An Open Letter To My Daughters: Letting Go Is So Hard!

Hey Y’all!  It’s been a while.  We’ve been soaking up every.last.second of summer.  Family time is everything in our household.  Sometimes it’s good to take a step back from our social media lives to focus on our real lives and the people that mean the most to us.   My girls are growing at the speed of light.  This summer I feel like if I looked closely enough, I could’ve actually seen them grow.   We’re heading into major transition times in our household.  This week begins a whole new world for both girls.   Tonight I put my big girl to bed for the last time as a “little kid.”  Tomorrow she wakes up and heads off to Middle School…..MID-DLE SCHOOL.  I can’t even believe I’m saying those words.  While every parent out there knows just how fast time goes, there are often moments that slap us in the face and make us realize that our babies aren’t quite babies any more.

My sweet toddler is officially a Pre-Schooler now.  Not just that pretend “pre-school” where you say the word Pre-School just to sound cool.  But she’s actually in a class that counts attendance, gives out tardies (I can only imagine how this is going to go…..I’m sure my just-turned-4 year old really understands the idea of tardies when there is no actual bell that rings) does class work and gets a progress report.  Like, she’s in legit pre-school.  And honestly, I’m not here for it.    When I look at her, I still see a baby.  She’s still my cuddle bug that can’t go to sleep each night unless momma lays with her.  How is she capable of writing her name, saying her ABC’s and being graded on her social, emotional and educational skills.  I’m not ready for someone else to “judge her,” even though I know she’s progressing just fine.  I want her to just be my baby a little longer.  To live in that stress free world of constant fun and entertainment.  Babies don’t keep and that hurts a momma heart.

The truth is, I will love my children at every age and every stage.  It’s not that I only want “babies,” it’s just that I know with each new year comes new challenges and they learn more about this cold, cruel world.  With each new stage in life, it’s necessary to have uncomfortable, scary discussions with our children.  While preparing for Middle School today we had to talk about drugs, alcohol and boys who may act inappropriate.  While it’s important for her to know this stuff and even MORE important for her to hear it from me, I wish we could just go back to the days when I could shelter her from literally everything.  It’s no secret, guys.  We live a Mr. Rogers lifestyle – I’m not even kidding.  My kids have no idea how scary this world can be.  For YEARS my daughter thought “the F word” meant “fart.”  And she thought that was so seriously bad.  (Lord, can we please go back to those glorious years. The years when I could shield her from all the bad and heal all her wounds.)  The hardest part is, there is no going back.  I just have to build her up, show her the way, give her all the mental and emotional tools that she will need in life, encourage her and pray that she always knows how much she is loved.  We have to trust that we’ve done everything that we possibly could to prepare them to leave the nest.   Then we have to let them go and watch them soar.

This is the stage I’m in right now.  My oldest daughter has been soaring so high and I’m so proud of her.  We moved to a small town where we know no one.  She’s starting a new school, she’s meeting new people, she’s playing school sports and she’s putting herself out there every day.  She’s walking into a gym full of 70 girls and she knows not a single one.  She’s brave and strong and she’s facing life head on.  She was scared the first day, but fear didn’t win.  She held her head high and made her way through the crowd.  Now she’s packed her bookbag, picked out her first day outfit and she’s put herself to bed excited to start a new chapter in life.  You all, she is actually excited….like really excited.  Now that is BRAVE.  She is going to slay at this thing called life.  And if my 11 year old can be brave like that, so can I.  Sometimes we can all take a queue from our kids.

There are good things about the kids getting older, too.  This year, for the first time ever, I actually enjoyed back to school shopping.  We took an entire weekend and just shopped ’til we dropped.  I didn’t allow myself to be in a hurry.  I didn’t allow myself to constantly say “no.”  I was present with no outside distractions.  There were so many belly laughs and so many good memories made.   It made me realize how, I may not have babies any more, but I’m gaining bestfriends.  This stage is new and different and I’m not totally sure how to navigate it sometimes, but we will survive and we will thrive.  Although I’d rather talk about bottles and blankies than boobs and pubes, I know that this too is part of my job and we’ll make our way through it.

All my love and hugs to you mommas who are sending your ‘babies’ back to school.

XOXO

Jill

 

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The Hidden Danger Of Splash Parks! The Incident That Landed Us In The E.R.

Ok, I’ll be the first one to admit it; I am the safety queen!  I’m always analyzing risk and calculating hazards in my head.  There is constantly data running through my brain – sometimes I drive myself crazy.  I’d say this is mostly a side effect from my day job and, honestly, it makes my husband want to jump off a cliff at times; but here I am still living the worried mom life.  I used to be wild & care free and now I’ve somehow turned into that “be careful mom” that frets over everything (you know who you are!)  The mom who’s always yelling “BE CAREFUL” any time your kid does something even remotely dangerous and you stand there with your eyes closed just praying they’ll land safely.

