Book Review: Give Your Child The World

Teachers, librarians, home-school parents, and basically all globally minded people who love literacy need this book.  I LOVE IT!  In fact, I am late to the party posting my review of it because I have been busy talking about it with almost anyone who will listen.

Let me back up to give a bit of context.  Before I was a mom, I was a high school teacher. I taught in private Christian schools, alternative placement centers for students at risk of dropping out, magnet schools, and neighborhood public schools. I have experience with students in a wide variety of ability levels, income levels, English language proficiency levels, ethnic backgrounds, colors, and family situations.  Regardless of the demographics represented, my classroom goal was always to help students’ ideas about the world to grow a little bit bigger because of some of the things we experienced in class.  I wanted them to see new perspectives and to learn more about the wide and diverse world in which we live.  Now, as a homeschooling Momma who is trying to raise responsible humans, I want these same things for my own children.  I want them to know that the world is big, diverse, and theirs for the seeing.

Give Your Child the World is a dream.  Jamie C. Martin has created a compendium of literary resources for families and educators.  Her references are divided by geographic area AND age level.  She even has helpful information about how to begin meaningful conversations about the cultural or historical topics addressed  in each book.  And she doesn’t just drop a giant list of books at your feet and say, “Here!  Have fun!”  No.  She even begins the book with ideas about how to help your family practice being globally minded in everyday life.  This is brilliant!

 

https://www.amazon.com/Give-Your-Child-World-Globally/dp/0310344131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474421231&sr=8-1&keywords=give+your+child+the+world

 

 

Here is the link.  Get yourself to Amazon to purchase this phenomenal resource!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disney Tips: FastPass+ Explained, Sort Of

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Magic Kingdom

 

Ok, we’re just around the corner from the summer travel season.  This is the time of year when I get tons of questions from friends planning their summer trips to Disney World and Orlando. For the next few weeks, I’m posting tips and information about how to get the most bang for your buck while you are here. (First tip—don’t come in summer!) There are TONS of other blogs that do a wonderful job of explain ALL.THINGS. DISNEY. They are full of fun graphics and “insider information.”  You will find none of that here.  I am mostly just writing for my friends and family who don’t have the time or energy to sit for hours combing Pinterest for all things Disney perfection. Notime[1]Since we’re already into late April, I’m using this post to explain the basics about Disney’s FastPass system. ( If your trip is in June, and you have no idea what I am talking about, go ahead and start praying now.) The My Disney Experience  app and website are purposefully vague about the system, so I’ll give you the basics about what it is and how to use it.  In my next post, I’ll address which attractions and rides you should FastPass and which ones you should skip.  

What is a FastPass?

A FastPass  (FP) is a reservation in a separate line.  You are given a time frame (usually an hour) in which you report to the attraction.  Once there, you’ll scan your wristband or park ticket.  If you’re at the correct place at the correct time, you’ll be ushered into a separate waiting area or queue for the attraction.  If it is a ride, your line will move faster than the traditional line.  If it is a show or parade, you’ll receive guaranteed preferred seating.  

How do I get a FastPass?

You can only make FP reservations if you have already purchased your park tickets.

 You’ll need the My DisneyExperience app or login to the My Disney Experience website.  For initial use, I recommend the website.  (The app is extremely useful in the park, but while you’re figuring out the system, stick with the desktop version).  

When can I make my FastPass reservations? 

 If you are staying on Disney property, you may make reservations as early as 60 days prior to your visit.  Everyone else may make reservations as early as 30 days prior to your visit. Again, you cannot make an FP reservation unless you have already purchased your tickets!  If you plan to purchase your tickets once you arrive at the park, you’ll need to find an FP kiosk in the park to make your selections.

 Here’s the deal—make your reservations as soon as possible. Like no joke, log in at 12:01 EST on your 60 or 30 day window and book your top choices! The passes are limited in number.  The popular rides and attractions go first.  For example, as an annual passholder, I have only been able to secure an FP to see Anna and Elsa or to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for times later than 8pm– and that has only happened a handful of times!  Granted, I have not made a job out of trying to secure FP’s, but even in the “slow seasons”, they are scarce for the most popular attractions. 

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Hug her now, kids! You’ll probably never see her again!

Can I modify them after I make the reservations?

Yes, you can change the time of an FP or change the attraction.   

For example, let’s say you have an FP for The Toy Story ride for 8am-9am, but you are late arriving to the park.  You can log into your app (or visit a kiosk) and change the time to later in the day.  Let’s say you have that same FP reservation, but you decide you’d rather ride Tower of Terror instead.  You can log into the app (or visit the kiosk in Hollywood Studios) and change the attraction. (However, read the choices closely.  The time of your reservation may also change with the modification.) Also, all changes are pending availability.  If you are there on a really busy day, the chances for acquiring the exact time AND attraction you want are slim.  

The fine print

You can only make 3 FP reservations per day. All 3 must be in the same park, and they must be for different attractions.  For example, you cannot make one for TestTrack at EPCOT, one for Everest at Animal Kingdom, and one for Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom.  Nor can you make all three of your reservations for Space Mountain. 

 Once you have used your 3 FP’s, you can add more via the app or the kiosk in the park.  You can add one at a time; once you use that one, you may add another, and so on.  These extra passes can be for the same park or you can travel to the other parks. (If using the kiosks, the reservation can only be made at a kiosk in the same park as the attraction).

