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. ❤

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Love (can be) a Many-Splendored Thing

 

Aaaah. The intro song to Grease. ❤

In less than a minute Danny and Sandy demonstrate love in all its splendor. The scene is a picturesque and (somehow) completely isolated beach. The young lovebirds frolic and play together all day, laughing and smiling and kissing and holding each other. Their hair is always perfect, and I can’t imagine either of them had to use the bathroom even once. (There is nothing romantic about using the toilet… absolutely nothing splendored going on there.)

Splendor is defined using words like brilliant… magnificent… grandeur… glory… bright… gorgeous. I think Danny and Sandy definitely lived up to their intro song.

The question is, does my love?

I love my husband to the depths of my heart. He’s my soulmate, my lover, my best friend. But if love is a many-splendored thing – and if Danny and Sandy can demonstrate that in less than a minute – then my marriage of nearly 14 years should most definitely demonstrate it, too.

Last April, Jay and I went out on one of our date night adventures. (Read about others here, here, here, here, and here.) We had decided to go on a scavenger hunt through the mall, and we had a great time hunting for things on our list and checking them off as we found them. Then we went out to dinner, where we laughed and talked and reconnected after Jay’s previous 2 weeks of travel.

And then things went sour. As the night went on and we talked more, we started becoming at odds with each other. Feelings were hurt, and for a few weeks following it seemed as though irreparable damage had been done. We began to realize that like most newlyweds, our love was brilliant and glorious in the beginning… but over the years it had slowly lost its splendor. The magnificent brightness of our love began to fade as walls went up. My walls were a result of his constant travels and me operating as the only parent in the home. His walls were a result of my bitterness at his freedom and my envy of his “escape” from responsibilities at home. It was bad.

We hadn’t even realized it was happening. We’d learned to adapt our relationship to accommodate those walls instead of forbidding them to even enter our hearts and our marriage. It got so bad that at one point I was sure he wanted to leave me and he was sure I wanted to leave him – even though neither of us had ever for a moment considered leaving the other at all. But that’s what walls can do. They have the ability to take away the splendor.

I watch a lot of HGTV, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that everyone seems to want an “open concept” floor plan. Homeowners want to knock down the walls and create a much wider line of sight. They want to feel more connected to the other areas of their home and anyone who may be occupying those spaces. Knocking down walls also allows light to flow more freely through the home. A lack of walls can make a home feel airer… less cluttered… open… brighter. You could say that removing walls in a home makes the home a more splendored thing. Removing walls in a relationship can have the same effects as removing the walls in a home.

And it took a long time, but we managed to tear those walls down. It wasn’t easy – just like removing walls in a home isn’t easy. At times it was even painful. We just took it one step at a time, always returning to the agreement that they had to come down and never be put up again.

I’m proud to say that those walls have been gone for nearly a year now. The result is that our love once again feels like a many splendored thing. It’s brilliant. It’s grand. It’s magnificent. ❤

That doesn’t mean we don’t argue. I snapped at Jay just this morning because I thought he was trying to get off the phone too quickly and was too busy to talk to me (he’s out of town for work again). So stupid; so silly. But I didn’t snap at him out of jealousy for his “freedom.” That wall doesn’t exist anymore. And he’s not going to be afraid to call me out on my moodiness when he gets home later tonight – that wall is gone, too.

Love isn’t always a splendored thing. It takes work. But it can be everything that Danny and Sandy have… just don’t get your hopes up for the perfect hair and toilet-free days.

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Video credit: theamigoamor, You Tube

How a Song Changed my Feelings on Temptation

Temptation pisses me off.

I have struggled with accepting the idea of temptation’s existence my entire life. I’m not talking about being tempted to eat a glazed donut when you know you should eat a banana or being tempted to buy a cute pair of fringed boots when you know you’ve got to pay the electric bill.

I’m talking purely about the temptation to stray while in a committed relationship.

