chore over with as quickly as possible), so without thinking–or even really looking–I stepped into the garden bed, reached both hands down to the base of the plant, and pulled as hard as I could.

Now, usually what you would expect to happen next is that I pulled up the plant and went on my merry-little-weeding-way.

But that didn’t happen.

Not exactly.

You see, when I pulled up the plant it did dislodge from the ground. That part was fine. What wasn’t fine was what else I dislodged from the ground when I pulled that plant with all my might. Specifically, an entire nest of (very disgruntled) ground wasps.

Before I even knew what was happening I had an entire colony of wasps attacking me (Which I really can’t blame them for because I would do the same thing if a giant came and pulled up my whole home with all of my buddies in it.). The wasps started stinging me and chasing me and stinging me again. And again. And again.

So I did what any rational adult would do in this situation: I ran flailing through the yard yelling obscenities while I stripped off all of my clothing. My children, who had been playing nonchalantly in the yard, were witness to the whole wasp escapade. I’m pretty sure we’ll now have to take them to therapy for PTSD after what they witnessed on that fateful day. Thankfully we captured the whole thing on our surveillance cameras, so if paying for the therapy becomes a burden I can always submit the videos to AFV and use the prize money to pay off our bills.

All said and done, I had been stung close to 20 times. My entire body swelled up for a week and I developed a close relationship with Calamine Lotion and ice packs.  But I’m a fighter, and I pulled through The Wasp-pocalypse of 2019. I am a survivor.

Which brings me to my present predicament. You see, when I was flailing my body through my front yard trying to ward off the wasps I actually did some damage…to myself. Somewhere between karate chopping the evil bugs and twisting out of my t-shirt I managed to pull some muscles in my back.

I’ve had back injuries before (basically non-stop since babies decided to inhabit my womb and pull all of my joints out of place), but this time was different. My back pains before had come and gone with enough time and rest, but this bugger wasn’t ready to move on.

By October, 3 months after the Wasp-pocalypse, I was still experiencing chronic back pain. It hurt to stand. It hurt to sit. It hurt to move. Heck, it even hurt to think about moving. I’d tried resting and stretching and thinking good thoughts, but nothing was helping.

So, finally, I decided to take action. 3 weeks ago I started Physical Therapy (PT) to *hopefully* build back up some strength and get along with my life. My PT journey has been fun so far, mostly because literally every person in my family (Mom, Dad, sisters, even a cousin) are PT’s and I finally get to see things from the other side of the workout room.

But it’s also been hard. And uncomfortable. And not always fun. It’s a lot of work building yourself back up when you’ve been broken. Through my being broken I’ve learned a few things about myself and the process of building myself back up. Wisdom I will now share with you, my friends:

