The God-Claw

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My boys have been obsessed with the movie Toy Story for the better part of three years now. And when I say obsessed, what I really mean is that their very hearts beat to the rhythm of Buzz Lightyear’s lasers and Woody’s lasso throws. They eat, sleep, and breathe the mantra that toys are a kid’s best friend. They dress up in Toy Story costumes and go about daily life as if they actually are the movie characters they idolize and adore. They have memorized every line of every Toy Story movie (including the lesser known spinoffs such as Toy Story of Terrors and Toy Story That Time Forgot).

All this to say, I have seen a lot of Toy Story. A LOT.

For those of you who may be *ahem* less familiar with the movie, you should know that a critical point in the first Toy Story movie centers around a toy claw. Andy (the boy who loves his toys with all his heart, soul, and strength) goes to Pizza Planet (Pixar Chuck E. Cheese’s) where there is an arcade claw machine full of little squeaky green alien toys (Which, by the way, Disney does not manufacture for consumer consumption. They have about 50 different versions of alien toys available through various retailers, but none are the exact size, squishy-ness, and squeaky-ness as the aliens in the movie. I know, because we have bought and tested all 50 alien toy products that are currently available. But I digress…).

At one point in the movie, Buzz Lightyear (the hero toy) gets trapped inside the alien claw machine. In his moment of greatest need, the aliens speak to him. They explain how The Claw is their master, The Claw chooses who will stay and who will go. In short, The Claw is boss over their life.

So a few weeks ago when a friend of mine compared her life to that of an arcade claw machine, I immediately thought of the aliens in Toy Story. I thought of The Claw that is master, that chooses who will stay and who will go. Only in my life, the claw is not a mechanical metal pincer that drops from the sky–it is God. The God-Claw. God is my master, and He chooses who will stay and who will go. The metaphor made perfect sense, and it’s stuck with me.

There have been so many times in my life where I look back and can see how “The God-Claw” has swooped in and moved me to the exact time, place, and position I needed to be in. Like when He put me in this little Bible study in college, and that’s where I met my husband. Or when we got married THE DAY AFTER WE GRADUATED COLLEGE–without a job or a home or a savings account–and we returned from our honeymoon to a job offer and the most perfect student teaching placement I could have ever dreamed of, in the same city as the new job. Or when He carried us a thousand miles away from home to a graduate school we were not qualified to attend and could not afford–but then we got there, and every missing piece of the puzzle came together at the exact right time. Or when He transplanted us halfway around the world to experience life and a culture that would shape our lives and our family forever.

And here we are now–living, working, serving in the place where The God-Claw has deposited us for the time being. I never know how long I will be in a particular place or doing a certain work, and that’s fine. Because I am not the Master. He is.

As long as He is the Master–which, by the way, is forever–I will be His little alien, doing the best that I can where He has placed me, and being willing to go when He calls me. Whether it’s a new job, a new skill, a new parenting method (or two or three…I’m finding that each child may, in fact, require totally different sets of parenting methods), a new surrender (We’ve recently hired a house cleaner because I’ve recognized that I simply can’t do it all. I have to surrender my pride in thinking that I can do everything and be everything. That was a humbling realization.).

Whatever it is, I need to be willing to go where He’s calling. And if He’s not moving me? Then I need to stay. To stay on and continue in the work He has already called me to, and do that work the best way I possibly can.

So that is my hope–that I would be attuned to the movements of “the claw” and that I would be willing to allow it to move me. That I would fully trust God, my master, and hand over the reigns: contentedly, willingly, faithfully, obediently.

 

 

 

 

Camp Mommy: 30 Budget-Friendly Activities You Can Do With Your Kids This Summer

IMG_5921Summer is officially upon us, which means every parent is asking the same question: What on earth will I do with my kids for three. Whole. Months?

I asked myself that question a few weeks ago. Then my answer came to me: Camp! Send the kids to camp! It will be so much fun!

And then I researched camp and I discovered that camp would cost our family approximately $1000 per week. Ummm…NO. Not gonna happen.

Enter Plan B: Camp Mommy! Camp Mommy is just like regular camp, except that Mommy is the counselor, and the other campers are your siblings and the stray neighbor children, and the field trips are all taken in the family minivan. And it costs not-$1000/week. That part is important.

Camp Mommy is just as fun as regular camp, in fact, it may be even funner (it’s so fun we even get to make up words to describe it!)–and it takes advantage of resources you already have available in your community.

