Atlanta Travel Guide: The Local’s Hidden Gems

Even though we lived there for 9 short years, we consider Atlanta our hometown. Our girls will probably grow up not remembering that they were born Georgia peaches, but this place holds such a special place in our hearts.  There are so many fun things to do that Atlanta is famous for, like attending a Braves game, going to Centennial Olympic Park, and of course we love the aquarium and zoo (we had memberships to both as long as we lived there), but I want to give you guys the scoop on a few of our favorite places to eat and play that might not be on your radar. So if you want to explore Atlanta like a local…

 

Eat Here

R. Thomas

Founded on the “You are what you eat” expression, it’s a 24-hour health food restaurant.  I mean, that almost sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?! No doubt, this place is as funky as it gets, with exotic birds in cages along the entrance and multicolored neon lighting inside, but with everything on the menu made with high quality, fresh ingredients, you can rest assured that any choice you make here is good. Our favorite is the breakfast menu, which is a good thing considering they serve breakfast all day! *Fun fact: this is where Zach took me to brunch the day he proposed, over 8 years ago!

Recommended item: The Mr. Rogers

 

Taqueria del Sol (Westside & Decatur locations)

This was our fave long before The Kraze was even born. Maybe it’s the amount of Taqueria cheese dip I ate while pregnant with them, but they love it just as much as we do. The line out the door every time you go will tell you we’re not alone. One of the best parts is grabbing a drink at the bar and socializing (and letting the kids play) while waiting in line – we’ve seriously met lifelong friends in this line! The made-from-scratch Southern Mexican dishes are truly original and the specials change every week, which is a big reason why we hardly missed a week! We’ve literally had tears more than once since moving to Florida because they just want Taqueria! A few weeks ago when we visited, the girls went straight to the owner and asked him personally if he would please bring Taqueria to Florida… here they’re literally hugging it goodbye!

Recommended item: Westside Margarita & cheese dip (made with minced jalapeños – it’s spicy!)

 

Henri’s Bakery (on-Ree’s)

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This Buckhead gem has been around for almost 100 years, and this enormous case of assorted pastries and sweets is only the beginning. The variety of breakfast sandwiches are all amazing and will cost you a whopping $3 a piece. With their full service bakery, sandwich counter, espresso bar and grab-and-go options, plus I’m a sucker for good outside seating, it’s seriously good any time of day.

Recommended item(s): French vanilla muffin,  ham, egg & cheese croissant / Kid favorite: Thumbprint cookies

 

Antico

A little fun-fact: A couple years ago, Antico was named one of the top 10 pizzerias in the country! When the weather is nice, the ambience is seriously just as great as the pizza – the whole experience is just about as authentic as you can get, I would imagine. You can bring your own bottle of wine (make sure you bring your own bottle opener too) and they provide the clear plastic cups & napkins, but no plates – it’s all about community here!

Recommended item: The Diavola & Margherita DOP + pepperoni (and be sure to go to the back by the kitchen & pick up some peppers and fresh parm)

 

A few more favorites:

Sun in My Belly

Homegrown

Universal Joint

 

Play Here

Chastain Park

 

 

 

This park was just renovated a couple years ago and is unlike any other park I’ve ever been to.  It’s nestled in one of Atlanta’s nicest neighborhoods and is the nicest playground in the city (with clean bathrooms!).  There’s plenty to do for kids of all ages with so many engaging things and inspiring features like the spaceship-like tree house, the “rolly slides” (what we call them) and musical features such as drums, windpipes and piano for all to play! I think the swings are my favorite!

 

Ponce City Market/ Beltline

 

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I think Ponce City Market is the coolest renovation I’ve ever seen unfold.  It was so highly anticipated, as I used to drive right by the historic building on my way home from work every day, and now it’s considered a landmark, placed right in the middle of some of Atlanta’s most prominent neighborhoods.  It’s a full marketplace with the best shopping, eating and hang out spots. You can even grab yourself a pretty cool pad if you’re looking for an urban apartment in the heart of Atlanta.

The BeltLine is a huge pedestrian trail that will eventually make a 22 mile loop, connecting Atlanta’s inner-perimeter neighborhoods. All along the trail there are renovated parks, unique and tasty restaurants, and can’t-miss events happening every day, as well as really neat artwork all along the path (see above).  Our favorite stretch runs right past Ponce City Market, from Piedmont Park to Krog Street Market, which you can make a whole day out of – playing at the park, strolling down to Ponce City for shopping, then continuing on to Krog Street for dinner.

 

Atlanta has so much to offer – I hope you’ll consider checking out these spots if the ATL is ever on your destination list.

 

Happy Travels!

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Style Roundup – Transitional Outfits

It’s March and that means spring is just around the corner!!  I thought I’d wrap up this cooler weather with a little round up of transitional outfits that have gotten me through this “winter” we have in Florida, which is basically like spring for most of you.  None of these items are maternity, although all work well for a growing bump.

