For a Christmas/birthday present this year Hub gave me tickets to see Wicked in New York City!  We went last month, had a total blast, and I am just now getting around to posting about it.  Sorry, but when you have a blended family with seven very busy kids, blogging often times gets put on the back burner.

Here, in a totally random order, are some ways we’ve found over the years to enjoy a trip together without the kids (and not feel guilty about it!):

*Be flexible! In order to save money (and SkyMiles) Hub booked us on a red-eye flight to NYC.  A representative at the hotel had told him that if the hotel wasn’t completely booked we would be able to get into a room as soon as we arrived in the early morning hours, even thought check-in wasn’t until noon.  We hoped it would work out for us so that we could sleep for a few hours in a bed after arriving, but as luck would have it, the hotel was booked and we had six hours to kill before we could check-in.  We didn’t have a rental car, we were pretty tired after the over-night flight, and we had luggage, but no room.  So what did we do?

The hotel staff, being used to such situations, let us leave our luggage in a secure room near the lobby.  We relaxed in the hotel dining area and watched the morning news programs while eating the free breakfast provided by the hotel.  Once we were full, we decided to kill some time by visiting the Empire State Building.  Apparently the morning hours in February are a good time to do so because we didn’t wait in line at all to go to the top.

And the view?


*Pictures! Take pictures for memories.  Send pictures to your kids.  Camera phones are perfect for this!  We sent a couple of the pictures from the Empire State Building to our kids with the message, “Good-morning from the Empire State Building!”  It was the first text message of the day for all of them.  And yes, they responded enthusiastically once they woke up for the day and saw the picture texts.

All during our trip we sent occasional pictures to let the kids know what we were doing in real time.  Some of the photos that got the most response:

And after returning home and posting the pictures on our family website and on Facebook the kids had even more comments.  Our kids seem to get a kick out of odd-ball photo ops such as the signs in this previous post and these pictures:

King Kong cookie sold in the gift shop at the top of the Empire State Building

Street scene--count the taxis!

Window display with balloons

McDonald's in China Town

New York City cops standing on the corner

And there was the artwork:

*Be a tourist! Since neither of us had ever been to New York City before, and since we have no idea when, or if, we will ever return, we made sure to see the common tourist sites:

The museum of Natural History

Times Square

A broadway Musical--the reason we were there!

Memorial in Central Park for John Lennon

New Tower being built at Ground Zero

*Get off the beaten path! Although we made sure to hit all the tourist spots–and they were exciting–we also enjoyed looking for experiences that had personal meaning to us.  For instance, the fire station that has a tribute painted on its door to the firefighters from that location that lost their lives on 9/11 has meaning to me as the daughter of a retired fire chief.

Finding the Manhattan Temple of our church had special meaning to us.

I loved taking pictures of street scenes.

And one of my favorite “off the beaten path” moments was when Hub and I found a lower level Italian restaurant on a side street that had food to die for at a great price (a much better price than the Brazilian Barbecue that we went to the next evening).  I wish I had thought to take a picture of the quaint entrance and the decor inside.  We enjoyed that meal and the walk back to our hotel afterward.

*Be a couple! Hold hands.  Have others take your pictures together in front of favorite sites.  Shop together for souvenirs.  Celebrate your relationship.  One of my favorite memories from our trip is the night we returned to our hotel after exploring the main streets of Manhattan.  We were chilly and ready to relax in our room.  Before getting on the elevator we each grabbed a cup of free cocoa offered in our hotel lobby.  We sipped the cocoa while cuddling and watching a movie in our room.  It was simple, yet nice to just be us.

Our last evening there we took a walk to Rockefeller Center and went to the ” Top of the Rock” for some final pictures.  Some nice couple time!

The trip was fantastic!  We talk of taking our kids to New York some day.  We know they would enjoy it.  But, we also talk of our next trip together…just the two of us.

Whenever I come across great ideas I like to share them.  Read this recent post over at Morocco’s Bazaar…and apply it!

Make it a great day!

I’ve written before about the importance of parents staying connected with their teens in all the ways that teens find interesting.  That would include social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.  Monitoring what your teens are saying on those sites can help you get a feel for what they are thinking and feeling.

The other day I noticed that my step-daughter had changed her Facebook status from “In a relationship” to “Single.”

I went down to Hub in his home office and said, “Did you know that Juju and ‘A’ have broken up?”

“No,” Hub was surprised.

“Well, she has changed her status on Facebook.  It appears they have broken up.”

