The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving

Artwork contributed by the 7-year-old

Since this week is Thanksgiving, I feel compelled to write about things I am thankful for but I’m just drawing a blank. Cue the crickets. Life is just hard. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in so many uncertainties and every time I try to catch my breath, I get knocked down by another wave. Wave, after wave, after wave. It’s just that right now, in this current season we are in, I feel like the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving. Hence the portrait my 7-year-old handed to me the other day which read “the Grinch hates fall…is my mom”. Ouch!

And then I am reminded that this is just a season. Seasons come and go. They don’t last forever. During the fall we can vividly see things change from one season to the next. As we drove home from church on Sunday, I noticed that some of the trees along our street have started to change color. I pointed out to the kids the beautiful reds, oranges and yellows the trees were turning. And then we pulled into our driveway and the tree in front of our house is turning brown and ugly. What’s worse is that my husband pointed out that it’s not even a tree; it’s a weed, an ugly withering weed!

It kind of feels like that’s our lives right now. While everyone is in the beautiful seasons of reds and yellows and oranges, we are in the brown and ugly season. We aren’t even beautifully broken. Just broken.

And then this morning my devotional cut straight to the heart. It was entitled. “What God Blesses Others”. Read the whole thing here.

Jealousy is an abomination in the life of a Christian. God has made us His children. None of us deserves to be God’s child, so there is no need to compare our blessings with those of other children of God. Jealousy is self-centeredness at it’s worst. Jealousy robs us of joy and chokes out contentment. Jealousy hardens the heart and stifles gratitude. Jealousy assumes that God’s resources are too limited for Him to bless another and still bless us.

Isn’t that the truth? I become discontent with my life when I start to compare what I have to what others have or even what I had before. In an age where people put their whole lives on display through social media it can be a constant reminder of the haves and have nots. It’s so easy to fall into the trap that everyone else’s life is better than mine. Prettier homes, fancier cars, luxurious vacations, angelic children, trophy spouse. You name it, everyone else has it, but little ole me.

Yet, when I compare what I have to others, or even to my former self, it only robs me from experiencing true joy and contentment. It causes me not to be grateful during the one time of the year we set aside to give thanks for our many blessings. God forbid I continue to allow my self-centered attitude to ruin the full and abundant life that can only be found in Christ. He should be more than enough.

So when I am tempted to compare my life to others and think that we are the only ugly brown weed on the block,  may I be reminded of all the ways he has blessed me undeservedly. Because He always has and always will. And may I also take comfort in that fact that just as seasons change, so too will this season of hardship in our lives. I often am reminded that after winter there always comes spring. A time of growth and beauty. A time when He will bring beauty from my brokenness.

Tips for Traveling with Babies & Toddlers Part II

Last year our family traveled home (aka Hawaii) for Thanksgiving. I finally took the plunge and for the return flight back to the mainland (i.e. Texas) flew solo with my three kids. I figured that since they were older, and by older I mean 2, 4 and 6 years old, it couldn’t be that hard. You can be the judge of whether that was bravery or just sheer stupidity. By a wish and a prayer, we survived and people even commented on how “great” the kids did [pats self on back]. So if you are flying out of town this holiday season, here are some tips on the things you should do when traveling with babies and toddlers. Head on over to my previous post to find out about the things that don’t work.

What Works

Strollers & Baby Carriers: When we traveled with a baby & two toddlers, finding a way to keep track of them while waiting in long lines was a high priority. A light weight stroller, or in our case a tandem stroller, was a game changer. Initially we used a Joovy Caboose Graphite Stand on Tandem Stroller because we could push all 3 of our kids at once with one in the front, one sitting and the other standing in the back. The problem was that pushing all three kids at one time can get heavy and steering can become difficult. It also takes longer to go through security since you have to put everything through, but just breathe. It won’t kill anyone if they have to wait and if the people behind you are in a rush, just let them go ahead of you.

