Surprise Weekend At Universal Studios

The promotion to big brother is kinda like exercising for the first time in a while.  It sounds like a good idea until you can’t get out of bed the next day.   The promotion to big brother of twins is really more like a demotion if you think about it.  There’s 2x the crying, 2x the poop, and about 1/10th of the attention.


IMG_8131It’s near impossible to share my attention equally between my 1-year old twins and their 7-year-old brother.  No matter how you slice and dice it, Cam comes up short.  This fact, coupled with the challenges of a December birthday, had us wanting to do something special for Cam’s 8th birthday.  Cam and I have been reading the Harry Potter series together.  He’s enamored by the magic and mystery and wanted to have a Harry Potter themed birthday party.  So Jimmy and I got to scheming.  What better way to have a Harry Potter birthday than to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter located at Universal in Orlando?



The day before Cam’s birthday we casually told him he could open his present from us a day early.  We built it up, saying it was the best present we had ever gotten him.  When he unwrapped the Hogwarts t-shirt he did his best to hide his disappointment.  It only took a few minutes before this letter and a Hogwarts Express train ticket fell out with the following message from Minerva McGonagall.

“We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You will be traveling to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando.

Please find enclosed all of your travel information. We eagerly await your arrival.”


I wish I could have caught his face on camera the exact moment it sunk in. He kept saying “when?” and I kept saying “now!”  We immediately left for the airport.  When our flight arrived we grabbed our rental car and headed to Universal’s City Walk to have dinner and check out the lay of the land.  The next morning we had birthday donuts at the hotel before heading to the parks.


IMG_8230Universal did not disappoint Cam.  It exceeded all his expectations.  From Harry Potter to Marvel to Transformers it is everything that would peak a little boy’s interest.  You should know by now I’m Team Disney all the way, but even I have to admit that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is pretty amazing. Here the magic of the stories come to life in excessive, detailed, interactive, splendor.


If you asked me, I’d have to say my favorite part has to be the train ride between the parks.  It’s a clever transition that keeps you lost in your favorite storybook as you travel from King’s Crossing Platform 9 3/4 to Hogsmeade and back again.  Cam’s favorite was the interactive wand we purchased upon arrival to Diagon Alley.  He could have spent all day turning on lights, spraying fountains, and making the window displays come to life.


I knew going into the weekend that there wouldn’t be a lot for my little tots to do. There’s plenty to walk through and look out, but only 1 ride between both parks for tykes smaller than 36.”  Unfortunately for us, the play areas designed for toddlers are water playgrounds and the weather wasn’t warm enough for me to let them get wet.  Jimmy and I took turns riding with Cam and entertaining the littles.


The next day, I woke up feeling like I had been unfaithful to my true love and so we promptly headed to Disney Springs so I could make amends.  Christmas time at Disney is unparalleled.  We spent the day enjoying the decorations in the sunshine including my personal favorite: the Trail of Trees.  Each tree along the path is decorated with a theme from a favorite Disney movie.  There is Christmas music playing and even fake snow falling to really put you in the Christmas spirit.


I was reminded this weekend that the unexpected moment is always sweeter.  There’s something to be said about a true surprise.  Cam, my love, my lap may be fuller this year but there will always be room for you. Thanks for graciously scooting over to make space for the twins.  You are better than my best dreams.   Happy 8th Birthday, I love you more than words.







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10 Travel Hacks for Staying in Hotels with Babies & Toddlers

It’s so fun to have a baby in a hotel – said no one ever.  Hotels should stand for adventure, excitement, a break in the ordinary.  But bringing a baby or a toddler anywhere new (or anywhere really!) can be a bit overwhelming.  Here are some of tips, tricks, and travel hacks to make it a little bit easier for you.  IMG_6982

Move the furniture. Most hotel rooms are small.  And every inch counts.  The first thing I do when I get to a hotel room is assess the space to see how it will work for my family of 5.  I’ve been known to rotate desks, scoot beds, or even stack end tables in the corner to maximize our space.

Most hotels will provide you with a crib(s) or pack n play upon request (free of charge).


Don’t forget the tape.  Believe it or not, tape is your best friend. It’s the quickest way to baby proof a hotel room.  It will cover electrical outlets, keep the phone receiver in place to avoid long distance phone charges, and keep the lid on the toilet.

Don’t get stuck with dirty diapers. If you mess up on this one, you’ll pay the price.  Don’t make the mistake of leaving a dirty diaper in the trash can after housecleaning has already made their rounds.  Always take your diapers to an exterior trash can.  If you can’t, make sure to use the ice bucket liner or plastic laundry bag to contain the smell.

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Bring an inflatable tub for the tub. Not all hotels have bathtubs.  Many hotels have traded bathtubs for the sleek modern look of a walk-in shower.  An inflatable tub allows you to still have bath time, even if you’ve only got a shower.   Even if you have a bathtub these work great for smaller guys who aren’t sturdy enough to sit alone in a big bathtub of water by themselves.  Addi could sit up before Chase, I used this tub at home in my own bathtub until I had two study babies that could play together in the bath.

There is no such thing as too many snacks. One day I’m going to write a post where one of the tips is not about food.  But today isn’t that day.  If someone doesn’t eat a meal, or they get hungry before bed your snacks are better than the $3.25 candy bar in the vending machine.


Bring toys. Bring things for your kids to do in the room.  A couple of their favorite toys or maybe a new one that can keep them entertained for a little while. Here’s a fun idea I plan to try next trip: Car tape + cars.  Boredom is not your friend.

