In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. ~ Proverbs 3:6

Monday, February 20, 2017

I lub you, Mommy

“I lub you, Mommy.”

There is power in those words when my little boys say them to me.  When those words come out of their mouths, they can make me forget the morning messes, the toddler impulsiveness, or the all-boy play that can quickly escalate into an injury before 7:00 in the morning.

These are the words that I get to hear first thing every morning, before the sun comes up, from my rambunctious, bright-eyed, little guy.  He greets me every morning with a big hug and those four precious words, and then he takes off running like a ball of energy until his head finds his pillow once again. 

As soon as those words are spoken, my other little guy slowly makes his way to me, only awake because his brother does not know how to be quiet when others are trying to sleep.  He pipes in with an “I love you too, Mommy”.  He speaks this with a big grin on his face, in a higher pitched voice than his brother’s, and an emphasis on the “too”.  For the second time in my very early morning, my tired eyes are momentarily overtaken by my melted heart.   These moments are short-lived, I assure you, as spilt milk and twin bickering inevitably occur in the first twenty minutes of my day.  Nonetheless, the melt-my-heart moments make all of the mundane-mom moments worth it.

As my day goes on, I will randomly hear more “I lub you’s” and “I love you too’s” from my two little guys, for no other reason than I am there mom and they are my babies.  It’s a beautiful thing really, these two year old “I lub you’s”.  If I could bottle those words up, spoken just like I hear them everyday, I absolutely would!  For all too soon the “I lub you, Mommy” will turn into “I love you, Mom”.  

For this reason, I’m trying to soak up all of the two year old boy-love that I can get these days!  May I never forget how sweet and innocent those words sound to me when spoken from the mouths of my babies.  May I never forget that when I am having a bad day, those words can change my day.  May I never forget when I am feeling a little unloved, those words remind me that I am very loved.  And may I never forget that as great as the love is between a Mama and her baby, the love of God is even greater!

So tonight as I’m cherishing the “I lub you’s”, I’m taking comfort in the unconditional love I have for my babies, knowing that I too am unconditionally loved by Heavenly Father.  Such a comforting thought to ponder on as I put my kiddos to bed tonight.  May it be a comfort to you too, dear friend, knowing that the love of God is an unconditional, sacrificial, life-giving love for all to receive.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Finishing what I started.....

There are some things that I am content to never finish.  Take the Whole 30 diet, for example.  I started it January 2, and lasted all of nine days before calling it quits.  I assure you, I had no issues with not completing the intended thirty days, as I felt miserable the entire nine days I tried it!

{No offense to all of you hard-core Whole 30 people.  It just wasn't for me.}

Books that don't hold my interest for more than a few chapters would also fall into the "I'm ok with quitting this" category.  And Monopoly would definitely fall into this category.  Has anyone ever really finished a game of Monopoly? 

While there are some things that I feel I do not need to complete, there are other things that I feel compelled to finish, for no other reason than I want to finish what I started.  Seven years ago, I started a process that if I could do over, I probably wouldn't even begin. This past week I submitted a project confirming that in just a few short months, I will finally be able to say that I completed this thing that I started so many years ago.  As much as I disliked spending the last several months of my free time completing something I currently have little interest in, being able to say that I am going to finish what I started feels incredibly freeing!  In many ways, it feels as if a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.

A little over ten years ago, I graduated college with a degree in education. That statement alone makes me feel really old.  How has it already been more than ten years?  I spent the next three years teaching in a small, private Christian school.  For various reasons and opportunities, I chose to leave the classroom in 2009 after I got married, fully intending to go back to teaching after a few years.

In 2010, as I was waiting to figure out what to do next, I thought it would be a great idea to begin work on my masters.  Now I read that sentence and laugh, wondering what on earth I was thinking!  Back then, I told myself that while I had the extra resources and time, it would be a fabulous idea to be a life-learner and continue my education at my own pace through online classes, even if I never used the degree!  Such noble thoughts I had nearly seven years ago! 