 

I wore this dress for a rare date night with my hubby. It’s a super comfy sweater dress that can be dressed up or down.

 

 

This is one of my favorite combos for the cooler months … Skinny jeans + sweater + over-the-knee boots. Such an easy look and I can be ready for anything from an event at the girls’ school to an impromptu lunch date with a girlfriend.

 

A more casual date night look… this was for Valentine’s Day, but I love this pink blazer year-round.

 

This white dress is another year-round piece for me. And these boots again… I just love them because they go with anything from jeans to a dress. I wore this to brunch where the hubby and I found out the gender of baby #3!

 

Here’s to the sunny days ahead and all the good times that come along with them!

 

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The Truth is, You’re Loved, just the Way You Are (A Personal Letter)

So much time has passed… Although I get it, I so wish this weren’t the case. But if I got the chance, this is what I’d want to say… this is what I’d try to say. I can no longer just run past you, feeling sad about you & sorry for you.  I want to stop and actually do something, because I know how much it’s meant to me and changed my life that a few people along my path stopped to help me. And well, I love you. Please know everything in this is from love. It’s not full of advice, mostly a little truth I’ve found for myself, and I’m writing it down because I need the reminder too. I want to share this with you, hoping you’ll let it take some of the weight off.

 

 

When you walk through life, holding on to the lies all these years, it doesn’t matter how heavy each one has been, it’s how long you’ve held onto them.  Over time the weight seems to be unbearable, and now, you’ve allowed these things to define you… believing them yourself, instead of taking them for what they are or were – understanding that the One who created you is the only one that can identify you.

It’s not about what you’ve done or how you feel, but what’s already been done for you – how you’re already forgiven & loved. It’s not too late for you…

Turn Around

When we were totally new to Jax (how the cool kids say Jacksonville), like 4 weeks in… it was my first time making the drive from Atlanta to our new house… and of course it’s the one time I’m making a road trip with The Kraze all by myself. When you’re on a road trip and BOTH of your kids are asleep, you set the cruise on 80 (a leeeettle fast, just a little) & turn on your favorite show (so you can actually hear another adult’s voice) and you wait, until the very last moment, before you HAVE to make a stop for fear of waking them up… I exit off one interstate to get on the next – I’m an hour away from home (Woo hoo!) and there is NO EXIT… for 10 miles… for 20 miles… all I see are trees… my car keeps dinging at me, but it’s too late to turn around now. And with a sudden jolt, my car starts rapidly slowing down & my steering wheel locks up. I ran out of gas on the side of the interstate WITH MY BABIES IN THE CAR!?!?! Fear, panic… I could literally see a rest stop 1/2 a mile away, but obviously there was no way I was going to walk my girls down the side of the interstate that far! It took an hour and a half for someone to bring me enough gas to get to the next gas station, which was only 3 more miles down the road – I digress.  Taking full responsibility, I knew I was taking a risk. However, I had no idea that my decision would land me on a road with no exit strategy, nowhere to turn around.

Here’s my point: I know you didn’t see the rest of the path you would lead down when you exited off the road we were on. I can just imagine the fear, your heart pounding, when you felt you had gone too far and there’s no turning back. Because I couldn’t help myself, I had to call someone. You have to help yourself, but you can still call on someone – you’re not alone.  The main difference in your path and mine is there’s an exit, at like every step of your path.  Visualize an exit: it has everything you need that you can only get if you get off the path you’re currently on… you only have to turn the wheel a 1/4 turn. Not only are there exits all along the way, but the emergency lane in the middle is wide open.  Instead of the sign saying ‘Emergency vehicles only’, it says, “Return to me” because He’s compassionate and longs for you. (Joel 2:12-13) Surrender is the hardest part (at least it was for me), but we’re all standing here waiting for you.

You’ve looked at my life & thought I made all the right decisions & it’s been easy the whole way.  I kid you not, this has not been the case. Letting my circumstances define me, made me realize I was only robbing myself & others of seeing His goodness and experiencing His love.  Letting Him refine me through my circumstances made me better, braver, stronger & kinder. I can say this because I look back on the person I was during my darkest times, and am so thankful I’m not the same as I was. I know you feel broken. Brokenness is where it started for me too.  Thank you Andy Stanley for summing it up so well:

  • I messed up.
  • I gave up.
  • I looked up.
  • God showed up.

When we seek Him, He shows up… wherever you are, whatever mess you’re in.

The truth is…

You. Are. Worthy.

You think you have nothing left to lose… truth is, you have everything to gain. You think you can’t be forgiven… Who says?!  The truth is, none of us can do anything to deserve His love or to fall out of His grace. You don’t have to do anything to ‘deserve’ better.  Your battle is fierce – no doubt – but He is stronger & who better to have on your side?!

I hope you find your truth and share it with others.  Tell them they are loved and worthy of that love, and watch them stand a little taller. Then, you didn’t just help yourself – you shared truth, you shared the Source of hope and it set people free. He can not only change your life, He can use you to change the world, just as you are.