Do a curtain check (binder clips).  The last thing you want is that little crack of sunlight coming into your room and giving the baby the impression that it’s time to get up.  I’ve found my kids tend to sleep-in, in a hotel if I can keep those curtains shut.  Use a binder clip for those stubborn thick curtains that refuse to cooperate.



Don’t forget the sound machine. My kids use a sound machine to go to sleep at night so I always bring mine.  But even if your kids don’t use a sound machine to go to sleep, white noise will really help with naps.  There are lots of apps or YouTube videos you can play on a loop.  The sounds of people walking up and down the hallway, shouting, opening and closing doors can be muffled with some good old-fashioned white noise.

Nobody puts baby in a corner BUT she can go in the closet or bathroom.  Think about it.  The bathroom or closet are usually the best choices for a baby to sleep.  It’s dark and quieter than the main room. Plus it’s isolated (to an extent) from the people that don’t need to sleep.  Because I have twins, we don’t usually have a bathroom or closet big enough for both babies; so we reverse it.   Jimmy usually takes Cam to the pool or for a walk while I put the babies to bed in the main room and hide in the bathroom till they fall asleep. I usually take a book or my laptop.  It’s not ideal but it could be worse.  Sleep is worth more than diamonds to me and my kids are usually asleep in 20-30 minutes and then I can transition back into the room.

You want to keep bedtime the same, as much as possible.  Whatever your routine is at home, do your best to keep it in the hotel.  Don’t stress.  I have a friend that puts the baby in the car, drives till they fall asleep, and then transitions them to the hotel crib.  Whatever works people.  You won’t find judgment here.

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Use the appliances.  Double check what amenities your room has.  Most rooms have at least a mini fridge which works great for milk storage and breakfast items so you can eat inexpensively before heading out for the day.  The coffee maker also makes a great bottle warmer.  I recently saw a post from a fellow traveler who used the ironing board as a table for her kids.


Growing up y parents were known to book a hotel for a night just to mix it up, we would swim, order room service, and stay up late watching movies.  While I’m sure it was a hassle, I only remember the fun.  So don’t skip out on an adventure because you’re afraid of the hotel stay.  They won’t remember what goes wrong, they’ll only remember the fun.

Got a hotel tip or travel hack?  Leave it in the comments!



The Names Of God Advent Calendar (Free PDF Download)

I call my daughter “Little-Bit.”  That right there should tell you something about her.  She’s a tiny little thing.   She’s almost two and is 25 pounds soaking wet.  My brother earned the word “Esquire” after his name.  That title could lead you to know more about my brother.  He worked hard to become a lawyer, he’s intellectual, he values education, he likes information, and he’s also very hard-headed and stubborn.


Names and titles tell us about people.  They give us insight into who they are, what they value, and their character.  Our God is so vast and so big – one name can’t be used to describe Him.  The Bible uses dozens of names and titles for Him.  Each name describes a particular characteristic or attribute of God.  They help us understand more about who He is: more about His power, His might, His love, His grace, and the depths of His heart.


One of my favorite names of God is El-Roi, which means “The God, who sees.” There have been times in my life when I’ve felt alone, forgotten, tossed aside.  It’s a reminder that God sees me during times I’ve felt hidden from the rest of the world.  He sees the depth of my pain, of my joys, of my fears, of my hopes.  He sees all the sides of me and loves me the same.


Advent is the idea of preparing for a notable event.  It has become synonymous with the month of December and the days leading up to Christmas.   What better way to prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus than to get to know the One who sent Him. I created this advent calendar about 3 years ago.  I wanted something interactive for my kids but also something that would point us toward scripture and keep our focus on Christ during the holiday bustle.


I’ve taken 24 ornaments and written a name or attribute of God on each one.  We keep them in a vintage glass jar near our fireplace. Starting on December 1st, we pick an ornament each day to hang on the tree.  There’s no particular order, but before we hang it on the tree, we read the corresponding scripture and talk about what that specific name tells us about God and how we’ve seen evidence of His hands in our family over the past year. These ornaments are a different color than the rest of my ornaments so even though they are small they still stand out.  On Christmas day we wake up to presents under a tree filled with the awesomeness of God.


You can find a list of the names and verses here.

This tradition has grown with us over the years.  When I started it Cam couldn’t read and we spent a lot of time defining the words.  Each year, we add another layer to the principle and what it says about the heart of our Heavenly Father. This year, Cam will look up and read each verse for us.  My hope is that as the years continue to pass our conversations will continue to get deeper and our faith will continue to get stronger.


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The Grandparent Gift Guide

Is there a grandparent lotto?  If so, I hit the jackpot with my 4.  My grandparents have never missed a milestone: from birthdays, graduations, showers, my wedding, vacations, athletics, to big school performances, they were always there.  Oh, and did I mention they all live 1500 miles away?  Yeah, they showed up.  My grandparents provided an abundance of a lot of things: unconditional love, support, encouragement, humor, comfort, patience, life lessons, and most importantly treats.  There were (and still are!) always treats.  I’m 32 years old and when I just went to visit my nana she made my favorite meal and slipped me cash as she left.  I’m blessed to have 3 of the 4 still with me and have loved watching as they now play the role of the great-grandparent too.

It’s been fun to watch my parents and inlaws make the transition into grandparents too.  I’m convinced something happens in your brain when you become a grandparent.  When I was growing up my parents played by the rules – now it’s candy before dinner and board games past bedtime.

I take my gift giving pretty seriously.   If gift giving was a sport, I’d be on the ‘A team,’ no question.  I train all year for Christmas gift giving, making list, compiling ideas, saving cash.  When November rolls in, it’s open season.  Grandparents can be hard to buy for, at least I think so.  I mean how many handprint art pictures can they really want?