Someday, I may thank my former, noble, thoughtful self.  The problem is that I never finished my degree before I got pregnant with the twins in 2013.  As close as I was to finishing back then, with only a few assignments for a class and a thesis paper to write, once I got pregnant and those babies came, it was game-over!  I no longer cared about how close I was to the finish line.  I was in survival mode, up to me knees in dirty diapers and baby bottles. 

After the twins turned one year old, I did finish that last class, leaving me with only a thesis paper to write before I could say I finished the task I set out to achieve. But then I got pregnant again, and for the first half of that pregnancy I was taking care of twin toddlers, all while being exhausted and nauseous.  Once again, finishing what I started got put on hold.

At the end of my pregnancy, I got a phone call from my professor, reminding me how long I had been enrolled in the program, how close I was to finishing, and how much time and resources I’ve already put into the process.  By this point, I had had only taken one class in 2-3 years.  She told me that I needed to make a decision to finish what I started, or to be content to never finish. 

At this point in my life, it would be easier for me to write a paper about potty training, breast feeding or cloth diapering, than it would a paper about education!  Nonetheless, this past fall, I submitted a thesis topic and outline for approval.  I confess that working on this project in my free time has not been ideal.  The truth is that the only reason I’ve spent the last few months researching and writing about something I’m not currently interested in, is because I didn't want to have any regrets.  I didn't want to always wonder if I should have or could have finished.  I wanted to tell my kids that their mom finished what she started.  That's it.  Plain and simple. 

As I write this today, I don’t know if teaching is a vocation I will ever return to.  I’m not the same person I was ten years ago.  My dreams are different.  My interests have broadened.  The passions that help drive me today are pointing me a different way. 

No matter what my future holds once my babies are grown, this I know.  I know that, at least in this area of my life, I will never wonder if should have or could have.   I know that even if it took me twice as long as it should have, I completed the task before me, and for that I am proud.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Slow down child, I have something better for you ahead....

One of my January goals was to read and write more.  My writing is not the most fluid or articulate, but there is something about my fingers methodically tapping this keyboard that brings comfort.  Whether on a computer screen or a piece of paper, taking the thoughts from my head and making them both tactile and visual, has always been somewhat therapeutic for me.

As for my reading, I’m finishing up book number three, and have three more books on my “to-read soon list”.  This past week’s book was one of those “good for my soul” books.  The kind of book that I picked up, because I knew it would be beneficial to me in my current state of life.  Entitled Wait and See, it is part a memoir about the author’s own season of waiting in her life, and part a study on the life of David and his season of waiting, the years he was fleeing from Saul before becoming king. 

As I had anticipated, this book has at times made me cringe.  Not because it was poorly written.  I cringe because there are things written on those pages, that at times are piercing and feel as if the words were meant for my eyes to read, to remind me of where I have been and all that God has done for me.

Not tool long ago, I was sitting around a table with a group of peers and was sharing with them that if I could sum up my adult life in one phrase, it would be God whispering in my ear “Just wait child, I have something better for you ahead.”  At the time of that conversation, my life was looking very much how I thought it would look in my mid twenties, only as I was sharing this story, I was in my early thirties. 

Here I am nearly a year later, yet again in a place where the next big thing I had planned for my life is not going the way I thought it would go.  My plan, this plan that is a good plan – even a God-honoring plan, is in the process of being delayed, being redirected, or being completely derailed. 

Over the past few months, as I have had to watch my plans unravel, I have once again found myself in a place where I realize I have to let go of all control.  This is sadly a reoccurring theme in my life, and for this girl who likes all things orderly, letting go of the control will probably always be a life-lesson I will need to learn over and over again.   

I confess that it has been harder to trust the truths that I know to be true this time around, as this change of plans was not a clear closed door and came about due to circumstances that brought wounds to my soul.  Things that once seemed safe and secure, instantly felt shaky and unstable.  What I thought I knew, in an instant became an unknown.  But these things I do know.

I know my God is good.  He is good all the time, regardless of my circumstances. 

I know my God loves me.  He loves me, even if I don’t feel loved in life’s moments.

