Clearly We Need to Eat Out More Often

Clearly We Need to Eat Out More Often

It was such a sweet weekend….filled with family time together, crafting and snacking.  I mean, what’s a better way to spend a couple of days?

Generally James and I have a date every Friday night, but this past Friday we decided to invite the 4 boys who were home to go with us.  It was a last minute decision since all of the older kids were gone and it was only going to be the 6 of us.  For a big family, having only 4 kids to take with you means you can drive a normal-ish sized car and eat at a normal-ish sized table so we thought it would be a fun thing to do.

I told the boys, “Hey, y’all go get your shoes on and come to dinner with us!”

I thought they would be all excited but instead they looked at me like I had invited them to go to the moon with me.  “But Mom, what’s going on?  Is there something happening?”  “Did you forget to cook dinner?” “What’s the occasion?”  One of them even asked me, “Are you about to tell us something bad?”

Gee, I didn’t realize going out to dinner would be such a shock to them.  Clearly we have given our children the impression that it only happens when there is a serious reason for it.  Like a birthday or announcing terrible news.

Once they warmed up to the idea and accepted that it was just for fun, we had a blast.  Over burgers and salad we talked about our upcoming trip to Universal and what they’ve been doing lately and a little about politics, geography, whatever crossed our minds.  We ate and ate and then drove around looking for PokeStops for a while.  Perfect evening.

On Saturday I got the urge to create something and since I had borrowed my BFF’s Cricut machine for the weekend I got the boys to help me design some t-shirts for us all to wear to Universal.  I like having matching shirts in crowded places and since the theme of the event we are attending is super-heroes, I wanted something to celebrate that and also share our faith.  We came up with a design and went to Hobby Lobby to pick up the supplies.

We had packed a lunch to take with us (dinner the night before was all the money I was willing to spend on eating out for the weekend) and no one remembered to pack napkins.  So we ate our lunch on Kleenex from the car, which didn’t work as well as we had hoped considering we brought Cheetos and cheese cubes (not me, I had sliced veggies which weren’t any better for our napkin needs).  I finally got tired of fighting with my Kleenex and decided to drive through Sonic and get us all a drink and some napkins.  I pulled up and ordered, “2 medium Root Beers, 1 medium Coke, a large cup of ice (that was for me) and a handful of napkins.”  I’m sure that didn’t seem odd to the Sonic employee at all.  No food, just the napkins please.  But, of course, the boys were thrilled to get the rare soda.  I’m surprised they didn’t start asking me again if someone was dying and I was just sugaring them up for before I dropped the news on them.

I spent the rest of the afternoon making t-shirts in the kitchen and being the audience for a bunch of magic tricks my boys made up.  That was fun.  Cut some vinyl, iron-on the transfer, pick a card, any card, just a card.  For 2 hours we did this until I couldn’t take it anymore.  The magic tricks were slowing down my t-shirt making.  So I said, “Hey boys….why don’t y’all go swimming?”  They replied that they would rather do more magic tricks, at which point I offered to buy them some ice cream if they would leave the room for an hour.

It worked.  They swam, ate ice cream and I got an hour to myself.

I finished the 6 shirts and they are so much fun I had to show you….

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I also made some numbers for the new mailbox we put up last week….

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Cute, right?

I’m gonna have to borrow her machine again soon and do some more crafting.  I have a Cricut, but it’s an old model and it doesn’t do nearly as much as hers does.  I can use mine in a pinch, but being able to use the app to do all your designing and just sending it to the machine via Bluetooth is th’bomb.

Sunday was lovely….just quiet family and games and snacks and finishing up my Cricut crafts before I had to give the machine back.  And naps…..oh the deliciousness of a Sunday nap.

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I hope you have a great week and find some quiet time to spend with your family before the summer passes you by.  Maybe take the kids out to dinner and teach them some magic tricks.  If you do that though….be sure to have some bribery ice cream in the freezer in case it gets to be too much.

See ya!

If you liked this you might also like my Mom’s Guide to Universal Studios.

Why I’m Playing Pokémon Go

Why I’m Playing Pokémon Go

If you're not sure wheteher or not to pick up this latest craze, or how to keep it under control, here are some great tips for you!

Yes, we have gotten into the new craze…Pokémon Go.  Before you throw stones and tell me how it was started with evil intent and Christians shouldn’t be spending time on such terrible things, let me fill you in.

I have been looking for things to do with my 3 youngest boys that don’t involve yard work (which we do a lot of) or home repair (it never ends) or school (being the mom and the teacher has its challenges).  I wanted to do something they would enjoy, but didn’t cost much and we could build memories with.  And since lately I have been seeing this Pokémon game being discussed all over the interwebs, I downloaded the app.  Of course, because I am old I didn’t understand anything about it, I had to ask my 15 year old to look at it with me and that was the end of that.  He took over and his 2 younger brothers gathered around him like moths to a flame.

After we got it set up and started it became obvious that it wasn’t something we could do at home.  Living in the country means no PokeStops or Pokémon to catch.  You have to go where the people are.  You have to be active.  So I suggested we go for a drive and see how it all works.  For the next hour and a half we explored our town and met some interesting young people.  And that’s when I fell in love with the game.

I wasn’t actually playing, I was just driving my boys around as they took turn catching and colleting.  And I had such a fab time with them!  Here’s why I am all for the game and why we will keep playing….