I have no idea why this has been such a hangup of mine, but ever since I was a kid I’ve found myself ridiculously angered whenever I’ve heard that someone has been unfaithful to the one they swore to be faithful to. I’ve never considered myself a romantic or one to have “fairy-tale dreams” about living happily ever after, but I do believe – very strongly – that if you vow to spend the rest of your life loving someone then you darn well better keep that vow – and not put yourself into situations where you’ll be tempted to be unfaithful.

Now, I understand that people sometimes fall out of love. And I’ve watched enough Lifetime movies to know that feelings for another person can sneak up on you and develop without you ever seeking them out – especially if things are not well in your primary relationship. I know that people change, tragedies happen, mistakes are easily made, and the day-to-day monotony of life can make you crave something more exciting.

But I still can’t stand the thought of someone actually going through with it.

I have always been an insecure person, and I spent the first 8 or 9 years of my marriage convinced that one day Jay was going to find someone better than me and decide he’d rather be with her. Someone kinder (I can be quite snippy), someone more beautiful (I still get huge ugly pimples), someone cleaner (always barefoot = dirty feet), someone smarter (I taught Kindergarteners… not an easy job, but not exactly the same intelligence level as a neurosurgeon). I know now what a stupid thing that was to let myself dwell on. Feeling like I wasn’t worth his love began to heighten my awareness of the physical temptations that are absolutely everywhere: miniskirts, high heels, perfect skin, big boobs. Jay finally told me that it hurt him that I didn’t see myself the way he did, that I thought so little of him that I didn’t think he was capable of keeping his commitment to love and be faithful to only me for the rest of our lives. Seeing how my fears were hurting him, I decided to let them go.

But it’s still hard to not be afraid from time to time when temptation is everywhere, and enjoying its presence in our everyday lives is completely normal: movies… TV shows… songs… books… checking out and enjoying someone else while in a committed relationship is inarguably prevalent in our society, and it’s more abnormal than not to consider the potential consequences for indulging in temptation… even if nothing is “actually” done.

Please don’t misunderstand, I am completely aware of human nature, of how men are “wired,” and that women have emotional needs that sometimes men just have no idea how to fill. But it’s hard for me to believe that we can face sexual temptation over and over and somehow manage to never cave. The Bible teaches us to lean on God to help us fight temptation, to pray for the strength to turn away. But it also points out that the flesh is weak. I was starting to feel like everywhere I looked I saw more examples of weak flesh than strength in action. When you see friends, celebrities, and pastors cheat or be cheated on, it’s even harder to believe that any of us has the strength to say no.

So here’s where the song comes in.

Lately I’ve been hearing Andy Grammer’s new song, “Honey I’m Good,” on the radio a lot. Catchy lyrics, a kind of hoe-down-y beat – I found myself singing along almost immediately. The song is about a guy who’s out at night, having a drink or two and noticing the girls in the bar around him. He notices their legs, their nice tushies, and even acknowledges that they would probably be a lot of fun to spend the night with. But, unfailingly, he chooses to go home to the love of his life.

I struggled with the message behind this song for a while (though I was always singing along). Even though he remains faithful to his girl, I hated that he even mentioned the pleasing appearance of the other women there. I didn’t understand why he would even allow himself to be somewhere – drinking almost to the point of giving in to temptation – if he loved his girl so much. In my eyes, if he really loved her he wouldn’t be there in the first place. I really wanted to see the good in this song, but I couldn’t tell if it was about him being faithful to his wife or wishing he didn’t have to be.

Then I saw the video.

And I get it now. At least, I think I do.

I can’t keep allowing myself to notice and focus on the failings of others. Their lack of resistance to temptation is no reflection of my marriage or Jay’s commitment to me. Despite the fact that I’ve always known this (I wouldn’t have married a man I didn’t trust my heart with), seeing this video gave me the visual I needed. Made me realize that there are still lots of people out there who are determined to remain true. Dedicated. Loyal.

Faithful.

