November 14, 2016

This Past Week

image-1When I was twenty I traveled with the group Up With People, which consisted of 150 kids from different countries, running around Europe and the States, doing community service and a Broadway-style show. The year was heavily focused on experiencing other people’s viewpoints – we stayed with close to 90 different host families all over the world, volunteered with local organizations, and lived on a daily basis with 150 other people who may or may not have been anything like us.

We had kids in our cast that came from wealth and other folks that fundraised their entire year; we were gay, straight, bi; we were from the cities, the suburbs, small islands, former Communist countries, an African village, not to mention all over Europe, Japan, Mexico, Australia, and everywhere in the States from Alaska to Georgia to California; we were Catholic to Atheist to Buddhist; we had quiet folks and others who wanted to be in the limelight, leaders and doers, people who constantly questioned the status quo and others who hoped we could all just get along.

And we did get along. Of course, not all the time. Living with people 24/7 is hard, annoying, get-under-your-skin work and there were arguments and hurt feelings and grating nerves and sometimes you just wanted to scream, “What is wrong with all of you?!” and throw in the towel and go home where there was TV and a comfy bed and people who understood you and you didn’t have to try so damn hard all of the time.

A couple did leave because it wasn’t the right fit, which was totally understandable. For the rest of us though, we decided to stick it out – through crazy host families, and little sleep, and giving, giving of yourself until you genuinely felt like you had nothing left, only to discover reserves your reserves didn’t even know were there.

Why did we put up with all this craziness? Why did we PAY (and, in my case, take a year off of school to work to raise the money) so we could never sleep and volunteer and make our lives so much harder by living with a bunch of people whom we might never even run into our everyday lives? Because, we believed that understanding is the key to love and peace. That if we could literally live in someone’s home that was completely different that ours (a trailer, a barn, a mansion, a church, a chalet on the side of the mountain, an apartment in an inner city), we had no choice but to see life from their viewpoint. If we traveled with people that held such contrasting views to what made us comfortable, our view of the world and people would be forced to grow and expand. If we practiced listening and compassion enough, it would become a habit so ingrained that we couldn’t help but pass it along to our children, families and communities. That if we volunteered in the communities we visited we couldn’t help but have a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by people with circumstances completely different that ours.

It was a big ask. Did it always work? No. Sometimes we were caught up in our cast drama and who broke up with whom, sometimes we were homesick and too caught up in our own pain to be able to heal others, and sometimes we were just too damn tired.

But, sometimes it did. I distinctly remember one session where LGBT members shared personal experiences and then, with astounding bravery, opened the floor to questions. At that point in my life, I had a few gay friends, but, as a polite, sheltered gal from the suburbs, didn’t have the vocabulary or nerve to ask the questions that might jumpstart a deeper understanding. Sitting there, listening to my friends’ experiences, was hard. There was a part of me (and I think in a lot of us that day) that rebelled against what they were saying with defensiveness to cover up my shame and embarrassment over things I might have said or done to hurt people I cared about, however inadvertently. There was a greater part though that felt relief because there wasn’t anything to be afraid of anymore – my ignorance was fully visible and my friends were still my friends, no one died, and we all left knowing each other’s hearts a bit more. Was it all rosy forever after without any hurt feelings or misspoken words? Of course not. Did it forever cement the way I feel about gay rights and marriage? You better believe it.

I believe, with a fervor normally reserved for iced coffee, that you cannot sit and listen (I mean, really listen, not just wait your turn to speak) to someone else’s story and not be affected or changed. It is impossible to see someone else’s heart and not have it touch yours.

This past week has been hard on all of us. There’s fear, divisiveness, pain on all sides – it’s as if we pulled up the rug and exposed a rat’s nest of ugliness and anger. And, to be honest, I don’t want to deal with it. I’d much rather stay at home and watch TV and talk to my friends who think like I do and complain about everyone else because I know I am right.

But, then I think about my family. The 150 family members that are spread around this country and world, because that’s what happens when you live with people – they become your family whether you like it or not. I don’t know how they voted, I’m certain many of them hold beliefs counter to mine, and I have no doubt if we traveled again for a year we’d find ways to get under each other’s skin. But, they are my family, so even if things get hard or uncomfortable, we don’t give up. Instead, we listen harder, and love more fiercely, and work to create safe places to show each other our hearts. I owe it to them to try and understand.