Well, last week I told my sweet momma that she should take the kids to the splash park one afternoon….”it’ll be fun,” I said.   Famous.last.words.  While they were there, she had sent me a few sweet pictures of the kids playing in the water, splashing around.  My first thought was “WOW!  That water is spraying REALLY high.”  But, I’ve vowed to try to be more relaxed about things so i just let it go, looked at the pictures and smiled.   (I assumed I was just overthinking things again.)  Fast forward about an hour and I get a panicked FaceTime call.  Baby girl was crying so hard i couldn’t understand her and her eye was swollen shut.  (Ok, now I’m allowed to internally panic, right?!)

{Seriously though, look at the height and pressure of this water!  My oldest daughter is around 4’10” and it’s nearly twice as tall as her!}

So, as luck would have it, my youngest daughter (who just turned 4 and is much more vertically challenged) decided to lean over and look down at the ground right as one of the timed, pressurized water sprinklers went off.  The blast of high pressure water took her right in the eye and since she’s much closer to the ground, it hit her with a lot of force!  It immediately gave her a black eye and her eye began to swell shut.  Long story short, we rushed her to the urgent care because our main concern was eye damage or vision problems.  After they painted her eye balls with this orange serum and flashed all these different lights into her eyes, it was finally determined that they think she will be just fine (PRAISE THE LORD!)  They think the main impact of the water hit her check bone, just centimeters below her eye ball (truly a miracle!)  But talk about a scary wait and lots of praying.   Poor girl was just having fun.

Now, I’m in NO way saying to not ever take your kids to the splash park again – I’m really not!  BUT, I did feel like it was important to share this so hopefully other parents won’t go through the stress that we felt!  Be sure to educate your small children about not looking down or make them wear goggles (I’m ok with my kids looking like nerds at the splash park).  Anything to protect those precious little eyes!!  I mean, honestly, there is just no way that we are the only family this has happened to.

Prayers for a safe summer my friends.

XOXO

Jill

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Major Life Hacks From A Military Momma! How To Streamline The Moving Process And Make Friends Easily!

 

My name is Lorin Beier, and I’ve been married to an Air Force pilot for 11 years. We’ve moved 8 times to 6 cities and one foreign country. At any given time, I’ve got friends on just about every continent, in 10+ countries. We’ve got 3 kids who were born in Alabama, Japan and Georgia; and one on the way.

 

Over the years, I’ve gained some insight that I want to share with you! How about some moving tips?!

 

Moving Tips

  1. Valuables in your trunk! Our first set of movers taught us that. Jewelry, personal papers, etc.  Keep those in your possession!
  2. Plastic totes. We bought 30 from Big Lots and they lasted us through 4 moves and we lent them to a friend for her move as well. It was a tad expensive to do, but I really don’t have to save or buy new boxes every move.
  3. If you prepack, use your linens! Also, paper plates in between your dishes works great.
  4. Label your boxes by room. Make sure the movers place the boxes in the correct room at the new house. It’ll make the unpacking way easier.
  5. Take out your trash. They will pack it. Including dirty diapers {gag.}. I remember thinking surely, they know there’s TRASH in the cans, but if it’s not nailed to the floor, it’s gotta go in the truck or the crate. They’ll also pack drain stoppers, the rack in the dishwasher, and water hoses with water still in there. But heaven forbid they pack non-perishables.

 

Making new friends

In the military spouse world, we call this friend dating. Often times when you get somewhere you have to decide on someone very quickly to be your go-to person for those emergency contacts.

 

  1. Find a church!! And look what social opportunities they have. Whether it’s a mom’s group, playgroup, bible study or couples social group.
  2. Ask ol’ Facebook who you already know in the new location. An option would be to search for ‘Name of City’ Play group, or Mom’s Group.
  3. Once you get your kids in activities, try to recognize other parents who are there often and introduce yourself.
  4. Try to befriend your kids’ friends’ parents at school.
  5. Good golly, go meet your neighbors. Nothing says hello like a box of cookies! We have an inflatable, when we blow it up in the front yard, kids come out of the woodwork.  Great way to meet their parents too!

 

How to help kids adjust

This might be the hardest thing. Sure it’s hard on you leaving familiarity, friends and comfort zone. But, depending on kids’ ages, it’ll be nothing or the hardest thing they’ve ever gone through. And I think it all depends on your kids, their maturity level and your parenting skills.

 

  1. Start early. I will prepare them for an upcoming move several months in advance. Sometimes I know where we’re going, sometimes not. But we will play the “what type of house” will we live in next game. My son’s vote is a red pizza cabin mountain house. My daughter thinks it’ll be a yellow beach house.
  2. Look up their school and find an activity they can join. Special interest groups are instant friends with similar likes.
  3. Google the new city and what to expect. Will there be mountains or a beach? How about an aquarium or skating rink? Of course, find a Mexican restaurant, cause mama needs a margarita.
  4. Find fun things to do. For the first several weekends we will pretend to be tourists. Go find fun places, parks and restaurants, no chains!
  5. If you get farewells, I’d suggest giving stationary and switching addresses; so the kids can have a pen pal. Shoot, that would be great as an adult. It’s really cool at Christmas time getting cards from all over the world.