It’s not that they’ve been faithful because they were never tempted and it was easy. No. These couples made a choice – a choice to fight temptation and maintain their commitment. And they aren’t upset that the temptations exist, because the truth is, they do exist. And all we can do is make sure we don’t give in. For Jay and I, that means leaning on Christ to help us remain forever loyal to one another.

Which we have. And will continue to do. Hopefully until we can hold up a sign saying we’ve been married for 71 years… or longer. ❤

London on a Bicycle

One of our favorite things to do whenever we vacation somewhere is to locate a bike rental shop and check out the area at our own pace. Jay and I have biked through Williamsburg, Toronto, and even on Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island), and now we’ve added London to that list!

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This past June Jay and I decided to spend our 13th anniversary in London. We knew we’d want to go exploring on a bicycle at some point in our 3-day stay, and after doing a little digging online we came across BrakeAway Bike Tours. The company offered a number of different tours, and we were thrilled to see that one of them would cover many of the popular tourist attractions that we’d already planned to visit – which would save us a ton of sightseeing time on our trip.

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We met our tour guide, Matt, in Waterloo Station, then took a short walk to where the bikes were housed – a crazy tunnel where spray painting the walls was completely legal. The tunnel was frequented by graffiti artists who would just paint over the existing work on the walls, and as a result the walls were constantly changing daily – we were advised to take pictures of anything we liked because it would most likely be gone the next day! There were even artists spray painting in the tunnel while we were there, which was pretty cool to watch (albeit a bit smelly).

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We put on our helmets, grabbed our bikes, and headed off through the tunnel. I was a little nervous about biking on the “wrong” side of the street, but Matt was a great guide and always made sure everyone in the group stuck together. He explained biking signals, that there would be areas where we’d be required to walk our bikes, and that we could feel free to stop him any time we needed.

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Big Ben, Buckingham Palace (including the Changing of the Guard), St. Paul’s Cathedral, and MI5 were just a few of the stops on our tour. At every location we went to, Matt would give us interesting tidbits of information that made us feel as though we were really getting insider information – past and present – about the city. He quickly caught on that Jay and I are Harry Potter fans, and any chance he got he’d squeeze in a few factoids about the actors and the movies. 🙂

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The ride was an easy 7.5 miles, which we finished in only about 3.5 hours (including a 20-minute break). Despite the crazy traffic and not being used to everyone driving on the left, we didn’t have a single moment where we felt things were dangerous. Our tour included the bike rental (mine was named Audrey Hepburn – how perfect is that for a gal who loves Tiffany’s?) and helmets, and of course, an amazing tour guide. My bike had a little basket on the front, which was perfect for holding my purse, jacket, and water bottle. If you’re ever headed to London for a sightseeing trip, I highly recommend checking out BrakeAway Bike Tours! 🙂

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Jay and I have always enjoyed walking and biking through the cities we visit, but I think this tour has made us consider booking bike tours on our future travels to other cities, too! Now, where to go for our 15th…? 😉

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PS – I was not paid or perked or even asked to write this post. Jay and I just had such a good time that I wanted to give this company some internet love! ❤ 🙂

Three Days of London Love

For our 13th anniversary this year, Jay and I decided to cash in a few of his frequent flier miles in exchange for round-trip tickets to London. He’d been there for a workshop a few weeks before and had quickly decided he loved it, but hadn’t really had a chance to see anything besides his classroom. I was a little jealous he got to go at all, since I had always wanted to visit there too but wasn’t able to tag along on his trip. So when it was time to decide where we wanted to spend our anniversary, London seemed perfect! We packed our bags, dropped the girls off at Jay’s parents house, and said our goodbyes. What a bunch of hams. 😀

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We gave ourselves three full days to explore the city as much as possible, and we are pretty impressed with how much we managed to squeeze into those few days! Jay found a great deal on a hotel right in the city (not too far from St. Paul’s Cathedral), and our room even had a view of the London Eye. (It’s the rounded shape touching the trees on the right).

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The first thing we did was stop by the Tower of London and admire the crown jewels. We also enjoyed the view of London Bridge from afar. I just love those beautiful blue supports!