Here are a few exciting activities you can choose from if you decide to create your own Camp Mommy:

  1. Summer kids’ movies–many movie theaters offer free or greatly discounted kids’ movies in the summer months (for instance, Cinemark theaters nation-wide host “Summer Movie Clubhouse”)
  2. Free museums–Many museums offer free admission days at least once a month (just Google “free museum days” for your city and you should find a good list of local options). Also, if you have an account with Bank of America, thousands of museums offer free visits with your Bank of America card on select Saturdays. My kids love visiting museums even if they aren’t specifically geared toward children–I just plan on going for as long as the kids are interested, and it’s a good excuse to explore a new subject or see a new part of town.
  3. Hiking–Get out there and explore a new trail or nature walk! Bring plenty of snacks and water to bribe the kids with when they become “too tired to walk”.
  4. Kids Bowl Free–exactly what it sounds like! Sign your kids up for this program (available at bowling alleys nationwide) and your kids can bowl 2 free games every day, all summer long, for FREE!
  5. Go shopping at the Dollar Store or the thrift store–These stores are my favorite places to find affordable new (or, at least, new to us!) toys, coloring books, puzzles, and art supplies. Give each child $5 and see what treasures they find!
  6. Look at the stars–Go outside on a starry night and gaze at the stars (there are lots of cool free apps to help you find constellations!). Or, if you’re feeling super-adventurous, drive out to a local observatory. Many observatories are open and free to the public, and the summer is a great time to see stars and planets.
  7. Outdoor movies–Most cities and towns have public outdoor movie nights (locally, check out the movies on the beach in Santa Cruz or San Jose’s “In The Park After Dark”)
  8. VACATION Bible School–I haven’t tried this one yet, but I think I need to. I have a friend who recently posted photos of her family vacation out of town–and while they were on vacation, she signed her kids up for a Vacation Bible School at a local church. What a fun way to have your kids spend a few hours in the morning…and what a nice break for Mommy and Daddy while you’re on vacation!
  9. Michael’s Art Camp–my sister told me about this, and it’s got to be one of the best deals out there. For just $5, you can drop off your kids at a local Michael’s craft store where they get to create themed projects to take home. More info is available on their Camp Creativity website.
  10. Get on a boat–many waterways offer affordable boat rentals in the summer. In the South Bay, check out Lake Vasona where you can rent pedal boats, Stand Up Paddle Boards, or canoes by the hour. In Seattle, my top picks are UW or Agua Verde (stop by for a margarita after your strenuous paddle).
  11. Buy a zoo membership–In my experience, this is always worth the money. Most zoo memberships pay for themselves in 2 or 3 visits (I’ve even bought memberships to zoos when we are on vacation in the same city for a week or more so we can stop by for little visits every day!). Plus, most zoo memberships include a reciprocation program where you can visit other partner zoos, aquariums and museums for free or discounted rates.
  12. Drive-in movies–if you are lucky enough to live next to an operating drive-in movie theater, GO. They are a dying breed, and we need to expose our children to their grandeur before they become extinct. Local Mommy Campers should check out West Wind Drive In in San Jose–arrive early so your kids can burn off some energy in the bounce house and buy movie treats in the café before your double-feature begins.
  13. Library events–We visit libraries every week. We go to story time, participate in the free summer reading programs (my kids have already earned free tickets to the children’s museum and free books), watch magic and puppet shows, play at Lego club, and read with service dogs. We bring home books and movies and games by the bagful and the truckload. I❤ libraries!
  14. Beaches–lakes, rivers, oceans…wherever you have water, go there! Your kids will entertain themselves for hours, no screens required.
  15. Discount days at local attractions–many local attractions offer discounts on their off-peak days or hours during the summer. My favorite local deal is Retro Nights every Monday and Tuesday night at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where we get to play carnival games and go on rides, all for $1 each.
  16. Check out a new park–chances are there are a few (hundred) parks within driving distance that you’ve never been to. Pick one, pack a picnic, and spend a day exploring!
  17. Visit a craft store–pick out a project to work on at home. On our last visit to the craft store I was torn between a DIY tie-dye kit, paint-your-own race cars, and puff-paint hats.
  18. Join a pool–you may be able to join a local pool or cabana club for just the summer months (or at least get a free trial for a day or 2 so you can check it out before you commit).
  19. Cooking–Give your kids a cookbook and let them pick out a recipe they’d like to try. Go shopping together for the ingredients and spend the day in the kitchen! No picky eaters will show up for this meal, guaranteed.
  20. Paint your own pottery–check out a local ceramic painting studio and let your creativity flow! Small pieces usually start at about $5.
  21. Shop the deal sites–go on Groupon or Living Social to see what local deals are available. I’ve found trampoline parks, museums, and outdoor adventures for us to try out, all at savings of 50-70%.
  22. Have a picnic–pack up some goodies and head out to a favorite spot for some fun time al fresco.
  23. Learn a new skill–summer is the perfect time to introduce new skills and allow time for practice, practice, practice. First on our agenda: tying shoes and doing laundry.
  24. Go geocaching–create your free account and download the free app from geocaching.com and head out on a real life treasure hunt!
  25. See a performance–many children’s theaters and local performance groups offer incredible shows in the summer time, many for free.
  26. Collect critters: get an empty bucket (or pick up a butterfly net at the dollar store) and head outside to see what little critters you can find. This week we’ve found ladybugs, lizards, frogs, butterflies…and LOTS of spiders!
  27. Write a letter–Send some cheer to a loved one. Go through the entire letter writing process with your child: choose a recipient, write a letter (date, greeting, body, closing, signature), include a fun extra (one of those art projects they painted earlier in the week will be perfect), address the envelope, and let your child place the stamp in the corner. Bonus field trip opportunity: a visit to the post office!
  28. Splash!–Visit a local splash park…or set up a sprinkler in your own yard.
  29. Visit a pet store–my kids love going to the pet store just so we can look at all of the animals. If you time your visit right you can even be there during feeding time to see what all of those turtles and birds like to eat for breakfast. Some stores will even do free behind-the-scenes tours to see what it takes to care for all of those animals.
  30. Read–When in doubt, read. And then read some more. And then read again. And for all of the summer, and all of forever, read, read, read!