So here are 10 gift ideas for the grandparents in your life.  As you will notice, I tend to err on the side of sentimental.

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  1. Photo Books: There are so many different ways to go with this one.  You could do a book for the year in review, to celebrate a milestone (wedding, baby’s birth), or one that focuses on just pictures of grandparents and grandkids through the years, “grandpa and me.”  Shutterfly is my go to.  It’s user-friendly, they have tons of style choices, and you can often find a 40% off coupon.
  2. Photo Blankets: A couple of years ago Cam gave me a photo blanket for Christmas.  The blanket had just photos of me and him and when he gave it to me, he said: “this way you can always cuddle me, even when we aren’t together.” ( If your heart didn’t just melt a little, it’s probably made of stone.)  It’s my go-to blanket for sentimental reasons, but also because it’s super soft! Jimmy ordered from PrinterPIx.  There is currently a Groupon where I think it will cost you $7 before shipping.  (Groupon expires 11/18 at midnight – so no time to waste!)
  3. Keychain Artwork: Did you know you could have your child’s artwork made into a keychain?  Well, you can, and it’s pretty cute.  Here are three Etsy vendors that will make custom pieces for you, all with a different style. Option 1, Option 2, and Option 3.   My advice on Etsy is to order early.  If a vendor receives too many orders, they will close their shop to catch up and you could miss the Christmas ordering deadline.
  4. Silhouette Necklace:  This is a custom necklace, made from your child’s silhouette.  Unfortunately, the store I purchased from no longer makes them.  But I found two different Etsy vendors that offer them.  The first is a glass/metal pendant and the second is made from wood and has several different styles and color options.
  5. Handwriting Bracelet: You can have a bracelet made with a phrase or name of a loved one written in their handwriting.  It’s hard to picture, so here is the Etsy link, where you can see all the different varieties of this.  I’ve actually given this gift twice for two different reasons.  The first time I gave it to my grandma after my granddad passed away.  I took his signature from a card he wrote and had it put on a bracelet for her.  Last year, Cam wrote “I love YaYa (that’s what he calls my mom)” and I had that engraved on the bracelet.  Both were a hit.
  6. Updating Photo Frame: This is a twist on an old classic: the digital picture frame.  The problem with digital frames is that it plays the same pictures over and over again.  This particular product from Nixplay lets you upload pictures from social media, iCloud, or Dropbox remotely.  This is perfect for family members that don’t live locally.  You can upload pictures weekly/monthly and they can see what you and the kids are up to.
  7.  Family Tree Artwork: Grandparents leave a special legacy.  What better than a gift where they can see the fingerprints of that legacy?  Here are two of my favorites: Option 1 or Option 2.
  8. Initial Necklace: Sentimental and trendy – you know I’m in.  This is a great gift for moms too! There are lots of vendors that make these, you can find my favorites here and here.
  9. Grandchild & Grandparent Activity Set: From Uncommon Goods.  The cool thing about this gift is that it turns into a keepsake.  This card set has fun activities for grandparents and grandkids to do together and then reflect on the experience.  Once the entire pack is completed you are supposed to trade cards with each other and see what the other person said about the adventure.
  10. Letter kit: This gift is for grandparents who live a distance away.  It’s a monthly set of postcards with prompts for the grandchild to write old-fashioned letters to their grandparents.  It asks a few simple questions, has some fill in, and a place for a photo.  You can find them here.

Hopefully, this helps! Got another good idea? I’d love to hear it.  I’m always in the market for a good gift idea.  Happy shopping!



The Non-Toy Holiday Gift Guide (for all ages)

First off let me say I love toys.  My house is bursting with toys.  I’m not against toys.    I love watching my children explore the world of play.  That being said,  I also want my kids to know that there is more to gift giving than just toys.  Time spent and experiences have value too!  I love to give non-toy gifts to family and friends, I like the element of surprise, I like that it’s different from everything else they will be getting.  And I like that it last beyond Christmas or a birthday.

Here are 10 non-toy gift ideas:

  1. Memberships:  At first I was worried that my kids would get bored if we went to the same museum or zoo over and over again. But I’ve found that to be completely false.  Each time we go, we find something new or take something we’ve seen before to a deeper level.  Museums challenge our thinking and inspire us to create/invent/change.  I’m a big museum fan – you can read more about it here.
  • Kids: Zoo, Aquarium, Children’s Museum, Museum of Natural History.
  • Adults: Gym, Costco, Amazon Prime, Thrive Market, Netflix

2. Subscription Boxes:  The gift that keeps giving.  My mom got a Kiwi Crate subscription for Cam a few years ago and it was a HUGE hit.  Each month he received a box with instructions for two age-tailored activities.  He loved it.  Nowadays you can find a subscription box for almost any interest – crafts, science, building, reading, traveling, cooking etc.  Don’t tell, but TWO members of my family are getting subscription boxes this year.

3.  Monthly One on One outings: There really isn’t anything that has more value than time spent.  It can be time spent with you or with someone important in their life.  I recently gave a bride & groom 12 pre-planned and paid for dates, one for each month of their first year of marriage.  The dates ranged from a coffee gift card to game night, to a Master Chef kitchen competition.

  • Kids: Movie dates, dinner dates, game nights, ice cream dates
  • Adults: Pre-planned date nights, coffee dates, dinner dates

4.  Classes:  Encouragement is one of the best things you can give someone but it can be tricky to show sometimes.  An easy way to encourage someone is to buy them a class to pursue something they are interested in or good at.