  1. Give Myself Permission For Healing
    This was the hardest thing for a long time. I’m so used to taking care of others and attending to their needs that it was difficult to allow myself the time and space for my own healing. I figured if I brushed my own needs aside for long enough, eventually they’d take care of themselves. Not true, and not what’s best for me.
  2. Admit I Need Help
    I tried (haphazardly) doing things on my own. And when that wasn’t enough, I had to humble myself enough to ask for help. In my case, this was professional help from PT’s who have spent 5 or more years of their lives learning how to put broken people like me back together.
  3. Patience
    Healing takes time. I’m definitely a subscriber to the immediate gratification model, so this one is difficult for me. But I’m learning. I’m learning to do what I can do now, with the hope that a payoff will be coming. Some day.
  4. Don’t Sweat the Setbacks
    One of the activities I want to return to is running. I’m a former marathon runner who literally can’t even make it a mile before I’m doubled over in pain. So when my PT told me to try incorporating a bit of running again I decided to go jog a few miles. Not a good idea. In fact, a very bad idea.By the time I’d hobbled back home I was in so much pain I didn’t know if my back was even still attached to my body. But I didn’t let that deter me from trying again. After resting for a couple of days I tried again, this time just running for 1-2 minutes at a time and then walking. And do you know what?! It worked! It still hurt and it was still incredibly discouraging to see the failings of my body, but I made it. And I’ll keep trying until I finally get it.
  5. Allow Myself Rest
    Oh, this one is the actual WORST! Sometimes I view rest as a 4-letter word in my mind, and it is so so hard for me. On an intellectual level, though, I know that rest is one of the parts of my program that I need in order to heal. So I do the most Type-A thing you could do and I literally schedule rest into my calendar. I even have an alarm on my phone. In fact, as I write this post I’m sitting on a chair propped up by pillows with an ice pack on my back…hey, whatever works!
  6. Be Kind To Myself
    This process has not been easy or pretty and nothing is happening on the timeline that I would like it to, but I’m trying to think positive. I’m being my own cheerleader and I’m encouraging myself. A huge part of healing is mental, and I’m going to use that to my advantage.
  7. Consistence + Persistence
    I have to do my exercises every. Single. Day. If I slack for a day, the losses start to compound very quickly…and the only person this hurts is myself. Consistency.And consistency requires persistence, even when it’s not easy or convenient. Sometimes this means I have a preschooler stretched out on my yoga mat with me during my exercise block. Sometimes this means sacrificing 2 of my 4 “solo hours” a week while all 3 kids are in school at the same time to go to my PT appointments. Sometimes this means saying no to an activity that I want to do because I know that it wouldn’t help with my healing right now. Healing requires persistence, one small decision at a time.
  8. Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself
    May the truth set you free.
  9. Accept That Things May Never Be The Same
    As much as I want things to be “back to normal” I’m quite aware that I may never be able to return to some activities or perform at the level that I once did. Whatever my new normal is, however, I can adapt and embrace it for what it is.
  10. Find Joy In The Process
    I’ve tried to find small ways to make this awkward process more enjoyable. I watch cheesy TV shows while I do my exercises (Did you know that Randy on Say Yes To The Dress is finally designing his own bridal gown collection?!). I pretend that I’m at the spa while I’m getting (incredibly painful) deep tissue massages at PT.  Heck, I just think about the ridiculous way I got myself into this predicament and I can’t help but laugh. And when all else fails, I remind myself of why I’m doing this, and it makes it all worth it.

Whatever brokenness you’re healing from–be it a wasp-related injury or something more profound–I wish you the best on your journey. Be persistent, be kind and, above all, find joy in the process.

The Ultimate Veteran

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Today is Veterans Day, a day that has always held a lot of significance for me. Both of my grandfathers were veterans, and I deeply respect the sacrifice that they made on my behalf.

I took my kids to a Veterans Day parade this morning, and as we were waiting for the festivities to begin I opened the Facebook app on my phone. As I scrolled through my news feed I came across a photo of my friend, K, dressed in full combat gear. The photo was taken several years ago when she was deployed as an active duty Marine, and the caption read simply: “Freedom isn’t free.”

I clicked on the photo and, when I did, an arrow popped up at the top of the page beckoning me to delve into the Social Media abyss. Out of curiosity, I clicked the arrow and it took me to the next photo on K’s Facebook feed, a photo of K snuggled up with her three young children. As I toggled back and forth between those two photos–K in combat gear, and K cuddling her babies–I was struck by the depth of those words: Freedom isn’t free.

As I pondered this, I realized a few things about freedom.

First, Freedom always has a price, and that price comes in the form of extreme sacrifice. The depth of sacrifice that is required to leave home and comfort and safety is absolutely unfathomable to me. My veteran grandfathers still bore the literal scars of battle 70 years after they’d returned home. And they were the lucky ones. Many pay the ultimate price of freedom with their very lives. Freedom is costly in every sense of the word.