I know my God allows the hard things, not to hurt me, but to help heal me.  When I fall, He wants to pick me up.  When I feel lost, He wants me to look at Him for direction, to be my compass when the winds of life blow and I don’t know where to turn next. 

I know He wants to fight my battles for me.  And when I am wounded and feel I can’t go any farther, he wants to carry me to a place where I can be healed.

I know that I have walked through seasons of waiting in my past.  In hindsight they are sweet seasons.  Seasons where I grew.  Seasons where I was made better.  Seasons where when I look back, I can see God had bigger and better things for me ahead.  Everything from my husband, to our vocations, to our home, to our children – they all came to me later than what I had planned. Over and over again, I can see that in waiting on God to bring into fruition the right time and circumstances for me to move forward, my waiting has been a sweet time that He has always used to bring me closer to Him.

The ring on my finger at age 20 wasn’t the right ring, because it wasn’t from the right man.  A good man, but not the man for me.  The right ring from the right man would come along five years later at age 25.  In that five year wait, I gained an independent lifestyle, but at the same time learned to depend on God for my every need.  I had to come to a place where I was content to never marry, before God brought the right man along in the right time, in the most unexpected ways. A man that was more than I ever expected. God’s plans were better than my plans.

The house in the subdivision down the street is a nice and lovely house.  It’s a house we almost bought.  But things fell through in a painful way with that house, and for a full year we had to wait, watching so many houses sell at all-time lows in a buyers market, before our house would finally sell.  When I finally accepted that we didn’t have to move, that our small house was just fine….well, that’s when our house finally sold.  When I walked into our current home for the first time, I knew it wasn’t just a house, but a house I wanted to make our home and raise our family.  It was a bigger and better home than the house in the subdivision down the street.  It was more than I was expecting.  God’s plans were better than my plans.

When my husband lost his job, and I could not understand why, there was a time of waiting for him to find a new job.  When he accepted a job that I did not want him to take, I could not see at the time that with that decision, the time would come for me to want to stay home with our children, and that job would be the job that would give him opportunity after opportunity to finically provide for our family in bigger ways than I could have ever expected.  God’s plans were better than my plans.

When we struggled to conceive children, I had to come to a place of accepting the fact that even if I never conceived a baby, God was still good.  When I finally got to that place of acceptance, God went over and beyond my expectations.  He gave me two babies, when I only asked for one.  And just because sometimes He wants to show me how good He really is, He naturally opened my womb again and gave me a baby girl.  More than I ever expected! God’s plans were better than my plans.

And so now here I am again, accepting that even though my plans are good and noble plans - plans that I will not give a name or description to in this specific post – it’s either not the right timing for my plan, or it’s not the right plan.

So for now, I wait, and I thank Him for what He has given me, for it is much more than I deserve or ever thought I would have.  And I learn from the lessons that need to be learned during this wait, and I grow in ways I need to grow.  And I focus on the important things in life that mean more to me than my plans - like being the best wife and mom I know how to be.  And I watch God do work in the circumstance around me, and in doing so, I witness His grace in my life, and know that He is good even in the hurt. 

And I trust.  I trust His ways are better than my ways.  That God has a better plan.  A plan that might not look anything like what I thought it would look like, or perhaps like in times past, a plan that in time may be even better than what I originally desired.  I trust that in a couple of years, when I look back at where I am now, I will still be able to say that even in this moment I sensed God whispering in my ear, “Slow down child, I have something better for you ahead.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I want a legacy like Hannah's....

There are few things in life that I undoubtedly know.  One of those things is that motherhood changed me, and it changed me for the better. 

Motherhood makes me second-guess everything I've ever known about raising children.  Makes me question if I'm doing or saying the right thing.  Makes me wonder what impact my choices will have on my children.

Motherhood makes the love I feel for my children greater than the anger I feel when they make poor choices.  It is a love that is unconditional.  It is a selfless love.

Motherhood brings me to my knees when I feel overwhelmed and need grace to get me through my day.

And motherhood brings me to my knees again when I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and can't help but thank God for each day He has given me with my three precious gifts.  These three little ones He has given to me to love and raise up.  What a gift!  And yet, what a responsibility!