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We knew we’d want to ride on the famous London Eye, and Jay decided to enhance the experience by booking a champagne tasting for us to enjoy while we rode. It was amazing! We tasted five different champagnes by Pommery, all described by a wine and champagne expert. The experience also included one of the Eye’s tour guides, who sweetly pointed out some of London’s main attractions from over 400 feet in the air. The added bonus was that instead of staying on the Eye for one 30-minute rotation, the champagne tasting ticket allowed us to stay in our capsule for a second rotation. One solid hour on the London Eye with a few glasses of great champagne? Now that’s the way to kick off an anniversary trip!

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Of course there were the iconic red telephone booths and double-decker buses everywhere, so that was easy to check off our list of must-sees. 🙂

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On our second day we decided to take a bike tour of the city. We’d found a company that could take us past many of the things we wanted to see, including the changing of the guard, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and a few other well-known tourist attractions. It was a fun way to see the city, and ended up being our favorite thing about our trip. Afterward we did some exploring and eating, and then we did some more exploring and eating. 🙂

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Our last day in London was on our actual anniversary. ❤ We started it off by visiting the Sky Garden, a public garden located on the top floors of a skyscraper. The views from the garden were amazing – it was pretty awesome being in such a serene place surrounded by plants while looking over a bustling city below.

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We also checked out the British Museum and went back to Buckingham Palace for one last look up close before we left. Those gates are a little too fancy for my taste, good thing I don’t live there! 😀

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For our anniversary we ate at Barbecoa, an amazingly delicious restaurant that overlooks St. Paul’s Cathedral. Jay had told them why we were celebrating when he made the reservation, and they gave us the best table in the house. ❤ We seriously had one of the most memorable meals we’ve ever experienced and left a little chubbier than we were when we arrived – which we were totally okay with whenever we remembered the steak… and the garlic potatoes… and the salad… and the champagne… and the dessert….IMG_8566

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We spent quite a bit of time walking everywhere over the course of the trip, and only used taxis or the subway (or Tube 🙂 ) when we didn’t have time to walk. All that walking gave us a chance to really get a feel for the city and discover things we might have otherwise missed. We popped into shops and diners as we liked and just soaked in as much as we could, which is exactly how we like to vacation!

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We absolutely fell in love with London. Everything about the city was beautiful, but our favorite thing was how so much history was standing right beside modern civilization. Everywhere you looked there was old and new. The people were friendly, the food was delicious, and there was so much to see and do that even a solid week would have been hardly enough time to really get it all in. Which, of course, means that we will just have to go back and see some more in the future – but somehow I don’t think we’re going to have a problem with that! 🙂 ❤

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Date Night Tips

Over the past few months our date nights have become much richer. We almost always end the night feeling closer than before we started, and more eager to have another night out together than we used to. We’ve learned that anything that gets us talking – and listening – to each other is sure to result in us feeling more connected. I started reflecting on the best date nights we’ve had and I realized that along with building in opportunities for conversation, there were other factors that helped us feel more connected when the date was over, and that most of them actually took place well before the date night even began.

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Lower Expectations
I cannot tell you how much I’ve struggled with this (and still do). Unmet expectations are like death to a date night. For example, I spent years thinking that if Jay wanted to spend time with me then he’d contact the babysitter and plan out a night. You can guess how often that happened – at the end of the day he wasn’t thinking about anything but relaxing on the couch with me. Now, if I want a night out with my man, I book the babysitter. Jay is just as happy to be out with me regardless of who planned the night, and when there’s a special occasion he’s ready to take over the planning so that I still feel special and loved.

Dressing a certain way is another expectation we needed to let go of. Date night doesn’t have to mean dressing up to the nines, unless the night’s activities call for it (which also is an expectation that we needed to let go of, and why we started enhancing at-home date nights). Don’t expect your significant other to put on that sports jacket or those high heels just because you’re going out. Yes, going out should always feel special, but you should also be able to enjoy each other’s company without the frills. Expecting each other to look a certain way means that you are putting your wants before theirs, and that means you’re entering the date thinking more about yourself than your significant other. Trust me, that’s usually not a great way to kick things off. The best date nights will occur when both parties are accepted and appreciated (and visually enjoyed) just for being themselves.