 

I know the inevitable will happen and the kids will get sad. My daughter is 6.5 and I think this is her first move out of 5, that she fully understands what is happening. Best advice I ever got was to let the kids be sad. Let them cry and feel the weight of the moment. But its really important that they don’t stay there. Kids are more resilient than you think.  It’s going to be fine, momma!

Guest Contributor & World Traveler,

Lorin Beier

 

 

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Packing Hacks and Must Haves for Family Vacations

I have noticed that there are two camps when it comes to packing for vacation. Those who pack everything and the kitchen sink and those who try to take as few bags as possible. I generally fall into the first category. 🤪 This leaves John to try to juggle at least 4 or 5 bags while I wheel the kids through the airport. In this scenario, we usually (A) break down and pay one of the porters to help us, (B) John hurts himself (and is grumpy the rest of the day) or (C) we rent one of the carts (which you can never find where to put them when you are done).

If you’ve been following the blog this year, you know that one of my resolutions is to travel more. So far, I’ve been to the mountains of WV, NYC and now sunny Florida! After each trip, I vow to pack less. Besides the packing and lugging it through the airport, there’s the UNPACKING!😭  This trip I dove in and tried minimalist packing!!

As you all are probably aware, traveling with kids really makes you want to curl in the fetal position changes the game. So, one big caveat to this minimalist packing experience is that I knew that there were (easily accessible) laundry facilities at our condo. Here’s what my minimalist packing looked like for a 4 year old:

Here is what it looked like for my 1 year old:

All-in-all, I was super happy with the experience. It really did streamline our check-in (yay Southwest – and yes, I did sit next to the window; if anyone was getting sucked out it was going to be ME!) and we generally had everything we needed. Believe it or not, we didn’t even use everything we packed! While, I’m sure my over-packing days aren’t over, I am going to try my darnedest to pair down my packing. There really is something to be said for simplicity (especially when you will be spending the majority of the time in a bathing suit).

Just to clarify, the items above are just the clothes portion of the packing. After all of our travels with a baby, baby + toddler and two toddlers, here is my MUST HAVE non-clothing packing list (click on the pink links below to get a better look at the product described):

Pack ‘n Play – If you have a baby, this is the numero uno crucial item. We were lucky because one of my mom’s friends had a smaller pack ‘n play that she gave us after our son was born. This was awesome to take to grandmother’s house and also to travel with! If you can, find a smaller one than your large one with the bassinet and changing table, you will be glad you did. This Costco one is only $50! Not only is is smaller, but lighter! Your baby won’t know the difference and you can have a little peace of mind bringing your own. Another option is to use the one at your hotel or condo. I was weirded out by that with my oldest, but the poor second child has used the hotel’s several times, after a clorox drench wipe down.

Toddler Cot – This might sound weird, but we got this idea after seeing our kids sleep so well on the cots at school. Our kids were introduced to cots at 18 months (or earlier) at their “school” and there’s something about them having their own space. It’s smaller than a pack ‘n play and if you can get away with it, it’s less to pack (it can even fit in a suitcase)! This Regalo one took the cake. It comes with a case and a sheet  – win/win.

Car Seat Cover – We like the J.L. Childress brand for the car seat travel bag. It is durable, can be worn like a backpack and fits most car seats. It’s always a struggle to figure out what will be less of a hassle – taking car seats or renting them upon arrival. What we’ve found, is that if you are renting a car, rent the seats. If someone is picking you up at the airport, take your own. There is nothing worse than being trapped in a rental line after a tiring flight with cranky kids, when everyone just wants to get to the destination.

Umbrella Stroller – We love the UPPAbaby 2015 G-Lite Stroller. Anyone who knows my husband, knows that he researches like crazy to get the best deal. This stroller has proved to be great for ages 1 – 4 (we don’t have anyone older than that, ha). The best part about this stroller is that the shade has an extra extender part, that keeps the sun off the kids. I also love the mesh back and it has a strap so you can carry it over your shoulder. It is crazy lightweight and worth every penny. It made it across the Pacific Ocean and back and still looks brand new.

Stroller Cover – This gate check stroller cover has been super durable and it prevents parts from going missing or wear and tear to the stroller.

Sippy Cups – I seriously might have all the sippy/insulated cups ever created and sold in the U.S. market. When traveling, my fav and go-to is the CamelBak. I like these because they hold a lot of liquid, can clip to a stroller hook and the spout can fold down to be less exposed to whatever gross stuff it might come into contact with. The runner up is the Thermos Funtainer. This is a little heavier and not as convenient to hook to a stroller or backpack. However, the spout is completely covered and it does keep things cold/warm longer.

Sunscreen – Toddler tested, mother approved. My son tans really easily and we haven’t had a burn (knock on wood). My daughter is super fair, like her Dada, and I was pretty frantic about finding a non-toxic sunscreen to provide crazy coverage, without tons of re-application. Here’s what I found, Babyganics. We applied this once in the morning and once in the afternoon and girlfriend didn’t get pink! Hooray!