 For example, let’s say you are at Magic Kingdom.  You have FP’s at Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, and Meet Mickey Mouse.  Once you have used these, you can use the app or a kiosk in Magic Kingdom, and perhaps acquire an FP for The Jungle Cruise. Once you use this, you can use the app to acquire another and so on,  If you prefer to head to EPCOT, you may travel to EPCOT to use the kiosks or the app to acquire an FP for Test Track or Soarin’.

(Note: Using the app to acquire additional FP’s is a new  feature this month.  The news release does not address whether or not you can make additional FP’s while using the app in a different park from the desired attraction.  I am unsure if you can make an additional FP request for Hollywood Studios while standing in Magic Kingdom, )

Ways to get the biggest bang for your buck:

If you’re trying to pack in as much as possible, book your FP’s for early in the day.  That way, you can take advantage of the extra passes you can reserve in the parks. If your FP’s are finished by noon, you have several hours left to access the extra FP’s. 

  If you’re unable to reserve your passes for early in the day, be strategic about your arrival time.  Obviously, the middle of the day is the most crowded and has the longest wait times (IT IS ALSO MISERABLY HOT).  If you really want to experience the Peter Pan ride, but it didn’t make the cut for your FastPass selections, head there before 10am or after 8pm.  If you try to do it at noon, you’ll be in line for hours. (Preview for the next post—unless you are die hard Peter Pan fans, this ride is NOT worth a 45 minute wait!)  

 Use the app once you’re in the park.  It has live updates of wait times and show times. (Be careful for using it to determine character appearances and fireworks displays as these rotate by day.  Grab a times guide on your way into the park to get the most accurate info for these attractions.)

 

So, these are the FP basics.  Come back next week to read my thoughts on which rides you should skip and which should be on the top of your list.

Celebrating Tori

 

Today, family and friends are gathering together to celebrate Tori Brackbill’s short life.  

I met her mom, Lesa, via a Facebook group last summer. I don’t remember the exact discussion topic for that evening, but I do remember the gist of the first thing Lesa said: her 11 month-old daughter had been diagnosed with a rare fatal disease and was not expected to live to her second birthday.

 My heart skipped a beat, and I couldn’t breathe.

That was last June.  On March 27, Tori went to sleep for the last time.

 Now, I have had a few friends lose their children for various reasons, but this was the first time I had watched someone LIVE while knowing her own child would die.  I capitalize LIVE because Lesa and Brennan used 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 to complete Tori’s Bucket List.  It was heart wrenching, but also inspiring.  Thanks to them, I have reevaluated some priorities and attitudes in my own life regarding parenting, life, death, and even what it means to have hope. 

 Tori had Krabbe’s Disease, a progressive, degenerative disease.  Tori was born a beautiful, seemingly healthy baby.  Then at 5 months of age, she began to show symptoms.  Once symptoms appear, there is no cure.  If she had been screened at birth, she could have received treatment to save her life.  Lesa and Brennan are now working to raise awareness and to advocate for nation-wide screening for Krabbe and other forms of leukodystrophy.  

 To read more about Tori’s life, her Bucket List, and the hope Lesa and Brennan have for the future,  please visit The Adventures of the Brackbill Family.

 To find out of your state performs newborn screenings for Krabbe, visit Hunter’s Hope.

Some Thoughts on Visiting Atlantis

IMG_9538[1]First, let me clarify something.   I do not lead a glamourous, vacation-filled life.  I am a stay-at-home mommy married to a dude who travels for his job.   Last month, he added a few trips to his schedule to help boost his billable hours.  After adding the trips, he realized they were 2 back-to-back nights in The Bahamas.  My in-laws happened to be here visiting, so they offered to watch the kiddos if I wanted to join him.  He works for an airline, so I could book myself on a flight for almost nothing.  So, an almost-free flight and a free hotel room are the reasons I happened to vacation at the Atlantis Paradise Island resort over the weekend. In fact,  I didn’t even know we would be at Atlantis until we were boarding our transportation from the airport to the resort.

I kept asking him, “which hotel are we staying at?” His response was the same each time, “I don’t know.  It’s some big hotel.” They usually go with a Hilton or Marriott, so I knew it would be something somewhat decent. I thought it might even have a pool.

 

The “some big hotel” happened to be Atlantis.

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“Some big hotel.”

 

We had a really fun time, but since I did not spend any of the previous week researching or planning, here are a few lessons we learned.

 

1-   Book through a travel agent. I cannot emphasize this enough There are SO MANY ELEMENTS to this resort.  It would be very difficult to identify all of the amenities and figure out which of them would best fit your vacation preferences.  And once you drive up to the palatial entrance, you’re a bit entranced by the sound of the ocean and the allure of Bahama Mama drinks. You have no attention span for getting directions to the correct elevator, much less all the pricing plans for buffets and sea lion feeding.  Travel agents will have privy to specials and packages. Believe me, you’ll want specials and packages figured out and paid for before you arrive.

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Here’s a view of the 45736383393837739393 activities we offer.

2-   The food at the resort is crazy expensive.  Seriously, the food at Atlantis makes airport and Disney food prices look affordable.  I kept hearing the check-in staff ask if the guests wanted a $150 credit or free breakfast as a part of their resort stay. If you are breakfast people,  TAKE THE FREE BREAKFAST. Unless you came with a suitcase full of cereal, everyone in your party is ok with Starbuck’s disappointing food options, or you’re only staying for 1 night, you’ll spend more than $150 on breakfasts.  Apparently there are some reasonable food options off-property, but each of them required a taxi.  Again, I would check with a travel agent with some of these questions.