Lysa Terkeurst writes something we can all relate to on some level in her book, Uninvited: “At the core of who we are, we crave acceptance that comes from being loved… To satisfy this longing, we will either be graspers of Gods love or grabbers for people’s love… If we become enamored with something in this world we think offers better fullness than God, we will make room for it… But at some point every one of those things will reveal its absolute inability to keep us full. And then, since we denied God’s power to lead us, we forget His power to hold us.”

You’ve sought acceptance. You’re still seeking acceptance. What if you believed you were already accepted?! The truth is, you’re loved, just as you are.

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5 Family Christmas Traditions

I always imagined the family Christmas traditions we would create when we had our own little ones. The magic and wonder of the season is so unmistakable experiencing it through my girls’ eyes. I cherish the fact that carrying out these traditions, forces us to be intentional and present as another year comes to a close. In each Christmas tradition listed below, there are several ideas of where and how to celebrate each one from all the years past.

Christmas Tree Farm

This was our first Christmas tradition we implemented, as it was carried over from my family. Memories of riding the horse carriage through fields of trees while we sipped hot apple cider under a blanket, was something I couldn’t wait to experience with my own little loves. Going to the Christmas tree farm is also the first Christmas tradition of each year, as we do this the day after Thanksgiving to kick things off as soon as possible (I just can’t before then). Unfortunately, I haven’t found a Christmas tree farm that takes you on your own personal horse-drawn carriage ride to pick out your tree, so for now, we settle for hay-filled tractor rides. If you happen to know of one, or you run a Christmas Tree Farm, here’s an idea for you and let me know!! We at least found one with horse riding this year – see the utter joy below…

 

 

2013 – The Kinsey Family Farm

 

2014 – The Kinsey Family Farm *Our favorite in the Atlanta area

2015 – Bottoms Christmas Tree Farm

 

2016 – Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest

 

Seeing Santa

More than booking an appointment at the mall (no judgement here), we like to make seeing Santa a special experience. When your children are young, you don’t know how they’re going to react to the big, jolly stranger. Each year, we choose a special family Christmas experience and are sure there will be an opportunity to visit Santa while we’re there. If they’re not feeling it – no biggie – their memory will be of the fun you had together!

 

2013 – Snow Mountain – Stone Mountain, GA

 

2015 – Bottoms Christmas Tree Farm

 

2015 – The Polar Express (Just Google to find one nearest you)

 

*Their reaction when Santa boarded the train! They didn’t actually want to sit in Santa’s lap or have their picture taken with him and that was totally ok – clearly, they’re perfectly happy just seeing him!

 

2016 – Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest – 1st year actually sitting and smiling in Santa’s lap (although they didn’t want to do it again when we saw Santa at another party)

The Nutcracker

This is a new tradition (and probably my favorite) started with The Kraze, inspired by my past.  I hadn’t seen the ballet in years, because I spent years on stage and backstage, performing it myself.  I dreamed of the day I would get to share my love of ballet and performance with my own daughter… and the Lord gave me TWO and they both love ballet! It’s got to be embedded in their genes because they’ve loved the idea of performing and being on stage since day one, and I get to tell them Mommy used to be one of those ballerinas… and if you practice really hard, you’ll get to be on this stage one day too! Every year, we make it a girl day, and they’re still talking about it from the year before!  This year, some of the older girls from their studio were cast, which was exciting for them to experience!

2014 – The Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker @ The Fox Theatre

 

2015 – The Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker @ The Fox Theatre

2016 – The Jacksonville Community Nutcracker

Christmas Eve

Sprinkling food for the reindeer in the front yard

I know everyone is worried about feeding Santa at every stop, but those reindeer have to be hungry from all that flying too!

Making treats for Santa

Of course… like almost every house in America. We typically let The Kraze decide what they think Santa would like, but after last year and the excessive amount of sprinkles being equivalent to eating gravel, I think Santa might just send a letter asking for something specific this year. Hmmm… what sounds good??

Celebrating Jesus’ Birthday

The heart of why we celebrate… Of all our “Christmas traditions”, this is the most important one we carry out every year.  I discovered the Sparkle Box last year, and it’s been a really fun way to help them understand what it means to give to Jesus, since Christmas is really about His birthday.  Jesus tells us, whatever we do for others (in need), we’re doing for Him.   And as my little preacher would happily tell you, “We give because God first gave to us.”

