There’s No Place Like Home

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Our family is moving to Denver.

It’s been in the works for some time now, as the job offer was presented to Jay six months ago. We spent months in prayer, in depression, in arguments, in anxiousness, in excitement, in faith. We traveled there, looking at neighborhoods and trying to decide if it felt like a good fit for our family. We talked to people, did some research. Prayed a LOT… and finally realized that for many different reasons it was the right move for our family.

More accurately, that this was without an ounce of doubt God’s plan for us.

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We’ve struggled with an incredible amount of emotions along the way. South Florida been my home for over 35 years; I don’t think a week has gone by in those six months that I haven’t cried at the thought of leaving all that I love. The list is endless: the humidity, the crazy thunderstorms, the rough-around-the-edges people, the alligators, the colorful vibe, the palm trees, the diversity, the traffic, the year-round vegetation, the heat. I even love the hurricanes. I am a true Floridian, heart and soul, to the core.

There’s the people we are leaving. My parents and brother. Jay’s parents and his grandmother. My best friend, Sanne, who I only met 7 years ago but has become the sister I never had. Kim, the girl who’s been my best friend since we were 6 years old and has been with me through every major stage in life. Christine, my roommate from college who has seen me at my absolute worst and has chosen to love me through it anyway. Tina, the friend who more than anyone has taught me how to love and accept myself. Leanette, who has never stopped encouraging me to move forward and not be afraid to face my fears. Jen, who has become my favorite running partner and motivates me to never quit. And the countless others in my life that have shown me the best and worst things about myself and have never given up on me as I’ve worked to be the best me I can be.

And then there’s our church. We fell in love with the community vibe of our church immediately, and felt like we’d finally found a place we could grow in our faith. And grow we did. Jay and I went through many seasons during our years at Crossway – our struggle with infertility, Emily starting school, job changes, marital struggles, and now this move. And although our church isn’t perfect and there have been bumps and hurt feelings along the way, we have always felt God’s presence while there. God has used the people in our church to shape us and prepare our hearts, very likely for this move, and their loving prayers have been an incredible force in this journey.

But to be honest, this whole thing sucks.

It’s so ridiculously hard to fall so deeply in love with a place and an entire family of friends and then feel called to leave. It breaks my heart. I don’t understand it one bit. Everything around me holds a memory. I can’t look at a palm tree without getting a tear in my eye. I can’t drive down the street without thinking of the roads ahead. I can’t think about saying goodbye without choking up. I just can’t.

I love having connections to people. And when I make that connection, no matter how silly or small or insignificant, that person has officially found their place in my heart. Do you have a brother named Kevin? You’re already cooler. Do you have a fondness for banana sandwiches? You’re awesome. Do you love Criminal Minds and jigsaw puzzles and ironing? Well hey there, new friend. That’s how I roll. I can’t not feel something for you once that connection is there. Because I seek out those connections, I find them. And as a result, I end up loving everyone. I just can’t help it. Yes, there are some people who have gone beyond that surface connection and reached the depths of my undying loyalty and love, and others who have rubbed me wrong, but if you’re in my life and there’s any sort of link between us, I’m happy you’re there and I genuinely mean that.

Yesterday a whole bunch of those fabulously awesome people in my life came together at a local park to say goodbye. Some were those deep-soul people, others I’ve only known a few months. We ate together, cried together, played together, and prayed together. And I left feeling more emotions than I think I’ve ever felt at once in my whole life. I’m overwhelmed with joy and sadness and excitement and pain and nervousness and eagerness and expectations and hurt and gratitude and peace. But the one thing I’m feeling more than anything is love. It’s smothering absolutely every other emotion.

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I look at Jay, who has been so loving and supportive through this whole process, always letting me feel whatever I need to feel. I look at Emily, who has been so encouraging on my worst days – yes, my 9 year old is telling me it’s going to be okay. I look at Julia, who’s just a total bubble of excitement now that she knows moving to Denver doesn’t mean we will miss Christmas. I look to my friends, who have cried with me and made time to be with me before we go and are already planning their trips to come see me. I look at our church, who has prayed with us and encouraged us and loved us through it all. And I gratefully look to God, who has blessed us with absolute peace every step of the way.

So we look forward to our new adventure. We are confidant that God is the Maker of our path, and that His will in our life is what’s best for our family… even if that means His will lies 2,038 miles away.

Just look at what He’s done for us here in South Florida.

We are truly blessed. ❤

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Family Values 5K (again!)

