Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Scenes from St. Augustine

Last month I packed up the kids, fled the depressing winter weather, and flew down to sunny St. Augustine, Florida to spend the week with family.

St. Augustine proudly claims the title of the "Nation's Oldest City." Founded in 1565, the seaside town boasts a rich history encompassing everything from pirate attacks during the Spanish conquest to Ponce de Leon's fabled "Fountain of Youth" to a stint as a posh winter resort for the rich and famous during the late 1800's. The art and architecture of the city span four centuries and perfectly blend to create an atmosphere unique to St. Augustine.

If Spanish conquistadors and Gilded Age architecture just aren't your thing, don't worry, there are also miles and miles of pristine beaches. And a charming lighthouse. And an alligator farm. And a dolphin marina. Basically, there really is something for everyone.

I'd love to write about each one of our Floridian adventures. I could write about exploring a perfect replica of a Spanish Galleon or how the boys and I made it through the entire Pirate Museum in a record breaking 2.34 minutes.

I could write about strolling downtown and how my grandpa decided his new retirement plan was to make like The Hyppo and set up a popsicle stand on St. George Street to sell frozen juice for $4 a pop, because apparently people will buy anything as long as it has the word "gourmet" in front of it. (Seriously though, who wouldn't be obsessed with gourmet popsicles with flavors like Strawberry Basil and Champagne Mango?)

Henry chose Pineapple Ginger, which we decided was the winner. 

I'd love to write about all the things, but frankly, I just don't have the time. So I will write about the one thing instead. Here is the one thing I took away from this trip more than anything else:

Traveling with small children isn't exactly a vacation, unless your definition of "vacation" is doing laundry, dishes and bedtime in a new location.

But sometimes, a new location is all you need.

Traveling is learning. And as you learn about the world, you realize that the world is actually teaching you about yourself.

As I watched my children explore St. Augustine, I saw their distinct personalities emerging as they interacted with the world around them.

And I learned that I have an Adventurer.

My Adventurer raced at top speed, without hesitation, into frigid salty waters. He wore a sweatshirt under his swimshirt with a big, silly grin. He has no fear of strangers and struck up conversations with anyone who peaked his curiosity. He ordered pirates to lend him their gear so he could look the part while steering the ship.

I have a Thinker.

My Thinker poked his head into every nook, cranny and giant cannon. He studied shell after shell in the coquina streets and always lingered behind because he had just discovered some new fascinating treasure. He's never met an animal he didn't love...even a dead jellyfish.

I have a Daughter.

My Daughter has only just turned one and it's still a bit early to pinpoint personality. (Secretly, I'm kind of hoping for "the Shopper", because the boys just do not understand the gloriousness that is a shoe sale.) Still, wherever we went and whatever we did, she was content, as long as she could be part of the fun too. She insisted on investigating the sand and scenery for herself and if the boys got a gourmet popsicle, you had better hand her a Cucumber Lemon Mint too.

"I want that! No, I don't. Yes, I do!"

So thanks, St. Augustine. Thanks for the history lessons and the pirate adventures and the beachy strolls.

Thanks for the reminder that my children are their own little people, growing up before my eyes and teaching me about the world from their unique perspectives.

And I'd pay $4 for one of your popsicles any day.

Just me and the kids...and a photobombing pelican.

Monday, April 21, 2014

How to Fly With Small Children

That time I flew all by myself...with 3 little kids...and a giant bag of Doritos.

Do you have an upcoming vacation? Would you like to know how to successfully navigate through an airport and fly in peace with nicely mannered, well-behaved small children?

Great, me too! If you ever figure out how to accomplish this feat, please let me know!

In the meantime, here are some tips on...


1.) Take a few deep breaths and accept the travel hell into which you are entering. Take a second to remember the last time you were extremely relaxed. Maybe lounging poolside, sipping an umbrellaed drink while the sun warmed your skin? Now imagine the very exact opposite of that.

Don't even bother bringing a magazine. It will only sit in the side pocket of your tote for the whole journey, mocking you as you struggle to remove a half-chewed fruit snack from your hair. Take comfort in knowing that this will probably be the worst part of your entire trip. Until the return flight, that is.