Bumpers – These hiccapop bumpers were recommended to me by a friend (thanks Brittany!) and whoa!! total GAME CHANGER. Forget lugging those bulky plastic or metal bed rails/guards around. These take up little space when rolled up and have treads that keep them in place under the fitted sheet. Not only are these great for traveling (*read – you don’t have to drag the toddler cot around all of the time*) but, they are also great when transitioning your toddler to a big bed. Buy them, you won’t regret it.

Packing Cubes – I can’t stop talking about these.  Here’s the latest review: packing cubes.

Things to NEVER forget (and might be best in a carry-on):

Blankie

Favorite Stuffed Animal

Sound Machine

Tablets/chargers

Snacks/drinks for take-off and landing

Time Savers

  • If you are going to be somewhere for a week consider ordering essentials: diapers, wipes, formula, baby food from Walmart and have it delivered to your room (2-day shipping 🙌 ). Amazon Prime works for this too!
  • Walmart has free grocery pickup in tons of locations now. You just order online and they will load your groceries for FREE! Here is a $10 coupon to try it: Walmart Grocery Pickup
  • Many grocery stores offer free shipping to your room/condo if you order over $50 (which is super easy with 4 people).
  • If you want to stay in one night and don’t want to cook, check with GrubHub or Seamless. These services deliver from tons of participating restaurants.
  • Look really strung out and desperate in the airport…lol. TSA usually has mercy on our souls and lets us through a shorter line.

Many of you have asked me for these tips, so I hope this is helpful! Let me know if you have any favorite products you can’t live without when traveling. I love hearing new ideas!

Happy Vacationing!

XOXO,
Lauren

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I Don’t Have Babies Anymore And I’m Not Quite Sure What To Do With Myself!

 

As I sit back and reflect on our lives over the last few months, and all the adventures we’ve gotten into, it suddenly hit me (like a wrecking ball) that I don’t have babies anymore.  And honestly, that hurts my momma heart.  Like, a whole lot.  Our kids seem to be growing at rapid speed.  Our oldest is nearly as tall as I am and her maturity level is off the charts.  Our tiny love  has surpassed all the “baby milestones” and looks much more like a little girl than a toddler.  Right now we have two kids playing soccer and one kid playing volleyball….and one mom coaching volleyball (which really just means that I can’t skip anything.  Don’t even think about judging me, y’all know exactly what I’m talking about.)  We live at ballfields, community centers and dance studios.  Our weekends come and go and we barely see our home because someone always has something going on.  Life seems to move in fast forward.  Recently I’ve been really looking at my children and trying to soak it all in.  Some mornings it’s like they wake up and i can tell they grew over night.  It’s beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.

We have one child going in to middle school this fall while another child will register for Pre-K.  I feel like I just had them.  Yes, both of them.  Where did the time go?  Not only do i realize how much they’re growing, but i also realize that I’m getting older as well.  Where’s the young, dumb 25 year old with the infant?!?  How have i been a mother for over a decade?  How am I turning 35 this summer?!?  Am i really done having babies?!  Is that portion of my life really over?!  While it sounds like I’m having a mid-life crisis over here, not to worry, I’m just processing all the random emotions that us mommas have to work through.  We dream our whole lives about the families that we’re going to have then once we’re actually in that situation, it all happens so fast that we can’t really fully enjoy it.

I wish i had all the answers and could tell you how to freeze time, but unfortunately, i don’t have those kinds of magical powers.  I do know that I’m realizing how important it is to unplug and be present; not just sometimes but all the time.  To listen to every crazy, long-winded story; to get in the floor and crawl around like a puppy dog and to play ball in the yard like you have no chores that need completed.  These are all things that we, as parents, would normally put off because we “don’t have time.”  But honestly, the older I get, the more I realize that the chores can wait but my children can’t!  They’re only little for so long.

Each day I’m forced to let go just a little more.  To let them walk a little farther away from me in the store, to let them sit at their own restaurant table with their friends, and to let them choose their own outfits and hairstyles (even when I most definitely disagree with their styling choices!!)  They’re only mine for a little while and I’m realizing that more each day.  This part is probably the most heartbreaking of all.  Who will I be when they’re grown and gone?!  We bring these tiny little bundles of joy into the world and vow to protect them from all evils.  We nurture them and hold them close, but letting go will definitely be the biggest hurdle we have to climb.

As I pave my way into becoming ‘middle aged’ and begin to tread the waters of being the momma to a Middle Schooler, I am reminded that each day is a blessing.  And even if I don’t have babies anymore, I know that they need me just as much now as they always have.  They just need me in different ways.  I may be taking the backseat for a while, but i’ll always be their biggest fan.  The truth is, I’m as lost as they are, but we’ll figure it out together….one laugh and cry at a time.

XOXO

Jill

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Some of My Favorite Christmas Sweets and Treats for Every Occasion!

