A Mother’s To Do List Before Vacation

T-minus 3 days until we leave for our week in Colorado. It’s about an 8 hour drive each way, and we will break it into two days on the way there. You know this isn’t our first rodeo, and I have packing down to a science. However, this is the first long trip with 5 kids. They all can touch in the van, and there is minimal space for much else. I’m trying to get ahead with my work so I can enjoy this trip, but it makes for a stressful week! Here’s a glimpse into what I’m handling — maybe (just maybe – wink wink) you can relate?

A Mother’s To Do List

Make a massive check list.

Continue to add to the check list, even after crossing items off. 

Take the car in for a check-up (and have the fuse replaced so DVD players might actually work on this trip. FYI – plugging in 4 at a time will blow the fuse.)

Spend 2 days searching for the damn DVD players and cords to make them work (have to purchase new cords because the cords are MIA)

Reschedule all of the things that were supposed to take place during the vacation (speech therapies, cleaners, play dates, appointments).

Organize work and schedule out anything that needs completed. 

Clean out car from the gold fish explosion last week, stickers, sand, dirt, shoes, clothes, toys, and everything else that you don’t want to know about beyond the first row. 

Fill the car with gas – but the night before the trip, no earlier.

Confirm the house sitter.

Get food for the house sitter.

Get food and treats for the dog (and CBD oil/rescue remedy/anything that will help her not freak out while we are gone).

Create a list for the house sitter — including dog items, garden instructions, house plants, remote control issues – you know, all.the.things. 

Call neighbors to inform them of our plans and have them check up on the garden and make sure teenage house sitter does not throw a massive party. (Only kidding, our sitter is AMAZING.) 

Confirm all reservations to make sure nothing was overlooked for the trip.

Create a grocery list for road trip: snackage, lunches, food to keep in the hotel. Don’t forget to bring wine instead of paying $10 a glass while on vacation. 

Run to Target for travel sizes items. (and 26 other items you didn’t intend to buy – new water bottles are always great.)

Have a house key made for the sitter.

Organize dog items (leash, poop bags, food, treats, etc)

Make packing list: include clothing, entertainment for the drive, plenty of changes of undies for the potty-learning toddler, a travel potty, favorite games/toys, DVDs, batteries for DVD players, iPads/chargers, rafts for the lake, an air pump to blow up said rafts, toiletries, hiking gear, toddler hiking backpack/carrier, ergo carrier, stroller, laptop to make sure work is up-to-date, camera, wine, and the kitchen sink.

Return library books (that are due back during the trip).

Portion snacks into ziplock bags for the car ride. 

Clean out the refrigerator of anything that the house sitter won’t want. 

Water house plants.

Empty all trash bins in the house – before the designated trash day so house sitter won’t have to. 

Actually pack. But wait, not for yourself. You must first pack each of your five children – but into as small of bags as possible. Consider all activities and washing possibilities. (Oh, there are none? Ok, time to over-pack. yes, your spouse will then question your packing abilities, but at this point you can just pour a glass of wine and laugh.)

Continue to do the daily laundry, dishes, food prep, kitchen clean-up, bed making, house organizing, errands, kissing of boo-boos, nursing babies, actual work, and extra curricular activities.

The night before you leave, you may actually have time to pack for yourself. Pack way too much. There may be poop or puke on your clothing at some point, be prepared.

Listen to spouse complain about all the things he has to fit into the car.

Pour more wine because all he did was pack his own damn bag.  

 

(Yes the damn picture is sideways! I’ll fix it in my free time this week.)

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Raising Ninjas

I have had several people make comments about the extra curricular activities that my children are enrolled in.

Scarlett: Age 10

  • Girl Scouts (Homeschool troop that meets weekly for 3 hours)
  • Swim Team (summer only – after 2 years of a year-round team)
  • Musical Theater (August-May)
  • Martial Arts (2-3 evenings a week – year round)
  • Girls on the Run (August-November)
  • Triathlete (just completed her first triathlon)

Emmett: Age 8

  • Cub Scouts
  • Club Level Soccer (Fall, Winter, and Spring, with a camp in the Summer)
  • Wrestling (Winter)
  • Swim Team (Summer)
  • Martial Arts (2-3 evenings a week – year round)
  • Triathlete (just completed his first triathlon)

Lyle: Age 5

  • Soccer (First year on the club team!)
  • Swim Team (Summer)
  • Martial Arts (2 evenings a week)
  • Wrestling (First year for this!)
  • Wanna-Be Triathlete (haha)

Ollie Jack: Age 3

  • Martial Arts (one evening every few weeks, when he’s in the mood)

We recently dropped piano lessons for the oldest two, but Emmett will begin guitar lessons soon. He has also been begging for baseball to be added to his list. (But there are only so many evenings in a week!)

