Redefined: Wrestling with Faith

A few months back someone asked me to write about my faith. I’ve alluded to it a few times–more to the fact that I have a faith than how exactly my faith journey has developed.

I felt neither equipped nor ready to share.

I couldn’t figure out how or where to start. Some memories were difficult to wrestle with. I couldn’t decide what was pertinent or how vulnerable I was willing to be for the whole, wide Internet. So, I enlisted the help of my absolute most favorite person in the whole world: my wife, Stephanie.

Steph is brilliant and hilarious and my number one fan. Sometimes she is the only one in my cheering section (which is absolutely fine. She is enough all by herself).

She also has a degree in religious studies and has served as a youth minister, associate minister, and missionary. Her sermons are delightful (it’s hard to hold my attention) but her ability to find just the right words to truly capture her thoughts is fantastic. So, she is starting off this series of how we came to adopt the title “progressive Christians” and what that means in terms of the faith we learned as children and how it has developed into the faith we hold as adults.

I say series because it’s a long story.

Like I said, I didn’t know where to start. But Steph has created a great foundation for us to continue explaining our faith journeys both as individuals and as a couple. So without further ado, I’m turning over the proverbial reigns, part one:

Wrestling with Faith by Stephanie

Sarah and I met after being introduced by a mutual friend.  We had both gone to small, private, Christian colleges and lived in a super conservative (as if there is another kind) part of Kentucky.

We made assumptions about each other based on our environment and each assumed the other was a prude. However, Sarah immediately tested my threshold for offensiveness–which I found hilarious. Her quick wit and intelligent satire at the funny side of faith won me over in an instant.  I knew I loved her the moment that we met, but that is a different post.

The more we talked, the more we realized how similar our frustrations and concerns were about living authentically and how alone we felt in the process.  Sarah became my sounding board for all of the questions that faith communities had expressly forbidden.

In fact, we realized that anything “different” was altogether segregated from our religious experience. The faith communities we knew either publicly shamed or guilted differences into conformity. People were ostracized, various theology banned, and any discussion as to “why” was not for the lowly congregant, but decided by the authority of leadership.

There was a good deal of comfort in this for the majority of folks.  They need not worry about anyone or anything that didn’t look like them, act like them, think like them, etc.  I understand why some people prefer this, but I think it does more harm than good. It limits diverse thought and experience.  It creates a population of people who can not even begin to have soulful empathy for those different than themselves using more than just words.  As I tell my students, “Talk is cheap. If you mean it, you will change your behavior.”

Segregation is never a practice that remains limited to one area of life.  

Fear and ignorance make it possible for one group of people to exert dominance and superiority over another in an effort to maintain their divisions.  Cliches and platitudes become excuses for poor behavior and bad decisions.

As the two of us continued to wrestle with our faith we realized that we were much more interested in finding the truth than in proclaiming unconditional correctness. We began to admit that our fear of this process stemmed from a fear of rejection and damnation.  We were on our way to what has been called “Progressive Christianity.”

Progressive Christianity

Some will read those two words “Progressive Christianity” and think it is a phase, a fad, or even a cult following of heretical Christians.  One side of the aisle defines it as changing authority structures to subjective spirituality and half-truths. The other side of the aisle says it is nothing more than politically motivated action in the name of religion.

We are not part of any group or society of people that have made a pledge, signed a pact, given money, or told what, how, or when to speak OR what, and how to believe.  We have no endorsements from political or religious sponsors.

Most importantly, we are not asking or trying to persuade anyone reading this post to change their beliefs.

Sarah and I were asked to share about our faith journey.  We offer our perspective, nothing more. This crossroads of faith has left us with a better historical understanding of Christianity and has allowed us to truly, genuinely love God and our neighbor while committing ourselves to the inclusion and dignity of all of God’s children.  

If we had to sum our experience up in one quotation, it would be this:

“We believe that social justice is the heart of the gospel.  Progressive Christianity is about not apologizing for what we become as we live this life and openly engage the faith we grew up with.  There are no sacred cows, only the relentless, sacred search for truth. Tradition, dogma, and doctrine are all fair game, because all pass through the hands of flawed humanity, and as such are all equally vulnerable to the prejudices, fears and biases of those they touch.”  –John Pavlovitz, Explaining Progressive Christianity (Otherwise Known as Christianity)

So keep following us for more on what Progressive Christianity is, how it fits into a post-modern world, and how we journeyed through a spectrum of belief.

She’s brilliant, right?

What are your thoughts or questions in relation to Progressive Christianity?

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30 Things I’ve Learned from Being Married

I’ve been married for three years. That is not a long time. But I have grown and changed more in the past three years than in any other time period in my memory. I mean that in a good way. Being married to the best friend I’ve ever had has been a wonderful adventure.

And despite only being married for a short time, we’re fairly good at it. We have a happy life and a happy marriage and family. Earlier this month we were invited to a Family Day at my mom’s school where we talked with the students about marriage and how we handle disagreements, money, changes, hardships, etc. At the end of the day we played “The Not So Newly Wed Game” and we won. We won by a lot. We won against people who had been married longer than I have been alive. We’re pretty proud of that.

And I’m thankful to have someone like Steph by my side as I approach 30. She keeps telling me she has loved her thirties. That they have been her favorite.

We’ll see.

In all seriousness, I’ve learned a lot in the past three years. About myself, about Steph, about marriage, about life. Here are just a few of those things.

1. Nobody cares what you look like without makeup.

There’s a freedom in marriage. Someone has promised to love you as you are without exception. You can stop worrying about “looking perfect” and focus on being loving. Besides, when you’re chasing kids and a year and a half behind on sleep, flawless lipstick is the last thing anyone cares about. Put on some chap stick and go on.

2. Communication gets stronger.

You can no longer avoid things that bother you. You have to talk them through and make compromises. But the good thing is, the more you practice this the better you learn one another’s communication styles and therefore the more effective your conversations become.

3. You really don’t have to know how to cook.

I mean, I am a really good cook and I can put together really great meals, (I’m not even going to try to be modest about it) but when you have toddlers running everywhere, it’s just not worth the time, effort, or money. Peanut butter sandwiches are delicious. There are a million ways to make pasta taste yummy that don’t require much effort.

4. You don’t have to like the same things.

It’s actually really good to have separate interests to help you keep your sense of identity. Steph is very athletic and into sports. Not my thing. I like arts and crafts and whimsy things.

5. But it’s fun to share interests.

It’s also important to have some things you enjoy doing together. Steph and I like to paint together and browse book stores and try new restaurants.

6. Everyone needs a break sometimes.

But not the Ross and Rachel kind of break. Sometimes we need to rest or spend time with friends or get lost in a book. That’s okay.

7. You’re not the same person you were the day you got married.

You will change and grow and mature. And your relationship will change and grow and mature. That’s okay. Don’t try to hang on to the past. Embrace the future.

8. Our marriage is our most important relationship.

If we don’t nurture our marriage, everything becomes a disaster.

9. Dating is important.

Make time for one another without interruptions or any other people. Sit across from one another without a phone or screen and talk, laugh, and have fun together.

10. The one year old wedding cake is gross.

If I could re do anything from my wedding day, I would have eaten the top tier of the cake instead of putting it in the freezer for a year. Ugh. It was disgusting.

11. Romance changes as your love matures.

In the beginning romance is flowers and music and goo goo eyes. As time moves on, the most romantic things are cleaning the bathroom, making a relaxing playlist for your wife to have in the hospital, or watching your spouse play with and teach the kiddos.