For the Big Guy in the Red Suit:

If you have been watching the Food Network over the past couple of weeks, you have seen a million different recipes to make a party special/get into the holiday spirit/surprise Santa (does anyone really think Santa has time to sit down and enjoy a raspberry galette while delivering presents to all the children around the whole world in one night??). If you want something a bit different than cookies, but will still travel well and satisfy Old St. Nick, try Christmas Crack!

Photo Cred: Gal on a Mission

My Aunt Nancy introduced us to this delicious treat a couple of years ago and I was hooked at first bite! It is a great treat to keep around the house to munch on or spread the holiday spirit to your neighbors. (Shock! Horror! I may actually get to know a neighbor.)

 

For Your Child’s Class:

We all want to be that parent that brings the tasty, yet somewhat healthy treat that brings just the right amount of Christmas cheer to the classroom.  *Insert* Fruit Kabobs and Santa Hat Brownies!

Photo Cred: Daisy’s World

Both of these treats were easy to put together (tip for the santa hat brownies: buy the mini brownie bites, add a strawberry, put some icing in a sandwich bag, snip the corner and use it as a piping bag, make a circle of icing around the strawberry and a dot on top). It seemed like most of the kids popped off the strawberry, ate it and threw away the rest. Ha.

 

For the Dips and Desserts Party:

Some of my best holiday memories are making the next dessert – Pecan Tassies!

Photo Cred: Hi Cookery

These mini pecan pies are SOOOO tasty and taste better and better throughout the week. I can’t remember a Christmas without them.

As I started looking through family recipes (and had some major #fails as I tried recreating them), I think what makes them so special are the memories of flour all over the kitchen, feeling exhausted after adding the first ingredients and watching my mom finish the rest (he he), back and forth arguments with my brother about what dessert/how to make it/who would eat the most, my dad eating the lion’s portion of the sweet treats, and everyone passing out on the couch with a plate of tasty cookies/brownies/cake and watching Christmas movies or playing games.

This makes me think about my family of four and the traditions we will create. My son is super into baking right now (which I LOVE) and I am soaking up every minute of it. We have made enough cakes/cookies/muffins to last the whole year!

What are your favorite family traditions and tasty recipes?? Do you have something special that you wouldn’t miss this holiday season?

Here’s to the next few weeks of sweets and treats!

XOXO,

Lauren

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7 Cringeworthy Phrases Every Mom Dreads

 

Whether your child is 2 or 22, there are just certain phrases that every mom has heard that makes her cringe before she even spots the damage! Here are what we think make the top 7 on the LONG list of cringeworthy phrases we hear as mothers:

 

1.” Your child has been exposed to Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease” – NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Where did this dreadful disease come from and why does it hit the schools at the most inopportune time?!  It’s always when you have big plans; it never fails.  That ‘parents only’ trip you were taking this weekend…yeah – it’s cancelled!

 

2. “I think I’m going to throw up” (or in our house, it’s usually just the dreaded gagging sound) – Of course, you are always in the car when this happens. First it’s the dry heaving, then the kid leans into the cough?! “Come on! Stop trying to throw up, kid!” As you drive 90 mph down the interstate trying to pull off like it’s the Daytona 500 and you’re going in for a pit stop.  Literally jumping out from the car while it’s still rolling.  Nothing raises your heart rate quite like this situation.

 

3. “[Child’s name] tell your mom what happened in class today” – it’s the dreaded teacher’s note for bad behavior.  Or even worse- when you see the school phone number pop up on your Caller ID in the middle of the work day.  Your heart immediately races as you imagine that your child has experienced the worst playground injury of all time.  This literally sends shivers down our spines.  Whether the issue is big or small, the anticipation is a nightmare. (Then sometimes you find out that your child pulled down his pants on the playground and peed on a tiny patch of grass and basically you want to frame the “incident report” or file it away for the wedding slide show.)

 

 

4. “You have been selected to be in charge of the class Christmas Party” – This is especially fun when you have to coordinate with other parents who don’t really want to participate.  Everyone wants to bring plates and cups and no one else is available to bring anything else.  Except for the lady who would be glad to provide cucumber sandwiches for 3 year olds.  {Insert eye roll.}  Thanks, Deborah.  I’m sure those will go over just swell with the toddlers.

 

 

5. “Your child had a blow-out” – Usually you can tell this right away because your kid is not in the same clothes you sent them to school in. Even more fun is when this happens at home. You know what I’m talking about.  When it literally runs all the way to their shoes and you have to practically hose them off in the yard.  It’s like a total hazmat situation up in here!  Yeah, that’s my favorite.  Sometimes, you just want to burn all those clothes and start over.

 

6. “I need a cup of water” – You all know exactly what we’re talking about – the bedtime stall routine. You put your toddler to bed five times and they keep reappearing needing things like water, snacks, hugs, and want to know the meaning of life. We’ve recently been hearing it all, including needing “fresh water”. What are you? A barn animal?!  This isn’t the Ritz Carlton and I’m not your bellhop!  Get back in bed!