Running is by no means a “free” activity. I mistakenly thought that it was – I mean, you throw on some sneaks, head out the front door, run, get home, shower. But then you find out (via shin splints) that those sneaks you already had on hand are most definitely not intended for running. So you buy new running shoes. Then you realize that the clothes you have are awful: sweat soaking, chafing, and just uncomfortable… and that sports bra is giving absolutely no support. Now you’re buying a new sweat-wicking running wardrobe. Then there are activity trackers, water bottles, headbands, special socks, anti-chafing sticks, and a hundred other doodads that make the “free” sport more enjoyable.

Eventually, if you’re like most runners, you’ll find yourself signing up for a race. These cost money too – I’ve paid anywhere from $15 – $125 – and can come with all sorts of goodies and cool medals and free post-race mimosas. These events can be a ton of fun, and I have yet to participate in one I haven’t enjoyed. The energy at these events can be infectious, but none of them can compete with the emotion that comes with participating in a race that benefits others in a charitable way. And one of my favorites is the Sheridan House Family Values 5K.

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I’ve run this race for the past two years, (see my posts here and here), with the one I ran last weekend being my 3rd time participating. It’s a simple run, just three laps that take you through the front and the side of the Sheridan House property, then out along the road, then back into the property again. There’s only one water station, which you pass three times as you loop. As the name of the event implies, it’s very family-focused, and without a doubt you’re going to find kids on bikes, kids on scooters, and even kids running the course alongside their parents. There are timing chips on the backs of the bibs (which are turned in after crossing the finish line), and medals for the kids when they finish. As a side note, I’m a little worried… the past two years I’ve received a medal, and I’m not sure if it’s because I look like I’m 12 years old or if I mistakenly took one that was meant for a real kid! 😮

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It’s a really basic run. No gimmicks, no holiday-themed color scheme. But it’s got heart – more heart than any other run I’ve participated in. ❤

Sheridan House Family Ministries serves the local community by meeting the needs of children and families. As stated on their website, they work to train parents on how to lead their families in a godly way; to do marriage according to God’s plan and to raise up children to take responsibility for themselves and to be tomorrow’s leaders  – not followers. They offer counseling services, parenting workshops, a ministry for single mothers, marriage and a residential program for kids in middle school who are demonstrating behavioral issues. It’s a truly amazing organization.

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The best part – my favorite part – about this 5K run (and their mud run, the Goliath Gauntlet), is that 100% of the money raised goes right back into the organization. The 5K run is technically free, but because this is a fundraiser they encourage all participants to create a page to help raise money. Every dollar raised goes directly back into the organization and its ministries. They don’t even charge for the photos and videos they take during the 5K event, which is practically unheard of in the race-running circuit.

In the past I’ve participated with my family, but this year I ran with my friend Jen as a sort of warm-up run for another half we were running the following day. We had pre-registered online a few days before, and made our voluntary donations to Sheridan House online during the registration process. We arrived about 20 minutes before the start time of 9a, checked in to receive our bibs, and picked up our long-sleeve event shirts and bags. After dropping them off back at the car we headed to the starting line, listened to the anthem, and then ran our 3.1. When we were done we grabbed our water and left. That was it!

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The biggest difference between this run and others is that I know my money is being put to good use in my local community. I’m friends with someone who went through the Sheridan House residential program when he was a teen, and he gives the organization a lot of credit for turning his life around. I’ve been to some of the marriage workshops and listened to some of the parenting podcasts, and I’ve always felt encouraged afterwards. I’ve personally benefitted from what this organization does, and I’m more than happy to donate to them.

Running is not as free as it seems on the surface. But like any other hobby, if you love it then you’re going to spend money on it. My advice? Be sure that some of the money you’re spending is supporting a cause you believe in. Those runs end up giving you much more than you’re paying for, I guarantee it. ❤

Thankful for the Captured Moments

Kids can be a total pain in the butt – especially when you pull out the camera. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t give birth to children who know how to look into the lens with super sweet and genuine smiles on command. I don’t blame them that their mother doesn’t have the slightest clue about angles or backdrops or flashes or anything photo-related – those are completely my fault. But I do blame them for thinking that “freeze” means “dance around wildly”, that “say cheese” means “give me the most annoyed look ever,” and that “hug your sister” means “please hug her so hard you knock her into that massive mud puddle on the ground.”

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No, in our house beautiful photographic moments are almost always immediately ruined by the arrival of a camera. We have fun with it though, and even though most of my photos are blurry, out of focus, and full of weird faces I love knowing that who we are has been accurately captured forever.