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Conch, because what is a trip to the Bahamas without conch?
3-   Buy your souvenirs (and breakfast) at the airport.  I love the Nassau airport!  It feels small, but it has the amenities of a larger airport.  First, the staff are really helpful—like actually helpful.  I mean the customs agents, the food service employees, and the gate agents were all professional and (gasp) kind.  There are several restaurant options ( Starbuck’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s, etc..) and plenty of souvenirs shops in the main gate areas.  I was able to purchase some lovely local artwork and unique toys for my children for a fraction of the cost of the mass-produced junk I saw at the resort. There is a catch, though. All of the shopping and dining options are on the departures concourse.  This area cannot be accessed when you arrive in the country. Plan to give yourself a little extra time at the airport before your return flight so that you’ll have time to browse and eat.  If your departing flight leaves before 9 am, most of the souvenir shops won’t be open.  (Don’t worry—Starbuck’s will!)

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Some of the art at the Nassau Airport. Customs is at the bottom of the escalator.  The main eating and shopping area is at the top of the escalator.

 

4-   Don’t put your room key away.  Atlantis is serious about security.  There are checkpoints throughout the resort that require guests show their room keys of wristbands. It wasn’t overbearing or threatening, but just enough to let me know that they were serious about keeping the guests and their interests secure. It only proved bothersome when we kept forgetting and throwing the room key into the depths of the beach bag.  (Side note, we also needed a new room key by the end of that afternoon because all of the sand and water from our towels and t-shirts had rendered the original key useless).

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” Hello, may I see your room key or wristband?”

 

5-   This resort has something for everyone, so you see EVERYONE.  Honeymooners, young families, avid golfers, casino junkies, and groups of college kids—we saw them all!  This wasn’t a bad thing, but it is something to think about.  For example, the most direct route from our room to the water slide area was through the casino.  If you’re traveling with some young and impressionable minds or a recovering gambler, this might pose a hiccup for you.  If you want to lie by a quiet pool and not hear the sounds of a young toddler in need of a nap, you’ll need to shy away from the main water areas.

 

6-   The resort doesn’t offer anything I haven’t seen before.  Ok, that sounded snobby, but let me clarify.  I live in Orlando, the vacation Mecca of the world.  I am always a 45 minute drive from a swim with dolphins, a ride on a water slide,  a day at the beach, and a walk through  a shark aquarium. Some of the “Wow!” factor was admittedly lost on me.  The fact that you can do all of these things in the same place is pretty cool.  If you want to do “all the things”, again I would check with your travel professional.  Some activities ( such as the water slides) are included with your hotel stay, but many are not.  You might get more for your money by having these experiences at other vacation destinations.

 

7-   Bahamians are really cool. The people of The Bahamas are so fun.  Smiles and professionalism were the norm.  I had the opportunity to chat with several locals, and all were congenial and warm and welcoming. ( And I am mad that I did not get any selfies with any of them! #selfiefail )

 

All in all, it was a lovely and surprising little getaway.   I returned home with a few good nights of sleep, a tan, and some fun memories with my hubby.  I call that a vacation win.

This Isn’t My Season

IF:gathering, a very popular women’s conference, took place around the country this weekend.  Almost all of my favorite authors spoke at it, and a significant number of my friends attended the flagship event in Austin, Texas, or the local simulcasts.  Selfies of beautiful women eating lunch together, photos of gorgeous venues, and shots of popular bloggers on stage in close proximity to each other are all over my FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. 

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Look– its two of my favorite people having lunch together in Austin!

 

Meanwhile, I spent my entire weekend mucking it up in the throes of parenting lots of little children.  My Saturday night was immersed in bubbles splashed out of the tub, footed-pj ballet recitals, and a ridiculous number of “just one more” stories.  At one point today, I was standing in a crowded park repeatedly screaming, “Slide down here now before you poop your pants!” at one of my children. 

No, no I wasn’t listening to Jen Hatmaker, or having lunch with about 45 awesome ladies from #the4500, or discussing pertinent topics such as discipleship or the church’s role in the end of human trafficking.  Nope.  I was using my mom as a babysitter, so I could go to the store alone to shop for a pair of non-maternity jeans that actually fit…. and (surprisingly) I am ok with it.

IfVenue
My friend Magda took this photo of the gorgeous stage at the venue in Austin. I know many of the women standing down front

Don’t get me wrong—if I had the chance to go, I would have gone in a heartbeat!  I would much rather be there than at home wiping dirty bottoms and singing, “Patty Cake.” A year or so ago, I would have been a wreck. Even missing a girls’ night out or a neighborhood Super Bowl party was enough to send me into an emotional tailspin of FOMO on all the fun everyone was having without me.  In fact, I’d say battling ongoing FOMO, loneliness, and guilt about not accomplishing enough personally have been my biggest personal struggles since I stopped working outside the home.

My first year as a SAHM was HELL.  I had an infant, a 2-year-old, and I was expecting my third baby.  On top of this, we didn’t have family close, and my husband was travelling 15-20 days a month for work. I felt trapped.  FaceBook was my only window to the world, but it was a double-edged sword.  Yes, I could “interact” with people, but I could also see all the fun things they were getting to do while I was stuck at home changing lots of diapers, trying not to throw up, and planning my days around 2 different nap schedules. As an extrovert who likes to check things off of her to-do list, I almost went insane.