  • Kids: Dance, art lessons, musical instrument lessons, horseback riding, cooking classes, carpentry lessons.  There’s a class for everything.
  • Adults:  Same as above!

5. Family Board Games: There are too many to list.  Some of our favorites include Headbanz, Sequence, Catan, Ticket to Ride, and of course all the classics.

6. Experiences:  One of my most favorite gifts I’ve done was when I took my oldest for his 7th birthday to see How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Broadway for his birthday.  We both loved the show and it was such a special afternoon of just the two of us.

  • Kids: Tickets to a musical or show, Disney on Ice, amusement park tickets, plan a family camping trip, take a class together
  • Adults: A favorite concert, a show, rock climbing, skydiving

7. Magazine Subscription: Yes this is still a thing! And people still love getting mail!

  • Kids: Ranger Rick, Highlights, Ask – there are so many depending on what your kids are interested in.
  • Adults:  There are too many to list.  What is the recipient into?  I one time got my brother a golf magazine subscription.  And don’t forget the classics: Better Homes and Garden, Martha Steward Living, House Beautiful, Cooking Light.

8. Nature Up Close:  My mom gave Cam an ant farm recently.  I can’t tell you how many times I would catch us all just watching the ants work.  It was really so cool to see them build tunnels and move food.

  • Kids: Butterfly Kit, Ant Farm, Microscope, a bug hunting kit
  • Adults: Bird feeder + seed, Telescope, a bee house

9. A Gift to Charity: This one is age specific.  It would be hard to replace a young child’s gift with a charity donation but there are several organizations that donate to charity when you purchase their product.  It’s a gift with a purpose.

10. Homemade Coupon Book:  Everybody likes to feel a little power now and then.  Giving a coupon book, lets them hold all the cards – literally.  Letting kids stay up an extra 30 minutes, have a coffee date with just mom, choose tonight’s dinner, an ice cream run – be creative!

Do you have non-toy gift ideas?  Comment below so we can have the ULTIMATE list!



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What’s in my Disney Bag?

I’m headed home from a week-long stay at one of our favorite places. Yep, you guessed it Walt Disney World.  We love taking our kids to explore new places, but at the risk of sounding cliche, there really is something magical about spending time at Disney World. I’ve shared this before but my love for Disney started with my grandparents.  My granddaddy loved Disney and was there the first year it opened, and each consecutive year after that.  He took his kids and then his kids’ kids. We lost him 9 years ago but that didn’t stop the pattern.

So now I take my kids and Lord willing, I’ll take my kids’ kids.  In a world that is full of heartbreak and loss, Disney is a place where good always wins, where the impossible is possible, and dreams have no limits.


We’re open to close people.  We rarely head back to the hotel during the day, so when I leave in the morning, I take everything with me that I’ll need for the entire day.  My kids nap REALLY well in their strollers so we don’t typically head back to the hotel unless something is wrong.  If you are go-back-to-the-hotel-for-naps kind of people, you have the luxury of restocking.

Disclaimer: I’m not going for lightweight.  I throw mine in the bottom of the stroller and leave it for the day so heaviness really isn’t a factor for me.  You can find my current Disney bag here. I also snagged these adorable reusable bags (found here) to hold the snacks and misc small items so they don’t get lost in the bottom of the backpack.


  • Snacks.  Always snacks.  I usually have an arsenal of fruit snacks, granola bars, goldfish, and peanut butter crackers.  Ain’t nobody got time to be hangry when you’re at Disney World.
  • Typical baby items, your diapers, wipes, and baby food (pouches for the win).  Don’t skimp on the wipes, they are perfect for sticky hands and faces after a classic Mickey Bar.
    • If you run out of baby items, Disney has a spare for you in their Baby Center (in each park).
    •  If you don’t breastfeed, bring your bottles empty so you don’t have to worry about keeping the milk cool.  I put the formula in the bottles ahead of time and just add water when it was time for them to eat.  Now that they are older and take just one bottle before bed, I buy two cartons of milk at the park when it’s time for them to have their bottles.   DSC_0770
  • Like I mentioned, my kids sleep really well in their stroller.  They use the muslin blankets for sleeping, so I throw those in for nap and bedtime.  I don’t try to make my kids stay up or skip naps.  Tired toddlers are cranky toddlers. You can see more of my general Disney tips for babies and toddlers here.
  • Baby spoons and forks (here).  My twins are 18 months and just learning how to feed themselves with utensils.  They struggle with the size of a standard spoon/fork with their little hands and mouths.  I find letting them use smaller utensils makes them more independent at meal time and often keeps their attention longer so the rest of us can eat.IMG_6593
  • Portable charger for your phone.  Your dining reservations and fast passes are managed by an app.  That same app (My Disney Experience) provides you with wait times, restaurant options, and mobile ordering throughout your visit. This seems to be the most common type. I’ve chosen to invest in the apple charging case (found here) which literally allows my phone to last for days without charging.
  • Small wallet.  I’m talking like change purse here.  I throw my credit card and picture ID in.  That’s it.  Neither of which I’ve had to use since it is all linked on my magic band, but just in case.  DSC_0308
  • Tylenol.  For adults and infants.  It’s a long day of walking and standing and lifting kids in a noisy sunny place.  The last thing you want to be dealing with is a headache or aching back.  When Chase started cutting a tooth in the middle of our Disney trip I was glad I had the baby Tylenol too.
  • Sunscreen.  Did you know you can get sunburned on an overcast day in Florida?  Don’t ask me how I know! Ouch! Put sunscreen on in the hotel when you are getting everyone dressed and then bring a small bottle for reapplication.  I love the sticks for applying on faces and my little people (here).  DSC_0513
  • Small toy for keeping kids occupied during long waits.  If you want a good spot for a parade or a show it requires getting a seat at least an hour ahead.  Having a few cars, figurines, or the coloring packs (from the dollar section at Target) will help that time pass quickly.  Same goes for waiting for food at a restaurant or even a long attraction line.
  • Bibs.  My color coordinated outfits don’t seem to match as well when one of the twins has ketchup all over him.
  • Autograph book and pen for characters to sign.  My oldest recently got into the pin trading.  So his pin lanyard and extra pin backs have now found their way into my backpack too.  DSC_0706
  • Camera.  This is the only thing that doesn’t stay in my bag.  I typically wear this around my neck (strap: here)so I’m ready to snap a pic at any junction.  I’m a bit of a photo fanatic.  I have a pretty nice camera and don’t want to risk anything happening it to while I’m on a ride.  My current camera: here.
  • Depending on how little your kids are, a change of clothes is probably a good idea.  When the twins were babies I would bring their pajamas so when they fell asleep in the stroller I could transfer them right into their cribs back at the hotel.  Now that they are getting older I have an extra pair of bottoms for each of them for the case of a blowout.  DSC_0263

