30 Things I Want My Sons to Know

Last month I began counting down to my 30th birthday with my first post in my List of 30 series: 30 Things That Make Me Happy.

This month has been all about my boys who turned one on October 8. We have celebrated them and reminisced all month long. I finally got around to writing down our birth story. So, this month’s list of 30 is dedicated to them.

I never imagined I would be a mom before I turned 30. Honestly, I didn’t think I would ever have kids at all, but always thought if I did, 30 was a good age to start. Now I’m five months away from my 30th birthday and looking forward to ringing in a new decade with my baby boys by my side.

In honor of Ace and G-man, I’ve written a letter to them–Thirty Things I Want My Sons to Know.

Dear Atticus and Gryffin,

You’re one whole year old. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone. You will hear that your whole life, that time flies, but you will have no idea just how fast it goes by until you have babies of your own. Those are both things I hated for people to say to me before I had kids: “time flies” and “you won’t understand until you have kids”. Now look at me, saying them. They’re both true though.

I have never truly felt the weight of responsibility more than I do now that I am a mom. Your mom. I have so many hopes and dreams for you. I want to be so much for you: a mom, a cheerleader, an encourager, a teacher, and, when you’re adults, a friend.

As we tackle the next 30 years together, here are 30 things I want you to know.

1. Respect others

I hope you learn how to show respect to others even when you do not like them or do not agree with them.

I read once that some people view respect as being treated like a person while some view respect as being treated like an authority. And sometimes people say “If you don’t respect me, I won’t respect you.” But what they mean is “If you don’t treat me like an authority, I won’t treat you like a person.”

I want you to know that people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity just because they are people. You don’t have to respect others’ choices, perceived authority, or beliefs, but you have to treat them like they are people. And people deserve to be treated with respect.  

2. No means no

The end. Period. No is no. No is not “maybe” “kind of” “later” “not right now” or “ask me again”. No is no. And yes can become no at any time.

3. Learn to cook

Everyone should know how to cook. You may not be interested in learning how to be a fancy chef, but you should be able to cook enough that when you no longer live with Mommom and me you do not have to rely on fast food to survive.

I enjoy having you play in the kitchen while I am cooking, even if all you do now is make messes. When you were really little, Mommom would wear you while she cooked. She would say “Someday you’re going to call me and say ‘Mommom, how do you make pancakes?’ because you’re going to want to make them for someone special. Well, this is how you do it.”

So what I’m saying is, pay attention.

4. Learn how to throw a ball.

Mommom and Gryffin–the boys’ first college basketball game.

Okay, what I mean by this is that I hope Mommom teaches you how to throw a ball. I never did learn how to do it right. Even if you’re like me and not naturally athletic, and even if you don’t necessarily enjoy sports, I want you to have the opportunity to try. I don’t want you to be afraid to try new things or give up on something before you even give it a shot. I’ve missed out on too many experiences because of fear to let you develop the same attitude.

5. White privilege is real

You have an advantage because you are white, American males. White privilege is both something you must recognize as an unfair, unspoken advantage, and a cause of racism.  Having white privilege is not in and of itself racist. Neither is recognizing it.

This also doesn’t mean that white people don’t or never will struggle. There are historic inequities that have created institutional and systemic racist disadvantages for people of color.  Being aware of your actions, your words, and your position in society can change all of that. Educate yourself. Know when to speak up.

Having this privilege does not make you bad, but how you choose to use it can. I hope I teach you to make the world better. I hope I instill in you a passion for justice and equality. And I hope you learn to ask and then live out the answers to these two questions: What can I do to help build a new system?  What is my role in creating a new normal?

6. Win and lose gracefully

A sore loser sucks. But you know what sucks worse than a sore loser? A sore winner.

When you lose, it is okay to be upset, but you should still congratulate the winner and  mean it.

When you win, congratulate the loser on a job well done and genuinely compliment something they did well. Show them respect as a worthy competitor.

7. I will always love you.

There are no conditions or exceptions. There is not a subordinate clause that goes with that sentence. That’s the whole sentence, the whole thought, and the most important thing for you to learn. I will always love you.

8. Show kindness to customer service employees

Customer service is a difficult field. You will probably have a customer service position at some point in your life, and once you do you will finally understand how hard it is. Say “please” and “thank you”, look the cashier/waiter/whomever in the eye, be patient, use a kind tone, and show true appreciation when they go above and beyond. And always, always tip well.

9. It is important to stand up for yourself

Know that there is a line between defending yourself and being a jerk.  Don’t be a jerk.

And remember,  it is even more important to stand up for people who cannot defend themselves.

10. Be the kind of person who easily earns the trust and love of children and dogs.

No one is a better judge of character than dogs and babies. It takes them less than 10 seconds to know if you are worthy of their affection and trust. Be men who can win their affection.

Grandpa Bob and Grandma Sandi come to mind. The first time they met you was the first week of maternity leave that I had you all alone. Mommom had gone back to work and Nana was at home and it was just the three of us. At that point, Atticus, you only really loved Mommom. I mean, you loved me and let me take care of you, but you spent the whole day waiting for Mommom to come home. Then you would snuggle into her and go right to sleep. And Gryffin, I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but I had the hardest time getting you to eat. There were days that you might not have eaten if Auntie Michelle hadn’t come over to feed you.

Grandpa Bob and Grandma Sandi came in. Grandma Sandi fed Gryffin the last of his bottle that he wouldn’t eat for me. Grandpa Bob held Atticus. I was nervous because you didn’t really like for anyone to hold you yet, but when he took you in his arms you woke up and looked around and sat so still. You snuggled into him and fell asleep. I already knew Bob and Sandi were pretty great, but you guys–at 5 whole weeks old–confirmed it. You knew they were trustworthy within ten seconds.

Be like them. It’s been a year and you still love them. You’re still genuinely happy to see them.

11. Experience as much of the world as you can.

I hope so much that you inherit your Mommom’s wanderlust. I hope you gain new perspectives by truly experiencing and respecting and loving other cultures.

12. Question everything

I don’t mean question everything the way I do–with doubts and conspiracy theories and cynicism. I mean explore all angles and possibilities. Don’t assume something is correct because someone in a position of authority said it. Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes Mommom is wrong. And sometimes teachers, principals, preachers, bosses, managers, and spouses are wrong. Just because someone you trust says something does not make it true. Ask questions. Research. Read. Ask more questions.

Mommom and I will teach you how to identify a reliable source. Don’t go looking for answers that support your opinion. Go looking for correct answers and be willing to change your opinions because of unbiased facts.

13. Violence should always be an absolute last resort.

Violence breeds violence, which adds more hate and hurt to the world. You would not believe how much better you have already made this world in your first year of life. You have brought so much healing and joy to so many people just because you exist. I hope I teach you how to resolve conflicts peacefully. I hope you continue to make improvements in society by avoiding violence.

14. Don’t drink and drive.

Call me or Mommom or Auntie Michelle or anyone you can, but DO NOT ever, ever, EVER get behind the wheel drunk. Do not get in the car with a driver who is drunk. There are a lot of risky things you can do, but avoid the ones that can kill or otherwise negatively affect you and/or other people.

There is too much at risk.  Even if someone tells you that they “Aren’t really that drunk” it isn’t worth it. Just call someone else.


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15. Learn the custodian’s name

At school and when you are an adult in the workforce, learn the custodian’s name. Greet them by name every time you see them. Ask them how they are doing and how their family is doing. Thank them for their contribution to your school/workplace. Remember to give them a Christmas card. Try to learn when their birthday is. They have a thankless job. Many people demean them, but their job is very important. I promise you if they don’t do their job well or are out sick, you will notice and you will be inconvenienced. Make sure they know you value them.

16. Understand the weight of your words

In Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore says, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

Your words can cause a lot of damage. Once you say something, you cannot unsay it. You cannot make someone else unhear it. It’s done. Remember that when you are angry, sad, or disappointed.

Your words can also brighten someone’s day. Tell the people you love what they mean to you. Compliment strangers. Encourage classmates and coworkers. Words can be beautiful. They can be healing. They can be life-giving. Remember that, too.

17. Call your grandparents

You have no idea how much they love you or how much a phone call from you means to them. This includes all of your grandparents–even the ones we are not actually related to.

18. Learn basic home repairs

Since moms bought our house, we have replaced every single light fixture. Do you have any idea how much money we saved because Mommom could do that herself? (I get to stand at the bottom of the ladder and pass stuff to her, and I’ve learned a lot from that.)

Mommom has also renovated our bathroom and our kitchen cabinets, and she has cut a pass-through in the wall between the living room and the kitchen. She has re-tiled the floor in front of the door and just about any time something comes up, she fixes it.

A couple of weeks ago the kitchen sink broke and Mommom wasn’t home. I had to get help from the neighbor. And she didn’t have time to figure out how to fix it when she did get home, so we had to call a plumber. Paying other people to fix stuff in your house is expensive and inconvenient. Even if we have to learn it together, I am going to make sure you know how to do as much as you can on your own.

19. Strive to make good first impressions.

A strong, firm handshake, eye contact, and appropriate clothing are instrumental to making a good first impression. Employers will be looking for these things. Parents of people you date will be looking for them. Potential dates will be looking for them. Mortgage brokers will be looking for them.

20. Be thankful

Life isn’t always good. When it is good, be thankful. When it’s bad, try to still be thankful. Besides, bad times are what make the good times so good.

21. Live with someone before you marry them.

Living with someone is a huge step. It is a big deal, so don’t do it unless you are sure you are ready because breaking a lease early and moving out is very expensive.

You know what is an even bigger deal? Marriage. You know what is even more expensive? Divorce.

There is a whole lot you just can’t learn about someone unless you live with them. When you’re dating, you can veil a lot of undesirable traits by retreating to your home, but you can only keep that up for so long when you share a space 24/7.

Break ups hurt and they are awful, but it is easier to break up and move out than it is to go to court and file for divorce.

Also, while we are on this topic, never have unprotected sex unless you are married.

Don’t trust that someone is on the pill.

Don’t trust that someone is disease-free. Sometimes they might not even know they

have a disease because they haven’t been to the doctor yet. OR the doctor might not have told them. Yeah. That happens.

And never, ever, EVER just assume someone is disease free. That’s just dumb.

It is your job to be prepared. If you are not responsible enough to be prepared, then you are not responsible enough to handle the consequences that can result from having unprotected sex. Stay safe.

22. Never settle

Don’t settle for good enough. Don’t half-ass your way through life. Mommom and I have high expectations for you, but that can only take you so far. You need to have high expectations for yourself and you need to have the self-discipline to achieve your goals.

I’ll do whatever I can to support you, but I’m not going to do it for you. I can’t do it for you. So when it gets hard, don’t settle. Pick yourself up and keep going. Work hard.

23. Marry someone who loves you as much as Mommom loves me.

And when you find that person, love them as much as I love Mommom. Even more if you can.   

24. Find the smartest person in any room.

The smartest person is the best person to have a conversation with. They will be able to teach you, challenge you, and expand your horizons. Find them and talk to them.

