Saturday, June 9, 2018

Trusting What We Can’t See

I've never been much for New Year's resolutions, mainly because I can't keep them going. No matter how many times I've tried, I can't seem to make myself wash my face at night for more than a few days after January 1. A few years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of choosing a word to focus on throughout the year instead of making a resolution, and I'm happy to say, this practice has been much more doable.

This year, after a great deal of thought, I decided on the word trust. Not only did I choose it as my word, but I also drank the Kool-Aid and ordered one of those My Intent bracelets with my word engraved on it. I figured this would serve as a daily reminder to focus on my word and put it into practice. Easier said than done.

I was feeling pretty good about my choice until I heard one of my friends had chosen the word execute, and as soon as I heard it, I wished I had picked it instead. Execute is such a strong, powerful word. It makes me feel like I'm kicking butt and taking names. I'm making things happen. And even better, I can see the action taking place. It's the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I have when I make a to-do list and then mark things off one by one.

I think maybe that's why I'm having a hard time with trust. It doesn't always lead to immediate, easy-to-see results that help me stay focused, so I'm finding I have to have a great deal of patience. Sometimes I think I'm trusting, but am I really? It's easy to stop without even realizing it.

Let's be honest, though, the real issue I have with trust is that it requires me to relinquish some, if not all, of my control. Whether it's in relationships with friends and family, or with God himself, trust forces me to rely on someone else, and that can be pretty scary.

A few days ago, I woke up early for my quiet time, knowing I had four big things I really wanted to pray about. I felt confident that I had done what I could do and was ready to leave the rest up to God. But by 4:30 that afternoon, my trust was really beginning to waver because I felt like I was only 1 for 4 in getting the answers I was hoping for.

Later that night, I was cleaning the boys' bathroom and thinking about my prayers that didn't get answered the way I wanted them to, when all of a sudden, I heard a voice. Now, I would like to be able to stop right here and tell you I heard God's voice speaking to me plain as day, and it sounded a lot like James Earl Jones, but alas, that's not quite how this story goes.

The voice I heard was actually none other than Ricky Ricardo's, complete with his thick Cuban accent. If you've ever watched I Love Lucy, you know at least once an episode, Lucy got into a little trouble, causing Ricky to exclaim, "Lucy! You got some 'splaining to do." And so, as I scrubbed the tub, questioning why things went the way they did and how everything could possibly work out, I could hear myself in Ricky's voice telling God he had some 'splaining to do of his own.

And then I had to stop and laugh at myself because who am I to tell God he needs to explain himself to me? I'm pretty sure most days I need to explain myself to Him, clarifying why I did what I did, or even harder, why I didn't do what I needed to.

One of my good friend's says God's plan is like a puzzle-- we only get to see one little piece, but He can see what the entire finished puzzle looks like. I like that image, and sometimes, when I'm hesitant to put my trust in something I can't see, focusing on that image of a puzzle keeps me grounded and makes things more concrete. It reminds me that there's more to this one particular answer, this one particular event, this one particular day than I can even imagine.

Most days, I feel pretty good about praying; where I struggle is in putting my complete and total trust in God. In trusting His plan to be way better than my own. In trusting that He will answer my prayers, in His time and in His way.

Because as easy as it was to engrave the word trust on a bracelet, I'm still working day by day to engrave it on my heart.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Put Me In, Coach

Here's a question I've been pondering lately: If I were a baseball player, what would my walk-up song be?

Now, you're probably wondering why this has been on my brain. Keep reading, and I'll explain. A few weeks ago, my Sunday school class had a social at a Columbia Fireflies game, and one of my friends, noticing how I like to break it down to every batter's music, posed said question and suggested I turn it into a blog post, so here we are.

Unfortunately, I'm really struggling with my song. Part of my problem is I can never remember if it's a "walk-up" or a "walk-out" song, just like I can never remember if it's "whitey tighties" or "tighty whities," but that's really neither here nor there. Whatever the song is called, I can't seem to choose just one. And so I ponder . . .

While that question has been floating around in my head, so has the game of baseball in general. The one conclusion I can come to with certainty is that baseball is a lot like parenting.

The biggest take away from the game a few weeks ago was this: some of us were able to enjoy the game more than others, and that level of enjoyment depended solely upon the age of the kids we brought with us.

See, the parents of the older kids were able to sit back, relax, and actually watch the game, while those of us with younger kids ended up watching the kids more than the game. We were on the edges of our seats, not because of any excitement on the field, mind you, but because it made it easier to constantly count heads and monitor behavior. I will admit, there were times during the game when I was a little jealous of the peace those other parents seemed to exude.