But every so often I manage to snap a photo that freezes a perfect moment for all time. Usually this means the girls aren’t aware that a camera was present, and so the image collected is one of absolute genuineness – the definition of a candid.

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While I love all the photos in this post, the following are my absolute top favorite candids ever, with a little backstory on each. Be warned, these photos might melt your heart… they sure do mine.

❤ Julia had colic as a baby and cried constantly. She quieted down before I got to her room one morning, and when I peeked in I saw that Emily had brought in the stool so she could give her sister the pacifier. I think this is one of first candid photos I ever took of the girls together, and I love that you can’t even see Julia in it.

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❤ On a family vacation to Savannah we stayed in a hotel room that was a bit too small for the hotel-provided crib and Emily’s cot. We were worried that the girls would play all night and that none of us would get any sleep, but especially that Julia would bother Emily all night since their beds were bumped right up beside each other. Shortly after getting them both settled down, we looked over to see that Emily was already passed out. But instead of bothering her sister and waking her up, we saw Julia’s little arm extended out of the crib, offering Emily a pacifier. Yes, I died in a puddle of Mommy Mush.

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❤ Emily is a natural-born nurturer, always looking out for Julia and wanting to protect her. The girls rarely get sick, and when they do it’s almost always completely out of nowhere with very little indication an illness is on the way. When I went into Julia’s room to wake her for school one morning I found the girls like this and rushed to my room to get the camera. Julia had become sick during the night, and when Emily had gone in to read to her in the morning Julia passed right out in her lap, exhausted from her sick bug.

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❤ This last favorite is just more evidence of Emily’s love for Julia, who had just received a couple of shots at her doctor’s visit. Julia didn’t want me to comfort her, she only wanted her big sister.

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I’m thankful for these moments more than I can express, and I’m sure every mother out there completely understands why. The girls are 9 and 4 now, and as their interests begin to differ and they begin to grow more independently from each other the opportunities for these beautiful moments will begin to dwindle as well. I know there will be fewer and fewer photos on my camera as the girls grow and live their lives, and more and more photos on their cameras of people I won’t know and places I won’t be with them. And that’s okay – it’s part of letting them grow.

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But for now, I’ll take as many pictures as I can – both candid and cheesy-posed. And I’ll cherish the moments I’ve already captured – for myself as much as for them. ❤

The Mud Run Zone

Urban Dictionary defines in the zone as “being completely unaware of what’s going on around you, as you are so extremely into what’s going on right in front of your face.”

And it finally happened to me. I was in the zone.

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I’d been dying to try a mud run since I started running, but I was terrified of the obstacles. I knew I needed to build up my arm muscles (thanks to a friend’s advice), and since I hadn’t exactly been dedicated to my arm workouts I figured there was no way I was ready to attempt one. But when I found out a group of people from my church were signing up for the Goliath Gauntlet and that everyone was willing to help each other out, I was in.

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The Goliath Gauntlet is a 3.5-mile course with over 20 obstacles of varying difficulty. 100% of the proceeds from this event (including race photo proceeds) go to the children’s homes at Sheridan House, the same group that organizes and hosts the Family values 5K that I ran earlier this year and last. Obstacles included a tire wall, a tank of ice-cold water, and a log roll. Awesomesauce.

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IMG_1531Our group had about 30 participants, and my plan was to stick with the majority of the group so that we’d be able to help each other complete the obstacles as needed. We were all scheduled to start our wave together, so we joined hands, prayed, and climbed the mandatory start line fence to wait for our countdown. The first leg of the race was a short run until we reached obstacle #1, and I’d planned to take it slow and not worry about pushing too hard. I just wanted to have a good time getting through the course.

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I’ve written before about the energy in the air at running events, but I’ve never actually been overtaken by that energy before. I was completely (and unexpectedly) overtaken this time! My legs just didn’t want to go slow. I came up on the first obstacle and scaled it like it was a bump on the sidewalk. I dove in the sand to crawl through the tunnel, then scaled the next wall. I passed most of the people in our group during a long running stretch early in the course, and it was during that portion of the race that I realized I might actually have a chance at finishing under my own steam. I decided then and there that I was going to go at this run with everything I had. I felt a little guilty leaving my friends behind, but I knew I’d feel worse if I didn’t try as hard as I could.

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So I hit every obstacle hard. I was determined to give  one hundred percent effort in everything I came up against, and I did. If you didn’t complete an obstacle you were expected to do 10 pushups, and I’m proud to say that I didn’t need to do a single one – I tackled every obstacle with everything I had. Dude, I was in the zone. I climbed walls. I leapt over tires. I swam canals. I crawled through mud below a ceiling of barbed wire.