 I know so many look back on their children’s early childhood with fondness, and I am sure I will, too.  My children are SO CUTE and SO FUNNY and, frankly, SO CONSUMING.  I really wasn’t prepared for how much of myself I would lose in just trying to keep them fed, diapered, and loved every day.  Honestly, I felt like such a failure as a person because I didn’t ( and still don’t) have enough time, money, or emotional space to do much of anything outside of my daily Mommy duties.

In the past year, God has really done a work in my heart as He’s whispered, “This isn’t your season.”  I had these visions of hanging out with my friends, writing for my blog, and maybe even getting back into shape. ALMOST NONE OF THAT IS HAPPENING.  The big difference, is that I currently don’t feel like a failure about it.  When my friends tell me that this parenting gig gets easier, I can actually believe them now. I have learned to trust that He sees me apart from my mothering, and He even made me to be more.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds me “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”  For me, this time happens to be for singing along to the Wiggles and carting Cabbage Patch kids everywhere we go.

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While David Platt was talking about discipleship, my son was putting yogurt in his hair.

 

 

This year, my oldest turns 5, my middle starts preschool 3 days a week, and my youngest will turn 2.  I hope to blog more, travel more, and eat meals with other grown- ups more. Maybe, just maybe, next year, I’ll spend this weekend worshiping with women from around the world instead of shouting at preschoolers on the playground.

 

Just Kicking “Just” Out of Our Holiday

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Ahhh… its officially the holidays! This time of year is simultaneously the most exciting, exhausting, and stressful times of the year.  I love it, except when I don’t because my children have crossed the fine line between, “This is magical and special!” to “I hate everything and everyone!  Give me food or sleep!”

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he’s mad that there are more presents to open.

I know I am NOT the only parent who feels this way.  In fact, I kind of suspect that ALL parents feel this way this time of year.  Our routines and sanity-saving regiments have turned into tiptoeing through the mine fields of sugar rushes, delayed bed times, and being strapped into the cars sears for yet another long road trip.

No worries, this is not post is not about how to suck the fun or tradition out of your holidays in the name of “good parenting”.  In fact, I encourage you to pack in all the fun and tradition and family time you can possibly muster while still enjoying yourself.  This is the time of year for making memories and creating traditions with your children.  You know yourself and your children best, so you decide how much frivolity and festivity is right for your family.   Here’s my one recommendation for enhancing your Christmas experience: for the love of Baby Jesus, can we please stop using the word “just”?

This word is the arch nemesis to what’s left of my sanity.  I don’t mean the adjective form meaning “guided by truth, reason, justice, fairness.”  I am referring to that sneaky little adverb meaning “only or merely”.  You know, the one we overuse because we think we can conquer the world with small children in tow.  There is no “JUST” doing anything when small children are involved.

Sure, I can JUST run to the grocery store for one thing.”

By the time I get all three shoed, peed, loaded into the car seats, unloaded from the car seats, loaded into a cart, and into the grocery store, I have already invested 40 minutes into this trip.  Lord help us if the store is featuring samples.  We’ll be here for eternity.

“I’ll JUST clean while the kids play.” 

No, I won’t.  I will answer 5 gazillion questions, fetch Christmas ornaments from my toddler’s hands, and set timers to keep up with whose turn it is to play with whatever toy has become “the chosen one” for the day.  Then, as soon as I get any type of cleaning agent near my hands, someone will need a snack or a drink.

“This will JUST take a minute.”

Lies!  All lies!  NOTHING takes just a minute when you have an army of small dictators/helpers following you around. Continue reading

Nanny

We sang “How Great Thou Art” at church a few weeks ago. I was ugly crying, and we weren’t even 10 minutes into the service.  I wasn’t really thinking about anything when we began the song. It was a non-traditional arrangement of the song, and I had kind of drifted into my thoughts during the previous song.  Then came the chorus.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee

“How great thou art, how great thou art!”

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee

“How great thou art, how great thou art!” 

Suddenly, I was about 14 or 15 years old, standing next to my Nanny in Hotchkiss Missionary Baptist Church in Hotchkiss, West Virginia. She was singing the words while holding herself steady by leaning onto the pew in front of us.  There was a slight bulge in the side of her mouth from her peppermint.

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“”How Great Thou Art” is not the only hymn that reminds me of her.  We regularly sang other classics when we’d visit her church, too.  I learned the words to “Just as I Am”, “Rock of Ages”, “The Old Rugged Cross”, and “Pass Me Not” in that little wood paneled sanctuary as well.  Unfortunately, none of those gems are on the worship rotation at the large urban mega-church I now attend.

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Camping at Mt. Nebo. I am sure we had been singing some hymns at their annual Gospel Sing.

So, there I was, crying and mouthing the words (I could not eek a sound out at this point), and I remembered that I had also recently dreamt about her.  In the dream we were sitting on a couch discussing how old she would have been.  I was upset that she was frailer than I remember, and then we had a good laugh because she said, “Well, I am a lot older than you remember.”

It’s true. The 13 years since her death have flown by.  I still sometimes forget that she’s not here anymore. A few months ago, I had an overwhelming urge to call her to share something from my day.   I can’t remember the exact circumstance, but I remember it was evening, and I was in the car by myself.  I had the phone in my hand before I even realized what I was doing.