The Sparkle Box Book

Filling the box is all about getting the little ones involved.  We do a variety of things that are age appropriate for them to do on their own, as well as, things we can do as a family. Here’s a list of things we’ve done in the past and/or are planning to do this year:

  1. Bringing cookies to the fire station
  2. Bringing cookies to an elderly neighbor and/or a nursing home (it’s amazing how the presence of little ones brings a smile to their faces)
  3. A small gift to our closest neighbors (a good neighbor is a huge blessing)
  4. A small gift for a few extra special people at their school, especially the security guard!
    • For these small gifts, this has been our favorite gift to give the past couple years, and it comes out to be about $2 a pop!!
  5. Provide a Christmas meal for a family in need
  6. Little acts of kindness for the girls:
    • Send a card to someone
    • Wish someone Merry Christmas
    • Make your bed
    • Clean up your toys
    • Feed the birds
    • Pick out toys for children who otherwise won’t have any

Bonus: Atlanta, GA

Being from Atlanta, our Christmas traditions are rooted there. This is our first Christmas in a new city, so I thought I’d share some of our favorite things to do from our hometown. Most of them you can do in a city near you, if Atlanta isn’t within travel distance, but if it is – DO IT!  Maybe next year, I’ll share our new favorites, here in Florida…

Georgia Aquarium

Our membership to the Georgia Aquarium was one of the best parts of living in Atlanta, and every year we made sure to be there at Christmas time.  They do it right with lights, live entertainment (on the weekends) and an opportunity to have breakfast with Santa!

Scuba Santa

Georgia Aquarium – Festival of the SEAson

 

The Pink Pig

If you have children and you’re in Atlanta around the holidays, this is a must.  It’s a historical Atlanta Christmas tradition, and all the proceeds benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

2014 – Macy’s Pink Pig

 

Light Seeing

There are obviously a ton of great places to see lights at Christmas time, but the Atlanta Botanical Garden has a stunning display every year. Grab a warm drink at the Petit Cafe to sip while you stroll, and you’ll immediately feel the Christmas spirit.

 

2015 –  Atlanta Botanical Garden: Garden Lights

 

I hope you found these helpful, and feel inspired to fill your Christmas season with cherished memories to last a lifetime.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

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A Pantone Pastel Christmas

Every year, Pantone chooses a ‘Color of the Year’, which has major influence in every creative industry across the globe. For the first time, Pantone blended two shades to make the 2016 Color of the Year: Rose Quartz & Serenity (blue). For those of us who prefer a pastel Christmas, over the traditional red and green, this is a beautiful color combo. So, if you haven’t already trimmed every corner in your house, here’s a little inspiration.
These colors together represent balance, calming, wellness and tranquility. Umm…who wouldn’t want to describe their holiday season by these four words?! A few examples of this whimsical combination and where to find the goods…

 

Anthropologie
Anthropologie

 

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Two Shades of Kraze / Ornaments: Hobby Lobby

 

Eye Candy Creations
Eye Candy Creations

 

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Glorious Treats

 

Rose Quartz

 

 

 

Nordstrom
Nordstrom

 

Making It Lovely
Making It Lovely

 

Serenity

Nordstrom
Nordstrom
Two Shades of Kraze/ House: Hobby Lobby
Two Shades of Kraze/ House: Hobby Lobby
Target
Target also comes in blush

 

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How Are You 4?!

How are you 4?! For every tear I cry over how quickly time passes us by, there’s a happy tear right behind it for the excitement I feel for the next day & the upcoming years… How many memories we’ll make & how I know every day from here on out has purpose bc you’re in it! Your mommy & daddy are so proud of the kind, smart, confident, beautiful little ladies you are.
Just a few ways you’re growing up as we’ve hit FOUR:
  • Dressing yourselves completely – Kara Rose, you often say to me, “Mommy, please leave the room while we change, so we can introduce ourselves when we’re all ready.” (You slowly walk out like a princess or tip-toe out like a ballerina and we “Ooooo” and “Aaaahhhh” over the very creative nicely put right? choices you’ve made)
  • Cleaning up your room – Zoe, you specifically love to make your room look like ‘artwork’ rearranging your toys & animals every night before bed so it looks just right… You actually consider it punishment if we tell you it’s too late to do your room.
  • Letting the dog in & out and help feed him.
  • Getting your own silverware out of the drawer – again, Zo, you love to set the table for everyone & make it look pretty (seeing a pattern)?
  • Basically don’t want me to help you do anything, washing you in the bath (insert the Scrubba Dubba Dance), brushing your teeth (although I must), picking out any part of your outfit at any point (pjs, play clothes, church & school clothes)

 

Current favorites: Color purple, all fruit, animals, playing soccer, break-dancing, reading, mommy cuddles, watching TV/movies, telling your sister what to do.
Kara Rose: Your kind, nurturing heart – you love to make sure everyone is cared for & cry if you think you hurt someone’s feelings or accidentally hurt your sister. However, you’re so smart that you also love to correct people (even adults) and you take the leadership role in every scenario, but you’re already the kind of leader I want to be because every time someone needs to step up & be the bigger person, it’s always you. You already have incredible work ethic & are extremely tenacious. You tell me you love me SO MOOOUUCH every chance you get and promise no matter how grown up you get, you’ll always be my angel. I pray you always remember that taking the high road & being kind is the best way to live life, even though it’s a tough path, my sensitive one.
Current favorites: Color pink, taking pictures, flowers & butterflies, ballet, drawing, taking care of baby dolls, your sister.