Yes, without a doubt, motherhood has changed me.

Some might say that motherhood is their purpose in life.  Perhaps it is.  Or perhaps it is just our purpose for a particular season in life.  This past week, my mind has wondered from what my purpose in motherhood is, to what my legacy in motherhood will be.

I think that both my purpose in motherhood and my legacy in motherhood are intertwined, but this morning, I want to focus on the latter, as it has been on my mind quite a bit this week with a study I've been doing on the book of 1 Samuel. 

If you've grown up in the church, then chapter one of 1 Samuel is oh-so-familiar.  Hannah’s story is one where her desire to become a mother was so great that she found herself heartbroken, desperately pleading with God for a child.  I can relate.  Perhaps that's why I love Hannah's story so much.  My eyes still get teary-eyed every time I read verse 27 of chapter one.

God answered Hannah's prayer, and Hannah was faithful to give the child back to God after he was weaned.  Hannah’s legacy has lived on for thousands of years. She is known for being a faithful mother of prayer, and the mother of a great man of God.  She is the mother of Samuel!  What a legacy she has!

But then in the next few chapters, there is a less familiar story.   Another parent will have a legacy too.  In this case it will be a father.  His name is Eli.  His legacy looks nothing like Hannah’s legacy.  He was a priest, the same priest who found Hannah praying in the temple in chapter one. Unlike Hannah, who is known for being the mother of a righteous man in Israel’s history, Eli is known for being the parent of two vile young men who disgraced the holiness of God. 

I have no idea what kind of a parent Eli was.  He may have been a great dad.  The Bible doesn’t say.  What the Bible does tell us is that Eli was aware of what his sons were doing, but nowhere does the passage read that Eli addressed these issues with his sons.  In fact, the story reads that Eli enjoyed some of the physical benefits of his sons' wrongdoing.  As a result, God took His blessings off of Eli and his family.  His sons were killed in a great battle that Israel thought they would win.  Not only did Israel lose the battle, their enemy took Israel's prized possession, their holy grail if you will, the Ark of the Covenant.   When Eli heard the news, the passage reads that he fell over dead. 

realize that I can not make life decisions for my children, as we have all been given free-will.  What the future holds for my children is still unknown and will be determined by the choices they make along the way. No matter what my children's lives look like over the next 20-30 years, I hope I leave a legacy for them that can someday be described as: a faithful mother of prayer who loved her children with her whole heart, but loved God more.  That’s what I think of when I think of Hannah. 

Eli and Hannah both left behind a legacy of their parenthood, as will all of us who have been given the gift of raising children. I hope I have a legacy like Hannah's.  How about you?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Seeking slow and simple.....

When I was a kid, I hated the post-holiday season.  It was as if there was all of this hype that led up to one special day, December 25, and just like that it was gone as soon as my head hit the pillow Christmas night.   Like a needle pinning a balloon, the day quickly disappeared, and with it the excitement and nostalgia of the season.

Truth be told, I probably hated this time of year as a child, because I hated winter.  I hated January.  It always seemed painfully slow, bitterly cold, sadly dark and dreary.  And after the fast-paced excitement of whimsical wonder that November and December bring, it always felt like January would never end!

Indiana winters are long and rather unpleasant, filled with overcast skies and barren trees and fields.  Even now as a grownup, I still dislike our winters.  But unlike when I was a child, there is something about January that my adult-self now looks forward to.  More than just a fresh start and newfound resolutions, January seems to grow on me with each passing year, simply because it is the SLOWEST month of the year.  The very thing that I despised about this month as a child, has now become a breath of fresh air to me as an adult.  The thing about adulting is that it has led me to not only crave slow on occasion, but to genuinely NEED a time for slow.

And so this January, I’m reveling in the slow.  I’m seeking out the simple and sublime.  Because the past few months, I have felt a little tattered and worn.  More than just the usual tired from holiday festivities and events, but tired and worn from life events. 