2.) Dress your children in comfortable clothes. Your mission is to fly from point A to point B with as little complaining as possible. Whatever outfit makes them happy and comfortable is the outfit you want them to wear, even if that means they are dressed in full-out Batman gear.

Be aware, however, that travelling with a superhero does garner quite a bit of attention. Lots and lots and LOTS of strangers will talk to your child. When they ask him where he is headed, they will think it is quite funny when he answers "GOTHAM CITY!" in a deep, growly Batmanish voice. The TSA agents will give him special blue "Batgloves" and a flight attendant will take him to meet the pilot. "DON'T WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING," he will growl to the pilot, "BATMAN IS HERE!"

3.) Bring restraining devices. Remember that one time you were in the grocery store before you had kids and you noticed that frazzled mom dragging her child through the produce department on a (gasp!) leash and you said, "Ugh, I would NEVER put my child on a leash"? Now is the time to eat your words. Leashes, strollers, anything to keep your child from darting off to hide under the giant rack of souvenir t-shirts - they are now your friend. 
BONUS: If you attach the leashed child to the stroller, you don't even have to push!
4.) Bring lots of snacks. A good friend gave me the advice of bringing several baggies of snacks on the plane, but not just any snacks, snacks that the kids had never eaten before. Snacks are a good distraction in general, but new snacks take the excitement to a whole other level.

This was not an easy task, as my children have eaten a lot of snacks in their short lifetimes. After all, snacktime is their favorite meal of the day. After scouring the grocery aisles for snacks that were new, interesting and somewhat healthy, I was able to find some things that I hoped would peak their interest. 

Me: And this snack is called "dried mango slices"!

Kids: Um, what else?

Me: Ok, well these are fun, these are "macadamia nuts"!

Kids: What else?

Me: Organic snap pea crisps?

Kids: No.

Me: How about these animal crackers?

Kids: Those aren't crackers, those are COOKIES!!! We want the COOKIES!!!

Also, I discovered that if you are too tired to make a creative grocery store run at the end of your trip, you might be able to find a $6 package of Oreos and a large $57 bag of Doritos at an airport kiosk.

And those work just as well. 

5.) Go with the flow. Let's say that upon arriving to the gate, the airline informs you that the flight is overbooked and they are unable to find 3 seats together for you, your 4-year-old, your 2-year-old and your 1-year-old lap child. If this happens, do not stress. Do not yell. Do not angrily point out that the rowdy group of spring breakers may have been a better group to split up. You have already accepted the fact that you are in Travel Hell (see point 1) and things like this will inevitably happen in Travel Hell.

Just go with the flow and simply say, "I don't believe that is the best idea, but we can sure see how it works. Just have the flight attendants keep an eye on the two unsupervised little boys while their mom and baby sister read a magazine in the next row back."

Chances are that after a couple of loud skirmishes and a reprimand by a frantic flight attendant OVER THE LOUDSPEAKER during take-off, a row of three empty seats will MAGICALLY APPEAR for you. And also, they may bring you some free snacks to keep everyone happy and quiet. 

6.) Embrace the chaos. Things might not go smoothly. But who says a smooth flight is the goal, anyway?

If it were a smooth flight, my kids wouldn't have gotten to share their Doritos with the playful little boy in front of us.

They wouldn't have played a 20-minute game of peek-a-boo with Damien, the hip, dreadlocked college kid behind us, who let them listen to his hip rap music and even laughed when the baby chewed his earbuds.

If it were a smooth flight, an understanding flight attendant wouldn't have offered to take my baby for a walk around the cabin so a tired momma could get a bathroom break.

And if it were a smooth flight, it wouldn't have meant nearly as much to me when a blond woman approached and said Your children are delightful! And you're doing a great job too!

And I wouldn't have made a mental note to myself that if I ever do get the pleasure of a smooth flight again and I see a fellow momma struggling with spilt drinks, wiggly toddlers or playing a riveting game of "Who Pooped This Time?", I hope that I can be the one to lean over and say Your children are delightful! And you're doing a great job too! Would you like some Doritos?

