July 24, 2014

AdvoCare and Other Updates

I'm still here! I have lots of things in my head that I want to blog about but I've been busy getting things ready for us to start school soon! I've been getting our playroom organized and cleaned out with school in mind, and I'm loving how it's turning out! I'll share pictures soon - it's still a little bit in disarray but almost done. I've also created a new little playroom for Lynley! There's an extra laundry room upstairs (???) and we weren't using it at ALL. Then it dawned on me that it would be the perfect space for Lynley while we do school nearby. I can't wait to show pictures - I'm finishing up some canvas art and then I'll take pictures! It's been great because I've been able to move all of the baby toys out of the main playroom so it feels so much less cluttered. I have a baby gate on the door of Lynley's new little playroom and she LOVES it! :)

I'm knee deep in organizing things with our curriculum. I'm using My Father's World and I'm SO excited about it! I've gotten into the zone and have really been studying what I think will work for us. Of course there's no way to know until you really get into it, but I'm in a wonderful group on Facebook and we are all comparing notes and sharing organizational files and more. I'm getting things printed and put in the different folders of our units. The theme for Kindergarten is God's Creation A-Z, so each week we will focus on a different letter and element of God's creation. It's really cute and I think it will be a great way to start our homeschooling experience! I think our start date will be August 11, since Kurt has some time off and we will be able to really focus on it.

I'm uploading pictures of Liam's birthday, the Fourth of July, and other things we've been up to. I also realized I never did a recap of my NYC trip with Carrie to visit SD and her family. We did some fun things so I want to share!

24 Day Challenge update - I am on day 15 and I'm down 5 pounds and 6 inches overall!! Note: that's NOT 6 inches off my waist - it's all over measurements. I've lost about 2 inches from my waist, 2 inches from my hips and 2 inches from my thighs! I feel great and am in the "max" phase now - the supplements are AMAZING in helping with appetite control and overall energy. It's amazing how little I'm craving things - that's because you really do reset your tastebuds and create new habits. I'm drinking a ton of water and still LOVE Spark! I've never experienced anything like this, in the sense that I am SEEING results and I'm feeling so encouraged about where I am. I can see an overall change in lifestyle happening, which I didn't think I had the willpower to do. The way I describe it: I'm now making it a rare EXCEPTION to eat something on the unhealthy side of the spectrum and have anything to drink other than water. It used to be that it was rare exception for me to eat something healthy and drink water. It's just switching what your "norm" is and what your "exceptions to the rules" are. I definitely plan on continuing after the 24 days with Spark and MNS packs (those are the supplements that I'm taking now during the max phase). I want to continue strong until I'm at my goal - and to be honest, I don't even know what that goal IS, in the sense that I don't have a number on the scale in mind. It's just an overall look and feeling I desire, and when I'm there I think I'll know. I actually love that I don't have a number to reach - it makes the journey more enjoyable because I'm not a slave to the scale. I didn't think I would ever be that person with a "weight loss story," and I've only lost 5 pounds, but that's 5 POUNDS. Every inch and every pound lost is a VICTORY over your old habits and mindset, and I literally celebrate every single one!

I'll be back soon with pictures and more updates!

July 17, 2014

24 Day Challenge - 8 Days In!

So I'm 8 days into the AdvoCare 24 Day Challenge and I'm feeling GREAT! I don't really know how to organize my thoughts so I'll just start typing them out. :) 

The Cleanse Phase is 10 days, so I'm almost done with it. I've heard that people have a MAJOR hard time with the total change in diet and that they struggle in the Cleanse Phase. Personally, it hasn't been bad for me. My eating habits weren't absolutely horrible before I started. My problems were drinking too much Diet Green Tea and Crystal Light (like 4-5 bottles a day), snacking (especially late at night - and I just wouldn't keep track of portions), and not making conscious choices overall. I wasn't necessarily making HORRIBLE choices (like I wasn't eating fast food everyday, hardly ate anything fried, didn't do hardly any dairy, etc.) but I just wasn't conscious at all. So for me, the biggest change was when I went grocery shopping (more on that in a minute) and changing things like snacking. 

During the Cleanse I there are 6 days total that you take a Fiber Drink in the morning. It is HORRIBLE. Some people are weird and say they don't mind it, but overall most people struggle to get it down. The very first day I tried it with water and got it down, but it was so rough. I've taken it with orange juice since then, and even though OJ has sugar in it (and they recommend that you take it with water), I considered it a trade-off that at least it was getting in my body - ha! So I only have 2 more mornings of the Fiber Drink then that's done! 