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Yes, it looks like a lot. Yes, we are broke (haha). But it all falls into place, and we take breaks (and vacations – duh!) whenever we feel the need. Homeschooling allows us to complete the education portion of the day within a few hours, giving the kids ample down time – and me, plenty of writing time. So, no, we are not over-scheduled or drowning, yet. Once Lyle wins his argument on joining a basketball team and the youngest two join in, we’ll see what happens.

The biggest question that I get about their activities is always about karate.

How do you manage to do it alongside other sports?

Why would you do it when the kids do other sports?

Why do you do it in general?

Is it worth the money?

What do the kids really get out of it?

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It is time-consuming, with a long term goal; meaning that it isn’t something you just start or stop, you are committed to it. The truth is that I grew up as a ninja myself, as did my brother. I was a ballerina and a black belt – the two having a significant impact on one another, both of which shaped my outlook on life and fitness. I did not begin martial arts until I was 12, though. It didn’t take long before everyone noticed that it was something I was pretty damn good at. I began competing throughout the country, and by 16, I had become a first degree black belt and held a few world fighting titles. Even after leaving for college, I still threw a few punches with old karate friends. But, I fell out of the sport as I became an adult.

It wasn’t until my oldest was about 7 that I realized just how important it was for my kids to pursue ‘black belt excellence.’ I would love for them to become world champion fighters and compete in famous tournaments, but I am also (very) okay with not going to down the route- at least at their current ages.

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Becoming a black belt is about the journey you have within yourself. It is a long and hard goal to accomplish – and it is a one-man sport. A teammate cannot do the work for you, you must show up – for multiple days every week, for years in a row. You must study the art – and you must practice. You must learn dedication, perseverance, failure, and triumph. You also learn internal motivation, self-confidence, and conflict resolution. Becoming a black belt sets a positive path for a lifetime of learning, acceptance, and happiness. Because finding and understanding happiness happens once you learn to stop comparing yourself to others and start following your own journey – much like what happens while pursuing a black belt.

Karate doesn’t have an end game, though. A black belt may just be an item you can order off Amazon, but the mindset one gains from earning that belt is so much more than can be explained. Respect, kindness, appreciation for others’ arts, self-discipline, and a passion for bettering one’s self is all par for the course when becoming a ninja. I also love that my kids will feel able to handle themselves if needed as they get older.

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After all, the rule in my house growing up was “You have to be able to fight before you can date.”

I’m pretty sure that this could be the best rule ever. It will live on.

So, friends, this is why I am raising ninjas.

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5 Things To Do When Planning a Trip For a Child’s ‘Experience’ Birthday

Countdown to Departure: 9 days.

The excitement is growing, and my to-do list is not – thanks to all of my preplanning! I am  just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s over here! I’m making eating reservations and paying off water park tickets… But I felt like it was the perfect time to share with you how to pull off a family trip instead of a birthday party for your child this year.

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5 Things To Do When Planning a Trip For a Child’s ‘Experience’ Birthday

#1 Plan Everything Ahead – including reservations to restaurants and ice-cream stops.

A daily itinerary may seem like an impossible task ahead of time, but it will make the entire trip more fun. You may think that your kids can go with the flow, but kids do much better when they know what is coming next. The less waiting time, the less meltdowns. You will also enjoy everything more if you put in the time prior to your departure. The last thing you want to do is spend a few hours each day researching where to eat or where to go. Print out your itinerary with reservation times (and phone numbers) highlighted. Keep your schedule on track, but don’t stress out if it all gets shifted around. You’ll have the ability to call and make changes, fit other things in, or skip over things that aren’t worth the time.

This is the most stressful part of planning an experience birthday trip. It can take weeks or months of late night googling to make sure that you find everything your family will want to do. Start with a master list of activities:
Sporting Events
Horseback Riding
Hiking
Swimming
Beach Play
Theme Park
Festival
Concert
Local-Can’t-Miss-Activities
Breweries/Wineries
Restaurants/Cafes/Ice-Cream Stops
Landmarks/Photo Opportunities

#2 Research, Budget, and Pay Before Your Leave

Shop around for the best hotel deal, make phone calls requesting discounts, and join social media groups for advice on ‘not to miss’ activities. While you’d love to include everything on your master list, it isn’t worth going into debt over. The earlier you begin your planning, the more you can fit in because you will have time to pay for it all. Depending on your family size, you may need two hotel rooms – that doubles the expenses right out of the gate. Consider planning separate activities for different ages – Let your oldest kids do a major waterpark, but save money by keeping the younger kids at the hotel pool (or spend a day exploring with them).