(Also, I forgot how much I like Doritos.)

It was not a smooth flight. It was wonderfully bumpy and perfectly messy.

And I hope I don't have to do it again for a long, long time. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

26.2 Miles and a Heck of a lot of Cupcakes

You wanna know something funny? I don't really like cupcakes. And I really don't like running.

Yet somehow, this weekend, I found myself at a marathon, up to my elbows in baked goods and loving it!

No, I did not suddenly develop a sweet tooth or a desire to run for fun, but this weekend definitely cemented my love, love, love for Sixty Feet.

The real rock stars of the weekend.
This weekend, at the Raleigh Rock n Roll Marathon, I finally got the chance to meet some of my virtual Sixty Feet friends in real life and you know what? They are amazing!

They raced, they fundraised, and they shared over and over with every person who asked about the giant 60 on the bright orange shirts. And they did it all for the least of these.

Overall, Team Sixty Feet raised over $32,000 for imprisoned children in Uganda.

And what did I do at the marathon? I had the very best job of all.

I sat under a shady tent with one of my best friends and handed out free cupcakes to anyone who wandered by.

Nothing says happiness like the look on someone's face when you tell them the cupcake is free.

"Yes, they really are free! We are an offical charity of the marathon and we are giving out cupcakes to raise awareness about our organization." And then they are so happy that they linger around our booth listening all about our mission to bring hope and restoration to the imprisioned children of Uganda. Some even gave donations before heading back into the crowd.

Personally, Kaylyn and I raised $2,530 through our fundraising page, all thanks to friends like YOU.

Friends, we are humbled by your generosity. I'm trying really hard not to come off corny and #seriouslysoblessed right now, but Seriously. We are SO BLESSED to have you in our lives. Thank you for letting us share our hearts and this organization with you!

To show our gratitude, we would love to give you a delicious, virtual cupcake.

And guess what?

It's FREE!  ;)

Free cupcakes! Happy day!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sixty Feet

I am involved in an amazing ministry called Sixty Feet. This month Sixty Feet will be an official charity of the Raleigh Rock n Roll marathon. My friend Kaylyn and I have joined Team Sixty Feet, not as marathon runners, but to help with all the behind-the-scenes work that makes the marathon happen for our team. Each runner has been challenged to raise $1,000 for Sixty Feet and Kaylyn and I would like to join in that challenge as well.

We are asking 100 of our friends to donate $10 for this cause - for children in Uganda, who are lost in every sense of the word. (Donate here!)

I don't have cupcakes to sell or raffle tickets to offer in exchange for your donation, but I do have a story to tell. Thanks for letting me share it with you.

In 2010 my sister-in-law sent me a link to a blog written by Shelly Owens, a friend of hers from middle school. Shelly and her family were in the middle of adopting 2 children from Uganda and my SIL knew that I am a sucker for adoption stories! I immediately fell in love with Dan and Shelly and their family (they already had 3 little children of their own!). As I read through back blog entries I discovered that about a year prior Dan and Shelly read the book "Radical" by David Platt and it completely changed the way they viewed Christianity and living the so-called Christian life. They decided that they wanted to stop living for themselves and start living for others. As their hearts changed, they changed their lifestyle. They took their oldest daughter out of private school and gave away the money they saved. They sold one of their two cars and gave away the money they had made. (Dan rode to work on a bike, people! Now that is some crazy Jesus love.)

Soon after that, a friend who had recently been to Uganda told them of a haunting place she had happened upon during her travels. It was called a "remand home" run by the Ugandan government. It was a place where lost children were kept. Some children were orphans. Other children had somehow been separated from their families and there were just no resources available to try and locate family members. Some children were sent to the remand home as "criminals," perhaps a street child who had stolen a loaf of bread. The conditions of the remand home were almost unmentionable. The children were locked in cells, like a prison. They slept on dirt floors. There was no schooling for these children, no medicine, and barely any food. (Read this post to see what life was like for these children before Sixty Feet stepped in, but be warned it is a very emotional read.)CampaignHeader

The Owens were just a regular family living in Atlanta, but when they heard about the remand home, they knew God was calling them to do something and, with the help of some other local families, Sixty Feet was born.