Now it’s your turn! What are some of your favorite summer adventures?

10 Signs I’m Too Tired To Mom

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This week I read a hilarious post over at Scary Mommy called 20 Signs I’m Too Tired To Mom (disclaimer: the linked post contains language a shade more colorful than my own). Before I even read the article I was giving mental high-fives to the author because…amen, sister. I felt like I could write my own “Signs I’m Too Tired To Mom”. So I did.

With the joys of summer (full-time kids is intense) and a husband who is working on an increasingly more demanding project at work and an infant and a dog who has both a broken tooth and a Urniary Tract Infection (Lord help us all), I’m finding that I, too, am tired. Not like *yawn* “I’m sleepy, let’s go take a nap” tired. More like “just wake me up when they’re teenagers and ready to do their own laundry and cook their own dinner” tired.

And here’s the proof:

  1. Story time under false pretenses
    Let’s read a book, kids! Oh, wait…what’s that? There’s a movie version of that exact book (or at least a movie in a similar genre/theme/category as said book)? And it’s available on Netflix? Hold up, this is real world learning. Text-to-film connection or something. Let’s start the streaming (and excuse me for the next 74 minutes while I lock myself in my bedroom…)
  2. I encourage “independence”
    Yes, you can make your own breakfast (a spoonful of peanut butter topped with chocolate chips). Yes, please dress yourselves (no underwear, backward pants, inside out shirt). Yes, you may play quietly in your own room (dump out every toy box and empty every game box into a mountain of toy shrapnel in the center of the room). You’re on your own, kids.
  3. I can’t find my sunglasses
    They aren’t in the car. They aren’t in my bag. They aren’t in any place where a reasonable human being would put them. I blame the kids and/or dog for hiding them and while I contemplate appropriate punishment I happen to walk by a mirror. And then I find them. On top of my own head.
  4. Time warp
    Dinner is served at 4:30 and we’re wrapping up the bedtime routine by 6. What’s that you say, dear children? Why is it still light outside? Because of the tilt of the Earth… and the end of Mommy’s rope has officially been reached. Goodnight.
  5. Cooking takes on new meanings
    If I have warmed something up–whether by oven, stove, or microwave–that counts as cooking. Actually taking raw ingredients and transforming them into edible fare is a totally different ballgame, and we just don’t go there now. Frozen chicken nuggets? Not anymore–I cooked them (at 425 for 9-11 minutes). Marie Callender’s chicken pot pie? Tastes just like homemade (vent the packaging and microwave for 5-7 minutes).
  6. Nightly routines
    …now consist of tucking in the kids and promptly passing out on the couch with a bowl of popcorn on my lap.
  7. I go to the gym
    …but not to work out. They had me at “90 minutes of free childcare”.

4. I lose track of things. Like counting in order.

9. Bath time
My kids love bath time, and they’re happy to stay in the tub for a good 20 minutes.                That’s the time equivalent of 16 games of Chutes and Ladders. Added bonus: bath                  time = contained children, contained children = contained mess. Added, added                        bonus: they come out smelling better than they did going in. Win, win, win.

10. Early riser
This is counter-intuitive, but waking up early actually helps me counter-balance the            perpetual tiredness. You see, I know that once the wee ones awaken, there’s no                      stopping this train wreck. So I’ve started setting an alarm and waking up before                      everyone else in the house (and, as it happens, before the sun itself makes                                an appearance) just so I can have 2 minutes of peace before the crazy begins. If that’s            not absolutely insane, I don’t know what is.