The key is to have everything paid off – or close to it before you pack your bags. The only money you want to spend is on gas and food, and you can even purchase VISA gift cards to make sure you don’t go over budget. You will feel more relaxed and be able to remain present throughout the trip if you are not frantically checking your bank account.

#3 Prepare Your Child

If your child is used to having a birthday party and receiving a large amount of (useless) gifts, you will want to help transition the expectations. Create a countdown for the trip that you can get excited together about. Consider keeping some aspects of the trip a surprise. You can give clues or leave pictures laying around to build the suspense! If your child isn’t big on surprises, you can let them help you plan the entire thing.

#4 Remember Why You Are Traveling

Yes, you are traveling to see and experience new things, but the trip should have multiple activities that celebrate the birthday child. While lounging poolside may seem like heaven for you, your child may love parasailing, horseback riding, or seeing the local zoo. You can mix activities so that everyone is happy, but don’t skimp on the birthday fun – I promise that you will have fun, too. Also – make sure you stop at a local bakery for a birthday cupcake.

#5 You Still Need a Gift

Yes, the trip is your child’s true gift, but there is something to be said about unwrapping something. It goes hand in hand with blowing out candles, right? Choose one item for your child. It can be something small to remember the trip by. It can be a snow globe or sweatshirt, even. Of course, it can be a piece of jewelry or a nicer item for an older child, too. A gift card is the easiest and sometimes most fun present! However, it is important that the gift does not overshadow the trip – and that it is simply a (one) gift.

As My Sensory Kid Grows Up

 

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The days have been beautiful here in Omaha, Nebraska. I have very few complaints during the warm months of the year. My entire soul shines bright, especially on the other side of postpartum depression mixed in with seasonal depression – nothing like the first summer after the longest ‘winter’ of your life, right?

So, all is good.

All is spectacular.

But – and you knew the but was coming… but, I am not Super Mom. I feel like I need to stand on the tallest building and scream it loud because so many friends and acquaintances try to slap that (annoying and crappy) label on me.  However, I’d have no voice to do this because I’ve lost it from yelling at home. I wish I were kidding, but alas, I have become the yelling mom I never thought I’d become. (I’m laughing at myself, so you can laugh at me, too.)

I’m a strong believer that my children are mine for a reason. Each one was meant to be mine – and I was meant to be their’s, and they were meant to be each other’s. Many of you know how hard it was when my oldest son was little. He struggled with Sensory Processing Disorder. I was the mother crying on the floor in Target because I was frustrated. I was the mom who had a child who would not physically move from one spot (while screaming) because he simply could not move past something. His mind just wouldn’t let him. 

He wouldn’t get his head wet until after age 4 – but now he’s on the swim team. He wouldn’t let a blanket touch him – now he snuggles tight every night. He wouldn’t wear structured clothing – this is still an issue, but he works through it and can do it fine most days now! He would kick and scream and take an hour to transition from one place to another – now he’s on every sports team, a fantastic athlete, helps me plan our road trips, and attends sleepovers.

However, the sensory issues are still present. It’s true that through diet, our amazing herbalist, chiropractic care, and age, he has grown so much. I look at him and see this handsome boy, loving, giving, brilliant, and happy – most of the time. But he struggles with the “Why ME?” attitude.  He feels as though everything bad happens to him and gets stuck in those moments – sometimes crying for an hour, even throwing himself on the floor. 

These hard moments can come if he gets hurt, doesn’t get something he wanted, plans change, etc. And the spiral is awful and all-consuming. It takes all of the energy from the room. It effects the entire day for the family. It is truly exhausting. 

The major difference between toddler-version and present-almost 8-year-old-version is that I am not the same mother. I have 5 children instead of 2. I do not have the patience to sit on the floor and hold him through these moments anymore. He has the tools to do it. He knows he can do it, but at his age now, I cannot wrestle him or walk him through it every time. 

I am thankful that these moments are not frequent. But it seems that they come in waves. We are in the middle of one right now. His body is fighting something. He has had too much gluten. He hasn’t consumed enough water. He’s not getting enough sleep. Any of these could be a trigger. Maybe his tinctures need adjusting (I already have a call in.) Maybe our camping trip triggered something – it seems that these moments have been happening since then. Who knows, honestly. And I can’t sit and play detective all day. 

As I am writing this — there is a major meltdown happening. It’s lasted 1 hour and 25 minutes. I am beyond frustrated. I have yelled. I have ignored. I have given him space. I have hugged him. But, I will not just give in and give him what he wants. My anxiety is through the roof and it makes me short with the other kids. We have lost the afternoon to this meltdown. 

I’m ready for a glass of wine, but it wouldn’t help the problem. ha. 