A baby carrier also allows you to be hands free and if your child is like mine, will easily fall asleep when strapped in that thing. The only inconvenience about wearing your baby is that you have to take the baby out when you go through security or during take-off and landing.

Car Seats & Accessories: As mentioned in the previous post, car seats can be a hit or miss. They can be really handy during long flights, however, they can be pretty bulky. If your child is older, it may also be more like a jungle gym that they’d rather climb on than sit in. If you don’t plan on taking your car seat on board, you can check it in  right up until you get to the gate. If you want to protect your gear, you can use a car seat travel bag. There are all different types from ones with padded straps to just a simple gate check bag. We’ve used both and they protect you car seat from getting scratched or damaged.

We also used a car seat cover to keep things quiet and cozy once the baby fell asleep. There are even some that double as a nursing cover, which is brilliant if you are trying to travel light.

Just remember that if you bring on a car seat, you’ll have to purchase a full price seat. You can also check with the attendant at the gate to see if the flight is full or not. Most are happy to accommodate families with small children and will let you take the extra seat if one is available. It’s like the saying, “happy wife, happy life”, only it’s “happy baby, happy everyone on the flight”.

Snacks (Disclaimer: invest in Ziploc): When you are traveling with a baby, snacks consist of either your boob or a bottle. If you breastfeed, a good nursing cover can be helpful. If your baby isn’t used to nursing with a cover on, it may be more of a tug-of-war as you’ll be fighting to keep her covered while she’s trying to flash everyone. Sitting in a window seat, as opposed to the aisle, also gives a little more privacy. I also used an inflatable travel nursing pillow, which was compact and super easy to use.

If you formula feed, be prepared with extra formula in case your flight is delayed. I would measure out the amount of formula I needed in a Ziploc and added extra for a least 2-3 additional feedings. Keep in mind you’ll need formula not just for air time, but also for any time in the airport including layovers. I would also bring 2-3 bottles. Once we got through security, we’d get bottled water (ask for room temp ones) and pre-fill the bottles with water. All I’d have to do is add the scoops of formula when it was time to feed. Then, we’d rinse them out and repeat for the next feeding.

It’s also a great idea to feed your baby during take off and landing to help with cabin pressure changes or give them a pacifier.

For our older kids, I’d make a snack bag and put those in their individual backpacks. Lightweight and sugar-free are my guiding principles. Things like freeze dried fruits, crackers, fruit strips, raisins, and granola bars work well. I also pack an inexpensive, plastic sippy cup with a straw, so they can suck on it if their ears start to hurt.

Toys & Prizes: In addition to packing a few of their favorite toys that will keep their attention for a sustainable amount of time and not take up too much space (i.e. toy cars, dolls, stuffed animals), we also bring these mess-free toys:

  • Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow!. These books are great. Simple for toddlers and no mess! Once they finish, let it dry and they can use it again and again.
  • Imagine Ink, Crayola Color Wonder coloring books: These coloring books use invisible ink, and so there’s no mess. I prefer the Imagine Ink ones because it only uses one pen and has an attached pen case.
  • Wikki Stix: These are like reusable pipe cleaners (which are also great) that stick together.
  • Melissa & Doug Puffy Sticker Activity Books: Sticker books that come with reusable stickers that can be used on different scenes. It’s compact and has a carrying handle. Perfect for travel so things don’t get lost.
  • Mini Play Doh: These are smaller containers of Play Doh and I usually pack about 2 different colors my kids can use.
  • Buckle Toy: All my kids loved this buckle toy. It literally kept my kids entertained for hours as they buckled and unbuckled this toy.

Another thing that works great are prizes! Next to Christmas, my kids look forward to opening these little trinkets. I use these as bribes…yes, I buy off my kids in exchange for good behavior at 35,000 feet in the air. I usually get something from Target’s Dollar Spot or the dollar store. My kids also enjoy opening blind bags like Hatchimals or Shopkins.

iPads: I know this can be a controversial item. So you do you, and I’ll do me. Despite it being referred to as “crack for kids”, it gives me a few peaceful moments as I fly the friendly skies. Some airlines allow you to have access to hundreds of games and movies if you download their app or you can rent entertainment players. Some planes even have screens on the back of each seat.