If it so happens you are the smartest person in the room, first check yourself. Are you really–or are you just being arrogant? If you really are the smartest person, find a different room. Never ever think you know enough to stop learning. There’s always more to discover.

25. Practice self care.

Practicing self care is not only for girls. It is not bubble baths and face masks*.

Self care is taking care of yourself. Eat well, work out, meditate, reflect, treat yourself, get enough sleep, get a dog–do what you need to do to stay balanced and happy.

*There is nothing wrong with boys enjoying bubble baths and proper skin care is good for every gender. Don’t be limited by society’s imposed gender norms.

26. Be trustworthy

I’m going to be honest, sometimes having integrity, being the bigger person, telling the truth just really sucks. It’s necessary, though, to earn and keep others’ trust. Once you lose someone’s trust, regaining it is pretty close to impossible and takes a whole lot more work than it would have just to be trustworthy in the first place.

Sometimes there are consequences to having integrity that make it feel like it wasn’t worth it. And sometimes being the bigger person is the worst. But it is worth it. It is always worth it. Be someone who can be trusted.

27. Trust your gut

If your gut feeling is that you should not do something or go somewhere or trust someone, then don’t. Your gut instinct is very rarely going to be wrong.

Duncan, Gryffin, Atticus, Oliver–LOVE makes a family.

If you discover that your gut instincts aren’t all that great, adopt a dog and listen to his/her instincts. My general rule in life, “You don’t have to like my dog, but if my dog doesn’t like you, neither do I.” Lots of people have lead me astray. Zero dogs have done the same.

28. It is okay to be emotional

It is okay to cry and hurt and be sad. And it is okay to be angry. Disappointments will happen

and it is okay to be upset. Sometimes life isn’t fair, and it is okay if that bothers you. Don’t for a second think that just because you are a boy, you are not allowed to feel all the feels**. Also, don’t react or make a decision from a place of strong emotion. You will probably regret that later.

**It’s worth repeating. Don’t be limited by society’s imposed gender norms.

29. Love your brother

Having a sibling is pretty special, but because you’re twins, you two have an extra

special bond. You will have a connection with one another I will never understand. It is unique to the two of you. So love each other. Be best friends. Support one another. Be there for one another.

I love watching the two of you play together. I laugh because when one of you gets in trouble the other one gets upset, too. This week, you had to get your 12 month shots. Atticus cried when it was Gryffin’s turn and vice versa. It melts my heart when I put you in my bed instead of your cribs and you snuggle each other.

Watching you grow up is the most wonderful privilege I have ever been granted. I pray that as you grow up you also grow together. I hope you two always love each other.

30. Be you

In the words of Grandpa Bob “They’re twins, but they’re not alike.” You have two very distinct personalities. And I love it.

Atticus, Granny calls you Mr Hard and Fast. You fall all the time because “walk” isn’t in your vocabulary. You run everywhere you go, and you climb anything and everything you can. Nothing holds you back. You never meet a stranger. You’re vocal and mischievous and so silly. But you are also really sweet. You love to give hugs and kisses and you love to be snuggled. Sometimes you take a break from playing to give hugs and then run back to your toys.

Gryffin, from the moment you were born, you have done everything in “Gryffin Time.” It scares me that you might be my equal in stubbornness. You march to the beat of your own drum in everything you do. You are shy and particular about who can hold you or touch you. I can always count on you for a smile. You are equally as loving and affectionate as your brother, but you show it in completely different ways. Security is more important to you than adventure. You’re cautious and observant.

You are both perfect. I love who you are. Anyone who doesn’t like you for exactly who you are, doesn’t deserve you or your friendship. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not and don’t try to change who you are to make someone else happy. Be you. Just you.

Every single day for the past year I have said the same thing to each of you, and every single day I have meant it. And I will keep saying it as long as I live:

I love you. I love being your mama. Thank you for being my baby.   



What do you want the next generation to know? Tell me in the comments!

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7 Fun Alternatives to Halloween Candy

Yay for Halloween!

It’s almost Halloween, and I am so excited because Halloween is the start of the holiday season. Once we get to Halloween, it snowballs into Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, New Year’s, Epiphany… I love all the holidays. My standard answer to “Which holiday is your favorite?’ is always “Whichever one is next!”

Now that I have kids, I feel like I get to experience holidays through the excitement of a child again. I’m so excited for this Halloween because, even though they have no idea what’s going on, Atticus and Gryffin get to participate. Last year on Halloween they were not even four weeks old yet. We’d barely been home from the NICU for a week. We put them in Halloween sleepers, snuggled them on the couch with the lights out, and ate pizza with my mom and brother.

But this year! This year we are doing the things! We have made the boys a cute twinsy costume and we are going to show off how stinking cute they are all over town.

Halloween Treats

But I’m also thinking about all the Halloween treats. I mean, I LOVED trick or treating when I was a kid. It is so much fun. But it was also the ’90s and  people didn’t really give a hoot about allergies and sugar consumption. It’s sad, but true. So now I wonder about all the kids with food allergies who had to sit trick-or-treating out. I feel sad for all the little guys who can’t truly enjoy the holiday because of food allergies, and I cringe at the amount of sugar we throw at kids.

There was always that house that gave away raisins instead of candy (EW! No thanks). And the house that gave away toothbrushes because they thought they were so clever (though, honestly, I would have rather had that than the raisins.)

But when I think about the amount of peanut butter or nut filled candy I brought home every year, I worry about the kids with allergies. And even if you do offer an allergen-free candy, it is still so full of sugar. Despite having a terrible sweet tooth and intense love for baking (it just makes me so happy, even if it is more difficult now that I have twins), we try very hard not to give A and G a lot of sugar.

So I went looking for alternatives to Halloween candy that kids will still love (not raisins). 

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Halloween Treats that Are Not Candy

1. Airplane Gliders

I’m a former teacher so of course my first thought was something that is STEM-related. Kiddos build a super simple airplane that is way better than the standard paper airplane. These come with the plastic piece you slide onto the nose to make it fly smoother and farther. Which makes for great impromptu science experiments. The kids won’t even realizing they are learning things. 

2. Bouncy Balls

My Gryffin Micah would be so thrilled to get a new ball. Granted these aren’t infant-friendly and I would take it within seconds because he would put it in his mouth, but for those few seconds he would be thrilled. Also, I can already imagine how much fun it would be for him to watch it bounce like crazy all over the kitchen while he and Atticus are sitting in their high chairs and I’m cleaning up the kitchen. 

How cool are these glow-in-the-dark ones? Or eyeball ones? Kids would love these. 

3. Stamps, Temporary Tattoos, and Stickers

Maybe parents won’t love this idea, but kids will. Even older kids.

I had a Facebook “LIKE” stamp in my desk and even when Facebook became uncool because only “old people used it” my students still begged for a stamp. And putting it on their test if they earned an A wasn’t enough. They wanted them on their hands and their foreheads. (I never stamped their foreheads. But they asked every single time I pulled out the stamp. Every. Single. Time.)

One year when I was in elementary school, my mom bought me Valentines that came with tiny little temporary tattoos. Everyone in my class went to the bathroom to put on their tat. 

You know what, even stickers would be awesome. You would not believe how much a sticker will motivate a child. 

Or a teen. 

Or an adult. 

Yes, by adult I do mean me. I get ridiculously excited about my “I Voted” stickers. I always buy cute stamps when I go to the post office because they are like grown-up stickers. One time a coworker turned my Bitmoji into a sticker and you would have thought Christmas had come early. 

So yeah, stamps, temporary tattoos (these are cool, too!), and stickers are pretty much the best. They’re like currency to children.

4. Punching Balloons

I loved punching balloons when I was a kid. They would entertain me for a long time. This is also something older kids would really enjoy and you can even find some Halloween-themed ones for an extra festive touch. 

Yeah. I quoted myself. I think I’m funny.

While we are talking about balloons. If you’re super talented and cool, you could skip punching balloons and make each kid that came to your door (or car/booth because I don’t think people trick-or-treat at houses much anymore) a balloon animal. 

If you do that, send me an invite. I’m a sucker for balloon animals. 

5. Glow Sticks or Mini Flashlights

You can’t lose here. The kids will love them and they make it safer for them to walk around in the dark. These finger lights look like fun and I’ve never seen a kid turn down a glow stick

6. Whistles

Parents will hate you, but the kids will love getting whistles! I bought Atticus and Gryffin some airplane shaped whistles at the Dollar Tree a few months ago. They still haven’t figured out how to make them whistle (so they think I can do magic) but they love trying. If I hand them a whistle in the bath tub, they sit still while I clean them off. #MomHack

This past summer I worked reading camp with first through third graders. There was a drawing every day for prizes. The most popular daily prize was definitely the whistles with the bracelet. It was really cute. I think they would also love these whistles that make them look silly.

7. Pencils and Erasers

The kiddos might not be too impressed by the pencils, but I promise they will use them and teachers everywhere will love you for all eternity.

Erasers are great, too! I remember buying these erasers at the Book Fair when I was a kid. We all loved them! It was definitely the best part of the Book Fair, by far. (If you are an English teacher or an LMS, that’s totally a joke. The books were the best part. For sure.) Also–500 erasers for $12? Win.

I really like these, too, and can definitely imagine kids keeping up with and using them.

It’s awesome, right?

Simple, inexpensive ways to ensure all kids can enjoy Halloween and trick or treating. I tried very hard to include items that were comparable in price to candy, even though a few of them are a little bit more expensive.

What is your favorite Halloween treat? Or your favorite Halloween memory? Tell me in the comments!

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Dump Cake Three Ways

Earlier this month I promised to share some Dump Cake recipes with you! It’s taken longer than I anticipated due to a crazy month, BUT here they are!

Three easy peasy dump cake recipes!

Me before I had babies: I LOVE TO BAKE. It’s my favorite things to do. It relaxes me and I have a lot of fun. 

Me as a twin mom trying to bake cupcakes: I want to burn the kitchen down. 

When Granny came over a few weeks ago with a wonderful desert she had made, I had to ask for the recipe even though on the inside I was saying, “Yeah, right, Sarah. Like you’re going to bake anything like this.” But it was seriously the easiest recipe I’d ever heard–dump cake!

Every month that has five Sundays, the church group I am a member of–Daughters of the King–hosts coffee hour after church. I didn’t actually get to attend our most recent Sunday because I had stayed up all night teaching ESL to students in China, but I sent Steph with THREE dump cakes I had made Saturday evening–without burning down the kitchen, pulling my hair out, or even getting snippy from frustration.

Need a fast, inexpensive, and DELICIOUS cake? Look no further. There is something here for everyone. 

***I forgot to take photos of the finished, baked cakes before I sent them to church with Steph. Sorry. I blame Mom Brain.***

You know what goes GREAT with dump cake? A date night! Download my FREE date night scavenger hunt–which can be completed by dating couples, engaged couples, married couples, or best friends! And end the night with cake and coffee! PLUS, when you download, you sign up for my mailing list to get advanced notice about future posts and freebies! CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD!

Granny’s Lemon Blueberry Dump Cake

This was the cake Granny made and brought over. It’s lovely and light and perfect with a good cup of coffee. Even though it is seriously the easiest thing I have ever done, I still pestered Granny with text messages while I was baking to make sure I got it right, so I can guarantee this is a good recipe.


