31 Days of Bringing Balance amongst the Boxes

I’m about to try something I’ve never done before: commit to blogging every day for 31 days. I’m taking the 31 Days Blog challenge and you know what? I’m kind of excited. I started a 31 Day writing challenge to just sit and write each day. But this is committing to write something I can publish. Gulp. That’s a whole different playing field.

The challenge was created by The Nester, Myquillyn Smith. Her blog can be found at thenester.com. I have recently discovered her book The Nesting Place and I am devouring it, folks. Seriously. This book is an inspiration! In it she takes the fear out of decorating and puts the fun back in. She reminds the reader that making your house a home is not brain surgery but it is important. Whether you rent or own, love color or relish white spaces, you will enjoy this book with its easy style and encouragement that you can do this! You can make your home a functional, beautiful, welcoming place without overthinking it.

Her book is what inspired the topic for my 31 Days: Bringing Balance amongst the Boxes.31 Button

For the past year I’ve blogged about the journey through grief after the sudden death of my husband. Now my four kids and I have started a new chapter in a new house and moving in has been an adventure. For the next 31 Days join me as I share the adventure of moving in to a new home without my husband for the first time; helping kids make their rooms into their own; balancing life while trying to unpack; and more.

I hope I can make you smile and maybe even inspire as I try to excavate my new home and share the adventure with you. Some of what I share will be “live,” in the moment as we are living it. Some will be what I’ve already tackled and you can celebrate the outcome with me. Hopefully you enjoy joining me for the journey.

So, without further ado, let’s get this blogging started!

Day 1 – When is a Move more than a Move?

Day 2 – The Lifter of Someone’s Arms

Day 3 – Progress Starts Small Sometimes

Day 4 – The Need to Nest

Day 5 – Cheerleader in a Book

Day 6 – Adventures in Upcycling

Day 7 – Hard to Ask

Day 8 – Just a Hole in the Wall

Day 9 – Know When to ask for Help

Day 10 – Sometimes

Day 11 – Thankful for my Church

Day 12 – Autumn Organizing

Day 13 – Handle with Care

Day 14 – This may be Harder, but God is still Good

Day 15 – On a Roll (Just not Unpacking)

Day 16 – Spent

Day 17 – What’s Stopping You?

Day 18 – Settling In

Day 19 – Stay Tuned….

Day 20 – Vacuuming and Vignettes

Day 21 – Score!

Day 22 – Because I Must

Day 23 – Because God….

Day 24 – Adventures in Costume Bingo

Day 25 – Redemption of a Bad Day

Day 26 – Liberating Boxes

Day 27 – Tiny Victories

Day 28 – Perseverance

Day 29 – Pause

Day 30 – Progress in the Kitchen!

Day 31 – The Finish Line


Raindrops on Vacation

As I sit here typing, I’m enjoying a cup of creamy chai while rain pounds on the window next to me. This blog will complete my Disney/Universal Experience series. I’m getting ready to take part in a 31 Days Blog Challenge that kicks off October 1. Join me for a month of blogs.

SAM_0470The rain has me thinking of our trip because we   learned to laugh in the rain this time to Florida. Our last trip we had no rain. It was in May. This time we had almost no lines but we had rain. Thanks to my fav Disney book, The Unofficial Guide to SAM_0471Walt Disney World, I was prepared with 97 cent rain slicks from Walmart. One lady at Universal hinted she’d buy mine. Silly, unprepared lady.

It rained three major times on our trip. The first was at Universal and it was short-lived. Phew. We were prepared. We found indoor rides until the sun returned. On our third day at Disney, the downpour put a damper on spirits as we arrived at Animal Kingdom and realized there wasn’t much to do but walk around watching animals get wet. It put me in as foul a mood as the kids, frankly, but we soldiered on and enjoyed indoor shows until it stopped. A nice concierge had gotten us fast passes to Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: the Musical—both phenomenal.SAM_0672

The last time it rained on our trip was at Epcot. Epcot was Ryan’s bad autism day. It started with a lost hat on Test Track and ended standing in a deluge watching fireworks. It was the perfect ending to a rocky day. I couldn’t help but laugh.