Make sure you have a protective kid’s case and also kid sized earphones for your iPad. LilGadgets has headphones that have a shareport (so you don’t need a splitter) and they also fold up so they don’t take up much space. A portable multi USB charger is also essential if you need to recharge your devices.

Extra Change of Clothes & Diapers: Bringing an extra change of clothes, especially when your kids are small and more accident prone, is a must. Spit up, blow outs, and spilled snacks…no problem! I put my extra clothes in a Ziploc bag, so that if a change is necessary I put the dirty clothes in that to contain the mess and/or smell. I usually pack pajamas with the hopes that it will make my kids think its time to go nite-nite. For my son, I also brought his fitted crib sheet since it was impossible to get him to fall asleep on my lap. I put the sheet over the seats and he would lay down and fall right asleep.

There was also a period of time when I had to bring two sets of diapers. I used the same principle as packing formula and put enough diapers for the flight plus a couple extra in a, you guessed it, Ziploc bag.

Diaper Bag & Roller Backpacks: So what do you put all this gear in? I opted for as big of a diaper bag that I could find that would still fit under the seat but was also lightweight. After researching different bags, I settled on the JuJuBe Be Prepared Travel Carry-on/Diaper Bag. It had lots of space to hold everything and only weighs 3 lbs.

When our kids got older, we got them their own roller backpacks so they could haul their own stuff. I’m all about raising independent kids!

Breathe: Just take a deep breath and relax. Just like everything in life, it’s just for a season. Remind yourself that this too shall pass.

A quick tip to passengers who fly on the same flight with families of small children…

If kids were well behaved on the flight, take time to tell mom and dad at any point during or after the flight that they did a great job. Words of encouragement can give parents such a confidence boost, especially when they’ve just spent the whole flight trying make their kid’s flight (and yours) as enjoyable as possible. Also, offer to help put a bag in the overhead bin, switch seats, let a kid sit on your lap to look out the window when landing or even carry a screaming baby. Small acts of kindness can go a long way.

Dino-Mite Birthday Cake

Ben’s birthday party last year was an epic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) themed party. I made fruit and veggie trays that were shaped like Leonardo and Donatello and we even splurged and had a TMNT pinata. By far the best part were these super TMNT cupcakes I slaved over. They were the icing on the cake, or should I say, cupcake! Green frosting. Check. Googly eyes. Check. Fruit roll up masks. Check.

So it came as a sucker punch to the gut when Ben said, “Mom, these are great, but for birthdays you aren’t supposed to have cupcakes. I really wanted a birthday cake!”

Come again child?! Can you repeat that while I pick up my jaw from the floor?

So as his birthday rolled around this year, I made a mental note that the birthday boy needed to have a birthday cake, NOT cupcakes. Of course his often weekly reminders that he didn’t want cupcakes but a birthday cake also helped reinforce the whole boycott on cupcakes.

He also decided that this year he wanted to have a Jurassic World-Fallen Kingdom party.  Apparently there’s more than one Jurassic movie, which he made certain I knew the difference between ALL of them. So we did a little research (i.e. YouTube videos) trying to figure out what kind of design we would have for his cake.

Originally he wanted to have this really awesome looking raptor cake. However, once there was shaving off dome shaped cakes and inserting dowels, I knew my attempts would end up on the Pinterest Fail list. Instead we settled on a round cake with the Jurassic World logo. I watched the YouTube video over and over again and took copious notes, so I figured, “How hard could it be? I got this.” But as the party approached, I realized that making a cake was a lot more involved than making cupcakes.