  • One 21 oz can blueberry pie filling (There are two cans pictured because I thought it would take two, but I texted Granny before I added the second one (but after I took took the photo) to double check and it turns out, you only need 1. 
  • One 20 oz can crushed pineapple
  • 1 box cake mix–lemon flavor
  • 1 stick of butter


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease a 9″x13″ pan. 
  3. Pour blueberry pie filling and crushed pineapple into pan and mix together. 
  4. Sprinkle cake mix on top
  5. Cut the stick of butter into small chunks and place evenly over top of cake mix
  6. Bake 50-55 minutes or until cake mix is cooked and filling is bubbly on the sides. 

Voila! Done! It doesn’t get any easier, am I right?

Chocolate Covered Cherry Dump Cake

I’m addicted to chocolate. I can’t get enough it. And fruity chocolate is my absolute favorite–chocolate cherries, chocolate strawberries, and ESPECIALLY chocolate with orange. So there was no way I was going to make THREE cakes and not have a chocolate one. 


  • Two 21oz cans cherry pie filling
  • One box of cake mix–dark chocolate flavor (YUM)
  • One stick of butter


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease a 9″x13″ cake pan
  3. Pour cherry pie filling into pan. 
  4. Sprinkle cake mix over pie filling
  5. Melt butter and pour over cake mixture
  6. Bake 45 minutes or until cake is done and cherries are bubbling at the sides. 

I think this would make an awesome Christmas dessert!

Caramel Apple Dump Cake

I made these dump cakes for church for the last Sunday of September, so I couldn’t not make a fall-inspired dump cake. I’m not really a pumpkin spice person (Yes, I know. If you’d grown up eating my mama’s pumpkin pie, you wouldn’t be either. Just saying.) And Steph is allergic to cinnamon so we can’t do a lot of sweet pumpkin things anyway. So I went with caramel apple.


  • Two 21oz cans Country Apple Pie Filling (these apples do have a small amount of cinnamon in them. Enough that Steph couldn’t eat it, but not so much she was affected while I was baking it)
  • One box cake mix–french vanilla flavor
  • One stick of butter
  • Caramel syrup for drizzling


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease 9″x13″ cake pan
  3. Pour apple pie filling into pan
  4. Drizzle caramel syrup over apples–I didn’t measure. I just drizzled. Generously.
  5. Sprinkle cake mix over apples and caramel
  6. Melt butter and pour over cake mix
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until apples are bubbly and cake mix is done. 

There you have it. A perfect dump cake for a fall festival, Halloween party, Thanksgiving, or any other fall event!


Will I try dump cakes again? Abso-frickin-lutely. They are easy and delicious. They freeze well so you can make them ahead and reheat later. They’re great gifts. They are super inexpensive to make. AND, my favorite part, the flavor possibilities are endless. They leave so much room for creativity in the kitchen.

Do you have a favorite dump cake recipe? Is there a dump cake flavor combo you’d like to try? Leave me a comment letting me know!!!

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Our Birth Story: Becoming Twin Moms

Today our baby boys officially turn one year old. It’s unbelievable that it has already been a whole year since their birth. It feels like only yesterday I was balancing my water cup on my big pregnant belly.

One of the most difficult things about my pregnancy was trying to figure out a birth plan. I knew that a birth plan was not a guarantee. I knew that very few deliveries happened as planned. That didn’t stop me from making a loose plan anyway. Originally I wanted a home water birth. Steph nixed that immediately; she insisted we go to a hospital. When two sweet babies appeared on that first ultrasound, I knew there was no way she would budge.

Instead of making an actual birth plan, I made a list of things I would like to happen.
  • Delivery, no C section–Not because I am brave or anything (I’m not) and not because I thought moms who had c-sections took the easy way out (I don’t). A c-section is major abdominal surgery. The only surgery I’d ever had was a tonsillectomy, but I was so little I don’t remember anything besides eating blue Popsicles. But I do have an unnaturally high pain tolerance, so I believed I could handle the pain. I didn’t want to have to recover from surgery while figuring out how to be a mom.
  • No needles in my back. I don’t mind getting shots or having blood drawn or donating blood. Needles don’t bother me–as long as I can see them. I did not want one of them in my back.
  • Full term. I was determined I would carry my babies for 40 weeks or more. I really wanted to have my boys on their due date as it fell on Thanksgiving Day. We found out we were expecting on St. Patrick’s Day and they were due on Thanksgiving Day. It would have been fun for our pregnancy to be book-ended by holidays.
  • No NICU time. This was why I wanted to carry the boys to full term. I wanted to have a healthy pregnancy and healthy babies that I immediately brought home. We did a tour of the NICU because it was encouraged for all parents expecting multiples. We were very impressed by the NICU and staff. When we left we were confident that if our boys were there they would receive the absolute best treatment and care, but I hoped I’d never set foot on that floor of the hospital again.

Since I was carrying twins, I knew the likelihood of getting everything on my birth plan wishlist was pretty low. However, I was lulled into a false hope with a picture-perfect pregnancy. With each passing week, I grew more and more confident I would carry my babies to term and might even deliver them.

Zero. Zero things happened the way I wanted.

My Pregnancy

Trimester One

I really did have a wonderful pregnancy experience.

The first trimester I was exhausted and occasionally slightly dizzy or nauseous, but I didn’t get sick. I didn’t throw up one time. Sometimes I was convinced I wasn’t actually pregnant because I didn’t get sick. There were two big giveaways whenever I started thinking like that, though. 1) I was emotional, which is absolutely not typical behavior for me and 2) I was not smart.

To say I was air-headed is an understatement. I would ask Stephanie what common words meant and I forgot everything–to take medicine, to lock doors, when I put stuff on the stove or in the oven. I’d get in the car to go somewhere and then forget where I was going and turn around and go home. One morning I forgot I had to go to work. Steph came downstairs and I was sitting on the couch reading a magazine instead of getting ready.

Eventually Steph wouldn’t leave me unsupervised. She took care of everything–even driving me to and from work. I just had to make it through the work day, sleep, and eat the amazing food she made for me. (I had a slight aversion to chicken during the first trimester and that’s pretty much the only thing I eat. Stephy to the rescue! I also craved grapefruit, of all things, so she always made sure we had plenty)

Trimester Two

My second trimester was perfect. I had plenty of energy. I completed an intense writing fellowship at a nearby university during summer break. We went to a few weddings and had a great time at all of them. Steph graduated from a deacon thingy and I spent the weekend with her at school for the graduation. I just felt good all the time.

I threw up once during the second trimester, and I sat on the bathroom floor and cried and cried because I had made it 21 weeks without throwing up and now it was over (Like I said, I was emotional). A few hours before I got sick, I was attacked by yellow jackets–literally, they chased me inside. They stung me several times before I got away and I had a headache for two days afterward. It took Steph the entirety of those two days to convince me I threw up because of the bee stings and not because I was pregnant.

Trimester Three

The third trimester was exhausting. My belly was huge and I had to wear a belly band for support to get through the work day. I had not had caffeine in over two years, but I had to pop into the office manager’s office every day during lunch to make a cup of coffee in order to make it through the afternoon. I had never in my life been more thankful for fall break or needed the rest so much.

The Last Week

I had a picture-perfect pregnancy for 32 weeks and 5 days. And then all of a sudden, everything went downhill.

October 3

On the Tuesday of fall break I was 32 weeks and 5 days pregnant. I had a routine ultrasound and check up with my doctor, Dr. P. Y’all, I love Dr. P. He is the most patient, kind-hearted, doctor I have ever met. He always answered any and every question I ever had without ever making me feel dumb. Even though he was always honest with me about risks, dangers, and bad news, he never made me feel scared. Dr. P is not an alarmist, and he has the best bedside manner I have ever seen. He’s phenomenal.

My blood pressure was a little high when I arrived at his office. My ankles were pretty swollen, too. We had been out shopping and running errands, so we didn’t think too much of it. I had been monitoring my blood pressure at home for a couple weeks and it was staying in a safe range. Dr. P. put me on bed rest for the remainder of fall break and had me do a 24-hour urine collection test (which is super gross), blood work, and a follow up in two days. At this point he told us if I didn’t go into labor within four weeks, he was going to schedule a c-section. I reminded him of my birth plan, he promised to do his best but couldn’t make any promises.

October 4

On Wednesday we headed back to Dr. P’s  office, dropped off my urine collection, and had my blood drawn. They checked my blood pressure, all was good, and we went home for more bed rest.

October 5

On Thursday we returned for a follow up and check in. My ankles and legs were still swollen. My blood pressure was pretty high again, but came down after I sat in the office with my feet elevated. We had an hour drive one-way to get to the office and my ankles started swelling from not having my feel elevated in that amount of time.

My urine analysis and blood work came back perfect, but my high blood pressure and swollen legs were a cause for concern. Dr. P put me on real bed rest–I would not be returning to work on Monday–and scheduled steroid shots to speed up the boys’ lung development because if I didn’t go into labor naturally within two weeks, he was going to schedule a c-section.

This was the first time I had felt fear. I was exactly 33 weeks pregnant and absolutely did not want to have the babies at 35 weeks. At the earliest, I wanted to have them at 37 weeks. I wanted to make it to November. But I trusted Dr. P so much that I never argued with him, despite the realization nothing was going according to my birth plan.It was too late in the afternoon to schedule the steroid shots, so we made an appointment for the following morning with his nurse.

I was super bummed about being on bed rest. My friend Amanda surprised us with a visit, ice cream in hand, and made me feel much better about everything.

October 6

33 weeks and one day. I went to the doctor’s office for the first steroid shot. My blood pressure was low enough that I could go home, but too high to be released back to work. The next shot had to be in 24 hours, so I received instructions about how to go to the hospital to get the shot and went home to sleep off the shot.

(PS–any time a nurse/doctor says something will “make you feel jazzed” they mean stoned. I had no idea what jazzed meant when the nurse kept saying it. Stoned. I was stoned.)

October 7

I woke up Saturday morning feeling really good. I was excited for the day. My mom, Steph’s mom, and one of our sweet friends from church had been working together to plan a baby shower for us on Sunday and our moms were coming to town that day to prepare. It was going to be a lot of fun, one last little party before Steph went back to work and I became a difficult, bored, bed rest patient.

When we arrived at the hospital, there was a couple checking in, and the woman was obviously in labor. When I walked up next, the registration lady looked at my belly and said “Wow, we sure are getting a lot of babies today! How far apart are your contractions?”

“Oh, I’m not here to give birth. I’m just here for a shot. I’ll be done and gone in 20 minutes.”

Oh, how wrong I was.

The nurses gave me the shot and checked my blood pressure. It was just around the too-high-to-go-home mark. I told her that I had been sitting with my legs down and if I laid down for a few minutes it would go down. She gave me twenty minutes but left me hooked up to an automatic blood pressure cup that recorded my blood pressure every three minutes.