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I wasn’t successful at everything I attempted. I fell off of the rings before I even reached the second one. I tried running on water (this was the most INSANE obstacle), and only made it to the 5th platform. I needed help scaling a couple of tall walls after swimming the water I wasn’t able to run across. My legs were pooped… swimming with sneakers on is no joke. I’m obviously not hard-core enough for that.

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I was able to climb the rock wall unassisted, which totally rocked my world (pun intended), but then I came to the final obstacle – Jericho. Jericho is a warped (curved) wall with three different options to scale: an 11′ side with a rope assist, a 13′ side with a rope assist, and a 13′ side without a rope assist. I chose the 11′ wall. 😀 I managed to get halfway up the rope on my own, but as I was trying to climb the rope my feet couldn’t find the wall because it was curved inward, and I panicked. A man was at the top of the wall, helping anyone who needed it. He tried to encourage me to climb higher, but I just couldn’t do it. He grabbed my hand and pulled me up with one arm. It was amazing. I thought he was one of the race volunteers, and it wasn’t until later that I saw his bib in the photos and realized he was actually a participant.

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I climbed down the back of Jericho and crossed the finish line. Best feeling ever. It turned out that out of our entire church group I was the 5th to finish, and even more amazing, I was the first female in our group to cross. Boo-yah. 🙂

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After the race everyone who came up to me said the same thing: that I was in the zone. And they’re right – I had blocked out nearly everything around me, focusing only on moving forward and giving each obstacle everything I had until this beauty was hanging around my neck.

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One thing did manage to break through my focus though – my incredibly supportive family. ❤ Jay and the girls ran alongside the entire course, bouncing from obstacle to obstacle just to take photos for me. Anytime I had to wait my turn to complete a wall or swim or climb I’d look around for them, and there they were – waving, smiling, and cheering me on. I could hear Emily shouting, “GO, MOMMY!” across the course, and Julia screaming, “ARE YOU TIRED YET?” XD

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This event made it in the list of my top 3 favorite runs ever. It was everything I’d hoped it would be – and I did better than I ever expected. I was in the Mud Run Zone. And I gotta say, I’m really hoping to get there again someday! 🙂

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Chess Whiz

Emily has taken a liking to Chess. And once that checkered board is on the table my sweet, calm, empathetic daughter becomes competitive, energized, and merciless. The game completely brings out a different side of her that I’ve never really seen before – a side that I kinda like.

IMG_7921During the past school year Emily and her 3rd-grade classmates each received their own chess set and were taught how to play the game. Emily caught on pretty quickly, and from what I was told had no trouble beating almost everyone in her class. This, of course, boosted her confidence enough that when she brought her game home at the end of the school year she felt ready to challenge Jay and I to a game.

Like most things in life that we wish to improve on, chess takes practice. And the best way to build your skills at chess is to play someone more skilled than yourself – someone difficult to beat. Watching your more skilled opponent during a game can reveal new moves and thought patterns that you may not have discovered on your own while playing a less-skilled opponent. Jay is definitely a more-skilled opponent than Emily, but it soon became clear that I was more than a little rusty.

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The first time I played with her I was so sure I had her in checkmate that as soon as I said it I began clearing the other pieces off of the board. Only I didn’t actually have her in checkmate. Oops. The next time I played her I got so confused at the end I couldn’t figure out a single way to get her in checkmate, and I made such a mess of things that we ended up in a stalemate, although I’m pretty sure she was just being nice. The last game I actually did win – I got her in checkmate with a pawn, of all pieces – but forgot the rule that a pawn that crosses over to the other side of the board can become a queen. Clearly, I was not the best opponent for Emily to build her skills on.

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Then one day we discovered that the local library hosts a Chess Club one or two Saturdays each month, and surprisingly my normally happy-to-stay-home daughter was really excited to try it out! 🙂

When we got there, we quickly learned that the club was run and mainly participated in by middle and high school guys who were probably earning volunteer credit hours for school. I was sure that she’d turn around and walk right back out, but no – my normally shy-around-strangers daughter chose an opponent, sat right down, and started a game. Proud Momma moment, right there.

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What made me even more proud though was how she not only stalemated 3 of her middle-school opponents, but even managed to win a game! They also had a drawing for a little prize, and amazingly she won that too – a little yellow knight chess piece on a keychain, which she immediately hung on her bookbag when she got home. And just to add a fun little side note, she even won a chess award at the end of the school year!

