Back in College Again

Friends…thanks for your grace…it is always my intention to keep this blog up to date and to share articles about real things including my family updates but so much more than that. Well, the last few weeks have been intense with ending the year and getting ready for my classes and taking my classes, and the blog has been last on the to-do list. Yes, even this achiever super-motivated to-do list girl can’t get it all done. So, bear with this long family update and less posts over the next few weeks (I still have a month left of classes/reading/assignments) and I will get back to your regularly scheduled programming 🙂

This is the stack of books I have had to read or use in my classes this summer. I had to read ALL of Grasping God’s Word and Old Testament Today. The classes are going really well and I am loving learning, but it is definitely hard to stretch this old muscle of reading/studying/writing papers and I feel like I am back in college again.

In lieu of finishing my 12 page paper this past Saturday, I got to play and relax this weekend with the family. It was so great to be able to spend time with friends, take a visit to the zoo and amusement park, enjoy a Memorial Day parade in our little neighborhood, go to the beach, cookout on a grill that we found at a steal at a yard sale, and enjoy this little pool that a friend gave us. I am so thankful for those who have served to make this freedom possible for us and I was also feeling thankful for so many things on Memorial Day that made the day feel like we were “home” and not in a strange, huge city where we don’t know anyone. Sweet Kinsley kept commenting about how the beach was so clean and there wasn’t much trash…sweet NYC kid who is used to trash everywhere!

In addition to the filming of the tv show that they did on our street, we also found out that “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was being filmed in the house that is just around the corner from the girls’ school today. They had all these old-fashioned cars and people dressed like they were way back in the day. I may or may not have walked by there like 5 times today to try and get a glimpse of Mrs. Maisel…didn’t happen, but we heard they will be back to film again at that house, so here’s to hoping…

And then on to other random pics from the last few weeks…

When I was pregnant with Brynn and before we found out what we were having, if I was honest, I really wanted a boy so that Blake would have a buddy to play with. God answered that prayer in such a surprising way. These two are best buddies and have such fun playing together…I seriously LOVE it and can’t get enough. She isn’t going to know what to do when he goes off to school next year.

Ed got to attend the commissioning for Jake, one of our students who is graduating and is going full-time with the army. Ed has loved connecting with him these last few years and is excited to see how God uses Jake in Germany this next year.

Our house has been filled with LOTS of games and time spent outside enjoying the warmer weather. While I am growing very tired with Zingo and Uno, it’s a nice change up from light saber battles and gun fights :).

How our kids watch TV…so creative!

Mommy and daddy all dressed up going out with friends to our annual Cru Vision Dinner. It was such a fun evening dressed up with somewhere to go! Love these friends!

Another Year Down

Well, the 2018-2019 college school year is officially in the books. These past few weeks, we had our end of year planning, senior send-offs, last meetings of the semester, and our end of the year team social.

Let me share some of the highlights from the year:

  • We saw 8 new believers this year and of the 8, 4 got involved and stuck around. This has been a real sticking point for us and something we were majorly trusting God for this year – for students that make decisions for Christ to stay involved and get plugged in with campus community and their own church.
  • We had 644 spiritual conversations and the Gospel was shared 178 times!
  • We had 7 freshmen get and stay involved – this was another area were we had struggled and were trusting God for growth and He did it!!
  • We currently have 4 movements launched – Queens College, SJU Cru, SJU AIA, and SJU Valor.
  • We have 4 students going on a summer mission (some with Cru and some with outside organizations) and 5 seniors being sent after graduation to their full-time workplace (one with EY in NY, one with a job at Facebook, one in the Army).
  • We had 9 students aligned and multiplying their lives into others on their campus.
  • We have 1 guy who graduated from Queens College going back to serve another year at a country in the Middle East, before coming back for medical school.
  • For me personally, re-engaging more on campus and being able to coach and connect with a lady on our staff team to help her on campus has been a HUGE highlight. I have loved interacting with students regularly, challenging myself, and stretching and working a muscle that I haven’t regularly used in a long time. It has been a highlight for me!