I could keep going on and on and on…but I’m just too tired to keep writing. Good luck, moms, and good night.

Thoughts on 33

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When I was a little girl, about 5 years old, I was riding home in the car and my mom was driving. I don’t remember where we had been or the circumstances surrounding this day, I just remember my feelings at that particular moment. As I rode in the back seat of that car I looked at my mom with all of her freedom–getting to drive her own car anywhere she wanted and make all of her own decisions–and I felt jealous. I asked her how old she was because I wanted to know how old I’d have to be before I got to enjoy that same freedom. 33, she said. She was 33.

Today, my friends, I have finally arrived. Today is my birthday, and I am 33.

And, while it’s silly looking back at 5-year old me who was jealous of adulthood (what I wouldn’t give to be a kid and able to do cartwheels without throwing out my back or wear skinny jeans because I was actually too skinny to wear anything else…) I think I was on to something. Childhood is wonderful and magical and all that jazz, but adulthood is pretty awesome, too.

In honor of the fact that I’ve finally achieved the perfection that is 33, here are 33 reasons why being 33 really is better than being 5:

  1. I don’t have a bedtime–as I write this post I am, in fact, up past my “bedtime”. And who cares? (Tomorrow me will care, that’s who. But tomorrow me already appreciates the sacrifice.)
  2. I can ride on roller coasters all by myself.
  3. I can lick the cake batter out of my own bowl and not have to share with anybody (I may have told my children that it’s poisonous and could make them die, so they’d better not ever touch my cake batter or else.)
  4. I can drive my own car anywhere I want it to go–If I feel like taking a mid-morning jaunt to “the candy store” (Starbucks), I just get in the car and go. No permission needed.
  5. I don’t have to play house–I have my own real husband and three mini-me’s running around our real house every day. How cool is that?
  6. I get to actually be a teacher, and not just play school.
  7. I have money to buy things I actually want–When you’re a kid, it sure takes a lot of $1 weekly allowances to buy that trinket at the toy store.
  8. I’ve traveled and experienced many parts of the world
  9. I can wear high heels and lipstick (not that I ever really do, but I can, and that’s what really matters)
  10. I don’t have to get shots every time I go to the doctor.
  11. I can watch any movie I want, even if it’s not made by Disney.
  12. I’m in charge–I get to make rules for other (little) people and they have to follow them, not the other way around.
  13. I can eat really spicy food and actually enjoy the experience.
  14. I can reach the top shelf without having to stand on a step stool.
  15. I know how to tame my own hair (and I don’t even scream every time I brush it).
  16. I get my own phone so I can play Angry Birds and PBS Kids any time I want (That’s what phones are for, right?).
  17. I DON’T HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL.
  18. I don’t eat cold hot dogs or soggy pizza for lunch (My diet as a 5-year old was questionable, at best. We can get into that more later.)
  19. I know how to ride a bike. And it’s fun.
  20. If I want to eat ice cream for dinner I just do it.
  21. I get to have my mom, my dad, and my sisters as some of my closest friends.
  22. I get to stare into my baby’s eyes and know that I helped make that. One of the true miracles of life.
  23. I can read bedtime stories to myself.
  24. Pedicures.
  25. I can cut up my own steak.
  26. I get the big bedroom, and my bed is the comfiest one in the house.
  27. I don’t have to wait for recess to play with my friends.
  28. Wine.
  29. I know how to count past 100…which is helpful when paying $1500 veterinarian bills (one of the downsides of being a grown-up, but let’s focus on the positives).
  30. Nobody monitors my screen time.
  31. I can appreciate sleep for what it is: a daily miracle.
  32. Nobody cares how “cool” my clothes are. I can even wear yoga pants every day, and those aren’t even real pants. Bliss.
  33. I control my own destiny–If I want to do something, I make it happen.

Now that I’m 33 years old, I can honestly say that this age is everything that little 5-year-old-me had hoped it would be. I’m excited for this next year and all that it will bring…maybe I’ll even fit into those skinny jeans again.

 

The Perfect Day In Every City I’ve Ever Called Home

In honor of the monumental fact that we will NOT be moving this summer (as I mentioned in an earlier post, this is only the 4th summer in over a decade that we’ll actually be staying put), I thought it would be fun to reflect on all of the amazing places I have already lived. The places I’ve called home range across regions, state lines, and even continents, making for quite the variety of locations. Each of my former homes have their own unique personalities–their own quirks and highlights that outsiders may not be attuned to.

As such, I’d like to share with you my highlights reel–the best each city has to offer. As a bonafide insider (or, in most cases, at least a former insider) I have discovered many of the hidden gems in each of these places. Read on to see what my perfect day would be in every city I’ve ever lived in.