Secondly, in order to truly be freedom it must be all-encompassing. Freedom is not for the Us or the Them, it is for the everyone. K is a veteran, and she knows the price of freedom first-hand. With boots on the ground and flesh in the game, she literally fought for freedom. She fought for the freedom of people she knew and people she would never meet. She fought for the freedom of her friends as well as for the bullies and the people who don’t signal in traffic and all the rest of the types of people. She fought for the freedom of people who hadn’t even been born yet (like those kids in the photo with her). She fought for me. Her sacrifice paid the price for those of us who have never paid the price. Although we have never donned tactical gear or carried a military rucksack through the desert, our price has already been paid.

Finally, the price of freedom can never be fully repaid. Sure, I can tell veterans “Thank you for your service” and I can wave a flag in a parade and I can send care packages over-seas. But is that any comparison to the sacrifice that has already been made on my behalf?

Freedom is costly. Freedom is all-encompassing. The price of freedom can never fully be repaid.

And then it struck me: Jesus is the ultimate veteran. He fought Satan, sin, and death and he came out victorious. The freedom that resulted from this victory is the ultimate freedom.

Jesus paid the ultimate price for the sins of the world. He laid down his own life so that we might be free.

The freedom of Jesus is all-encompassing. His freedom is available for all people in all places at all times. No fine-print or exclusions, everyone.

The debt that has been paid on my behalf can never be repaid. Not by my good work, but only by trusting in the work that He has already done.

So this week as we honor our veterans, I will remember this. Freedom isn’t free. It never has been, and it never will be. I am so grateful to the men, women, and savior who have paid for my freedom–now, and forever.

Happy Veterans Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Halloween In 2019

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Halloween.

When I was a kid, Halloween was a day that I looked forward to every year. I mean, what other day could be more catered to children than a day you get to imagine you’re anything you want to be and every house you visit gives you free candy? One day of absolute kid heaven.

Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s Halloween was exactly that: one day of kid heaven. We would decorate our house and carve pumpkins some time leading up to the big day, and we’d go through our dress-up box to pick out our costumes, but that was about it. There was not a lot of prep work or parental stress involved in the day (Other than, perhaps, the fact that my mom had to pick up a bag of Tootsie Pops when she was at the store buying herself Tab.). These were simpler times before Pinterest and Instagram and the mass-commercialization of just about everything.

Not so now. No, today in 2019 Halloween is a different beast altogether. If you have a child in 2019, your Halloween timeline probably looks something like this:

July 5, 2019
Begin your Halloween costume shopping at Costco. If you aren’t ready to make a costume commitment by the day after the 4th of July, you risk having your kid’s favorite character and/or size completely sold out by the time school starts in the fall.

August 2019
Begin the prep work for your Halloween decorations. You should pin ideas from Pinterest boards that will really make your house stand out on the block. You’ll need a couple of months to gather the supplies and craft your beach ball googly eyes (to hang in your trees) and life-size spiders made out of styrofoam and weather-resistant papier-mâché (to cover every facade of your house).

September 2019
Return the superhero costume you bought at Costco two months ago. Now that school has started your kid’s friends have introduced him to some new video game and he wants to be an obscure character from the Nether world. After a quick search on Amazon you find the newly-desired costume (for three times the price of the Costco one, thankyouverymuch). Thanks to Amazon Prime, the costume can be delivered tomorrow by a somewhat sketchy guy who will show up in your driveway in an unmarked car when you’re home alone.

October 2019
Visit at least one pumpkin patch each weekend during the month of October. These farms are only open for a short window of time, and you must get the requisite fun out of them while they’re available. Dig deep to smile when it costs over $100 to take your family to look at gourds in the mud. It will all be worth it, though, when you get photos of your children in a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins (#mylilpunkins) and eat your body weight in apple cider donuts.

October 5, 2019
Your daughter has decided to be a VSCO Girl for Halloween. You  have no idea what this is so you Google the term. Every search result is just a photo of you and your friends in middle school. Thank goodness Amazon Prime also delivers hair scrunchies and Fjallraven-Kanken backpacks.