But, even with all the amazing things that have happened on campus this year and students lives’, this year has been a tough and emotional and exhausting one (especially this semester). After all the drama at St. John’s with getting kicked off (picture below is from the first time we were kicked off during an activity fair), making strides in becoming a group, AIA trying to be pushed through, us potentially being vetted, and so much more, we ended the year on a low note. After a meeting this week, we are VERY unsure what is going to happen with any of our ministries at St. John’s. While we have people in our corner and AIA is very much wanted there, we are still getting lots of kick back and being told we have to be an official group, if the university would even approve us, and staff may never be allowed to be freely on campus. There are lots of conversations happening right now between our staff, Intervarsity staff (IV used to be here and was at one time an approved organization even though they are inactive), campus ministry people, the head priest for athletes, athletes themselves, others in the athletic department, and so on and so forth.

Would you please pray for alignment and partnership with Intervarsity, for paths to be cleared for us to become official on campus, that AIA people won’t decide to just do athlete ministry without us, and for our students (and for the Lord to add even more students!) to passionately fight for a group like Cru and AIA on campus where they can practice their beliefs? This break and what happens at the beginning of the school year can go one of about 7 different ways and can make or break whether we are allowed on campus. God isn’t held back by campus administrations, rules, politics, hesitations from people, or anything of the sort and we desperately need Him to move and pave a way for us on campus. The spiritual warfare has been strong but GOD has and will have victory!

So, whats next for us?

Reading all/almost all of these books. With Cru, we have to take seminary-level courses to keep with our ongoing development AND to comply with IRS standards. Ed has to finish his final class (just one!) this summer and because I usually was watching the kids while he did his courses, I have to start working on completing mine this summer by taking 3 classes. Normally, we would travel to Colorado to take them, but because they didn’t have any apartments or housing to offer to large families, they are allowing us to take the classes virtually, with the exception of one class I have to take in Austin in June. So, Ed and I will switch places a little this summer as he studies and continues to work but steps in more with the kids so I can complete my classes. As you can see, it is a LOT of reading and work and I will be stretching another muscle I haven’t used in a while. Excited to learn but nervous about balancing it all!

Then, in July, we will travel to South Carolina to meet with ministry partners and then travel to Colorado for our bi-annual national staff conference. We are pretty exhausted from the school year and are excited to switch gears for a few months. Thank you for your partnership, prayers, and for another great school year down! Praying for bigger things to come….

Eggs, Planes, and Buckeyes

Most people have traditions. Growing up, my family was no different. For Easter, we would go to church, afterwards gather as family, have a traditional Easter meal (ham or turkey, rice and gravy, mac and cheese, deviled eggs, dessert), and hunt eggs together as we talked about what we got in our baskets. Most Easters, though we haven’t always had family around, we have done something similar. This year, however, that was not the case.

We joined with some friends after church, had hot dogs and hamburgers, mac and cheese (I had to throw something a little southern in there), chips, salsa, guac, some other sides, and a good Easter cake. We didn’t even do egg hunts. While it was so much fun, it left something missing for me as I felt “off” all day. Here’s to new traditions….

Thanks to Spring Break and freer weekends, we have had a chance to do some fun things in the city – like going to the American Museum of Natural History (along with the rest of New York City!) and checking out their T Rex exhibit, Butterfly Conservatory, and getting to explore in their discovery room – and visiting the Queens Zoo with friends (and the rest of Queens – notice a trend at Spring Break?).

This weekend, we headed to Columbus, Ohio to visit Ed’s family (which some of we haven’t seen in 4 years!) and travel to Cincinnati to attend our sweet friend, Marie’s, wedding. We loved celebrating with Marie and Andrew and also loved getting to see Ed’s family – killing two birds with one stone.