  1. We do it together.  It depends on how you play, but since we were all working off of one phone it became a group activity.  They take turns and help each other find things.  They tell me where to go and when to turn and I enjoy being led by my little men.  They get excited together and we have plans to do it as often as possible.
  2. We explore our town.  The PokeStops are places like monuments, murals, churches and city buildings.  We walk around and learn about our town and places we had never really noticed.  It is such fun to find out more about the place we live!
  3. Historical markers!  Some places we have to go are the local historical Markers.  I told the boys that any marker we stop at to get Pokémon we also have to actually READ the marker and discuss it.  We decided to do some more studying later about some of these incredible historical spots!
  4. Meeting new people.  We meet a lot of new people!  I will chat with other Pokémon players while the boys look for Pokémon and I really enjoy meeting some people I would otherwise never have met.  I don’t care if they are a group of young men drinking beer while playing Pokémon or moms with their kids or teen girls with all colors of hairstyles.  It is such a blessing to interact with them, ask for their advice on playing the game and get to know a little about them.  Everyone has been friendly and I hope I will get to see them again!
  5. Adding a new dimension to our travel.  My boys kept talking about how fun it will be to look for Pokémon when we go to Universal Studios in September.  Or the airport.  Or when visiting their sister in Dallas.  I can see that we will get to explore new things about these places too, things we would never have discovered otherwise.
  6. Believe it or not, exercise!  There’s one part of the game where you get rewards for walking….actually walking (or running would work too, but you can’t drive or ride).  So we are going for walks and talking about life while our steps work in the game.  LOVE!

I know there are bad things about this game.  People getting hurt or being careless.  There is probably some wicked intent with the whole Pokémon thing that I am unaware of and, frankly, not worried about.  I do have some requirements that I added to the game to make it family friendly and as long as we stick to those I think it will be a great way for me to spend time with my boys.

  1. We do it together only.  No one will be going off to play alone and they have to take turns.  Once someone catches a Pokémon and goes to a Poke Stop they hand the phone to the next person.  Their turns can vary in length and style, so you have to be patient and a bit selfless.  If your kids aren’t good at this, it’s a perfect way to teach this concept.
  2. Be careful, for goodness sake!  Really, I can see how someone would just step into the street or if you were driving and doing it, man it’s dangerous. Even though I am not looking at the game at all when I am driving, the boys shout out directions to me like, “Turn left NOW” as I am driving in the right lane.  They’re excited and I can’t see what’s happening in the game so it gets hairy.  Just keep your wits, remember what’s most important (staying safe, that’s what) and you’ll be fine.
  3. We have to look around and not just at the phone.  Anytime we are in a spot that is interesting (which is almost everywhere) I take the phone from them and we look around.  We talk about the area, what happens there, why we think it is a PokeStop, etc.  Like I said above, we read all historical markers and study the murals and statues.  There is some amazing stuff out there!
  4. Talk to people.  If we see anyone else playing where we are, the rule is that one of us has to say hello to them and ask them one question, either Pokémon advice or something about themselves.  Smile, be friendly, get to know someone, and shine the love of Christ to others.  This is my favorite of all the rules we made.  🙂
  5. No getting obsessed.  We are an obsessive bunch around here.  We get overly attached to things and can let it control our minds.  We do a lot of Bible memory and make it a habit to focus on what is good, and true and pure.  So when my mom-radar detects a kid getting overly consumed with something that is just fluff and not valuable to their life, I nip it fast.  The boys have been told in no uncertain terms, if they talk too much about Pokémon, or seem like they’ve gotten carried away with it we will stop.  Nada.  No mo.
  6. No spending money! There is no way I am going to spend any money on in app purchases no matter what….we won’t be doing that.  I don’t care if the world’s rarest Pokémon treasure is within our reach if we would only spend 99¢, I’m not doing it.  Got it?  Not my money, not their money, NO money will be spent on this game.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am really enjoying this.  It’s not just another video game that my boys play and I know little to nothing about.  This is something I can do with them and I have at least a clue what the different parts are and what they’re talking about (although I will never understand it all).  I love listening to them in the backseat strategizing and sharing their victories with each other.  It’s a delight to play this game with my boys and have something we do together.

When I run into town I invite one of the boys to go so they can play alone for a few minutes.  I’ll run my errand then spend 10 minutes or so looking for Pokémon at their direction.  This morning my youngest son and I discovered a park that we didn’t know was there and made plans to go back and play on the playground there when it gets cooler.

If you’ve been on the fence about this or have decided it’s a bad thing to stay away from, I hope you will consider trying it.  Just stick closely to the boundaries you create for it and you’ll have grand time!

Be sure to follow me on Instagram where, of course, I don’t share any Pokémon pictures because I don’t have access to my phone/camera when we are playing….which….if you think about it is another plus.  No one is doing anything except playing and enjoying the outdoors.  But I do share other fun stuff there….. 😉

And if you have any other Pokémon tips we would love to hear them.  Hop over to Facebook and tell us all about it!

If you liked this, you will also like my Mom’s Guide to Universal Studios —>

A Mom’s Guide to Universal Studios, Pt 2

A Mom’s Guide to Universal Studios, Pt 2

This post contains affiliate links.

Recently I shared my mom tips for what you need to do when you go to Universal in part 1.  Universal is so much fun and you don’t want a little lack of preparedness to spoil it.  With just a teeny bit of thinking ahead, your time at these parks can be stupendous!

I had so many things to share to make your trip better that I divided it into two parts.  Part one is things to DO and part two is things to TAKE (or not take).  And if you’re wondering how I figured all of this out, it’s been from experience.  Last year when we went to Universal I actually made notes on my phone of things I would do differently if I ever got to go back and what I wished I had known in advance.  We had an amazing time there and I really hope you will consider going there with your family!

And when you do, this is a list of things you will want to take with you when you go!

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Mom’s List of What to Take to Universal Studios