Some of us voiced our envy to one of our friends with older kids, and she assured us there was no need to worry, we'd be in her shoes soon enough. She gave us hope that there's a light at the end of the toddler tunnel, and she even confessed to missing some of the good parts of the stage we're in, like the sweet snuggles and hugs.

By the time the 8th inning rolled around, the game was tied, and those of us with young children started to panic. Personally, I know I was thinking, "Oh, sweet Jesus, please don't let this game go into extra innings. We need it over, and we need it over now!" There's no joy in trying to drag two little boys out of a ballpark before they shoot off the fireworks.

While extra innings were a very real fear at 9:30 on a Saturday night, I started to wonder if I wish away too many stages in general. Do I try to hurry this phase up so much that the good part is over before I'm really ready for it to be . . . or even worse, before I'm even aware of its passing? I would hate to get to the end of the game and realize I missed a lot of great hits. I'm sure there are plenty of parents who have already sent their kids to the outfield of adulthood and now spend their days longing for their children to come back to the home dugout more often.

What I've realized since then is that as parents, we're ultimately all playing the same game, it's just that we're all on different bases. And while I could spend my time being jealous of the other moms who have already reached second and third while I'm still sweating it out on first, that's not going to help me advance. Instead, I can see those other parents as my base coaches, supporters who can use their experience to send me helpful signals along the way.

Once I figured all of this out, I decided my walk-up song should be more about my life than just a song with a good beat. The first song that came to mind was Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train. It actually does have an awesome instrumental intro, perfect to get the crowd pumped. Plus, it kinda summarizes my life at the moment, since most days I feel like I'm going off the rails of this crazy train called parenthood. Yet, while I liked it, there was a part of me that wasn't completely sold.

So, using Crazy Train as as a starting point, I began searching through my iTunes to see if the perfect song would jump out at me. I considered Running on Empty (again, how I sometimes feel as a parent and as a teacher in May), I Will Survive (a little pep talk for myself), and Sexy and I Know It (pretty sure that one speaks for itself), but none of those was 100 percent right either. Finally, I found just what I was looking for.

In the end, I came back to where I started and landed on a song about a different train--Quad City DJ's C'mon n' Ride It (The Train). It has a good intro, but more importantly, it reminds me of a key lesson I'm learning: as crazy as this parenting train can be, I sure am glad to be riding it. And when I feel like throwing in the towel, I just have to sing, "I think I can, I think I can . . . "

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Thoughtful Ways to Thank a Teacher

When I first started this blog, people would always ask if it were going to be about my classroom, and oddly enough, that's the one thing I've never written about. But as we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week and gear up for the end of the year, I thought I'd tackle the yearly conundrum of teacher gifts. As a parent, I seem to spin my wheels every year trying to think of just the right gift.

I know you may think I'm biased since I am a teacher, but really, I don't have much skin in this game. High school teachers kinda get the shaft in terms of gifts, and I get it. You go from having to buy one gift to eight, which can definitely impact your shopping budget. If you have three kids in elementary school at the same time, you're buying three gifts, but fast forward to high school, and you're talking 24! Ain't nobody got time for that.

So, taking what I've learned over the years as a gifter and a giftee into consideration, I brainstormed a few teacher gifts that won't break the budget.

1. Gift Cards

To get this whole post started, I decided to gather some data. I would like to say I did this in a very scientific fashion, complete with a hypothesis, a control group, and a double-blind experiment, but the truth is I just texted a bunch of fellow teachers and asked them what their favorite treat is. Hands down, gift cards were number one.

It doesn't seem to matter what the gift card is for--food, books, jewelry, anything is exciting and appreciated. Just having that little plastic card in our hands can take our day from a 2 to a 10 in no time flat.

And before you start worrying that if you give a gift card, we will know how much you spent, please know we welcome any token of kindness. Day in and day out, I make my coffee in my handy dandy Keurig and pour it into a beat up Yeti, so even a $5 gift card to Starbucks where I can get a specialty coffee in a cup with a fancy sleeve is a fun splurge that makes me feel like I'm living the dream in NYC.

2. Theme Snack

Last year, I joined a new Bible study group, and as part of the get-to-know-you process, we had to share our talents. After giving it a great deal of thought, I shared that I have a talent for making theme snacks. This is a hereditary passion (some would say obsession) that has led me to do a multitude of crazy things, like hot gluing googly eyes onto mandarin orange cups to turn them into tigers for circus week at preschool. I'm sure the 2 year olds were blown away!

Theme snacks are fun and can be super easy to create, as long as you take a deep breath and step away from the glue gun. This year, a student gave me a bag of microwave popcorn with a Red Box movie code. Simple, clever, and the perfect way to head into Christmas break. Another cute idea is a bag of cookies and a bottle of Smart water with a card reading, "Thanks for making me a Smart cookie." (I love a cute pun as much as I love a theme snack!)