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As it got closer to her birthday, Jay and I had one of those moments where light falls from heaven like a spotlight and you hear angels singing all around – we were going to get our Harry Potter-crazed daughter a Wizard’s Chess set, just like in the movie. I said it on Facebook and I’ll say it again here: there should really be a prize for mad gift-giving skills. And I’d win.

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No surprise here, but she absolutely loved it and immediately began playing against my brother, who’s been a chess nut for as long as I can remember. My dad even built him a beautiful chess table years ago since he loves the game so much. And despite the look of inevitable defeat on Kevin’s face here, he is definitely a better player than I am and has continued to beat her when they play. Finally, the perfect opponent!

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I’m not sure how long it’s going to last, but for the moment she’s totally into knights and rooks, castles and pawns. I love that it’s not only teaching her logic and reasoning skills, but it’s also teaching my normally-can’t-handle-losing daughter how to lose gracefully. And, of course, how to be a gracious winner, too. 🙂

Grandpa Bill

There are some people in this world that you just have a connection with. Miles don’t matter. Infrequent interaction doesn’t matter. Commonalities don’t matter. What does matter is the joy you feel when those miles are crossed… when the interactions occur… when the commonalities are discovered. That’s when you know that a magical connection exists. You feel your soul light up with just the thought of them. And you feel an enormous hollow space in your heart once they are gone.

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That’s how I feel about my Grandpa Bill. He passed away this July, just a few days shy of his 84th birthday. He didn’t have a funeral, so he didn’t have a eulogy. There was no memorial service, so there was no one listen to stories and memories of how he impacted their lives. But I want to share what he meant to me, share the memories that are working to help fill the void that’s now there.

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For as long as I can remember I’ve been told that I take after him, and it’s always made me a little proud. To me he was someone who confidently knew what he did and didn’t like; someone who loved my grandmother very deeply; someone who’s respect was hard to earn, but for me it was one of the best feelings in the world to know I had it. His approval meant everything to me as a child, and whenever I worked towards a goal throughout my life I did it knowing in the back of my mind that he’d be proud of me when I succeeded. High school, college, teaching, marriage, kids – I wanted to be someone he could brag about. I wanted him to be proud of who I was and the choices I made. When I started dating Jay I remember thinking how much my Grandpa Bill would like him. And when they finally met and he told me that I’d found a good man – well, let’s just say that Jay became even more attractive that day once I knew he’d met Grandpa Bill’s approval.

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I’ve never lost anyone that I felt a real connection to, and I was surprised at how quickly my head and heart flooded with memories. Memories like the small planes he flew right off his own property (he’d even mowed his own runway!) and the stories he’d tell about flying and shutting off the engine mid-flight to test his emergency skills. The rusty oil tank on his property that was no place for children, yet he allowed my brother and me to climb the rickety ladder and sit on the top, feeling like royalty looking over our domain. Watching the Long, Long Trailer with him, and listening to him talk about Snow White, his favorite Disney princess. Laughing while he chased pelicans on the beach, trying to capture a photo in one of the cameras he’d bought on one of his frequent pawn shop excursions. The cave tour Jay and I took with him that led us on a 4-mile subterranean journey throughout Mammoth Caves while a tornado passed over us above ground. The surprise wedding album he had someone make for me because he knew I enjoyed scrapbooked albums.

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But my favorite memories are the ones that occurred on my wedding day. ❤

The night before my wedding I put everything I’d need to get ready at the church the next day in my mom’s van, including my wedding dress. The next morning my mom and I grabbed our purses and stepped outside to leave… and noticed the van was missing. Gone without a trace. We freaked out, thinking maybe it had been stolen, until my Grandma Skip walked in and told us that Grandpa Bill had taken the van to check out some pawn shops. This was before cell phones were common, and as my grandpa had no idea my dress was in the back we had no way of getting in touch with him and no idea how long he’d be gone. Fortunately, he showed up in time for us to get there with plenty of time to get dressed, although I’ll admit we were a bit panicked for a while!