Starting, now, at the very beginning…

Phoenix, Arizona

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I was born in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix. And, although I haven’t lived there since I was a baby, we still have plenty of family in the area and I’ve visited often throughout my life.

My perfect day would be in mid-April when the weather is still mild and the cactus are blooming. I’d wake up decently early and head over to Camelback Mountain for a hike before the day heated up. Once at the top of the mountain, I’d take in the sweeping views of the city and the desert below.

After all of that physical exertion, I’d be good and tired…and hungry. I’d stop for lunch at an authentic taqueria for some queso and tortas before heading back to my hotel (I’m staying at the Royal Palms–go big or go home). Next, I’d check in to the hotel spa for my Quatro de Palma full body massage–after all, I did hike already today. After my massage I’d lounge in the sun by the pool for a bit sipping an ice cold prickly pear margarita.

When dinner time rolled around I’d peel myself off my lounge chair and head over to Malee’s for some out of this world Thai food. I’d order 5 or 6 dishes and then I’d just sit there for as long as it took me to down them all. The food is that good and I know I wouldn’t regret it (ok, I’d definitely regret it, but it would still be worth it).

After dinner I’d head out of the big city to my grandma’s small desert town of Cave Creek for some late-night entertainment: wild west desert-style. Once in Cave Creek I’d head over to the Buffalo Chip Saloon to take in the spectacle that is amateur bull riding while listening to the live bands.

After watching the bull riders get punished in the ring, I’d return to my plush hotel bed– thankful that I still had each and every one of my bones still in tact.

Seattle, WA

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I have spent most of my years living in the greater Seattle Puget Sound area. Although I’ve lived in four different cities in the area, I’ll concentrate my efforts on the larger city for which the region is actually known. After all, nobody probably wants to hear the finer points of the cities that I’ve actually lived in (even though Federal Way has such a nice ring to it…).

My perfect Seattle day is in late August when the days are long and warm and…perfect. I would start with a hearty breakfast at Portage Bay Cafe. I’d order the Oatmeal Cobbler French Toast and then I’d head straight over to the breakfast bar to douse the whole plate in all the fresh berries and whipped cream my plate could bear. Then I’d lick off all the berries and whipped cream and I’d go back for more. On repeat. Until my belly burst or they kicked me out of the restaurant, whichever came first.

Next, I’d roll myself out of the restaurant and head over to Agua Verde on Lake Washington to rent a kayak or a SUP. After paddling through the Montlake Cut, I’d make my way into one of the secluded inlets with leafy tree branches stretching over the water and turtles sunning themselves on logs and lily pads…and I’d take a nap. Just a little snooze to reward myself for all of that grueling paddling through pristine blue waters. After my nap I’d make my way back to Agua Verde and I’d stop by their cafe for some chips and homemade salsa and an ice cold horchata.

Now it’s lunch time, so I’d drive over I-5 to Fremont so I could stand in line at Paseo for approximately infinity minutes. And it would be worth every single one of those infinity minutes because at the end of it I would eat the world’s most glorious Cuban sandwich. Heaven on a bun, slathered in garlic aioli. I’d take my sandwich down to Gasworks Park so I could sunbathe and watch the sailboats on Lake Union while I ate my lunch licked my fingers clean.

After lunch I’d head downtown to take in the sights and sounds of the city. I’d wander through Pike Place Market and stop for some cheesecake at the The Confectional (P.S. Apparently all of my “perfect day” activities revolve around stuffing my face full of food. Now you now the secret to my perfectly toned post-baby body. You’re welcome.).

Now that it’s late afternoon–and I’m exhausted from my endless eating throughout the city–I need a break. I’d walk back up to Westlake Center and explore some of the shops before booking myself a 60–no, a 90-minute–massage at Ummelina Day Spa.

After my massage I’d catch an Uber over to Canlis for the best dinner in Seattle (Disclaimer: I’ve never actually eaten here because reservations are impossible to secure and the meals cost a bajillion dollars, but it’s on my bucket list and everyone tells me that I must go and I’m a lemming so we’ll just go with it.)

My day would end with a bonfire on Alki Beach in West Seattle surrounded by all of my friends and family–and that would truly be the perfect ending to my perfect day.

San Jose, Costa Rica

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Between my Sophomore and Junior years in college I studied abroad in Costa Rica–and even though my time there was short, the country still captured my heart. I found home among the palm trees and the crashing surf and the pura vida, so I’m including it here on my list.

My perfect day would be in late October, during the dry season but before the tourists arrive for their winter holidays in the Caribbean.