12. Compromise is necessary.

Compromise doesn’t necessarily mean doing one thing OR the other, it means making time for BOTH preferences.

13. The purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship.

Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do. The purpose of doing those things is to strengthen your relationship. The other day I chose to stay up late and wash dishes, prepare bottles, and lay out the boys’ clothes. I didn’t want to, but it helped Steph start her morning a little more smoothly. The purpose was to make her life easier–strengthen our relationship. I hate feet. Even cute little baby feet. One day I noticed Steph was extra stressed, so I grabbed some nice lotion and massaged her feet while she graded papers. The purpose of the task was to strengthen our relationship.

Cooking dinner together, cleaning out the garage together, running errands together, grocery shopping together..it may seem like the tasks are important, but the purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship.

14. Having a sense of humor is important.

If you can’t laugh together, then what is there to talk about?

15. You have to learn one another’s love language.

You have to. Steph’s love language is acts of service. I don’t get it, but I can show her I love her by helping her and doing things for her. The purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship.

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16. Speaking negatively about your spouse is harmful.

Be positive and kind always. If something is bothering you, talk to you spouse. Not your mom (she will always side with you) and not your friends (they are not going to forgive your spouse).

17. Evaluating our relationship on a regular basis helps us stay on track.

The teacher in me immediately thinks of a checklist or a rubric to evaluate the relationship. Reality though is just a simple check in. How are you? Are you overwhelmed? How can I help you? What are your thoughts on [the future, our home, more kids, etc]? Your long term goals and plans will change as you grow and mature. It’s important that you keep talking about them often to make sure you are on the same page and not putting unrealistic expectations on yourself or each other.

18. Nitpicking is a waste of energy.

It doesn’t solve anything. All nitpicking does is cause fights and negative feelings.

19. Be each other’s safe space.

I believe I can tell Steph anything and it’s going to be okay. I know I am safe wherever she is.

20. It is always more important to be kind or loving than it is to be right.

Recently Steph and I experienced a miscommunication. She told me I didn’t tell her something clearly. I knew that I had and I knew that I had the text message to prove it. I even double checked. Instead of making it a big deal, I just said “Okay. You’re probably right. This is what I meant.” We fixed the problem and moved on. There was no reason to argue or gloat or make it a big thing. The important thing was that we were loving and happy. (Whatever it was, it was so unimportant that I don’t even remember what the miscommunication actually was)

21. Marriage is hard work.

Love stories make it sound like the hard work is finding someone to marry. The story always ends with a wedding and “happily ever after”. The truth is, the work doesn’t even begin until after the marriage license is signed. That’s when you have to figure out how to be loving and kind and unselfish while life is happening.

22. Having a hand to hold unconditionally is worth the hard work.

Every hard moment is worth it knowing I never have to face the trials of life alone.

23. Never go to bed angry is bad advice.

You know what? I am angered a lot more easily when I am tired. Or hungry. Or in need of a shower. Want me to be able to talk to me like I am a reasonable person? Make sure I’m comfortable. It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy. Meet the basic needs, then the emotional ones. Seriously though, most major issues turn out to be very unimportant after a good night of sleep.

24. No secrets. Ever.

Remember elementary school? Secrets don’t make friends. Secrets, secrets are no fun all they do is hurt someone. Now that we are all grown up, secrets have no place in marriage. If you have to keep it a secret, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. (Surprises are TOTALLY different from secrets, though).

25. Intimacy is important.

Make time for it. Without intimacy, you become two people who share a living space. Roommates legally bound to live together.

26. You need a vision for your marriage and family that you are both working towards.

Make sure you know what your plans and goals are for your family. What is most important and how are you working to achieve it? You have to be on the same page.

27. The most important thing you can do in marriage is keep searching for, and finding, each other.

Never stop learning about one another. Never stop asking questions or trying new things. You can never really truly know every single things about another person, but spend your whole life trying to know everything about your spouse.

28. Small acts of affection are as important as big ones.

Some even argue that they are more important. They add up. And when they aren’t present, it’s noticeable, because that adds up, too. So make eye contact when you’re talking. Hold hands in the car or while you take a walk or while you sit on the couch watching TV. compliment each other. Hold doors. Kiss.

29. Be honest when you are frustrated with “life” (work, kids, etc) before you take it out on each other.

Sometimes Steph comes home from work and says “It’s been a long day. I need a nap” and I leave her alone. Sometimes she comes home from work and I say “Hey babe, you’re on baby duty. I’m going to my office” and she leaves me alone.

30. Listen, even if you don’t want to.

If you don’t like what they say you flip them off when they turn around or in your head, and be able to laugh about it later. But in the moment, listen, reflect, and be supportive.

What have you learned in your marriage? What do you think is the best advice you could give someone who is newly married or about to get married?

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Other Posts from this Series:

3 Reasons To Register as an Organ Donor

Happy Valentine’s Day! I love all holidays, and I especially love celebrating a day of love and friendship. Our day started with a box of fresh donuts from Granny. Could it get any better? I gave Steph her Valentine’s gifts early (a necklace, some new essential oils we didn’t have, and some lovely perfumes made from essential oils. She’s a sucker for perfumes) because I was just too excited to wait, but she gave me a gorgeous notebook and some super cool erasable ink pens. She knows how to speak to my soul. She also bought me some kitchen accessories I’ve been eyeing for months, but she gave those to me a couple of weeks ago. Also, she is also planning a family date tonight. I don’t know what it is yet, but the boys and I are excited. Valentine’s Day really is one of the best holidays.

However, Valentine’s Day is not the only holiday that falls on February 14th. Today is also Organ Donor Day!

I know death and health issues are not in the forefront of most of our minds, especially on a day we have committed to hearts and love and chocolate and pink (all my favorite things), but for the 114,000+ people waiting on a life-saving organ, it is always on the mind. And to the families of the 20 people who will die waiting on an organ today, it’s an important holiday.

Why should YOU be an organ donor?

1. It is easy to sign up to become an organ donor and it doesn’t cost you anything.

It’s easy to register as an organ donor. Once you make the decision to donate,

  1. Register here.
  2. Sign up the next time you renew yoru driver’s license
  3. Make sure you talk to your friends and family–especially those who would have to make decisions on your behalf–and let them know exactly what your wishes are.

Being an organ donor is completely free for you and your family.

You do not have to pay to register.

Your family will not be charged for the medical procedures needed to test or remove your organs.

I know that an organ donor does technically have to pass on to become an organ donor. And that may seem like it is asking an awful lot. Especially since many people believe that if you are a registered organ donor the doctors will not take the same efforts to save your life as they would someone else. That’s a myth. Your doctor’s responsibility is to YOU and to save YOUR life, not someone else’s. If your doctor has done all s/he can do, then what good are your organs going to do for you? Do you really need them for whatever you believe happens after we die? Can you take them or use them? So why not donate them to someone else? Let someone else have life.

Which brings us to number 2

2. Being an organ donor is a great way to help other people.

One organ donor could save up to 8 lives.

That means 8 individual people have a chance for life because of you. It means that 8 mothers keep their kids for a few more years. 8 spouses will wake up to the love of their life longer than they expected. 8 children will have their parent there for their big–and small–moments. Imagine you are one of those 8 people and how grateful you would feel for the donation of another person.

While helping others, you would also be leaving a legacy.

If you have never watched the videos or people who have heard their loved one’s heart beating in another’s chest, you should grab some tissues and search YouTube. It is so beautiful and heartwarming to see how a person lives on through their organ recipient’s life. Generally, people who receive an organ donation do not take the gift lightly. They know the sacrifice that was made for them to have a chance at life.