Like most who have loved and lost, I am so thankful for the years I had with her.  We never lived in the same state, but she was an ever-present force in my life. She and my Pop-paw didn’t have much money to spend on us, and she wasn’t a great cook, but, wow, that woman loved her family.  She’d ride on the back of a 4-wheeler for hours just to hang with her preteen grandkids while we went “mudding”.  She’d drive all over the mid-Atlantic to watch the grandkids play ball. She made sure to get her house all decorated and lit up for Christmas even after my grandpa passed because she knew how much we loved it. ( She even had the neighbors help her put up a giant star on the top of a 15 foot flag pole in her back yard.)

Summersville Lake, circa 1985
Summersville Lake, circa 1985

Since she died, I have tried to find small ways to honor her memory in my life.  I have one of her hand-written recipes hanging in my kitchen.  I use some of her Christmas ornaments on my tree.  One of my children is named after her.   Those who knew her would recognize her in these small little homages in my home, but that’s not really enough for me.  It’s my children who I really want to recognize her and the impact she had on me.

My children are still quite young, and I have struggled to find a way to connect them with her on a personal level.  It sounds so weird as I type that out.  She’s gone.  It doesn’t matter how many times I make peanut butter fudge or how much I try to use some of her signature phrases, they just won’t get to experience her.

I was kind of bummed when I came to that realization as I was thinking about her on her birthday. I spent a few minutes thinking wistfully of her and feeling guilty that I hadn’t done a better job of commemorating her birthday to my littles.  Then, I had an epiphany:  my family’s commitment to see each other often IS commemorating her.

You see, even though my Nanny lived 6 hours away, she made sure to be a part of our lives every way she could.  Sometimes it was by driving to see us; sometimes it was by welcoming us into her home for as long as we cared to stay.  She made sure we knew that she loved us and wanted to spend time with us.  Thankfully, my parents went along with it.

Now, I am the parent, and my children have these awesome grandparents who want to spend time with them. My husband and I have made the decision to make that happen whenever possible. We don’t live near any of them.  We live in Florida, while our parents are in Tennessee, Maine, and Alaska. We Skype and FaceTime regularly.  We have obnoxious group texts full of videos and photos of the children.  We basically have an open-door policy that grandparents can come to visit whenever they want.  In the past 2 years, my children have rarely gone a month without seeing at least one of their grandparents in person.

I know that many of our friends have valid reasons why an arrangement like this won’t work for their family.  I know that travel is significantly easier for us because my spouse works in the airline industry.  I know that as our children grow and our schedules change, this will get more and more difficult to do.  But for this sweet little season, we’re soaking up all of the grandparent time we can get.

My children will never know the taste of Nanny’s burnt fried eggs or what “Well, I be dog” means.  But that’s ok.  They’ll know Mimi eats peanut butter from a spoon and Bobba likes to cook special breakfasts.  They’ll know  Nana’s homemade jam on her homemade bread tastes like Heaven and Papa can build almost anything.  They’ll know Deedee can make anything from a Caprese salad to birthday gift look like a work of art and Pops can run farther than they can ride their bikes.

They’ll know that some songs make Mommy cry and smile at the same time.

And I think Nanny would drink a cup of coffee to that.

Alabaster Jars and Priorities

I haven’t posted here since mid-July.  I have plenty of ideas rolling around in my head, and several drafts begging to be finished on my computer.  I feel it hanging over my head, and that nagging voice is constantly going.

“You need to finish that piece.”

“You really should post more regularly.”

“This is important; you need to make it a priority.”

That voice is right.  The problem is that same voice is saying similar things about many areas of my life: playing with my children, maintaining my home, working out, cultivating my marriage, taking time for myself… the list goes on and on. There is never enough time, energy, or mental stability to accomplish all of the “important” things on my to-do list– even if I didn’t include this writing thing.

This isn’t one of those situations in which I have a ton of extra commitments, and I need to scale back in order to focus.  It is just the fast and frenetic season our family is in.  I have 3 children under the age of five and a husband who travels 17-25 days a month. Taking care of their physical and emotional needs sometimes takes all I have ( and then some).

For most hours of the day I am feeding, wiping, or holding a small child.  I do not have much time for reflection, research, or even thinking in complete sentences.  When I do have time alone, my writing time must compete with the time and energy to do other necessary activities such as washing dishes, sleeping, or even taking a shower.  All of these things are important; I need to do all of them in order for my home, family, and sanity to function.  I try to prioritize as best as I can, but I am often left feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped. I can’t figure out what is the most important way to spend my time.

  • I have about 30 minutes until dinner time, and my children want me to play with them.  Do I cook the dinner I have planned?  Or do I play until they have hunger-induced breakdowns,  which cause me to throw string cheese, raisins and crackers at them until the screaming stops?
  • What about our house?  I have 10 minutes of no children in my hands—do I make a small dent in the mountain of laundry that needs to be folded or do I do a clean the toilet (which my toddler has discovered and thinks it is his personal splash pad) ?
  • My husband is home for 48 hours, and we have a bunch of errands to run.  Do we haul three tired children around town in one car in the name of  family time, or do we split up the kids, divide the list, and take separate cars in the name of getting s#!t done?
  • Its 10pm, and all of the fussy children are finally asleep.  Do I write, shower, or fall asleep?
This is not my children's bedroom, but it looks similar! (Photo from www.babble.com)
This is not my children’s bedroom, but it looks similar! (Photo from http://www.babble.com)

I  tried the whole creating a hierarchy of priorities to help me to always have the right answers in these scenarios, but I have found that doesn’t work well–  there are so many little kids!  The stress comes from constantly having to reprioritize the priorities.  There is never enough of me to get everything completed. Or even started.