I am down 3 pounds! This is water weight/bloat, but any change on the scale is encouraging! I've also lost 2 inches off my waist! Overall I just FEEL better. It's hard to explain, but I just feel lighter. A big surprise: I haven't been craving processed or unhealthy foods at all. I was REALLY surprised by that, because during the fast that I did in January, I had a really, really hard time overall. I honestly think that there were huge spiritual issues at play there, and Kurt pointed out that during a fast, some sort of deprivation is involved (that's the whole point - it drives you toward a really intense dependence on God and it turns your focus totally on Him). With the Challenge, you're setting a LIFESTYLE change in motion. It wouldn't be sustainable to live a life of deprivation, and I don't feel deprived at ALL. Part of the reason is because (don't kill me, AdvoCare people) I've allowed myself about a bite a day of a splurge. For instance, before I ordered the Challenge, I had pre-ordered some Krispy Kreme doughnuts from a girl in our church who was doing a fundraiser. Instead of taking the whole 2 dozen home, we took them to church for our Lifegroup class breakfast and I reserved one for myself. I ate half in the morning and half in the evening. Is that Challenge-approved? No, but I'm creating a lifestyle for myself and I know my tendencies. If I didn't have a single taste of ANYTHING, I would sit down after the Challenge and binge on sweets, salty crackers, etc. Of course part of that is a discipline issue on my part, but in reality I'm GOING to have a taste of something indulgent now and then. What's amazing is that even when I've allowed myself a taste of something, that's always enough. I have NO desire to eat a ton of it. It's true that you really can reset your taste buds and retrain your stomach. I am PROOF! 

I went to the grocery store yesterday and got fat free cheese, organic turkey breast, brown rice pasta (to be used sparingly), ground turkey, protein bars and healthy popcorn for snacking. It was AMAZING to walk through that grocery store and to have zero desire to buy unhealthy things. It was bizarre, actually. I shopped from the perimeter of the store and I felt so motivated by the choices I was making. It was amazing feeling and it's something I didn't expect. 

As far as what I'm eating, we're still grilling chicken and vegetables. Last night we did organic marinara sauce, ground turkey and brown rice pasta (I don't think that's technically allowed during the Cleanse phase, but it's almost over and I had a very small portion - I also took AdvoCare "Carb-Ease" beforehand to help). I'm eating a lot of salad and I'm snacking on healthy popcorn and protein bars. I've also been eating a ton more fruit. I'm drinking water like crazy! 

Spark has been awesome! I drink it usually 2 times a day (the max you can have it is 3 times a day) and I have so much energy and clarity. I'm not lying - I've been so productive! This is also attributed to my change in diet for sure, but Spark has been great! I've ordered more flavors to try because I love it so much (Fruit Punch, Watermelon and Cherry are my favorites!). 

I've exercised a couple of times, which is honestly more than I've done in a year. I did the 30 Day Shred and also walked on the treadmill on a major incline with weights. A secret I've found is to listen to audiobooks and podcasts! It makes a huge difference and I look forward to exercising so I can continue in the story. Another thing I've done is while I'm watching TV, I'll do the exercises I learned in the 30 Day Shred during the show I'm watching. 

I was texting with my coach Danielle and told her that it IS kind of a mental hurdle to jump over, hoping that all of the discipline and hard work will pay off. But I've already seen results and like I said, it's a healthy way to lose weight - steadily and by making the right lifestyle choices. I'm excited to see what other changes happen! 

If you're interested in AdvoCare or the 24 Day Challenge, you can look at my website here!

July 15, 2014

Favorite Things - July Edition!

Once again, Erika and I are teaming up to share our favorite things for the month! I always love reading her list, so be sure to go and take a look! ;)

Garnet Hill Asian Wrap Pajamas

Instead of sleeping in pajama pants and tshirts every single night, lately I've been wanting to find more cute pairs of actual pajamas! I get the Garnet Hill catalog and came across their Asian Wrap Pajamas and saw all of the great reviews. They were running a sale and I decided to try them out….AND LOVED THEM! I have two patterns and they fit great! So comfy! And they're on sale again right now for $34!!

Vintage Movie Prints

I'm still working up a whole separate post about decorating with a few thoughts and ideas, but one concept I always use when I decorate is that you should have things in your home that make you smile and represent who you are, no matter how trivial it might seem. One way I love to do that is through art! I actually don't have a ton of usable wall space in my house for large art (we have more open spaces and the wall space we have is more suited for smaller prints), but one thing I love to do is to look for unexpected places to hang fun things. I just ordered four poster prints of my very favorite movies: White Christmas, Happiest Millionaire, The Court Jester and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I know, I should've included You've Got Mail but I stuck with older ones! I got them on eBay and will have them framed inexpensively at Hobby Lobby. And guess where I'm hanging them? My laundry room!! If I'm going to be in there doing laundry, I want to see things that make me smile! :)

I also got vintage Disney reprints of popular Disneyland attractions in the 1950s for Liam's room and I'm going to use more of them in the playroom area. eBay has it going on for art!


Okay, so this isn't a THING, but it is seriously my FAVORITE NOW!! I need to do a whole post about this, too - ha! Of course my favorite YouTube channels are about Disney World, but I've also loved hunting down vintage programs I used to watch when I was little so I can show them to my kids. That's probably one of my very favorite things about being a parent. . .doing things all over again. :) I wish I had really discovered how much is on YouTube a long time ago!

Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson

I'm still working through this amazing book, and it's really getting me in the right mindset before we start homeschooling NEXT MONTH!! I can't believe it's here and I am so excited for this journey. I've definitely had my fair share of panic moments (mainly just being worried that I'm not organized enough. . .which is true. . .), but I have such a peace in my heart that this is the right decision for us and that we are doing EXACTLY what we need to be doing. That's a great feeling, and I'm so thankful. We are using My Father's World curriculum and I have all of the units separated into folders along with the corresponding main books for that unit (I might have shown this picture before, but here it is again!).