Plan Ahead
One of the most effective ways to sabotage a date night is to enter without any sort of plan. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve walked out of our house, sat in the car, and spent 15 minutes in the driveway just trying to figure out where we want to eat and what we’re going to do after dinner. Sometimes we spend another 15 minutes at dinner looking up movie times on our phones, only to decide not to see a movie at all. For us, indecisiveness opens the door for frustration: “Just pick a place to eat already!” One of us inevitably settles for something we really didn’t want just to make the other happy, and things just won’t be quite the same after that. Now, I’m not saying you have to plan out every detail – there’s definitely something romantic about spontaneity – but at least have a short list to work from. We try to get at least a general sense of what we’d like to do and usually we’ll choose the restaurant in advance. That way, even if we haven’t planned anything else we can at least head to the restaurant and talk about the rest of the evening there.

Part of planning ahead for us also means what we want to talk about. Obviously you want conversation to flow as naturally as possible, but sometimes you get stuck in a rut and revert to always talking about work or the kids. That’s why we like to have something conversation-stimulating planned, whether it’s a silly game or simply saving date night for conversations like where we’d like to go for our anniversary or what we’d like in our dream house. It helps keep things moving along, and prevents us from just staring at each other (which is perfectly fine if you’re having a lovey-dovey moment, but not so fine if you’re just out of things to talk about).

Find a Good Sitter
This is the last thing that helps enhance our date nights. We’ve been blessed with good babysitters we’ve met through our church, and it has definitely allowed us to just focus on each other during a date. We walk out the door and have absolutely no worries about anything. We still think about our girls and talk about them, but knowing they are in good hands certainly makes the night more enjoyable.

No date night is perfect – we recently ended a great date night arguing over something silly for days later. But going into a date ready to talk, listen, compliment, and focus on each other increases the odds that no one will be sleeping on the couch that night. 🙂

Now go out and have fun! ❤

PS – You can check out my other date night posts here!

Art on a Date Night

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a date night, honestly because it’s been a while since we’ve had one. It stinks how busy we get, and before we know it we’re falling into the same patterns again. This means the conversations become more mundane, the kisses are less passionate, and the hugs just don’t seem to last as long. Which is usually when we look at the calendar and see a ridiculous amount of things written on there – Jay’s travels, my planned events, Julia’s playdates, Emily’s school events, and all the other family things we are invited to. What we don’t see: a scheduled date night.

Date NightWe’ve learned that planning something specific to talk about is a huge factor in a date night’s success. As it turned out, there was a huge art festival going on just a street away from Jay’s office building. Early in our relationship we were in the habit of visiting art festivals whenever one crossed our path, but it had been a while since we’d visited one. It was the perfect way to get out of the house and spend some time together sans kiddos, and we knew the art would provide tons of conversation starters.

If you’ve never been to an art festival, let me draw a picture for you. Food trucks. Funky sculptures. Live music. Paintings. Beer. Unusual people. Photographs. Ice cream. Metalwork. Jewelry. We absolutely love it.

IMG_5625We walk down the rows of booths, laughing at the things we find ridiculous: sculptures of human figures hanging from ropes so that they appear to be scaling the wall (who wants to look up at a blue derrière above their heads?); beautifully painted puppies with feathers glued on their bodies where the fur should be; photographs of topless women in bizarre places – a swamp, up a tree, on a barbed-wire fence. We share an ice cream cone. We chat with the artists. Sometimes we run into someone we know. We repeatedly fall in love with an artist’s style, only to look closer and see that we can’t afford anything we like – which isn’t a problem since we aren’t really there to shop.