What will that look like? I’m still working on that. I’ve been trying to read compassionate articles and blog posts that help explain why people made the choices they did, I’m going to have curious conversations with family members who voted differently than I did, I’m going to get involved with organizations I feel passionately about so my voice and people’s voices who are harder to hear have a place. I’m going to try to remember that it’s better to admit ignorance and ask dumb questions for greater understanding than to remain quiet, I’m going to work to look around the world and make a conscious effort to engage with people who are different than myself and ask if there are places I can support them or offer my voice to strengthen theirs, and I’m going to do my best to ignore the shouting because experience has taught me true connection and meaning happen when we’re listening, not yelling at each other.

I am different than when I traveled with UWP (20 years will do that to you). There’s no way I could live in other people’s house, I like traveling with our little family of four, and consider eight hours of sleep a necessity. But, what that year taught me has not altered.We are all people, who fundamentally want to be listened to and understood, and, like it or not, what we’ve got is each other. And, while real, sustainable change occasionally happens in sweeping measures, most often, it occurs in small moments of connection when we’re open enough and vulnerable enough to really listen and help each other. Not everyone will get to this place, just like not everyone could handle the rigors of “the road” as we called it, and we have to let them go. But, for those of us willing to try, this could be a moment of change and greater depth of understanding, a moment where we stand up for each other and a world of connection rather than hate.

The Up With People in me is hoping for the best.

October 26, 2016

Family Halloween Costume: Superhero Family with Super Mom and Super Dad

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I’ve gotta tell you guys, this year’s family Halloween costume was a bit of a challenge. Last year, when Alice said she wanted to be Annie my head and heart exploded because it was a lifelong dream to be Ms. Hannigan and I knew Bennett would be an adorable, baby Daddy Warbucks; the year before, Alice wanted to be Wendy from Peter Pan and, of course, I was happy to be Captain Hook (is this starting to sound like Halloween is all about me? Because it totally is.)

This year though, both the kids had opinions (ARGH! Kids with opinions at Halloween!) and they were definitive: Superheroes.

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The kids’ costumes were easy. For a hot second, I thought about making costumes for them and really jazzing it up, but Alice was very specific that her costume look EXACTLY like the “real” Supergirl, which turns out is code for “shiny”, and my DIY talents are limited to enhancing what’s already there, so, in the end, my dearest friend Amazon came through for me again.

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For me and Chris though I was stumped. I’m not really a sexy Catwoman kinda gal (thank you, childbirth) and I tend towards funny at Halloween so I thought maybe we could be villains, but the kids are not into scary right now and I wanted them to actually hang out with us.

And then as I was washing dishes for the 400th time of the day (this is totally true) I thought “Super Mom” because THAT IS WHAT WE ARE and we should at least get credit for it one day of the year, right? Plus, I like to toot my own horn and am really hoping people will come up and say, “Wait, why didn’t you dress up this year?” (So good, right?)

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And because I have the coolest husband ever, he was 100% on board and fully embraced his Super Dad status. (Have I mentioned this is one of the main reasons I married him? He’s always up for dressing up – see Sandy in Annie and Tick-Tock in Peter Pan – and commits fully to the role.)

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For the most part, I tried to keep it as simple (and inexpensive) as possible and bought a few things (list below) and then scrounged the rest from around the house. The one thing I did make was the t-shirts; I bought some cheapies at Target, downloaded the Alba Super font for free, and then ironed them on.

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For our tool belts, I bought us each one on Amazon and then filled them up with random stuff I found around the house that I use in my daily super-mom-ing.

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Because I’m also a Super Nerd, I tried to make each of ours slightly indicative of that we actually use (for example, you’ll notice mine doesn’t have Legos while Chris’ does because I was informed that my houses look like Lego boxes but “to keep trying, Mom”).

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Want to know the other awesome part about this costume? It’s not too late! Order all the bits and pieces on Amazon, throw on a t-shirt and skirt, take five minutes to fill up your tool belt and, like the true superhero you are who gets life done, you are GOOD TO GO. Go Team Super Family!

Links: 
On me and Chris: superhero cape // superhero mask // tool belt // white t-shirts // iron on transfer paper in white

Kids’ costumes: Batman (which has a cape but someone refused to wear) // Supergirl (which has boots, but someone refused to wear)

This post contains affiliate links. You can read more about what that means and our site policies here.

Photos by the always astounding Milou and Olin Photography.