Before the twenty minutes were up it set off an alarm because my blood pressure was dangerously high. She came in to reset the machine and take my blood pressure manually. This was the first time she mentioned being admitted. “Absolutely not,” I said. “I am going home today.” I was starting to panic, which was not good for my BP, obviously, so Steph took over.

On our way to the OR!

She tried asking questions and wasn’t getting anywhere. “I need you to understand,” she said. She had been so protective my whole pregnancy. Her Mama Bear instincts were coming out. “I am the wife, the other mother to these babies, not some random friend. When we ask questions we need answers.”

At this point the nurse realized how scared we both were and assured us we were not in immediate danger but she didn’t think the doctor was going to let me leave without blood work at the very least. (Dr. G was on call—another absolutely amazing doctor). He was currently in surgery, but they had contacted him and he would be in to see us as soon as he was finished. She left me hooked up to the automatic BP machine and gave us some privacy.

Steph, who could see each blood pressure reading as it came through, started preparing me for being admitted.

According to the Mayo-Clinic, Anything above 140/90 four hours apart is considered pre-eclampsia. When I arrived at the hospital, my BP was 142/95. The first time I set off the alarm it was 186/110. While we were waiting for Dr. G, I set off the alarm again with a similar BP. The nurse contacted Dr. G in surgery again so he could authorize blood work. Before she returned, I set off the alarm again. This time my blood pressure was 208/118. She immediately prepared me for being admitted. I was in a gown, with a bracelet, and being wheeled to a room by the time Dr. G made it out of surgery to greet us.

Dr. G explained how pre-eclampsia can develop into eclampsia and then into HELLP syndrome, which was life threatening for both me and our babies. He told us he would monitor me closely and treat the pre-eclampsia aggressively. I was given an oral medication, hooked up to a magnesium drip, and had another medication pushed through my IV. If my blood pressure wasn’t down in 20 minutes, they would double the dose and push more through my IV. 20 minutes later the same thing until I reached the maximum allowed.

I had monitors and wires everywhere.

I stayed hooked up to the automatic BP cuff, which had been reset to take my blood pressure every ten minutes. Baby monitors were strapped to my belly. Steph stood next to the monitors and watched everything closely, giving me updates each time I asked. Finally, after three doses of IV medications and an hour on the magnesium drip, my blood pressure reached a safe level.

I’m not sure if they told me and I just don’t remember, or if they only told Steph, but as it turns out if my blood pressure wasn’t making significant improvements in 30 minutes time, I was going for an immediate C-section.  Things did get better though, and I was sure we would hit the 12 hour goal (enough time for the steroid shot to make an impact on the boys) and I would leave the hospital.

“Those are going home numbers,” I told Allison, my nurse. “I can leave now.”

I think she thought I was joking. But I wasn’t. I believed I could go home if my BP went down, so I didn’t understand why everyone came to the hospital. Sarah and Kelly, some of our very best friends, dropped everything they were doing and drove from another state with snacks for Steph and games and activities to prevent boredom. Antonette, Steph’s “sis,” and her mom who we all call Nan dropped everything and drove two hours to be with us. Nan is a retired labor and delivery nurse and I wanted her to move in with us while I was pregnant. My mom and brother and Steph’s mom and SIL weren’t far behind them.

But I was going home. I was sure of it. I had my shot at 9:30AM and if my blood pressure was still good at 9:30PM, that meant I could go home. Who knows why I thought this. I’d had a lot of drugs that day and considering how crazy high my pain tolerance is, my drug tolerance is crazy low. So at 9:30PM when Dr. G said I had made it 12 hours, but 24 hours was best to give the steroid shot the most amount of time to benefit the babies so we would schedule a c-section for the morning I was shocked. And terrified. And so, so thankful to be surrounded by amazing friends and family.

We sent everyone to get some rest.

Sarah and Kelly drove the hour to our house to let the dogs out, clean up a little, and refrigerate the things our moms had brought for the baby shower we wouldn’t get to attend. Everyone else found a nearby hotel room and took off to sleep.

At 11:30, Dr. G came back. He had been ordering blood work every half hour to hour, and it was going downhill a lot faster than he wanted, my heart rate had also dropped. He had rescheduled a c-section for the next open OR. It was time to prep for surgery. Steph updated our family and everyone came back to the hospital.

While we waited for an OR, we visited with each group.

Steph’s mom and SIL sat with us for a while. They had both had c-sections and were able to answer many of our questions. I was so thankful for Steph’s SIL, who answered questions so calmly and gently. She was reassuring and soothing, which helped me hold it together.

Then Antonette and Nan came in. While Antonette took care of Steph, Nan rubbed my hair and talked to me. I finally–finally–got the nerve to ask the one question I had been holding in. It was the one thing that terrified me more than anything else, but I knew it was a silly question, so I hadn’t asked. “Nan, I know this is dumb, but I have to know. When I go to the dentist and they try to numb me, it doesn’t work. I feel everything. What if they can’t numb me for the c-section? What will happen?”

“That won’t happen. It’s extremely rare. It’s a completely different medicine. I promise you they will take care of you.” She didn’t laugh or scoff. She was perfect. She prayed a blessing over me, kissed my cheek, made the sign of the cross on my forehead, and headed out. Antonette gave Steph her rosary, blessed by Pope John Paul II himself.

Kelly and Sarah updated us on the dogs, who I was very worried about. They loved on us both and were just the best. They also brought us our “go bags” which were not in the car because we did not intend to have babies that day.

Eventually, it was just me, Steph, and our moms.

We had a very special few minutes. They stood around my hospital bed and we held hands while Steph’s mom prayed over the babies, the hospital staff, and me and Steph. It was peaceful.

After they left, the NICU doctor came down to discuss the boys’ treatment plan. I honestly cannot say enough positive things about the doctors and nurses who took care of all of us while we were in the hospital. They made the most terrifying days of our lives the best they could possibly have been under the circumstances.

After I was prepped for surgery, Steph and I had a last few minutes to be a family of two before we were taken to the OR.

Getting the spinal block was every bit as awful as I expected it to be. I almost passed out. But it worked. I could not feel a thing. And it kind of felt nice, like sitting in a hot tub. They told me when they started the surgery I would feel some pressure, but no pain. I didn’t even feel the pressure. They had to tell me it was happening.

October 8, 2018

At 1:34AM, Steph stood up to get the first photo of our first born, Atticus James. He entered the world ready to take over and nothing has changed in this first year. They swaddled him up and handed him to Steph. He was beautiful and tiny. 4lbs and 4oz of pure determination. Our friend Michelle has since commented that when she saw him in his incubator in the NICU she looked at his tiny, frail body and just felt pity for the little guy. He has surpassed all of our expectations; he has exuded a fierce strength over the past 12 months none of us saw coming.

At 1:36, Steph snapped a photo of our second born’s entrance, Gryffin Micah. Gryffin may be the second born, but he has not spent one minute of his life in his brother’s shadow. He makes his own mark on the world. At 5lbs and 8oz, he was born stubborn and ready to do life at his own pace. Gryffin does everything in Gryffin time. The nurses wrapped him up  and brought him over so I could kiss him and put him in his incubator. Steph said Gryffin’s head nurse just had a different style than the head nurse on Atticus’s team. Months, literally months, later she finally admitted that they rushed Gryffin away because he wasn’t breathing very well on his own.

While Dr. G finished putting my body back together, Steph accompanied the boys to the NICU and made sure they were settled. She snapped some pictures and came back to my OR. While the surgical team finished up, she sat at my head and showed me pictures and assured me they were doing okay. When I was moved to recovery, she headed out to the waiting room to visit with our friends and family and show them photos. Steph took the new Nanas to meet the babies before they had to leave.

I was moved back to my room and slept a little. Everyone headed back to their hotels/homes/our house. Steph took a shower, but I don’t know if she slept at all.

The next thing I really remember was the shift change at 7:00AM. The new nurse checked my vitals and explained that she would be limiting visitors because I needed to rest. I thought that was strange. I wasn’t quite sure how I was supposed to rest when I had no idea where my babies were or how they were doing.

We have never talked about it, but Steph instinctively knew I needed to be alone. Not necessarily for rest, but for processing. In the span of five days, we had gone from planning for babies within four weeks, to having babies in the NICU. I had come to the hospital for a shot, and ended up having a c-section. 

I had read that it can take hours to days for your stomach to deflate after you give birth. Mine was deflated by the time I left recovery. I laid in my hospital bed, no longer pregnant, and cried. These were supposed to be our first moments together as a family of four. I should have been snuggling my babies and soaking up all their newness and tininess.

It was months before I stopped missing being pregnant, before I stopped being jealous of women who carried to term, before I stopped getting uncharacteristically furious at women who complained about third-trimester discomfort on social media. If they only knew how badly I wanted to keep my babies safe and snug in my womb until it was safe for them to be born; if they only knew what it was like to have babies in the NICU because your body failed them; and if they only knew the unique and gut-wrenching guilt NICU moms feel, they’d never complain for a moment.

I Rested

Steph had loaded a playlist she made for me on an iPod. She took my phone so no one could bother me. I turned on the music and slept as much as I could while waiting to be allowed out of bed to go meet my babies. Steph hung out in the waiting room with Sarah, Kelly, Antonette, and Nan, which was exactly what she needed–to be surrounded and loved and reassured by her people. I will forever be thankful they were there to take care of her.

Sometime later that day, around 5:00 pm, I was deemed well enough to be moved from labor and delivery to a postpartum room. Once I was all settled and  had my vitals checked again and another round of blood work done, Steph took me to the NICU to meet my babies.

Becoming a NICU Family

As far as NICU experiences go, we were blessed for a number of reasons. Besides a top-notch hospital staff, our first blessing was that we did get to hold our boys. We were limited to 30 minutes to an hour twice a day at first, but we got to hold them. Many NICU parents have to wait days or weeks after birth before they can hold their babies. When I met them for the first time, the nurse took them out of the incubators and laid them on my chest and let me have a few minutes of skin-to-skin time with them. It was magical. It was life-changing. I experienced a brand new kind of love, and it was unbelievable.

After I settled in my room, Steph took the rest of our friends to meet the boys. Dr. P discharged me several days later. The Ronald McDonald House gave us a room so we could stay close to our babies. Two weeks later we brought them home. We were told we would be in the NICU for 6-8 weeks, so bringing them home after only two was mind-blowing and awesome and wonderful. Those were the longest, hardest two weeks ever, but every moment of the last 365 days has been worth it.

My birth plan might not have worked out the way I wanted, but that’s okay.

These guys are only one, but they have already made this earth a better, happier place. They have already made a positive impact. Being their mom is a true privilege and I am thankful for every single second.

6 Things I Loved in September

I’m trying out a new thing. At the beginning of each month I would like to write a review of things I loved from the previous month. I have seen this kind of series on several blogs I enjoy reading including The Confused Millennial, But First, Coffee, and College Fashion–yes I did graduate from college almost a decade ago. No shame. 

September was an interesting month. When Labor Day came and passed, it finally started to sink in that I am no longer a teacher. Until that point it just felt like a really long summer break. Now it’s real. And I think I am the happiest I have been in a very long time. It was a good month. 