I am far enough into this adulting gig to understand that there will ALWAYS be more on the to-do list.  Always.  I am also far enough into this Jesus thing to know that He sees me, and frankly, he has an answer.  My problem is that I get so overwhelmed with “all the things”  that  I end up trying to hide under my covers and sing “Soft Kitty” until another adult comes along with all of the answers.  This always backfires because kids are really good at finding Mommy when she is trying to hide. Then I have 45 minutes of more “why?” questions to answer about why Mommy was hiding and why can’t we have an actual cat named “Soft Kitty”.

Last week I was reading in Matthew 26 about Jesus’s final week before the crucifixion. Talk about a stressful week!  The disciples go from watching their beloved Jesus  hailed as a hero to watching him betrayed and arrested within the course of a few days. In verses 6-13, Matthew tells us about Mary anointing Jesus with the perfume from the alabaster jar. The story goes like this: Jesus was having dinner with his disciples.  Mary came in and poured expensive perfume on him while he was seated at dinner.  The disciples grumbled that her perfume could have been used to help the poor.  Jesus rebukes his disciples for not understanding that he is about to die.

This story has always kind of mystified me; I have a tough time understanding the significance of the entire ceremony.   Maybe it is because I never held all of my marital value in a nice jar.  Maybe it is because the importance and ceremony of pouring oil on someone is so foreign to me.   Maybe it is because the entire scene seems awkward to me.  Regardless, I prayed God would help me through this.

As I read and reread it a few times, Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples began to stand out to me.  In verses 11-12 he says, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.  When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”  BAM! The whole episode came into focus for me.

For years, Jesus had been teaching his disciples about how to love other people.  He’d taught them about feeding the poor, healing the sick, and pulling people in from the periphery of society. This idea of taking care of others had been ingrained in them.  They had been living it out and watching lives change.  They were “all in” on this assignment.  They knew taking care of others was important to Jesus, so they made it their priority.

But it wasn’t that simple.  Jesus HAD taught them about his love for the unloved, but He had also told them it was almost time for him to leave.  In 26:1, just a few hours before the dinner, Jesus said to the disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (NIV).   He had JUST told them that something bad was about to happen to him.  They were so concerned with their assignment to take care of the poor that they weren’t listening to what he was saying RIGHT THEN. They should care for the poor, but on that night, Jesus wanted them to pay attention to him and to his imminent role in fulfilling the prophesy of the ages. They were so focused on the important that they almost missed the sacred.

QUINOA

Mary understood.  She had already learned that listening to him in the moment was more important than accomplishing the to-do list. ( Luke 10:38-41)

How often had I been inconvenienced by the sacred because I was too busy with the important? God showed me that in trying to determine all the priorities in my life, I had done this same thing over and over. I don’t need to “prioritize” all the important things in my life and then stick to a rigid hierarchical to-do list of what gets my time and attention. I only have one priority— to be obedient to God.

The thing about God is that I have a relationship with him.  He doesn’t just give me one important assignment and then say “Peace out, I’ll see you on the other side of the Pearly Gates.”   No, He is constantly giving direction about what He wants from me; listening to that still small voice on a moment by moment basis will help me wade through the muddy waters of figuring out which important task is the most important for THIS MOMENT. Sometimes I need to clean the kitchen.  Sometimes I need to play dolls with my children.  Sometimes I need to write.  Sometimes I need to go to sleep.  Sometimes I need to call that friend who needs encouragement.  Sometimes I need to unwind by watching 30Rock on Netflix.

Even while writing this week, I had some serious “distractions” come my way. I knew God had laid this post on my heart, and I wanted to get it out quickly. I also had a few time-sensitive tasks to complete around the house.  I was kind of mad at my family for “distracting” me with their stuff.  When I stepped back and looked at the situations, I was doing exactly as the disciples had done— forsaking the sacred for the important.  On Wednesday, a bike ride with my husband and children was sacred; cleaning out closets was just important.  On Thursday, reading books and cuddling with my youngest was sacred; working on this post was just important. Had I “prioritized” looking at the situations through my own limits and time constraints, I would not have chosen wisely.  Like the disciples, I really needed to focus on what God was telling me in the moments right on front of me, and not just the assignments.

So, here it is, a full  2 weeks after I started writing this.  My kitchen is a mess, the closets still haven’t been cleaned out, and this post is JUST NOW coming together.   But its ok, my “to-do” list is not the boss of me– Jesus is.  So, if you’ll excuse me, Jesus and I have a date to unwind while watching 30 Rock.

Panic and Campahs: An Experience in Trusting Jesus

Panic.

Dictionary.com defines it as “a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior…”

You know it: that out-of-breath, full-of-fear, heart-pounding, mind-racing, out of control feeling that sometimes overcomes us. It is debilitating when it hits full force.

Sometimes it is warranted. These physical reactions are innate; they are a part of our survival system. They are God-given. They help to keep us alive in actual life-threatening situations. But like almost anything good, they can also be used for our demise. Unwarranted panic is distracting, isolating, and exhausting.

I don’t think I had experienced the full force of panic until I became a parent. I am not saying that pre-children JJ always responded appropriately under pressure, but I am saying that the crazy lady panic was definitely ratcheted up a notch (or 12) once my first child was born. 