You should know, if you don’t already, that Disney has a No Crying Child policy. Every Cast Member is empowered to try and fix whatever is making a child cry. Obviously temper tantrums and screaming parents are not in their power to fix. But when Ryan couldn’t control the tears after losing his hat on Test Track (the second souvenir he’d lost that week), a kind Cast Member gave us a voucher for a new hat and free ice cream for all of us. Disney rocks.

The attempt to fix tears later that day is what I’ll remember most.

Ryan had not enjoyed the day. It started off rocky and the fact that we made it that long before autism reminded us of its presence was pretty good. Autism needs order, routine, time alone. A vacation like this is scant on those things. We arrived at the front section seats for the fireworks our concierge had arranged and just before they were to begin, plop went the frozen lemonade into the dirt. The last vestiges of Ryan’s control vanished and the sobs began.

So with a charge to Jarod and Kati to keep an eye on the other two, I went in search of a replacement. But how to exit the Fast Pass fireworks viewing area and be able to reenter to join my kids? I found a Cast Member and explained that question. She didn’t know but walked me to another Cast Member who pointed to a supervisor. I explained I just needed to exit since my son had dropped his ice cream and was crying. He told me no problem and proceeded to write me a voucher for another, without my asking. It was kind.

So I asked if this could also count for popcorn, the item Ryan had really wanted. He smiled and said yes. “Where do I find popcorn?” I asked. We were in Mexico. He said Canada had a stand. Only in Epcot can I run from Mexico to Canada without causing an immigration flap. Off I headed to Canada at a jog. I found a nice lady at the Scotland food stand to ask where popcorn was sold in Canada. She pointed me to the closed stand nearby. Great.

Just then I saw a Cast Member coming from the Canadian gift shop. I asked her if they had popcorn inside. Nope. But she peaked behind the curtain of the popcorn stand to see if they could give me one. All out. Seriously? The fireworks were about to start and I just left four kids unattended. Just then she realized I could try the Port of Entry snack shop—back towards Mexico.

Back I jogged (yes, friends who know me, I was jogging!) towards this snack stand. There was a line but I waited, noting that popcorn was not on the board. Would they take my popcorn voucher and give me something else? As my turn came, I explained my sad story to the young man and asked if they could just give me a small cup of ice cream instead? It didn’t’ have to be a huge Dole Whip (YUM! But that is another blog). The lady next to him remembered they had a box of Mickey Ice Cream bars in the back—would that work, she asked? Yes!

I thanked them and walked back to the supervisor who remembered me and waived me in. Ryan calmed quickly when he saw the new treat. All my kids had stayed put and were behaving well. A few people were staring at the man-child sobbing on the ground but we ignored them. Ryan got happier.

And then the first drops started. Seriously?!?!

I pulled out our ponchos and we got covered just as the deluge began. It rained hard. I’ve gotten less wet in some showers than we were getting everywhere our ponchos didn’t cover. I thought surely they’d cancel the fireworks and laser show. Nope! Not Disney. The show MUST go on. As we stood in the pouring rain, oohing and aahing the fantastic fireworks, I started laughing. Whaddya gonna do?

We all appreciated getting back to our hotel and warm beds. The next day was our final day and thankfully it didn’t do more than mist at the Magic Kingdom until dinner time. We left the park to eat at our hotel and swim in the rain at our pool. As long as there’s no lightening, Disney keeps even the life guards on duty.

I’m sure once I put together the scrapbook and include the poncho pictures, the kids will be able to smile about our fun in the rain. I know I can. These are the memorable times of vacations we laugh about years later. These not-so-picture-perfect events that come up are the ones that make us work together and laugh when we should be miserable. Maybe that’s the lesson we should take from the rain. Maybe that’s why today’s cold down pour is making me smile.

Missing Something


Us at Epcot, May 2011

Three years ago I stood up at my MOPS group and shared the hilarious story of my stressful morning at Walt Disney World. In the story I shared how I had foolishly decided I would be fine taking four kids by myself to Epcot while my husband returned the rental car and caught up with us. The stress of keeping track of them all and finding lunch and losing each other brought peals of laughter from my MOPS friends. Then there was the cute Irish waiter who invited me into the pub in the UK pavilion to sit for a spell. I may have temporarily forgotten my husband and kids and almost taken him up on the offer. That was the funniest part. (Seriously I could have gotten lost in his accent for a while.)