And just as suddenly as the moment started, he is back to his normal self. Close to 1 hour and 45 minutes later, of course. His eyes are puffy and swollen – and the baby was woken up from her nap. But we are on the other side, so I’ll take it. 

Sensory kids grow up. My sensory kid is growing up. Just when I think we have gotten through this, a hard day hits. It reminds me to stay true to our diet and lifestyle. 

So, if you are also struggling in hard moments, know that you are not alone. Know that you are strong and capable. You are loving – even when you are losing your mind. You are doing the best you can. This is all I can do right now. And while I am constantly trying to become better, for all of my kids – and myself, I also am ok with being honest. I am not perfect. I am not handling any of this perfectly. I am living these moments as a tired mom – a mom hoping that as my sensory child continues to grow, we will continue to see less and less hard moments. 

The Undiscovered Calamus Reservoir of Nebraska

If you live within driving distance to the tiny town of Burwell, NE, consider adding the Calamus Reservoir to your bucket list of places to see. 

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As our time in Nebraska is now far passed the halfway mark, we are starting to consciously accomplish our midwest bucket list vacations. Being a big family, these adventures can take a toll on our bank account, so we have to be creative when we can. John likes to keep a running list of off-the-beaten-path locations we can drive to whenever an opportunity presents itself. And after a chat with a friend, he had an itch to make something happen ASAP. 

It was the Fourth of July, and a long weekend for John. We decided against throwing our traditional (LARGE) BBQ this year to save a bit of money, but we were not ready to sit around twiddling our thumbs. We spent the holiday at the pool with friends but came home with adventure on our minds. With every hotel in the midwest booked for the holiday weekend, we felt like our options were limited. That’s when John suggested tent camping.

I almost laughed. FIVE KIDS. FIVE. We haven’t been tent camping since before Ollie Jack was born (when we had 1, 3, and 5 year olds only). Could we even do this? Could we even fit all the shit needed to camp in my van with these five small humans? Who would watch our dog because there wouldn’t be room for her in the van? I had so many questions. 

John then pulled up pictures from the Calamus Reservoir. He basically lured me in – and I took the bait. I couldn’t believe that this place existed within a few hours of us. It was a clean lake – meaning no farms surround it, no pesticide runoff, no homes built on it – NOTHING. Just spectacular views and campsites. I decided to start packing. 

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We called in our babysitter to come pet-sit for the weekend. (Thank you Madison!)

After loading up more stuff than we could have possibly needed (including the entire pantry, all rafts, and any flashlight we could find), we jumped in the van and headed out. The 3 hours passed slowly (we need a bigger vehicle) with the kids, but they did great.

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They helped unload and set up tents, each kid having a specific job. We built two tents (one family-sized, the other a double person tent). They played games and got filthy while we decided to head into the tiny town for dinner. 

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The small town of Burwell is maybe a stop sign wide by a cattle farm long. There is one grocery store and a handful of really tiny restaurants. That’s about it! We enjoyed a meal that we didn’t cook – at the sweetest diner-style restaurant. It included a scrapbook of the original layout and the renovations completed years ago. If ever in Burwell, stop in the Sandstone Grill. Make sure, though, to grab anything you may need from their grocery store before 6pm because they close early every day! 

The kids managed to stay awake until midnight, even though we tried our damnedest to get them down by 10pm. The night was long and full of wind and rain. It’s the one downfall of camping – the weather. We stayed dry, thanks to our amazing tents and rain tarps. Our chairs and coolers managed well, too. I’m super grateful John sprung for the deluxe air mattresses, though. The one I shared with the littlest kids was just as comfortable as my bed at home! 

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Morning came fast and the sounds of camping woke Emmett up with the sun. Breakfast was prepared while I ran a few miles that took my breathe away.

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We threw on our swimsuits and headed to Calamus Outfitters for our first tanking experience.  My Florida friends – think: tubing the rivers but instead of a tube, you sit in a giant plastic baby pool (cattle feed). There are seats built in, but it’s not luxurious! However, it is something so simple that will create a mark in your memory bank forever. The kids thought we had taken them to the greatest place on earth. We floated and swam and played for hours as we flowed with the river current with not another soul. Seriously, not one other human was on the river with us. The clouds looked painted against at least three different blues in the sky. The sun kissed us and we smiled bigger than we have in awhile. 

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Back at the campsite, we munched on food before blowing rafts up and walking a few campsites down to the ‘beach.’ I will never get used to calling a lakeside a beach, but the sand was perfect and the water – breathtaking. We planned on renting a boat the following morning, but after checking the weather, we realized that an incoming storm was going to send us packing before we had expected to leave. We spent the afternoon and evening playing in the lake before starting a campfire and cooking dinner. 