This is one of my favorite videos about how a man’s legacy lived on. After he was murdered during a robbery, his heart was donated. A decade later, the donor’s daughter invited the recipient to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. I’m not kidding when I say grab some tissues. I’m fighting the tears as I type.

3. Literally anyone can be an organ donor. There are no age limits.

You can’t be too young.

Yes, you have to be 18 to officially register, but you can still have the conversation with your parents or guardians that if something happens to you, you would like for your organs to be donated. There are plenty of children on the waiting list who cannot receive organs from adults. Even though I could not register until I was 18, I had the conversation with my dad when I was in middle school that if something were to happen to me I wanted my organs to be donated.

You can’t be too old either.

There is not an age limit on your organs. The doctors will test and examine your organs to determine if they are healthy enough to be transplanted. Your age has no effect on the outcome of those tests.

I know it’s not the most pleasant thing to think about on Valentine’s Day…

…but I encourage you to consider becoming an organ donor (if you haven’t already). Have the conversations with your loved ones. After all, in the words of my favorite neurosurgeon, Dr. Derek Shepherd “It’s a beautiful day to save lives.”

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30 Lessons for Adults from Kid Books

If you read my first post in my Countdown to 30 Series, then you know that I love to read and get a little over-involved in the books I love.

Even though I am turning thirty soon, which means I am becoming a real adult (not a the fake adult I’ve been for the past 12 years) does not mean I am going to give up my love for children’s literature.

In honor of my inner child, here are 30 quotes from children’s literature that contain messages, lessons, or inspiration for adults. Save them to an inspiration board on Pinterest. Refer back to them whenever you need a pick-me-up. Words are magical–and these words are some of the most magical.

For a quick reference, you can find all my Countdown posts below:

30 Quotes from Children’s Literature that Will Inspire Adults:

1. Book: The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh

Author: A.A. Milne

2. Book: Giraffes Can’t Dance

Author: Giles Andreae

3. Book: The Lorax

Author: Dr. Seuss

4. Book: Olivia

Author: Ian Falconer

5. Book: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Author: Dr. Seuss

6. Book: Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Author: Mo Willems

7. Book: The Bad Beginning: Or, Orphans! A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1

7. Book: The Bad Beginning: Or, Orphans! A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1

Author: Lemony Snicket

8. Book: A Wrinkle in Time

Author: Madeleine L’Engle

9. Book: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Author: Judith Viorst

10. Book: The Minpins

Author: Roald Dahl

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11. Book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Author: Lewis Carroll

12. Book: Blueberry Girl

Author: Neil Gaiman

13. Book: Charlotte’s Web

Author: E.B. White For some insightful information about the author behind Charlotte’s Web, I recommend THIS book. It’s very cute and will make you love E.B. White as an author and person.

14. Book: A Wrinkle in Time

Author: Madeleine L’Engle

15. Book: The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin

Author: Mark Twain

16. Book: A Spot of Bother

Author: Mark Haddon

17. Book: On the Night You were Born

Author: Nancy Tillman

18. Book: The Twits

Author: Roald Dahl

19. Book: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Author: J.K. Rowling

20. Book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Author: Lewis Carroll

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21. Book: Peter Pan

Author: J.M. Barrie

22. Book: Anne of Green Gables

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables is a new love for me, so this quote and the next to are from this book. Anne and I are kindred spirits.

23. Book: Anne of Green Gables

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

24. Book: Anne of Green Gables

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

25. Book: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Author: J.K. Rowling

26. Book: I Can Read with My Eyes Shut

Author: Dr. Seuss

27. Book: Where the Sidewalk Ends

Author: Shel Silverstein

28. Book: The Monster at the End of This Book

Author: Jon Stone

29. Book: Otter and Odder

Author: James Howe

30. Book: The Paper Bag Princess

Author: Robert Munsch

What are your favorite children’s books? Share in the comments!

Self Care Is Not Selfish

I am in a couple of mom groups on Facebook. A group for SAHM moms, a couple of groups for twin moms, a group for teacher moms, a group for lesbian moms, a group for parents/grandparents who do not want to raise their children in fundamentalist tradition, etc. For the most part, I have enjoyed these groups. I have learned a lot from of them and found support in so many areas. It’s truly beautiful when women come together to support and empower one another.

But there is always that one person…

Recently a person posted in the group for SAHMs looking for advice about having “Me Time”. She wants to hire a babysitter once a week to help with her babies so that she can have time to recharge and be alone and maybe for her and her husband to have dinner or see a movie together. However, her husband is very uncomfortable with the idea of someone other than one of the two of them keeping their babies. I understand. We’re picky about who can keep our boys. Several women offered ideas for how to help him become comfortable with the idea of a babysitter. They were positive, encouraging, understanding, and wonderful.

Except that one. The one who replied that “Me time ended when you became a mom” and it is “completely selfish to pawn your kid off on someone else to have me time”.

Y’all, I tried. I tried so hard to just keep scrolling.

But I know there are moms out there who really struggle to make time for themselves and now here they were being called selfish for trying and I just couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t keep going without defending all of us moms who are still people even though we have babies.

“Self care is not selfish,” I replied, “but mom-shaming is.”

I am not the kind of person who engages in Facebook arguments with strangers, so I moved on expecting that to just be the end of it. But it wasn’t. Of course Sanctimommy (a title she was given by another mom who replied to her mom-shaming comment) wasn’t “mom-shaming” she was “stating facts and truth and sometimes the truth hurts” and I “just need to face it.” She said that I was “disrespecting my SO by wasting their hard-earned money on babysitters” when that was my job.

So I politely offered some perspective.

When I became a SAHM, Steph made sure I was given time for self care and time to recharge. It wasn’t my idea. I didn’t ask for it. It was Steph’s priority. I am the most introverted introvert who ever introverted. She has seen what happens when I don’t have my alone time and she does whatever she can to prevent that from happening.

So Granny comes over a couple of days per week so I can work. I have those two days per week to teach online, do my transcription jobs, write my blog, do homework, clean the house, clean our church, or whatever else I need to do. I don’t make a ton of money, but as a recovering workaholic, I am still making some money that contributes to running our household. It helps me not feel like a bum and keeps me intellectually stimulated. It isn’t just good for me, our boys love Granny and she adores them. There is no separating them.  

Also, it is important to Stephanie that I don’t lose my identity just because I am a mom. Yes, being Mama is the most important title I have ever held and it is my first priority after Wife, but I’m still Sarah–Sarah the Writer, Sarah the Painter, Sarah the Crafter, Sarah the Dog Mom, Sarah the Friend, Sarah the Coffee Obsessed, Sarah the Super Nerd. Those aspects of me and my life didn’t vanish because I harvested human beings with my body. I am not only an incubator and caretaker. I’m a whole person. And Steph loves all of me–even the not so great parts, so she makes sure I have time to be a whole person.

I feel sad for Sanctimommy.

According to her, my need to be alone, to be intellectually stimulated, and to be a whole person means that I’m just not a good enough mom. I’m lacking and I need to step it up.

A few years ago a comment like that would have devastated me. Now I am able to say, “If that’s what keeps everyone in your house happy, then you do you. Don’t shame others for having different needs and choices.”

Friends, Self Care IS NOT SELFISH. It is necessary. It is essential.

