Four, For Now

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This week I’ve been feeling all the feels as we approach yet another family milestone. Tomorrow is Hannah’s birthday and, while it’s not a particularly monumental birthday in the general timeline of birthdays, for me it feels huge. You see, Hannah is my baby. She’s the third child (and final) child who almost didn’t happen, and she’s the daughter who I never thought I would have. Her birth order and gender give her a unique place in our family, and somehow that makes each of her milestones all the more meaningful.

Somehow four feels very big to me. When she was three I could get away with calling her a preschooler or even a toddler. But now? Now she’s four. She’s big. She’s a certifiable kid. She has one more year until kindergarten. And then that’s it.

There’s not another baby in the queue coming up behind her that I can snuggle and rock through the night. As Hannah ages out of this stage of life, my days of nursing and diaper changes and stroller walks are over forever. And as much as I struggled through some of those days of nursing and diaper changes and stroller walks, I will miss them deeply. The babyhood years with my children were some of the most exhausting, rewarding, trying, learning, messy, beautiful years of my life. A piece of me (mostly the piece that’s not nursing around the clock or changing infinity million diapers or walking fussy babies in the stroller at 3 AM) is sad to see them end.

But end they must, because God’s work is not yet done.

I can’t wait to see what these next few years and the next few years beyond that hold in store for you. I can’t wait to see which interests you pursue and which passions come to define you. I can’t wait to see which paths you pursue in your life. Maybe you’ll be a “baby doctor”–and if those 87 baby dolls that you’ve patched up in our living room are any testament to your skills, you’ll be a darn good one. Or maybe you’ll continue down the path of a fashionista and you’ll transform the world one yoga-pants-wearing woman at a time. Or maybe you’ll be a CEO of your own Fortune 500 company (we all know who wears the pants in this family). Whatever you choose to do I know that you’ll bring your whole sweet, sassy, happy self into it. And as long as you do you, it will be amazing.

I see hope and joy for your future. I see the love you have and the love you give, and I know you will impact the world for the better. I see the curiosity you have for the world around you, and I know that you will help others to see things in new ways. I see the growth you have already made in four short years, and I look forward to the leaps and bounds that still await you. You, my precious daughter, are bound for greatness.

And while I will cherish your baby days and already anticipate your future, even more than any of that I will celebrate who you are today. You are four now, for now. As quickly as the last stage passed, this one, too, will soon be gone. Today is a gift, and I plan on enjoying every bit of it with you while we still have it. Let’s be silly and snuggly and throw tantrums when we need to. Because you are four, but only for now.

I love you, sweet Hannah Doreen. Happy fourth birthday–let’s make it the best one yet!

 

 

The Case For Traveling With Children

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If you follow me on social media, you may be aware that we’ve been living in a winter wonderland this week. Starting on Sunday evening our weather turned arctic. We got enough snow to bury all of our outdoor toys (yep, the same toys that I told the kids to put away at least 5,483 times) and cancel school for infinity days. During our unexpected immersive experience in the worlds of Narnia and Frozen, I had plenty of time to sit at home and dream about being somewhere else.

Thankfully, that “somewhere else” happens to be a place we’re actually going in the not-so-distant future. This spring we’re taking our whole family–Mom, Dad, 9-Year Old Trouble Maker, 7-Year Old Trouble Maker, and 4 Year-Old Barely Potty Trained Princess–to Europe. Like, on a 16-hour-flight-to-a-country-where-we-don’t-speak-the-language Europe.

When we first started planning The Big Trip, Hubs and I went back and forth on whether or not we should bring our kids with us or just bribe the grandparents to stay with our offspring so we could galavant carelessly across the pond. After all, bringing kids along on travels adds extra stress and expense and hardship. Traveling with kids can be a very different, very anxiety-producing experience for the adults in their party. In the end, though, we decided that the difficulty–the challenge–of traveling with our kids would be worth it: for us and for them.

For any of you who are scared off by the idea of traveling with your kids, let me present my case for why you should take them along for the ride:

Traveling with kids helps them contribute to decision making.
When we travel with our kids we let them help with some of the planning for our trip. We’ll look over guide books and websites about the places we’ll be traveling to and allow our kids to make suggestions of things they would like to see or places they would like to go. We don’t always heed every suggestion they make, but at least they start to feel some ownership for the experience they’re helping to create.

Traveling with kids helps them develop responsibility skills.
We have our kids help pack their travel bags and keep track of their belongings while we’re traveling. What? You can’t find your Hyper-Strike Battle Beyblade? And whose job was it to put all of your toys back in your backpack before we left the hotel? Yours?
Yep. Responsibility.

Traveling with kids helps them see the world from a different perspective.
Wherever you go–whether it’s a new city an hour away or a country on the other side of the world–will have people and experiences different from what your kids experience at home. Meeting different people living in different ways helps kids develop a more flexible idea of what “normal” is. In this way, seeing things from a different perspective can help kids develop empathy for others and challenge them to try new things in their own lives.