That story came to mind two weeks ago as I stared at five suitcases and contemplated the fact that I was now intentionally headed on a huge 10-day vacation with four kids alone. It made me sad and a little bit overwhelmed. What was I thinking?

I must admit that my stress levels were higher on this trip than any I’ve ever taken. I did not, at any point while awake, fully relax. I had to keep counting kids and suitcases and carry-ons through plane changes each way. I continued counting kids at each park and asking who had Lucy by the hand. I am thankful my children are well-behaved. But I made sure normal kid behavior wasn’t upsetting overly sensitive people around us and reminded them when to say “excuse me” or “thank you.”

This trip was hard. Once again the silence of his absence was loud in my ears.


My little “Things” September 2014

I felt it first at Universal Studios—a hollowness that made me doubt the wisdom of this trip. Was this the right time—only one year after his death? Could I keep track of them all? But if we are to launch into new adventures then at least for the foreseeable future, alone is how I must do this.

Even our trip to the beach felt off. After a year of comparing grief to waves, I found myself standing on a real-live, beautiful beach. A knot rested heavily in my chest. I like the beach. But now the waves represented something sad deep in the recesses of my mind. They had become a loathsome thing. How had I managed to ruin the beach?

My sisters and mom had taken care of the details—towels, toys, chairs, food, and location. Bethany had even put together frozen slushies in Ziploc bags for all to enjoy in both kid and adult varieties. Sublime.

The water was perfect for boogie boards and splashing. The white sand was soft and hot beneath my toes. This time at the beach, though, I could not sit and relax. I had to swim and play and supervise my tiniest daredevil who lacked undeSAM_0478rstanding of riptide. I could not ask Kraig to take a turn. My mom, Bethany, and Chad helped some. But they had their own kids to supervise. My mom had her husband to hang out with.

As we enjoyed the sun and watched kids build sand creations, my sister Bethany again asked if I was sure about staying in South Dakota. Living near family has benefits, she reminded me. Uncertainty pulled at that knot in my chest. Had I done the right thing? My supportive group of friends in phenomenal. But had I missed a chance for my kids to embrace deeper relationships with cousins?

On the drive away, I asked the kids if they would rather live in Florida. They all said no. They like seasons. Are you sure? Yes. They would miss snow. They felt the distance made getting together with family more special, though they’d like to do it more often.

Even at Walt Disney World, my counting of kids and “who has the water bottle?” kept me always slightly on edge. There was figuring out what to do with Ryan while the three daredevils went on wild rides he couldn’t handle. There was chatting with chefs about his gluten-free needs. God bless Disney for having options everywhere we went, but it took time. There was watching the clock for Fast Pass appointments and when to eat and when to head back to the hotel for a pool and nap break. All the details I enjoy handling became more strained this time around.

One day I realized I was feeling sad. Why? We were having a good time. Then it hit me. I was surrounded by moms and dads helping each other with kids. And the silence of his absence got louder. I texted my friend Chelsea. I have learned that sometimes just saying what’s making me sad helps.

This blog post may be sad but don’t get me wrong—we had a wonderful time. There was much laughter and favorite rides were enjoyed a second time when the line wasn’t too bad. We soldiered on through rain and made some pretty amazing memories to include in the digital scrapbook. It was the trip Kraig would have wanted to bless them with and for which God provided.

I share this in the spirit of transparency that I have held to throughout the journey of grief. And I share it for anyone walking through it that is reading this. You can do amazing adventures. You should do amazing adventures after loss. God can give you strength and provide but know that it is different, harder.

Despite the heaviness that was my constant companion, I’m glad we went. My kids did amazing and having a cell phone for Jarod made it easier to reconnect with them when they launched on adventures too much for Ryan and/or Lucy. I did not lose them once. My next blog will include some of the funnier stories of lost items and hula dancing lessons. For now I’ll have a cup of Topsy Turvy Wonderland Tea in my new Tinkerbell mug and pretend I’m back on vacation. A little denial won’t hurt for a while.