He more than made up for hijacking my wedding dress after the ceremony though. Jay had rented a Rolls Royce to whisk our newly married selves to the reception, and it wasn’t until we were about to get in the car that we realized our driver wasn’t going to take us anywhere until we paid the $300 remainder we still owed him. We’d completely forgotten about it and didn’t have any money to pay him. At the exact moment we were about to send the driver away and bum a ride with someone, my Grandpa Bill walked up – not knowing our predicament – and said he wasn’t sure when he was supposed to give us our wedding present. He put something in Jay’s left hand while shaking the right, and when we took a look we saw that he’d given us exactly $300. In cash. We turned around, handed it to the driver, and headed off to our reception. (Then he commemorated the event in the wedding album he’d had made. 😀 )

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When I was in my early teens my grandpa sent me a special birthday gift. Along with the gift from him and my grandma, there was a small package with a note in his blocky handwriting. It was a silver chain bracelet, and he’d written that when he saw it he thought of me and wanted me to have it. I don’t know if my grandma knew about this extra gift because the note was signed just by him, but I always felt like it was something just between the two of us. I wore it every day, and when it broke I bought another to replace it. When it broke too I went years without a replacement – until Jay took me to Tiffany’s to pick out my Christmas present. I chose a simple beaded bracelet with a Tiffany Blue heart to stand in for the silver chain my grandpa had bought me all those years ago. I wear it every day and think of him whenever I look at it.. ❤

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I’ll miss his determination to make sure I was safe – which usually involved his belief that I needed a gun. (We’d had long phone conversations about why teachers should have concealed weapons in classrooms, and once while we were driving he even pulled out his gun and tried to stuff it in my glovebox. I’m pretty sure he just wanted to see what kind of gun would fit in it, but I’ll bet if I’d decided to get one he would have been more than happy to take me shopping.) I’ll miss that blocky handwriting. I’ll miss the way he smiled at me, conveying just how proud of me he was and how much he loved me.

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Rest in peace, Grandpa. Gobs of love to you forever. ❤

My Favorite Part of the Day

When I started this blog, my tagline was “Finding Smiles in Everyday Life”. I wanted to write a blog about finding those sliver linings, those beautiful and joyful moments that occur if we just take the time to look for them, acknowledge them, and allow them to be absorbed.

In the end though, it just didn’t seem like me. It was a little too perky, a little too chipper. I definitely make it a daily practice to look for those sunshine-y moments, but I didn’t want anyone to think I walk around with a permagrin. I’ve also got a cynical, sarcastic, realistic side that refuses to shut down no matter how huge my smile. As Jay says, I’ve got a sassy side. Fortunately for me, he likes it. 😀

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t see life’s highlights when they occur. Despite all those lovely qualities I mentioned above, there are still a number of daily occurrences that are sure to cause me to smile: getting the kitchen cleaned before taking Emily to school in the morning… Julia’s spontaneous kisses… Jay walking in the door at the end of the day… finishing a running event… scheduling a night out with a friend.

But if there’s one thing I had to pin down, one thing that earns the trophy for being my absolute favorite thing in my day, it’s picking Emily up from school. I’ve mentioned before that I love sitting in the car line, and that a big part of the enjoyment I get from it is that I’m able to utilize that time to get things done. But to be honest, getting to the school early means that I’m already parked at the dismissal gate… which means I get to see Emily even sooner.

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Now, I am NOT that mushy momma. I like my “me-time,” I hated baby-wearing, and I’m not offended if my girls would rather play on their own or with a friend than be with me. It doesn’t bother me if we don’t snuggle during movie time, and when they get hurt I have no sympathy if it happened after I warned them a million times to be careful before that exact thing happened. I don’t even think about Emily all that much during the day (or Julia if I’m not with her), because I know that she’s safe and having fun.

But when the end of the school day rolls around, something lights up inside of me. Knowing that she’s about to get in the car and that I’m about to be reunited with part of my heart just makes me so incredibly happy. I’m sure it helps that she ‘s a good student and genuinely loves school, but to be honest I think even if I knew she wasn’t a big fan of it I’d still be just as excited to see her.

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Next year Julia starts Pre-K, which means I get to do a second pick-up everyday. The following year she’ll be in Kindergarten, and the girls will be at the same school and I’ll be back to just one pickup again. But to know that I’ll be getting both girls back with me every day, well, I think my heart might just bust with joy. ❤

I Wanna Play, Too!

I’m sitting in one of those indoor kiddie fun zones, watching my daughters play. We find ourselves at places like these from time to time for various reasons – birthday parties, days off from school, rainy-day playdates, Groupon deals too good to pass up, etc. This time it’s a giant room filled with humongous bounce houses and inflatable obstacle courses. For $20 the girls can play as long as they like, and I get to enjoy either 2 hours of great conversation with a friend or some much-needed time to myself.