 

Zoe: You’re so wild & rough, yet you want to know just the right way to hold and care for your baby dolls. You’re so hard on yourself & get mad if you don’t get something right the first time. You hold my face in your hands and tell me I’m beautiful. Every night in bed, you whisper secrets in my ear and usually you say “I will always love you.” or “You are God’s little princess.” You live life with abandon, my nature-loving, free-spirit – I pray that you hold onto every ounce of it.
Most of all, you’re truly best friends and love each other and everyone around you.  I think you’ve got the “Love God & love your neighbor” thing down – don’t lose it, it’s a tough world out there. You both already know that God loves you & Jesus is your best friend – that’s all you need to remember… and that Mommy loves you bigger than the whole world.
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10 Things I Want You to Know that I Can’t Teach You

The things I want to teach them during these years I’ve been given to raise them are countless. I actually have a pretty extensive list, but… priorities… and they’re 3 (almost 4 but I don’t want to hear that) and if I tried to write it all down, I’d never hit publish! So here are just 10 I’d like to focus on now, because it’s just never too early to raise them in truth. These crucial things, I can’t teach them – knowledge that will only come as a result of life experiences, creating a faith community around them, and doing my best to be their example. I won’t always do it right, but this is my hope and prayer…

 

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My precious girls, please know that:

* You are perfect and loved, not because of anything you’ve done, but because you were made that way.

* You can’t control how people treat you, but you can control how you react to it.

* You are amazing! There is no one like you. No one!

* True happiness is found in love – giving & receiving love, not things. Although, love can hurt, things will leave you empty.

* Bravery doesn’t mean doing something scary – it means standing up for yourself & for others.  Listening to your own voice over your peers and doing what you feel is right, for you.

* Failure is nothing to fear. If you let it, failure can show you how resilient you are and give you the chance to star in your very own comeback story.

* Being happy or not is up to you.

* If you’re going to take a big risk and bet on anything, bet on yourself.

* Your identity isn’t found in anyone or anything – through Christ, alone, you have been made whole.

* I love you.  You don’t have to do anything to deserve it – I just do, with all my heart.

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Why I Don’t Correct The Kraze when They ‘Get It Wrong’

The Kraze (KR&Z) has this incredible ability to come to a conclusion and boldly proclaim it, with zero self doubt… as do most children their age.  I wrote last year about some of the funny things they were saying at the time (I need to write another because I don’t want to forget these cute thoughts & full stories they now share with us).  But this is different… I’m talking about the incredible capacity for innovation children have.

 

Here are a few of my favorite examples from the Kraze themselves:

  • When singing along to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse song, they sing “M-I-C-K-E-Y I love you, you see” (when the words are: “M-o-u-s-e”)
  • “Almost fun it is to ride in a one horse somethin’ slay – hey!” (Jingle Bells)
  • Patty-cake, patty-cake… Bake me a cake, trac-tor sand (as fast as you can)
  • *My favorite Calvin Harris/Rhiana: “This is What You Came For” – Kara Rose sings at the top of her lungs “…this is whatcha get!” (instead of “…but she’s lookin’ at”) – listen t the song again, you’ll hear it!

My absolute favorite: Sir Ken Robinson’s example: When his son was a young boy, he was in a Nativity play. When the 3 wise men came out with their gifts, the 1st boy said, “I bring you gold”, 2nd boy, “I bring you myrrh”, and the 3rd boy said, “Frank sent this”.  Baahahaha! I chuckle out loud ev-er-y time I think about this!

They don’t double-triple check themselves to make sure it’s right before they’ll give it go.

I’m so impressed by their creativity and ability to think on their feet, that I don’t dare correct them.
– Just the other day, at breakfast, Zoe saw a mural on the wall & said, “Look at that cool fish!”  After a few seconds, I could absolutely see how she saw a fish when she looked at it, but it was actually an old coffee spigot.  She doesn’t know what a spigot is, so I didn’t tell her any different. What an imagination she has to look at something she’s never seen before and make out an image of something more familiar to her!      – Kara Rose believes she is the best reader in the world, when in fact she has an amazing auditory memory & can recite full books (like several), word for word as she turns the pages.  She might miss a word or even leave a line out sometimes, but when she looks up at me after each page, she’s going to get a smile, thumbs up or ‘way to go’ regardless… And she’ll tell you, “Reading is one of my favorite things to do… I’m so good at it!”
Now understand me here, I won’t let them call a circle a square or something red that is in fact yellow, but with these harmless instances, they’ll figure it out one day… for now, I’m more worried about maintaining their confidence & fostering that creativity than ‘getting it right all the time’.

Having a picnic in the park and Kara Rose suddenly exclaims, “Look! God made an elephant out of the clouds!!” You know, when you take a second to look at it, you see it too!