  1. Take ONLY what you NEED! I love to use a cinch bag because they weigh nothing and are so easy to slip on and off.  I carry in it only what I absolutely must have.  Resist the urge to take big, heavy things.  You just don’t need them and these parks are very active.  There isn’t a lot of moseying along the street.  It’s rush, rush, ride, ride, go, go and you’re going to need to stay energized.  I will reduce the size of some things, like sunscreen.  Instead of bringing the whole bottle, put a big squirt in a small ziptop bag and just carry that.  Instead of regular bottles of my essential oils, I put a few drops into a teeny bottles.
  2. Prepare for rain.  When we were there last year it rained every day for a little while.  We didn’t slow down, but put on our ponchos and kept going.  We were prepared with not only ponchos, but waterproof shoes and ziptop bags for our phones.  I’m not all fancy with special gear to keep phones dry….a ziploc bag does just fine.  In fact, in the rain I am a fan of the poncho/teeny umbrella combo.  You’ll stay almost completely dry.  Speaking of bags, they will inspect your bags when you enter.  Actually, they do it outside of the City Walk area before you even get to the parks.  It’s no big deal, I just wanted you to be prepared.
  3. Keep your temps down.  We went over Labor Day weekend and it was H-O-T.  So it’s vital you make sure to stay as cool as you can.  Besides drinking water, you can use a fan.  I’m a big fan of fans.  I wear this one around my neck and sometimes also carry a small misting fan in my pack.  Another thing I carry is a Frog Togg.  These are cooling rags and they are amazing for cooling you down and there’s also a cooling headband that I am going to try for this year.  I cut my Frog Togg into smaller pieces so I didn’t have to keep a whole big one in my pack.  Universal also has a misting station across from the Incredible Hulk Coaster and misting fans all around the park.  You can ask for ice water at any of the drink locations for free.
  4. Comfy shoes.   Here’s the thing with shoes….they have to be more than just comfortable.  Comfort is vital….you need shoes that you can walk around in all day and then again the next day without hurting your feet.  But there are other needs too.  Like they need to dry quickly.  Like I said in #2, you will likely get rained on.  There are rides that get your feet wet.  Walking around in squishy, wet shoes is misery.  Also, you want lightweight shoes.  This is a hard day and you don’t want to add any extra weight to what you’re carrying around. I love my Oofos.  They fit every one of those needs plus they’re cute.
  5. Have power.  You will want to take pictures and be able to be reached, so be sure you have ways to charge your phone.  I like to carry a retractable power cord and light power pack.  I have never regretted having these with me.  If you don’t need it you can help someone else who needs a charge!  (although I take so many pics that I have always needed it!)
  6. Sunshade.  The sun will suck the energy right out of you! So I always take a hat and wear it when I am going to be without shade for long.  THIS HAT is the one I carry because it’s affordable and rolls up for easy packing.  I also use a chemical-free sunscreen and I put a little bit in a ziptop bag (like I said in #1) and carry just that amount with me each day.
  7. Earbuds.  I always have a pair of earbuds (or two) with me for a couple of reasons.  First, the day at Universal is a lot of activity and can be over-stimulating for the kids.  So I like to let them relax and listen to music or play a game occasionally to help them regroup.  Second, they help on the rides if anyone in your group is sensitive to loud noises.  I will give them to my kids (not plugged into anything, just the earbuds alone) to wear through a loud ride.  My 9 year old will ask for them because he doesn’t like the noise.  THESE wireless buds are great for that!
  8. Essential oils.  Come on, you knew I was gonna say it!  I lean heavily on my oils when we are at any long-day activity.  I put them into small bottles so my load is still light, but I always have them with me.  I wouldn’t go to Universal Studios without peppermint, PanAway, Lavender, StressAway, or FUN.  And you will definitely want to have NingXia Nitro for when you really hit an energy slump!
  9. Leave the jewelry at home.  I am a jewelry girl, but this is not the place for it.  I don’t wear any jewelry to the theme parks except my silicone wedding band.  I tried not wearing a wedding band at all, but it bothered me not to have it on.  I kept suddenly panicking that I lost it (even though I didn’t wear it in the first place).  So I got a silicone band and it doesn’t interfere with the fun and keeps me from freaking out that I lost my real one.
  10. Credit card.  Obviously you will need money here and there after you get into the park.  I never carry cash, I only take a card that I can use just for this trip.  I call the credit card company in advance to let them know I will be traveling and I make sure there’s no balance on it (unless it’s a bank card in which case make sure there is money in there).  I keep it tucked somewhere on my person (like a Secret Stash Pocket or a passport holder) so it’s not in my pack where I can lose it.  I will also keep my resort room key in there.
  11. Moleskin and blister balm.  I never got any blisters while I was there, but one of my boys did and oh man, was I glad I had this stuff ready to use.  I like this moleskin because it’s a little thinner than what you can buy locally.  And it comes in strips, unlike others that you have to cut (and I don’t want to travel with scissors).  If you haven’t used moleskin, it’s like an extra layer of “skin” that you put over your sore place to stop it from rubbing on your shoe.  Also, if you tend to get blisters, use Blister Balm as a preventative.  Rub it on before you get a blister to keep from getting one and if you still have a problem you can also use it on the blister.  I’d also have some lavender to put on as well, maybe applying it at night and again with the balm to promote healthy skin.
  12. Cotton clothing and limited makeup.  You really want to be comfy and cool!  Of course we like to look good, but honestly I don’t worry too much about that when I am going to be out all day in the sun with my family riding rides and trying to keep up with their energy.  I have a few linen dresses that I like to wear, but whatever you are comfortable in is what to take with you!  As for makeup, I don’t wear anything except for drawing on my eyebrows because that’s what my comfort level is.  Sure, I’d rather look glamorous all of the time, but frankly it would sweat off in the first 2 hours and then I would look like a freakish comic book character, so I skip it.  For my eyebrows (I have no eyebrows so I really like to always wear that) I use Too Faced Bullet Proof Brows because it stays on all day no matter what I do and it looks natural.  It’s one that I just put on in the morning and don’t have to worry about it again.

What do you need to take to the theme park?! Here's a tried and true list by a mom of 9 for all moms!

All in all this is a really fun and binding day with your family!  The more you can prepare in advance, the easier it will be for you to be able to relax and enjoy your time in the rides and with the fam.  Think it all through and have FUN!!!!  Each of these products I mention above are ones that I personally bought, tried and use myself….and I have tried a lot that didn’t work so I have done the legwork for you.

I just know you will have a mah-velous time on your trip to Universal Studios!  Of course, these tips will work for any theme park and even other family trips.  With just a little advanced preparation you can have a blast!

Don’t miss Part 1 of A Mom’s Guide to Universal Studios where I share the things you MUST do while you’re there!

And if you have issues with big thighs and chafing, be sure to check out “I Got Big Thighs and I Cannot Lie”

A Mom’s Guide to Universal Studios, Part 1

A Mom’s Guide to Universal Studios, Part 1

This post contains affiliate links.