Without further ado–6 Things I Loved in September (in no particular order

1. Annual Church Picnic

Every year on Labor Day Weekend, a couple from our church hosts a picnic potluck for the whole church on their farm. It is so much fun and I look forward to it all year long. I was extra looking forward to it because last year on Labor Day I was 28 weeks pregnant with our twins and there was no way Steph was going to be cool with me sitting outside in the heat for the afternoon, so we stayed home. (She was the sweetest, most protective, most loving person ever while I was pregnant. I mean, she always is, but she really stepped it up while I was incubating our children).

This year’s picnic was no disappointment. The boys ran around in their walkers, rode on the tractor, pet the bunny, and took in all kinds of attention–and that was in addition to the awesome food.

2. These Prints from Hobby Lobby

I fell in love with these gorgeous prints at Hobby Lobby. I was supposed to be shopping for something specific (I don’t even remember what it was) but I found these for 50% off and since we are going to redo my office soon anyway, I bought my favorite ones. (You guys, I kind of exhibited self control because I only bought three)

3. My New Life Quote

Your worth is not measured by your productivity.

I saw this quote on Facebook and, let me tell ya, I immediately felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders when I read it.

I stress out all day long about all the things I don’t get done in between caring for the boys and rarely pay attention to what I DO get done. My worth is not measured by the number of checks on my to-do list. If that means I spent the entire day playing with my babies and didn’t get a million things done, so be it. That’s why I’m taking this year off from working in a traditional setting, right? To take care of my babies

4. Our Boys Learned to Walk

Both boys decided they can walk this month. I am torn about this. On one hand, it is very exciting and I am brimming with pride. My sweet preemies, born tiny and with warnings about delays, started walking at 11 months. We were prepared for all sorts of delays in their development, and while I do occasionally see a couple, overall they are phenomenal. On the other hand, I was secretly hoping they would be late walkers. They are twins. There are two of them. And they are mobile. Next step is running. I’m exhausted thinking about it.

5. Dump Cakes

Granny introduced me to dump cakes this month when she brought over a blueberry lemon one as a surprise. It was so good. She explained how she made it and it sounded super easy, so I tried it out. 

When I had to prepare food for coffee hour at church last weekend, I tried out dump cakes. I made three–Granny’s Blueberry Lemon, Caramel Apple, and Chocolate Cherry. I will have a post soon with recipes!

Despite it being the most simple thing ever, I still pestered Granny with texts about how to do it correctly while I was making them, so I can guarantee the recipes are awesome.

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6. September Skincare Challenge

I challenged myself to celebrate Skincare September by making a homemade skincare line using essential oils. (Because I am obsessed with essential oils). I did not actually use it as consistently as I hoped, but I am already in love with how my skin is reacting to chemical-free, all-natural skin care. I want to use it a while longer (and more consistently) before I share it, but soon, I will have a blog post with an in depth review of how my skin has improved–complete with recipes I used to create my skincare line.

Also, while we are on the topic of essential oils. Stephanie and I used them this month to make all-natural household cleaners and we are both amazed by how amazing these cleaners are. Be on the look out for that blog post, too. 

What were YOUR favorite parts of September? What are your plans for October? Share in the comments!!!!

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Television Shows for People Who Don’t Like to Watch TV.

Confession: I don’t like to watch Television. I know that makes me kind of weird, but that’s me. When I started my first teaching job, my coworkers thought it was crazy that I didn’t have cable. They enjoyed slipping movie and TV references into our conversations to confuse me. 

Steph loves watching TV. It helps her unwind. It bores me to no end. When we bought our house, she wanted to put a television in our bedroom. I did not. If I am going to watch TV, I want to be in the living room on the couch or curled up with a blanket in my chair. Often, I need something to do with my hands in order to focus on the television–like knitting, playing cards, coloring, etc. Maybe I have ADD. I don’t know, but if I want to sleep, I want to go to my bedroom and sleep. Not watch TV. Besides, I cannot figure out how to comfortably watch television from the bed. Also, it’s not like Steph watches television all that often, so I didn’t see the need to have a second TV in the house.

So we compromised. And put a television in our bedroom. 

When Steph and I met, if I watched television at all, I watched Friends or How I Met Your Mother. That’s it. I watched those two shows on repeat. 

Over the years Steph has encouraged me to forced me to branch out and try different shows.

Truthfully, I have enjoyed several of them. The other day I said, “You are so good at finding shows I actually like to watch.”

“You have no idea how hard I have to work to find something you will watch!” She was slightly exasperated.

In an effort to save some other poor soul who has a hard time getting his or her significant other or friend to watch television with them, I’m sharing a list of shows to binge watch approved by someone (me)  who doesn’t like to watch television.

Steph knows when she has found a show I enjoy because I make a rule that she is not allowed to watch it without me.


7 Television Shows for People who Don’t Like to Watch Television

1. Friends

Where to watch: Netflix
Average length of an episode: 22-23 minutes
Number of episodes: 236

Friends is a classic. I never watched it while it was on the air. I discovered it because of my first roommate in college. She had the seasons on DVD and enjoyed watching them on repeat, so we watched it all the time. 

It’s a funny show and the characters are lovable (my favorite character is Janice Litman). Thanks to the witty humor, you will have a collection of great catchphrases you can use in real life. A favorite of mine:

“I’m not that great at the advice. Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?”

–Chandler Bing

My students really loved it when I used that one. 

The many, many love triangles are fun, but not overly dramatic or emotional (I am not a fan of that kind of thing). Phoebe and Monica compete for a guy in coma, Rachel and Monica literally fight over 
Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the bigget one: should Rachel have ended up with Ross or Joey? You really do have to watch from the beginning to the end to be able to create an informed opinion. (I’m Team Joey, by the way. Ross is SOOOOOOO annoying.)

2. How I Met Your Mother

Where to watch: Hulu
Average length of an episode: 22-23 minutes
Number of episodes: 208

I don’t even remember how I came to know and love HIMYM, but I do know that it is probably my all time favorite television show. It seems like the show just kind of captures the stage of life I am in really well and  puts a humorous light on it. It’s real and relatable.

I genuinely love all of the main characters, even if Ted Mosby does occasionally really get on my nerves. I have experienced a full range of emotions while watching.

The Thanksgiving episodes are probably my favorites. We will watch all of them during the week of Thanksgiving. 

A lot of famous guests make appearances on the show including Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Carrie Underwood, Mandy Moore, Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson, Mike Tyson, Enrique Iglesias, and many others. My favorite special guest is Britney Spears who plays Abby, a ditzy receptionist. The character is hilarious and Britney plays it well. 

Finally Marshall and Lily–Marshmallow and Lilly Pad–are the very definition of relationship goals. I love them and their dynamic. 

The downside:

I LOVE the mother. I loved the anticipation of discovering who the mother is and all the twists and turns Ted and his friends encounter on their journey to meeting her. She is PERFECT for Ted.

BUT, the series finale was really irritating. If the final episode had ended at 18:14, it would have been perfect. However, it continued for another 3 minutes and 22 seconds and, in that short amount of time, it almost ruins the whole show.

The final season is truly beautiful and poetic. I am not even ashamed to admit I cried. More than once. I recommend watching until Ted says, “And that, kids, is how I met your mother” and then turning off the television. Pretend nothing comes after that moment. You’ll thank me.

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3. Criminal Minds

Where to watch: Netflix 
Average length of an episode: about an hour
Number of episodes: 299 currently; it’s still in production.

I used to complain about how every movie or show I watched ended happily and how that’s not real life and sometimes it would be nice if that was reflected in media. 

Enter Criminal Minds. 

Sometimes the show is so intense that it keeps me awake at night. The whole plot with The Reaper is terrifying, but gave me exactly what I was looking for. They didn’t catch him right away. It took several episodes. 

The whole show is fascinating. You can learn so much about psychology and human behavior. (Yes, learning from a TV show is a plus for me. Learning makes me happy). I have researched a lot of the things I originally heard about while watching this show and learned a lot of very cool things. Because of this show, I’ve learned how to tell when people are lying to me–which is a super useful life skill. 

Sometimes I do have trouble binge watching Criminal Minds. It’s a show about how serial killers think–getting in the heads of some pretty sick people–there’s only so much of that I can handle before I’m sad and need a happy break.

4. New Girl

Where to watch: Netflix and Hulu 
Average length of an episode: about 25 minutes
Number of episodes: 146

I discovered this show while I was on maternity leave. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do besides watch TV. I was recovering from an emergency c-section and had twin infants. I didn’t get the hang of tandem feedings until they were big enough to hold their own bottles, so feeding took forever–especially since Gryffin didn’t even like to eat. It felt like when I wasn’t feeding or changing babies, I was pumping, so I couldn’t do much of anything except watch television.

Steph told me I was not allowed to watch Friends and How I Met Your Mother on repeat for 8 weeks. In my Mom-Brain-sleep-deprived state I forgot she couldn’t stop me while she was at work, so I randomly clicked on New Girl for absolutely no reason. I was immediately hooked and when I finished all of the seasons the first time (well, all available on Netflix or Hulu–series finale aired May 2018) I immediately went back to the first episode and started over.

New Girl is hilarious. I laughed until I cried more than once watching this show about a group of 30-somethings trying to figure out life, but Season 4, Episode 6 “Background Check” is by far my favorite. The first time I watched it, I started it over before moving on to Episode 7. Twice. And made Steph watch it when she got home from work. 

The characters play a game called “True American.” The actual rules are never explained, but I really want to play.

When I watched the series finale of this show I was very impressed. I have never seen a show ending done as tastefully and perfectly as New Girl. It was a fantastic way to end the show. (The writers of HIMYM could take some notes).

5. Quantico

Where to watch: Netflix
Average length of an episode: about 43 minutes
Number of episodes: 53

Quantico is my most recent favorite show. Not only are most of the main characters women, many of them are women of color, and all of them are bad ass. 

The twists and turns in the plot of this show are phenomenal. Every time I thought I had it figured out, the carpet was pulled out from under me again and I was back at square one. It is rare to find a show that does this to both Steph and me, but Quantico is it.

Unfortunately, the show has been cancelled, so the final episode of season three is now the series finale. I am heartbroken about this. I love the way this show challenges my thinking and requires that I pay attention to every single detail. 

6. The Ranch

Where to watch: Netflix
Average length of an episode: about 30ish minutes
Number of episodes: 50 so far; it’s still in production

I never imagined Ashton Kutcher and Sam Elliot could star in the same show and it turn out so good. I mean, they’re both great actors, but they are so different, and that’s what makes this show great. It captures the relationship between a parent and child who do not understand one another very well.

I didn’t expect to like the show because it’s so “redneck,” but it’s well balanced. Also, if you ever wanted to know exactly what my dad is like, look no further than Sam Elliot’s character, Beau Roosevelt Bennett. Whoever created Beau had to know Dad. There’s no other way they could have possibly gotten it so spot-on.

Several of Ashton Kutcher’s costars from That 70s Show make appearances throughout the show, which is a lot of fun. 

Don’t watch this show if you aren’t a fan of strong language. Personally, I love expletives and don’t understand how to show a truly strong, emphatic emotion without them. Curse words are to sentences what lights are to a Christmas Trees. It’s how you give it that little bit of extra.