But almost every time we come, what I really want to do is join my girls. I want to stuff my shoes in a cubbyhole, throw on a pair of cute socks with funny animals on them, and have the time of my life jumping, bouncing, and making a total fool of myself. I want to shoot down the slick yellow slide so lightning fast that I fly off and land right on my bum. I want to giggle like a schoolgirl when I can’t keep my balance while bouncing. I want to go absolutely crazy and not care what anyone else thinks. I want to play.

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Instead, I’m sitting on a hard blue plastic chair, jotting down these playtime fantasies in one of Jay’s notebooks. Although it’s relaxing, and I’m definitely enjoying myself, it’s just not what I’m wanting to do. I can’t go play with the girls, no matter how much I want to. Being a grown up means that there are some grown-up restrictions, and that some things just cannot be. Case in point:

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  • There are giant signs on the equipment telling me that I’m not allowed. I don’t think my girls will understand that we’ve been asked to leave because I couldn’t follow the rules and behave myself. This place used to let parents join in (as evident in the picture below), but I guess the rules have changed. 😦
  • Who would watch my purse? On this occasion I’d brought the girls on my own for a bit. Those cubbyholes are great for shoes, but I’m not about to stuff my nice purse in one. It’s one thing if a kid walks off with Julia’s $3 Old Navy flipflops, it’s quite another if I lose my Kindle, phone, and wallet. And keys. The girls like it here, but I think they’d get sick of it the second they realized we couldn’t leave because someone had “accidentally” driven the wrong car home.
  • The girls need their space. Yes, I could follow them around and join in, and I’m sure that they would get a great deal of joy out of watching me be completely silly with them. But, on the flip side, it won’t allow them the room they need to “spread their wings.” They need some parent-free time to develop their imaginations, invent their own games, settle their own problems. No one wants their mom breathing down their neck every minute… it kinda hinders things a bit.
  • Other parents might have a problem with it. Yeah, I know I’m not supposed to care what other people think. But I’m pretty sure it would creep me out to see some other parent hanging out in a bounce house with my girls, so I try to show the same respect to them. Not to mention the dirty looks I’d get when another kid starts trying to drag her 80-year grandma on the equipment because “their mom is doing it!”
  • Truth? I’d be exhausted in 5 minutes. No amount of running prepares you for monkeybars, bounce houses, or the number of steps you’ll be required to climb in order to fully satisfy your child’s slide expectations. And even if I could somehow manage to do all that, I wouldn’t have energy to drive them to Burger King afterward.

So there you have it. All the reasons I have to resist the urge to join my girls on playgrounds. The thing is, despite the fact that I’m not always allowed or that it might not be the best idea, I love that I still want to. I know there are a good many fuddy-duddy parents out there who have zero interest in doing anything remotely immature. They want no part in coloring, Barbies, building forts and hiding in them, playing tag, Legos, and especially not playing on jungle gyms and inflatable obstacle courses. I’m glad that I haven’t reached that yet, and I hope I never do.

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I just need to find a place that lets me play too. 😀

PS – That last picture was taken before they stopped letting adults play. Stinkers. 😛

Rules for Living with a Princess

A while back I wrote the Rules for Living with an Entomologist, focusing on our older daughter Emily’s ongoing love of insects. It seems only fair that I write one that focuses on our younger daughter Julia’s ongoing love: princess dresses.

IMG_4340_2When Julia was 2 and a half, she received her first princess dress, Merida (from Disney’s Brave). She had received a gift card from a friend, and when we went to the store so she could spend her money she was dead set on getting that dress. We bought it, took it home, she wore it once, and then refused to wear it again. That is, until 6 months later when she received a Rapunzel dress for her birthday. That was the day Julia came out of the closet – literally – and has worn a princess dress almost every day since. As Emily hated costumes of any kind (we had to force her to dress up for Halloween), this was new territory for me. But I’ve learned a lot over the past year, and I’ve made careful notes for anyone else out there with a princess-in-training. 🙂

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RULE #1 – THE DRESSES ARE NOT COSTUMES
I cannot stress this enough. They are clothes. You will never convince your dress-loving child that there is any difference between something you would wear on Easter Sunday and her Elsa gown (complete with sparkling, glittering snowflakes, lace trim, and train). However, she will somehow still recognize that the cute bunny ears you want her to wear for the Easter photo are, in fact, not a headband, no matter how much you try to convince her otherwise. No, these dresses are perfectly acceptable attire for any occasion, including the beach, weddings, funerals, and going to the dentist. And, of course, playing outside.