I would wake up in a beach bungalow on the Pacific side of the country, maybe Playa Sámara where the sand stretches for miles or Manuel Antonio where the monkeys run rampant. I’d drink jugo fresco de morado (fresh-squeezed blackberry juice) and eat gallo pinto (rice and beans doused in salsa Lizano), grilled sweet plantains, and mangoes plucked from the tree outside my front door.

After breakfast I’d snorkel in the pristine blue waters, take a quick zipline tour through the rainforest, then take a nap in a hammock while sipping a piña colada.

In the afternoon I’d magically transport myself to Volcán Arenal so I wouldn’t have to drive on the narrow, treacherous roads that are the only way to actually cross the country. Once at the volcano I’d check in to my suite at the Tabacón Hot Spring Resort. Then I’d head downstairs to bask in the dozens of earth-heated hot spring pools while watching the red lava flow down the side of the volcano in the distance.

I’d end my day with a moonlit walk on the beaches of Tortugero where I’d witness the hatchlings of giant sea turtles push their way from their sandy nests into the breaking waves.

Cork, Ireland

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In 2013, when our boys were just 11 months and 2 years old, we decided to move halfway around the world to Ireland. Sure, why not. Looking back at this time in our lives, I think we were absolutely NUTS-O, but I suppose if you know me then you already knew that anyway. And I wouldn’t trade our time in Ireland for anything, so maybe crazy is good.

We lived in Cork, the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland (Although “largest” is a relative term. People there are still outnumbered by sheep, about 2:1.). The perfect time to visit Cork is late May when the weather is glorious (or at least as glorious as one can hope to find in Ireland) and the tourist crowds are still small.

My perfect day in Cork would begin with breakfast at the Mahon Point Farmer’s Market where I would buy freshly baked almond croissants, rich hot chocolate (made from melted handmade chocolates and milk fresh from the cow over yonder), and local Irish strawberries. I’d eat scones with jam and clotted cream, and sip cup after cup of Barry’s tea. I’d sit at one of the outdoor tables surrounded by daffodils and produce stands, listening to live music and contemplating my next move.

Next, I’d head over to Fota Wildlife Park to visit the free-roaming kangaroos and giraffes, the tigers and the howling monkeys. From there, I’d continue on to Cobh, the quaint seaside village that was the last port of call for the infamous Titanic. In Cobh, I’d go through the interactive Titanic Museum, stop by the little red history museum, and marvel at the gorgeous cathedral on top of the hill.

In the afternoon I would drive out to Bllymaloe House for a late lunch at what is probably–no CERTAINLY–the single best farm-to-table restaurant and culinary school in the world. I would eat whatever they cooked that day (because that’s all there is to eat)–hot-out-of-the-oven breads; meats that, earlier that day, were still wandering in the grassy paddocks behind the manor; fish that were plucked from the sea mere hours ago; vegetables from the on-site Garden of Eden; hand-churned ice creams…you get the picture. And, since everything there is served family style and all-you-can-eat, I’d just keep eating and eating and eating and eating.

After one of the most incredible meals of my life, I’d take the short drive over to the Ballycotton Cliff Walk for one of the most incredible hikes of my life. As I’d wander through the cliffs over the sea I’d marvel at the sheer beauty of the sea and the force of nature.

To end my day, I’d return to the City Centre for dinner and craic at a Local. I’d eat steak with grilled onions and tomatoes. There would be live music with guys sitting around tables in the dark pub strumming their guitars and fiddles and bodhrán drums and we’d sing along between sips of icy Bulmers Cidres. We’d stay until way too late but I wouldn’t care, because this is Ireland. And tomorrow we’d eat a Full Irish and life would go on.

San Francisco Bay Area, California

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Our most recent adventure has brought us to the technology capital of the world, Silicon Valley, in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is actually our second stint living in the Bay Area (we lived here for two years pre-children while Jon completed his Master’s degree), and it really is starting to feel like “home”.

Every day–literally every day–is perfect weather in Silicon Valley, so it wouldn’t matter what time of year my perfect day occurred. My day would begin with a run with good friends to the top of The Dish (a looming hill behind Stanford’s campus with giant satellite dishes at the crest). I’d take in the gorgeous view of the campus, San Francisco Bay and the cities beyond before making my way back down for brunch at Cafe Borrone (Acme Pan De Mie French Toast topped with fresh berries and vanilla bean whipped butter. And a mimosa. Or two.).

After breakfast I’d drive over “The Hill” to the beach in Santa Cruz where I would lay out my blanket, pull out my book, and drift away to my happy place. I’d just lay there in the sun, listening to the waves crash at my feet. All. Day. Long.

If I had the energy and motivation I might walk over to The Boardwalk to go for a ride on the historic wooden roller coaster or indulge in a mint-chip waffle cone, and I’d definitely grab a slice of surfer pizza from Pizza My heart.