“God is in the details,” the saying goes. Walt Disney certainly knew this when he planned the first theme park. The principles he set in place still help determine how the magic is made here. It’s why I love doing Disney. The attention to detail makes it magical. Anyone who had a bad time at Disney, I assert, certainly made rooky mistakes. (Sometime I’m certain to write a blog on this. I have a calling to help people do Disney right!)

We began our trip not at the Happiest Place on Earth but at another nearby park—Universal Studios. There was another bit of magic we needed to take in. The way they have brought J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter masterpieces to life is phenomenal. It’s the closest Universal comes to Disney quality. Seriously the last time I went I encountered a Scottish woman in tears, overwhelmed. “It’s like we stepped into the pages,” she sniffed.

Our first night we stayed at the Nickelodeon Suites with only two things on our agenda—enjoy their great water slide pool and eat at Chik-fil-a. Chik-fil-a was fantastic. The pools, however, were a huge letdown. They closed at 7 pm. The only thing left open was a simple kiddie pool. Seriously it was the only reason we stayed there. I would not recommend it. Jarod summed it up best: “I’m glad we stayed here first. Compared to Disney this is disappointing.”

In the morning it was off to explore both Universal Parks. We had plansSAM_0475 to drink butterbeer and pumpkin juice in Hogsmeade and enjoy a Lard Lad donut in Simpson’s world. We laughed until it hurt on the Simpson’s ride and the Despicable Me ride (twice each). We trekked with Shrek and whirled through the streets with Transformers. We entered Seuss Landing and walked in the rain and though we had fun agreed it just was not Disney.


Homer Simpson’s fav donut was actually tasty.

At the end of the afternoon it was off to St. Petersburg to join my sister’s families and stay at my mom’s new Florida house (now that she’s splitting her time between Kentucky and Florida). We enjoyed a delightful weekend that shall appear in another blog.

But through our Universal experience, something was missing. I started to doubt this trip was a good idea. I started to feel worn and worried I’d made a mistake trying to do this with four kids and no husband to help—especially with a whole week in front of us. What had I done?

Then we arrived at Disney’s Art of Animation Hotel and everything changed.

Smiles got bigger. Energy increased. The colors, the music, the sSAM_0543mells, the smiling cast members greeting us at every turn lifted a curtain we had been unaware hung over us. The awe of wonder filled all our faces.

Disney does wonder well because Disney understands details. Our hotel wasn’t a collection of rooms with a pool and underpaid employees. Our hotel was an experience celebration the art of animating. Walls were pages filled with early sketches of favorite characters. Our room was a Lion King Family Suite in a building with music and carpets and larger-than-life statues beckoning us to enjoy Hakuna Matata. The ceiling lights were clouds, the lamps tropical flowers, and the carpet a color-filled representation of a jungle SAM_0648floor.

You do realize we are excited and awe-struck and we haven’t even made it to the amusement parks yet, right?

The hotel pool was Finding Nemo themed with an underwater sound system. The cast members greeted us coming and going. The grounds were immaculately groomed and the food court options plentiful and tasty. And this is a “value” resort—aka “the cheap seats.” Disney even does the cheap seats with care.

Attention to detail is everywhere and once you notice it, you cannot help but be impressed. Finding Hidden Mickey’s in each park was a game my children loved. They are in the architecture, the paving stones, hidden on costumes, and more.

Which brings mSAM_0622e to my favorite detail this time—a simple button that read “Happy Birthday Jarod.” If you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary, family reunion, or first visit, you get a free button to wear. Cast Members everywhere greet you in response to them. We arrived the week of Jarod’s 16th birthday. This detail made him smile and put a spring in his step. All. Week. Long.

Last year his birthday fell 11 days after his father’s sudden death. Last year I had to throw away funeral flowers so they would not remind us of what we couldn’t forget. Last year his birthday celebration was forced and sad. If any of my children deserved this detail, it was Jarod.

He was greeted by name hundreds of times. He was brought on stage during a luau with other birthday celebrants and taught to hula. He was serenaded by cast members on our last day at a restaurant. Each time he beamed.