Last summer I went to Universal Studios Orlando with 4 of my kids.  Ever since then I have been a ginormous fan of that place.  Like, anytime I hear of someone going to Orlando for Disney I say, “Oh!! You HAVE to go to Universal too!!!!!!!!” (there aren’t enough explanation marks, but I didn’t want to get obnoxious).

I am thrilled that this September we are going back and in addition to 4 kids, my husband is going with us (he didn’t go last year).  Honestly, he has heard so much about our trip that I think he couldn’t resist.  We basically have not stopped talking about it.  Every few days we will all be sitting around chatting about nothing in particular and one of us will say, “Hey!  Remember at Universal when ____?!” and the 5 of us who were there will laugh and start to talk about it more and we are all laughing and smiling and those who didn’t go roll their eyes because they are tired of hearing about it.  Yep, good times.

A mom's guide to Universal Studios, Part 1

But even though the Universal parks are awesomely fun and exciting, there are some things you can do to make your visit even better. You need to be prepared.  Not the kids, they don’t need to be prepared.  The kids can just wake up and ride in the back of the minivan to the airport and follow you wherever you go.  But for moms it’s a different story.  We gotta pack and plan meals and make sure everyone in the family has what they need.  It’s a much tougher job than it looks when you’re a kid.

Being a mom of 9, I know how hard it can be to travel with the family.  There is so much to check on at the last minute and so many teeny details that it can make your head spin.  I like to have my ducks in a row as much as possible when going somewhere like Universal because once I get there it makes my time so much more relaxing.  I mean, let’s face it, there WILL be problems.  Someone will lose a toy or drop their ice cream on the ground and you have to handle it.  But you can make it easier on yourself by being prepared for the issues that you know will come up.  That’s why I wrote this list, for the moms.

But as I worked on this list it got so long because I have so many tips, that I decided to break it into two parts.  I mean, we’re moms here.  Ain’t nobody got time to read a 4,000 word blog post.  So part 1 is about what to do while you are there and part 2 is what to take with you.  Easy.

This is part 1 (which you probably already figured out ‘cuz you’re so smart).  There is a LOT that you don’t want to miss and I am making it my mission to help you.

Tips and tricks and things you don't want to miss at Universal Studios written especially with moms in mind. We are the planners and we need some help!