But on rare occasions we walk past a booth and stop – because one particular image has managed to catch our attention equally. On this particular trip it was a photographer’s impressionistic picture of trees, mounted on metal and floated in a black frame. It was stunning, and we both wanted it. After talking to the photographer for a few minutes we learned that the piece we fell in love with was actually his first attempt at an impressionistic photograph. It’s titled “Mustard Field,” and you can see the yellow of the mustard field along the bottom of the treeline. We loved the yellow mustard plants, we loved the black tree trunk jutting up vertically out of the mustard, and we loved the way the blue sky peeked from between the trees near the top. The photographer had the same image mounted or matted in different sizes using different methods (you can see them in the picture below), but we knew right where we wanted to hang this one, the price was right, and we bought it. 🙂

IMG_5631I think what I love most about this type of date night is how close it makes me feel to Jay. Walking, talking, holding hands. Sharing treats. Sharing opinions. We found our photograph as the festival was shutting down for the day, but even if we hadn’t found anything we liked we had the best time together – I dare say it was almost as if we were ten years younger and didn’t have two kids waiting for us back home. Afterward, we had dinner at a restaurant and hit Starbucks before heading home, talking all the way about what we’d seen and purchased.

It isn’t always in the budget – or our schedule’s best interest – to have date night outside of our home, but in my opinion this topped seeing a movie because it gave us time to talk and enjoy each other’s company. We connected. And whenever we look at the art we bought, I know this date will come to mind and that connection will be remembered – even if at that moment the hugs are temporarily shorter than usual. ❤

PS – Check out more of the photographer’s work here. All opinions are my own, and I was not compensated in any way for writing this post. This guy’s work is awesome, and we will very likely be making another purchase from his collection. 🙂

PSS – Read about our other date nights! The Newlywed Game, Bucket List, Stocking Stuffer, and Dream House.

A Spoonful of Love

Today is Valentine’s Day. ❤ It’s also the 39th anniversary of my in-laws.

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I love these two more than they’ll ever know. But they also don’t know that one small interaction between the two of them impacted me so deeply that it caused me to have more love for their relationship, more love for them as individuals, and more love for their son.

Jay and I will celebrate our 13th anniversary later this year, and we’ve experienced our share of ups and downs. Our biggest arguments were always centered around children – mainly whether or not we were ready to have them (I was, he wasn’t so sure). We’ve disagreed with the best ways to spend our money (he’s a genius at this, so I usually defer to him), struggled with infertility (it took us just over 16 months to get pregnant with Julia), and loss (both of Jay’s grandfathers passed within the same year). We’ve seen each other at our best – and our worst. We’ve done sickness and health. I don’t handle sickness very well – Jay’s or mine – which is usually when he sees me at my worst. 😀

Pam and Woody, my in-laws, have never been an outwardly lovey-dovey pair. They are affectionate with each other, for sure – a kiss here, a backrub there. They laugh and catch each other’s eye when out together at a restaurant. They vacation together and support each other’s aspirations. But they don’t always hold hands or giggle or finish each other’s sentences or anything like that. I’ve actually seen them disagree (usually about mundane details like the last movie they saw or the name of the guy that installed their windows) more than I’ve seen them smooch. Jay and his father are ridiculously alike, and Pam and I have had many fabulous “you’re-not-the-only-wife-going-through-this” conversations where we vent about our handsome hubbies. My mother-in-law is a strong, no-nonsense woman; my father-in-law a hardworking goofball. Their marriage isn’t perfect, and although their expressions of love are subtle, it’s plainly evident how strong their love for each other really is.

I’ve watched their interactions for the past 14 years. In all this time, one singular moment in their marriage stands out to me more than any other: watching my strong, no-nonsense mother-in-law patiently feel spoonfuls of ice to my father-in-law. Such a small, silly thing, but it touched me more deeply than any other act of love I’d witnessed in my life.

Let me give you a little backstory to that spoonful of ice. Exactly a year ago, Pam and Woody were in London celebrating their 38th anniversary when Woody stepped into a pothole in the street and fell, causing multiple and severe injuries to his ankle and leg. They ended up spending the rest of their vacation in a London hospital, the doctors doing what they could to ease his pain while Pam and Woody waited to fly home so that he could have his injuries cared for back here in the states. Soon after they arrived, my father-in-law had the surgeries necessary to put him on the slow road to recovery. The girls and I went to visit him in the hospital, and that’s when I saw Pam spoon-feeding him the ice.