What’s not in my Disney bag

  • Ponchos unless forecasted.  Download the app Dark Skies and you will have an accurate forecast that will let you know if rain is likely.  If there is rain forecasted then I would definitely purchase ahead of time to avoid paying Disney’s steep cost on ponchos.  The thing about Florida is that it rarely rains ALL day.  It will rain for like an hour or so and then the sun usually comes back out.
  • Water.  Any Disney vendor will give you ice water for free upon request.
  • Selfie Stick.  Disney does not allow selfie sticks into the park anymore.  They will confiscate them at security and you’ll have to claim them at your departure.  IMG_6591

I’ve lived in several different places and by now you probably know that my family is pretty spread out too.  Disney’s been a constant in all the moves and all the changes of life.  There’s something about Disney that just feels like coming home.





5 Things I Learned From Having Twins

Life’s full of surprises.  Finding out you are having twins- that’s certainly one of them.  You can read all the books and you can plan and plan and then plan some more but when D-day comes its trial by fire; it is sink or swim.  I suppose all roads into motherhood are like that.  And quite honestly, it is mostly sinking.  And yet, in this weird twisted way, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.


The twins are 1.5yrs old now, and here’s what they’ve taught me so far:

Lesson 1:  I can’t do it all.  

When I had just one child I had gotten to a comfortable place.  I planned fun outings, I hosted dinner parties, I homeschooled, my house was mostly tidy, and I had a meal plan every week for dinner.  When I was pregnant with the twins one consistent piece of advice, I received from other twin mamas, was for me to accept help.  I would smile politely but in my mind, I was saying – “maybe you needed the help, but I got this. I’ve done the research, I’ve got the sleep training schedule, I’m not easily overwhelmed: I’ll be fine.”


Now that the twins are here, my house is rarely clean, the laundry is always behind, I’m lucky if I get a shower and I mean do they really expect to eat every night?  Oh and this is us in a good place.  I wrote a blog post dedicated to this one topic (read it here.) but the premise was this, it is a season.  In my current season, the housekeeping and sadly my hygiene have taken a backseat to doing life with my little people.  I can’t do it all and I don’t have to do it all, and you don’t either.  Let the dishes pile up, let the floor stay dirty a little while longer, just be present.  Who knew there could be so much joy in these sticky messy places?


Lesson 2: His grace runs deep.  

I never expected the labor to last long after birth and that remembering to breathe would become a daily task.  I didn’t realize that motherhood would drive me closer to the cross.  A constant reminder to the good news that He restores the broken, that He fills the gaps, that He makes all things new.  I’ve never needed this truth more.  I’m the one who yelled out of place, I’m the one who lost my patience, I’m the one who crushed their spirit with a harsh remark.  I’m the one who let my schedule get in the way of their needs.  I’m the one who set unfair expectations for myself and for them.


While being a mom is one of my most treasured titles, it requires all of me and I get it wrong daily. And while they’re throwing the outward tantrums, where’s my heart in all of this?

So I live grace and forgiveness.  Grace says I’m right where I need to be, cracks and all, because it’s the Father that fills the cracks. Grace says I don’t have to measure up, grace says that even though I’ve failed them, He never will.

Lesson 3: I care too much about what other people think.  

Remember that messy house I’m currently rocking?  It bothers me. Remember earlier when I said I can’t do it all?  Well, that bothers me too.   Why?  Because while I can finally admit that I can’t do it all, I certainly don’t want you to know that.


I have this one friend, and every time I go over to her house I’m amazed at all she does in a day.  Her house appears to always be clean and she serves her kids the most balanced meals.  Meanwhile, I’m over here like, can I count ketchup as a vegetable?  I have other friends that rarely raise their voices, some that always look adorable, and another runs like 5 miles before I even open my eyes each morning, and let’s not leave out the friend that has her homeschool lessons planned out weeks in advance.  I end up kicking myself and saying “brushing your hair in the morning would go a long way.  You really need to give the kids more veggies with their meals.  Would it kill you to run once in awhile (it most definitely would) You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to be a little more organized,” the list goes on.  It’s stupid, but I do it anyways.

Insecurity is dangerous.  It fosters the lie that we aren’t enough.  If that’s where our focus is, then we miss everything else. Lisa Bevere says “If you feel you are inadequate, worthless, or not enough, you didn’t get those ideas from God.”  Comparison is a deadly trap, don’t get caught.