The best food gift I've ever seen came from a senior this year. She had asked several teachers to write her letters of recommendation for college, so she gave each one a box of Thanks-a-Lot Girl Scout cookies with a sweet thank you note. Brilliant! Even though I've never taught the student, I offered to write her a rec just so I could get a box of cookies! I would have praised both her creativity and her philanthropy. I'm already planning on buying multiple boxes next year and freezing them until I need them.

3. Lunch

Don't panic . . . I'm not talking about delivering your child's teacher a filet mignon with a Caesar salad and a baked potato. Fast food is perfectly fine. We don't get out for lunch much, so we're not used to fine dining anyway. One of my friends recently took her son's teacher a foot long from Subway, and I thought that was a genius idea. See, teachers are kind of like animals trapped in the zoo at feeding time, so any morsel from the outside world seems like a delicacy. Plus, a lot of craziness can go down between drop off and lunch, and nothing takes away stress like the sweet tang of Chic-fil-a sauce. We had a Zaxby's buffet earlier this week for Teacher Appreciation, and it was amazing . . . and I'm not just saying that because I left my lunch on the kitchen table that morning.

One note for elementary parents--if you can cover the teacher's lunch duty so she can actually eat the special lunch without having to stop to open ketchup packets and milk cartons, you will most definitely be nominated for Parent of the Year and future teachers will fight to have your child in their class. 

4. School Supplies

Some people go into teaching so they can change lives. Personally, I was drawn to the profession because I'm obsessed with school supplies. Give me a pack of rainbow Paper Mate felt tip pens, and I'm in heaven.

Teachers spend a lot of their own money for their classroom supplies. They do it without ever expecting to be reimbursed. They do it because they know having good supplies helps create a classroom community and helps students produce higher quality work. By the end of the year, though, their supplies have dwindled down to nothing, so helping them replenish their closets is both thoughtful and practical.

Here are a few ideas for some of the most common items teachers need. Cheesy gift tag messages are optional.

Tissue Box: "Bless you for teaching my child!"
Ream of Paper: "I had REAMS of fun with you this year!"
Highlighters: "Having you as my teacher has been the highlight of my year!"
Band-Aids: "Thanks for sticking with me this year!"

5. Nice Note

If the above ideas are starting to make you panic because Pinterest makes you break out in hives, or you have no idea how you'll find the time between school, practices, games, and work to ride around collecting aforementioned items and gift cards, never fear. The best gift you can ever give a teacher is completely free. All it requires is a little time and a little thought.

By and far, the best gift a teacher can receive is a genuine thank you note. We don't care if it's written on embossed, personalized stationary or if it's written on construction paper with markers. It really is the thought that counts. I have a drawer full of notes from throughout the years, and it's fun to read through them every once in awhile, reliving the good old days. It's the same reason you like going back through old yearbooks to see what your friends wrote back in the day.

Thank you notes are unique and personal.  One friend said her favorite note was one where the parent specifically thanked her for her read alouds, saying her child loved the way my friend's enthusiasm brought the books to life. She didn't even realize the student had noticed that, which made the sentiment all the more special. It may sound simple, but a thank you note validates what we do day in and day out and recharges us when we've had a rough day.

Well, there you have it, my advice based on 17 years as a teacher and 6 years as a parent. Thanks to all of my friends who gave me ideas. Y'all are the best! If you have other ideas for teacher gifts, please share in the comments below.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Summer Reading for the Young and Old

One of my New Year's resolutions was to always be reading a book for pleasure in 2018. While I haven't quite upheld that resolution--okay, let's be honest, I haven't even come close-- I have read some good ones over the past few months you may want to add to your summer reading list.

The Residence by Kate Andersen Bower

This book came highly recommended by one of my English Department friends, and rightly so. Bower, an accomplished journalist and staffer for CBS News, has compiled the touching stories of the men and women who worked tirelessly in the White House from the days of Kennedy through Obama. I will warn you, if you're like me, you'll be crying by page three. I enjoyed learning some White House secrets, including LBJ's obsession with the perfect shower. With my thick, curly hair, I can totally appreciate LBJ's demand for good water pressure, but he took it to a hilarious extreme. While I wish the book had been arranged chronologically, it did make me think about things I never even considered, like the fact they have to get new mattresses for every new first family. I guess I thought the White House was like a hotel where the mattresses stay for years and years. I have Bower's second book, First Wives, at the top of my own summer reading list.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, this book tells the story of a group of siblings placed (and I use that term loosely) in the "protection" of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. Going back and forth in time and location, it's part mystery, part romance, and part family saga that spans generations. The disturbing part of reading this was knowing that the Tennessee Children's Home Society's orphanage actually existed in the early 1900s, helping the real-life Georgia Tann carry out black market adoptions. I didn't cry by page 3 with this one, but you'd better believe I was crying by the end.