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It was at this time that our tick paranoia really kicked in, and (combined with the incoming weather)we decided to start packing up. After last summer’s lyme craziness, we do not mess around with our chances. It’s ok though. We soaked in the glory that God had created out here and will forever remember the trip.

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We arrived home in the early hours of the morning and left the unpacking for true daylight. I had my van deep cleaned to ensure no ticks made the journey home with us – and I completed 4 loads of laundry. The trip was worth every load. 

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As our time in the midwest is now on the decline, it’s time we truly seek out these truly amazing trips. We have trips planned to different parts of Colorado, Arizona, Mt. Rushmore, the Black Hills, and possibly the Grand Canyon before we move again, but are looking for more ‘weekend escapes’ like this one that we can do on a budget – on any given long weekend. 

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How to Pull Off a Last Minute (Under Budget) Family Vacation

If you are thinking about a family camping trip, you can pull it off, even at the last minute.

If you have been following my Facebook page, you knew this post was coming! We decided on July 4th to pack up the kids and throw everything in the car to take a long weekend trip together – the next day.  The problem( other than the crazy last minute rush)? We already have a large week-long trip planned at the end of the month – followed by 3 August birthdays, and several other trips on the calendar. The money wasn’t going to fall from the sky, that’s for sure! But, we still wanted to do something we’d remember forever. AND WE DID.

Everything was booked full. There wasn’t a hotel to be found throughout the midwest. Camping was the only option – with 5 young kids. 

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If you are thinking about a family camping trip, you can pull it off, even at the last minute.

Necessities:  We used REI’s camping list, but here are the most important items we used…

  • Reservation (Preferably in a spectacularly unknown location)
  • Tent (or camper)
  • Air Mattresses
  • Air Pump (battery operated)
  • Pillows
  • Sleeping Bags (or sheets)
  • Chairs
  • Water Jugs (and reusable cups)
  • Food (just empty out your pantry and prep cut the dinners you were planning to make that weekend)
  • Coolers (large and backpack style)
  • Cast Iron Skillet (and plates/utensils)
  • Towels
  • Toilet Paper
  • Lighter
  • Lanterns/Flashlights
  • Travel Potty (tiny toddlers or not)
  • Toilet Paper (and baby wipes)
  • Camping Stove (and propane)
  • Bug Spray and First Aid Kit
  • Tweezers and a Plastic Bag (just in case a tick shows itself – send that sucker in for Lyme testing – you’ll read more about that later.)
  • Clothes
  • Plenty of trash bags (for trash, wet/dirty clothes, anything)
  • Outdoor Toys/Games

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I hesitated when John suggested this trip. A 3 hour drive and two nights in a tent? Sounded less than fun, but I am so glad that I caved and agreed. 

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We had to call the morning of our trip to see if walk-up tenet camping reservations were available. So, the night of the Fourth, we started packing in hopes we’d be traveling. I literally emptied the pantry into baggies and packed it all in a huge tub. I prep’d the weekend dinner (potatoes, sausage, veggies) and had it ready to dump over the fire. One duffle bag held five kids’ worth of clothes. Each child grabbed a backpack full of ‘fun items’ they wanted to bring. 

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I reserved a house/pet sitter (our amazing babysitter) to come to the house while we were gone.

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John loaded the van up – and we started googling everything to do if we made it to our destination. Keeping our (small) budget in mind, we decided on ‘tanking’ down the river, spending a day at the ‘beach,’ and renting a boat.   

Calamus Reservoir had 10 walk-up spaces available. The trip was a GO. 

Our one major fail? We didn’t look closely at the weather. 

As we were driving, we realized there may be bad weather heading for us, but we ventured on. It was only a 40% chance, so we crossed our fingers. The skies were blue and the air became more breathable the farther from the farms that we made it. As we arrived, my heart sang out loud. The lake was beyond anything I had imagined. We scored a great camping spot and started setting up. 

A note: Make sure you give your kids jobs to do while setting up. This is to prevent the pestering and questioning that will cause frustration and anxiety. We handed kids hammers and stakes and taught them how to stake the tents. They set up the sleeping bags on the air mattresses and found twigs for the fire. 

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Don’t plan on cooking within a few hours of arriving. You will be done with ‘doing all the things’ and want to relax. Hop in and explore the closest tiny town. Eat somewhere local. Grab a beer and take the experience in. (Make sure you grab a few scratch off tickets while you are out. It seems that there are always winners sitting in these tiny towns.)

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Break out the glow sticks and flashlights. Play a few games and read some books together before calling it a night. Plan to be up with sun because kids will be out of their element sleeping in nature. Spend the next 24-36 hours soaking in everything beautiful around you. Unplug from the normalcy of life and just exist together.