“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought and then made by His hands is the dearest, grandest, and most precious thing in all thinking.” {George MacDonald}.



Lesson 4: I’m my own worst enemy.  

I want to get it more right than wrong.  I want to never lose it.   I want to enjoy the mess. So what gets in the way?  Me.  I get in the way.

I’m the one who gets mad at my child for misbehaving, for needing to be parented.

I’m the one who chose to spend my time doing something that will never matter in the long run instead of staying longer to rub backs and steal cuddles.

I’m the one who’s annoyed that we couldn’t get out of the house on time to keep the schedule, never realizing I’m setting the tone for the day.


I’m the one playing board games all the while going over the to-do list in my head. They’re laughing and I’m thinking about the laundry that needs to be done.

I’m the one that bought into the comparison trap. That I need to be better.

All the while, I’m the one that’s missing the joy in these moments. I’m the one that needs to get out of the way.


Lesson 5: My heart is bigger than I thought. 

The other night I was cuddled up on the couch with my wild two, watching Moana for the 782nd time.  My oldest, playing on the iPad on the floor beside us. There were 40 wiggling fingers and toes poking me in all the wrong places but I literally thought my heart was going to burst it was so full.


While it’s true, a mother loves her kids in an unexplainable capacity, that’s not what I’m actually talking about here. I’m talking about how they make me love better. It’s the example they set. It’s the unconditional way they love me when I’ve lost my cool or when I burn the grilled cheese.   Their love is relentless, sometimes too relentless – What’s a girl got to do to go to the bathroom by herself around here?

It’s seeing the world through their eyes.  It’s princesses and pirate ships. It’s believing anything is possible.  It’s saying “hi” with a smile to everyone we meet regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity.  It’s kisses when I’m crabby and laughter when I’m trying to sulk.  When my 7-year-old asks me for a couple of dollars to give the homeless man I just brushed past; my heart becomes bigger, it becomes better.


The twins have unequivocally rocked my world, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  To my pregnant-with-twins mamas: You got this girl, but accept the help anyway.






Photo Credit:  Gina Felice Photography

Lessons I Learned


How To Visit Key West With Kids

I grew up in South Florida.  Hurricane season wasn’t any different than when the spring rains roll in, in Northeast Ohio.  Every once in a while a hurricane of substantial size would blow in and we’d ride it out in the bathroom at my grandparents’ house.  There are of course those exceptions.  I went through hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Wilma required me to evacuate from my college dorm. And I can remember watching as Katrina decimated Louisana.

This year, however, seems different.  It’s been hurricane after hurricane.  And these storms are full of uncontrolled power, destroying everything they touch. We spent some time in Key West back in the Spring and had a great time.  Unfortunately, the keys were right in the path of hurricane Irma.  She rolled through and left a trail of destruction in her wake.

Many of the residents make their living off of tourism.  While donating funds and supplies definitely helps the island begin to rebuild; I’m sure most of the small business owners and restaurants would tell you the best thing you could do is to come visit!  I’m hoping this post might encourage some of you to take the trip.  If you have a couple days off and are wondering where to visit – pick Key West! You won’t be sorry!

Here’s how to do it with kids in tow:

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Stay off Duval Street:

We had some reservations about taking the kids to Key West, and most of them centered around Duval Street.  It’s no secret, Duval street is where the party starts, and I just wasn’t sure my kids were ready for all that top-notch people watching; if you catch my drift (wink wink).  We ended up staying on the other side of the island and that was a great decision.  We could spend time downtown and head out before things got too out of hand.  I’d look for an Airbnb or HomeAway property a little off of the main strip.


Hit the beach:

We stayed right near Smathers Beach.  It’s picturesque with its white sand and blue waters.  We checked out a couple of different beaches, and most were pretty rocky or not very kid-friendly. They were fun to explore, but this is where you’d want to park yourself if you are planning for the traditional beach day.  There is a concession stand on one end and we had lunch at one of the food trucks that park near the beach.

There are limited shade options here.  Here’s the umbrella we love when we hit the beach with babies.  I also took an inflatable baby pool to fill with water for the tots to play in, which ended up being a great idea, if I do say so myself.


Visit a deserted island:

I mean really, how cool does that sound? 70 miles off the coast of Key West is a Dry Tortugas National Park.  It’s a series of islands with the main one hosting Fort Jefferson.  We haven’t actually made it out to the fort yet because it is a 2-hour boat ride and there were just too many variables to take my 1-year old twins on the journey.   The park is known for its snorkeling, wildlife, and history.  Everyone I’ve talked to has highly recommended it, we can’t wait to check it out on our next trip.

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Watch the Sunset at Mallory Square:

Mallory Square is known for its incredible sunsets.  What you might not know is that as the sun sets the square comes alive.  Street performers, merchants, and food vendors all have a spot for your enjoyment.  Each evening hosted a number of different performers and my son enjoyed being able to participate in a few of the acts.  From magic to juggling to fire-breathing to sword swallowing you will see it all here.  I wouldn’t expect to get any breath-taking pictures here, despite all the reviews, it’s very crowded and unless you are there early, you probably won’t have a front row seat to the sunrise.


Do the Aquarium: 

All of my kids (ages 7, 1, 1,) loved the aquarium.  It’s small, but it’s very hands on. There’s a touch tank, turtle feeding, and shark feeding demonstration to name a few. It won’t take you a full day but it’s located right downtown and there are several restaurants and shops to occupy the rest of your afternoon.