I've also been collecting little things as I see them that will enhance our different units. For instance, we were at Cracker Barrel the other day and I found some things that we will use for our Dinosaur and Rock units!

I also bought a new table for our playroom that's larger so we will have enough space for doing worksheets, crafts, etc. Things are coming together!

Happy July!

July 10, 2014

Day 1 - 24 Day Challenge

I'm not sure I'll blog everyday on the Challenge (because a lot of the days are just repeats of the same pill/drink schedule), but I did want to share my experience on the first day!

Yesterday when I was prepping all of my bags, I decided to try a Spark drink just so I knew what it would taste like. I tried Fruit Punch and loved it! It has kind of a "muted" sweet taste (reminded me of Gatorade) but a great flavor. So that was all I knew going in!

I woke up and within 5 minutes had my first Spark (Fruit Punch) and 3 Catalyst pills. I set my timer for 30 minutes (you're supposed to do Spark and Catalyst - which is optional - 30 minutes before breakfast). 

I knew I had to take the infamous Fiber Drink at breakfast, and yes - it was bad. There's talk all over the internet of this fiber drink and it did live up to the (yucky) hype. I was really proud of myself, though - I followed the directions exactly and mixed it, then IMMEDIATELY chugged it (if you let it sit at all it becomes gloppy and super thick). I did gag several times but I DID it. The whole time I was thinking "You can do this!! You are losing inches!" :) After the fiber drink I drank a lot of water to flush it through, then I prepared my chocolate breakfast shake. That was such a welcome treat after the sawdust fiber! It's important to know that you only do the fiber drink a total of 6 times (I think?) during the 24 days - days 1-3 and then again on days 8-10. I think anyone would agree that it won't necessarily make or break your results if you aren't able to do the entire fiber drink, but I REALLY want to do this the right way and I want to see results. 

I had a snack of scrambled eggs cooked with cooking spray (no milk or cheese added) and then realized I don't know if that's technically a "snack" food - but it's still healthy and I'm giving myself grace. :) 

30 minutes before lunch I tried the Pink Lemonade Spark and honestly, I like the Fruit Punch a lot better. I'll still drink the Lemonade for sure (it's not gross by ANY means!), but I just prefer the Fruit Punch. And I also realized that I'm going to want Spark a couple of times a day, so I went ahead and ordered a canister of the Fruit Punch. I also ordered more Catalyst since I know I'll want to take about 6 per day. I'm already appreciating my 20% discount! :)

For lunch I fixed a spinach salad with grilled chicken and Light Italian dressing (I know technically I should have used a vinaigrette but baby steps!). I don't know why I haven't fixed myself salads more often - I really love spinach salads and it's a healthy choice! I drank water of course!

For a mid-afternoon snack I made some roasted chickpeas sprinkled with a little parmesan and garlic powder. DELICIOUS!!!!

For dinner Kurt grilled chicken and asparagus. It was SO delicious and we didn't even have a "carb." We usually have healthy dinners, but sometimes I get carried away with eating too much of a carb side (my worst habit is snacking, though). So this wasn't a major change but I was surprised how satisfied I was without rice or potatoes! I also took my OmegaPlex (included in the Challenge).

I had Bible study and got a large Sonic water with lemon on the way. It tasted so good, and I can already tell that drinking a ton of water is just a habit you get into. When I got home, I snacked on a few more chickpeas and then tried the Key Lime Cherry Rehydrate drink. It was very good and it was nice to have a little flavor (since my last Spark was earlier in the day).

I'll take my Herbal Cleanse pills right before bed and Day 1 will be complete! YAY!

It surprised me today that I never felt hungry. I think the supplements and drinking a ton of water really help with that! I've already had a friend decide to join me and start her own Challenge! Click here to take a look at the different options! :)

Starting the AdvoCare 24 Day Challenge!

Well, I took the plunge! After literally years of hearing/seeing/reading about AdvoCare, I decided to give it a try! Every single person that has talked about these products are people I trust, and my friend Danielle was the person who really first introduced me to AdvoCare in detail. She and her husband have just become AdvoCare distributors full time and she is such an encouragement of what great health looks like (physically AND spiritually!). She recently wrote a blog post about starting the 24 Day Challenge and something inside of me just clicked.

If I'm being completely honest, I am not at ALL happy with the way I look right now. I think I hide my weight fairly well (remember how I love tunic tops and dresses?), but I'm the heaviest I've ever been and it's very uncomfortable for me to be this transparent about it. And if I'm being REALLY transparent, I think my goal is more "weight" centered right now. I wish I could say "I don't care about inches lost, I only care about health and wellness." OF COURSE I care about health and wellness, but my motivation is definitely to lose inches and be my best self. I wouldn't be honest if I said otherwise.

I've done a lot of research about AdvoCare and specifically the 24 Day Challenge. I feel like it's really important to prepare if you're going to do this. I've watched a ton of YouTube videos, read other people's experiences and found a lot of different tips and recipes. I can truthfully say that I've never been so excited about the potential I know I have. I'm the type of person who REALLY needs an organized system in place, and that's one of the major things that drew me to AdvoCare. Everything is laid out for you, and you just follow the system. The average results for the Challenge are losing 10 pounds, 12 inches, and 4% body fat. I really like their focus on inches instead of pounds because muscle weighs more than fat, and you might not see the scale move a tremendous amount, but I have read COUNTLESS blog posts about inches lost. I can't wait to give it a try! Here is the official 24 Day Challenge website.