 

 

7. “No!  Stop!  MOOOOOOOOOM” {Insert lots of blood curdling screaming!} – Two words: sibling rivalry. It’s the dreaded shrieking from the other room when you don’t know what’s going on or who has been harmed. You’re not quite sure what you’re going to walk in on and you just want to put yourself in timeout, so you don’t have to deal with it! #ITapOut

 

I feel like my blood pressure is elevated just writing these phrases. Ha. What are your dreaded phrases? (We know you have them….)

 

Here’s to a cringe-free week (and even if it’s not, know you are not alone!!)

 

XOXO,

Jill + Lauren

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Disney Cruising During Hurricane Season

If you are anything like me, you have been seeing your friends/family/colleagues/ people-you-don’t know-why-you-are-still-friends-on-FB-with/random strangers, constantly post pics of their Magical Vacations to Disney World, Disneyland, and on Disney Cruises! I will admit, I am one of the culprits. 

I love the memories I have at Disney with my parents and grandparents, and want to share that with MY kids! We took my son to Disney World at two (still free and no dining plan required). With the help of a Disney Vacation Planner (look up Michelle Farrell!) and lots of discussions with fellow Disney-loving friends/veterans, we had a super stress-free and completely fun vacation, (Side note: I was seven month preggo and the Zika virus was alive and well, so that’s saying something!).

This year, we decided on a new type of vacation – a Disney Cruise! If you haven’t heard how awesome a Disney Cruise is, you may be living under a rock. But, good news, I’m here to tell you all about it! While there are tons of reviews of Disney Cruises, you may not have read one about cruising during HURRICANE SEASON!! (What were we thinking?!).

We kept our eye out for changes to our cruise itinerary or complete reroutes, but we got lucky and got to sail as planned. We liked arriving in Florida a couple of days early, in case of flight delays or last minute cruise changes. Disney cast members are true professionals – they aren’t going to chance it or take you anywhere near harm’s way. So, if you decide to cruise during hurricane season, here are 8 of my observations: 

1. Scop patches and Dramamine!!

This was like gold for my hubs and other members of our group! The first night we were on the ocean, Hurricane Maria had just passed by Florida, so it was a little lot rocky, starting at dinner. Luckily, we were in the Animator’s Palate restaurant that night and the “Turtle Talk” with Crush was super entertaining and hilarious.  I won’t ruin the surprise, but let’s just say it was a conversation. This kept us distracted from the swaying of the boat. We were bouncing off the walls getting back to our room, and that’s where the $%&# hit the fan.  At least two members of our group were down for the count. I generally don’t have motion sickness, but I even popped a Dramamine, preventatively. Once those Scop patches kicked in, everyone was back on their feet the next morning.

2. Dance Parties!

There are a ton of these and the next one is better than the last. I think one of the most underrated things on the ship is the live music! The performers on our ship were awesome. Occasionally, they would provide the music for the dance parties and really played off the crowd. The Disney characters  make appearances and dance with the kids; which for my 3 year old, was LIFE! A huge plus about these dance parties – you don’t feel the sway of the boat!

3. Aquaduck

Do not miss the most fun ride on the Disney Dream. The hubs and I stole a couple of hours away and had a blast on the water coaster that goes around the top of the boat. Parts of the ride are in a clear tube, so you can see the ocean. If we didn’t have to wait 45 minutes to ride, we would have ridden it over and over. It’s a popular attraction, but down times are early morning and late evening.

4. Character Meet and Greets

There are 1000 of these!  While the lines are long, the Cruise Navigation app gives you times and locations of these character meet and greets. My kids LOVED the characters and the variety was really great. They are all over the ship and are in different costumes throughout the cruise.

5. Rotational Dining

While I was skeptical about this at first, this proved to be a great change of scenery for the kids especially. The Animator’s Palate had very kid-friendly decor and as I mentioned above, Turtle Talk with Crush.  I don’t know if you can requests certain seats at dinner, but if so try to get a seat by the screen. The Enchanted Garden was so pretty and we had a fabulous view of the ocean and sunsets. Royal Palace had spectacular food (they all did really). Besides the rotational dinner restaurants, we had wonderful experiences at the lunch buffet, Cabanas (shrimp galore!) and our 3-year-old loved Flo’s Cafe (of course, with the Cars theme). Also, anti-bacterial wipes were handed out before every meal. It made my germaphobe self so happy.

6. Customer Service

Everyone knows that Disney service is another level, but the Disney Cruise customer service is beyond! We had the same servers each evening and they had the kids’ drinks ready when we got there. They cut up the kids’ meals and helped keep them clean. It was A.W.E.S.O.M.E. They were friendly and even provided the adults some entertainment by way of riddles and puzzles. The guy whom cleaned our stateroom (who we called “our friend” because his name was super long and hard to pronounce and I forgot it after the first day…oops) was so great. He greeted the kids each time he saw them and they ran to him and said “hi, my friend”! He was a great guy and we felt like we we were getting special treatment. He even made baby girl’s bed and put her Mickey and Minnie on the pillow, every night.