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RULE #2 – YOU ARE NOW THE ROYAL LAUNDERER
Ok, so I know you’ve already been doing the laundry for your household, but get ready to kick it up a notch. Princess dresses are, shall we say, delicately made. Washing these dresses in the same load as anything with a button or zipper or embellishment on it – no matter how small – is likely to rip your dress to shreds. Not to mention you’ll find glitter on absolutely every single piece of clothing that was washed in the same load as the dress, even if it never had glitter on it before (sorry about the socks, Jay). You’ll soon discover that in order to save alligator tears (yours), you’ll be much better off washing all those dresses in a load of their own. Yup, you heard me. One extra load of laundry. PS – a tip from an expert: putting them in the dryer sometimes makes them warp funny, which is why my laundry area looks like this each week:

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RULE #3 – YOU ARE ALSO THE ROYAL TAILOR
Now, logic would have it that if your kid is a princess then you must be the king or queen. And while this is true, this does not necessarily mean that you’ve got the finances to back up the title – which is the situation Jay and I find ourselves in. To avoid going completely broke, you’ll need to do a dress inspection after every laundry cycle. Look for rips, tears, places where the dress makes her look more like a pauper than a princess. Sometimes that means cutting off trim entirely (notice the gold trim at the bottom of Merida’s dress has been removed in the photo below), sometimes that means busting out a needle & thread and stitching it back together. Thank goodness for the car line.

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RULE #4 – YOU WILL TALK TO STRANGERS MORE THAN YOU THINK
If you are shy or introverted, get ready for your worst nightmare to come true, because everyone you encounter while in the company of your princess will want to talk to her (and by default, you) about her gown. Sometimes you’ll get off lucky with a sweet smile or a quick comment, but more often than not strangers will want to have full-blown conversations about the crazy things their kids used to wear, how expensive the dresses are and how poorly they are made (see RULE #3), and/or how they just bought the exact same dress for their granddaughter. But my favorite is when they’ll try to show off how much they know about the princess who made the dress famous and are completely wrong. Know your princesses, people – just because the dress is blue doesn’t mean it’s Elsa (does anyone remember a gal named Cinderella?), and you’re sending me home with a grumpy princess who can’t understand why everyone has been calling her Elsa all day.

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RULE #5 – YOU WILL NEED YOUR CAMERA ALL THE TIME
Yeah, pretty much everything looks adorable if it’s done in a princess dress. Your kid spills their Cheerios all over the floor in their jammies and you get frustrated. Your kid spills their Cheerios in a princess gown, and you get the camera. Not only that, but your kid knows they are “so beautiful” and will demand that you take pictures of them doing the most ordinary things. Sure, I don’t mind taking another picture of you standing in the grass in your Anna gown, Julia. I only have 3,458 already.

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So there you have it. But before I sign off, let me leave you with one last word of advice: don’t think for one minute that dressing like a princess will make your child act like a princess. I honestly still can’t figure out how I ended up with such a girly little brute. But I will say, she certainly has perfected that sweet princess smile ! 😀

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Showcase of Citrus

If you find yourself driving through Central Florida and you’re looking for something tourist-y that has nothing to do with theme parks, roller coasters, or life-sized costumed characters, you might want to consider stopping by Showcase of Citrus. 🙂

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Located just south of Clermont (which is west of Orlando), Showcase of Citrus is a you-pick-it citrus grove. And boy, do they really have just about every variety of citrus – they have limes, lemons, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, and pomelos. And they also have blackberries! All you have to do is choose from a few different bag sizes and head out to the groves, filling your bag with any mix of citrus you like.

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IMG_3117In addition to the produce, there’s also a small petting zoo, a play area for kids, picnic areas, 4×4 Eco tours, fishing, and the cutest little farm store ever. We didn’t have a chance to take one of the 4×4 tours, but it’s definitely something we’d do the next time we visit. (I advise looking ahead at tour times and plan your trip accordingly.)

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IMG_3092The farm store was fun, lots of jams, jellies, and spices, and all full of local home-grown flavors. Jay is a spice guy, so naturally we went home with a few of those. 😀 The girls had their eye on some flavored popcorn, and I just wanted to try one of their “famous” orange slushies. Turns out that the slushie was nowhere near as good as a frozen coke (in my opinion), but Julia absolutely loved it. 🙂

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We ended up at Showcase of Citrus because we were looking for some unique things to do for my birthday weekend, and this totally fit the bill. It was a wonderful way to spend some outdoor time together, and I have no doubt we’ll be back again!

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PS – I was neither paid nor perked to write this post. All opinions are my own. 🙂
PSS – Thanks for the recommendation, Sanne! ❤