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Whalen

If you know me, you know I love Melanie Shankle. She recommended this book in the fall, so I knew I needed to check it out. I love books where the characters take turns narrating the chapters so that all of the parts and pieces fit together like a puzzle. This particular novel follows a group of citizens in Worthy, GA, after the death of three popular cheerleaders. As the teenagers and adults tell their stories, the truth about the accident and those involved begins to come out.  This was definitely a page turner, and I even stayed late at school one Friday afternoon to finish it. I didn't have time to get side tracked with school pick up and dinner prep! I can definitely see this making its way to the big screen.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

This is by the same author who wrote The Woman in Cabin 10, which I've never actually read but have heard great things about. The Lying Game tells the story of four women who became friends at boarding school. Unlike the carefree days Blair, Jo, Natalie, and Tootie spent at Eastland, life at Salten was a littler darker for Fatima, Thea, Isa, and Kate, and now their school secrets have come back to haunt them. The story is full of twists and turns, lies and intrigue, and just when I thought I had everything figured out, it switched gears and surprised me. If you're a fan of Paula Hawkins' books, this one's for you.

Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott

After reading and enjoying Lamott's book Bird By Bird in the fall, I knew I wanted to read more of her work. While Bird By Bird revolves around Lamott's advice on writing and life, Help, Thanks, Wow focuses on the idea that we really only need three types of prayer. I think I wrote down at least one quote for every two pages I read, so basically, I rewrote the text into my own spiral notebook. Good thing it's only 102 pages long! The book is full of humor and wisdom that packs a punch. My favorite quote is when she shares the old riddle: "What's the difference between you and God? God never thinks he's you." Lamott's insight continues to be that powerful throughout as she offers advice on both prayer and living a life full of gratitude.

Summer reading isn't just fun for me, it's fun for the boys too. We have more time to go to the library, and since we can be a little more lenient with bedtimes, we can read more at night. Here are a few of the boys' favorites. Some are classics, while others are new additions to our home library.

Green Eggs and Ham/What Pet Should I Get by Dr. Seuss

I will admit, I never liked Green Eggs and Ham growing up. I didn't like it in a box, with a fox, or anywhere else, and I never really planned on reading it to the boys until Jackson brought it home from Rock Hill. I decided if I had to read it, I might as well make it fun, so I dropped a beat and added some crazy facial expressions, and the more the boys laughed, the more I liked the book. The first time Alex he heard me read it, he asked if I liked in in the Bronx because he said I sounded like a wanna-be rapper. I will admit, I may have listened to this recording of Ludacris reading Llama Llama Red Pajama one too many times. It just goes to show you that your attitude can make or break a read aloud.

Our other favorite Dr. Seuss book is the lesser known What Pet Should I Get. The best thing about this book is that it leaves the reader hanging, since you don't know which pet the main characters get from the pet store. The cliffhanger opens the door for creative conversations with kids about their predictions and guesses. If you're a teacher, I think it would be a great springboard for a class writing project with students writing the end of the book or even writing about the types of pets they would get. (See, Mom, I told you I would use my Masters in Literacy one day.)

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Jackson's good friend Ms. James gave him this book for his birthday a few years ago, and at the time, I thought he was probably too young for it to hold his interest, mainly because it's a long story without full-color illustrations. Boy, was I wrong. This was an instant hit with both of the boys, who never get tired of naming and counting all of the ducks. Quack is our favorite because he can never quite keep up with his brothers and sisters, and it always looks like he might be getting into trouble. Every time we read the story, I start planning our family vacation to Boston. Pair the book with a gift card to Duck Donuts as a present and everybody wins.

There's a Giraffe in My Soup by Ross Burach

I knew when I saw this recommended in Parents magazine I had to order it because giraffes are number one at our house. This one is more picture book than story, but it definitely brings the amusement as a waiter continues to deliver animals to his customer's table. Animal puns and bright illustrations add to the silliness. Like Green Eggs and Ham, the more you get into the personality of the waiter, the more fun it is to read.

Dino Sports Series by Lisa Wheeler

If you know a child who loves dinosaurs and/or sports, these books are the perfect combination. Jackson first came home from school with Dino-Wrestling, and we've been hooked ever since. The rhyme is always on point, and you'll learn a ton of dinosaur names. Every time we finish reading one, the boys flip to the back and point to the ones we haven't read yet. It makes my heart happy for them to beg for  a trip to the library to get the next in the series. Reminds me of my days with The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High.