We bundled our tickets since we wanted to visit the shipwreck museum, which was a way to save a few dollars.  I wouldn’t recommend the shipwreck museum for kids under 5.  It definitely has some interesting parts and an awesome observation tower you can climb to the top of.  However, it’s a lot of reading and history that might not keep your little ones engaged.

Grab some history at Fort Zachary Taylor:

You know I’m a sucker for a good learning opportunity.  We toured Fort Zachary and were transported back to civil war times.  There are also nature trails and a beach to visit.  We found the beach to be a bit rocky, but still enjoyed some fun in the sun.


Get some Cupcake Sushi

Did you really think I could have a post and not talk about food, specifically chocolate?  Well, that was just silly.  At Cupcake Sushi you can order bite-size cupcakes in an assortment of flavors designed to look just like sushi rolls.  The only word going through your mind right now should be yum.  Visit early in the day, once they are out of their rolls the shop closes for the day.


Go to the southernmost point in the evening:

You can’t visit Key West without going to the southernmost point of the USA.  My advice would be to go in the evening.  The cruise ships typically pull out around 5pm and their passengers go with them.  There’s always a line to have your picture taken, but it’s significantly shorter in the evening time after the ships leave.


Go Fishing:

Key West is known for its fishing, and there are plenty of boats you can charter.  But we found the best kid-friendly fishing to just be off the causeway.  The water was so clear, that in the evening we could see stingrays, jellyfish, and several large nurse sharks.  My son even caught a small shark.  It was the highlight of his trip!


Don’t forget the water sports:

When it comes to water sports, Key West has it all.  I’ve done a jetski tour of the island in the past which was really fun.  This trip I took my 7-year-old parasailing on the Fury and it was a great experience. You can see our pictures here.  You can also rent boats for the day or take snorkeling tours.  There’s a water activity available here for everyone.


Earnest Hemmingway, who had a house on Key West, sums up the island perfectly when he said, “Live in the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual.”

Hope to see you down in the keys soon!



Hiking with Babies and Toddlers

Cam was 4 years old when we visited Yosemite National Park in California, which needs to be on everybody’s bucket list by the way.  This particular hike was a 2-mile hike to the top of a waterfall. As a novice hiker, it wasn’t until about halfway in, that my burning thighs helped me to realize going to the top of waterfall meant we would be hiking uphill for the majority of the journey.

I didn’t intend for it to be this pivotal parenting moment, but there we were, a quarter of the way from the top and Cam wanted to quit. To be honest, we all did. It was hard. But Diakandrus never quit and so we pressed on, tears and all.  Afterall the best views come after the hardest climbs, right?  Most definitely.  For days, both my aching muscles and my little man would say, “Remember when we didn’t quit mom?”  “Remember when we made it all the way to the top, mom?”  Oh, I remember little one!

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I think it was after that trip that hiking started becoming our go-to family activity.  While the views of Northeast Ohio can’t compete with the views of Yosemite the benefits for us remain the same.  Hiking teaches endurance and perseverance. We push through when it is hard, and we take each hike one step at a time. It allows us to get away from the hustle and bustle as a family and just be.  And if you’ve read any of my other posts you probably know that I believe time spent matters more than anything else.  I also believe in building healthy habits for your kids.  Hiking instills a habit of exploration while keeping your body moving.

Each hike leaves us with a growing appreciation for our Creator and this beautiful planet we’ve been given.  We see His details in everything, from the leaves of the trees to the stripes of a caterpillar to the changing of the seasons.  We study the plants and creatures we come upon.  We talk about respecting the environment and encourage our kids to follow what inspires them.

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When the twins were born, everyone told us our hiking days were over.  You can’t possibly take two infants into the woods.  Wrong.  You absolutely can, you just can’t be quite as spontaneous.  Preparation is required.  The twins went on their first hike at about 4 weeks old, and at 18 months now they haven’t slowed down.

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Here are a few tips for hiking with the littles:

  • Consider your timing.  When the twins were babies we were very specific about our hiking time.  We liked to feed the babies in the car before heading out on a hike, that way we knew they were full and we didn’t have to rush through the trail.  They slept a lot in their carriers when they were really little too.
  • Bring snacks and water.  I always have snacks.  If I could write a parenting book, I’d have a whole chapter dedicated to the importance of snacks.  We always have at least one water bottles in our pack, but I started also throwing in a granola bar or baggie of pretzels too.  On a long hike, a little snack break goes a long way.


  • Leave the diaper bag in the car.  It’s heavy and you won’t need it.  Throw one diaper and a few wipes in your carrier.
  • Have the right carrier.  I started with the Classic Ergo.  But quickly upgraded to the Ergo 360.  I found that the babies enjoyed looking out at the trees and colors of the forest instead of always facing me.  Now that they are older we use a Kelty carrier.  Don’t limit them to the carriers.  Take time to let them out, let them explore, wander, and learn too.
  • Dress them appropriately.  Kids tend to get cranky when they are hot or cold.  Layer them so they can strip down if needed.  Don’t forget if you are wearing them, they will get pretty warm in the carrier quickly as they are up against your body.


  • Have a change of clothes and towels in the car.  If you are anything like me, your first instinct is probably to tell your kids to stay out of the mud and water.  Resist it. Instead let them get dirty, like really dirty and have a change of clothes when you get back to the car.
  • Research your hike.  Know the intensity and duration about what you are doing.  Keep it short while they are little, up to 2 miles max.  There are a ton of websites and blogs with specific details so you know what to expect. Google is your friend. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • Let them explore.  Let them swim in the rivers, dig in the river bank, hunt for bugs and climb trees.