If the weather turns (like it did for us in the middle of the night), make sure you have your rain tarp up. It was a windy and rainy few hours that made sleep a challenge, but having a great tent proved invaluable! 

You can do this. You can do this on a minimal budget. You can do this with young kids. You can do this as a couple. The key is to find someplace worth seeing and then just do it.

Where have you explored that you think others should know about? Let’s share our hidden vacation spots and start exploring more.

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Planning a Road Trip Birthday

Hello world! I have missed you. I have so much to say, which is a wonderful feeling of freedom. Anyone who has ever suffered from seasonal depression (immediately following postpartum depression) can understand exactly what I mean by saying that I feel free.

Summer is here, and after the worst winter Omaha has experienced in over 30 years, I could not be any happier. I realized this past weekend that I was finally back to my pre-baby #5 happy self again. I have been up every morning running or doing yoga, cooking all the whole foods, and conquering days (even bad ones) with a good outlook. John and I both know now just how important it is for me to escape this winter. No worries, that trip is in the works, and I will be starting to walk you through the in’s and out’s of an 8+ week long road trip with 5 young kids soon!

But, back to the point of today’s ramblings. I have three August babies. The 5th, 12th, and 20th. We end up spending astronomical amounts of money on big gifts and at least one LARGE backyard birthday party. We scrub the house, invite over 30+ kids, smoke pork, beef, chicken, sausage, and all the other meat-groups. I prep sides, bake desserts, create sangrias and adult beverages. We have the greatest time – we really do. We watch the sun go down with great friends and play under the stars.

This year though.. this year needs to be different. The kids need a laptop for homeschool work, but that’s not really a fun gift for an 8 and 10 year old! What could we do that they would love AND appreciate? They have nothing on wishlists (other than more legos, of course – shoot me) and are in need of nothing. So it’s time to HIT THE ROAD!

Did you hear me in the back?

WE ARE HITTING THE ROAD!

I just booked a week in Denver, Colorado for the entire family. We will be celebrating birthdays at Water World and then hiking some spectacular trails together. Other than our Greenwood Village area hotel and the water park, I’m still planning the days out. Send me some great family-friendly ideas if you have them.

We’ll be driving the 8-10 hours all together, yes – John will be with us on the way there. The way back, though – I’ll be back to my single mom driving days! We plan to break the drive up with an overnight somewhere, too. There is a huge first happening on this trip. We had to book two hotel rooms because of our family size. Gone are the days that we can squeeze into one. This trip will be a great confidence booster (because it is going to go well, right?) before my two month long, cross-country drive with the kids AND THE DOG next winter.

As far as birthday gifts go this year, other than the laptop, we are gifting them each theme park tickets to be used while on our next big adventure! Do you think they will be as excited as I am? I sure hope so!

I’ll keep you updated on everything to do in between Omaha and Denver – and the fun you should book for your own family adventure!

Why We Parent With Expectations

We have never treated our kids as anything other than the good humans we expect them to be.

We are far from helicopter parents over here. My oldest three kids (ages 9, 7, and 5) have the freedom to bike the neighborhood without an adult with them. I can let all five kids (the youngest are 3 and 1.5 years old) play outside in the field behind the house together while I pop my head outside every so often to check on them. I can leave my oldest two at home alone while I run errands.

Friends often ask how I can have so much trust in my kids. Strangers comment daily about how respectful, kind, and considerate all of my kids are. I generally laugh it off because the strangers don’t see the regular fighting and messes that also happen here. But the truth is that my kids ARE trustworthy, helpful, and giving. (They also understand boundaries and rules.)

While there is still a lifetime ahead of us in child-raising, looking at our children thus far has me realizing that we are guiding GOOD people.

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I yell. I yell a lot at this stage of motherhood. I’m in the thick of it all, and I know it. I can see the light though – having an almost 10 year old, independent thinking, amazing kid allows me to see that these last few toddler years will pass quickly. But that doesn’t make them any easier, right? Even in these moments, I apologize, regroup and explain how imperfect I am, though.

I’ve been watching and listening to how my husband is living this stage of fatherhood. While the toddler side is exhausting, he is thriving. As a kid comes down the stairs, he always greets them with, “Well hello there, my friend!”

My friend.

Those simple words have made me see that our children are growing and blossoming because of how we have treated them. They never had to earn our respect and we never had to earn theirs. We have never treated them as anything other than the good humans we expect them to be.

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This mindset led us through a mix of attachment parenting and gentle parenting, but it also created a balance containing parenting with expectations. Yes, WITH expectations. Go ahead and blast me with how wrong we are to ‘expect things’ from our children…. but then look at them close and watch them make appropriate choices, treat others with respect, and find the beauty in everyone.