Once I was thoroughly rested and rejuvenated by the surf, I’d drive back over The Hill for an out-of-this-world dinner at Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino (you get to hand-pick your meat and nosh on amuse-bouche while you wait for your meal to be prepared–and they reward your patience with fresh-spun cotton candy at the end of your meal).

I’d end my perfect day with a visit to The Mountain Winery in Saratoga for a concert while we sipped red wine under the moonlight.


 

Thank you for coming along with me on my perfect days.

Now excuse me while I recover from jet lag and go on a diet.

 

 

 

 

 

The No-Spending Project

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook about how she and her family recently completed a month-long no spending challenge. For 30 days they spent money only on necessities (rent, utilities, simple meals, gas), and they found creative ways to make up the difference. I was inspired by what I consider their act of bravery. I wondered: Could I do it? Could I go without all of the little extras–the Amazon purchases, the random stops for lunch when we’re out, the kid events, the little trinkets, the gifts, the coffee–even for a little while?

I decided to find out.

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on a whole month, but I knew I could handle a shorter time…say, 10 days. Just to see what it was like. Just to test the waters. Just to become more aware of my spending and, hopefully, save a little money in the process.

Before I began my 10-day challenge, I laid out a few ground rules for myself. First, there was to be no frivolous spending (obviously)–my credit card became totally off-limits. In addition, I could only spend money on necessities that couldn’t wait until after the challenge (bills that became due, doctor co-pays, etc.)–the groceries already in my house and the gas already in my car would have to suffice. I should also note that Hubby was traveling for work during most of this time, so that made it really easy for me to control what was being spent or, in this case, NOT being spent!

Here’s a rundown of how my no-spending project played out:

Day 1:
We spent most of the day at home doing school and catching up on chores. I saved money on housecleaners by teaching the boys how to put away their own clean laundry and handle a broom and a dustpan #forthewin. Since I kind of decided to do this whole no-spending challenge on a whim, I hadn’t filled up my car with gas and was already hovering below half a tank. In the afternoon I decided to take the boys for a walk in our neighborhood instead of driving to the park so we could save some of that precious fuel for another day when I really needed to get out of the house.

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Day 2:

We spent the morning at Playhouse (an indoor preschool play time at our church) where I happened to win a Starbucks gift card in a raffle (coffee would still be had this week–Thank you, Jesus!). After Playhouse we brought a picnic lunch to the park down the road where we met up with some friends. We spent most of the afternoon playing in the park and exploring the creek. I even had some leftover carousel tickets from when we’d had David’s birthday party in the same park that we were able to use for a special ride.

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Day 3:
We went to the library and checked out about 400 books and movies to get us through the week. We ate leftovers for every meal. I also drank some wine that my friend had given me as a party favor at her daughter’s 4th birthday party the weekend before. Have I ever mentioned how much I like my friends?

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Day 4:
We had planned on going to a park day with our homeschool group but at the last minute we got rained out. Not one to cancel fun, I looked into some indoor options for us. A few weeks ago I’d purchased a Groupon for Pump It Up (just picture a giant warehouse full of inflatables and sweaty children bouncing off the walls), so we decided to switch gears and head over there.

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The boys spent 2 hours jumping/climbing/sliding/hurtling their bodies through space. Then we went home for lunch and a nap (and by nap, I mean I took a nap with the baby while they watched PJ Masks in the living room) .

Day 5:
We spent the morning at a lovely race–even the boys got to run and win their own medals!

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It had already been a long week and I needed to feed my feelings, but since the grocery store was off limits I decided to spend the afternoon in the kitchen. We baked chocolate chip cookies and scones, then had a proper tea party to nosh on our bounty.

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Day 6:
Mother’s Day! Since Jon was out of town and my children are too young to have the decency to sleep past 5 AM, I decided it was time to cash in that Starbucks gift card I’d won earlier in the week.

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The rest of the morning was spent at church, and then we went home to pick up some beach gear. We ate a picnic lunch in the car while we were driving (because having children strapped into a carseat is just about the only sane way to get them to eat, anyway). We managed to find one of the last free street parking spots at the beach and spent the rest of the day lounging in the sun and surf.

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Day 7:
More school, more chores, more leftovers. In the afternoon we went to the boys’ gymnastics class and while they were in class I snuck out for a quick walk on the nearby trail (45 minutes alone…well, mostly alone except for the baby…was starting to feel like a mini-vacation!). After gymnastics we picked up a dinner order before heading home (I ordered the dinner using a meal-delivery gift card that we’d been given as a gift when Hannah was born…only they don’t deliver to our house, so I had to pick it up from my friend’s house. And they were late with the delivery. And I had 3 screaming, tired kids waiting in the car. But it wasn’t leftovers and I didn’t have to cook it, so it was still worth it.).