Our trip to Ohio was insane. We arrived at the airport by Uber, realized at bag check that not only had we left our front curtains open, but I had left my cell phone at our house. Ed traveled back to get them and try to be back in time to make our flight, and I continued through bag check and security with all the kids. Thankfully, we have TSA Pre-check so it wasn’t as insane (except Emerson and our car seat set off the detector and had to go through extra checks). Ed arrived at the airport right as we were changing gates and in time. THEN, we learn that our flight was delayed because our plane was broken and they were fixing it. Then, they said it was fixed, they started loading, and then suddenly stopped. Then, after a little while, they unloaded the people who had loaded and said they were switching our gates. Turns out, they fixed our plane but because another plane was broke with a crew that was headed on to 3 more stops that day, they gave them our plane and we got another broke plane (Columbus was our crew’s last stop). Then, we finally get on the plane and the rain picked up and then we started seeing lightening and were delayed because of weather. Finally, when the weather delay ended, we started moving out only to have the pilot stop us YET AGAIN to tell us that they had forgotten to switch our luggage from the last plane and had to go back in to do that. We FINALLY got in the air only to have extreme turbulence. Thankfully, it didn’t last super long and the kids did great. They said for our inconvenience, they were giving us anything we wanted on the flight free, but the irony is that it was so turbulent, they didn’t even give us drink or food service. AND, when we got our luggage, it had been left in the rain and soaked through. Great job, Delta. We have had great service on every other flight of theirs, so I am hoping it was a one time thing, or at least once in a blue moon.

Here are pics from our trip to Ohio- finally getting in our rental car, visiting with family (including lots I didn’t get pics of!), visiting Ohio State stadium and campus, going to the wedding, visiting Ed’s cousin’s farm (including what city kids do without rainboots when its muddy), and Brynn getting stuck in our trash can lid.

School started back today so the fun is over 🙁 . But in good news, summer is SOOOO close!!

A Week of Highs and Lows

When I think of how I would describe our last few weeks (heck, months even), I think of a rollercoaster…weeks are filled with high highs and low lows. I know this is true for most people and their lives, but it has felt more intense than normal these last few weeks (months).

Let me start with the low lows – Friends struggling with some pretty heavy things that I am entering into with them, having lots of hard conflict resolution conversations that are no fun but so needed, losing monthly partners with ministry partner development in our ministry, hard character things with kids that we are dealing with, and then most recently, more drama with St. John’s administration.

Lows – This past week, I went on campus with one of our staff ladies. As I was traveling to campus, I talked with our advisor who is actually a close friend of mine, and she warned me to be careful on campus that day because at the end of the previous week, some people were arrested for coming on campus and trying to sex traffic students under the ruse of having a Bible study. An email had been sent to students and students were told to be on high alert against anything weird. We met with a senior soccer girl for discipleship, we met to do a little coaching/training for her, and we had a great spiritual conversation with a boy and a girl. Then, I left campus to come home and she stayed to help a track girl prepare Bible study for the following evening’s AIA meeting. While they were meeting, campus security approached her and asked her to come to public safety office because someone had called in that we were looking suspicious. They essentially said that she hadn’t been vetted through campus ministry and she was put on the “No Trespassing List” and would have to leave campus and if they caught her on campus with her name on the list, she would be arrested. So….she went off campus to meet with the student.

After LOTS of convos there and since then, it will be a process to get her name taken off the list and she will likely not make it back on campus this semester. It is way complicated, there are lots of miscommunication, and though we somewhat have approval to be there, it hasn’t all been ironed out. Because of that, Ed is also being really cautious to only be on campus meeting with our students and has pulled back a ton from St. Johns. The great news in all of this is that AIA is getting approval to be an official organization under the Athletic Department, that there is someone in the athletic department who was involved with AIA at Rudgers and wants to help out, and that when AIA is approved, Ed and Erin (and possibly me as well) will have full access on campus through AIA, even if not through Cru. But again, highs and lows, even with her getting kicked off campus and AIA getting pushed through.

Highs – We got to experience a TV show first hand this week!  Last Monday, we started seeing signs go up for a TV show they were shooting on our block. Not a biggie, we see that all the time around here. Then, on Tuesday, they approached our house and asked us to move our car back in the driveway so its not visible since the show is based in the 1940s. They handed us a flyer saying what the show was and what it was about. Then, on Wednesday, they ask us if they can put a light in our front window and put a period car in our driveway, for a price of course (meaning they paid us for it). We said yes. Then, on Thursday, they started fixing up the inside and outside of the house on our corner that they were going to use in the show, including putting a Christmas tree inside, planting plants outside, and changing everything including the curtains.