The Challenge is 2 phases: Cleanse Phase and Max Phase. You get everything you need when you order a Challenge, but I added in a couple of things. Here's the list of what I ordered (keep in mind I got to choose my flavors of everything):

INCLUDED in 24 Day Challenge:
-Fruit Punch SPARK (like an energy drink; it's an AdvoCare signature thing)
-Pink Lemonade SPARK
-Chocolate Meal Replacement Shakes
-MNS C packs (these are all the pills you take during the Max Phase - there are different types to choose from)

-Extra box of Meal Replacement Shakes (you only get 14 per box, and some people just use them during the Max Phase, but I wanted to use them the whole time)
-Key Lime Cherry REHYDRATE (Electrolyte drink)

One thing I had researched was how it's helpful to organize and do a little prep work. I got 24 baggies and labeled each one. Then I followed my guide that was included and put all the pills I will use per day, plus a packet of SPARK. I didn't include the Shakes because the packet was too big, but they're handy!

The guide takes you day by day and also includes space to journal physical activity and water intake (VERY important):

A closer look at Day 1, as an example. 

 So my Day 1 bag looks like this:

I already had a shaker bottle and I ordered a set of mini whisks from Amazon (I had wanted some for cooking anyway and these will come in handy when mixing my drinks.

 All 24 days!

All set and ready to go!

When I shared on Instagram and Facebook that I was starting the 24 Day Challenge, a lot of people commented that they've always wondered about it and that they would love to try it. I'm the type of person that researches something like crazy, then once I'm in, I'm all in. That's how I am with AdvoCare! I chose to sign up as a Distributor so that I can get a 20% discount on my products. I really do feel that strongly about it! And that was me signing up basically "sight unseen!" But I have confidence in the process as I've watched MANY people I know have great success! If you'd like to join me in trying out the 24 Day Challenge, click here to shop! You can customize your own Challenge, which I LOVE (I'm picky about flavors, etc. so it's nice to know that you have control over all of that). There is also a 24 Day Challenge app where you track your inches, among other things.

One of the best things I read is that with AdvoCare, the results are up to you. That sounds obvious, but I feel like with other programs there can be this pressure and almost militant attitude where you're almost frightened into the whole thing. I love that with AdvoCare you're simply committing to giving it a TRY. Trying supplements and eating cleaner than you have been. Throwing in some exercise. It's a START. I simply needed the tools to START.

Even if you're just curious and want to see what it's all about, look at my website to browse. I've never felt ANY pressure to try AdvoCare from anyone, which is what drew me in. I was able to casually check things out from a distance until I was ready. And I am 100% ready! I'm ready to make a change for myself and to feel better about my body. You can definitely lose weight without AdvoCare, no question. But in my research I've really noticed that people have said what a DIFFERENCE the products make in aiding you with your goals. So I'm giving it a go and I can't wait!

Here we go!

July 5, 2014

When You Don't Want to Go To Disney World

So not everyone likes Disney. The movies, the "culture," the theme parks. . .or maybe they're okay with the movies and are totally fine with their kids being obsessed with "Let It Go," but the thought of going to Walt Disney World makes them want to run, hide, cry, or all of the above.

Recently, I came across an article where a mom wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to her kids, telling them they aren't ever going to Disney World. Period. Granted, with those types of articles you never know how much is really serious (when the tone is that sarcastic). One of the analogies the author used was that she would "rather do a shot of Windex" than bunk with her kids in a hotel room (she also cited more Disney-specific complaints like waiting in long lines).

As you can imagine, the comments started hurling back and forth and people were LIVID that someone would be so snarky about Disney World. And I admit, I was kind of irritated at the tone of the article, because I felt like her complaints had more to do with personal issues than Disney itself, and I kind of felt like she insinuated that any of us who succumb to this "craziness" are total suckers. Again, I know it was written mostly for humor, but I just don't care for rudeness/sarcasm pervading an entire article like that. I did laugh at some of the wording and analogies she used - she's very witty and I know a lot of people related to what she was writing. In fact, I talked with a few friends about it because I know several moms who have ZERO desire to go and are kind of dreading it (but they know they want to give that experience to their kids - which I think is so sweet!).

My response? First, I sported my Small World tshirt and matching phone case for the principle of the thing. :)

There are a LOT of people who absolutely love Disney and we AREN'T crazy or creepily stuck in our childhoods! :) For me personally, I've shared before that my earliest memories are at Disney World because we lived in Orlando. We knew a ton of people that worked there and they would sign us in, so we were there a LOT. My mom also loved Disney, so we were raised with the movies and music. It's REALLY sentimental and special to me for a lot of reasons. But I do recognize that's not the case for everyone, and some people just aren't into the whole Disney thing. And that's totally fine!! Clearly a happy childhood is NOT defined by things like going to Disney World! But I DO think that it's an opportunity to make really special memories as a family.

So next I got to thinking. . .what would I tell people that don't like Disney and don't really want to go, but are considering taking their kids anyway? Kurt and I actually talked about it (yes, we discuss things like this), and since we've done Disney with kids several times now, I wanted to share what we came up with!