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Day 8:
After a full week of very full time parenting I just needed some time to myself so I decided to find some creative ways to carve out some no-cost me-time. First on the agenda was reading a book. I’d been trying to read this book all week, but by the time I got all 3 kids in bed at night (and staying in bed) I was usually so exhausted that I fell asleep on the couch by the end of the first page. Instead, I decided to distract the kids at the park so I could sneak off to a bench by myself and read mid-day. This tactic worked wonderfully. I sat there incognito for nearly an hour before the wild banshees realized I was missing.

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The boys had swimming lessons at the YMCA in the afternoon. After swimming lessons I took advantage of the free childcare and got a quick run in on the dreadmill before mommy guilt took over and I ran breathlessly back to check on my fragile infant and crazy boys who were surely wreaking havoc on the poor underpaid childcare staff.

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Day 9:
Daddy came home! Praise the Lord, Daddy came HOME. There was no need to spend any money today because all I wanted to do was throw the children at him and hide in a dark closet by myself.

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Day 10:
We had a very full schedule of gymnastics class for the boys (their last one…thank goodness because I am SO not the mom who can shuttle children to activities every day of the week), a veterinarian appointment, and another swimming lesson. It all seemed totally manageable, though, because I had HELP! Jon’s mom (better known as Grammy around these parts) had arrived for her quarterly baby oggling…er…family visit. And when Grammy is in town, we all get spoiled. She came bearing treats and promises of delivering Childrens’ Heaven on Earth (a trip to McDonald’s for Happy Meals). With free help and free treats, it was an easy end to my 10 day no-spending challenge.

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At the end of my 10 days, I’m happy to report that YES, I CAN go without spending. In fact, I actually rather enjoyed the challenge! It was a good exercise for me to recognize where I spend unnecessarily and to find creative ways to use what we already have access to. As a side note, we also received our tax refund in the mail during my no-spending challenge. Coincidence? I think not.

Although the official challenge is officially over, I’m going to keep at it. I do need to go to the grocery store and fill up my car with gas (our pantry and gas tank are both empty), but I’m going to continue my no-excess spending challenge for the rest of the month.

Now, how about you: How long could YOU go without spending?

 

Home

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“When will we be home?”

Lately Jacob has been asking me this question. Frequently. Like, several times a day. It’s a simple enough question, given the right context. Say you’re out running errands or visiting a neighbor. Or maybe you’re away from home for an extended time, on vacation or traveling somewhere. There are plenty of scenarios where the question “When will we be home?” makes sense. What makes Jacob’s query unusual, however, is the fact that he almost always asks me, “When will we be home?” when we are, in fact, at home.

I can’t blame the kid for his confusion. In his 41 months of life he has already moved “home” 3 times, and over 9,000 miles at that. In fact, this August will be the first August in his entire life that we will NOT be moving to a new home (and only the 4th August in over a decade that our family will stay put. I’m actually in the process of petitioning the government to change the name of August to Moving Month.). For Jacob, home is an impermanent idea more than it is a place.

His question simultaneously amuses me and breaks my heart. After all, one of my jobs as a parent is to provide stability in my childrens’ life…and how can I do that if they change homes as often as they change their underwear (c’mon, folks, we all know how little boys roll).  As much as I want my children to be able to set down roots and call a place their own, however, the question of “When will we be home?” has gotten me thinking.

Maybe there’s something to be said for the realization that we are not home. Something to be said for living life a bit differently, a bit unsettled, on purpose. Something to be said for adjusting to a place while trying also to avoid fully adjusting. Something to be said for the fact that all of us are outsiders, in a way, and that we will never truly be home until we are with Jesus. The Bible tells us that we are strangers, pilgrims, aliens and sojourners on earth (Hebrews 11:13-16, 1 Peter 1:1, 2:11-12) and that our citizenship is in Heaven (Phil. 3:20).  This place, this entire planet, is not home. It is a place of work, a battlefield, and a proving ground, but it is not home.

If I truly believe this–that my entire life is just a stopping off point on my journey–then it changes things. Radically. It changes the way I teach my children about home and, in fact, changes the very definition of home. In wanting to provide those stable roots for my children, then, maybe I don’t need to have a single place that we call home. Maybe instead of cement, our foundation will be The Word. Maybe instead of doors, we will open our hearts to God and to others. Maybe instead of windows, we will reflect the love of Jesus to the world. And in doing so, maybe we will help bring others home.

I don’t know when or where or if we will ever settle in a home, but I do know one thing with certainty. With hope there is home, and I have enough hope to carry me through infinity Augusts.

And in the end, I will truly and forever be home.