The break-up was apparently mutual.  The two of them will be moving far apart in the fall–Juju down south to college, and “A” up north to live with his dad–so they decided to remain friends, but not be in a dating relationship.  The “Mom” radar in me noticed that Juju seemed to be hurting from the break-up.  She was more quiet, there was a hurt look in her eyes.

One afternoon last week she came into the kitchen to get a snack for her and “A” who was over visiting.  It was just the two of us.  As I wiped the counter I said, “I was planning on getting to the store and buying you a boatload of Dr. Pepper to drown your sorrow in, but I haven’t gotten over there yet.”

Juju looked at me and smiled.  Dr. Pepper is her all-time favorite drink.  “Are you going to get there soon?”

“I’m hoping to get there soon.”

“Well, if you do, don’t forget what you just said.” 

“I won’t.  I’ll look specifically for Dr. Pepper.”

Juju spun on her heal and went downstairs, as she reached the bottom of the stairs I heard her say to A, “I love my step-mom!”

It was a simple gesture on my part, but it seems to have hit its mark. 

Points for the step-mom!

***Juju graduated from high school on Wednesday morning.  We are proud of her.  That was graduation number 3 in our series of 6 high school graduations in as many years.  Half way there!

Soooo, about that mouse?

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There she is…in all her beady-eyed, big-eared, long-tailed glory.  And why do we still have her?  Because the parents in this house are push-overs!  Or are soft-hearted.  I prefer the latter definition. 

Yawlin accepted it when I said the mouse had to go.  He understood that I didn’t want to have to worry about a rodent escaping into my house, leaving little droppings, and perhaps mating and creating a bunch of little mini-mouses.  It was Huh who told me the sob story.  How, when she and Plumber took Yawlin to the pet store for his birthday, she had found Yawlin all alone in one of the aisles looking at guinea pig cages.  He had tears in his eyes and looked up at her and said, “This reminds me of S’mores.” 

Remember S’mores?  The guinea pig that we tried so valiantly last October to save, and failed.  Well apparently Yawlin still misses his little pet.  When Huh told him she could afford to buy him a mouse he was elated.  Hence the reason Huh, Plumber, and Yawlin walked into my house with a mouse last week. 

After hearing the sob story from Huh, my heart softened–a little.  Then Huh had an idea.  Why couldn’t the mouse live in the empty aquarium in the basement?  Once upon a time the aquarium had housed Hub’s fresh-water fish.  When the fish were sold and the aquarium was drained it housed Juju’s geckos.  After the geckos died the aquarium sat empty.  Why couldn’t the mouse’s cage be put into the aquarium?  Mice can’t climb glass.  Huh approached Hub with the idea…and now we have a pet mouse named Oreo.

And Hub?  “I’m such a push-over!”  he said.

The day after the mouse was granted a second chance Yawlin had a soccer practice and a baseball game.  As the two of us were driving from soccer practice to his baseball game Yawlin blurted out, “I’m so glad Hub let me keep Oreo!  I love Hub!”


“Really?”  I asked.

Yawlin looked at me out of the corner of his eyes and said, “Well, not love like you would love a dad.  But I like him a lot!”

Those in a blended family situation will understand what happened.  Yawlin does care for his step dad, Hub.  But, he felt he had to show loyalty to his “real” dad, his biological father.  Sometimes the guilt that kids in divorce situations feel can last for years.  Yawlin didn’t want it to appear that he loved his step dad more than his father. 

I took the exchange as something positive and made sure to tell Hub what Yawlin had said.  Sometimes a step parent needs to hear those things.  Yawlin’s feelings for Hub didn’t happen suddenly, just because he got to keep a mouse for a pet.  Hub has worked to develop a relationship with Yawlin (and his sisters) over the four years we have been married.  He has attended sporting events, he has helped with homework, he has joined them in their hobbies.  Yawlin and Hub have spent hours together in the garden, something they both enjoy.  Hub helped Yawlin make the fastest race car for the cub scout pinewood derby.  He has been there.  A kid doesn’t suddenly blurt out feelings of love unless the relationship has been developing over time.

It would appear that Hub is seeing the fruits of his labors.

A little while ago I was listening to one of the local radio morning shows and decided to jot down what I was hearing.  The guest on the show was a family therapist and the topic was strengthening marriage.  The therapist offered three simple tips to help keep a marriage relationship strong.  These tips could also apply to a parent/child relationship if adapted.