October 12, 2019
Go shopping for trick-or-treat supplies before the stores replace all of the Halloween candy with candy canes and gingerbread houses. Buy enough candy to fill the entire trunk of your car–you don’t want to be that house that runs out of candy halfway through the big night. Make sure your chocolates are fair trade and your gummies are organic and dye-free. Also buy allergy-free trinkets for your teal pumpkin and teen-appropriate gifts for the teens who may or may not come to your house because they still want to enjoy a bit more of their childhood (aka free candy).

October 19, 2019 
Pumpkin carving! Spend a few hours researching pumpkin designs online. Print off your desired templates and affix to your pumpkin. Break out your specialized carving kit containing intricate tools of the trade. Also make sure your Dremel Tool is available for additional artistic edge. Sharpies and steak knives are so 1993.

October 26, 2019
Attend the Fall Family Festival at your husband’s work. Marvel at how quickly your children can consume an entire plastic pumpkin’s worth of candy on the car ride home.

October 27, 2019
Attend your community trunk-or-treat Halloween pre-funk. Your children now have approximately 50 pounds of candy each, and we’re still half a week away from the main event.

October 28, 2019
Open up your NextDoor app so you can plot the best trick or treating route. Luckily there is a special Halloween feature where your neighbors have already indicated with icons whether they will be offering trick-or-treat incentives such as full size candy bars, a haunted house, or booze for the parents.

October 30, 2019
Your son rips his costume in half because he’s been wearing it non-stop since he got it over a month ago. Stay up until 2 am sewing the pieces back together.

October 31, 2019
Halloween Day!
Wake up at 5:30AM so you can make your traditional pumpkin pancakes and hot chocolate breakfast.
Get your kids dressed in their costumes so you can take pictures before school and post them to your social media accounts.
Arrive at school 30 minutes early so you can help decorate the classroom for the Halloween party.
Rush home after school starts so you can change into your costume (no weapons or masks) and get back to school in time for the party.
Drop off your toddler with your neighbor’s mother because all of your friends who usually help watch your kids are also at school for the Halloween party.
Get to school just in time for the first party. Enjoy watching first graders decorate “cookies” covered in an entire jar of frosting and bajillions of sprinkles.
As soon as the first class party is done, rush across the hall to your other kid’s party. Marvel at how many video game characters from the Nether world exist in the third grade.
After the party, rush home and pick up your toddler from the sitter so you can rush back to school to pick up the older kids after school.
Get home from school and try to force feed your children something with nutritional content before the next deluge of sugar.
Double check that your flashlights have working batteries. Realize that none of your flashlights have working batteries, so call your husband and have him pick up some extra batteries on his way home from work (which is taking approximately 4 hours anyway, because every other parent is also rushing home from work right now).
Attempt to bundle up your children for trick-or-treating because you live in Washington which means the weather on Halloween will either be A) cold, dark and rainy or B) freaking freezing cold (This was also the case in Washington during the late-80’s. Some things just never change.). Your children will have none of this bundling up business because the coats you’re asking them to wear cover up important details of their costumes. They say things like, “Dragons don’t wear rain coats.” and “Elsa doesn’t get cold because of her magical powers.” and “Kung Fu masters don’t wear shoes.” 100% of your children reject 100% of the weather protection you offer. May the odds be ever in their favor.
Spend the next 1-2 hours wandering your neighborhood in the dark while your children complain that their candy bags are too heavy and they are too cold.
Get home from trick-or-treating and allow your children to empty their candy loot and indulge in their every gluttonous tendency.
Finally wrangle the over-tired, over-sugared children to bed an hour past bedtime.
Print off a certificate of achievement for yourself because you have survived Halloween 2019.

Happy Halloween, friends! May it be a day you’ll always remember.

Halfway There

Birth and Coming Home 530

This weekend we are reaching a new milestone in our parenting journey: the halfway point. On Sunday our oldest son, David, will turn 9 years old which means he will be halfway to the age of 18…which means that he will officially be halfway to adulthood.

Mic drop.