October 23, 2016

Super Easy Ways to Have Fun with Your Kids at Halloween (most take about 3 minutes!)

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I don’t know about you guys but life around here is suddenly heading into warp speed and I’m realizing my favorite holiday – Halloween, obviously – is fast-approaching and I have barely even given it a nod outside of eating a crap ton of Count Chocula (why must you be so delicious, you marshmallow diva!?!?!).

Just in case you’re in the same boat and want to start getting the fam in the spoooooky mood (or, in our case, vaguely scary because the kiddos aren’t into anything even remotely frightening, which takes out pretty much all the things I had planned like jumping out of closets and creating a mini-Haunted House), but haven’t got the time, I’ve put together eight super-easy things you can do to get the Halloween party started.

And, here’s the thing, often when I post these things, I worry that you’re all going to think I’m ridiculous because they are so easy, but that is the point! I literally went into the Dollar Store and looked around and bought a bunch of stuff that I thought would make the kids laugh and we’ve been goofing around with it all week. So much of having fun with your kids is just about remembering to do it, which the hardest part. And, why you should follow me on Instagram right now –  I’m going to remind you every day starting on Monday to take a couple of minutes to remember the spirit of the season, which is sugar and cackling like a crazy person, obviously.

Also, I meant to get this up earlier so you could supplies (ACK!), but life happens and I’m starting with ideas where you don’t need anything special. If you want to Amazon everything to you, I have the links below, or hit the dollar store, which is where I found it all!

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Day 1: Okay, I thought we should start slow and all I want you to do is dress up in a Halloween costume early. It doesn’t have to be a lot (in this case I just went with a witch’s hat, although the other day I went full crocodile), but I can’t recommend enough opening the door in full costume to your kids as they walk in from school.

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Day 2: I VANT TO SUCK YA BLOOOOOOOOOD!!!!  Get yourself some fake vampire teeth and pretend to suck each other’s blood or just try and talk to each other. You might notice I also incorporated some fake blood (masterful touch!), which I thought was thrilling, but was not appreciated by the younger set.

Alternatively, you can use the teeth as pretend race cars that talk to each other.

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Day 3: Jazz up some plain morning yogurt with black and orange sprinkles and googly eyes. The key to this being successful (as with most things with kids) is to NOT make a big deal about it. Instead I like to just put it in front of them to see if they notice, which invariably invokes a much larger reaction, which is what we’re going for, right? THE MONSTERS GOT INTO THE YOGURT AGAIN! AHHHHHH!

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Day 4: Eat Halloween candy before it’s actually Halloween. It’s been staring you in the face all month and you’ve been oh-so-good, but I’m going to let you in on a secret: If it’s “an activity with the kids” the calories don’t count AND you’re doing a public service (not sure what it is, but let’s just go with it).

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Day 5: Color their milk a spoooooky green and add a couple of floating eyeballs. In this case, I like to pretend I had no idea and jump sky high when I put it down in front of them because WHOSE EYEBALLS ARE THOSE?!?! (Like I said, it’s all about the delivery).

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Day 6: Invest in a pair of hilarious eyeball popping glasses. I say “invest” because, obviously, you will use these for years to come.uj7a7870 uj7a7882

Day 7: Okay, this one seems a little dumb, but buy a Halloween towel (I got the one above at The Dollar Store, but this one is way cuter). It makes the kitchen way more festive (and reminds me near constantly it’s almost Halloween) and there’s been a lot of unprovoked hand-washing happening, which can only be a positive seeing as we’re headed into flu season.

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Day 8: My love of holiday headbands is well-documented because holiday headbands are THE BOMB (are we still allowed to say that?). They’re the fastest, cutest way to fun up your day and will you look at those two cuties? OMG, my heart just exploded.

See how easy that was? And aren’t we having the BEST TIME now? YAY!

All the links so go fill up your cart (or seriously Dollar Store and Safeway have them all):
Vampire Teeth (DS) // googly eyes + orange and black sprinkles (SW) // Halloween candy (omg, look at these!) (DS) // eyeballs (DS) // funny glasses (DS) // Halloween towel (DS) // Halloween headbands (DS)

And, if you’re not following me over on Instagram, now’s the time because I’m going to do my best to remind you! HAPPY HALLLLLLOOOOWEEEEN!

This post contains affiliate links. You can read more about what that means and our site policies here.

Photos by the magnificent Milou and Olin Photography

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