The ministry of Sixty Feet soon became the ministry of the Owens family. Even their small children became involved. On one of Dan's trips to Uganda, they challenged their children to think of something they could give that Dan could bring to the children at the remand home. As Dan wrote on their blog, "We thought Madeline and Davis might draw them a picture or dig through their closets and find some toy they don’t want anymore. They both shocked us with their responses — our 4 year old especially. Davis came to us bearing his most treasured possession, his shiny silver and blue Lighting McQueen outfit (my son would literally wear this thing every single day if we allowed him) and announced that he’d like Daddy to take it to Uganda. We talked it over with him… “are you sure? If Daddy takes it, it’s really gone.” He would not relent. And tonight, he packed it himself in my suitcase."

Madeline sent one of her very favorite dresses and a few days later, Dan emailed a picture of himself with a little boy and a little girl wearing the beloved clothing. The Owens family had no idea that in 6 months, they would welcome that very same boy and that very same girl into their family.

I followed the Owens' journey and rejoiced when they brought home Hannah and Joseph in December 2010.

The very next month, in January 2011, I had been gathering "stuff" around our house in preparation for a Goodwill run when, out of the blue, a thought came to me. In an instant, I felt that someone I knew was going to be adopting and that they were going to have a yardsale to raise funds and that I would donate all my stuff to their yardsale. NOW. I do not go around receiving messages from God on a daily basis, but I knew this thought was not my own. Either I was going crazy, or I had better haul all my stuff back up to the attic.

Meanwhile, that very same month, my friend Kaylyn, WHOM I DID NOT YET KNOW PERSONALLY, was doing some blog surfing of her own. She stumbled on an adoption blog and immediately felt a calling to adopt. A few months later she had a yardsale planned to raise money for their adoption. She reached out via the internet to ask for items to be donated to their yard sale. I just so happened to be a fan of her Dunlap Love store page on Facebook and I saw the request. And I knew exactly where my pile of stuff should go.

Since then, Kaylyn and I have become dear friends. I had the honor of prayerfully walking alongside her and her family on their adoption journey and I was blessed to watch Kaylyn and her new son Micah walk off the plane a year ago.

One more word of wisdom from Shelly's blog -- "in the country of Uganda there is no shortage of water – it is abundant and plentiful, but polluted. And many people are dying because they do not have access to clean water. We’ve learned that often less than 60 feet underground, they find crystal clear, clean water that could change their lives forever. And so in response… Sixty Feet is the link between those in desperate need and the help, support and resources that already exist but are just out of reach. In short, here’s the thing… God has already done His part. He has provided all our needs. Some people need help accessing those provisions and that’s our part."

I think the point is that God does not always work in mysterious ways, as they say. Sometimes God has already done all the work and He is waiting on us to do our part.

For me, Sixty Feet has become my part and I have been infinitely blessed by this ministry as I have partnered with them and watched them grow.

I'm not writing to tell you that Sixty Feet should become your part as well, but if you do not already, I encourage you to find a passion of your own, a ministry with whom you can partner, a ministry that will continually encourage, uplift and point you to God.

In the meantime, Kaylyn and I are asking you to join us in being the link that brings hope and restoration to children in Uganda.

Today, we are not only asking for your prayers for these children, because we believe God has already answered those prayers. And the answer is US. YOU and ME.

Today, we are asking you to give $10 to Sixty Feet. (Of course, any amount is so appreciated.)

Our goal is to raise $1,000. We are asking 100 friends to donate $10 each. We also have a donor who will match any amount given, which will hopefully bring our grand total to $2,000!! You can click on this link to donate. All donations are tax deductible and ALL donations will go directly to the ministry in Africa.

All proceeds will provide immediate relief in the form of water, food, medical care, clothing and bedding. In addition, Sixty Feet provides long term restoration through educational sponsorships, justice, counseling, resettlement efforts and the love of Christ.

Thank you for being the link!!!