A Mom’s Guide to Universal Studios – What to Do

  1. Use the app.  The Universal Studios app is fantastic for keeping up with wait times, restaurants, showtimes, shop hours and more.  This will save you time when you’re hungry or late (or both).
  2. Study the map.  In the app or on the web you can look at the maps of the parks and surrounding areas.  It’s good to familiarize yourself with where the restrooms are, what rides are close to each other, which are in the front of the parks and the back.  Also, in case it isn’t clear, there are TWO separate parks, Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure.  You could buy a ticket to only one if you want, so do all of your research beforehand.  If you have kids who like maps, give it to them to study.  This makes it so much easier to get around the parks from the beginning.  I’ll be refreshing my memory of the maps as we get closer to our trip.Universal Studios Orlando map
  3. Make a meal budget.  Look over the menus of the various restaurants in the Universal area and see what you like.  Plan how much you can spend and know where you have to go to keep within that amount.  OR you can purchase a dining plan which makes it so easy!  You can also bring your own snacks and water bottles with you if you want.
  4. Understand the locker system.  OK, this took me time to appreciate, but once I got it I really liked it!  On the thrill rides you can’t carry anything, and I mean anything, with you on the ride.  So they provide free lockers at the beginning of the lines for you to store your stuff.  They open and close using your fingerprints, so your items are safe.  The first few times I walked right past the lockers thinking I didn’t want to deal with that.  But stuff easily gets lost on these rides y’all (ask me how I know)!  And once I embraced the locker system I saw how freeing it was!  No more worrying about anything on the ride….just lock it up and be free! In order to remember which locker we used, I made it a habit to go to the very back of the locker area every time instead of stopping at the first available kiosk.  That way I didn’t have to remember the area my locker was in.  And once our things were in a locker (you don’t get to choose your locker number so you have to remember), I would tell all of the kids our locker number and we would make up something to remember it (OK kids, our locker is number 173, like the highway near our house or number 42 like there are 4 wheels on a car and two people can sit in the front).  If I said it out loud we could remember the number when we got out.  Rides that have these lockers are: Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket, Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black Alien Attack, Escape from the Gringotts, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, The Forbidden Journey (this is my favorite ride) and Dragon Challenge.
  5. Understand the child swap system.  Universal has this FAB way to ride when you have small children.  There is an area at the end of the lines where you can sit and wait with a child.  So mom and dad can go through the line with the kids, then one person rides while the other waits right there in a little room off to the side and when the first person is finished riding they slip into the waiting area and the other can ride.  It’s awesome!
  6. You can also do a bag swap.  So, if you don’t want to use the lockers or you’re carrying something too big to fit in there (please don’t bring big things, it will hinder your fun!) you can do the child swap plan except with bags.  You don’t have to have kids with you to use the child swap area, so just take turns holding your stuff.
  7. Stay hydrated.  Whatever you do, keep the water flowing.  There are plenty of restrooms and places to stop and refill.  I love to carry a bottle holder like this one so it’s easily by my side with my small stainless steel water bottle.  This makes it easy to take a sip frequently and it’s easy to handle on the rides that don’t have lockers.  Stainless steel so I can add my essential oils which help a ton!  I also love this strap that keeps the kids in a stroller from losing their cups!  Buh-rilliant.
  8. Have a “Must-Ride” list.  Before we even left home we read through the list and descriptions of rides and watched some YouTube videos.  We let each person choose one that they absolutely had to ride.  We made sure those rides got done on the first day so we didn’t miss out on them.  Now that we have been there once, it’s going to be even harder to choose because we love them all!!!
  9. Get the Express Pass.  This y’all, made such a huge difference in our time there!  This is a special pass that lets you go through a shorter line on many of the rides (not all of them though).  Because we were staying in one of the gorgeous resorts, we got Universal Express Unlimited Passes AND an extra hour early in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (This is a perk of staying onsite!).  With these passes you can use it all day that you’re staying in a resort.  If you don’t stay at a resort and instead purchase a pass it’s a little different.  Those are called Universal Express Pass which lets you use it one time per ride per day. There are some rides that don’t have Express Pass lanes.  These are: Escape from Gringotts, Hogwarts Express, Twirl ‘N Hurl, the Forbidden Journey, and Pteranodon Flyers.  But don’t worry, the lines in these rides have some really COOL stuff to look at and they keep you entertained.  Well, I’m not sure about that for the Twirl ‘N Hurl because I would never ride that…..I nearly hurl just thinking about it.  Also, if you want to speed up your wait time you can also go through the singles line.  This means you won’t be riding with your people, but filling in blank spaces with other people.  The rides that have single lines are: Escape from Gringotts, Rip Ride Rocket, Men in Black, Revenge of the Mummy, Transformers, Spider-Man, Dr Doom’s Fearfall, and the Forbidden Journey.
  10. Explore outside the parks.  There’s a great shopping, walking, eating, entertainment area right outside of the parks called City Walk.  We really enjoyed walking around there while we were at Universal and plan to go to City Walk several times on our next trip.  I love how close together it all is so there is no waiting for buses or lines.  You can just walk out and stroll around.  We ate dinner a few times at the restaurants in City Walk and the food was outstanding.  You can also walk over to the resorts and check them out, or ride the boats over.  We took some time to explore each of the resorts and that was fun!
  11. Try everything.  There are some things that are totally unique to Universal and if you don’t try them you’ll miss out!–Butterbeer – This drink is only available in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which is at the back of both parks) and you have to at least try it!  Our family had various reviews of it, but we all thought it was very interesting.  A couple of the kids were crazy about it.  You can even get Butterbeer ice cream in Diagon Alley.
    –Pumpkin Juice- We tried this too (we tried everything we could!) and it was also super yummy.
    –Fishy Green Ale- This bizarre looking green drink is interesting.  Actually, I really liked it, but it’s something you have to try for yourself.
    –Using a wand- We went to the wand shop and chose a wand (or did it choose us?) so the boys could experience the extra cool feature in both Harry Potter worlds.  There are places all around that, if you have a wand, you can do a spell.  My mom-tip for this is to go online and study how the wands work because it’s not as easy as I think it should be, especially considering it’s something children will be doing.  It took us a long time to figure out how to make the spells work.  But we will definitely return with wand in hand to do it all again!
    –Moaning Myrtle- Don’t miss a stop in the Public Conveniences in Hogsmeade to hear her moaning.  It’s hilarious.
    –Hogwarts Express- You can move between the two parks by either going out the front entrance and taking a very short walk to the other, OR by riding the train in the back of the parks.  This is an experience all in itself and we rode it several times and never did catch all of the amazing details.  I was so impressed with the train station that I made the picture my computer screen saver.  No, my screen saver is not a picture of my kids, or my puppy, or my front porch that I love, but the train station at Universal.  That’s how cool it is.Things you don't want to miss at Universal Studios! A guide for moms.
  12. Last but not least, have fun!  Just because you’re the super-mom, trip-organizer, kid-catcher, clothes-washer, wand-carrier, meal-planner and stroller-pusher doesn’t mean you can’t have a ton of fun.  Stop and do a few things you want to do.  Ride the rides, explore the parks, have a Butterbeer and relax.  I’m going to ride the Forbidden Journey like a juvenile and swing my legs and get kid-excited.  I’ll try to shoot all of the aliens on Men in Black and skip around through Seussland.  Just because you’re the grown up doesn’t mean you can’t act like a kid.  Let yourself enjoy it, even if that means swapping off with your husband for an hour to yourself to do anything you want.

A mom's guide to Universal Studios, part 1

I really can’t wait to get back to Universal in September and see it all again.  I hope you will put it on your calendar as something you must do soon!

Hop over to Part 2….things you must take with you!

How to Keep a Simple Summer Menu

How to Keep a Simple Summer Menu

summer-menu01

Do you stick to a tight schedule in the summer or do you keep it foot loose and fancy free?  Me, I’m a little of both.  When there’s a lot going on I keep it tight, carefully planning how we will manage the time away from home and still keep the house clean and food on the table.  But if we aren’t traveling or keeping appointments I’m all “Get up whenever you want and feed yourself.”  It’s those times I will lounge around like a movie star who has nothing to do but ask the servants for more ice.

Over on the Tommy Nelson blog I’ve shared my 5 Tips for Keeping a Summer Schedule.  It’s how I manage things when we have a lot going on.  Like right now, I am getting ready to be gone all next week to Utah (Young Living Convention here I come!) and I am using all of the tips from that post!  Since two of my older kids are going with me and my husband will be home with the younger boys, there’s a lot of meal planning and organizing to do.

But the week after that I am planning on doing n-o-t-h-i-n-g.  This means we will be lounging and not cleaning or cooking if I can help it.  We do have to survive though, so I have a list of staples that we keep around for those weeks when Mom needs a break and the kids just want to swim, eat, swim, repeat.  With these things in the pantry it’s super easy to put together meals with very little cleanup.

summer-menu02

Here’s what I will have on hand:
corn chips (I buy big boxes of them at Costco or Sam’s Club…actually I buy a lot of this there)
refried beans
tomato sauce
rice
almonds

elbow macaroni (including a gluten-free option)
shredded cheese (again, a huge bag)
rice or almond milk
yogurt
eggs

bread (GF bread for those who need it)
bone broth (I make it and it’s ready to eat for any snack or meal)
carrot sticks
lettuce
apples
bananas
berries

onions
popsicles (I’ve been making NingXia Red popsicles that are amazing!)
ground beef, cooked and seasoned
chicken, cooked and seasoned and cut up or shredded
hot dogs
buns
corn tortillas

I also keep the makings for my Taco Soup around so we can throw that together.  I know it’s not really soup weather, but its so easy to make and very satisfying.  We can just heat & eat it when we are hungry.