TIMING, TIMING, TIMING. I'm going to break this down into two categories, but TIMING IS EVERYTHING with Disney! This applies to the time of year you go, and also the ages of your kids!

Choose the right time to go! Kurt's only point of reference for Disney were memories of temps being hotter than you-know-where and waiting in 3 hour lines. They went a couple of times during his childhood and went during the summer (and of course this was before FastPass, etc.!). Disney has evolved so much over the years, but one thing that hasn't changed is Orlando weather. I highly, HIGHLY recommend going during the late fall and winter months!! August and September are also considered low season, but the weather is still really hot and it's also hurricane season. I know people who have had really successful vacations during those months, but we definitely prioritize cooler temperatures!! I've said many times that your first line of defense against crowds and heat is to go during a lower season. We've always had really good experiences in January and February (but we always try to avoid Marathon weekend and MLK weekend if we can because there's kind of an influx of people). I use the EasyWDW website to figure out when to go. Josh does an incredible job of putting these calendars together!

Choose the right ages for your kids. The very youngest age I would take my own kids would be around 2 years old (Lynley will be 20 months when we go next time). However, if you don't foresee yourself doing Disney more than once, or if you know you'll only go maybe twice, WAIT. I think you get the most out of Disney at two different times: when your kids are old enough to be sort of self-sufficient but still love the magical part of Disney (about 4-6ish years old) and then when they're old enough to enjoy the "thrills" or more mature rides/experiences (depending on height, maybe 9-12 years old?). I personally think the 4-7 year age bracket is the best because you get the most out of what Disney is offering ("magic," characters, traditional dark rides, they're still probably into "pretending" etc.). If you're going only once, make sure your kids are no younger than 4 years old. You want them to remember!

Any behavioral problems you have at home will be magnified at Disney World, so work on that first. This is a big one. I noticed in the article I mentioned earlier, the author kept referencing the stress of traveling with kids, them whining about souvenirs, saying it was "paying to be tortured," etc. I totally  understand that traveling with kids can be STRESSFUL. It just has really overwhelming moments. However, here's an example: If you KNOW your kids struggle with restaurants - like they make you want to pull your hair out right now - either put off your Disney trip or just understand that you can't do any sit-down Table Service or Character meals. If you're okay with doing quick Counter Service (fast food) meals the whole time, you're probably in good shape! Otherwise just wait until that's a skill you feel like you've mastered at home. Do your kids have major problems with obeying and consistently throw tantrums all the time? If you're in a difficult stage at home, DO NOT think that it will just go away at Disney World. In fact, it will be magnified in a major way because Disney CAN be overload for most kids. Unless you pace yourself and really watch your kids' cues, they WILL melt down. How do your kids respond when you're in Target and you pass the toy aisle? Do they whine, cry and sass when they don't get to take home a toy? Disney will be like that on steroids. Stuff is everywhere, and with the right strategy in place, it is COMPLETELY doable! But you have to take into account that you'll need to train your kids at home FIRST. Again, if you're in a difficult behavioral phase, wait until it's easier at home and it will be easier at Disney. Like I said above, age is such an important factor here.  Do your homework and prepare them at home.

Identify what you're stressed about and find the solutions. Is it money? Being overwhelmed with planning? Crowds? Long lines? Believe it or not, all of these fears and stressors have solutions. For example, if money is a concern, start reading blogs like Couponing to Disney or use Pinterest to find articles about the MANY ways people save for their Disney trips. You can also save money by going during Value Season and staying at a Value resort or even off Disney property (I've found that very often it IS cheaper to stay at a Disney resort, though!). Consider going when Disney offers Free Dining, and also consider bringing your own food for breakfast and snacks. Buy Dollar Store souvenirs that you can surprise your kids with at the end of each day (instead of spending on souvenirs in the parks). Break down what is worrying you and seek out ways to minimize the stress. Most of the time it's not Disney itself that's the "enemy" - it's the variables that can be overwhelming and make you want to run, and you can tackle them.

Disney WANTS to give you a great experience! Really, they do! Do they want you to spend money there? Of course. It would be stupid to think otherwise. Disney is a business. Businesses want to make money. Kurt and I have never ONCE complained about the costs at Disney because their excellence and customer service is unparalleled. Seriously, it's amazing. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Have we had uncharacteristic moments there? Of course. No vacation or company is perfect! But the overarching theme at Disney is excellence. They are always responding to what families want. From easy planning tools online, to being able to schedule things in advance, to the free transportation and the millions of little "touches" they add, we truly believe that Disney wants you to have a wonderful time with your family. Take advantage of all that they offer and enjoy the excellence!

Your attitude is EVERYTHING. Don't view Disney as the Big Bad Wolf that wants to take your money and eat your wallet for lunch. Don't complain about how they're the Corporate Bad Guy and anyone who drinks the Magical Kool-Aid is dumb. No one denies that it can be expensive to take a Disney trip, and it's definitely an investment - I'm not making light of that at all! It's just about your attitude. When you're there in the parks and spending time with your family, your attitude COMPLETELY sets the tone. A trip or so ago, I had a really weird "off" day where our schedule wasn't going right and it was hard to navigate. I regret how I acted that day, because it's unlike me to not fully enjoy Disney, and my irritation was rubbing off on everyone. Focus on the memories being made, and remember the whole reason your came. Even if YOU don't like Disney World, you probably decided to make the trip anyway for the sake of your kids. So focus on their excitement and enjoyment! See it from their eyes and don't be the snarky "Disney is dumb" person. If you roll your eyes at every adult wearing Mickey ears or families wearing matching shirts, you will wear yourself out and be miserable because you will see that EVERYWHERE! People are just acting like kids again. Embrace it! If crowds are starting to get to you, go back to your hotel for a break. Just keep a positive attitude!