The point…

Kids will take a chance – if they don’t know, they’ll at least try – they’re not frightened of being wrong. We stigmatize mistakes & we run our education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make… *We’re educating people out of their creative capacities. I’m not saying being wrong is the same as being creative, but if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

*Creativity: the process of having original ideas that have value

My brother and I were having the ‘education path’ discussion, regarding our children, although we view education for our children quite differently (and that is perfectly fine! See next to last paragraph).    He goes on to tell me that his son’s school is counting their students answers wrong, even when the answer is right, only because the child didn’t get TO that answer the ‘correct’ way… since, I’ve found they’re among the majority doing this.  Are you kidding me?  Since when did school believe they had the right to tell children HOW to think?!  America’s educational system is simply based on conformity, which is the antitheses of creativity and innovation – it’s a system that was originally created to meet the needs of industrialism, but *education is not a mechanic system, it’s a human system.Picasso said, “All children are born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  Did you know, almost all children from the ages of 3-7 test in the 90th percentile for creativity?! BUT every year after that, it dramatically declines.  We focus on educating only children’s minds & really only one side.  Academic ability dominates our view of intelligence. The consequence is highly talented, brilliant people think they’re not because what they were good at wasn’t valued or was completely stigmatized.

Story time…

A little girl, in the 1930’s, was ‘having trouble in school’.  The school wrote to her parents saying she had a learning disorder because she couldn’t be still & focus, so her mother took her to a doctor. After she spoke to him about their issues and the doctor evaluated her, he said “Gillian isn’t sick, she’s a dancer.” The mother put her in a dance school & the little girl said it was full of people just like her, people who had to move to think. In this day, someone would have put her on medication & told her to calm down.  Now, you may know of her – Gillian Lynne, the choreographer of the longest running Broadway show in history, Cats.

My older brother was 3 grades ahead of me & I was practically writing his literature papers for him before I even got to high school, so he would help me with math & science.  Who do you think got into an Ivy League school & who barely got into college at all because I could. not. take. a standardizeda synonym for conformity test for the life of me?!  After taking a ‘gap year’, I decided to attend a fine arts college where I graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0. It wasn’t until I went to an ‘alternative college’ that I realized my own potential.

 

 

My little girl who has to move to think

School is about to start in a couple weeks and I am so freaking excited this year because we’ve found a school, here in our new city, whose philosophies match our beliefs on education.  I’ve been told more than once, “If you don’t like the system, maybe you should homeschool them.  Education is standard for a reason – they can’t individualize it for every child.” Well, well, well, if we didn’t find a school that believes in individualized education as a top priority. They believe children should be children, not sitting quietly in desks for hours.  They believe in self-paced learning. And believe it or not, they also aren’t so worried about every answer being 100% correct, as long as they can see that the child is processing the information and demonstrating their knowledge in a way that shows progression and understanding.

Guys, I have twins. They are. not. the. same. especially when it comes to how they learn or what they’re interested in. This is where my passion for this subject matter was born! What is right for my children, may not be for yours OR crazy thought, what is right for one of your children, may not be right for the other! You are your child’s parent.  Trust your instinct. Decide what matters to you most and get involved.  Don’t just take things for face value. And stand up for what you believe in.  Every child has a dream & our job to protect it. In fact, I think Katrina Kennison basically sums up my feelings about this: “One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced as a mother-especially in these anxious, winner-takes-all times-is the need to resist the urge to accept someone else’s definition of success and to try to figure out, instead, what really is best for my own children, what unique combination of structure and freedom, nurturing and challenge, education and exploration, each of them needs in order to grow and bloom.”

 

What it really boils down to

is not my beliefs about education, but my beliefs about humans…  We need to use the gift of human imagination wisely. The only way we’ll flourish in the future “is by seeing our children for the hope that they are*”.  Our task is to educate their WHOLE being so they can face the future – though we may not see the future, they WILL & our job is to help them make something of it.

*Ken Robinson: TED Talk

 

 

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Insight on Our Trip to Disney: Turning Three

It’s always been a dream of mine to take my children to Disney World (I never went as a child). With the combination of ‘free under 3’ when I’m used to paying double for everything & their love for all things Mickey & Friends and princesses, we decided this was the best time for their first trip, and if I may say so, it was the perfect time. There is a fairly small window between being old enough to know the characters & being able to handle the exhaustion excitement and being young enough to truly believe & be wowed by all the magic, which was the best part to witness.  You’ll see…
Warning: extremely photo heavy post – and this is actually highly paired down!
If you want tips and details on how we planned our trip, head over here.  
To see behind the magic of it all…
We drove in on a Saturday night, after their birthday party, so we decided to stay our first night in The Castle Hotel (much less expensive than staying on property, yet a seriously great start to our trip) It looks like a white castle & all the staff referred to The Kraze as ‘Princess’ the entire time, what more could you want?!
We slept in to recover from our road trip and party madness the day before… ate breakfast by the pool, opened a few presents from Grammy & Pops & got a good nap in before heading to Disney.