In that moment, I saw what true love is all about. My father-in-law was nothing short of a mess in that hospital bed – unshaven, unable to sit up, completely groggy from the pain meds. My beautiful mother-in-law was gently giving him ice. He was looking right into her eyes with nothing but gratitude and adoration. There wasn’t an ounce of no-nonsense in her, not a drop of goofiness in him. It was a side of their relationship I’d never seen before. I know that Woody would probably have been happier if I hadn’t seen him like that, and at first I was a little uncomfortable myself. But I’m so thankful I did witness this almost private moment between them. It was beautiful, and that image has remained with me over the past year.

Today is Valentine’s Day. ❤ Pam and Woody are celebrating their 39th anniversary today. My parents will be celebrating their 37th anniversary later this month. Jay and I will be celebrating 13 years this June. Love takes many forms and looks like many things, and I pray that even my most ordinary actions towards Jay reflect the depth of love I saw in that one small spoonful of ice.

_MG_1928Happy Anniversary, Pam and Woody. I love you both so much. ❤

*** Photos by Linda Benedict Photography ***

Drinks, Date Night, & a Dream House

Between work travels, school obligations, and other random scheduling conflicts, it seems like Jay and I have hardly had time to have a full conversation lately. It was time for another date night, and this time we wanted to talk about our next home.

We are in the extremely early stages of house hunting, which basically means we are examining our budget, saving as much money as we can, and scouting potential suburbs. And, of course, watching a LOT of HGTV. House Hunters, Love It or List It, and the Property Brothers are our current favorites, and we’ve noticed that all of them have (not surprisingly) sparked the same conversation every time: what would we want in our Dream Home?

IMG_2453For this date night we were able to get out on our own, so we headed to dinner and set some parameters over our first round of drinks for the night. First off, our Dream House had to be realistic. Anything too expensive, too extravagant, or too out-there was out. So that meant no beach homes, no 5-car garages, and no houses only accessible by ferry. Jay was bummed about that one, but I like walking to the grocery store. 🙂

After dinner we got in the car and headed to Starbucks for our second round of drinks. Then we hit the road – Jay driving us around town with the windows down while I took notes in my notebook. We broke everything down by room, adding things in as we thought of them.

IMG_2472

And… welcome to our dream house! Well, on paper, at least…. 🙂

Overall Features

  • safe neighborhood
  • good schools
  • ranch-style home
  • 5 bedrooms or 4 bedrooms plus den/office space
  • 2½ – 3 bathrooms
  • 2-3 car garage
  • easy access to attic
  • high, popcorn-free ceilings
  • crown molding
  • hardwood floors
  • hurricane protection
  • closet storage
  • nice light fixtures
  • no further from Jay’s job than our current home

Kitchen

  • wood cabinets
  • premium counters
  • stainless steel appliances
  • double sink
  • pantry
  • good storage
  • island with a place to sit on stools
  • office-style workspace

Master Bedroom

  • water view
  • walk in closet – either 2 separate closets or one large enough to hold a dresser
  • sitting area

Master Bath

  • double sinks
  • white toilet/sinks
  • Roman tub
  • large shower
  • good water pressure
  • storage space

Bedrooms (including Den/Office space)

  • nice closets
  • larger than current bedrooms

Other Bathrooms

  • white toilets/sinks
  • tub/shower combo in at least one
  • counter space
  • storage

Laundry Room 

  • cabinets
  • sink
  • front-lading washer/dryer
  • counter space for folding and a TV
  • ironing space 🙂
  • wall space for a hanging rack

Backyard

  • pool
  • fenced in yard
  • screened porch
  • trees

I’m sure our relator is going to love us. 😉

Seriously though, we don’t expect to find all of this in one house. I think our main goal is to find a house in a good neighborhood with good schools that isn’t farther from Jay’s office than we are now. We know that a lot of these things we can change ourselves once we move into a home (like the white toilets), and that we should focus on the bigger, harder-to-change items (like the number of bedrooms). And when it comes time to actually look for a new home, I promise we will have our priorities straightened out.