Look at other options in Orlando to break up your trip. There's Legoland, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and more! Split up your trip so that you're able to see Harry Potter and ride all the thrill rides at Universal, if that's your thing. Or spend a day at one of the Disney water parks! If you think 5 days straight of Disney will make you fall down a black hole, you have other options!

Utilize the help of friends, the internet, and Disney travel agents! If you don't enjoy Disney or the planning process, BELIEVE ME - there are tons of people who do! :) Ask advice from friends who have recently been, look at Pinterest to read tips and find blogs (like this one!) that highlight what other families have done. Or, if you really don't want to hear/read anything about it (like the author of the article-ha!), there are Disney planners that will help you with everything. Their services are FREE. You really can be hands-off if you want to be, but honestly I think that when you're invested in the planning stage, you can appreciate the payoff. When you booked the Princess meal for your daughter and she squeals with excitement when Cinderella comes in, it's a great feeling. Is it eternal, life-changing stuff? No. But it's just a really happy and satisfying feeling when you know you've helped create a lifelong memory. There is so much out there and so many people who truly enjoy it - utilize all of it!

If you really, REALLY don't want to go to Disney World - don't. No one is making you, and like I said - a rich, happy childhood isn't defined by how many visits to the Magic Kingdom you make. It's a personal choice! We're Disney people, and we will continue going year after year, because every single experience is different and fun. But your family might be "beach people" or "skiing people" or "mountains people." Or you might be "local water park people" or "we stay home people." However you choose to spend time with your family is up to you!

But REALLY consider giving Disney a chance! People make fun of the hyperbole that can surround a Disney vacation, but in all honesty, for a lot of people it really does live up to the hype. It's all in how you look at it, and making wise decisions along the way!

I encourage you to watch these videos on YouTube, then go have a really magical time at Walt Disney World - and have a shot of Windex on me! :)

July 4, 2014

Ashley Talks About: Marriage

One of the most important things I feel like I'm always learning about is marriage. It's a pretty big thing when you make vows before God and commit your lives to each other. YOUR LIVES. It's amazing to create a life with one person; out of the entirety of humanity, God has led you to this ONE person! I want to say upfront that these are things that I've learned over the course of 7 wonderful years of marriage. I don't consider myself extra knowledgeable about this or in a position to ever sound like I know more than the average person, but I think there's a need for more discussions about what Christian marriage looks like (more on that in a minute).

If you're single and marriage is on your heart, keep trusting that God's timing is PERFECT. When you focus on being the person you need to be and trust God with your life, He will lead you and guide you in where you need to be, whether that be marriage or a longer season of singleness. If you're single and have no desire get married, that's okay too. Marriage is not the end-all be-all. Your relationship with Jesus is. If you're in a marriage and struggling, I encourage you to find a Christian counselor or pastor that you can talk to. Also find a church that truly teaches the Word and get involved in a Lifegroup or Sunday School class together. If you're alone as the only Believer in your marriage, most of all PRAY. Focus on YOUR behavior and responses and simply pray for your spouse. Pour out your heart to God. He is your source of strength and wisdom, and He will fill those empty spaces you feel. Trust Him with how to handle your specific situation.

Marriage is something that I'm really passionate about, in the sense that I want to have the sort of marriage that's dynamic and noticeably "different." Not in a showy or boastful way, just a difference in how we interact and do life together. I know several couples that when I'm around them I am just drawn to them both as individuals AND as a couple, which is really neat!

So here are some things about marriage!

-Spiritual foundation is everything!! Kurt challenges me! He has developed such a ministry mindset to pursue couples that aren't in a Lifegroup (he teaches a Lifegroup for couples). This is more challenging for me. I really struggle with opening my home to people I don't know well (I'm a huge introvert) and initiating conversations, and he pushes me to be better. He has read the Bible in its entirety around 7-8 times. He is an excellent teacher of Scripture and is able to craft an intelligent and Biblically-based argument for tough questions. This isn't marriage-specific, but Kurt leads our family each night in bible time. Praying together and having the same vision for our family is everything!

-We often give "experiences" as gifts. Travel, touring historic homes, museums, fine dining, cooking classes, ballroom dancing, theater tickets, or an overnight stay. The gift of a memory is the BEST! And we don't accumulate "stuff" as much!

-Getting away for dates and travel are a BIG priority for us. Starting with our first year of marriage, we've traveled together to Asheville, North Carolina, Disney World (twice alone as a couple), Natchez, Mississippi, Memphis, Chicago, Boston, St. Louis (quick trips since it's so close - MUNY, Cheshire Hotel, cooking classes, theater, dining). I usually plan the trips and plan our dining and touring, but we always allow for sleeping in and having a relaxed pace. We actually don't do weekly date nights (we would love to, but Kurt's schedule can be hard), but we do lots of quick little trips. Some people do a really long once-a-year vacation and others do weekly dates….we fall in the middle! A note about babysitting: If you can't find a trusted babysitter or can't afford one, consider going to visit your parents or your husband's parents (or any family) and plan your dates where THEY live. Kurt and I do this often with his parents. They live in north Mississippi and we have gone for the day to Tupelo, Graceland, etc.