As 2016 came to a close, I was feeling beat down, and I knew that every part of me, mind-body-soul, needed to take a step back for a time of rest and reflection.  Not the easiest thing to do for a mama of three little ones, but a necessary thing for me to do to be the best mama I can be for my babies.

Can I tell you that it has only been nine days, but I’m already feeling better.  Feeling a little more energized.  Feeling a little more joyful.  Because on occasion, simple brings joy. Choosing slow and simple allows my mind to focus on what is important, and my body to do what is important. 

This week I have said no to running errands  with the kids, and yes to pajama days with the kids.  I have said not now to household chores, and yes to play time with my boys.  I have said no to cooking big meals all week, and yes to eating simple, healthy meals.  I have said no to some social outings, and yes to alone time.  I have said no to my group Bible studies, and yes to solo studies.

Is there anything wrong with the above list?  Nope.  In fact, I don’t really recommend never leaving the house, staying in pajamas and becoming a hermit.  That’s actually a great way to become depressed.  We were designed to need people and to need a sense of community.  However, the introverted part of me needed a recharge, and I find that January is a perfect time to recharge.

January will come and go, and my calendar and commitments will fill up.  But I hope in 2017, I don’t allow myself to get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of day to day living, that I overlook the joy found in the simple.

This year, I want to DO less each day.

I want to read more, write more and play more.

To enjoy more.  To enjoy my kids more! 

To live in the moment more.

To stop and see gratitude in the little things.

While slow-paced is not who I am, this year I want to slow down enough to see the joy in the simple moments, without having to seek those moments out.

This year, I want slow and simple.  How about you?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Roasted Garlic and Basil Marinara Sauce from Garden Tomatoes.

The end of summer is here, and that means tomatoes are in season! I had seven pounds of tomatoes sitting on my counter for a little over a week and was wanting to make and preserve a huge batch of marinara sauce.  I was hoping to have 20 pounds or more of tomatoes before endeavoring on such a task.  Unfortunately, we have had a lot of rain the past several weeks, and all of the remaining tomatoes on the vine are still green. 

This misfortune ended up working out for the better, as when I went to look at the new pressure canner I ordered, I realized I was missing a piece and was going to have to call the company to have the missing part shipped to me!  So even if I had 20-30 pounds of tomatoes sitting on my counter, I couldn't pressure can marinara sauce if I wanted to!
I really couldn't keep my tomatoes much longer without them spoiling, so a few days ago I filled my house with the aroma of fresh marinara sauce from roasted tomatoes!  To do this I did the following:

1) I cut 5-7lbs of tomatoes in half, after cutting off the stems and placed them into two glass pans.

2) To the tomatoes I add: a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic cloves with the skins on from a whole head of garlic, a chopped onion, and a few handfuls of fresh basil.   

3) I then roasted everything uncovered for 40 minutes at 375 degrees.

4) Once roasted, I peeled off the skin from the garlic cloves and the skin from the tomatoes before pouring everything into a strainer and straining the juice

5) From this batch I was able to get one quart of tomato juice that I will can by processing with boiling water.  The juice can be used in soups or stews at a later time.  Setting the juice aside, I blended everything else in the blender with another handful of fresh basil.  A food processer would work just fine for this too.

6)  From there, I poured the mixture into a pot and brought it to a simmer, adding about a tbs. of Italian seasoning and sweetener to taste.  Most people would use sugar, but I am on a no-sugar-kick whenever possible.  Instead of sugar, I used Gentle Sweet from my THM supplies.  I have no measurement on the sweetener.  I just sweeten to taste, as it depended on the flavor and ripeness of the tomatoes.

7) When ready to use, add meatballs or seasoned ground beef, and then pour over pasta!
This made about a quart of marina sauce, which was more than enough to use with a spaghetti dinner.  This is not enough to preserve, but it is enough to go over one pound of pasta, which is two meals for my family.  It's also good to note that roma tomatoes are usually recommended for marinara sauce, but I've only grown big boy tomatoes and have found these to work just fine for marinara!