In all seriousness, though, they drop the f-bomb a lot, so if you are truly bothered by that or don’t want your kids to hear it, don’t watch. 

7. Leverage

Where to watch: I don’t know anymore. 
Average length of an episode: 43 minutes
Number of episodes: 77

Leverage is a modern-day-Robin-Hood meets Batman story. A group of “bad guys” come together and fly under the radar to provide vigilante justice.

The characters are quirky and make the show a lot of fun. Each of them is a specialist in their “field”: a thief, a grifter, a hacker, and a hit man led by a former insurance investigator who does not have a criminal past; white knight turned dark knight. 

While watching I am often convinced there is no way they are going to pull of the hoax, but they always come through. It is a very creative and fun show. 

I almost didn’t include it in my list because you can no longer stream it on Netflix, so if you want to watch it, you have to pay for it on Prime Video or buy DVDs/BluRays. It’s worth the money, though, so I included it. I wouldn’t say that about just any show. 

Honorable Mentions

There are a few more shows that I like to watch occasionally, but don’t necessarily like to binge watch. You may like them:

  • Will and Grace–I want to be Karen when I grow up, but I can’t call this show binge-worthy. Occasionally the plot is terribly boring and Grace gets on my nerves so bad. I can’t watch more than an episode, maybe two, at a time. 
  • The Good Place–I love what I have seen of this show, but I need to see where it is headed before I can say it’s binge-worthy. It’s hilarious, though. 
  • The Golden Girls–What television list is complete without The Golden Girls? And who doesn’t love Sophia Patrillo? 
  • Grey’s Anatomy–I have a love-hate relationship with Grey’s. Sometimes I just love it and could watch it all day. Other times I find it terribly annoying and can’t stand it. Also SPOILER ALERT!!! how is there even a plot now that there is no Dr. Derek Shepherd?
What about you? What is your favorite show to binge watch? Tell me in the comments!

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30 Things That Make Me Happy

Disclosure: My posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you will not pay a penny more but I will get a small commission, which helps keep the lights on.

6 months from today is my birthday.

I will be 30.

If you are wondering how I feel about turning 30, so am I. Sometimes I don’t care, it’s just another age. And sometimes I freak out. My 20s, especially the second half, have been kind of amazing. Overall, I have loved being a 20-something. I feel like when I turn 30, that means I am a real adult. Guys, adulting is not my strong suit. I’m not very good at it.

When you’re a kid everyone says “Don’t grow up. It’s a trap. Being a kid is awesome and being an adult sucks.” Um…no. You know what sucks?

  • Middle school
  • High school
  • Teenage angst
  • Trying to fit in as a teen
  • Trying to figure out who you are as a teen
  • Being a teenager in general
  • Figuring out what to do when you’re told “you’re not old enough” and “you’re too old” all at the same time.

Obviously, I didn’t love my teen years. Except, at the time, I didn’t think it was too bad. Once I experienced life as a 20-something I realized being a teen wasn’t all that great.

After I turned 23 or so, I figured myself out. I decided I am okay with who I am and relaxed and enjoyed life. Now I’m six months away from turning 30. What if this is the part of adulting everyone hates? What if it’s all down here from here?

But also, what if it’s not? What if life is like wine and gets better with age?

See what I mean? I have no idea how I feel about turning 30. Maybe in six months I will.

To countdown the last six months to thirty, I will be posting 7 lists of 30 things. The first list is 30 things that make me happy.

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Rules For The List

My friend Amanda says I have a system for everything. I like parameters, so I have to make lists with goals and rewards for completing those goals.

When I started brainstorming a list of things that made me happy, the obvious came to mind first: my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, my dogs (who are also my kids, but some people don’t understand so I list them separately).

So my rule for creating this list is that I cannot list any of the “obvious” answers. I have to choose things that make me happy outside of easy the answers.

30 Things That Make Me Happy

  1. M&Ms
  2. Making people laugh
  3. Giving gifts that are “just right”
  4. Surprises–I used to absolutely hate surprises. Nothing set my anxiety on edge more quickly than a surprise. Steph loves to surprise me and I’ve learned to genuinely enjoy it.
  5. Meeting new dogs
  6. Music. Both making music and listening. I especially love singing to my babies.
  7. Harry Potter. Repeat after me. The books are better than the movies. The books are better than the movies. One more time, the books are WAY better than the movies. 
  8. The Royal Family–I love them so much. The Queen is so precious and has a fascinating past and Princess Kate and Princess Meghan are just lovely. I was glued to the television for both royal weddings–and have even re-watched both of them on YouTube. I love that they are always in the public eye and yet still  remain so classy. That doesn’t happen in America very often. Confession: I have these Princess Kate paper dolls. I’ve never cut them out, but I enjoy looking at them. I’m waiting for the Princess Meghan ones. 
  9. Chocolate milk
  10. A comfy sweatshirt or cozy sweater
  11. Baby giggles–especially Atticus and Gryffin’s giggles
  12. Snuggling–my babies, my doggos, my wife. Physical touch is my love language.
  13. Essential Oils
  14. Baking–I am the cookie master.
  15. Lip balm. Blistex is my favorite brand, especially the Enhancement Series, but seriously any Blistex is perfect. I also like ChapStick Total Hydration and EOS. I am the person who keeps a tube of lip balm everywhere: my car, my purse, my makeup bag, the diaper bag, my wife’s car, my wife’s purse, my nightstand, my desk, the bathroom counter, the kitchen counter, my pocket, my parents’ house (I bet they don’t even realize it).
  16. A good cup of coffee
  17. The anticipation of the last day of school before a break. I thought when I quit teaching, I would lose this one, but I was wrong. Today is the last day of school and all of next week is fall break. I. Am. So. Excited. I can’t wait to have Steph home with us all week. I have planned all the things for us to do as a family!
  18. Turkey sandwiches–turkey, miracle whip or mashed avocado, tomato, onion, salt & pepper–delicious!
  19. Watching snow fall
  20. Being creative–having a creative outlet always lifts my spirits. I enjoy scrapbooking/crafting, painting, and creative writing.
  21. A new notebook
  22. Good ink pens–especially if they come in several colors like these and these.
  23. Equality–but the fact that we, as a nation, still get this so wrong, does not make me happy.
  24. Beauty and the Beast- I love the live action film starring Emma Watson more than I could possibly even tell you. 
  25. Reading a book that is so good I feel like the characters are real people and begin referring to them as my friends. Yes, I do tend to get so involved in a story that the line between reality and fiction becomes blurred. I’m not sorry.
  26. Hot chocolate
  27. Giving random compliments. If you have never done this, you need to. It is so much fun to watch someone’s face brighten! A couple of weeks ago I complimented the cashier at the gas station on her eyeliner–she had some amazing wings–and her whole entire demeanor changed. She stood up straighter, her shoulders released tension, she genuinely smiled (versus the customer service smile). The way she greeted the next customer in line was completely different because of an action that literally took about 3 seconds of my life. “Thank you. You’re eyeliner is awesome, by the way!”
  28. Being a student. Learning is my fav!!!
  29. Carbs. Why does something that makes me so happy have to be so bad for me?
  30. Good mascara and red lip gloss or lipstick–my current favorite mascara is Covergirl’s Katy Kat Eye Mascara in black and my current favorite red lip is ChapStick Total Hydration Moisture+Tint in merlot.

This was a very therapeutic list to write. Remembering all the things that make me happy definitely put me in a good mood. I challenge you to make your own list of things that make you happy!

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How to Choose the Best Essential Oils for You

Disclosure: I do NOT sell essential oils. This is purely my personal opinion about my favorite oils. I do not receive any compensation from any essential oil brand I have listed or discussed. However, my posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you will not pay a penny more but I will get a small commission, which helps keep the lights on.


I am the person who will avoid something just because of it’s popularity. I don’t know if there is a name for people like me, but there should be. And we need support groups because due to my unwillingness to jump on bandwagons, sometimes I miss out on awesome stuff. Therefore, I was late to the essential oils party–but I am SO glad I finally showed up.

Why I Started Using Essential Oils

I first started using Essential Oils when I was desperate to get pregnant. I have PCOS, so it was a struggle. While I was researching ways to naturally improve fertility, a lot of information kept pointing toward essential oils.

One day Steph and I were exploring our local organic health and food store and I noticed they had Aura Cacia oils in stock (in all my research, this was the brand I was most willing to try, largely due to this article). I had never picked up a bottle of essential oils before this shopping trip, but it was love at first sight. I explained to Steph what I had been researching and she immediately jumped on board. Luckily, I had saved the fertility research I had been reading on my phone. We went through the list of oils and stocked up.

During those first few weeks, I kept saying I didn’t know if I believed they worked yet, but I enjoyed the way they smelled, so it was worth it. (side note: I did eventually get pregnant and I wholeheartedly believe the oils played a part in balancing my hormones and preparing my body for a healthy pregnancy)

From Curiosity to Obsession

After a while, I started looking for other reasons to use oils. I found diffuser recipes and cleaning recipes, first. Then I looked into bath bombs and shower steamers. Then one day Steph received minor burns from the grill and we were out of aloe and my automatic response was “There’s probably an oil for that. Give me a minute.”

It’s now my go-to for everything. Headache? Put some peppermint on those temples. Babies won’t sleep through the night? There’s a diffuser blend for that. Sweet tooth? Make a roller bottle to deter cravings. Anxious? Meditate with oils. Can’t focus? There’s an oil blend for that, too. Not happy with your skincare routine? Create a new one with oils (this is my current personal challenge–Skincare September, natural skin care with essential oils. More on that later)

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Choosing Your Essential Oils

There are a lot of really great brands of oils to choose from. I think all of them have pros and cons and deciding which one(s) you are going to use is completely up to you. Young Living and doTerra are probably the most well known. In my opinion, they are wonderful oils, but I strongly prefer Aura Cacia. My sister uses Young Living and a friend uses doTerra and they both love their oils. I’ve used peppermint oil from all three brands to treat headaches and have had the same (positive!) results from all of them.

The best advice I can give you for choosing your brand of oils is to do your research and know what you are buying.

These are the questions that guided my search:

  1. How long has the company existed? Companies that have shown success and positive reviews over time are more trustworthy to me.
  2. Are the oils ethically sourced and is the source disclosed? I like to know where my product is coming from and that collection methods are ethical and safe. If this is most important to you, Young Living is extremely impressive in this area.
  3. How is the product tested? Animals are for loving, not testing.
  4. Is it safe to use around my dogs? This applies not only to brand but each type. Not all oils are pet-friendly.
  5. How does the company prove the quality and purity of their oils? Until I read this article I had no idea how misleading the term “Therapeutic Grade” could be.
  6. How will I buy the oils? Personally, I am not a fan of the setup offered by Young Living or doTerra. Aura Cacia is more convenient for me. I bought the first few oils from a local organic foods store. I have since found them at Kroger and some Target locations. Mostly, I buy them from Amazon. Online shopping is my fave.