-Having separate time is just as important as time together. Each night we have some time separately. I'll read, work on computer, watch TV and he will watch his own TV, read, study, etc. We ALWAYS have time together each night but we also give each other time apart, which works for us.

-Focusing on marriage when your husband is away. Kurt has a lot of 24-hour calls away from home and he has also done mission trips. I've committed to use this time to read marriage books, think of ways to be a better wife and come up with ways I can improve in helping him and loving him. It gets me in a great mindset for when he comes home - absence makes the heart grow fonder!

-Making physical aspect a priority. This can be VERY DIFFICULT with kids, and it is always a work in progress. View it as an escape into a zone that's not parent-centered and not "one more thing." The first years of our marriage were extremely physically and mentally taxing on Kurt because of residency, so we have the reverse situation of what is "normal" - we're just now entering into a season like the beginning of a marriage would normally be. Talking about the physical aspect of marriage with girlfriends (in a positive and encouraging way) gets your mindset in a good place - we're all going through different seasons but hearing that your friends are committed to their marriages (and having the grown up version of girl talk) helps encourage. Get ideas from your friends - compare notes and it gets your mind focused on your husband. I've also learned that you CANNOT compare yourself or your marriage to other couples. Everyone is in a different chapter and it's important to remember that every marriage is different!

-Surround yourself with friends that LOVE their husbands and are committed to making their marriages work. Sure, laugh together at funny things your husbands do, but my friends and I NEVER criticize our husbands or tear them down. NEVER.

-Figure out (alone) what would speak "love" to you. What makes you feel cherished and special? What words minister to you and what words irritate you? What sort of gifts would mean the most, and which gifts just aren't your thing? For instance, I love the theater, going to the spa, having an overnight stay somewhere, or shopping together as a gift, but I'm NOT a jewelry person (with a few exceptions - ha!) and anything "public" (anything calling attention to me) would embarrass me horribly. I don't like gag gifts or jokes - it just means a lot to me when I know Kurt has really thought about me. The point is, figure out these things about yourself (and ask your husband to do the same) and then exchange your thoughts/lists. I've seen the same thing suggested for the physical aspect of your relationship. It might be easier to communicate what your needs/desires are if you have made a list and thought it through. Learn YOURSELF so you can share the results with your husband and it helps them speak love to you. Your spouse is not a mind-reader!

-Realize you're on the same team. Sometimes I'll even say the words "Same team" in a conversation, not as a condescending statement to Kurt, but to remind myself that we're working toward the same goals. Satan's favorite lie is to make you believe that your husband doesn't "get" you and you're alone in this whole thing called life and that someone else would understand you so much better. Sometimes there are situations where you are married to someone who isn't a believer and they aren't going to have the same goals and worldview as you do, and if that's the case then pray for wisdom in how to handle that. Focus on being who God is calling YOU to be. Don't pray for your husband to change - pray for YOU to change. Pray for God to give you a fresh perspective and see your husband in a new way. You are a TEAM and you are working to create an amazing marriage!

-Dream together. Some of the best conversations the stick out in my mind with Kurt are when we have talked about our future. We aren't wishing away the present time, but we're just painting a picture of what we want our lives to be like in the future. We talk about house styles we might possibly build, vacations we'd love to take together, if we want to continue living in the country or possibly end up in a more urban environment. We talk about where we would move if we could choose anywhere in the world. Those conversations aren't trivial because they're giving you insight into your husband's heart. I've learned to really listen to what Kurt is saying and file away things I learn about him. Dreaming together gets you excited about the next 100 years together. :)

-Marriage first, children second. This advice is everywhere, but we are big believers in it. This does not mean we sacrifice our children's hearts in the name of a strong marriage. The opposite is true when it's done correctly. We are more unified in parenting and more patient with each other and our kids when we have made our marriage relationship a priority. One of these days it will just be me and Kurt again. Those will be bittersweet days because our children won't be at home, but we are so excited to imagine that season together. How miserable would it be for the kids to leave home and then we're just awkwardly existing together? No thanks.

-Be a Giver, not a Taker. Kurt's favorite "philosophy" about marriage is that there are two types of people: Givers and Takers. Of course everyone has moments when they're a Taker, but make it your mission to be a GIVER. Sometimes this is REALLY HARD when the kids have been screaming all day, nothing has gone right, I feel like I've gotten zero accomplished. It's hard to keep giving. But when both people are committed to serving each other, it really works. When you are trying to serve your husband and give him honor an respect, he wants to do the same for you! It's a really simple equation that I need to remind myself of constantly.

-Be QUICK to apologize! When I've totally lost it or have had a rude response to Kurt, I really, really try to apologize as quickly as I possibly can. I think it's also really important to explain where the source of frustration is coming from. In my experience, the source of my frustration is hardly EVER Kurt. I just take it out on him, which isn't fair! For instance, just recently I totally lost it because of something really small (can't even remember what it was), but within 5 minutes I came back and said I was sorry. I listed the things that had happened recently with other people that had made me feel really disrespected and this small thing was the straw that broke the camel's back. It's actually a really healthy thing to identify where the root of your stress is - it helps Kurt understand me better but most of all it helps me to be more aware of things and to keep myself in check.