Three Reasons Self Care is Not Selfish

1. Self care strengthens authenticity

We all wear many hats and have many roles. We are a lot of different things for a lot of different people. But if we don’t take the time to step back and care for ourselves, we lose sight of who we are.

When I was a kid I would go spend the weekend with my older sister or friends. When I came home, I would almost always get in trouble for having a bad attitude. “If you can’t have a better attitude when you come home you’re not going to be allowed to go anywhere anymore,” I was told. I was so confused because I never tried to have a bad attitude, I wasn’t trying to be nasty, I just couldn’t help it.

Now that I understand more about myself and more about child and adolescent brain development, I realize that when I came home I needed to be alone. I needed to go to my room and recharge. I had been around people for however long I had been gone and I was not only physically tired, but mentally and emotionally tired, too. What I didn’t need was to answer a thousand questions from my parents and brother or have the television blaring in my ears. I needed to recharge so that I could return to being a kind, contributing family member.

That didn’t mean that I should be punished. There should not be punitive repercussions for being an introvert or an extrovert. These traits are beyond our control.

Through the years I have tried more than once to change that I am an introvert. And every time was a disaster that left me drained. In order to be a functioning human I need to take care of myself.

Practicing authenticity through self care helps you find purpose.  

After moms, the one group (in my opinion) who receives the most criticism for practicing self-care is teachers. Teachers are treated terribly.

When I was pregnant, I almost died trying to carry my twins to term. I did not want to have them early. When I was admitted to the hospital, hooked up to monitors and IVs, I tried my best to convince anyone who would listen that I should go home and come back in a couple of weeks. Finally the doctor told me, “If we don’t get these babies out of you by Monday, all of you might not make it.” So I had an emergency c-section at 1:30 Sunday morning.

I was still in recovery when texts and calls about work began. I spent the night in labor & delivery, and by the time I moved to a mom & baby room (without my babies) Steph had taken my phone.  I was trying to recover from a major surgery, my children were in intensive care, I still couldn’t regulate my blood pressure, I was a brand new mom to twins, I could barely walk, and people were bothering me about work.

And not because they needed to. Stephanie is a teacher, who teaches the same content I did in the same district. She contacted the administration in my building and taken care of my FMLA paperwork. She had taken care of sub plans. I had entered the data they needed into a Google Sheet before I left for fall break the week before.

Teachers, like moms, are often treated like they are not allowed to be people. For real, both teacher and mom shaming can be debilitating.  

I have three main purposes in my life: be a wife, be a mom, be a teacher. Thanks to contract teaching–and the ability to practice self-care by stepping away from a full-time career–I am able to do all three of them well and with joy. I feel like my true, authentic self for the first time in years. I am overwhelmingly happy.

2. Self care cultivates empowerment

The opposite of self-care is sabotage.  Putting myself on the back burner time and time again is detrimental to my mental, physical, and emotional self.  It makes my goals and aspirations seem like nothing more than silly daydreams.  

This doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to make willing sacrifices for others, but it does mean that you create healthy boundaries.  Learning to say “no” is freeing. Practice is the only way to cultivate this type of empowerment. A healthy dose of releasing guilt also helps.

Self-care has made it possible for me to not only be honest about my dreams, but take practical steps to seeing them come to fruition.

3. Self care enables us to care for others

Self care and selfishness are motivated by different intentions. Selfishness comes from a place of how can I make my situation better for me? How can I make this benefit me? Self care comes from a place of How can I improve myself so that I am able to care for others? What can I do to be better for my family/job/friends/etc?

There is nothing wrong with realizing you need a break from your children so that you can be a better mom. There is nothing wrong with using a sick day from work to take a “mental health day”. And there is nothing wrong with telling whoever you live with “I’m going to my room and I need to be left alone for a couple of hours to recharge,” or telling your significant other, “I need a break. You’re on baby duty.” Doing these things will refresh you and allow you to return with new energy and fresh perspective.

Taking these breaks increases our productivity as we care for others

Whether you are a mom, a wife, a friend, no matter your occupation, etc. becoming a stronger, more confident person will also make you better for the ones you love.

Our first week at home with the boys was amazing. It was so wonderful to have them at home. But it was also exhausting. I was still recovering from surgery and no longer had help from medically trained nurses and doctors. Steph and I were on our own. We had to figure out how to keep the two tiniest humans I had ever seen alive all by ourselves. Between diapers and feedings, especially considering Gryffin did not like to eat and Atticus had some severe reflux, there was barely enough time to eat and use the restroom. Any time I had I chose to sleep. When my mom visited the weekend after they came home, the first thing I said was “I’m so glad you’re here. I haven’t showered since Tuesday. I’m going to take a shower and a nap.”

“Why haven’t you showered?” My mom asked.

“Because every time Steph said ‘I got this. Go take a shower or something,’ I slept instead.”

After that shower, I was a completely different person. Instead of taking a nap, I made dinner.

It was a long shower. I used my favorite shampoo and soap and lotion and put on my favorite, most comfortable sweatpants, and felt like a brand new person. It felt as though I had been recreated. I was ready to be more than a “mombie”.

And after that I was a better mom. I was better at taking care of my kids and my wife. I was a better human. All because figured out how to care for my infants and be productive because I took an hour to step away and take care of me.

Regular breaks also “fill up your love cup”

I know that sounds ridiculously cheesy. I first learned the phrase when I read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. And I thought it was cheesy then, too, but the phrase has become a regular part of my and Steph’s vocabulary.

Our sweet boys have especially taught us about filling our love cups.  They are rambunctious fifteen month olds. In those little bodies are some big emotions they aren’t always sure how to deal with.  When one of them has a melt down (starting before they could even crawl) we will pick them up and talk to them, often also saying “aw, sweet baby, your love cup was just empty.”

Now that this has become their norm we have noticed that the boys often come to us for quick snuggles whenever they are feeling overwhelmed. In those moments, they practice self care; they realize they are overwhelmed and in need of a safe space. They come to us and receive love, attention, and/or comfort, and then continue playing happily. This doesn’t keep all the melt-downs from happening, but they do happen less often and are a little less severe.

It also taught me that self-care doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. The boys come to us to “fill their love cup.” We receive as much in these moments as we give. And it strengthens our bond as a family.

Taking Care of Yourself Is Not Selfish

In a world of increasing online interaction, where tones are misconstrued, and people can hide from taking responsibility for the damage their words can cause, it is easier than ever to attack others, to shame others, or to hurt others.

No matter what you read, please remember that YOU matter. YOU are important. And you need to take care of yourself.

Self care is never selfish.

Mom shaming is.

What is your favorite way to practice self care? Share with me in the comments!

8 Things I Loved in December

December was such a lovely month. Lots of family time, lots of celebrations, lots of laughter and love.

If I actually shared every single things I loved about December, we would all be here for days, so here is a very, very condensed list.

Potato Soup

The boys and I went to my parents for the day in the middle of the month to have lunch with my mom at work for a fundraiser–this is actually one of my favorite parts of December, but I didn’t take any photos, so I’m skipping over lunch and going straight to dinner.

My dad made potato soup. He said, “I’m not sure about feeding it to the boys. I put a little chili powder in it so it’s spicy.” (It was not spicy. I had no reservations about the boys eating it). Atticus was sitting in dad’s lap and when he realized Dad wasn’t going to share he helped himself. He pulled Dad’s spoon right out of his hand and fed himself some soup. Gryffin loved the soup, too.

