it doesn’t get any better

Our family just got back from a vacation to Florida.  The focus of our vacation was visiting Walt Disney World.  We are BIG into Disney.  Obsessed even?  Yes,  completely.  It is the most magical place on earth!

One thing we have always done on our trips to Disney is stay ‘on property’. There are certain perks that come with staying in one of their resorts; like extra magic hours or fun pools or proximity to parks.  Less hassle if you will.

Or so we thought.

All Star Vacation Homes

 

Since we are now a family of seven, staying on property was just too expensive.  We would have to either get a suite or two separate rooms, which meant we were looking at $800-$2500 a night.  A NIGHT.  (and a logistical nightmare)  Even if we did look for the cheapest property that Disney had to offer, what that meant was very small rooms with very few amenities.  Basically a bed in a room with a bathroom four feet away.

Picture it.  Mom trying to sooth baby to sleep as a toddler bounces off the walls from all the sugar he ate in Disney and the rest of the kids are whining and crying all wanting to watch a different show on TV or being upset they have to wait for the bathroom or just generally sick of each others company.  All in a tiny hotel room.  For five days straight.

As anyone with children knows, that seems more like a nightmare than a dream vacation.

So my sister and her husband Kurt came up with this idea.  Lets rent a house near Disney.

Al Star Vacation Homes

 They did extensive research and settled upon the highly rated All Star Vacation Homes.  Then they focused of the rest of the details;  how many bedrooms, bathrooms, pool, kitchen size, etc.

All Star Vacation Homes

 

All in all it was my family (7), my sisters family (3), and my mom and dad (2).  Twelve people total.

Angie and Kurt ended up finding and reserving a home that exceeded all of our expectations.  I can’t wait to tell you how much this beautiful mansion cost us.  (Read on to find out!)

They found a beautiful home that had two master suites and an addition beautiful bedroom as well as two themed kids rooms.  Each family had their own space!

All Star Vacation Resorts

We had a fully furnished kitchen to meander into in the mornings.  I quite fondly remember being woken up by the familiar hum of the Keurig machine when my husband brewed himself a cup.  We could brew a cup of our favorite flavor, sit out by the pool and watch a glorious sunrise every single morning.

Sunrise from our All Star Vacation Home

And we could do all that while others slept in and enjoyed a few extra minutes of undisturbed sleep.  Try doing that in a cramped hotel room!

All Star Vacation Homes

The house also had an AWESOME kids suite with bunk beds and media center and the best Giant lego set.

All Star Vacation Homes

 

And a princess suite with a castle bed and the cutest chandelier ever.  The kid in me was just as excited by this room as my little girl was!

All Star Vacation Homes

 As if the adorable kids bedrooms weren’t enough, there was also a playground in our enclosed yard!

Right next to the pool!

All Star Vacation Homes

I mentioned above that we are a Disney family.  We LOVE Disney and every wonderful ride and experience it offers.  The whole reason we got the house was to be able to go to Disney!  But do you know what?  My kids favorite part of the vacation was this pool.

And honestly, I don’t typically relax at a public pool.  I am very concerned that my kids don’t splash others and am usually watching their every move making sure they are safe and courteous at all times.  With this being our very own pool, I actually sat back and let the kids be kids.  They screamed and splashed and jumped in and had SO MUCH FUN!  (It also helped that the pool was completely enclosed within a security gate and that there were pool alarms in every door with a backyard access.  VERY helpful with little kids!)

All Star Vacation Homes

 

And to top it all off, we were LESS than 10 minutes from Disney World!  It was a shorter drive from our house to the Animal Kingdom than when we actually stayed at Disney Beach Club!

All of these things truly made for a fabulous, fun filled vacation.  You are probably thinking that you could never afford this.  I know I thought that when we first looked at the images online.  But guess what?  This stunning luxury home was LESS than $400 a night.  After we divided that cost between three families, our share was less than $250 a night.  For a family of seven!!

I still can’t get my head around that.

Staying in a luxury home for our vacation is one of the best decisions we could have made.  I highly recommend them for anyone interested in a luxury Disney vacation!

Here is the link to the property we stayed it.  It looks exactly like it does in the pictures!

Be sure to check out this post.  I wrote it while in Florida (in our rental house!) and was completely inspired by the beauty around me.