Elephant and Piggie Books by Mo Willems

Alex and Reeves both agreed that these are their favorite books. They feature an elephant named Gerald, and his friend Piggie. The duo always elicit plenty of laughs from the boys, and I'll be honest, I think they're pretty funny too. The books feature a lot of dialogue, inspiring Alex to use a wide variety of voices, again leading to plenty of giggles. Also, because the books aren't really text-heavy, they are a great choice for beginning readers to read on their own.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

This book has been my favorite ever since I can remember. It tells the story of Alice, a little girl who wants to travel to faraway places and then settle down and live by the sea. Sounds like the perfect life to me! Her grandfather tells her she can do those things, but she must also do something to make the world a more beautiful place. As Alice lives the life she's imagined, she comes to realize making the world better isn't as difficult as she once thought. The illustrations are beautiful in and of themselves, and the grandfather's challenge is one we should all take to heart. Imagine how much better the world would be if we all tried in our own little ways to make it more beautiful.

There you have it, a few of my suggestions for readers young and old. Hopefully, this summer I'll have more time to get my New Year's resolution back on track. I have a few ideas for my summer reading list, but I would love to hear your recommendations. Leave your favorites in the comments below. Happy reading!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Sliding Into Six

Dear Jackson,

I debated whether or not to write you a letter this year. I felt like everything I wrote last year still holds true, and I felt like I didn't have anything to add because you really haven't changed much over the past year. But then something happened a few weeks ago that made me realize I was wrong.

A few Sunday afternoons ago, somebody in our house needed to go to the grocery store, but I was still in my pajamas (Don't judge me), so I didn't want to go, and the final round of the Masters was getting ready to start, so I knew Daddy didn't want to go either. That's when I suggested I could call you an Uber, and you could go to Publix for us. Our conversation went a little something like this:

Me: Hey, Jack, maybe I could call you an Uber, you can go get the groceries, and then the Uber will bring you back home.

You: Mama, I can't read all that stuff.

Me: Sure you can! And what you can't read, you can recognize. I know you know how to find the applesauce and the Velveeta Shells and Cheese.

You: You're going to go to jail if you send me by myself.

Me: Are you saying I'll get to sit in a quiet cell and not have to clean the house? Yeah, I think I'll survive.

You: You won't be able to read books in jail.

Me: Actually, that's about the only thing I will be able to do in jail. Jails usually have really good libraries. (Please note, my extensive knowledge of prison libraries stems solely from Shawshank Redemption.)

You (with a knowing twinkle in your eye): Yeah, well, you would miss my snuggles.

Boom . . . you got me! You were so right, I would miss your snuggles terribly.

This conversation, while a little unrealistic, did make me realize one thing: you truly have grown up over the past year, and to be honest, I'm not sure I'm okay with that.

What happened to my little roly poly toddler who usually came home with his shoes on the wrong feet, who only wanted to color things blue, and who always wanted to watch Chuggington?

Granted, some things haven't changed. You still wake up at the crack of dawn, ready to ask a gagillion questions and shoot some hoops. And Daddy and I still love to hear you giggle over physical comedy, like when Kung Fu Panda gets knocked in the head. And (sadly) you're still a Gamecock, no matter how much I try to turn you into a Tiger. But in so many other ways, you're a completely different kid.

You have taken on a new independence that is both exciting and heartbreaking. While I love the freedom that comes with being able to simply tell you to go get dressed, I wonder who this kid is who comes out of your room in head-to-toe Under Armor? Where did he hide his super soft onesies and smocked Jon Jons?

It's also a big help that you can buckle yourself into your car seat all by yourself. It warms my heart to see your compassion towards Reeves, patiently teaching him how to buckle his straps and lending a helping hand when he gets stuck. The hard part is, as I watch you buckle up, my mind flashes ahead, and I picture you buckling your seat belt behind the wheel and driving away all by yourself. That's when I start to panic, begging time to put on the brakes.

It has been truly amazing to see how much you've learned at school this year. I don't think I knew as much when I was 6 as you do now. I mean, you're even starting to master multiplication, something I still really have to think about. The 7's were always the hardest ones for me, but you make them seem easy breezy. In my defense, I didn't watch as much football as you do! I want you to know how proud I am of your curiosity and your love of learning. What scares me, though, is the knowledge that pretty soon, you'll surpass me. You'll be all into calculus and statistics, and you may not think I'm as smart then as you do now. Will you still ask me questions and come to me for help?