Traveling with kids forces kids to step out of their comfort zone.
Almost certainly, kids who travel will be forced to try new experiences. New places to sleep, new foods, new languages, new modes of transportation, new ideas. Sometimes–often times–those new experiences can feel uncomfortable at first. When there is no other option than “The New”, however, you are forced to try it…or at the very least observe it. These are the character-building encounters that every kid should experience.

Traveling with kids is great for family bonding.
By the very nature of travel, you will spend a significant time together as a family. In our upcoming trip our family will spend 336 consecutive hours together. Compared to the 140 hours we would spend with all of us together at home during the same time period, that’s a huge jump in Quantity Time points. And it’s not only a lot of time, but it’s quality time. We will try new things and visit new places and learn new things–all together.

Traveling with kids teaches them “forced flexibility”.
Every time something doesn’t go according to plan while you’re traveling–which is quite often–you have to be flexible. Delayed flight? Flexible. Missed the bus and have to wait 20 minutes for the next one? Flexible. Want to eat a cheeseburger but there’s only sushi on the menu? Flexible. There are a lot of uncontrollable variables in travel, and this forced flexibility makes kids more resilient.

Traveling with kids gives them real-world experiences.
It’s one thing to read about ancient Rome or tropical rainforests, but it is an entirely different thing to experience those things in the flesh. Actually seeing and feeling and learning about new places and cultures can spark a zeal for learning and further exploration that no other experience can.

Traveling with kids is good for socialization.
When you travel you are forced to interact with new people: taxi drivers, tour guides, waiters, commuters on the subway. By interacting with new people on a daily basis, kids can learn valuable lessons in how to approach and interact with people. By seeing and meeting people who are different–and yet the same–as them can help kids develop altruism and a greater respect for all people. When kids return home, these social skills can help them more confident and accepting when they meet new people.

Traveling with kids gives them memories that will last a lifetime.
Travel gives your family a shared experience and a shared history that you will all remember for the rest of your lives. Somehow even the bad memories of travel (I’m looking at you, puke-covered Fiat) tend to turn into good/happy/hilarious memories over time. I can’t tell you a single birthday gift that I received as a child, but I can easily recount for you in vivid detail every trip my family took together growing up. These memories are the ones your family will carry with them forever.

So, even though travel with kids is hardly convenient, it is always worth it. I can’t wait to make new memories with our kids this April–no matter how crazy or comical they end up being!

 

How To Prepare For S***

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With the exception of a few years of living out my wanderlust dreams, I’ve spent my whole life living in “Seattle” (And by “Seattle”, I mean within a 100-mile radius of the city for which everyone else in the world defines this region of the country). Having lived here for so long, I am quite attune to the quirks and curiosities of this place. Nothing, however, can prepare you for the absolute mayhem that ensues each winter when this one crazy thing happens. It’s such a taboo subject that many Seattleites refer to it as a 4-letter word: s***.

That’s right, SNOW.

Now I don’t know what it’s like when it snows where you come from, but in Seattle it’s quite a spectacle. People lose their minds and all sense of normalcy goes out the window. If you’re new to a Seattle winter, your first Seattle snowstorm might catch you off guard. And since we officially have s*** in the Seattle forecast for most of this upcoming week, I thought I’d help you out and provide a handy little guide.

How To Prepare For A Seattle Snowstorm

  1. Check your phone’s weather app and get very nervous-cited (nervous + excited) when you see snowflakes. Screenshot the snowflakes and post them to Facebook.
  2. Pray to God and Cliff Mass that snow won’t impede (A) Your ability to receive emergency services should the need arise, or (B) the Seahawks playoff game.
  3. Drive as fast as you can (Read: very close to the posted speed limit) to your nearest grocery store. Buy all of the bread and milk. Squeeze all of your loaves and jugs into your Subaru.
  4. Drive over to Target and buy a sled. And a snowball maker. And an igloo snow block mold. And snow chalk. Why didn’t they have these things when we were kids?!
  5. When you get home, realize you don’t have room in your fridge for all of the milk you just bought. Move the milk outside onto your deck because it’s as cold as a freezer out there right now anyway. Hope raccoons and squirrels aren’t interested in your milk.
  6. Pull out the boxes of snow clothes that have been packed away in your garage since last March. Realize that 2 out of your 3 children have outgrown their previous season’s winter wardrobe.
  7. Return to Target and sift through the bikinis and sombreros they put out the day after New Years so you can buy two pairs of snow bibs, two pairs of gloves, and two pairs of boots. They only have snow bibs that are 3 sizes too big, and all of the gender-neutral boots left with the Thanksgiving turkey. Hope your sons are good at layering and that they enjoy pink unicorn footwear.
  8. Check your weather app again. Yep! Still Snowflakes!
  9. Stop at the gas station on the way home so you can fill up your car and gas cans for your generator.
  10. When you get home, check your email. Read all 78 emails from various organizations in your community that want to remind you of their inclement weather policies.
  11. Set up a security camera pointing toward that road with a hill that tends to get extra icy. Hope for some poor saps to try and make it up that hill in their car and, in turn, make you a YouTube millionaire.
  12. Keep pipes from freezing by turning every faucet in your house to a slow drip. If you have kids, however, you may skip this step. Like every light in your house, every faucet in your house is already on.
  13. Double check your weather app. YEP, STILL SNOWFLAKES!!!
  14. Create a winter home emergency kit for the chance you may not be able to leave your house for several days with your children. Your kit should include, at a minimum: wine, chocolates, Ibuprofen, and noise-canceling headphones.
  15. Collect all of your kids’ kinetic sand and slime-making materials. These may come in handy as de-icers tomorrow morning.
  16. Go to bed with visions of snowflakes dancing in your head.
  17. Wake up the next morning and run to the window to see if it snowed! Even though it’s almost 8:00AM, it’s still pitch black outside and you can’t see a darn thing. Flip on some lights and squint really hard. Is that…? Could it be…?! Yes! It is. Rain. Just rain. Lots of rain.