Somehow I blinked and nine years flew by. I swear to you it was just yesterday that I was sitting on my living room couch at 42 weeks pregnant with David, re-reading my worn out copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting and writing out my (extremely detailed) birth plan. I felt very ready, and very in control (Aren’t new mothers precious?!).

But then David was born. I realized very quickly how very unready and utterly not in control I actually was. Literally nothing about his birth went according to my plan, and I was introduced to perhaps the most important first lesson of parenting: Letting Go.

As parents we are continually forced to let go–to let go of our own plans for our children, to let go of the life we think they should live, to let go of our own control so that they can become who they were meant to be. In this way, I think children are the ultimate tools of sanctification. Every time I see how little I control in my kids’ lives, I am reminded that God ultimately has a unique plan for each of us–and the quicker I can get out of the way and trust Him, the better.

Because what an amazing plan He has!

I look at David and I can see the beginnings of this plan in new ways every day. For instance, when I see David’s intense knowledge of Pokémon I wonder at how his singular focus and depth of knowledge will serve him in his future career. When I see his friends who are kind and silly and spunky just like him, I have hope for the types of relationships he will build throughout his life. When I see him stick up for a child that is getting picked on, I have confidence that he will be an ally as he gets older. When I see his perpetually messy-like-a-hurricane-just-passed-through-it room, I just pray for a wife for him who is blind to messes and/or the most patient woman in the world.

This halfway point is a strange place to be in. To me, it feels like we’re still just getting started. We’re still figuring it out, one learned lesson after another. In fact, if these 18 years of child-rearing were a single hill of a roller coaster, right now I’m still ker-plunking our way to the top of the initial summit. The days are long *ker-plunk*, the days are long *ker-plunk*, the days are long *ker-plunk*.

But now, at 9 years in, I’m at the crest of the hill. I can see what lies ahead, and it looks like it’s going to be a wild ride!

And just like the roller coaster, I have a feeling that these next nine years are going to fly by much faster than the first nine. The distances, as far as time is concerned, are equal. But I know better than to trust something as fleeting as time.

I am quite certain that I will blink again and we’ll be at the bottom of the roller coaster hill. I fully anticipate that these next nine years will evaporate before my very eyes. The downhill rush of the next nine years will probably bring our biggest joys and our biggest challenges–which is both thrilling and terrifying. But I’m ready for it, because we’ve got a good driver (the best, in fact).

In the end, I’m just a passenger. I’m along for the ride, not driving this crazy train. I can buckle us all in and hold on tight, but we’re going down the hill no matter what I do. So, from now until the ride comes to a complete stop, I’m going to trust the One who’s driving us. I know that this will require me to let go–but isn’t the roller coaster more thrilling when you release the bar and throw your hands in the air?

Now that we’re here at the crest of the hill–halfway there–I look forward to what is to come. The future is promising, and I can’t wait to go on this ride with my favorite nine year old in the world.

Happy birthday, David!

 

 

Three Recipes That Have Changed My Life

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As many of you know, cooking is not my favorite thing. This has not always been the case. In fact, there was a time in my life when I used to love cooking. That era was when I had the time to cook what I wanted and then actually sit down to eat and enjoy what I’d prepared. That era, my friends, ended nearly 9 years ago on October 27, 2010 (Also known as the day my first baby was born).

Somehow, though, I am still expected to cook 3 meals and 5,463 snacks every. Single. Day. That’s a lot of cooking for someone who has lost the joy of cooking.

But there is hope! I have a few go-to recipes that have changed my life. I rotate my favorite recipes with such precision that my family knows what day of the month it is purely by what is served on our dinner table. It’s a survival mechanism, and it works.

My criteria for an outstanding recipe are:
1. It is easy to make. We’re talking, so easy I can make this dish while simultaneously helping a kid with homework, assisting a preschooler to build a Duplo city, and breaking up a sibling fight.
2. Is it tasty enough that either:
A) at least 60% of my family will eat it.
Or
B) it’s so delicious that I won’t mind a bit if I have to eat the whole thing myself.