Where to Start with Essential Oils

Once you choose a brand of oil, you need to choose which ones you want to use first. This is where Young Living and doTerra are great because they have fabulous starter kits. Aura Cacia also offers a much simpler starter kit that includes lavender, peppermint, tea tree, and eucalyptus. All great oils and at a very reasonable $15 price tag.

The five oils I use the most and would recommend to anyone starting out are lavender, peppermint, lemon, ylang ylang, and Medieval Mix.

Lavender Essential Oil

If you must choose only one essential oil to begin with, lavender is probably the best choice. I would say it is the most versatile of all essential oils. It blends well with most other oils, treats an astonishing number of physical elements, and can make a positive difference emotionally. It may also be used to make nontoxic household cleaners, laundry detergent, deodorant, and much more. We have used it to create a carpet cleaner that leaves our house smelling amazing.

If you have an estrogen-dependent cancer you should avoid lavender essential oil. Lavender essential oil has a deeply relaxing effect, so you should avoid it prior to driving, operating machinery, or doing other tasks that require concentration. I have diffused it in the nursery on nights the boys were not sleeping well. It works like a charm.

Peppermint Essential Oil

With its clean, crisp fragrance peppermint is a favorite with people everywhere. Peppermint essential oil is often listed as one of the most useful essential oils available and its ability to address a wide range of ailments makes it a valuable addition to your natural medicine collection.

I swear by peppermint essential oil to treat headaches. When I was about 21 weeks pregnant, I had a migraine and didn’t want to take medicine for it. I treated it by rubbing a drop of peppermint essential oil on my temples and using ice packs on the back of my neck and forehead. Now it is my go-to every time I have a headache. (note: not all oils are safe during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Peppermint is one of the oils to avoid during the first trimester because it can stimulate menstrual flow).

Peppermint essential oil can be a skin irritant for sensitive individuals, so you should conduct a patch test before use. Avoid contact with eyes!

Lemon Essential Oil

Lemon is a powerful detoxification agent and it contains high levels of vitamins and minerals. It’s also great at removing odors. Lemon essential oil takes the power of lemon to new heights. It can treat illnesses, improve mood, and boost alertness. We have used it in the diffuser to make our house smell lemony fresh. I put a couple of drops in the bottom of every trash bag I put in the trash can to help deter odors. I have also used it to make a lemon face scrub as it is great at treating acne. 

Lemon essential oil can be a dermal irritant for sensitive individuals, so conduct a patch test before use. It is also photo-toxic, so avoid exposing application sites to sunlight for 12 to 24 hours following application. 

Ylang Ylang Essential Oil

With an enticing, intoxicating fragrance that promotes mental and emotional balance, ylang-ylang essential oil is one of the best for easing anger, depression, and stress. It is also an excellent essential oil for balancing skin and hair, and its hypotensive quality makes it ideal for use by those suffering from high blood pressure and associated ailments. 

I used Ylang-Ylang a lot toward the end of my pregnancy. I was very stressed at work and having anxiety about becoming a new mom to twins and was afraid this would affect the babies; so I diffused ylang-ylang while I slept and made an anti-anxiety roller bottle that I kept in my desk. Still, I was put on bed rest at 32 weeks and had to have an emergency c-section a few days later due to high blood pressure, but I believe I didn’t end up on bed rest or hospitalized sooner because of the essential oils I was using. 

Excessive use of ylang-ylang essential oil may cause nausea and headaches in sensitive individuals. It should be used moderately for best results. Ylang-ylang essential oil has a deeply relaxing effect (I sleep sooooo well when I diffuse it next to my bed) and should not be used prior to driving, operating machinery, or doing other tasks that require concentration. 

Ylang-ylang essential oil has been proven to significantly increase calmness when inhaled. In a study reported in the January 2008 International Journal of Neuroscience, test subjects exposed to ylang-ylang essential oil experienced decreased alertness and increased relaxation, while those exposed to peppermint essential oil became more alert. 

Medieval Mix Essential Oil

Medieval Mix is a blend by Aura Cacia. It is similar to On Guard by doTerra and Thieves by Young Living. I cannot diffuse On Guard or Thieves because both blends include cinnamon, which Steph is allergic to. All three blends are formulated to strengthen the immune system and protect the body from bacteria.

Our baby boys were born in October, right at the beginning of flu season. They were two months early and spent two weeks in the NICU before we brought them home. We were terrified of germs, so we limited visitors and used gallons of Germ-X. I washed my hands so often my skin cracked, but we were determined to not return to the hospital. We diffused Medieval Mix almost nonstop. Steph came home one Friday feeling awful and presenting flu symptoms. I made her sit right next to the diffuser and breathe in Medieval Mix. Within hours she was feeling better. I swear by Medieval Mix. It is the oil I recommend most often.

As part of my Skincare September Challenge, I have used my oils to create an all natural skincare routine. Check back soon for my recipes and updates on how my skin is responding.

Do you love essential oils? What are your favorite way to use oils? Tell me in the comments!

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Date Night Scavenger Hunt

Disclosure: My posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you will not pay a penny more but I will get a small commission, which helps keep the lights on.

Why Date Night is Important

I think the most common–and probably the most valuable–marriage advice Steph and I have received is to continue to date each other even though we are married. It is so important to continue to make time for one another and to make one another feel valued and seen in the midst of life.

Life is crazy busy and it’s always going to be, but your spouse is the most important person in your life and he or she needs to be made a priority.

How Our Date Night Has Changed

Our date nights look incredibly different and happen a lot less frequently now than before our boys were born. Friends have offered date nights for us, but we just don’t like to be away from our babies. We’ve taken friends up on these offers, with varying degrees of success. On one of our not-so-successful dates some friends gave us the time and a gift card to see a movie and have dinner. We saw a movie but skipped dinner because we just missed our babies.

Instead of going out, we have more at-home dates such as ordering take out and watching a movie either when the boys have gone to sleep or while they are playing at our feet. But we rarely go on “Big Dates” now. For example, we love live theater. Love. We used to attend shows all the time. For my birthday, Steph bought us season tickets for the local theater that hosts the Broadway tours. It was a great lineup and we were very excited. And about a month later we finally–finally–got the long-awaited positive pregnancy test. We still had every intention of going to the plays and recruited my mom to watch the babies long before they were born.

We saw zero shows.

The first show was scheduled the weekend after we brought the boys home from the NICU. We hadn’t been home for a whole week yet, and leaving the boys to see a play was just not an option for either one of us. The next one we weren’t interested in, and a snow storm made the hour drive to the theater to see the next show unsafe. We completely and totally forgot about the next one. And finally, it looked like we were going to make it to the last one–which was the musical we wanted to see the most. It was summer break, my mom came to watch the babies, and we were ready.

And then there was a fire at the theater and the show was cancelled.

But we already had a baby sitter and wanted to spend time together. Actually we needed to–the month leading up to date night had been even busier and crazier than usual and we needed some time to pause and laugh together. Steph usually plans our dates, but she had just started a new position as a high school basketball coach and was getting to know her team and coaching staff and involved in practices and spent time away for a tournament, so she passed planning on to me for this one!

And that’s how my Date Night Scavenger Hunt was born.

A friend of mine believes a good date should be three phases (think dinner, movie, dessert/coffee), so that was the outline I used to plan this date. We splurged a bit of money on this date, but you can make it an inexpensive date. I will share some ideas for how to recreate this date on a stricter budget later.

Date Night Phase One: Dinner

Phase One was the quintessential nice dinner. We went to a cute restaurant nearby that neither of us had ever been to, sat across from each other and ate slowly while our food was hot and while enjoying adult conversation. (I had spent the month prior working at the summer reading camp with second graders. I needed adult conversation). It was fun to try a new place, though I think we both missed our usual spots a little bit.

Date Night Phase Two: Scavenger Hunt

After dinner, we headed to Target for our Date Night Scavenger Hunt!

Here is a disclaimer: this scavenger hunt was not easy. Steph thought it was going to be easy (and even though she would never ever admit it in a thousand years, I think she thought it was going to be lame, too). I thought it was going to be easy–especially since I wrote it. But it was not. It was HARD, man. Neither one of us finished finding all the items in the time frame we agreed on, and we were both shocked by that.

What made the challenge difficult is that it requires intentional thought about your significant other, which isn’t necessarily hard–but taking that intentional thought and associating it with something tangible that you can take back isn’t exceptionally easy.

Despite the scavenger hunt being much harder than we expected, it was SO MUCH FUN. Seriously. It required both of us to think outside the box and created a lot of giggles and “aw, that’s so sweet” moments. It was time well-spent.

After we were finished showing one another our picks, we narrowed down which items we were actually going to purchase and walked around the store together to put away the others. Putting things away was just as fun as finding them because it created fun conversation as we explained our thought processes and items that didn’t make the cut.

CLICK HERE to download a PDF of my scavenger hunt–edited and updated for use by any couple–dating, married, engaged, or just best friends!

Phase Three: Painting

We are both artsy people. Steph has always wanted to learn to paint, so we went to a local art studio and painted. We planned on hanging the finished pieces in our bedroom, but we loved how they turned out so much we wanted them to be somewhere people would see them. They are currently in the guest bedroom, but we’ve talked about putting them in the bathroom.

This was so much fun. There was some kind of random street festival/concert going on outside the studio, so we were pretty much the only people there. That made it easy for us to relax and have fun without worrying about bothering other people. We were able to support one another and learn new things together. Steph made fun of the way I painted my background because I was being way too literal. One of the best things about her is that she relaxes me. I can be so type A and can get so uptight about the dumbest things. She knows just what to do and say to reset my my perspective so that I’m able to truly enjoy myself. And that’s the whole point of a date night, right?

Need a Date Night On a Budget? No problem!

Even thought we splurged, this is a date night that we could repeat without breaking the bank.

Date Night Phase 1–Food and conversation is the point

You don’t have to go to a pricey restaurant to have a great time. The main purpose of this phase is sitting down together and having adult conversation together.

When was the last time you went inside a fast food restaurant and sat down? For us, I think it was when we first moved into our house. It took longer than expected to set up internet, but we had both started brand new jobs and needed internet at home to prepare for work. We went to McDonald’s several days after work and sat with our laptops so we could use the free internet. It wasn’t healthy by any stretch because we believed if we were going to use their facility we should make purchases, but we still talk about how much fun we had those couple of weeks.

If you are wanting a more romantic venue or healthy menu than a convenient burger joint, try packing a picnic and heading to the park. You’ll have a great view, great company, and great food. PLUS check out this adorable picnic basket. Who doesn’t need an excuse to use this?

Date Night Phase 2–Location, location, location

We chose Target. It’s one of our favorite places to shop and it has a great variety so we could both find unique items to complete the scavenger hunt. We bought more items than I intended because neither one of us can practice self-control in Target. I know we are not the only ones.

If you have self control you can agree that you are not actually going to buy anything OR you can agree that each person can only purchase ONE item the other person chose for him/her. One of the Scavenger Hunt Rules is that every item has to be $25 or less. You can change the max amount to meet your budget. OR you can choose another store. I think the Scavenger Hunt would be a lot of fun to complete in a dollar store or a thrift store. This could also be a Saturday Morning Date; each person takes the list and a budget and they have to purchase as many items as possible at yard sales. That would be so much fun.