Last year was my first time making homemade marinara, as I made a large batch and froze  the excess in quart size freezer bags.  I personally didn't care for the marinara as much after I froze it, which is why I was looking forward to canning marinara sauce this year.  To make it worth my time and effort, I'd want to make a large batch and I would probably need about 25 pounds of tomatoes to preserve 4 quarts of juice and 8 pints of marinara sauce, which unfortunately, I do not have from my garden at this time.
Freeze in quart size bags
or use a pressure canner and can for 40 minutes at 10 pounds PSI

There are mixed views on whether or not it is safe to preserve marinara sauce by processing in a boiling water system.  Some say that once you add seasonings and sweeteners you lower the acidity lever, and therefore a pressure canner must be used.  Others say any kind of tomato is acidic enough for boiling water canning.  To be safe, I planned on using the pressure canner, since I added seasonings and sweetener.
To make one quart of marinara sauce/one quart of tomato juice you will need:

5-7 pounds of tomatoes
small onion, chopped
head of garlic
couple handfuls of fresh basil
drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tbs. Italian seasoning
sweetener to taste

Roast first six ingredients for 40 minutes at 375 degrees, and follow the above directions to create the marinara sauce.

NOTE: You can always add the juice back into the marinara and add a small can of tomato paste to thicken the sauce.  This would give you more marinara if you have no use in preserving tomato juice.  Although to do this, the seasonings and sweetener may need to be adjusted.

As I stated above, I made a large batch of marinara last summer, of which I used all of the juice and thickened it with tomato paste.  I even made homemade meatballs and homemade garlic spread that day.  I must have been feeling very Susie-homemaker at the time, as I did not put in that kind of effort this past week!  Here are pictures from last year's marinara making, and what I learned from that first experience:

1) Be sure to use deep glass dishes that are sprayed with cooking spray.  Last year I roasted the tomatoes on  baking sheets.  Bad idea.  Lots of juice.  Lots of mess.  Enough said.

2) It's easier to cut off the stems before roasting. I even roasted the tomatoes whole last year, but found that slicing them first was a bit easier this year.

3) Don't forget to take off the tomato skins after roasting.  They come right off.  I forgot this step this year, and although it didn't taste bad, you could find tomato skin fibers all throughout my sauce.

4) It's my personal preference to drain the juice and not add it back to the sauce.  Even with the tomato paste in last year's sauce, the end result was still runnier than I'd like.  This year, I had a nice thick sauce without the juice.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tips for Vacationing with Young Kids

We recently got back from our annual family vacation.  I thought I'd post a few tips about vacationing we kids, as vacationing with kids is nothing like vacationing without them!

Our annual vacation of choice is southwest Michigan.  Matthew and I were drawn to it when we first got married.  We woke up one Saturday morning, found ourselves with nothing to do, and decided on a spontaneous beach day.  Packing a picnic and beach bag that contained nothing more than a book, sunglasses and sunscreen, we put on our beach attire and drove north.  We crossed into Michigan and ended up in New Buffalo for the day.  With the sand in our toes and the sun kissing our skin, the view of Lake Michigan was only topped by the relaxation of a beach day getaway and the company of one another.

Several years and three kids later, I can assure you our annual Lake Michigan trip is nothing like the first time we dipped our toes on that southwest Michigan water.  Now we make the drive up in our minivan, full of kids and all of the "stuff" that comes with kids.  There is nothing relaxing about our trips to the beach anymore, but somehow the memories we make are just as sweet as the first time we drove up there years ago.

So how do we make such sweet memories with kiddos?  Here are few tips that I've found help make our annual vacation as stress-free as possible.  Although let's be honest, with kids it will never be completely stress-free!

Short and Sweet
I try to remember that vacationing with children, particularly young children, is not really a vacation!  What it is, is a lot of work!  For us, four days is the right amount of time to be away from the comforts of home with kids in tow!

It's a long enough span of time to do all sorts of fun things with the kids, yet short enough that we aren't completely exhausted when we come home.  Not to mention, only doing a 4 day/3 night vacation helps keep our lodging cost at a minimum.  I personally prefer to go Tues- Fri, allowing plenty of time to prepare before the trip and unwind after the trip.  Or if for whatever reason we are limited on paid vacation days that year, a four day vacation gives us the option to do an extended weekend and only use up two vacation days.