1 – Express your love.  Express it verbally by looking for the good in your spouse and pointing it out.  Tell your husband what you love about him.  Point out the things your wife did during the day that pleased you.  Notice your spouse’s focus and ask them about it.  Say, “I love you.”  Express your love physically.  Hold hands.  Cuddle.  Hug.  Rub his/her back.  Kiss each other when departing for the day and then again when you return in the evening.

2 – Spend time together.  Have a weekly date night.  Take a walk around the neighborhood.  Cook a meal together.  Go for a ride to look at the view.  Once or twice a year take a weekend get-a-way.  Make your spouse your top priority.

3 – Talk.  During “relationship time” don’t talk about the stressful things in your life, save that for “problem solving time.”  Talk about your dreams and goals, and ask your spouse about his/hers.  Chat about the little things.  Share a funny story you heard.  Make up a marriage “bucket list.”  Share things from your childhood.  Offer to help your spouse with a task that needs to be done, no strings attached.  Talk about your dream vacation. 

Express your love.  Spend time together.  Talk.  

1,2,3…get to it!

The foundations of a mother/daughter relationship…

*Attending as many of her softball games as possible over the years–rain or shine.  Cheering her on.  Encouraging her when she’s down.  Helping her to own the problem when she is struggling with her skill level.   Giving in to your daughter’s insistence that you try chewing sunflower seeds and spitting the shells “like a pro” (which all softball players think they are) and having the seeds end up all over your chin because you are clueless on how to chew and spit sunflower seeds “like a pro” and then enduring your daughter’s laughter as she witnesses you failing to chew and spit sunflower seeds “like a pro.”  Enduring the teasing of the entire softball team as they see how slow you are at texting.  In other words, laughing at yourself with your daughter.  Sitting up late listening to your daughter after she has returned from a date fiasco.  Rubbing her back.  Letting her know that she is not a bad person.  Watching a movie with her at midnight because she can’t sleep because she’s too depressed after dealing with one of those “loser, infantile, idiots” called “teenage boy.”  Gently, but firmly insisting that the curfew be honored because you love her and don’t want her to get hurt.  Talking about the stupid things boys try.  Looking up boys in the yearbook with her so that she can show you which ones are cute.  Picking her up from school in the middle of the day when she calls and says she needs to talk.  And all the little things that add to the “emotional bank account”–helping with homework, buying her surprises, throwing a surprise birthday party, spending one-on-one time together, going for walks, sending emails, watching YouTube videos together, snacking late at night, praying with her, talking about God, laughing and crying together, asking her to put a “messy” bun in your hair because you like the way she does hers, shopping for new jeans and shoes, going to lunch, insisting that she do chores, letting her know she did a good job on her chores, letting her drive, bringing her a snack at work, texting her, getting to know her friends, inviting her friends to attend church with you, apologizing to her when you make a mistake, etc. 

…will help you get through the times your daughter…

*Makes choices that cause her pain.  Tries sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night.  Gets angry with you when you catch her trying to sneak out of the house.  Allows a certain 21 year old to manipulate her into believing things she knows deep down inside are not true.  Gets manipulated by said 21 year old into leaving the house in defiance of your rules.  Allows loser 21 year old to talk to you disrespectfully.  Loses her faith in God, you, and herself.  Tries to play the “18 card.”  As in, “I am 18 now.  I can do whatever I want.”  Which in turn causes you to implement such disciplinary actions as needed to help her see just how much an 18 year old who has yet to graduate from high school still needs her parents.

…and will play a role in her return when she…

*Finally recognizes the manipulations she has allowed herself to fall for.  Realizes that you aren’t as stupid and out of it as she thought.  Apologizes for her actions.  Begins to make the changes she needs to make in order to get her life back on track.

Build that foundation.  Keep it strong.  If the foundation is there, sooner or later, she will return!

I was recently given this poem and I liked it so much I thought I would share it here.  I don’t know who originally penned it; if anyone knows I will be happy to give credit where credit is due.



I read of a man who stood to speak

at the funeral of a friend.

He referred to the dates on her tombstone

from the beginning (dash) to the end.


He noted that first came the date of her birth

and spoke of the following date with tears,

but he said what mattered most of all

was the dash between those years.


For the dash represents all the time

that she spent alive on the earth…

and now only those who loved her

know what that little line is worth.


For it matters not, how much we own;

the cars…the house…the cash.

What matters is how we live and love

and how we spend our dash.