I know it isn't fair, my desire for time to stand still. I don't mean to hold you back or limit your possibilities. I really do love watching you grow into your own person, but you have to remember, you'll always be my baby. When you were born, you came out with some of my DNA, but the truth is, you came out with even more of my heart.

Now when I tuck you in, I may not be able to rock rock you like I used to because you're all arms and legs, and you may read to me just as much as I read to you. Just know, as long as we're in the same place, I'll still come back to check on you before I go to bed every night, no matter how old you are. And regardless of the miles between us, I'll always be praying for God to watch over you in all that you do.

I love you, Bud. Happy birthday!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

5 for 5: Lessons from Fixer Upper

Last week was the series finale of my favorite show, Fixer Upper, and I have to admit, after five years, I feel a little lost without my weekly dose of Chip and Jo. The show will always hold a special place in my heart because I started watching reruns of Season 1 when I was on maternity leave with Reeves. In fact, I watched so much Fixer Upper and Property Brothers, one time I accidentally referred to Jackson and Reeves as Drew and Jonathan. I really do know my boys' names, I promise. I'm blaming that one on lack of sleep.

For Alex and me, Fixer Upper has been our weekly date night for the past few years. No kids, no phones, just us enjoying some down time together.

I've learned a few things about myself while watching the show--mainly that my dream of owning my very own cow will never die and no matter how much I'd love to have a greenhouse full of beautiful flowers, I can kill a cactus. I've also learned a few life important lessons as well.

Different Strokes Work for Different Folks

I think we can all agree that Jo definitely has her own signature style. While she knows what she likes, she makes a conscious effort to incorporate the clients' style into the design, even if it means figuring out how to blend Moroccan with Scandinavian.

I would love for Jo to come redecorate my house; however, I don't always agree 100% with her taste. Take, for example, the weird frosted glass she keeps putting in pantry doors this season. So strange. Or the floor to ceiling bathroom shower tile. I'm sorry, I just can't get behind that trend. I know the tile is unique and it's meant to give the bathroom a spa-like feel, but the thought of cleaning all of that grout exhausts me. Give me a 1980s stall insert any day.

Ultimately, everybody has different tastes and different styles, and that's okay. Just because someone's style doesn't match our own doesn't mean he or she needs to be "fixed." After all, there's a reason why Baskin Robbins offers 31 flavors.

Work Is As Fun As You Make It

This lesson comes more from Chip and Shorty than it does from Chip and Jo. I have no doubt that flipping houses isn't always as fun and glamorous as HGTV edits it to be. I would imagine most days are sweaty and stinky and downright hard. But in the midst of all of the sawdust and shingles, Chip and Shorty find ways to spice it up. Whether it's seeing who can knock down a wall faster or who can do more pull-ups from the rafters, those two are always laughing.

I have been teaching for 17 years. Have I loved every single day of it? No way! Some days I'm exhausted, frustrated, and ready to quit. However, I have always been lucky enough to work with people who make the job fun. From rolling the athletic director's office at Mid-Carolina to dressing up for spirit days to celebrating Pi Day with multiple pies, my colleagues and I have always found ways to keep things exciting.

I know work can be a grind, and sometimes all we can do is fake it til we make it. Life is full of choices, and it's up to us to decide if we're going to make our work environment negative or positive. When it comes right down to it, we probably spend most of our lives at our jobs, so shouldn't we do what we can to infuse a little fun?

Life Doesn't Always Go According to Plan

If you've watched Fixer Upper for any amount of time, you know that during every demo day, Chip and Jo always find something they didn't expect. It could be a snag, like finding out the wall they thought could come down is actually load-bearing, so they have to put in a beam. Or it could be a jackpot, like finding shiplap hidden behind the dry wall. It seems like no matter how much they plan in advance, there is always a demo day surprise that sends them back to the drawing board.

Life is a lot like renovating a house.  You make plans, things are going well, and then . . . WHAM! . . . a sickness, a lost job, or some other obstacle hits you like a sledgehammer, causing your plans to crumble. You will have to do some work to get back on track, and the work may involve a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but the good news is, it is possible to rebuild bigger and better than before. You might have to peel back a few layers of nasty old wallpaper to get to your version of shiplap, but it's there as long as you're willing to work for it.

For me, the key to bouncing back from a setback is having a firm foundation of supportive family and friends, which leads me to the last two lessons I've learned from the show.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

One reason Fixer Upper is so popular is because viewers love getting a glimpse of Chip and Jo's relationship. In a world full of baby mama drama reality TV, their down-to-earth partnership is a breath of fresh air. They play off of each other and make each other stronger both on the job and at home.