Then, on Friday, they asked if they could use our bathroom all day for the crew to use the bathroom while setting up. Sure, we said! Who minds awkward when you are getting paid for it? Then, that night, they asked to rent our living room for the cast and crew to sit in between takes. They ended up using a bunch of other houses as well on our block so they only used ours for equipment and a person to do some downloading and editing of the film, but it was still cool for Ed to talk to them and hear more about what the process. They are shooting 100 days and this was only day 3, and because they hadn’t worked out all the kinks and were behind schedule, they didn’t finish shooting until 2 that morning. Poor Ed stayed up with them…though the excitement made it hard to sleep. Check out these fun pics of the cars, how bright our street was, the shoot at the house, and them taking away some of the cars the next day.

Early Friday morning set-up.

Cars arriving.

Check out how they changed the stop signs to make it look more antique. So fun!  Anyways, it was neat to see the process and it amazes me every time to see how much work goes into just one scene. Most people think TV and movie is so glamorous, but they were in the pouring rain, working insane hours, and so much work goes into it for just a little output. Whew!!

Our Week(s) in Pictures

Because I have been posting so much about the St. John’s drama, we haven’t posted many family photos or updates on what we have been doing. So, hold on to your seats and be prepared for LOTS!!

This sweet first-born of ours turned 9!!  Oh man, I about flipped out when I realized that is halfway to 18!  She is so kind and considerate of others, she is super helpful, she is able to socialize with anyone and never meets a stranger, she loves schedules and routines and comfort, she likes for others to do what they are supposed to be doing and has no problem bossing them around, and she loves one-on-one time. I love seeing her heart for the Lord grow and I pray that continues as she grows more independent.

She wanted to go the bounce house place, have an Incredible cake with a 9 on top, and she loved her older girl presents like a journal, alarm clock, and shirt.

Ed got to go with a friend to the NY Rangers game as his belated birthday gift. AND he finished another half marathon – the NYC Half. How fun that they run right through Times Square? We finally got to go and cheer him on and it was all fun and games until we noticed the dead rat on the sidewalk next to us 🙁

I had to say goodbye for now to a very dear friend of mine – Marie. Marie became a part of our family when she would come over and help with the kids and Brynn after I had Brynn, especially when Ed was away during the evening or had long hours. She loved holding and rocking Brynn and loved on my other kiddos when momma was busy feeding. Since then, we have shared so many great talks, fun times and laughs, and I have loved seeing her fall in love with a Boston man. She was a true gift to me – I value her friendship and will miss having her “nearby”. She is getting married this month to him and while are so excited for this next step for her, it meant moving to be near him. 🙁

My friend Jane and I took a long overdue trip to Scarsdale, NY (about 45 minutes north of NYC) to visit a close friend who moved away last year. Esther and I met through moms group shortly after moving to NYC and became fast friends. She is hilarious, authentic, direct, intentional, and a phenomenal cook! Jane met her at a mom’s night out we had and they quickly bonded. We have been joking about heading north to visit for a while, but I finally worked up the courage to drive further than my neighborhood (NY drivers are NUTS and their roads and directions are SO tricky!) So, these pictures are from our visit – complete with food of course since she knows how to do it right.

The last two weeks have been warmer temperatures, which have been very greatly welcomed!  When the winter starts wearing off, the sun starts coming out, and the weather gets warmer, I think we live outside. Here is Kinsley enjoying her new bike and Ed enjoying good weather to use our steal-of-a-deal yard sale find grill in – accompanied by Blake’s grill, of course.

Blake loves helping Ed out in the mornings when Ed runs sound at our church.

We have made some delicious food – the first picture is pileau – a South Carolina lowcountry favorite which Ed is slowly perfecting to taste like my dads. The second is my attempt at making Pad See Ew. I got Ed to go by an Asian market to pick them up when he left church and he definitely had a cultural experience as most of the people inside didn’t speak English and he was the only white person there. BUT, ya’ll, let me tell you, these fresh noodles that we used were AMAZING!!  I used oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, rice noodles which are ingredients I had never heard of, tried something new, and it was edible! So fun to be able to make authentic dishes with authentic ingredients.

This weekend, some friends from our small group invited us to travel out to Long Island with them to a State Park for the day. They did a great job planning a trip that had something for everyone to do and enjoy. They had fishing (which the kids enjoyed even though they didn’t catch ANYTHING), they had playgrounds, they had plenty of grass to run around in and play sports in, AND they had mud. Man, did I cringe at the mess that was made but of course, it was the kids’ highlight.