For starters, I didn’t have any of the listed cake making supplies. So, I hopped onto Amazon Prime and purchased some of the basics:

Ben using the Kootek All-In-One Cake Decorating Supplies.
Learning how to use the Master Airbrush Cake Decorating System

I also enlisted two of our friends who have more experience in cake decorating and did a fabulous job. Those who can’t decorate cakes (i.e. me), get other people who can! Best decision ever!

After baking the cakes (using a box mix because, let’s face it, I have three kids and don’t have time to make one from scratch. #imomsohard) and making this super simple and delicious frosting recipe we found over at Savory Sweet Life, we followed the video by The Icing Artist and created this beautiful cake.

The most amazing birthday cake ever!

This was by far the best birthday cake that I had two other people make for my son’s birthday! I really can’t take any credit for the amazing job they did, unless you count following the instructions on the box mix. I do make a pretty mean box mix cake, if I do say so myself, and can give that Betty Crocker a run for her money.

Ben with his Jurassic World CAKE…not cupcakes!

Ben was so excited for his Jurassic World birthday CAKE…not cupcakes. Although, we also ended up making chocolate cupcakes that the kids decorated, if you couldn’t tell!

Can you guess who decorated these?

Tips for Traveling with Babies & Toddlers Part I

Flying back on the same airlines that we flew on when we first moved our family from Hawaii to Texas brought back so many memories of our fight from hell. We had a 3 year old, 10 month old and I was 4 months pregnant. To say that I was stressed and exhausted would have been an understatement. We flew a total of 9 hours: from Honolulu to Seattle and then to Dallas-Fort Worth. Of that, approximately 8 hours was with a crying/screaming baby and an overly anxious mother.

I remember being near tears as I walked down the aisle of shame as I tried to console my inconsolable baby. When he finally fell asleep (for the last 30 minutes of the flight), I even pretended to be asleep as we deplaned because I didn’t want to face the stares of people who probably thought I was the world’s worst mom. I never wanted to fly again!

But we’d make that trek over the ocean several times over the next few years as I needed to travel back for work. I dreaded having to fly with three children 3 years old and under. Two kids were still in diapers and one still needed to be carried. Over the years, I’ve gotten smarter with how I travel with my kids and have discovered what works and what doesn’t.

Here are a few tips to help you if you are crazy enough, or have no other option but, to travel with babies and toddlers.

What Doesn’t Work

  • Traveling with a recently mobile child (approx. 9 mo.-2.5 years old): Once your child figures out how to crawl and walk, flying in a confined space becomes extremely difficult. They are more aware of their surroundings and sitting still for hours upon hours just isn’t conducive to this new found freedom they have discovered. We traveled with our oldest when she was 6 weeks old and our youngest when she was 4 months old. Traveling was such a breeze back then compared to when they become mobile. When they are that young, all they do is eat, sleep, poop and repeat. As they get older, it becomes more challenging to keep them entertained, especially with other children in tow.
  • Benadryl: Despite the clear warning on the label that reads “Do not use to make a child sleepy,” many parents out of desperation give their child a little dose of Benadryl to make them drowsy. Our pediatrician even suggested that we put a little vanilla extract in the baby bottle because of the alcohol that the vanilla extract contained. While we didn’t go the vanilla extract route, we did give a small dose of Benadryl in hopes that it would having a calming effect and boy did that backfire. Apparently, not all children react the same way to Benadryl. One of the listed side effects is that “excitability may occur, especially in children”. This is precisely what happened and only compounded all the other issues we were having.
  • Car seats: This one is a hit or miss. If you are traveling for an extended amount of time carrying an infant or having a toddler on your lap the entire flight, it can be tiring for both you and your child. Getting an extra seat to put your car seat in is great, especially if your child naturally falls asleep in their car seat. The car seat worked great for our 4 month old. After being fed, we swaddled her up, stuck the pacifier in her mouth, put her in her car seat, closed the cover and she was out. However, once she became mobile, she didn’t want to go in her car seat. She wanted to climb all over the car seat, me, and the person sitting next to me. The car seat was more cumbersome than a mini sanctuary for a sleeping baby. Also, going through security and lugging that thing all around the airport is a bit of a hassle since it’s so bulky and some can be quite heavy. Plus, you have to pay for an extra seat!
  • Sleep training and tossing the binky: Very early on we trained our children to sleep in their own cribs. We never co-slept with our kids and as excruciating as it was, we did the cry it out method. I had also read somewhere that you should take away your child’s pacifier around 6 months to avoid problems with their bite and cavities (which I later learned from our dentist that it’s not true – go figure!). While sleep training and tossing the binky have it’s advantages while on land, they can make flying with an infant really tough. Since my child had been trained to sleep in his crib, he didn’t know how to fall asleep in my arms. I knew he was tired. Probably overtired would be more accurate, but he didn’t know how to fall asleep anywhere but in his own crib.