7. Staterooms 

The family staterooms are so spacious! The bed was super comfy and raised, so you could store luggage underneath. The sitting area includes a couch that turns into a single bed. There was plenty of room for a pack ‘n play beside the bed (with enough space between, so the kids didn’t mess with each other). A heavy curtain separates the sitting room and the bedroom, which keeps out the light when the parents want to stay up and watch TV. 🙂 I was nervous that the kids were on the side of the curtain by the door to the balcony. However, there is a lock at the top of the balcony sliding door; Disney thinks of everything. Two closets and tons of drawers, in addition to the two bathrooms, made it so easy for a family to “live” in a stateroom. The kids were rocked to sleep by the sway of the boat the first night! Also, when the boat is rocking, it is nice to get some air – splurge for the balcony. 

8. Take advantage of the kids clubs

We made the mistake of not dropping off our kids in kids clubs. The 3-year-old loved them when we visited the open house, but silly us, we felt guilty for leaving him, since we were on a “family vaca”. Seriously though, anyone young or old would love being dropped off there. The Disney counselors are fun, on steroids. I think I would have been more comfortable leaving him if he was a bit older (i.e. school-aged), but he definitely would have had some major fun in the clubs. (Check out the awesome hand-washing stations!) The smart parents took a few hours a day to themselves and seemed to be more mentally zen than others. 🤣

Honorable Mention: Castaway Cay – Include this island on one of your cruises.  It is Disney’s private island and offers all of the Disney amenities.

I hope this gives you some good perspective on Disney Cruising during hurricane season.  All-in-all, we loved our Disney Cruise and would definitely recommend it to anyone (especially those of you with school-aged kids)!! If you have any Disney cruising tips or things you loved, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.

 

XOXO,

Lauren

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Said No One Ever

Remember back to middle school? We had those scrunchies, wore braces and raisin-colored lipstick, listened to our music with walkmans, watched Clueless, and let’s not forget our Backstreet Boys posters. To get a look into how things are in the 2017’s, I’m deferring to one of my besties, May. She is a middle school counselor (bless her) in Maryland and always provides me with good insight. Here are some of her thoughts (with some of my commentary) that will be useful for not only middle school parents but all of us!

 

 

There’s something deeply powerful about backwards mapping—the concept of beginning with the end in mind, of connecting outcomes to the decisions we’re about to make. The process is widely used in educational settings as well as in day-to-day decision making. It can be as simple as, “I don’t want my tongue to be blue, so I won’t eat that blue jolly rancher,” or “I want to fit in my pants, so I’ll lower my calorie intake this week.” (Been there!)

As a middle school counselor, I’m always looking for ways to get kids to consider the consequences of the present decisions they are making. This is a difficult task – certainly not for the faint of heart. Developmentally, adolescents are generally impulsive and present-focused, giving little thought to what will come tomorrow. They are naturally impatient, much like toddlers. (Wow, so this doesn’t end?!) But while they embody many raw and intense qualities, I have found that they are painfully accurate reflections of the state of our self-focused culture.

While most of us are well past our middle school years, we often find ourselves facing similar issues (we just don’t have the same excuse that they do!).  So when I impart words of wisdom to them, I’m really talking to myself as well. When you’re trying to get through to middle schoolers, I have discovered that it takes a healthy combination of pithy + snarky + humorous. So, in my quest to communicate how particular actions or inactions produce wanted or unwanted consequences, I have begun using a phrase which really puts things into perspective in a powerful, soundbite that is palatable to the middle school brain (and to my old middle school brain).  Said no one ever. For example, “I’m glad I ate that entire box of Swiss Rolls…said no one ever” (sounds delicious…) or, “I’m glad I didn’t put sunscreen on…said no one ever.”

Here are some that I’ve shared with my middle schoolers to get them to think:


“I wish I had posted that inappropriate picture of myself…said no one ever”
“I wish I had thought more about myself than others…said no one ever”
“I wish I had tried to impress people more…said no one ever”
“I wish I had taken more selfies…said no one ever”
“I’m glad I cheated on that test…said no one ever”
“I wish I had made more lame excuses about why I didn’t do my work…said no one ever”

Most of us have lived long enough to partake of the regret that comes from careless living. So, here is my meager offering as a challenge to the rest of us “old middle schoolers”:

When it comes to life choices:
“I’m glad I spent 2 hours Facebook more…said no one ever”
“I sure wish I had racked up more debt…said no one ever”
“I’m glad I procrastinated taking care of my health… said no one ever” (Eeeek!)
“I’m glad I keep staying awake at night on my phone…said no one ever”
“I should scrutinize myself more in the mirror…said no one ever”
“I’m glad I gossiped today…said no one ever”
“I should really binge-watch more Netflix… said no one ever” (Ouch!!)
“I’m glad I refused to donate that dollar to St. Jude’s at the cash register…said no one ever”
“I really glad I worried today…said no one ever”
“I wish I had smiled less…said no one ever”
“I wish I had put off pursuing my dreams…said no one ever” (Boom.)
“I’m glad I keep comparing myself to people I think are more successful than me…said no ever”
“Boy, I’m glad I planned every square inch of my day without time to relax today…said no one ever”
“I sure am glad we postponed our trip to Europe again…said no one ever”
“I’m glad I was so controlling today…said no one ever”
“I’m glad I didn’t let that car into my lane of traffic so he had to wait…said no one ever (Except when you’ve been waiting over two hours to get over the Canadian border, am I right May?!)
“I’m glad I did a mediocre job” – said no one ever