More adventures to come!!!

 

St. John’s Update

Thank you all so much for your prayers for the meeting last Thursday at St. Johns. We definitely felt the impact of so many praying for us.

Jake is one of our student leaders at St. Johns. He is a senior in the ROTC program at St. Johns and he will be in the military when he graduates. He has been very influential during his time at St. John’s, and while we were already so thankful for him, his meeting last Thursday left a legacy that will hopefully follow after he is gone.

When Jake walked in to meet Tori, he was amazed at how kind she was and how much she keep reiterating that she was for Cru at St. John’s. 40% of the student population considers themselves Catholic (though not all are practicing Catholics) and the next highest group is Protestant Christians, so she recognizes there is a need for our group on campus. As Tori learned more about the staff who are coming onto the campus, how we got there (students invited us), how we go about having spiritual conversations, how we personally know our faculty advisor, etc., Tori said we were fine to come on campus and operate as we have been (meaning reserving rooms and talking to people about spiritual things) and that if anyone gives us a hard time, we can tell them she said it was okay. She also knows Cru and respects what we do across the world, so that is in our favor.

However, because we, as well as 4 other groups on campus, aren’t official organizations, they are having a meeting next week with people higher up to talk about how to handle it and what the limitations will be (such as maybe we would be able to reserve rooms but not be at official events). She suggested we try to become an organization and she gave some guidance on how that could potentially happen (a little more complicated in practice than in saying it).

Would you pray for that meeting this week that they will be having? Would you pray for wisdom as we try to decide if we can indeed become an official organization? Would you pray for more student leaders as we can’t officially become an organization without more of them and having some of them return next year (most of ours with AIA and Cru are seniors)? Thank you for partnering with us and praying for God to move mountains at St. John’s!

 

We Need You….

If you have read this blog or read our prayer letters over the last few months or seen us in person, we have probably shared about some of the issues we are having with the administration, and particularly the Catholic campus ministry, at St. John’s University. St. John’s is a private catholic school and they have tight control on what groups can and can’t become organizations. There is currently no group that is a place for protestant students to practice their faith, so when we were approached by students to mentor and lead them and help provide that, we jumped on it.

However, we have consistently faced opposition from the campus ministry – them telling students behind our backs not to get involved with us, kicking us out of rooms, kicking us off campus during the student activity fair even though we had permission to be there, campus security calling our advisor and trying to take away the room she had reserved for our students, and even telling staff and our spring break students (who came from other campuses) that they would have to leave because they aren’t allowed there. It is quite a lengthy process to become an organization and at any point, they can block us and not allow it. In fact, we were told that only 4 groups were given organization status last year out of 80 that applied.

After much prayer, deliberation, talking to Cru’s legal department, we have decided the best thing moving forward was for our students to meet with the associate vice president for campus ministry (she hasn’t returned any of the staff’s or our advisor’s phone calls or emails about meeting with her) and present their case. They are going to share about how they have invited us on campus (campus ministry thinks we just showed up and started recruiting students), how they want us to mentor and advise them, and how they want a place to practice their faith just as other religious groups on campus like the Muslim group. They also want to be afforded the same privileges to reserve rooms and hold events as are other groups that aren’t official organizations, if we can’t become an organization.

Here is where we need you!!  We desperately need prayer warriors who will intercede for us –

  • pray for Jake (second from the left in the top row) and Mecara and Ann-Marie (in the front row in the red shirt and the colorful sweater respectively) as they share their hearts and their desire that their school, who prides themselves on diversity, will in fact allow them a place to practice their faith with other students and that they would have power, wisdom, and restraint in what they say;
  • pray for the associate vice president on campus ministry, that her heart will be softened and she will have understanding about how Cru came to be at St. John’s (we were invited) and that the staff are only coaching the students to lead everything;
  • pray for resolution and that it will provide clarity and next steps as to what we are allowed to do on campus and what we can do as a group on campus and that we won’t be singled out as the group to get rid of;
  • pray that God will even go beyond this and allow this conversation to usher in a time where we partner WITH the campus ministry and work in good standing together to serve the campus; pray that this conversation doesn’t hinder all the good things happening on campus with AIA and Valor (ROTC students);
  • pray that no matter what happens, we will continue to trust that God is good, that He loves St. John’s and their students even more than we do, that His timing and ways are perfect, and He is in control.