Not too far Not too Close
We live in the Midwest.  For us, we could drive 3-5 hours in any direction and have a place to vacation.  St. Louis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Chicago, Gatlinburg ~  These are all places that we could get away, without being too far away.  The idea is to drive instead of fly with kids to keep cost down, yet we also don't want to have a crazy-long drive with kids!  .

Time everything around Naps!
Seriously!  We plan our drive around naps, as the kids always sleep well in a vehicle.  We plan our itinerary around naps.  We plan everything around naps! 

This year, the boys typically nap from 12-2, so I planned the beach for one part of the day and an outing with a meal the other part of the day.  Last year, the boys were taking two naps a day.  This meant that we did the beach every morning before going back to our place of lodging for morning naps.  And we went out an about during the afternoon, before coming back to take afternoon naps, and then finishing the evening with parks and walks on the pier. 

Make a plan - a kid-friendly plan!
I wouldn't be me if I didn't do my research and make a detailed plan of what to do and when to do it when we are on vacation!  It's just the way I am wired!  With kids, I'm researching kid-friendly places to stay, places to eat, and activities and beaches.  Every part of the plan has the kids in mind!  Once I've researched, I make a basic itinerary and do my best to stick to the plan!

Try to stick to a budget!
Although the average American thinks you have to spend a lot of money to go on vacation, that's really not true!  We have never spent a lot of money n "things" when we travel.  Rather, if we splurge with money, we try to spend it on an experience.  Whether that is an adventure or a place to eat that we can't get back home, we'd rather spend our money on making memories, not on souvenirs or a local shopping mall.

To keep the budget down, we stay somewhere with a kitchenette.  This allows us to bring our own food and only splurge on eating out once a day.  And of course we are always looking for free things to do.  So for our annual Michigan trip, most of what we do is free.  Beaches, parks, splash pads, piers, blueberry picking, visiting Chicago.....all free!  The only thing we pay for is parking in Chicago, which is outrageous by the way!

Expect the Unexpected
Even with the best plan, when taking kids anywhere you can expect the plan to not go as planned!  Whether it's weather, cranky kids, kids not napping or kids getting sick, you can expect something not planned to happen!

For example, last year Ethan took off his diaper in the car before the blueberry patch, unknown to us of course, and peed all down himself while we were picking blueberries!  And of course, I didn't bring a change of clothes!  This year Charlotte decided she needed to eat, so I found myself breastfeeding while picking blueberries.  Or one time on our way back from TN, one of the twins was vomiting the entire five hour drive back home, as he picked up some sort of virus while we were away!  Talk about a long drive home!

Take lots of pictures!
As the saying goes, when you vacation with kids you are not vacationing, you are just making memories!  There is 100% truth to that statement, so take lots of pictures to remember the memories.

I even invested in a tripod and a remote for the camera this year for our annual beach picture.  My boys are two years old and impossible to photograph, so I thought the remote would be a good idea.  It was a good idea, but it didn't really make them any easier to photograph!  Even so, my pictures are my memories!  I wouldn't want to vacation with a camera to capture the memories!

Organization is the Key to Success
I firmly believe that organization is the key to success.  Here are some things that help me stay organized.

~ Make lists!  Lots of lists!  List what to pack.  List food items to bring.  List what to buy last minute.  List baby/kid gear to grab last minute. If you want to get really organized you can even keep a master vacation list for the following year.
~ Research before you go and have a written itinerary of what you are doing and when you are wanting to do it.  And then stick to the plan!
~ Pack light and pack early!  I try to be packed and ready to go a few days in advance.
~ Pack the vehicle with items that need to be nearby in mind.  In other words, don't pack the diaper bag on the bottom of the van!
~ Bring a few toys, books and electronics for the kids. Just enough to entertain them when you are stuck inside.
~Unpack and do laundry right away!  This helps me feel less stressed out when we get home, knowing everything is ready and back to normal!