Most days, I like to pretend that I keep the house running all by myself. In my mind, I'm a one-woman show, cooking, cleaning, driving carpool, scheduling appointments . . . single-handedly keeping everybody alive and happy. However, this winter Alex had to travel a lot for work, and while he was gone, I had a major awakening: I need Alex. I couldn't reach the burned out light bulbs in the kitchen, so they went unchanged. And I'm not as fun at bath time as Daddy, so we skipped it more times than we probably should have. The boys may have been dirty, but I couldn't tell because we were living in the dark! And don't even get me started on the debacle that was my attempt at ironing the boys' church clothes. Let's just say I'm better at using an iron to make a grilled cheese sandwich than I am at using it to get out wrinkles. The bottom line is I realized I should give Alex more credit than I do because life is better with him as my partner.

A successful partnership doesn't have to be a romantic duo though. Everybody needs a buddy-- Thelma had Louise, Han had Chewy, and Maverick had Goose. Some things (you know, like driving off a cliff or fighting the Dark Side) are more fun when they're done together. It could be a friend, a sibling, a parent, a spouse, a co-worker . . . life is easier when we have somebody to help us share the load. Just remember, when you find that special wing man, let them know how much you appreciate their love and support.

Celebrate Others

I think this is the most important lesson I've learned over the past five seasons. See, Chip and Jo are both really talented, and this show was obviously designed to highlight their skills, their businesses, and their family. They could have made every episode of every season be all about them, but they didn't. They have their own strengths, and they are lucky enough to have surrounded themselves with some really talented friends who help compensate for their weaknesses. There's Jimmy Don, who is a master of metal. There's Dustin Anderson, who is gifted with glass. And of course, there's my fave, Clint Harp, who can work wonders with wood. Together, these talented artisans make people's dreams come true.

As I have gotten older, I've realized I, too, have some strengths, and I also have some serious struggles. For example, fashion will never be my forte. I don't buy pieces of clothing, I buy outfits-- if it works on the mannequin at Loft, then it works for me. I have absolutely no ability to mix and match. I should have been born in the '50s when women always wore dresses-- then I'd only have to figure out if I needed black pumps or brown ones, and that's a decision I can (usually) handle. But my friend Andrea, that girl knows fashion. Watching her put an outfit together is like watching Cinderella's fairy godmother turn a pumpkin into a crystal coach. I kid you not, I've seen her effortlessly turn a belt into a necklace in a matter of minutes. She has a gift. If I could Skype her into my closet every morning, I totally would.

We all have gifts, and they're all different. Society often pits us against each other and makes us believe we're always in competition--who has the most money, the most success, the most likes. This is especially true for women. But maybe instead of focusing on what we can do individually, we should focus more on what we can accomplish collectively because the truth is, when we combine forces, that's when the magic really happens.

One of my favorite quotes is from Jen Hatmaker: "When we elevate other women around us, when we cheer them on, when we share the microphone, when we promote what they're doing, none of that makes our space shrink. In fact, is becomes way more expansive."

It can be hard to live out this philosophy. Personally, I've had times where I let my own insecurities and doubts about my abilities hold me back from being the cheerleader for others I should have been. Thankfully, with age comes insight, and as I approach the big 4-0, I can see that celebrating someone else doesn't make me any less. Truthfully, it's liberating and comforting to know I don't have to do it all myself, thanks to my awesome and talented tribe.

Well, there you have it, everything I've learned from watching Fixer Upper. Thanks to Chip and Jo for the memories. A visit to Waco is definitely at the top of my bucket list.

In the meantime, if you have a favorite show you think Alex and I should watch now that we have an extra hour in our week, let me know!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Bidding on Love

Have you ever heard a statement that stopped you on a dime and made you seriously reevaluate your life?

This happened to me about a year ago. A Bible study leader shared with my group that a lot of her friends were struggling in their marriages because now that their kids were out of the house, they didn't know how to relate to their husbands. She encouraged those of us who were still deep in the trenches of parenthood to make sure we took time to find shared interests that didn't involve carpool, homework, and soccer practice.

I drove home from church in a bit of a panic, racking my brain trying to figure out what Alex and I enjoy doing together that doesn't involve our boys. I mean, sure, we love a good family story time, but it might be a little awkward if Alex is still reading me Llama, Llama Red Pajama after the boys have flown the coop.

Thankfully, after a little soul searching, I came up with three interests we share: sports, movies, and silent auctions. That last one is kinda random, I know, but silent auctions honestly make us a team more than the other two.

Silent auctions are the perfect activity for us because they play to our passions- namely my (highly) competitive nature and Alex's penchant for buying things he doesn't need. When I actually asked Alex why he likes silent auctions, he said he likes them because "the items are usually unique or are experiences that I wouldn't normally think to purchase on my own," which I think pretty much translates into buying things he doesn't need. But since I often benefit from his crazy bidding, I can't really complain.