So thanSAM_0778k you, Disney staff, for making all those details combine to put smiles on my children’s faces. Thank you for helping my eldest son feel celebrated after surviving the hardest year of his life. Thank you for each time we returned to the hotel to hear, “Welcome home.” And thank you for caring about the details. It helped lift our spirits and make our memories amazing.

More Disney adventures coming in the next blog.


I think I need a t-shirt that simply says, “I survived.”

This week was the one year anniversary of my husband’s death. The day itself was OK. Friends and family rallied around me to make sure I was doing alright while letting me take the lead and set the tone for the day. Other than a few painful flashbacks to that day, I really was OK. One of my kids stayed home from school and another made it a whole half day. The routine of school was what the other two needed. We finished it off at Dad’s fav restaurant–Famous Dave’s. We did OK.

While sitting in Starbucks with a few close friends just so I didn’t spend the morning alone, I was asked how I was doing. I said it was like the weight of what today was sat next to me, an almost tangible presence, but I was calm. My friend, Deb, responded that she wasn’t surprised because today was more of a celebration of having crossed a finish line.

This anniversary was almost an exhalation of stress. We did it. We made it through the Terrible Year of Firsts—all the first holidays, first trips, first milestones without husband and father in our lives. We got through it. Although I wonder if survive is the best word.

I can’t help but think of the new Casting Crowns song (‘cause all my readers know how much music speaks to me). “It’s time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive!” I think we did better than survive this year—we thrived.

At Kraig’s funeral, the pastors he once called colleagues read letters each of us had written to him as farewells. Each of our children, save one, found the words to say what they’d miss about Daddy. (One daughter found her words too personal to share.) I wrote a letter of promise. I promised him I would continue to take our kids on adventures. I would make sure they learned to laugh again and healed from this loss. That thought was in my mind strongly this summer as we launched into a busy schedule of activities, trips, and moving into a new home.

We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. It’s time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive!

What an awesome testament to the gift of life Jesus gives us. When we surrender to him we get heaven. But C. S. Lewis wrote, “If you shoot for heaven, you’ll probably get earth thrown in but if you shoot for earth alone you’ll get neither.” This life is a glorious bonus that should not be squandered.

My late-husband and I wanted to pass onto our children the zeal for really living life while we are here. Serve God and enjoy the gift this life can be. It doesn’t take tons of money to do more than drudge through life in a meaningless monotony of work, eat, TV, sleep, church, repeat. Living a life stuck in a rut like that, I believe, lacks the joy God intended for us. It’s a waste of this precious gift called life.

So I’m celebrating surviving the most difficult year of my life. And I survived by the grace and mind-blowing provision of a God who repeatedly amazed me with His presence, His blessing, His provision, His comfort, His wisdom, and the strength to keep moving forward. This year we wept and laughed; we traveled and we had all-too-quiet times at home; and we chose to keep our eyes on His promises as we chose to thrive.

What have you gone through that would earn you an “I Survived!” t-shirt? Are you choosing to find ways to let God help you thrive in the midst of struggles you never asked for or imagined would overwhelm your life? Are you keeping your eyes focused on the promises of a God who sees the big picture we cannot? Or are you letting the weight of tragedy or sorrow or grief or even stress stop you in a dark place?

Let me encourage you that you can survive this because God promises to use ALL things for the good of those who love Him. You can bandage those wounds and someday show them off proudly as battle scars of what God helped you survive. But while you are in the midst of this struggle, choose to thrive.

Jesus came to give us life more abundantly. If thriving today just means getting up one more time than you’ve been knocked down, take it! If thriving means making plans to move past this, embrace them! If thriving means letting go of painful memories or bitterness, release them knowing God has so much better for you to hold on to.

Joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable, love unstoppable, anything is possible! (Casting Crowns, Thrive bridge)

When we serve Him, He promises to care for us and walk through the tough times with us. Anything is possible with God! I survived and I believe I thrived through the grace of God. I am making preparations for the amazing Disney trip my husband was saving to take our kids on when he died. God provided for it in His infinite goodness. We will go on this trip with more joy than tears, with all of it paid for (and even some of it free), all thanks to God’s amazing provision. This is a trip where we get to thrive.

How will you choose to thrive today?