Day 1: Epcot (half day)

Walking into our first park, the cool touristy mom, with my camera and map ready game face on!

*Tip: I totally recommend making a stroller sign to hang on the handle bars so you can easily spot yours in the sea of strollers.

We decided Epcot would be the perfect park to start off with just a half-day, as there really isn’t much for their age group here, but in my opinion, the best way to set the tone for the trip.  Starting with a meet & greet with Mickey & his friends was absolutely perfect. 
I mean just look at this beaming smile!

Day 2: Animal Kingdom all day

You might notice a theme throughout: Kara Rose is being held in almost all the character photos.  She absolutely loved them… until they got close. Then she would hide behind us.  She’ll literally tell you, “I’m just a little bashful.”  That’s ok my little girl, you own it!

Zoe’s little thumbs in the corner of this pic…
My best attempt at getting a photo of our shirts I made.

Not surprisingly, she favored the rides, and would say “Higher!” “Faster!”


And this is how they felt about me taking their picture by the end of the day… and by that, I mean after lunch.

After nap (yes, we got naps in every day!)…

Look at that brave girl going to Baloo all on her own…
King Louie really wants a hug from you too…
Aaaaannnnd… she ran, but was happy to pose for the picture as long as someone held her!

But wait!  When she’s in her element (pretty much anything to do with singing & dancing), she’s as brave as they come.  She was actually IN the show and went around the entire stage on her own!! 
I cried I was so proud and happy for her! 
Again, no shocker, she favored the shows & Festival of the Lion King was probably our favorite.

He was thrilled I made us shirts!

Best attempt at getting them to both smile for the camera together before leaving Animal Kingdom.
*Tip: These bags were perfect for carrying their autograph books & pens!

Day 3 (AM): Hollywood Studios 

Anxiously awaiting her breakfast with Doc @Hollywood & Vine

A surprise dance party with her very favorite, Sophia!
This smile is what I was talking about. I mean Zoe = cloud 9!

Holding out her princess gown for Sophia
Sully & Mike Wazowski are consistent faves so we just couldn’t miss them while we were here!

Where else would we be with this level of excitement but the Frozen Sing-Along?!

How can I not include a pic of Daddy kissing one of his girls?!
Sometimes he’s just as difficult as the little ones!

Day 3 (PM): Magic Kingdom

Of ALL the things to do at Disney, the carousel was one of their favorites.

Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner @ 1900 Park Fare

She was quite smitten with Prince Charming! Kara Rose was too “bashful”.

I mean the utter joy…
*Tip: If you’re celebrating a birthday, wear your birthday badge everywhere you go & you’ll get one of these – breakfast, lunch & dinner.
Her name means ‘life’ and she’s full of it. Her favorite person to make laugh is…
her sister – her biggest fan.
Day 4: Magic Kingdom all day
After 4 days and 1,000 pictures later, this was the best I could get… and it was only breakfast (which happened to be our favorite)
We had to carry that cupcake umbrella around with us the entire day (yes, even at breakfast they get cupcakes at Disney).

 Then Pluto came up and wanted a bite…
He just got it all over his nose, then thought my face would be a good place to wipe it off.

But was nice enough to clean it off for me… The Kraze definitely thought it was funny.

The Tea Cups were definitely a favorite – I lost count how many times we rode them.
I’ll just say, you only know how funny this is if you know my dad. I’ll also say, grandparents will do just about anything for their grandchildren, especially this Pops.
*Tip: The Birthday Badges got them in every show they wanted to be in.
We went to the pool back at our resort for lunch & fun before nap time, since we knew it would be a late night…
Dinner at Chef Mickey’s!
This is real life guys… bbq sauce on my elbow and didn’t even know it… or that Mickey was right behind me.
Zo obviously really enjoyed her gazillionth cupcake of the trip.
This was right before Wishes started at 9:45PM, and they were still going strong(-ish), thanks to all the continued excitement… and sugar from the cupcakes.

Day 5 (Last Day/Half Day): Magic Kingdom:

*Speaking of the birthday badge, Peter Pan noticed them from the stage & shouted Happy Birthday to them in the middle of the show!!
This was the best thing we just happened upon! 
You should actually schedule it in so you don’t miss it!
Tinkerbell had to have been our favorite character.  She really interacted with the girls and took a lot of time with them.

We ended our trip with a relaxing picnic on the lawn while the Festival of Fantasy Parade (in the background) went by.
There’s no way you’ll squeeze everything into one trip, which is really great because you leave feeling filled with happiness but plenty more to look forward to for next time… in a couple years. Whew!
The Kraze celebrating three at Disney see what I did there? was truly a dream come true for all of us!
For tips on planning your time in the parks (how we didn’t wait in a single line more than 10 minutes) & how to make the happiest place on earth even more magical, stay tuned for the next post!
?Do you have any special Disney memories or tips to share? Please let us know in the comments (I’m sure this won’t be our last trip)!