We were reminded a long time ago that when we consider the ministry partners, friends, and family we have, we have nothing short of a small army praying for us. Please join with us in praying that God will move mountains and pave a way through at St. Johns!

Spring Break wk 1 DONE!

While some kids head to the beach to party and sit on the beach for their Spring Breaks, over 100 students decided to come to NYC to be missionaries for the week as they reached out to other college students. NYC staff hosted/will host college students from all around the country for two weeks and the first week is done!!

This first week was really fun for us as we had a lot of students from the South, including Ben (on the left in the glasses below) and Matthew (right behind Ed). Ben, who I have mentioned before, goes to University of South Carolina, is the brother of my brother’s college roommate, and has been in NYC for the past two summers on summer mission with us. He brought along 5 other guys from USC with him, and one of those guys was Matthew. Matthew is from my hometown, his mom was a teacher of mine in high school, and his parents are ministry partners with us. It was so fun that they were in NYC doing ministry with us, but even more fun that they got to go on campus with Ed almost every day AND got to come eat breakfast at our house one morning. It was also nice to have good, Southern people around 😉

Unfortunately, they did run into opposition from the administration at St. Johns, which we are continuing to experience, so please pray with us that our students at SJU are able to meet with the powers that be and smooth things over, and that we are allowed to remain on campus at SJU.

Over the week, students were trained in effectively sharing their faith, they attended a weekly meeting at NYU, they went on campus 3 days to share their faith, they partnered with other Cru ministries in the city to be exposed to and to serve with them, and they had free time to explore the city. They even saw 11 students place their faith in Christ!  Hopefully, local staff will be able to followup with discipleship with these students and get them plugged into a local church and a local body of believers.

We also had another big happening in our family this week – this man turned 36!  So thankful for him and his willingness to serve and provide for our family. We get to go cheer him on in a half-marathon in the city tomorrow morning.

I also attended a workshop about testing anxiety at Kinsley’s school. NYC is intense with their education and testing. With so many high achieving parents and surrounded by cultures that are really focused on grades and achievement, kids here are driven to succeed and there is lots of pressure to do well. Starting in 3rd grade, students undergo state testing in Language Arts and Math and the school’s ranking is determined by how well students do (aka lots of pressure to do well from the school as well!) and then in 4th grade, the scores students can determine where they go to middle school. Getting into high school here is like college application time, with schools sometimes requiring interviews, essays, portfolios, try outs, etc. Needless to say, poor Kinsley, our over achiever, type A, worrier, has already been stressing about the test since its pretty much all she has heard about all year. So, I went to this workshop hoping it would help me to help her better. It was good and I walked away with quite a few takeaways. Thankful for things like this that help us to help our kids, especially when anxiety and stress are so prevalent in our young people.

On to week 2 of Spring Break…..

Latest Happenings

It has been a full week and a half since returning back from Disney. Rather than bore you with all the details (you wanna hear about our dentist appointment or how much snow we have gotten?), I will show you a few highlights in pictures.

For part of my birthday present, we scored tickets to see the New York City ballet. This was a bucket list item for me so I convinced Ed to tag along 😉 It was so beautiful to watch them perform and I am so amazed at their talent to stand on their toes for about 2 hours straight. It was a performance of Sleeping Beauty and we found a great deal on our tickets so I wasn’t sure how good they would be, but it was perfect. The scenery at Lincoln Center was also amazing.

This little one is officially potty trained!!  We have been wanting to train her for a few months as she has been showing signs (asking to use the potty, aware of when she goes in her diaper, etc.), but we didn’t want to do it before Disney, so literally, the day after we got back, we began. It took her about 5 days to fully get it, including a regression after the first day when we went from a bare bottom to underwear, but she finally go the hang of it and is now telling us when she needs to go. Whew – those 5 days though are rough – I forget with every kid just how much I hate them! Just diapers at nap and night…so close to being done with diapers FOR GOOD!!