-Say "I love you" and "Thank you." In recent months and years, I've either known people where tragedy has struck their family or I've read stories and articles about sudden losses of loved ones. I think there's a lot said about the importance of saying "I love you" often, but not as much is said about saying "Thank you." I think sometimes it's hard to remember to just thank your husband for working so hard and for doing so much for your family. Sometimes when the kids are playing in the yard I'll just snap a picture and send a text to Kurt that says "Thank you for this!" I don't say that to paint this perfect picture - it's just an example of a way I try to show appreciation for all he does and how much he loves our family. :) And I have made it a habit of saying "thank you" all the time for little things. It's a personal thing, but it's important to me that Kurt knows that I don't think he "owes" me anything. Like when he gathers our trash at Chick Fil A to throw away, I say "Thanks so much!" Just little things like that. I don't think that just because you're married and have children together, your husband is required to serve you (and vice versa - Kurt doesn't expect me to serve him). It's a sacrificial love and I think it's really important to point out OFTEN how your spouse helps you. It's just two little words but "Thank you" makes a HUGE difference!

NO MARRIAGE is perfect!! Everyone has their "stuff" that takes working through, but these are things that I've learned and am trying to put into practice. Of course I fail on a daily basis, but marriage is a reflection of God's grace and love - I'm so thankful for that!

July 1, 2014

Happy Birthday, Liam!

Our beautiful and precious son is FOUR years old today!! Liam is doing so many things, saying SO much, and is so full of life. Liam, here's what you've been up to!

-You LOVE Legos!!!! This is a recent thing! You were kind of neutral about them until we went to the beach, and for some reason it just clicked. You LOVE them and you also love the Lego movies that are on Netflix!

-You are the most polite little man. Whenever we ask you to do something, instead of being ugly or defiant about it, you always just say, "Um, no thanks!" Hahaha! You also love to hold doors open for people, which is so adorable.

-You are fully potty trained and are doing GREAT! We are so proud of how big you are!

-You still adore your sisters and you and Evy have been playing GREAT together lately! Your favorite thing to do together is to dress up and also playing Legos together. I've gotten teary many times secretly watching the two of you together.

-You have the cutest phrases: "Oh my word!" "Oh. My. Goodness." "Let me tell you sumpin'" and many more! Of course you still have some really cute pronunciation of things, and that makes it even more adorable!

-You typically walk around in a shirt, underwear and nothing else. ;)

-You are very social and seem to enjoy church, but then when I peek in at you, you are often playing sweetly either with a teacher or sometimes alone. You seem to have two distinct sides to you.

-You HATE noise. You're very sensitive to it and you are always covering your ears about something!

-You have the most tender little heart. When I was hanging up your birthday banner, you patted my back and said, "Thank you, Mommy!" so softly and sweetly. It was all I could do to not burst into tears.

-You're SO inquisitive and want to know what everything is. If you hear the slightest sound, you HAVE to know what it is!

-Daddy and I are learning more of how your little mind works. You are VERY task-oriented and that's why you love Legos. You love putting things together and doing intricate things. Future engineer, perhaps? :)

-When your mind is wanting to talk fast but your mouth won't keep up, you just say "La la la la la!"

-We're still going to classes with Mrs. Brandy and you LOVE it. We are all amazed at how much you're talking and how WELL you put sentences together! Such a big boy!

-You are still very attached to your blanket, but you change up your security animals quite often. I finally got you a bin to keep them all in because they are growing in number.

-You love Bible time each night and ALWAYS ask me to hug you, kiss you, and pray over you. I will do all of these things as LONG as I can - and might even come to your dorm once the time comes. :)

-You love working with Daddy on any project. You are such a big helper and you LOVE to know you're helping (remember the task-oriented thing?)!

-I feel like I'm going to burst open when I hear your sing praise songs at the top of your lungs. Well, any song for that matter, but especially ones about Jesus. It's the most wonderful and special thing!!

Liam, we are so incredibly proud of you and we love you more than words can express!

Every year on July 1, I always find myself very emotional and overwhelmed with so many feelings, because on July 1 in 2010, my most precious son was born. I will never know the details of that day, and I didn't get to hold and cuddle my son on that day, but God was perfecting a beautiful story for him that is beyond what any of us could have imagined!

On July 1, 2010 I had just moved to Missouri with Kurt and Evy. We were settling into our new home and I had NO idea that across the world the most beautiful, adorable and life-loving little boy had been born - and that he would be my son. My girls' birthdays are always emotional and special for me (of course), but Liam's birthdays take me to a place that is so sacred and precious. I think of Liam's birth mother every day, but she consumes my thoughts on the first day of every July. I honor her and thank her for carrying this little miracle of God and for choosing LIFE!

Liam, you are my JOY and my TREASURE - I love you with my whole heart and I praise God for choosing us to be your family! We are richly blessed because of YOU!!

First Birthday!

2nd Birthday!

3rd Birthday!

4th Birthday picture to come! :)

We love you, Leeler!!
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