So think about this long and hard…

Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left.

(You could be at “dash mid-range.”)


If we could just slow down enough

to consider what’s true and real,

and always try to understand

the way other people feel.


And be less quick to anger,

and show appreciation more

and love the people in our lives

like we’ve never loved before.


If we treat each other with respect,

and more often wear a smile…

remembering that this special dash

might only last a little while.


So, when your eulogy’s being read

with your life’s actions to rehash…

Would you be proud of the things they say

about how you spent your dash?


In our “Marriage and Family Relations” class at church a few weeks ago the topic was “Forgiveness in Marriage.”  Both sides of forgiveness were discussed.  It is important to seek forgiveness from our spouse, to apologize when we recognize when we have done something wrong or see our part in a problem.  It is equally important to forgive our spouse when they come seeking forgiveness for something they have done.

Apologizing and not holding grudges–both an important part of a healthy marriage. 

One of the men in our class shared the way he seeks forgiveness from his wife.  When he recognizes that he has done something that has angered her or hurt her feelings or that has caused her difficulty, he comes to her and asks, “May I have a do-over?”  He seeks a second chance.  His message to her is that he sees that he did something inconsiderate but he values the relationship enough to want to still keep trying.  She always gives him the “do-over.”

I love that question.  “May I have a do-over?”  It might work in other situations as well.

With kids:  “Hey, I’m sorry I got impatient with you last night, may I have a do-over?”

                  “I’m sorry I forgot to pick you up from practice, may I have a do-over?”

                  “May I have a do-over?  I wasn’t at my parenting best a few minutes ago.”

In the workplace:  “I was a complete idiot.  May I have a do-over?”

In the neighborhood:  “My kids didn’t realize that throwing snails over the fence into your garden would annoy you.  May we have a do-over to show you that we are good neighbors?  They would like to sweep your walks for you.”

With a friend:  “My comment was thoughtless.  I should have been more considerate.  May I have a do-over as your friend?”

Of course, if we are seeking do-overs, we also need to be willing to give do-overs when they are requested of us.  Rather than holding a grudge it would be healthier to accept the apology and bequeath the do-over to the wrong-doer, and to keep things light-hearted, why not milk it a little bit?  I’m waiting for a future chance to say something like this to Hub, “Thank you for apologizing for —feel in the blank here–it makes me feel better when you apologize.  Yes, you may have a do-over as my beloved spouse.  And to make sure that I really feel better, I’m thinkin’ a thirty minute massage will feel really good right about now!” 

A do-over.  It works both ways.

This morning we had “Books and Breakfast” at Yawlin’s school.  I got a sub for my morning crossing so that I could join my son for muffins, milk, and bananas.  The PTA hosts “Books and Breakfast” so that parents can enjoy a breakfast with their kids and read with them at the same time. 

We got our food and found a spot at one of the lunch tables in the cafeteria.  Between bites Yawlin read to me from his chosen book, “Wall-E.”  I munched on my poppy seed muffin and listened to him read.  While I listened I looked around at the others who had chosen to participate in “Books and Breakfast” too.  The room was full of moms and dads enjoying breakfast with their kids.  Some were reading to their young kids from picture books, those with older kids were listening while their kids read to them.  Some chose not to read but were laughing and talking with their kids, calling their friends over and interacting with them.

I watched a dad who was sitting across from us point to pictures of animals in a picture book and tell his son a little about each animal.  Then I noticed a dad and son sitting further down on the same bench we were sitting on.  The dad was engrossed in a thick book, reading silently, not eating.  The son had finished his muffin and banana and was sitting watching his dad read.  Every once in awhile the son would glance at a sports watch he was wearing on his wrist then look around the room.  He was clearly bored.  The book the dad was reading was obviously an adult book and would have held no interest for the son.  The dad just sat and read the entire time. 

Just before the first bell was to ring the dad looked up at the clock on the wall and said, “It’s time to go.”  The dad and son rose from the bench and I saw that there was a daughter who had been sitting on the other side of the dad.  The angle from where we sat had hidden her from me.  She too had just been sitting and waiting for her dad to finish reading.  The dad tucked his thick book under his arm and walked toward the garbage cans so that his kids could throw their plates and cups away.  No words were spoken.

Somehow this dad had missed the point of “Books and Breakfast.”  He missed out on an opportunity to enjoy the company of his kids.  He could have learned what books his kids like to read.  He could have discussed plot and ideas and characters.  He could have met some of his kids’ friends.  Or he could have simply visited with his kids and strengthened the relationship.  