We planned and booked our vacation all on our own.  (And when I say we I mean Angie and Kurt; they did all the hard work.) All opinions and recommendations are my own and I was not compensated to write this post.

Let Earth Receive Her King!

I absolutely love our new home.  I love that we have a space we can grow into and that we can truly make our own.

Trying to figure out how I want to design things hasn’t been an easy task because I am not a good interior designer!  But I really enjoy the process.

And one of the newest challenges of late has been designing a fireplace mantle!

Christmas Mantle

I have got SO much respect for people who can put together a beautiful mantle.  I am not one of them!  Its hard working with scale and color and, well, design stuff.

So I opted for homey.  Personal.

Christmas Mantle

 

Fresh flowers in a red mason jar nestled in an inexpensive fake garland with multi-colored lights.

Christmas Mantle

A red and green “love” garland.  The kids and I made it last year.  We named every single person we could think of and said a prayer for them.  Then we put simple quotes like, “Jesus loves you!” and “God is Love!”.

If you look close you can see ‘Grandpa Dennis’ in there.  We still miss him so much!  I try so hard to help him stay fresh in the kids’ memories.

Christmas Mantle

 

Now don’t you dare laugh at my awesome chalk board skills!  As you can see we have a pretty tall space above the mantle and I had NO IDEA how to fill it.  I just happen to have these 4 foot high chalkboards so I decided to write something on it… something significant to us.  And celebrating the birth of our King is as significant as its gets!

Its going to be fun figuring out how to use this space in the future.  I have a feeling there will be a “mantle” pinterest board in my future… :)

 

things i am thankful for

Something I have been trying very hard to do is be intentionally thankful and grateful for the blessings.  Here are a few of late.

The Kids Playing

cute kids congregating

Symmetrical Swinging

sensational smiling and symmetrical swinging (see?)

Spider Web

dads and husbands dutifully destroying arachnids

inga

intelligent indépendant infinitely

inga

incredible inga

Baby Olivia

 original olivia

(and all my babies!)

I am also thankful the beautiful setting in all of the images above.  It is a luxury rental home that we rented through All Star Vacation Homes.  I can’t wait to show you the inside… and tell you why its the best choice we even made!

 

smile challenge


It all started out simple.  I decided to challenge myself to smile every single time I spoke or communicated with someone for one day. I thought it would be easy. What actually happened has changed me forever.

smile1

 

Sunday
6:45 Wakeup with 4-month-old Olivia.  It’s pretty darn easy to smile at a smiling baby. (Which she always is.) This challenge was going to be easy.

7:30 Eddie, my 2-year-old, gets up.  He wakes up one of two ways; whiny or happy.  Today was whiny.  I braced myself for the tears and the shushing that was about to happen for the next hour until he would finally drive dad out of bed with his noisy fits.  But instead of grimacing and sternly whispering, “Stop it, Eddie!” I smiled.  I got down on his level and slowly, calmly and quietly whispered, “It’s ok, bud.  Let mom hug you until you feel better.”  It’s amazing how just the act of smiling changed my entire physical reaction.

 

Eddie and Me

8:51 Everyone is awake and we are busy getting ready for church.  I have smiled and greeted everyone and stopped and listened.  It is amazing how many hugs I have gotten today.  The kids see a smile and they jump on me.  Makes me wonder how they feel when I am not smiling.

10:27  Church starts at 10:30 and Eddie is screaming at my feet because I have asked him to hold my hand as we maneuver the crowds.  I bend down, smiling widely, and just ask him to get up.  He looks at me with what seems to be wonder, gets up, and goes over to hold dad’s hand.  That normally would have ended in me scolding him in the bathroom stall because I was so embarrassed by his very public fit.  I consider it a win.

12:47 We are at Target and Eddie is not in the cart.  He is walking beside us.  He is listening.  The kids are happy.  We get everything on our list and no one has thrown a fit.  I wonder if people are responding to the smiles or is it just a good day?  I don’t think I have ever left Target (when shopping with all five of my kids) with a smile on my face.