With this list of ingredients we can make: nachos, burritos, macaroni with chicken, macaroni with cheese, hot dogs, cereal, smoothies, simple salad, simple soup, chicken & rice, chicken sandwiches, sloppy joes, burgers, eggs and toast, and many other random experiments.  Now, this is assuming there are already spices and oils in the pantry.

For instance, I can shred lettuce, chop carrots and almonds to sprinkle over the lettuce, drizzle with whatever dressing we have in the fridge and it’s an easy salad.  Or mix the seasoned ground beef with a little cooked onion, tomato sauce and whatever spices we have and serve over rice (Do you have a rice steamer?  Um, you need one!).  Really, we just wing it.  As long as there’s protein and produce at every meal we’re good.

It’s not a super healthy menu, but quick and easy for the kids.  When I am not laying around ignoring my responsibilities we have a healthier menu.  But everyone loves this style of casual eating….I just lay out some things on the list, cut up some veggies or fruit and they make their own concoctions.

Oh, and don’t forget the paper plates!  That is KEY to an easy summer menu.  I keep them in the cabinet right next to the real plates so they’re easy to grab.

As for drinks, we are water all the way.  We very rarely have anything else so drinks are not on my shopping list.  But once in a while I’ll buy soft drinks to have around for a family movie night or when we have friends over.  I keep the soft drinks hidden away in the extra fridge so the kids don’t really notice them, otherwise they’d be gone before the end of the day I bought them..

Whether you have a crazy summer schedule or laid back lazy days, or like me, a little of both, getting organized will go a long way toward a smooth and enjoyable time.

Stay cool my friend!

If you have more summer menu tips, hop over to Facebook and share them with us!  We’d all love to hear!

A Little Mom Time

A Little Mom Time

Moms need breaks sometimes. If you're feeling bad about resting, it's time for you to get over that!

Well? How was your weekend?

It was pretty quiet around here.  It was supposed to be busy, but things got cancelled and changed and it turned out to be kinda slow, which was so nice.

On Saturday it was just me and my younger three boys at home, so I told them that if they got all of their chores done quickly they could have the afternoon free.  The only requirement for their free time was that at least an hour of it had to be doing something outside.

I could hear them plotting while they swept and folded the clothes.  By the time we were all done with chores they had a whole plan in motion.  Their plan included sword fights, super heroes, eating nachos and playing wii.  That was perfect for me because my plan included ignoring them for the afternoon while I caught up on my reading.  I have two books that I am in the middle of, one fiction and one non-fiction.  There are always two because sometimes I’m in the mood for educating myself and other times I’m in the mood to get swept away in a great story.  This day it was fiction.

I settled in my bedroom and read my delicious book.  When the day was over I was feeling pretty refreshed.  I mean, what’s more relaxing than a clean house and happy kids who are playing together?  Nothing, I tell you, nothing.

On Sunday we visited a new church for the second time.  The whole finding-a-church thing is so hard.  You visit one for a few weeks, realize it’s really not the right fit for you and you move on.  Sometimes it’s obvious why the place is not right for you and sometimes it’s just a sense after much prayer and discussion.  We have had several great churches in our past that we loved and loved the people, but since we moved here many years ago that connection really hasn’t happened.  We’ve attended some for years, but not had that sense of belonging.  I’m not sure why God has kept us in this dry place, but we have continued the search and are not giving up.

After we got home yesterday it was the best part of my week….Sunday nap.  I mean to tell you my Sunday nap is critical to my well being the rest of the week.  I slept for 2 hours and woke up wondering where I was.  After a second I rolled over and just laid there…oh yeah, it’s Sunday.  It’s really the only day I can just let myself wake up slowly without someone waiting for me to help them or asking me a question.  There was nothing pressing, no work to do, no kids needing me for anything.

If you’re feeling jealous over my Saturday reading and Sunday napping, hear me when I tell you that these things were impossible for me for about 20 years.  With 9 kids and homeschooling and living on a hobby farm, there’s never been much time for rest.  So this is a new season and you will get there too.  When the babies are little it seems so far away, then you blink and you’re there wishing for them to be little again.  But not too little….’cuz that nap was pretty awesome.

This week it’s gonna be me bracing myself for the oncoming heat wave.  The temps are rising steadily and are expected to be 90 by the weekend.  That’s nothin’ compared to what’s ahead, but still too hot for this A/C loving mama.

Have a great Monday and hop over to Facebook to say hello!

Smile!  It Increases Your Face Value!

Smile! It Increases Your Face Value!

(I am an Invisalign MAB member and one of my sons is receiving complimentary treatment but all opinions completely my own!)

Come on over and share your smile story!!!

Did you know what a smile can do for you and the people around you?  Here are a few fun facts about smiling:

  1. It actually improves your mood.  Studies show that the simple act of smiling sends the message to your brain that you are happy.
  2. It helps others feel better.  Like a kind word or happy song, a smile cad cheer up another person.
  3. It makes you look prettier.  There’s really nothing like a big smile to make you look your most gorgeous.
  4. It can lead to laughter….and we know what the Bible says about laughter….it’s GOOD MEDICINE!
  5. It’s a natural stress reducer.  You’d be surprised to discover how much more relaxed you can be just from smiling a few extra times a day.
  6. It boosts your immune system.  If smiling relaxes you, then it also naturally helps your body fight off germs.  The more relaxed you are, the healthier you are!
  7. It makes you look successful.  Have you ever seen a person smiling and wondered what they have going on in their life that’s so good?  It can actually make you look like you have a great life which communicates success!
  8. It puts others at ease.  Meeting someone that is frowning (like me!) can make someone uncomfortable.  Should you talk to them?  Are they worried?  Do you even want to know what’s happening in their life?!  Smiling helps other people feel more comfortable.

I definitely need to work on smiling more.  It’s one of my many weaknesses….I don’t smile enough naturally.  I can be all happy and cheerful on the inside but often no one can tell.  I am convinced that God gave me a natural frowny face as a life challenge.  I sometimes smile at myself in the mirror so I can see how much better my face looks when there’s a happy expression on it.  It may be embarrassing, but it actually helps!