Russell M. Nelson witnessed a similar incident between a husband and wife.  His account is found in the May 2006 Ensign:  

“On a recent flight, I sat behind a husband and wife. She obviously loved her husband. As she stroked the back of his neck I could see her wedding ring. She would nestle close to him and rest her head upon his shoulder, seeking his companionship.

In contrast, he seemed totally oblivious to her presence. He was focused solely upon an electronic game player. During the entire flight, his attention was riveted upon that device. Not once did he look at her, speak to her, or acknowledge her yearning for affection.

His inattention made me feel like shouting: “Open your eyes, man! Can’t you see? Pay attention! Your wife loves you! She needs you!”

I feel sad for the missed opportunities that the dad this morning and the husband in Elder Nelson’s story experienced.  And they aren’t even aware that they missed opportunities to strengthen the relationships they have with loved ones!  But, rather than judge, I reflect instead on my own life.  How many times have I been too engrossed in a tv show or in reading the newspaper to really listen to what my kids are saying to me?  How many times have they heard me mumble, “Mmmhmm,” as I’ve continued with whatever is holding my attention, instead of stopping what I am doing and really listening?  Have there been times that I haven’t given Hub the attention he might be craving?

What I witnessed this morning has served as a gentle reminder for me to not let opportunities for building on a relationship pass by.  It has reminded me to pay attention!  

When Yawlin and I finished eating he continued to read to me from “Wall-E” because he wanted to finish the chapter.  When he was done I told him that he’s a great reader.  He smiled.  We threw our trash away and hugged, then he went out onto the playground to await the first bell and I went to the parking lot to get my car.  I knew I had a topic for today’s post.

A reminder for me.  A reminder for all of us.

“What?  Where does he got off saying that?”

Hub had warned me about the content of the email before he showed it to me, but I still reacted negatively.  How dare his brother accuse my husband of things that simply were not true?  I continued to read the email and every time I read a new accusation I reacted in the same way–with anger.

“He is so wrong!”  My voice was raising.  “I hope you are going to set him straight!”

Hub’s replies were always quiet.  He shared with me some of the ideas he had for his answering email.  By the time I finished reading the email I had had several outbursts.  Hub’s plan for dealing with it seemed right and would certainly calm things down.  He is so good that way.  As we finished our exchange in Hub’s home office I joked that the kids could probably hear my outbursts and probably thought we were fighting.

I walked into the kitchen where Squid and Mack were snacking on honeydew melon.  They both looked at me and then Mack asked somewhat hesitantly, “Soooo, what was all the yelling about?”

“Oh, I was upset about an email Uncle C sent to Hub.”

Squid was watching me intently.  “So you and my dad weren’t fighting?”

“No!  Heavens no!  I just don’t like some of the things Uncle C is accusing Hub of doing.  None of them are true.”

Mack and Squid visibly relaxed and went back to eating their honeydew melon.  Just as Hub walked into the kitchen, in walked Shroom from the computer room, one iPod ear bud hanging down and the other securely in place in his left ear.  Shroom looked at both of us and asked, “What was all the yelling about?”

I leaned against the counter.  “I wasn’t happy about some things Uncle C wrote about your dad.”

“Oh, so it wasn’t a fight?”

“No.”  I gestured towards Hub.  “I wasn’t yelling at him!  I was yelling at the computer, at an email on the computer.”

The image of me yelling at the computer must have been funny because all three kids laughed.

I continued, “And he wrote it in all caps!  He was yelling at my husband!  In an email!  And none of it was true!  No one yells at my husband!  They will face the wrath of Kweenmama!”

More laughter.  Hub told the kids a little about what was going on and then we all went about the evening’s business.  As I reflected on it later, I realized that my yelling at the computer probably caused some worry in our kids who heard it.  They have all experienced the divorce of their parents.  It would be natural for them to feel some anxiety if they hear what they perceive to be an argument between us.  Hub and I have tried to present a stable, normal relationship for the kids to see.  In past conversations with the kids, and in comments we’ve heard in passing, we know the kids feel secure in our relationship.  They feel safe here.  It is unfortunate that they don’t feel the same way when they are with their other parents.  I feel sad that my negative reaction caused some unnecessary worry in some of our kids.

I will make more of a conscious effort to keep my voice down, even if I am dealing with a snotty, untrue email written in ALL CAPS!