The End.

Here’s to whatever this week holds, Seattle friends!

The Box

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The scene: New Years Eve 1999. I am 16 years old, a junior in high school. We are on the verge of Y2K and everyone is a bit on edge wondering if the world as we know it is about to collapse and sink into chaos. On this fateful night, all of our nearest and dearest gather together: My parents, my younger sisters (12 year-old middle schoolers), my grandparents, and our closest family friends, the Lindner family. We sit together in the living room of my parents’ new house that they had just finished building the year before. In the middle of the room sits an empty box.

***

For twenty years that box, now full of treasures, sat on a shelf in my parents’ storage closet.  Twenty years seemed like a long time to wait. During that time my sisters and I graduated high school, completed college, started our careers, got married, and had children. Time passed and life happened. As we–the children of the family–grew up and began lives of our own, The Box became a constant subtle reminder of our family’s shared history.

Many times we would completely forget about The Box. And then someone would go into the closet to pull out extra winter gloves or a box of childrens books for new grandchildren, and we would catch a glimpse of The Box tucked away on its shelf. Then we would remember: This is where we came from. As time went on we all forgot what was actually in The Box, but the mystery just added to its allure.

***

As New Years Day 2020 approached, excitement was in the air–not just because we were approaching a new year, a new decade, a new beginning, but because this was the year we could finally open The Box.

We made plans to gather together once more so we could open The Box together. This time, though, it required quite a bit of planning. What originally was two families totaling 8 people had now grown into six families consisting of 18 people from two states and six different cities. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and we set a date for January 1st, 2020.

On New Years Day we gathered together once more in the same living room of my parents’ house. And in the center of the room sat The Box.

***

As we all watched on with eagerness, my dad and his best friend, Ed Lindner, did the honors of cutting the seal on The Box. When they lifted the lid we could finally see the latent treasures. There were newspapers (the real estate section was quite enlightening/depressing, depending on how you look at it), magazines (Teen People with a 17 year-old Brittany Spears on the cover), and advertisements (Circuit City was having a blowout sale on the brand new flat screen TVs). There were relics of our youth: Beanie Babies (Still worth exactly nothing, despite our hopes that we’d be millionaires from their popularity and rarity 20 years in the future), McDonald’s toys (my kids’ favorite), a baseball. There were mementos of our past lives: ribbons and awards, photos, my homecoming corsage. There was even a gold coin.

None of the treasures, however, compared to the stack of envelopes stacked in the center of The Box. For inside these envelopes laid the hopes and deepest thoughts of the former selves of the people gathered in that room.

Each envelope bore the name of one of The Boxes founding members, and inside each envelope was a questionnaire we had filled out. The surveys included everything from our favorite places to our thoughts about what life would be like in the future. The answers were both hilarious and touching. As we went around the room reading our “letters” aloud there were tears of both joy and sadness. Joy over who we are and how far we have come. Joy over the relationships that have endured and the new ones that have come. Sadness over what and who we have lost.

We spent hours that New Years Day going through the letters and the contents of The Box. And as we did, I was reminded of the power of a dream and how precious this life is.

When we created The Box I was a teenage girl dreaming of the life I now live. I had dreamed of some day being able to travel and teach and start a family. And now, 20 years later, I can truly say that I have lived the dream. Since the box’s creation, I have traveled to over a dozen countries and even spent time living abroad (a dream I had but wasn’t even bold enough to put down in writing). I got to live out my childhood dream of being a teacher and having my own classrooms of full of real-life students. I’ve been married to my one true love for nearly 14 years, and together we have 3 beautiful, crazy children. The life I dreamed of 20 years ago is my current reality–complete with the peaks and valleys of a life truly lived.

I know that things could have easily turned out differently for me–that my dreams could have produced a different reality–but I suppose I was lucky. Or maybe, just maybe, the dreams I had as a girl were placed in me as a guidebook. The life I was supposed to live already had a roadmap, and it was simply up to me to stay the course. My hopes drove my desires, which led to my doings. And by staying close to the path that had already been carved out for me, my dreams really did come true.

***

I have no idea what the next 20 years will hold for me, but I can’t wait to find out. In another 20 years I will be in my mid-50’s with three adult children. My world and the world around me will surely have changed yet again. And despite the changes that lie ahead, I look forward to that day 20 years from now. That day when I will look back and realize I’ve lived my own dream.

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.

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!