When I started speaking to women’s groups a few years ago, a friend of mine told me, “You need to smile more when you speak.  It will really bless your audience.”  I knew I wasn’t super smiley, but I hadn’t really thought about how it affected the listener.  So I began to really work on it, besides looking in the mirror and practicing, I also tried to remember to smile at least twice in every conversation.  Even if I am on the phone with someone, smiling changes the mood of the discussion.

Recently I made myself a challenge….to smile for 10 seconds when I am talking with someone.  Do you know how HARD it is so smile for TEN SECONDS?!  Especially for someone like me who tends to have that airport face on all the time.  You know, the one that says, “I am not.in.the.mood to talk to you.”  I will not even realize I am doing it, so I try to remind myself of how great it feels to me when someone smiles at me and then try to give that feeling to other people.  So if you’re talking to me and I look different than usual, know that I am probably practicing my smile.  Maybe even smile back at me to help me see if it’s working.

Come see 8 reasons smiling is good for you!!!

 

I’m not insecure about my smile though, I just don’t naturally grin.  But many people are insecure about their smile.  One of my sons, for example, used to keep his lips closed when he smiled or he covered his mouth.  He was really self-conscious about his extremely crooked teeth.  Of COURSE we encourage confidence no matter how you look!  That’s so, so important!  I am also glad we were able to use the Invisalign treatment and get those gorgeous teeth straightened.

A big, confident smile can really make a difference in every area of your life.  Family relationships, work, church and community friends, even how you see yourself can all be improved with a joyful beam.  I am also amazed at how much better I feel when I am smiling.  It’s an instant happy pill….like sunshine and chocolate.  My son has found his smile and it does my mama heart good to see his face light up with confidence.

Here’s a really sweet video about how some other people found their smile too:

The folks at Invisalign are interested in your smile story!  Click HERE to see how you can not only share your story, but enter to win a “Smile Grant” for free Invisalign treatment!

Say WHAT?!  Now that should make anyone smile!

So, let’s all smile more!!  I hope you’ll head over to the Smile Grant page and share your best smile story!

If you liked this you’ll also like my Ten Reasons to Use Invisalign and 5 Tips for Helping Your Teen with Invisalign!

And for extra fun, hop over to Facebook and tell me if you know what move the title of this post came from!

Again, I am an Invisalign MAB member and one of my sons is receiving complimentary treatment.  My opinions are completely my own and I only work with companies whose products I believe in.  Click HERE to read the full disclosure statement.

Extra!  Extra! Read All About It!

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

It’s official!  For the first time in Pennington history we found every. single. Easter egg.

Not that it was easy.  No, we spent 1.75 hours finding most of them until we got down to 2 that were still missing.  Now, normally we might let it go and just not look for them.  That fact can be proved by the eggs we found that were from last year, all full of rotten candy…..gross.  I heard one of my boys daring another to eat it when I jumped in to stop the madness.  But the 2 eggs that were missing didn’t have candy in them….no.  They had money.

And no one was inclined to give up looking.

I bought some character shaped eggs that I put $5 bills in and there was one for each child (I use the term “child” loosely because 3 of my egg hunters are over 18, which basically means they wanted the money most of all).  I gave them pre-hunting instructions, “When you find your character egg, you can’t get any more, so if you find another leave it for someone who doesn’t have theirs yet.”  But after nearly 2 hours we were all on a desperate search and it was every man for himself.

Earlier in the day while we were hiding the eggs James suggested I take a picture of where I hid the money eggs.  But did I listen? Nooooo (a fact he reminded me of at least 7 times during the last hour of the hunt).  In fact, the last time he said it I replied, “You are completely right honey, I should have listened to you and next year I will definitely do whatever you say.”

“You know,” he said with a smirk, “You could just start doing whatever I say tomorrow.”

Don’t push your luck buddy.  Next year will be just fine.

When we finally found the last money eggs the kids and I sat outside while they emptied their eggs into baskets.  James went back to his normal March activities of doing people’s taxes (he’s a CPA, in case that didn’t make any sense at all) because, as he said as he walked away, “3 hours is more than enough time to spend on Easter eggs hunts for 7 people.”  Since I bought pre-filled eggs this year (except for the money eggs) there was mostly bubble gum or Now & Later in their candy piles.  I know it’s not as exciting as previous years when I’ve picked candies that each child loves most, but I was just too tired to spend 4 hours filling eggs like I did in years past.

Why so tired?  Because I am barely recovering from washing sheets last week after our house full of guests.  It took me 3 days to get it all washed and put back.  And I have a washing machine!  Can you even imagine washing everything by hand?!  I would still be out in the river beating those sheets on rocks and wouldn’t have even had time to hide any plastic eggs. 😉

After the egg hunt and cleanup from our traditional ham and scalloped potatoes meal, I crashed in my recliner and didn’t get up until bed time.  I have no shame in admitting that I went to bed at 8:30 on Easter Sunday.  Celebrations wear me out….especially when they involve crawling under bushes searching for plastic eggs that I hid in the first place and everyone is being passive aggressive saying things like, “Maybe SOMEONE ELSE should hide the eggs next year.”

The good news is that since Easter was so early this year we have a whole month with no holidays so I can get rested up before the next celebration.  And since the next “holiday” is Mother’s Day, I should get some rest with that, at least in theory.

Have a great week!

10 Things I Need to Write (hint: a pen and paper are not on the list)

10 Things I Need to Write (hint: a pen and paper are not on the list)

This post contains affiliate links.

I’m in a list kind of mood today.  I guess it’s all of the de-junking I’ve been doing lately, but I want to just get to the point.  I thought I’d make a list for you of the things that are happening WHILE I am writing.

I write every day, either for the blog or on my next book or for other publications where I am a regular contributor.  Unless I am wrapping up a book (like I am doing now) I write for 3-4 hours a day.  Here’s what it looks like.