Advent Books

Steph’s mom gave the boys 25 books, each wrapped individually, so each day of advent they could open a new one. This was great for so many reasons. 1) It was adorable. 2) It was fun. 3) It prepared the boys for opening their Christmas gifts. 4) You would not even believe how much the boys love books so it was very exciting for them.

Christmas Tree

We did not put ornaments on our tree this year. We evaluated the situation and decided chasing TWO one-year-olds out of the tree all day every day wasn’t worth it. Instead, we just put it up with the lights and a bow on top and bought the boys a felt tree on Amazon. They loved ripping the ornaments off the felt tree and scattering them all over the house.

Pizza Night

Steph and I love pizza. I think Stpeh would eat it every single day and not grow tired of it. Well, A and G are just chips of the block, because they love it, too. Atticus even climbed into the pizza box to be as close to the yummy-ness as possible.

Cricut Fun

I had a lot of fun with my Cricut Maker this year. I made cups for everyone in Steph’s family (I forgot to photograph before I gifted them) and I made the boys these adorable Christmas shirts. Crafting, and my Cricut, relax me. Best way to relieve stress.

Rings

Steph had these adorable rings made for my stocking. I wear them on a necklace and love them so much. Gryffin enjoys fiddling with them when we snuggle, too.

3 Years

Steph and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. It’s been an amazing three years and I’m looking forward to a lifetime of happiness and love. I made this video for our anniversary. (BTW, when I shared the video on our anniversary, FB told me I had to make it clear that I do not own the music, nor did I write or perform the music. So, just in case you somehow believed I was so talented, it is actually “The Day Before You” performed by Rascal Flatts).

Christmas

Oh gosh Christmas was so much fun. We had a whirlwind of 4 celebrations in 4 cities in 4 days. I didn’t get nearly as many photos as I would have liked, but here’s a few. Love these sweet, silly babies.

What did you love about December?

30 Things I Believe

One of my favorite writing assignments when I was a traditional classroom teacher was “This I Believe” Essays. No matter the writing ability of my students, if they tried they would write a poignant and beautiful piece. It was a great way to empower them and help them love writing. It was also low pressure because it didn’t require a ton of research, it was acceptable to use lists or bullet points rather than the usual 5 paragraph structure, and it was something they wanted to write about. 

So, as part of my countdown to my thirtieth birthday, here is my This I Believe Essay: 30 Things I believe.

As a wife, I believe

1) Miscommunication is the true root of all evil.

2) Insufficient sleep leads to many misunderstandings

3) Being loving is more important than being right. (This was hard for me to learn.

4) Making time to spend together is important.

5) If your spouse isn’t your best friend, you need to reevaluate your priorities.

As a mom, I believe

6) Every child is a blessing, no matter the circumstances.


7) Coffee should be its own food group.


8) There should be special parking for toddler moms. Especially twin toddler moms.


9)There are no better sounds in the world than: hearing little feet patter across the floor while I’m working my office, my babies giggling while playing together, my babies snoring in the back seat on road trips, the sweet way my boys say “hi” when they see me in the morning.


10) Being a mom is the most wonderful, most difficult, and most important job I’ve ever had. I have never felt the weight of responsibility more than I do now. And I love it.

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As a humanitarian I believe

11) Human suffering should be addressed wherever it is found. It is unacceptable to put children in cages.

12) Building a wall is the stupidest thing ever.

13) Black lives matter

14) I am in charge of my body. No one else. I am responsible for the consequences–both good and bad–of my choices. No one else.

15) Education is important. We should fund it and pay teachers what they deserve.

As a person managing an anxiety disorder, I believe

16) Hope is stronger than fear.

17) Chocolate can make you feel better, even if only temporarily.

18) Choosing to be positive, to practice gratitude, or to work out CAN fix a bad attitude but it CANNOT cure depression or anxiety or any other mental illness. Telling someone who has a mental illness they need to choose not to be sick is just as effective and stupid as telling someone with cancer they need to choose not to be sick.

19) Disconnecting for some peace and quiet is good for the soul.

20) Self care is not selfish.

As a recovering workaholic, I believe

21) Indifference is just as important as passion.

22) You should never stress yourself out for a job that, should you die, would replace you within a week.

23) Every employee is replaceable–and so is every job.

24) It is fun to be the leader, but sometimes the best way to be a good leader is to be a good follower.

25) Having a job is fun. Working is fun. But it’s not the only fun you can–or should–have. Let everything go sometimes and do something that makes you happy. It is okay to take a mental health day sometimes.

As a dog mom, I believe

26) Dogs are the best example of love I have ever seen. No matter what, they love unconditionally.

27) Dogs are the best judge of character. If your dog tells you someone is bad, don’t question it. If dogs seem to think you are bad, evaluate yourself. You probably need to make a change.

28) If you’re having a bad day or are stressed out, hug a dog. You’ll feel better.

29) If you need to cry, hug a dog. He will let you cry into his fur and then he will lick away your tears and he will not stop until you smile again.

30) Humans really aren’t good enough for dogs. We don’t deserve them. If you need proof that there is a loving creator out there, adopt a dog. Someone had to love us an awful lot to bless us with them despite our faults.

What do you believe? Tell me in the comments!

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5 Reasons Our Kids Don’t Believe in Santa (and 2 Ways We Still Keep The Magic Alive)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

I love holidays. All holidays. I love celebrating and now that I’m a mom I love it even more.

Nap time with Atticus. <3

This year I had so much fun making family Halloween costumes (You can see them here). The boys really enjoyed eating Thanksgiving food. And now, it’s Christmas. I am in love with my Christmas tree, even if all we have done so far this year is put it up–no ornaments. And Steph bought family stockings that I have been wanting for years. I have all the crafts planned and all the cooking ideas and I’ve spent way too much money on Christmas gifts. But I love it.

However, I have had a concern prickling my subconscious: Santa

I don’t want to teach my kids to believe Santa is real. And not just Santa, but the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and that damn Elf on the Shelf, too. But at the same time I was doubting myself. What if I was stealing the magic of the holidays or the innocence of being a child by not convincing my kids to believe?

I think I may have found a solution!

There are five big reasons I don’t want to teach my kids to believe in Santa (et al)

1. I don’t want to lie to them.

I want my kids to know they can trust me with anything and everything no matter what. And I feel like if I create a foundation of dishonesty in their most formative years, I might not ever recover.

2. I’m not into bribing or manipulating my kids for good behavior.

I want them to make good choices and be good people because it’s the expectation and for the intrinsic rewards, not for gift-wrapped packages under a decorated tree. Also, I don’t want them to feel like they have to earn gifts or my love. My main love language is easily physical touch, but receiving gifts is a close second. I want to give my children gifts as an act of love and I don’t want them to ever feel like they have to do something to earn my love. I love them simply because they are mine and that will never change.

3. Santa is a creep.

He spies on kids all year long. He judges their worth. And then he breaks into their homes while they are sleeping. That does not sound fun.

Also, I’m not a huge fan of the fake Santas who pose for photos. I’m sure most of them are wonderful and have no ulterior motives. But some of them are disgusting.

I let the boys take a photo *near* Santa this year when we ran into him at a craft fair because there was no line and the photos were free.

We walked away and paused so I could get them ready to go outside and a couple of high-school-aged girls wanted to take a silly photo with Santa. The same Santa who had no problem with posing next to my stroller refused to take a photo with these girls unless they sat on his lap. They only wanted to stand next to him, but he pressured and insisted they sit on him.

The girls left without a photo, and I was furious. It was absolutely inappropriate for a grown man to insist that teen girls sit on his lap even though they made it clear that 1) they did not want to and 2) he made them uncomfortable. I worried about all the innocent children who sat on his lap throughout the day.