When it comes to relationships:
“I’m glad I hung onto that grudge for 20 years…said no one ever” (oooh…)
“I wish I had kept the truth from people I love…said no one ever”
“I wish I had spoken without a filter…said no one ever”
“I’m wish I had taken my mom and dad for granted…said no one ever”
“I wish I had dismissed other’s perspectives more…said no one ever”
“I wish I had spent less time with my family…said no one ever”
“I wish I had been less patient… said no one ever” (I hear that collective groan, parents!)
“I wish I hadn’t been so forgiving…said no one ever”
“I wish I had insisted I was right more…said no one ever”
“I wish I had assumed the worst about people more…said no one ever”

When it comes to spirituality:
“I wish I hadn’t read the Bible so much…said no one ever”
“I wish I hadn’t prayed more…said no one ever”
“I’m glad I didn’t stand up for what I believe…said no one ever” (whew, May!)

Reading this list leaves me stinging with regret. I think I hear a resounding OUCH coming from all of us. But the sting is good, because we still have time. Time to start living in the light of who we want to be. And time to minimize future regrets. We need to think past this moment. What will “future you” wish you had or hadn’t done? Socrates famously claimed “the unexamined life is not worth living.” If he was right (and most of the time, he was), then I don’t think any of us will ever be wishing we were less intentional with our time—or less focused on the person we want to become.

In other words, as say to my middle schoolers, “I’m glad I don’t think about the consequences of my decisions…said no one, ever.”

 

I mean, mic drop, May – thanks for the words of wisdom! I hope this helps you all, as much as it did me, to take a minute, step back and get some perspective.

 

Guest contributor May Novalis hails from Maryland, where she’s worked with middle schoolers for the last 10 years.  She loves puns, Nutella, Masterpiece theater, morning coffee and connecting with people. You can find May here on SoundCloud!

 

XOXO,

Lauren

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Super Simple, Yet Delicious, Chicken Casserole That Your Kids Will Actually Eat

 

If your kids are anything like mine, then meal time can be challenging.  As my kids have gotten older, their taste buds have definitely expanded, but this recipe has been one of their favorites since they were both tiny.   Best part is, it’s quick and easy to prepare.  Below are the items you’ll need:

 

  1. 1 Bag/package of frozen or thawed chicken breasts (I use the 3 lb or 5 lb frozen bags.)
  2. 1 Can of Cream of Celery Soup
  3. 1 Can of Cream of Chicken Soup
  4. 1 Box of Stove Top
  5. 4 Tablespoons of flour
  6. 1 cup of milk

 

  • To start out, I make my chicken in the crockpot.  I usually put the chicken in the crockpot before I leave for work.  I cook the chicken on low for 6-8 hours, so it’s completely cooked when I get home.  (You could also cook the chicken in an instant pot or pressure cooker for a quicker option.)
  • Once your chicken is cooked, in a saucepan, on the stove top, combine 1 cup of cream of chicken soup, 1 cup of cream of celery soup, 4 tablespoons of flour, and one cup of milk.  Stir gently and often (be careful not to let this burn – it heats up quickly.)  Warm this mixture over medium heat, and stir thoroughly, until all “clumps” have disappeared.
  • Shred your chicken, either by hand or with your KitchenAid Mixer, then spread the shredded chicken all over the bottom of a baking dish (or cake pan for a larger serving.)  Completely cover the bottom of the dish with shredded chicken.
  • Pour the warm soup mixture over top of the shredded chicken.  Completely cover the chicken with the soup mixture.
  • Pop the casserole baking dish in the oven.  Oven should be heated at 350 degrees.  Baking time should be roughly 25-30 minutes depending on your oven.  (Mixture will appear more firm when it’s done with a golden brown tent.)
  • Make Stove Top stuffing, per the Stove Top directions on the box.
  • Once stuffing is complete, pour the stuffing on top of the casserole.
  • Cool and serve.

 

I usually serve our chicken casserole with green beans and a salad.  (The kids prefer fruit over salad, because well….they’re kids.)  This meal is always a huge hit at our house!

For super picky kids, I suggest that you “mix up” the casserole on their plate, rather than leaving the stuffing on the top.  If you mix it all together, the soup takes over and makes it look more like creamy chicken rather than casserole.

Kid tested, Mother Approved.

 

 

XOXO

Jill

PS:  Also, if you notice, we broke out the fine china for this dinner.  (I should probably be embarrassed, but i’m not.  Didn’t have to do dishes that night – total mom win!)  And yes, my oldest was eating on the couch.  We keep things really classy ’round here.

 

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