Date Night Phase 3–DIY

Painting–creating art–is something we both really love, so going to an art studio and learning some new painting techniques was really special and fun. However, you could pick up some canvases and inexpensive paints and paint at home while the kids are sleeping. Or let the kiddos paint, too. Or head back to the park and use nature as inspiration. Plus, paint supplies are fairly inexpensive if you don’t already have them on hand.

Apple Barrel Acrylic paints are my personal favorites, and this is a really great deal. I prefer stretched canvases, but panels are great, too, and little less expensive. 

What Is Your Favorite Date Night?

What is your favorite way to spend time with your significant other? Leave a comment to give us some ideas for the next time we have a kid-free evening!

Don’t forget to download your a FREE printable of the Date Night Scavenger Hunt by clicking HERE!

Why I Quit Teaching

I’m not a teacher anymore.

I can’t believe those words are my reality, but here we are. I guess I should say I am not a teacher in the traditional sense. My classroom is now my basement office, all school-related decorations confined to a few tri-fold boards I trade in and out as needed based on the online class I’m teaching.

I have left the brick and mortar school and taken on the life of stay at home mom, contract teacher, blogger, and student. Student because I am returning to school to be an accountant. I’m six months from turning 30 and I’m completely starting over career-wise.

I have given a lot of feeble excuses for leaving teaching.
I’ve said I quit teaching to spend more time with my babies.

This is true, but still only part of the larger story.  I am so blessed to have this time with them. They are the absolute best and fill my heart with indescribable joy. I love being at home with them. But honestly, being a SAHM is just icing on the cake at this point. I would probably have left teaching anyway after last year. Having the boys at home only made it easier.

I’ve said “it turns out, teaching isn’t for me.”

If you know me at all, you know I am lying when I say this. I am passionate about teaching and public education. I’ve worked with some remarkable educators and I have the utmost respect for them. Teaching is and always has been so much more than a job to me. It has been my investment in the future of society, my way of making the world a better place. It has been my calling. I have loved it from day one. All of it: planning, teaching, grading, coaching, laughing with kids, exploring emotions, learning life lessons, celebrating successes–both in the classroom and later in the students’ lives. There is nothing like receiving Facebook messages and emails from former students updating me on their successes and thanking me for helping them achieve their goals.

I’ve said that I’m just burnt out.

But this is another lie. I’ve said, along these same lines, that after I returned from maternity leave I didn’t love teaching anymore. Again, a lie. The truth is I wasn’t happy teaching for the school I was in anymore, but I still love teaching. I still have the same passion and excitement for my students and my content as I did my very first year. I say I’m not sure what changed. Another lie. I know exactly what changed.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that changed me–that changed my heart.

First, a little background.

I know I’m going to sound like I have no humility at all, but I’m being honest: I am a damn good teacher. So I made the choice to commit to teaching in Title I schools, which are low-income and usually high minority. There is probably low parent involvement. Many of the kids feel trapped in a cycle of generational poverty and wholeheartedly believe they are not capable of or worth any better.

All the odds are stacked against teachers in Title I schools. Sometimes I say teachers in non-Title-I schools get twice the results for half the effort, and I’m only sort of kidding. I decided if I was going to teach, I was going to give the best I could to kids who usually got the scraps. If you are interested in reading a little more about what it’s like to teach in a Title I school, you should check out this post on the Love, Teach Blog.

My first school

My first school was unique, even for a Title I school. 96% of students received free or reduced lunch (the 4% who didn’t were administrators’ kids) and roughly 80% of the population was homeless. The whole community had been affected by rampant drug use, transience, and dwindling economic opportunity. I loved the kids so much, but the community was difficult to adjust to. The little town the school served was in the middle of nowhere–a small rural community–but many of the kids (and their parents) seemed to think we were all in inner-city Chicago.

There were days at this school that it was difficult to feel safe. Once when the principal was out of the building we had to go on lock down because a student’s father, who was not to have contact with the student, informed her mother he was coming to school to take her. The door to my classroom hadn’t locked in months and no matter how many times I brought it up, no one had fixed it. The student in question was sitting in my room. Luckily, the police apprehended the father before he made it on campus, but that’s when I knew I needed to move on to a new school.

My second school

I moved to a new county, a new district, a new school. The first couple of years were so wonderful that I described it as teaching at Disney Land. As time passed my perception changed. I don’t know if the school itself changed or if I was just finally seeing problems I had been blind to before.  Regardless, I wasn’t happy there anymore. I was seriously considering moving to a different school but I guess I was letting a few things hold me back. My coworkers were amazing. I had made some of the most wonderful friends of my life and I didn’t want to have to move to a new school and figure out new people. I’m not really a social butterfly.

This school was a typical Title I school. It had its problems, but a lot of talented and dedicated teachers work really hard to make it a great place for students to learn. There was no real reason for me to leave.

When I returned to work in January after maternity leave, emotions were running high.

I have no idea what happened in the building the 12 weeks I was out but many people  said “You should be so glad you weren’t here last semester.” Some of these were people who never complained about anything ever. No one ever explained what happened, but there was no denying a very clear shift in the climate and culture of the building.

In addition to a less than happy work environment, there were external factors weighing on the building. Our governor was doing everything in his power to take away teacher’s pensions and school funding in the name of balancing the state budget, all while vilifying teachers. Some of his remarks were just outright disgusting. In addition to that, there were two school shootings. One in Western Kentucky at Marshall County High School in January and another in Parkland, Florida in February. Whenever this happens, it leaves every teacher in the nation on edge, wondering if next time it will be his/her building.

Real talk: all teachers know that it could be our school next.

The reality of this set in with me when, in the aftermath of the recent shootings, someone made a threat against my building. It was days after the Parkland incident and a person stated he was going to shoot up the school. Emotions were running high, but the superintendent and principal took the threat very seriously and dealt with it swiftly. Authorities alerted the administration the night before, who communicated the news with the staff as soon as possible.

I was walking into a building that was already on lock down, the police were already there and prepared.

I hugged my babies and kissed my wife and promised that if anything happened I wouldn’t play the hero–I’d come home to them. And I did. I came home safely that day, and the following work day I got up and went back. Despite knowing it could be our building next, teachers operate like we feel safe and secure, like it’s not going to happen to us.

All of these things–the school culture, the nastiness of our elected officials, and the school shootings–were weighing on everyone in the building. We were all on edge, we were all dealing with unhappiness to a certain degree, but I still didn’t want to stop teaching. I still believed I needed to teach.

The day I was done being a teacher was March 28.

I remember because it was my birthday.

My 6/7 block class threw a surprise birthday party for me. My plan was 5th period. While I was out of my room, they decorated with balloons and streamers. They brought in cupcakes and sodas and cups and napkins and gifts.

I don’t know how they knew pink carnations are my favorite flower, but there was a bouquet sitting on my desk in a pretty little glass vase. I don’t know how they knew M&Ms are my favorite candy, but there was a cute little apple jar full of them next to the flowers.

They wrote me some of the sweetest letters I have ever read in my life. Tears of gratitude stung my eyes as I turned on music and started organizing a party game. After going through all that work I wasn’t going to make them do classwork the entire period. We’d celebrate my birthday for a little while and then begin class.

Lock down

Just as celebrations were beginning there was an announcement for a medical lock down. That’s no big deal. It just means students are not allowed to leave the room because, most likely, someone had thrown up or something in the hall.

Within seconds there was an announcement for a full lock down, meaning there was a threat. We had to turn off all sounds, turn off all lights, lock all doors, cover all windows, and sit silently on the floor as hidden as possible.

It wasn’t a drill. It wasn’t planned. There was no warning. We were just on lock down.

My students assumed it was a drill at first. But minutes passed and no one released us from lock down and the kids started growing suspicious.

“What’s going on? Are we safe? Is this a real lock down?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “but I am sure we are safe. We have followed all the procedures exactly. This is why we practice.” I kept my voice steady and calm and reassuring. They settled back into silence.

Time continued to pass and I could see the strain on the students’ faces.

Text messages from friends and siblings at the high school started rolling in and the strain gave way to all out panic.

We shared a campus with the high school. A small parking lot separated our buildings. A man had shot and killed his wife and then come to the high school to pick up their son. The man had a gun and was on school property. (He never made it into the building, but we didn’t know that yet.)

“What if he comes over here?” asked a sweet girl. I turned to where she was sitting with her besties–the little group of birthday party planners. There was fear and panic on their faces. It was obvious it was taking serious restraint for them to not cry or scream or run.

I smiled at her and said, “I’ve been in almost this exact situation at my old school-and my classroom door didn’t even lock then. Every single one of my students made it out just fine. I assure you we are safe. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.”

The kid and all her friends relaxed. I watched as relief and comfort replaced the worry and fear on their faces. All because of my words–because of a promise I made that I would die trying to keep–but there was no guarantee I could actually keep it.

And that was it.

That was the moment I knew I could not continue to be a teacher. I can’t explain why, I don’t even know why, but that moment affected me more than any other. There was something about giving those kids a false sense of security that has messed with me to my core.

It’s been six months, and I still see their scared faces in my dreams. I don’t exactly know what to call the emotion I felt when I realized I was being dishonest, but I still feel it every time I remember the fear in that girl’s eyes when she asked me “What if?” and how it shifted to comfort and relaxation when I promised safety.

I stood in my classroom and heard gunshots.

My small-town-America classroom. Not my middle-of-a-war-torn-country classroom.

The man forced the police to shoot and kill him.

My classroom was on the opposite side of the building of the altercation, so the gunshots were not loud. You had to know what you were listening for, and you had to be actively listening. I don’t think any of the students noticed it at all.

I had taught the man’s son when he was in middle school. I’d met the man a few times, too. He had come in for a meeting once. I saw the son and his father at the animal shelter a few months after he started high school. He was so excited and proud to tell me he had joined ROTC and was doing really well in school. His dad stood behind him and beamed with pride.

Steph asked me once what my take was on the father when I met him. He seemed to me like a good dad. He was rough around the edges and uneducated, but he wanted what was best for his son.

My heart aches for the kid. He woke up one morning for a typical day of school and by the end of the school day he was an orphan.

These things aren’t supposed to happen.

Teachers aren’t supposed to tell their babies goodbye in the morning and wonder if they are going to come home to them in the afternoon.

Students aren’t supposed to start a normal school day and wind up an orphan before the final bell.

Children are not supposed to feel unsafe at school.

I can’t fix these problems. There’s nothing I can do about it. That’s not me admitting defeat, that is just me being matter of fact. It’s me facing reality.

But I also cannot continue operating in a system like this. I cannot continue willingly placing myself in a situation where I might have to choose between staying alive for my own babies, or risking my life for someone else’s children.

And I can’t continue lying to children about their safety. Not when they trust me so much.

I can’t.

I am not a teacher anymore.




Coming to a place where I am comfortable with changing careers and leaving a career I truly loved required a lot of reflection and introspection. Click below to receive a copy of my 28-day reflective journal so you can practice self-care through reflection.

Inspirational Dream Journal