Let me explain further…

Our kids make mistakes every single day. Stupid mistakes. We expect them to. We also understand that they are capable of learning from these mistakes if we help them learn. We expect them to fail again. and again. and again. Each time, though, they grow and become more capable of controlling their actions and considering their options.

Most parents justify their children’s actions with, “It’s age appropriate! It’s ridiculous, but it’s funny. He/She is just immature still – they’re just being a kid.”

We don’t roll that way over here.

Someone commented recently that our kids probably don’t ever have fun… and that it sounded like a crappy childhood. I don’t need to compare my children to others to know how wrong that is.

I spent that afternoon truly watching my kids enjoy life. They jumped on bikes and tore through the neighborhood, built a fort with friends, read books together, made crazy messes and cleaned them up. They looked pretty damn happy to me – and didn’t have to disrespect anyone’s personal space to do so.

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We believe in natural consequences. We believe in respecting public spaces and places of business. We believe our children are capable of so much more than what is deemed ‘okay’ for this generation.

It’s amazing to watch our kids choose friends, and see how they gravitate to other fun, intelligent, and respectful kids. They stick up for others. They speak up when others are disrespectful. They are confident, happy, and true to themselves. Watching the oldest two solve problems and address their mistakes, as our 5 year old is on the cusp of doing the same grants us such excitement.

We are excited for every future age and stage of life with our kids. There will be crazy hard lessons they learn – and we learn as parents. We are hopeful that we are setting good examples and sharing real life with our kids. We don’t hold much back from them because we always want conversations to be open and available without hesitation.

All of this to say – You can hold your children accountable for their actions without spanking them. You can also parent gently while also laying out expectations. You can fail and teach failure. You can yell and apologize; you can be friends with your children while also guiding them.  You can let go and trust when your children are able to naturally understand expectations.

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How to Execute a Quick Winter Escape.

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The depression is real over here in the midwest right now. We are knee deep in our 2nd full Nebraska winter, and let’s just say that we aren’t built for the cold. Although, this winter is apparently the worst winter in the last 30 years here, so everyone is basically over the gray skies, massive snow days, and deathly windchills.

In true Floridian fashion, I was going insane. I was unkind, unhappy, unmotivated, and consumed with leaving this ‘Arctic Hell’ (as Scarlett calls it). We were planning on spending the winter vacationing this year, but I thought I could brave a winter – I mean, maybe I was just being a baby about it all last year. I did pretty well, if I can compliment myself. I survived miserably until February before John pulled the trigger on shipping me off to the ocean.

If you are in a similar state of winter depression and need a quick escape, I highly recommend spending the next few days searching for the cheapest flight that leaves within a few hours drive of you. You can spend a day traveling to your destination and a day traveling back. Fitting everything into one checked back and giving your kids a backpack for the plane filled with new knick knacks will make the travel more bearable.

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Once I decided I wanted to take my oldest two kids along with the youngest and I, ticket prices were in the scary price range for a long weekend getaway. I’m talking $500+ per seat. Well, we aren’t rich over here, so my beach dreams began to fade…. until I extended my search to the airport 3 hours away.  BINGO. Tickets were half the price. I jumped on plane tickets, paid for a bag, booked a parking spot, and started packing.

I contacted as many friends as I could because I wanted my days to be filled with hugs, laughter, and wonderful conversations. Because I grew up in the area, I had family to visit, too. There were too many people to see with too little time to do it all, but I knew that the beach was calling…

Thanks to an old friend, I was reminded that the trip was truly about getting our fill of sunshine, warmth, and ocean waves. I booked a night at The Hollywood Costa Resort in Hollywood beach, right behind the ‘broadwalk.’ While it was a splurge, I needed 24 hours  of beach in my life, and staying with family wouldn’t get me that. It was worth the splurge, as a dear friend drove in from out of town and stayed up late into the night while the kids ran on the sand and margaritas were poured. Nothing beats a big white resort bed either.

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Find your connections and reach out to old friends – or even friends of friends. You may be able to make your quick trip even better by adding in something you normally wouldn’t do.

The first travel day was excessively long, between driving and flights, but having my dad waiting with an SUV for us made it easier. My mom reserved a carseat for Veda, and we invested in MiFold boosters for the big kids (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THEM).  After a late bedtime, we headed to the beach as the sun rose Friday morning. Friends joined us, as did my mom. The sun was breathtaking, so was the warmth, although our skin had not seen an UV ray in over 6 months, so we were hurting, even with sunscreen.  But the ice-cream shop helped everyone feel a little better.