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4. “Santa” WAS real.

St Nicholas was orphaned when he was a teenager. His wealthy parents left him a lot of money. He heard about a man who was going to have to sell his three adult daughters into slavery because they were so poor he couldn’t afford food much less a dowry, which means they couldn’t marry. One night, the oldest daughter washed her stockings and hung them by the fire to dry. The next morning, she saw a lump in her stocking and found enough gold inside to provide food for her family and pay her dowry so she could marry instead of becoming a slave. The next morning, another bag of gold was found. The third night, the father stayed awake to catch who was helping his family. When he was discovered, Nicholas asked the father to not tell anyone about his deeds.

St. Nicholas helped people throughout his whole life, and he always tried to help in secret. He didn’t want attention or thanks. I feel like it is more important to teach the spirit of Santa Claus/Christmas/St Nicholas is one of generosity and giving that should last all year long and not just during December.

5. I do not want to negatively affect my kids’ faith.

Religion is a tricky subject. I want to teach my children about my spirituality and faith. I want to teach them about the saints and Advent and the 12 Days of Christmas, and Epiphany, and Lent–all things I didn’t really know anything about until I was an adult. Some of them I had never even heard of until I was an adult.

And I want them to know it is okay to question. They do not have to choose the same religious belief system I have chosen–I won’t force that on them. But if I trick them into believing in mythical creatures and people when they are children, then later when they are questioning whether God is real or sovereign then what validity is there in anything I could say?

What will we do instead? Two Things

1. Giving

We will share with our kids what being a gift giver really means and how to promote the magic of Christmas by creating a spirit of thankfulness and giving and family tradition.

I love giving gifts, and I think I’m pretty good at choosing meaningful ones. I love making gifts (handmade gifts are my favorite to receive!). We will make an effort to teach our kids how much fun it is to give thoughtful gifts. We will demonstrate thankfulness in all seasons and conditions. And we will always focus on family and togetherness as most important not only during the holiday season, but all year.

2. Pretending

We will still do all the Santa things (and Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny) but we will tell the kids “This is something that we (children and adults) pretend because it is fun.”

Does tricking our kids into believing in Santa inspire creativity? No. Can we encourage creative thought and play and still be truthful? Yes. Imagining that Santa exists and believing that he really does are two completely different things.

So we will still bake cookies for Santa (peanut butter, because they’re my favorite) and we will still write him letters (duh. With two English teacher moms they’ll probably write several drafts of each letter). We will still read books about Santa (and St. Nicholas). We will still fill their stockings after they go to sleep on Christmas Eve. On Easter they will still wake up to Easter baskets. When they lose teeth they will still find glittery money under their pillows from the Tooth Fairy. But they are always going to know that we are all pretending these fun things together. Moms pretend to be the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

I know this isn’t ideal for everyone.

And that’s okay. I promise I will ask my kids not to tell the truth to other kids before I send them to school. But I am very much looking forward to building traditions with my family that include fun, love, and happiness for all of us.

What is your favorite holiday tradition from your childhood? What is your favorite tradition you celebrate with your kids? Tell me in the comments!

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30 Things I Learned From Harry Potter

In case it’s not obvious, I’m obsessed with Harry Potter. So much that our honeymoon was to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. So much that I have one child named Gryffin and another one whose middle name is James (just like Harry James Potter, who was a Gryffindor). I know, I know. I’m a super nerd. I’m not even sorry.

When I decided to write a list of 30 Things I learned from Harry Potter for my newest countdown to my 30th birthday, I thought it would be super easy. Um. Negative. I was super wrong.

JK Rowling is easily the best writer I have ever read. She has created a whole entire world and made it feel real–made me feel invested in it. I know that no matter what I put on this list, I will never, ever truly capture the magic of her Wizarding World.

But despite knowing I cannot truly communicate how magnificent the Harry Potter world is, here is my attempt. In honor of turning 30 in four months, here is my newest List of Thirty: 30 Things I Learned from Harry Potter.

(In case you missed them, I have also shared 30 Things that Make Me Happy and 30 Things I Want My Sons to Know)

WARNING–If you have never read Harry Potter, this list contains spoilers. Spoilers all over the place. (Also, what is wrong with you?!?! Harry Potter is the best. Go read it. Now. Then come back and read my list.)


1. Every life is valuable.

Whether it was Hermione fighting for elf rights, Hagrid nurturing terrifying three-headed dogs and baby dragons, or Harry showing kindness and respect to House Elves and goblins when the rest of society considered them “less than,” it was clear that every life is valuable and worth loving.   

2. Love is the most powerful magic there is.

You can call the Harry Potter series whatever you want, but at its core it is a story about sacrificial love. It all starts when Lily Potter dies protecting her son. She didn’t need to die, but she willingly placed herself between Voldemort and her baby. Because of her sacrifice, Voldemort was not able to kill baby Harry. This theme repeats over and over throughout the books and ends with Harry surrendering himself to Voldemort in the Final Battle–willingly facing death because he thought it would protect the people he loved.

3. We don’t have to be what our parents are.

I think this one resonates with me so much because I taught in Title I schools for the better part of a decade and saw first-hand the detrimental effects of generational poverty. Sirius Black was the first person in his family to ever not be sorted into the house of Salazar Slytherin–and as such, he was also the only one who did not become one of Voldemort’s followers. His brother, Regulus, did everything his parents expected before realizing how wrong they were. Draco Malfoy nearly died before he learned the ways of his parents–elitism, violence–were wrong.

4. But sometimes our parents are absolutely right.

Percy Weasley wanted to advance in his career so badly he turned on his parents. When he received a “promotion” during turmoil between the Ministry of Magic and Albus Dumbledore, his parents were afraid the Minister of Magic was using him to spy on the rest of the family, Harry, and Dumbledore. He asserted that they were jealous of his standing in the ministry and accused his dad of having a “lack of ambition” and blamed him for the family’s low socioeconomic status. It was not until the final battle that Percy made amends with his family and joined the fight against Voldemort.

5. Ask for help when you need it.

I didn’t necessarily learn this because I am literally the world’s worse at asking for help. It’s what makes us kindred spirits, Harry and me. Just like me, he always tries to go it alone. Sometimes people pretty much have to force me to let them help me. And the same was true for Harry. He intended to go find the Sorcerer’s stone alone, he intended to rescue Sirius alone, he intended to leave school and hunt Horcruxes alone…but Ron, Hermione, and others were always there to support and help him.

6. Be sassy.

If you’ve only watched the Harry Potter movies, you’ve missed out on some of Harry’s finer moments. Here are a few of my favorites.

“They stuff people’s heads down the toilet the first day at Stonewall,” he told Harry. “Want to come upstairs and practice?”
“No, thanks,” said Harry. “The poor toilet’s never had anything as horrible as your head down it — it might be sick.” Then he ran, before Dudley could work out what he’d said.”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


“Why were you lurking under our window?”
“Yes – yes, good point, Petunia! What were you doing under our windows, boy?”
“Listening to the news,” said Harry in a resigned voice.
His aunt and uncle exchanged looks of outrage.
“Listening to the news! Again?””Well, it changes every day, you see,” said Harry.”

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


“Do you remember me telling you we are practicing nonverbal spells, Potter?”
“Yes,” said Harry stiffly.
“Yes, sir.”
“There’s no need to call me ‘sir,’ Professor.”