It all started when our friends Anna and Doug invited us to a benefit at EdVenture. The event included tasty hors d'oeuvres, live music, and a silent auction to raise money for EdVenture's children's programs. This was in the days before mobile bidding, so we had to write our bids on paper. It also led us to circle the auction items like vultures ready to swoop down on our prey in order to make sure no one outbid us. I can't even remember what I had my heart set on, but I do know that at one point, Alex told me I had to stop bidding on it because at around $150, it was out of his price range. I could appreciate his fiscal responsibility and happily went back to chatting with friends.

At the end of the night, we all went to see if we'd won anything. Doug, being the thoughtful husband that he is, won an open-ended plane ticket Anna could use to visit her family in Texas.

Alex, ever the romantic, won a basketball signed by Coach K.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the Blue Devils, but I had never known Alex to be a fan. As he explained, this was his logical first step in turning our den into his "man cave." Glad we discussed that plan, Honey. All I could think to say was, "I hope you got a good deal on it."


Alex sheepishly confessed the bidding had gotten a little bit away from him, and he ended up paying $350 for a basketball! A basketball that now resides at the top of my closet, mind you. So much for fiscal responsibility. He also admitted he had to hip check an older gentleman right as the bids were being collected to ensure his was the last bid. And I thought I was the competitive one! All the way to the car, all the way home, and even to this day, all Alex can say is, "I did it for the kids."

Even though that first experience was a little stressful for our relationship, we bounced back, and our love of silent auctions has continued to grow, thanks mainly to Junior League of Columbia's Holiday Market Preview Party and Silent Auction. We have even developed a strategic plan we use to increase our chances of winning. (I could tell you what it is, but then I'd have to kill you.) We have won all sorts of things, from a Mosquito Joe's yard treatment to Gamecock paraphernalia to a necklace I think I've worn once (That one was pre-strategic plan.). My favorite was the year I won a birthday party at The Little Gym. When Alex asked how much it cost, it was my turn to confess I may or may not have paid $10 over the normal party price. I really felt like he was missing the point because, hello, I WON! Okay, so maybe I didn't get the best deal, but at least it's for the kids, right?

Last year, we tried out another local auction when we attended the Friends of Epworth Gala. We bid on a few things we were interested in, and then a little later in the night, Alex went rogue, broke protocol, and went back through the items, bidding on a few no one had bid on yet. His philosophy was if he bid on them, they'd look like hot commodities, and then other people would try to outbid him, thus increasing the money going to Epworth. It was good in theory, not so good in execution. Nobody else bid against him for several things, so we ended up with some totally random items, like a teeth whitening service and cakes for a year.

As we were leaving the gala loaded down like pack mules, all of the Epworth employees kept shaking Alex's hand and telling us they were so glad we came. Yeah, I bet they were. Needless to say, we received a Save the Date for this year's event. I'd bet we were first on the guest list, and not just because our last name starts with B.

If you're not familiar with Epworth Children's Home, it provides group residential care for children and youth from all over South Carolina. I vividly remember my mom filling out the special offering card every May to make her Mother's Day offering to Epworth. I asked her once why it was such a big deal, and she told me not all kids were as lucky as I was. At the time, I thought she was just trying to toot her own horn as a mom because as a teenager, I didn't always feel so lucky. It's true, as an only child, I often got whatever I wanted, but I also felt I got some things I didn't want too, like extra pressure and higher expectations.

Fast forward to my first year teaching. Funny how God can put you in just the right place for just the right lesson. As I got to know the faces in my classroom, I quickly realized I was beyond lucky; I was blessed. I am fortunate to have a parent who cares enough to set expectations and hold me accountable. And I am fortunate to never have to worry if there is food in the fridge or if the lights will come on when I flip the switch. For better or worse, we don't get to choose our parents, and some kids end up with the short end of the stick. They need our help to make sure they have a fighting chance.

During a professional development conference that first year, a speaker told us she didn't like the term "at risk" because it places a negative label on certain students. She went on to say that, truly, all kids are at risk of something. Life can change in an instant, and hardship doesn't discriminate based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Any child's life can change dramatically due to death, illness, or loss.

That's why Epworth is so important. It offers children going through a rough time a loving and stable environment. In a time of chaos, Epworth provides kids with the consistency and structure they crave.

This year's Friends of Epworth Palate Party will be held at Hay Hill Market on Saturday, March 10. You can read all of the fun details and buy your tickets right here. Alex and I would love for you to join us. Even better, we'd love for you to try and outbid us. Just remember, win or lose, it's all for the kids.

The infamous Duke basketball