Local friends here are 5 great hikes for children under 5:

  1. Henry Church Rock Trail (Formally known as Squaw Rock).  If you have older kids, pack bathing suits (if weather appropriate), there’s a place to jump and swim under a waterfall.  (South Chagrin, Ohio)
  2. Cascade Valley Metro Park  has a few different trail options depending on how adventurous you want to be.  (Akron, Ohio)
  3. Twinsburg Ledges Trail @ Liberty Park is a GREAT hike for little ones.  The loop leads to a cave and nature center, as well as a nature-made playground area. (Twinsburg, Ohio)DSC_1579
  4. Brandywine Gorge Trail.  We like to veer a little off the trail and head under the bridge to throw rocks.  You can often see chickens and goats on this trail, as you pass an inn that has both.  You will pass over the top of the falls toward the end of the hike. (Sagamore Hills, Ohio)
  5. Rocky River Nature Center is a new favorite of ours.  The nature center is phenomenal, it’s free and has so much for kids of all ages.  There are several different trails to choose from.  We made a day of it, visiting the nature center, packing a lunch, and then finishing with a family hike.  (North Olmsted, Ohio)


“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” (John Muir).  Adventure on, friends.

XOXO,HollyHiking With Babies & Toddlers


Infertility Takes So Much, Don’t Let It Take Your Marriage Too

I was 22 when I got married.  I stood before family and friends and made this outrageous promise to love a man through thick and thin, sickness and health, good times and bad, for richer or poorer.  I didn’t realize then, the gravity of what I was saying. I couldn’t have.  Now, almost a decade in, I sometimes wish I could redo that day.  Partially because, Pinterest, hello! But more so because I’ve begun to understand the significance of what I was promising.


You can read the details of our story here.  But we’ve walked along the mountaintops and also spent a chunk of time in the deepest of valleys.   Infertility rocks you to your core.  It reaches places that you just can’t understand until you’ve walked it.  I know that not every marriage experiences infertility but I have yet to find a marriage that hasn’t been affected by hardship or tragedy.

The divorce rate in the US hovers around 50% – that means you have a 50/50 shot at making it.  One study showed that couples who experience a season of infertility are 3x more likely to call it quits.  Yikes, those odds aren’t in your favor.


Before we go any further.  I have to give credit where credit is due.  That decade of marriage, It’s not because Jimmy and I did it all right.  Because if we’re being honest we were probably more wrong than we were right.  But’s God’s grace has flowed freely and I’m ever so thankful.

We meet more and more couples opening up about the toll infertility has taken on their marriage.  We’ve been able to spend some time reflecting back on some of our challenging seasons and have come up with some tips we hope can be helpful to others who are still in the trenches.


Talk About It & Don’t Talk About It

No that isn’t a typo.  You’ve all heard communication is key.  You won’t hear me argue with that.  You need to talk about everything, your dreams, your hopes, your fears, and yes even those deep dark ugly feelings.  You can’t assume that the other person knows those feelings because they don’t.

But then make time to not talk about it, whatever that “it” may be.  Go to dinner, take a walk, but talk about everything else.  For us, that “it” was infertility and it became all-consuming.  Take time to breathe and remember who you two are as a couple.


Resist The Urge

I’m not going to lie, this one is hard.  Crisis brings out the ugliest in us.  Resist it.  Resist the urge to blame, to shout, to wound. Resist the urge to stay angry or have the last word. Instead, dare to be different. Choose to build up instead of breakdown.  Choose to walk as partners instead of adversaries.

Overuse I Love You

Seriously.  Say it all the time.  Say it when you don’t want to.  Say it morning, noon, and night.  Nobody gets sick of hearing those three words.


Search For Joy

There’s a theory that you can only feel one emotion at a time.  Replace feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, despair with joy.  Joy is a decision, a brave decision about how you are going to respond to life.  Live beyond the “what if’s,” find joy in what is.  Choosing joy is being able to see God’s goodness even when life is hard and messy.

Be Spontaneous,

Take the trip.  Eat cake for breakfast. Take off work and catch a matinee.  Surprise each other. Book a local hotel.  Try a new food.  Break up the ordinary. “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.” – Vincent Van Gogh



Don’t Lose Hope

There’s not much left after hope.  I know because I’ve spent some time here.  It’s a dark place you don’t want to go.  I’m not talking about the kind of hope you see in the movies. But real hope is forged.  It’s fought for.  It’s believing that He can and that He will.   It’s risky and radical.  It defies logic. To hope beyond what you can see.

“Too often we try to avoid that scary place where we love so deep, so much our hearts could break.  But without the bitterness, we could never appreciate the sweetness.  Real hope opens us to see Jesus as He really is.  Wild. Uncomely. And radiant.” – Sara Hagerty




This one is listed last, but it’s really the most important.  Remember those promises I made at 22?  What I didn’t know then, is that I actually can’t love someone in the way I promised, not alone anyway.  So I pray.  I pray for my marriage, I pray for my husband, and I pray for myself.  I wasn’t always this way, and so I’m hoping you can learn from my mistakes.  Pray when it’s good, when it’s bad, and when it’s really ugly.   “Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.” – Psalm 116:2

“Your marriage vows are the most important when they are the hardest to keep.” (Dave Willis).  Stay the course friends.


I couldn’t end this post without saying: Jimmy you had my heart a long long time ago, it was yours then, you still have it, and you’ll always have it.  I’m forever yours.






Photo Credit: Gina Felice Photography

Tips to Protect your marriage during infertility