I remember watching an episode of Friends in which Rachel and Ross were locked out of the apartment while Baby Emma slept. Rachel had a bout of what I call the  “what if’s”. (Watch it here) This was before I had children, so I remember thinking that situation was funny because Rachel was a little neurotic.  Now, I think it is funny because I TOTALLY understand.  Like Rachel, my Momma-panic always begins with the “what if” questions.  When left to my own devices, I take situations that are perfectly normal, and turn them into panic-inducing scenarios in my head.

Scenario: The baby finally sleeps through the night.

My brain jumps to this: Why isn’t he crying? What if he isn’t breathing? Make sure he’s breathing! 

Scenario: I made it through a 3 minute shower without any of the children coming into the bathroom crying.

My brain jumps to this: Why didn’t they need me? What’s wrong? What if they all choked on their Goldfish crackers at the same time? Quick! Run into the living room to make sure they are all breathing! 

Scenario: My husband takes the kids to run an errand so I can have some time to myself. He is gone for an hour without phoning to ask a question.

My brain jumps to this: Why didn’t he call me? What if his phone was stolen? What if the car was stolen, and his phone was in it?!?! It is so hot! What if they are stranded? What if they are so hot they have trouble breathing?  Call and make sure they are all breathing!

 Apparently, I am not the only one who does this. I have asked some of my most trusted, non-crazy Momma friends, and they have all admitted to bouts with unwarranted panic, too. When I look back at some of the things that have set me off into a dither, I sometimes laugh. Don’t get me wrong, we Mommas have PLENTY to worry about—PLENTY. And being a concerned, well-informed parent is our duty. I am not making light of the burden we bear as parents, and I am not saying to ignore those “gut” feelings when we know something isn’t right.  But, I know that I often allow the out of control “what-if’s” to overrun my common sense.

Recently, I had a situation involving a week-long struggle with panic. Not the daily, mild panic I joke about; this was the full-blown FREAK OUT IN MY HEAD.

Since we live far away from our families, we make a real effort for our children to spend plenty of time with their grandparents.  This summer we had the opportunity to visit my mom and stepdad in Tennessee and my in-laws in Maine. When it came time for working out the details of travel, we had a small hiccup in figuring out the best way to get the littles and me from Tennessee to Maine. My hubby’s schedule was still unpublished, and we weren’t sure I would have help getting the children from one destination to another. Neither flying nor driving by myself with the kids appealed to me. My in-laws, who were also visiting Tennessee, stepped in and offered to help. They saved the day!

My girls, ages 4 and 2, would have a fun adventure of driving from Tennessee to Maine with my in-laws. They would drive up and camp along the way, while my son and I would drive home to Florida to attend a few doctors’ appointments and then fly up to Maine to meet them.   I agreed to this for many reasons. First, it meant I wouldn’t have to fly by myself with 3 children under the age of 5.  Second, my children love to camp in the “campah” (that’s a “camper” if you don’t speak Mainer English) with their Nana and Papa. Third, my in-laws are amazing, and I knew my girls would be well-cared for. It was a win-win: my children would have fun quality time with their grandparents, and I would have a much less stressful trek down and then up the eastern seaboard. This was going to be great!

And then, I had to actually strap them into their little car seats with their blankies and Cabbage Patch dolls, give them hugs and kisses, and watch them drive away. This was much tougher than I had anticipated. I almost ran after them; instead I stood there and cried. I don’t even think I could have put words to “all the feels” if I had wanted to.  Thankfully, my own mother was there to assure me that my emotional display was perfectly normal. She hugged me, and even let me cry for a minute. I pulled myself together, and then went on to enjoy my day with my sisters and their children.

The next 24 hours were fun, and I had the opportunity to prepare for my drive home. As  I was saying my final good-byes and loading the toddler into the car, the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law. I thought she was calling with the latest update on which state they’d crossed into; she was actually calling to let me know their truck had broken down.

Knowing my mother-in-law, I am sure this conversation also included plenty of reassuring information about where exactly they were, what their plan was, and how oblivious my children were to the entire ordeal.  I did not hear a word of this. The only thing my Mama Bear instincts heard was “My babies are in trouble, and they need me now!” The “what if’s” were in full effect before she could even finish telling me the entire situation.

They look like they need me to come rescue them, right?
They look like they need me to come rescue them, right?

I hung up the phone, and began to imagine an elaborate strategy for rescuing my babies. Before I could get all of the bugs worked out, she called back to inform me that she and the girls and the “campah” were on their way to a lovely campground in the vicinity, and the truck had been towed to a reputable dealership in the next town. I told her I was ready to come rescue them, and she said “Nah, there’s no need for that. We’re fine.” I offered again. Same answer. My mom offered. Same answer.

I knew she was right. She was absolutely right. They were in a safe area. They had a nice air-conditioned “campah” stuffed full of food and entertainment. There were two capable and doting adults to care for my children. They were 5 hours away. The only thing my coming to rescue them would do was add a frantic, road-weary Momma and a tired-of-being-in-a-car toddler to the situation.   I thanked the Lord they were safe, loaded up the toddler, and bawled like a baby as I said good-bye to my own Momma.

The next 5 days were rough for me. I had the stress of traveling, unpacking, re-packing, and then traveling again, but this was nothing compared to worry, fear, and panic I would work myself into whenever I missed my girls. I had plenty of phone calls, picture messages, FaceTime sessions, and texts to let me know that they were doing great, but my mind kept retreating into worry and panic. The “what if’s” kept me awake and night, and a few times even immobilized me during the day.

What if they get sick?

What if their truck can’t be fixed?