We had a little going away party at our house for Stephanie and Fady, who are leaving our small group because they are moving to Philly for a new job. They were the first ones in our church small group and are so near and dear to our family. In fact, our girls got dressed in their pretty dresses for their going away party. We already do and will continue to miss them – things won’t be the same without your smile, your directness, your kindness, and your laughter!

We had the head priest for the athletic department at St. John’s, Father Rock, join our Athletes in Action Bible study last week. Mecara, one of our student athletes, lead the Bible study and did a phenomenal job! Because AIA is newer and because we aren’t an official organization, we were a little nervous about what Father Rock would say about the Bible study and AIA. Turns out, he is super supportive and wants to push to make us an official organization and get the word out to other teams that we are at St. John’s so other athletes can join in.

We have been trying to win Hamilton lottery tickets since we moved here (tickets to see the broadway show Hamilton with usually great seats at only $10 a person!). We have friends who have won it before and got amazing seats up close to the stage, so we figured that at some point we would win it, right?

Saturday was our time and Ed won after entering!  Even better than winning was having some amazing friends babysit our kids – they had been offering for a while and it just so turns out (coincidence? I think not!) they were available Saturday as well. I did feel bad that they had the kids for like 5.5 hours since Hamilton is 3 hours long, but they were troopers and we are so grateful to them for making it possible. When we got to will call to pick up our tickets they handed us a little piece of paper that said “No drinks in the front row” so we knew we were in the front row, but we were even more shocked that we were front and in the middle. Literally, were you see us in that picture above? That is where our seats were. We got to see them dance, spit on each other (seriously, that close!), sweat, and even got to see the top of the head of the guy who lead the orchestra/band. It was SOOOOO good and I would have paid way more than $20 to see it. That picture above shows what tickets were going for on the day of the performance. So thankful for this very sweet blessing from the Lord!

And lastly, I finally caved into my family’s wishes and started watching Star Wars with them. Correction – they have seen them all but I refused to watch them and get sucked in and thought I wouldn’t like it. But after Hollywood Studios and all my kids loving it (and my mom’s push that I will probably really like them), I decided to give in. They have loved helping mommy discover and understand all things Star Wars.

Today, the kids are home from school due to our first snow day of the year, so I have to go referee some more, but more updates to come!!

The Most Magical Place

We have been saving, planning, preparing, and dreaming about this last week for a long time – and it finally happened!  We took the kids to Disney! We are so grateful to so many people who made it happen – Ed’s parents for donating time at their timeshare to give us a place to stay, Shane and Ann for donating 2 airline flights to make our trip down more affordable, my parents for meeting us and dealing with the crazy and letting us pile into their car for the week so we could avoid a rental car…it wouldn’t have happened without all these pieces coming together. We wanted to go when our kids could remember it, and while Brynn is still a little young and most likely won’t, we didn’t want to want a year or two because then Kinsley would be too old to really enjoy the princesses and magic of it all. But, overall, our kids were at a great age and we are so glad we did it now.

I was a little anxious about flying with Brynn, especially since our last flight was marked by her screaming for the last 15 minutes uncontrollably. But, overall, she did great and what a difference 6 months makes when flying with toddlers/babies. We went to Magic Kingdom one day, Animal Kingdom one day, and Hollywood Studios one day. While we enjoyed all the parks, Hollywood Studios was probably our first favorite, followed closely by the Magic Kingdom. We went to Magic Kingdom on one of the busiest days of the year (we didn’t know this when we booked it!) and I think had it not been as busy, it may have been our favorite.

Before I share an overload of pictures, let me give you some of the lessons/tips I learned from our trip.

1 – If you need a double stroller and don’t want to fly with yours, I would highly recommend renting one. We used Kingdom Strollers and their price was pretty comparable to the price of renting strollers in the park, but you got a nicer stroller with storage underneath, they deliver to your resort and pick it up when you are done, and you can use the stroller when you are commuting from your cars to the park (versus the park strollers which you can only get once you get into the park). It was worth paying not to have to lug our huge double through the airport.