That’s it. I’m pretty easy to please (Motherhood has lowered my standards by a not-insufficient amount).

When I was thinking about what recipes I wanted to share with you here today, I was reminded of one of my favorite shows–Master Chef (I have no problem at all watching other people struggle in the kitchen.). For the grand finale of Master Chef the competitors must prepare a 3-course meal: appetizer, entree, and dessert.

So that is precisely what I will do for you today, my friends. Although I will be presenting 3 courses worth of recipes, I would not necessarily recommend eating them all together at the same meal. It would be a weird combo of foods, but I suppose anything is possible. Free country and everything.

And, since this is a free country, I’m going to start with my favorite course first: Dessert.

5-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake
AKA The Most Dangerous Cake Recipe In The World
Cake is by far my favorite meal of the day, so it’s only fitting that I would highlight a cake recipe for my dessert course.

Ingredients

  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (Get the good stuff here, folks. No off-brand Kroger Cocoa or similar rubbish. We’re looking for something along the lines of Ghiradelli or Godiva–go big or go home!).
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 3 Tablespoons oil (vegetable, canola, whatevs…as long as it’s the edible kind of oil)
  • 3 Tablespoons chocolate chips (Optional. JK. Chocolate chips are never optional. If you want to succeed at life, definitely always add chocolate chips.)
  • A small splash of vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Get a big ‘ol coffee mug. Make sure it is microwaveable. Otherwise you’ll make sparks in your kitchen, and I’m not talking about what you and your husband do after you put the kids to bed.
  2. Add dry ingredients to the mug and mix well.
  3. Add the egg and beat it like you’re Mike Tyson in the boxing ring.
  4. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
  5. Add chocolate chips. Now add a little extra. You’ll thank me later.
  6. Put your mug in the microwave and microwave for 2 minutes 30 seconds – 3 minutes. This is not an exact science. Well, maybe it is. But when I’m cooking chocolate cake in a mug in my microwave I don’t want to mess with the math of microwave watts and the volume of my mug or any of that mumbo-jumbo. Just watch your cake and take it out when it looks done-ish. If you like your cake moist, take it out earlier. If you like it really well-done and dry so you kill all of the salmonella or whatever, cook it longer.
  7. The cake might rise over the top of the mug while it’s cooking. DO NOT BE ALARMED! This, like toddler tantrums in a grocery store, is an expected part of life.
  8. Unless you enjoy the sensation of molten lava on your palette, allow your cake to cool a little bit before you dig in.
  9. EAT!!! Supposedly this dessert is meant to share, but I’ve never tested that theory.

Moving on, now. I’m rather enjoying the excitement of presenting these courses out of order, so let’s do something really crazy!

May I present Course 2: Appetizer

Pan-Roasted Vegetables
Seriously? Roasted vegetables as an appetizer?! Yes, vegetables are an appetizer. Just look in the “Starters” section of any fancy-by-millenial-standards restaurant and I guarantee you’ll find fried brussels sprouts. Roasted is just the healthier version of fried, and I’m oh-so-healthy (as indicated by Course 1 above). But seriously. These things are highly addictive and I almost always eat the whole pan myself.

Ingredients:

  • One big handful per person of a hearty vegetable (Broccoli, Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts, green beans, Potatoes, Carrots)
  • Olive Oil (the big jug from Costco works just fine)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Finishing pizzazz (Varies depending on the veggie and the mood you’re in. Includes but is not limited to: squeeze of fresh lemon juice, balsamic glaze, honey, parmesan cheese, crumbled bacon)