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A Transformation of Faith

I’ve kept myself from posting this for two reasons: (1) I felt it would be misunderstood that I thought my struggles were worse or harder than yours, so here’s your disclaimer: I’ve decided to write this, not for my own pity or selfish desires, but the pull on my heart is that someone else might need to hear read this (in fact I know this & I know some of you, what you’ve been through & my heart aches for you… know that I love you).  In all honesty, I did not learn or come to this conclusion on my own, but from merely being a spectator of someone else’s struggle (which was absolutely much tougher than mine), which brings me to my second reason: (2) I’ve had to mourn the loss of this person.  I celebrate the fact we knew him & he changed my life through what he called his journey, (not struggle – that’s my word), but deeply mourn the fact that the Kraze will not know him, however hope they indeed will by what I hope to carry on through my life and pass down to them.

My journey still feels too personal to share the details with you – maybe full transparency will come with time – but I’ll tell you my faith has been tested in insurmountable (to me) ways since the Kraze was born.  While I’m choosing to hold tight to the specifics for now at least, I’ll share some thoughts I’ve had along the way…

  • “Why when we ‘needed’ more did we all of a sudden have less?!” 
  • “Lord, in the midst of feeling emotionally drained, I at least needed my health.”
  • “How could this be?!  Did I not pray hard enough?!”
  • At this point, I wanted to stop asking why & was just angry.
  • **In the midst of these struggles, we found out God had chosen not to heal the most Christ-like man we’ve ever had the privilege of knowing and calling our friend, Mack – “WHY oh why, God?!”
Mack’s precious wife shared this verse months ago, which I needed at the time more than I realized, but wasn’t until later that I allowed it to penetrate my heart: “… In this you greatly rejoice, though now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith OF GREATER THAN GOLD, which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proved genuine, and may result in praise, honor and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

During this time, Zach and I continued to watch Mack’s journey from afar and felt completely inadequate in our faith. We witnessed him never “growing weary in doing good… and not giving up”; he never wavered in his faith.  We heard him say more than once, “God is not mad at me. He loves me.” Because of this witness, I’ve come to a place of thanking God for believing I’m stronger than I think I am and seeking the purpose in it all… His purpose.

So here’s what’s been impressed upon me:
Your pain is probably not about you, but for the greater good, possibly of someone else.  Someone in particular whose life could literally be saved by turning to Jesus because of your story.  Isn’t that what happened on the cross?!  God didn’t allow Jesus  (who was truly perfect) to endure the pain & suffering of the crucifixion because He was being punished or because God didn’t love Him anymore (His own Son).  That very pain & suffering (sacrifice) is what saved the world… the ENTIRE world… if we’ll just accept Him.

Right now, I don’t know who our story will touch or how it could change lives, but my hope & prayer is that we’ll hear His calling and use it for good (hopefully to be a good example for my girls). My prayer is that I can be an example of how “hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40. 

I’ve titled this ‘A TransformATION of Faith, not TransformED (past tense) because I’m still walking through this journey, one step at a time a little further down the path from Plans for Good.  I still don’t have answers, I don’t understand, but I now understand it’s not about me… it’s about honoring a God that loved me (and you) first by following in Jesus’ and Mack’s footsteps of allowing God to use me to transform lives… to bring people to Him.  

Casting Crowns new song, ‘Just Be Held’ speaks to this so well & I feel like I can relate to every word:
Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong    as a mom this couldn’t ring truer
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on
And when youre tired of fighting
Chained by your control
Theres freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go
So when youre on your knees and answers seem so far away
Youre not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your worlds not falling apart, its falling into place
Im on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held
If your eyes are on the storm
Youll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross
Youll know I always have and I always will
And not a tear is wasted
In time, youll understand
Im painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands
Lift your hands, lift your eyes
In the storm is where youll find Me
And where you are, Ill hold your heart
Ill hold your heart
Come to Me, find your rest
In the arms of the God who wont let go
In honor of Mack, I’d love to share a few of my favorite ‘Mack Hannah Quotes’ that I will forever carry in my heart:
  1. “I’m not your example bc I drop the ball more than I carry it but I can tell you my journey/experience / share my story.”
  2. “Choose the next right thing.”
  3. “I’m just a begger telling another begger where I found some bread.”
  4. “I don’t want to do His job, I just want to do His work.”
  5. “I’m not in competition with anyone but Satan.”
  6. “I know I’m not what I should be, but I praise God I’m not what I used to be… one day at a time.”
  7. “Never focusing on the past but looking ahead and focusing on the goal.”
  8. “Because of Jesus, when I need someone to lean on, he’s always there. Some may say it’s a crutch, but when you’re crippled you need a crutch & I’m crippled.”

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