IMG_2454But wouldn’t it be totally awesome to find a home with everything we want? I mean, isn’t that why we are calling it our dream home?

Maybe while I’m at it I should add that we’d like it to be located near a Starbucks…. 🙂

4:00am

It’s 4:00am.

I’m quietly awoken by the sound of the bathroom light being flicked off. The not-so-silent shuffle of shoes on the carpet. A carry-on being set down on the floor. A gentle kiss on my forehead.

Jay is heading off to the airport.

Half-asleep, I pull myself up onto my knees and wrap my arms around his neck. I tell him I love him… to stay safe… to call me – even though I know he’ll be two time zones away and that he’s not likely to get more than five minutes away from work. Then I fall back into my pillow and pretend to be asleep again so that he won’t feel guilty for waking me.

He says goodbye, softly, then I hear his feet on the stairs, his keys leaving the metal tray on our aqua table, and the front door opens and closes. Locks. An engine, acorns crushed under tires, then silence.

I open my eyes and begin to pray.

Lord, thank you for my husband.

Thank you for this man who loves to sleep in, yet wakes at 3:30am on a Sunday morning to catch a 4:30am flight. Thank you for blessing my life with a man who believes in hard work. Who believes that me being a stay-at-home-mom is the best thing for our family right now. Who takes flight after flight and endures the hassles that go along with such a job – layovers… redeyes… missed connections… then turns around and does it again and again. Thank you for a man who visits new and sometimes exciting cities and countries and comes home and tells me he wants to take me there… that he wished I could have been there with him. 

That he missed me.

That he’s happy to be home.

Be with him, Lord. Protect him from harm. From temptation. From failure. 

Be with me, Lord. Protect me from jealousy. From suspicion. From failure.

Develop a sense of understanding in us both while he’s away and when he returns. Help me to realize that he’s working hard for our family, and that he’s going to be tired and very likely stressed about the next big project at work. Help him to realize that I’ve been working hard for our family, and that I’m going to be tired and very likely stressed about the never ending list of projects around the house.

But mostly, God, help us to remember that You are in control. You have blessed us beyond measure – all we have is because of You and all we have is Yours. Thank you.

In your name I pray,
Amen.

And then, once my brain begins to settle again, I drift off to sleep. When I wake, he will be gone and it will be days until I see him again. The girls and I will carry on with our day-to-day, and we will say a nightly prayer for his safe return.

Over the next few days he and I will most certainly have difficulty connecting. I’ll fall asleep at night before he returns to his hotel room, and he’ll be in meetings when I’m in the pickup line with time to talk. He’ll get wrapped up in his work and forget to text, and I’ll get jealous of his jet-setting adventures… which, of course, is how they appear to me since I’m at home every day. There’s a good chance we will both become frustrated at the lack of understanding between us – it’s happened before. Probably more so on my side of things than his.

It’s not easy to say goodbye so often, especially at odd hours of the night. It’s not easy to go days without talking more than a few minutes at a time. It’s not easy to go to family events and activities without him. It’s not easy knowing that many of my friends’ husbands are home by 6:30pm for dinner. That they can help with bedtime. That they have predictable (and local) schedules.

It’s not easy feeling like a single mom when I know I’m not.

It’s really hard not wishing things were different.

But that 4:00am departure – that’s when I reflect on how much I absolutely love my husband. How grateful I am for him. How blessed I feel to care for him while I’m home… even if he isn’t here with me.

This is the life God has given to us, and I have all that I need – even if it isn’t all that I want. Praying for Jay and our relationship right when he leaves us is what helps me keep all that in perspective while he’s gone. It makes it just a little easier.

I love you, baby. ❤