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

7. Higher education isn’t for everyone.

In the magical world, formal schooling is for seven years. Young wizards begin their first year September 1 after their 11th birthday. The seventh year is optional. Fred and George attended their seventh year to please their parents, but it is obvious school is not for them. They like jokes and pranks and silliness. So mid year they left to open their own joke shop, Weasley Wizard Wheezes. My description makes this sound terribly boring when in all seriousness their departure is one of my absolute favorite scenes in all the books. Actually, it is probably my most favorite. It is hilarious and wonderful. Book 5–you should definitely read it.

8. Sometimes it is okay–and even necessary–to question authority.

Many times throughout the stories, powerful positions and institutions are undermined to benefit those with evil or ulterior motives. The Minister of Magic is unwilling to admit his failures or loss of control and many people end up suffering because of it. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were always quick to question authority, and most times were right to do so.

9. Kindness is always the best option.

After the death of his parents,  Harry lived with his aunt and uncle. They neglected and abused him his entire childhood. Despite that, he never lost his capacity to love. He wanted so badly to belong and be accepted and instead of internalizing his abuse and becoming hard and guarded, his first instinct was always to be kind.

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10. Earning the love of a pet is always a plus.

Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, knew the truth about Scabbers and the danger Hermione, Ron, and Harry were in and helped Padfoot reveal the truth to them. Harry’s owl, Hedwig, died protecting Harry from a killing curse. Hagrid’s dog, Fang, was always there to protect Hagrid and the students. Even Filch’s cat, Mrs. Norris, would tattle on naughty students to the caretaker. It takes a good heart to earn the love and respect of an animal. And it’s always worth it.

11. The media lies.

You may think the current American media is the first to report “fake news” [eye roll], but the truth is humans are biased and therefore our media will be biased. When Voldemort returned to power, the Ministry of Magic did not want to admit the truth to the wizarding community. Instead of organizing to defeat Voldemort, they made the Daily Prophet (newspaper) publish untruthful propaganda to discredit Harry, Dumbledore, and anyone who supported them. Sound familiar? As a matter of fact, Rita Skeeter–a journalist known for writing “fake news”–wrote an article for The Quibbler–a magazine publication of speculation or myths presented as truth–about Harry and Voldemort’s return to power, and it was the only article that was truthful.

12. When in doubt, research.

Wizards don’t have internet, so any time Hermione was unsure about something she headed off to the library to figure it out. This is how she figured out what was in the Chamber of Secrets, how she almost figured out who the Half-Blood Prince was, how she knew what Nicholas Flamel was famous for, and how she figured out the Deathly Hallows. When Hermione didn’t know something she went looking for correct information from reliable sources. It’s an important and necessary skill.

13. Appearances are deceiving.

Hagrid was a half giant who had wild, scraggly hair and a gruff voice and looked terrifying, but he was the gentlest soul in all the books. Dolores Umbridge was a small woman who loved pink and kittens and spoke softly in a sweet little voice, but she is absolutely the most awful character in all the books. I hate her more than I hate Voldemort. Don’t judge people on their appearances. 

14. Heartbreak is inevitable.

Harry does a great job of teaching us this sad, but true lesson. Hermione’s jealousy when Ron dates Lavender. Lavender’s heartbreak at Ron’s hands. Snape’s love for Lily that was never returned and made him bitter. We will all experience heartbreak at some point. Let’s hope we follow the example of Harry when Dumbledore, his mentor and teacher, dies. Harry continued fighting, continued the work Dumbledore began to end Voldemort. He continued to work for the greater good.

15. The love of a parent is so strong, there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do to protect our babies.

Lily Potter sacrificed her own life to protect Harry. Molly Weasley killed Bellatrix Lestrange to protect Ginny. Xenophilius Lovegood tried to turn Harry, Ron, and Hermione over to Voldemort to protect Luna. Narcissa Malfoy lied to Voldemort to protect Draco. I remember being a kid and reading about Luna’s dad calling the Death Eaters and then trying to stall Harry, Ron, and Hermione long enough for them to be captured. The Death Eaters had taken Luna because of information Lovegood had published in The Quibbler and wouldn’t return her unless he helped them. I was so angry. I couldn’t imagine someone sabotaging the only hope the world had at defeating Voldemort. But now I’m a mom, and I get it. I’d do the same damn thing and never think twice.

16. Choose your friends wisely.

Harry Potter was famous in the wizarding world. Anyone would have been his friend. But he connected with Ron and Hermione. And they were always there to help Harry. There was nothing the three of them would not do for one another. They argued. They fought. Sometimes they even stopped speaking for short periods of time. But in the end they always, always had each other’s backs. Quality friends are crucial.

17. Magic is real.

Maybe not in the spells and potions sense. I will never own an Invisibility Cloak. The wand on my desk will never be more than an ink pen. House Elves will never clean my house for me, a fact that deeply upsets me. But there is magic in everything. Our friends, our love, the books we read, the music we listen to. Magic is all around us.

18. Heroism doesn’t always look like a white knight.

Sometimes the hero is the kid who stands up to his friends because that’s a lot harder than standing up to your enemies. Sometimes the hero is the guy who is thought to be a double agent, guilty of murder because if the truth about his allegiance was known it would ruin everything. And sometimes the hero is the guy who is ashamed of how he unknowingly aided Voldemort’s rise to power but turns over the memory anyway despite his fear of judgement and condemnation. Finally, sometimes the hero is a little House Elf who defies his master and rescues his friends. Sometimes the hero is the cousin who notices you and says “I don’t think you’re a waste of space.”

19. Chocolate fixes a lot of problems.

When Harry and friends encounter dementors for the first time in book 3, they are pretty shaken. And who wouldn’t be, to meet a creature that feeds off sadness and sucks the happiness out of everyone it nears? A creature the author created when dealing with her own depression? Professor Lupin gave them all chocolate. “Eat. You’ll feel better,” he says. If that isn’t a man after my heart, I don’t know what is. Permission to eat my feels? Yes please.

20. Everyone has memories they would rather forget.

Speaking of dementors, when they are near, anyone in their proximity is forced to relive their worst memories. No one is immune to their evil. No matter how perfect or happy their lives look, no matter if they are magical or muggle, no one can escape the dementors. Be kind. You don’t know what kind of darkness others face.

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21. No matter how bad it gets, keep laughing.

After Harry won the Triwizard Cup and Voldemort had returned, he gave all his winnings to Fred and George to invest in their joke shop. He said the world would need a laugh in the coming days more than ever.

22. Gender stereotypes suck and feminism is awesome.

While the books may center around Harry, the female characters are actually very important. They are not just supporting characters. There’s the obvious: Hermione who, even Ron admitted, is the only reason Harry and Ron survived.

Ginny, who is about as interesting as a coffee mug in the moves, is incredible in the books. She also serves as an example of growing into yourself. When the novels begin she is a blushing little girl with a cute little crush on Harry. When they end, she is a fighter taking on Death Eaters. She also teaches us that a woman’s choices are her own. She has six older brothers…some of whom think they have the right to say something about who she dates and how she dates. But she is very quick to put them in their place.

Even Lavender Brown teaches us about feminisim. On the surface, she is the epitome of girly. She loves divination, she giggles, and she is clingy; when she and Ron date she is the most obnoxious character ever. She seems like the exact opposite of a feminist character. But she also dies a hero’s death in the final battle, proving a feminist can be girly. (Thank you, Lavender. This girly feminist has taken it to heart).