What if there are bears? (Seriously, bears)

What if the girls don’t sleep?

And, you guessed it…

What if they stop breathing?

Even as I am writing this and reflecting back on that week, I feel foolish. (Y’all, my mother-in-law is a nurse for crying out loud!) Some of my fears were even more far-fetched than those listed above, but in the moment, these thoughts were SO REAL to me.

Here they are frolicking through the woods.  Wouldn't you be concerned about bears?
Here they are frolicking through the woods. Wouldn’t you be concerned about bears?
Eating inside the
Eating inside the “campah”. They look distressed, don’t they?

My husband, bless his heart, was able to join me in the middle of all of this ordeal and listen to some of my worrying. He often reminds me that Jesus doesn’t speak though fear; he only speaks through peace. That truth has become an anchor for me in the past few years; knowing that truth was the only thing that kept me relatively sane during those few days. As soon as I recognized the panic creeping in, I could pray or meditate on some Scripture to help calm myself down. There were even times that I had to argue with Jesus about whether or not I actually believed He could protect them better than I could (Mark 9:23-24 was written in my journal about 100 times in 5 days).

Eventually, their truck was fixed, the journey was completed, and we were reunited. The girls had so much fun and plenty of stories to tell me. My in-laws were tired from the journey, but in good spirits and still enjoying their time with their grandbabies. They had a wonderful time, and a special memory together. Meanwhile, I had once again learned that I am not in control of anything, that fear can’t overcome me unless I let it, and that Jesus really does comfort me when I need it.

Weary Momma, let me pass that comfort on to you. The crazy and unwarranted “what if’s” – NOT JESUS. That panicky voice that has you always on edge —NOT JESUS.   The inability to trust that anyone can get anything accomplished without you—NOT JESUS. The idea that only the planned route and timeline will yield good results—NOT JESUS.  If I had given way to panic and tried to “rescue them”, I would have actually missed out on blessings for all of us.  I would have robbed my family from a precious memory together, caused extra financial stress and physical fatigue for myself, and completely missed this opportunity to let Jesus prove himself to me.

Take heart, panic-ridden Momma, He is in control even when you are not. He sees you, and wants to give you peace. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Go to Him! Let him prove himself to you.  He will give you peace in the midst of the “what if’s”. He’ll even wait if you first need to make sure all the kids are breathing.

The Blog Post I Didn’t Publish

I originally wrote this post on June 4th, but I never published it.  About 4 weeks later I published “Orlando Moms Be Like…”. It was my third post, and it received 10,000 views in about 4 days.  Let me say that again and with more emphasis:

 THE THIRD THING I EVER WROTE FOR THE INTERNET WAS READ OVER TEN THOUSAND TIMES

image
See that number next to the eyeball picture? That’s how many times the page has been viewed.

It was weird and hysterical and surreal. My friends were blowing up my Facebook and text messages with updates of where they had seen the link shared.  I was floored. My brother-in-law, who is well-versed in all things related to online marketing and blogs, suggested that I add a “subscriber form.”   This is a screenshot of our ensuing conversation:

image

Yes, I am still a little over my head as I wade through the waters of trying to be who I actually want to be. I tell you all of this not to toot my own horn, but to encourage you.  You CAN do that thing you want to do.  That thing you are simultaneously afraid of and excited by?  You can do it.  That thing that is “life-giving” to you?  It is worth the sacrifice to make time for it. 

I realize I haven’t actually accomplished anything or even achieved my dream, but I have seen the possibility. This experience has been both terrifying and affirming, as I am sure will be the case for you,too.

So, here it is– the recorded ramblings from my head from BEFORE I published what may very well be my most widely read blog post.

Enjoy!


Writing.

Here I am.

Making time to do that thing I think God has put a desire in my heart to do. That thing I have had on my mind for about 20 years. That thing that at one time came quite easily for me. Here I am, insecurely tapping away on my laptop on my screened back porch, waiting for yet another of the West children to need something from me.

I don’t even know where to start.  I just know that I need to start. I don’t necessarily need to publish, but I do need to write.  Every day.  Like I mean it. So here I am, about 3 months after I told the world (AKA my Facebook friends) that I was starting a blog, writing what might end up as my 3rd post.

I haven’t written in about 2 months.  I’ve  had several good ideas, but no follow through. Is it a lack of time? Sometimes.  Is it just the season of life I am in?  Maybe.  Is it fear?  Always. Even as I sit here, the “You’re not good enough” loop is playing through my head. “This is lame.” “You’re writing isn’t very good.” “No one cares about what you have to say.” “People who know you will know what a hypocrite you are.” “You sound whiny.” “You should be cleaning/cooking/playing with your kids.”

Usually I would agree with that voice and give up, but not today.  Today I am writing! I have recently become a part of a women’s group that has really challenged me to fight the lies with Truth. I have known this strategy for years, but the teaching, support, and accountability have finally helped me to put this into practice.

So, let me think. The verse that is coming to my mind is “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) I can see how that fits. Jesus knows my goal; he gave it to me when he put this call on my life. (BTW- the goal is to minister to women through writing and speaking.)  It doesn’t matter what the voice in my head says– actively seeking to do what Jesus calls me to do WILL bear fruit. This writing is part of the action required in that verse.  I have to DO something.

So, this is me, being obedient to part of the call on my life right now. See, that wasn’t so bad.  I just needed to actually sit and write.

So, what about you?  Is there something you’ve been avoiding because the voice in your head has you talked out of it?