2 – You can’t do it all. Seriously. There were things at almost all the parks that we wish we had time to do, or things that the adults would have liked to do but waiting in line for an hour to an hour and a half didn’t jive with their schedules or what the kids needed. Unless you go when the park is just dead (is that ever??!??), you will not be able to do it all and will need to prioritize what you what to do. Especially if you aren’t spending multiple days at the park.

3 – Were I to go back again, I would consider staying at a property on the resort. I know, I know…it is so much more expensive than staying off property. But, when you have small kids, staying really close by and being able to get back for naps or get to the park quickly is a huge plus. And, if you stay at a resort property, you get to reserve fast passes 60 days in advance vs. those who stay off property can only do them 30 days in advance. When I could book 30 days in advance, fast passes for the really popular rides were all gone and when we got to the park, if we had fast passes for some of those things, it would have meant getting to ride them versus not getting to ride them at all. Plus, some of the parks have early hours for resort guests and this would have been a huge perk. I think I would consider this option more if we ever went back.

4 – If you are staying more than 3 days, especially with littles, I would recommend having a rest day in between park days. By the end of day 3, we were whipped and it has taken us multiple days since getting back to feel back to normal. It would have been nice to have 2-3 days at parks, then a rest day, and then another day at a park.

5 – If the park is busy, take advantage of all the ways you can ride rides. Fast pass, single rider line, parent swap so after one parent waits in line, the other parent can go straight to the front of the line (made for those with little kids that can’t ride the rides).We didn’t realize or think about a lot of these things until the very last day and had we thought or taken advantage of them more, I think we would have gotten to ride more, even with little kids.

6 – Disney is SO expensive but there are so many resources out there that share how to save money. Bringing in your own lunch and drinks, staying off site and not at the resorts, online sites to buy discounted entrance tickets, so on and so forth. It is worth it to do your research as every little bit counts.

So, now for the abundance of Disney pictures (sorry it will make this post really long!)

Emerson loved Space Mountain with Ed, even after waiting over 2 hours to ride.

Can you tell the grumpy ones in this pic? At this moment, Disney was not the most magical place for them.

What to do when waiting in line? Selfies, of course.

Brynn LOVED meeting Mickey and Minnie – she jumped up and down and grinned from ear to ear. The day before, she ran from all the princesses, but when she meet Mickey and Minnie, she ran straight into their arms.

This picture just shows how you have to learn to love each of your children where they are at – Emerson wanted to ride ALL the rides, Blake wanted to meet Kylo Ren and the Star Wars characters, and Kinsley was so excited about collecting all these badges for doing different things at Animal Kingdom and learning about different things. None of the other kids wanted anything to do with these badges, but it was a highlight for Kinsley.

She just HAD to get this Mickey that was just as big as her. We all enjoyed going on an African safari.

Emerson didn’t so much love Tower of Terror – and lets be honest, a ride I used to love I now hate. Funny how things change over time.

Dancing with the Incredibles. Our kids are obsessed with the Incredibles right now. And Star Wars. Hence the reason that Hollywood Studios was their favorite.

We were first in line to see Sofia the First so the girls got to walk her in – it was a highlight for them.

I love how he signed his autograph so he could see. So many of the characters struggled to sign and a few didn’t sign – for instance, Olaf couldn’t read of write and Kylo Ren and Chewie didn’t sign so the other couldn’t “see” their enemy was next door. When the characters didn’t sign, their reasons were creative, to say the least.

Toy Story Land was one of our favorite areas because it is so fun and bright. This ride, Toy Story Mania, was probably one of my favorites out of all the parks – its a shooting game that is fun for everyone in the family.

Because my birthday was the day we headed home, we went to eat Japanese our last night to celebrate. It was good but not as good as our local place in Myrtle Beach that we love so much. It was still fun to celebrate with my family and to feel loved and celebrated. Notice the Mickey ears made of rice?

The kids loved swimming in the pool any free time we got. Which wasn’t a lot, but they fit it in somehow.

For our trip home, we were supposed to fly out about midday on my birthday, but we started getting travel alerts that winter weather was going to hit in NYC, so we got moved to an earlier flight. Blake watched Star Wars while playing with his Star Wars characters on the way home. About an hour after getting back in NYC, it started snowing. It was so weird that the kids went from 80 degree short sleeve, short pant weather to THIS. Ahhh, welcome back, NYC.