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • While your oven is getting ready to work some magic transforming bland produce into heavenly bites, rinse and pat dry your veggies.
  • Spread out your veggies on a large baking sheet with enough room between them so nobody is touching or passing along any cooties.
  • Douse the whole thing with Olive Oil. Don’t be too stingy here. We want enough oil that the veggies won’t get a sunburn, but they don’t need to swim in the stuff either.
  • Use your fingers to massage the oil into your veggies the same way (you wish) your husband would massage your back after you’ve had a long day of caring for his offspring.
  • Sprinkle some salt and pepper fairy dust all over those veggies.
  • Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. I use a very scientific method to determine when this dish is done. Jab a fork in one of the veggies after 10-15 minutes and if it’s hard as a rock, then it’s not done. If the fork goes in the way I would want my fork to go in when I’m eating it, then it’s done. If the vegetable is black like burnt vegetables, it is over done.
  • As soon as you take the tray out of the oven, spread some pizzaaz. My favorite combos are: broccoli + lemon juice + parmesan cheese, brussels sprouts + balsamic glaze, carrots + honey, green beans + bacon
  • Watch as your children refuse to touch the green stuff while you gorge yourself on a farmer’s market’s worth of vegetables in one sitting.

And, finally, the main event (or, in our case, the main course).

Panang Curry with Chicken, 3 Stars
Jon makes fun of me because any time we go out to eat I order the exact same thing. As in, if we go to restaurant X, I 100% will be ordering entreé Y. What can I say–I know what I like, and I like what I know. Thai food is my absolute favorite, and every time we eat at any Thai restaurant I order the Panang Curry with Chicken, 3 Stars. And since I can’t go to eat every day I have learned how to make a darn good copycat of my own.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • A splash of vegetable oil
  • Panang Curry Paste (Just buy the good stuff on Amazon and save yourself a trip to a grocery store that probably won’t have it anyway).
  • 1 can coconut milk (Not coconut creme, that’s for your piña coladas…which, coincidentally, would go quite well with this dish…)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons peanut butter (Unless you’re allergic to peanuts, in which case I bid you adieu.)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar (Or, if you’re not a sugar addict like me, 0 Tablespoons of brown sugar)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons fish sauce (Ewwww! Right?! I hate fish more than probably anyone else on the planet, so trust me when I say that this stuff will not make your curry taste like the ocean. It adds salty flavor, that’s it. Start with just a splash in your curry if you don’t trust it, and see what you think. Again, Amazon to the rescue.)
  • (optional) 1-2 teaspoons lime leaf powder (I don’t think this stuff is totally necessary, but it does taste good and it makes me feel fancy when I see lime leaf powder in my spice cabinet).
  • 1/2 red bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 small handful of frozen haricot vert (Fancy words for the skinny green beans)
  • 1/2 cup fresh diced pineapple if you have it (Really, you don’t need to buy a whole pineapple for this recipe just so you can throw a few chunks into your curry.)
  • For serving: Cooked rice

Instructions

  • In a wok (1st choice) or large pan (2nd choice), brown your chicken in the vegetable oil. If you’re going to be saving out some of the chicken to feed plain to your picky children, then make sure it’s cooked throughly. Or, if you’re adding the whole batch of chicken directly to your curry, you can even just skip this step entirely.
  • Remove chicken from the pan.
  • In the same pan add the curry paste (Hint: more = SPICIER! 3 stars–medium/hot–is about 1-2 Tablespoons of curry paste. Start by adding just a bit and then add more if you want it spicier), coconut milk, peanut butter, brown sugar, and fish sauce, and lime leaf powder. Heat on medium until you get a nice simmer going and everything melts together.
  • Add the chicken (if you didn’t already cook the chicken, simmer for about 20 minutes until the chicken is totally cooked through). Now would be a good time to make that piña colada. This is also a good time for you to prepare your picky kids’ not-curry dinners.
  • Add whatever veggies you want to use and simmer for another 5 minutes, until your veggies are softened but not mushy.
  • Serve over cooked rice.

That’s it! Three of the simplest and most delicious courses of food you’ll ever prepare. I hope I’ve un-inspired you to cook this week and always. Enjoy creating in your own kitchen (and if all else fails, there’s always Grub Hub!).