23. Babies are always a blessing.

No matter the situation, no matter the circumstances, babies are always a blessing. Harry was born in the middle of the first wizard war. His parents and family loved him and welcomed him. Tonks and Lupin had baby Teddy just before the final battle. It was a bright spot of hope and love in a dark time.

24. Some things are decided for us and we have no control over them.

My dog Duncan loves his collar. When I take it off him to give him a bath or wash it or change it, he gets upset. It’s his and it’s his symbol that he belongs to me and not having it makes him anxious. In the wizarding world, your wand is your most important asset. Without it, your magic is useless. You cannot cast spells. It is a symbol of who you are and where you belong. But you can’t just go pick one. The wand chooses the wizard. Everything about it–the type of wood, the magical core, the length, the flexibility–says something about who you are and your destiny, and you have no control over which wand will choose you. Sometimes, things are decided for us. Sometimes we just have to accept what is and make the best of it.

25. There is no substitute for the real thing.

Authenticity is important. Gilderoy Lockhart pretended to be a hero. He wasn’t authentic and as a result he wasn’t respected. He had no friends. And in his arrogance used someone else’s faulty wand to obliterate his own memory so severely he lived the remainder of his days in a wizard hospital. The Sword of Gryffindor was vital to ending the wizard war, but a copy would not do. Griphook could sight a fake from a mile away. And speaking of authenticity, the sword would only present itself to a true Gryffindor–Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, Neville in the Final Battle, etc.

26. The world is not divided into good people and Death Eaters.

In our current political climate it is hard to remember this. I have a difficult time remembering that anyone who supports the vile acts and racist beliefs of the current administration could still be a good person. There are people who are not Death Eaters who are still not good people. And there are people who are Death Eaters who might be good at the core but were suckered in due to fear, manipulation, or promises of wealth and power. It’s not so black and white as Dumbledore’s Army or Voldemort’s Death Eater. There’s a lot of gray between them.

27. Competition is about more than just winning.

Have integrity. Harry always played a clean game of Quidditch, even against Malfoy and the Slytherins. Whenever he was given a seemingly unfair advantage in the TriWizard Tournament, he made sure to give others the same advantage. When he was set to rescue Ron from the bottom of the lake in the second task of the TriWizard Tournament, he couldn’t leave the others behind and stayed to make sure they were all rescued. He gave up placing first to make sure everyone was safe. He sets a great example with his integrity.

28. People are complicated.

Sometimes I feel like Ron was created to teach us this lesson. Ron is a very black and white thinker. Hermione describes him as having the emotional range of a teaspoon. But people are more complicated than that. Everyone has secrets. Neville’s secret is the condition of his parents. Snape’s is that he loves Lily. Dumbledore’s is that he regrets not valuing his family and how his pursuit of power hurt them. People are complicated and we will never truly understand one another. We should treat each other kindly.

29. Sometimes doing the right thing is hard.

I cannot say it any better than Dumbledore. “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

30. It only takes one.

t only takes one of us to start a positive change. Harry didn’t win the fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters alone. He had many people fighting for him and with him. But he was unfaltering in his devotion to standing up to evil. He was the man everyone rallied behind. The task of ending Voldemort’s oppression required a lot of people, but those people would not have come together if it had not been for Harry leading the way. “Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realise that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!” (Dumbledore).  It only takes one to turn everything around. Be the one. Be the change.

9 Things I Loved in October

I thought writing my October review would be difficult because October was a kind of rough month: our sink exploded, I tripped over the baby gate and fell–bruising up the whole right side of my body and causing Steph to miss a day of work to take care of me, our dryer broke, and I have a flat tire (AGAIN). 

But actually, it was hard to narrow down the list of all the good things to a reasonable number. October was really wonderful, full of family and celebrations and good memories. 

ICYMI Atticus and Gryffin turned one in October! I wrote our birth story as well as a letter to them

9 Things I Loved in October

1) Pumpkin Patch

To ring in fall and celebrate Mommom’s fall break, we took the boys to the orchard for the first time. We had so much fun. We started the corn maze, but it was way too hot to finish it. Fall didn’t come to Kentucky until the end of October. So, instead, we sat outside and had apple cider slushies. It may sound gross, but it tastes delicious. The boys loved them.

The boys also enjoyed riding in the wagon, which prompted Granny to buy them a wagon of their very own for their birthday, which the boys love. And pumpkins were a big hit, too! (We very much recommend this wagon)

2) Birthday Party

The boys are officially one now! Their birthday party was awesome. They were surrounded by so many people who love them so much. We gave them each their very own smash cake and neither they nor any of us were disappointed. Most of the party was spent watching them devour the cakes. Best party entertainment ever.

3) Fall Festival

Our church had a fall festival this year that was so much fun. I love my little church. It may be small, but it is full of love and kindness.

Steph helped paint faces and I ran the coloring contest. My favorite part was coloring with my friends Bev and Alison.

4) Halloween

The boys have no idea what Halloween is or why we all dressed weird, but I don’t even care. Last year they had only been home from the NICU for a week and some change, so we spent Halloween snuggling and eating pizza. This year, we took them to the “Fright Night” at Steph’s school–all dressed as Toy Story characters. I’m Bo Peep, Steph is Jessie, and the boys were Slinky Dog. They were adorable, even if they neither one would wear the ears.

5) “Have a good week. Learn your alphabet!”

The last Sunday of the month, when we left church, one of the older members said bye to the boys by saying, “Have a good week! Learn your alphabet.” I didn’t hear it, but apparently she followed it up with “At least half of it.” I don’t know why, but that has amused me all week long. I love my church and the people there. They are truly wonderful.

6) Pumpkin Spice Coffee from Aldi

Even though I was risking being tarred and feathered, I shared this confession on Facebook and Instagram early in October. I am not a big pumpkin spice fan. I actually like the flavors of winter more than the flavors of fall–citrus, pomegranates, hot chocolate. But I found these at Aldi and they were inexpensive, so I thought I would keep them in the house for guests.

And now I’m on my second box.

Inspirational Dream Journal

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7) Sesame Street Fun

Sesame Street Board Books

The boys had a Sesame Street birthday party so we received a lot of Sesame Street gifts. These books (link above) are among their favorites. Steph, Granny, and I have just about all of them memorized. Since they received these books, Gryffin has learned to say “Read It” and Atticus has learned to say “Again!” 

I have looked for similar board books, and the boys are probably going to get these for Christmas!

Sesame Street Parodies

Speaking of Sesame Street, we also discovered Sesame Street Parodies on YouTube this month. Steph and I turn them on for us sometimes because we find them hilarious.

8) Marbled pumpkins

Instead of carving or painting pumpkins, we decided to try marbling them after seeing a video that made it look too easy to be true.

It really is that easy, though. Seriously–get a bucket/bowl of water, pour in 3-4 colors of fingernail polish, and dip the pumpkin. It’s not as messy or as difficult as carving or painting, but it looks just as cool.

**DO NOT stick your fingers in the water. It took straight up acetone to “un marble” my fingers.

9) Date Night!

We had a rare date night. Some sweet friends from church came over and played with the boys so we could have some time together. It was a super simple date night–we went to Olive Garden and had grown-up drinks and salad and breadsticks and chicken (we both ordered chicken dishes. Leave it to us to go to Olive Garden and not order any pasta). Then we went home and snuggled the babies. It was perfect, and exactly what we needed.

Looking for a fun date night idea? Check out my Date Night Scavenger Hunt here and download the Scavenger Hunt for free here!

What was your favorite part of October? Tell me in the comments!

What was your favorite part of October? Tell me in the comments!