Stay tuned to find out what I discovered actually worked and made traveling a much more enjoyable experience.

Grieving My “Old” Purse

Today, everyone is out of the house and so it’s just me and my thoughts. The things that I’ve been pushing down because there are sandwiches to make, noses to wipe and lost toys to rescue from under the couch have now reared it’s ugly head to the surface. I can no longer ignore what I’ve tried so hard to forget.

It started when I had to transfer all the things from my see-through Cowboys purse to my “new” purse. I went to my first pro-football game with my brother over the weekend and was told that my “old” purse was too big and I wasn’t allowed to take it into the stadium. Even after trying to reason with security that I could fold in the sides to meet the size requirement, I was handed a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and told that was the only thing I could bring in.

So shamefully, I got out of line, said my final goodbyes to my “old” purse and tossed it in the trash. I hate to waste things, but my “old” purse was the only thing keeping me from entering the stadium. I didn’t have much of a choice. It was either chuck the bag or no game (which they ended up losing anyway). So I walked through the metal detector and was handed my Ziploc bag of shame only to replace it with a slightly less shameful, overpriced, see-through Cowboys purse.

I’ve been using that thing for the past few days, but it barely held anything, so I finally found another purse, my “new” purse and started using it. My mom actually got it for me a while ago, but I never really used it. It’s fancier and can hold more things, but it’s not my “old” purse. In all honestly, I should have retired that “old” purse months ago, but I just couldn’t. It was comfortable, sturdy, dependable and had the perfect spot for everything. I could use it at work, when I needed to be hands-free with the kids, it was just perfect!

So this morning as I stuffed all my junk into this “new” purse, I was sad. I missed my “old” purse. I know it’s ridiculous. It’s just a purse. A material possession that won’t last forever. At some point, I was going to have to get rid of it and get a new one, but I wanted it to be on my terms, not because I was told that it was not acceptable. When I would reach down to where my phone should have been, I found my keys instead. Everything was now in a different spot. It wasn’t where it was supposed to be.

And then I realized that I wasn’t really missing my “old” purse, but I was grieving over my “old” life. Our family has gone through a lot of “old” purses in the past year. First, I quit my job and left the only church I have considered my home church at the end of last year. I felt crushed and heartbroken. A place and people I had known for practically my whole life…gone.

Then earlier this year my husband, his boss and many of his co-workers were fired or “resigned”. I cannot even begin to put into words how absolutely devastating it has been. We have been living through a lot of uncertainty on what the future holds for us.

So while I, and many others, may be walking around with “new” purses, know that behind the fancy exterior, there may be unspoken hurt and heartbreak. The “new” purse may not have been a choice, but was something we were forced into.

I understand that there is so much to be grateful for, and I am. But I also grieve and mourn. And I know that that too is okay. Even Jesus wept. And while I know I need to move forward, and believe me I want to, I also know that ignoring one’s pain and sweeping things under the rug usually does not bring the wholeness and healing that comes when you deal with your grief. I know that with time, little-by-little, step-by-step, God will redeem and restore that which was lost. He will bring beauty from these ashes.