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The kids and I headed to my dad’s pool for a chilly dip and some wine with wonderful company before seeing more family at dinner. Saturday morning was yoga-filled before devouring a Publix sub, more pool time, and finally heading to the resort. A second day of ice-cream was in order, as were hats and rash guards in the sun. The rooftop pool was hopping, and the margaritas were on point. We stayed up until well past dark and dove into the waves as early as possible the next morning. Several lifelong friends arrived with their families, and my kids had about 15 instant Florida friends. Of course, more ice-cream was in the cards.

It was hard to say goodbye to the ocean, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t cry a bit. The salty air, the palm trees, the memories, knowing that it wasn’t where my kids were growing up… it stung a bit. But I am so grateful for the escape.

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Traveling home was hard. We missed John, Lyle, and Ollie so much, and I regret not spending the extra money to have everyone come. Landing back in the midwest to more snow than we had left behind was also hard. Emmett asked if the plane would just take us back to Florida.

The tans are fading and the snow is still standing,  but our memories are strong.

If you are debating a quick winter escape, jump on the cheapest flight and do it. Feeling the sun on your face and the salty air through your hair will be worth every penny spent.

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InstaCart and Aldi? Run Away. FAST.

Oh, ya’ll. I am on FIRE.

It was just a typical Wednesday here, full of therapies, classes, writing, and keeping humans alive. I was so thankful to have my weekly groceries delivered this afternoon. I greeted the delivery gentleman and tipped him well (in cash). I put away my groceries and sat down to look at the receipt.

I have been trying out different grocery delivery options the last few months, looking for the best deals, best produce, and best service. Yesterday, I learned that Aldi delivered.

I’ve never been inside of an Aldi, and it doesn’t sound like the place I want to enter with 5 young children in tow. But, I’ve heard such great things about their organic selection – AND THEIR PRICES. And in true giddy fashion, I was astounded by what my total was going to be with a cart full of 50 items — About $145! OMG!

Just as all grocery deliveries go, the price is not set until the shopping is complete and you sign for the delivery. Right?

I signed for the delivery after asking for the total, and being told that the receipt was in the bag. Seeing as how my 2 cantaloupes and large yogurt weren’t available, I assumed my total would be even less than the expected $145.  And I was right — that receipt read $134.94.  BINGO! SWEET! OMG YES!

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Here’s where things get dicey. Aldi uses InstaCart… (as does Costco and several other large stores). I received an e-mail with my charged total of $164.80.

 

 

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WTF.

Okay — Service fee $7.39, Delivery fee $3.99, Bag fee $0.56, Tip $5.00. —— and a subtotal for the food alone $147.86.  (What happened to the $134.94 that is printed on the physical receipt in my hand?)

I’m about to scream here.

One. I tipped in cash at the door. Who is providing this extra $5.00 tip?

Two. My first Instacart delivery fee was suppose to be $0.

Three. MY FREAKING RECEIPT FROM THE STORE is less than this subtotal by EXACTLY 10% —- like almost to the freaking penny, they overcharged me by 10%.

My happy little self called up InstaCart right quick and Kindly was passed to a manager who informed me that customers should never receive a paper receipt. (WHAT?) I was repeatedly told this over and over – that a paper receipt is confusing because the online prices are higher.

When I ever-so-kindly mentioned that I didn’t order for groceries to be shipped from online, that the entire point of grocery delivery is to have another human walk into the store and get the same MOTHER EFFING PRICES that I would get if I were to walk into the store, the manager told me that the online prices are higher, but said she would wave my already shouldn’t be there delivery fee. I laughed. I then asked her why the prices were more for the exact same in store items – that were purchased IN THE STORE.

She told me that Aldi increases online prices, but that they wouldn’t refund my money. She said, “Aldi will just tell you to call InstaCart.” My response? “Well, Hello! I’m so glad that I skipped that part and called you first.” She continued to tell me that she could not refund the difference.

Here’s what I learned from the call, and what you should know before ever using InstaCart:

There is a 10% increase to your in-store price, and you will never know because you should not see your paper receipt. This is NOT a fee that is given to the shopper or the driver (I asked). Those fees are added afterward.

You will be charged a tip, and it is your responsibility to go onto the app and remove that tip immediately after your order is delivered.

When you call and complain, you will not be refunded or credited because, as the manager stated, “It says in small print that the online prices may not reflect your local store prices.”  —– Which SHOULD mean that your total will be reflected at the checkout, as every other grocery delivery service does; however, it is basically a legal way for them to get away with taking an extra 10% of your total and pocketing it.

It’s hard to know if this is on InstaCart or Aldi because they each are passing blame to one another, but I know that I will not be utilizing the service again. Check your receipts guys… NEVER let someone drop off your bags without that white printed paper.