  1. I write in my recliner in my bedroom.  I don’t have a desk.  I used to, but a kid took over that space and now all I have is a comfy leather recliner to work in.  I’m not complaining…it’s cozy and awesome.  I put a small pillow in my lap to prop my computer on and just type my little heart out.
  2. I can’t have extra noise while I work.  Some of my kids like to have music playing while they work and my husband likes Fox News quietly in the background.  But I can’t have a single sound or I can’t focus.  Silence is my friend.
  3. My kids will come to me to have their school work checked throughout the morning.  I start the day by giving them their school assignments and lessons as needed.  Then I go write while they work.  When they’re finished with each assignment they come tell me they’re finished and I will check their work.  I always stop for that no matter what kind of momentum I have going.  Sure, it slows the process, but I want these kids to be super smart so I can count on them to get good jobs so they can take care of me in my old age.
  4. I drink a lot of water.  I fill my half gallon glass jug every morning and set them on the table next to my recliner.  I sip right out of the jug all day long, just like Granny in The Beverly Hillbillies….only without the moonshine.
  5. My room has to be clean or I can’t work.  My bedroom seems to be the hardest room to keep clean because it is a dumping ground for everything we don’t know where else to put.  Books we are finished reading, papers, broken toys, etc. all get put in my room and before I write I have to clean it all up.  I’m big on making my bed first thing every morning and I will fluff the pillows and get the junk OUT before I can write.
  6. I like to be dressed, but it’s not a necessity.  I prefer to be all dressed, at least in something housey, but it doesn’t always happen.  I have been known to still have my pajamas on by dinner time….especially if I am working on a book.  Those days tend to be long and I hardly leave my bedroom.
  7. I have 3 bedroom door positions that all have purpose.
    a) All the way open which means you can come on in and ask me anything or sit and talk even if I am typing.
    b) Mostly closed with a little box propping it open just a bit.  This means I am working, but since the door is only slightly open you should only disturb me for something semi-important.  You can peek in and say something like, “We are all going outside for a while,” but not something like, “I want to tell you what I want for Christmas,” or, “Can I have some candy?”  If it’s something that can wait….it should wait until I am either not in my room working or the door is all the way open.
    c) All the way closed which means disturb only if there’s blood, fire or imminent death.
  8. My diffuser is on the table next to me and it’s always going with some kind of wake-up-my-brain essential oil in it.  I love Motivation, Envision, Peppermint, Lemon, Frankincense….really anything but lavender so I don’t fall asleep mid-sentence.
  9. I use my phone while I use my computer.  I don’t check social media or take calls while I am writing, but I will use my phone for researching or fact checking.  I use an online thesaurus and dictionary.  I do better just keeping the one window open on my computer so I use my phone for the rest of my online needs.
  10. I get up and stretch every hour.  When I am working on a book I will set an alarm to go off every hour and I will make myself stand up and either walk around the room, go outside for a few minutes or do some stretches.

It’s a pretty sweet life I have.  I’ve got my homeschoolers spending gobs of time with me, my husband around, my older kids doing their thing while I watch with awe and admiration…..and my comfy recliner to work in.  And air-conditioning, which, in case I didn’t mention, is my bestie all summer long.

The deadline for my next book is looming and I will be closing the door more than usual until it’s done.

Life Lessons and Invisalign

Life Lessons and Invisalign

(I am an Invisalign MAB member and one of my sons is receiving complimentary treatment but all opinions completely my own!)

Great lessons from a mom with TWO teens who use Invisalign #spon

This week we’ve been cleaning out bedroom drawers and finding old pictures of the kids.  My son Noah found one of himself from before he started using Invisalign and couldn’t believe the difference in his smile!

I know he was self-conscience about it before, but it’s been a while and we have all forgotten.  He stood and stared at the picture.  I asked him what he was thinking and he said, “I just can’t believe how different I looked.  I am thinking how glad I am that we were able to get my teeth straightened.”

Me too.  Of course I thought he was gorgeous before, but his confidence has soared since his smile has changed and that makes Mama happy too.

We want our kids to know how amazing they are no matter what they look like, right?  I hope that my children know without a shadow of a doubt that they have everything they need to reach their dreams.  Perfection is unattainable and we can’t let Hollywood dictate our idea of beautiful.  I hope my kids place less value in the perfect LOOK of their teeth and more value in their overall health.  But it’s hard to deny that they do feel more comfortable after we have straightened out some of the crookedness.

It really is about so much more than looks.  It’s about oral health which leads to overall health.  Noah’s teeth are so much easier to clean and he takes pride in them more than he used to.  He has learned some hard lessons through this process including the value of a dollar.  It’s been such a great experience for him.  His younger brother Adam is also in Invisalign treatment and while he’s been doing it for a shorter period of time and we haven’t seen as many physical changes in his appearance yet, he has also learned some great life lessons from using the aligners.

Both boys are involved in the planning of how we pay for the treatment and the sacrifice our family makes.  They know exactly what they cost and how we make that work within our budget.  Another lesson for them has been in how they represent themselves with the orthodontist.  They have been embarrassed when the doctor could tell they had not been wearing their rubber bands like he instructed, or not brushed as well as they should and they didn’t want to feel that way again.

On our last visit they got to look at the computer graphic of their teeth and saw just how much their teeth had changed and how much more they will shift.  It encouraged them both to keep wearing their aligners in the way the ortho tells them and not to be lazy about it.

The teen is getting more and more confident as he gets his teeth straightened! #spon

 

They have learned responsibility as they have had to put their aligners in a safe place while eating and remember to change them on their appointed day each week.  That took a little time to get used to in the beginning, but now they both do great with the management of the process.

I can imagine conversations years from now when they talk about how much they learned during this time of growing up and how much the opportunity to use Invisalign affected them.

I’d really encourage you to look into Invisalign for your orthontic needs.  While I am a MAB member and have received complimentary treatment, I am free to say whatever I truly think about the process and we have been nothing but thrilled.  (and Adam is not part of my MAB membership….we pay for his on our own!)

Check out my Ten Reasons to Use Invisalign

Again, I am an Invisalign MAB member and one of my sons is receiving complimentary treatment.  My opinions are completely my own and I only work with companies whose products I believe in.  Click HERE to read the full disclosure statement.