Good For the Soulimage credit iheartinspiration.com

2:12 Husband brings me the baby and tell me he wants to do some work outside.  I just smiled.  He stopped.  He looked around.  He gave me a weird look.  “What.  What?  You don’t want me to go outside?  You need me to watch the baby longer?”  I smiled a little bigger. “No, that’s fine!   You do what you need to do.”  He gave me a weird look and walked away.  Clearly I was behaving differently than what he was used too.  This moment was bittersweet;  I was so sad that my husband was used to me not smiling at him, but so happy that now that I knew better, I could do better.

6:14 Sitting down to dinner with family.  The kids start interrupting every chance they get… but I just look at them and smile and ask them to stop.  It feels weird but right.  They actually listen.

9:38 Heading to bed early tonight, it’s been a long weekend.  Give everyone big hugs and snuggles and can actually feel really good about how I treated others today.

WHAT I LEARNED

My family feeds off of me.  They react to my facial expressions, to my physical posture and presence, to my words.  Even better, since I was better able to communicate with the kids, so was my husband. When I was smiling as I communicated, it changed what I would say.  In the split second of choosing to smile, a whole new vocabulary would spring to mind.  I didn’t want to say the negative things.  I wanted my words to match my face.

People react better to smiles.  I know that should be obvious, but it wasn’t to me.  Simply by the fact that I was choosing to smile, I was calmer.  Since I was calmer I was more patient.  Since I was more patient I was better able to handle every situation that I was confronted with.

This smile challenge was a life changer.  I realized that I was least kind to the people I love most.  I was less likely to smile at my beautiful four-year-old daughter than I was a complete stranger.  It takes a split second for me to put that smile on my face, but the results lasted much, much longer.  Our entire day was more relaxed, more efficient, and more joyful. The next day I had to punish my son, and I used my new secret weapon when doing it.  I smiled and calmly explained his punishment.  When his time out was over, he brought me this.

Colton's Art

I have never, ever in my life been given a sweet gift after punishments were given.  After he scrambled off to play with his siblings I sat at my desk and cried like a baby.  It was a powerful raw moment of realization; just how much I needed to physically show my kids how much they mean to me, with something as simple as a smile.  That is the mom I want my kids to know.

As much as I thought I needed to yell and show my kids with anger how much their actions were upsetting to me… I was wrong.  They don’t learn from anger in the sense that I needed them too; they may learn what behaviors they need to avoid to prevent mom’s wrath, but they don’t learn what behaviors they need to be a happy and successful adult.

It is amazing how much a smile can change everything.

I put the challenge forth to you.  Take a step beyond your regular routine and extend a smile in a situation where you normally wouldn’t.  Maybe it’s just once that day, maybe it’s the whole day.  But do it.  Experience it for yourself. I promise, you won’t be sorry.

Give Them Yours.

The Best Part is an online community that’s dedicated to brightening your day—every day. How? By spreading optimism, one share at a time. The Best Part posts inspirational stories, encouraging quotes, good news and other upbeat items on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—and encourages fans and followers to share that optimism with their friends. Because when optimism is shared, it grows, making an even more positive impact on our world. Check out what others are sharing on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

nothing gold can stay

iambaker.net landscape photography

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.

iambaker.net landscape photography
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.

iambaker.net landscape photography
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,

iambaker.net landscape photography
So dawn goes down to day.

iambaker.net landscape photography
Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

I have loved this poem since the moment I first heard it; which ironically was in the book The Outsiders.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of it as I gazed upon golden leaves falling to a diamond frost covered ground.  Its a good thing I live in Minnesota, as the changing of the seasons is often a soul event for me!

zucchini banana oat bread (and a craptastic day)

Let me just tell you about my day.

It all started about 5:00am when I heard my baby crying and got up to feed her.  I walked to her room in a zombie like stupor, hushing her whimpers and gently picking her up and then nursed her back to sleep. Just as I got done feeding her return her my alarm went off.  Why would I set the alarm for so early?  Because I wanted to get up and work out before my husband went to work and while I could do it without kids trying to jump all over me.  I am gonna ROCK this day!

Zucchini Oatmeal Banana Bread

Right after I got my running shoes on I heard Olivia again.  She had not gone back to sleep and was now up for the day.  As I sat and rocked her and watched the sky turn from dark grey to light grey, the dream (nightmare) from last night started to come back to me.  It was not good.  I was shaking and upset and an emotional mess. (Yes, I know it was a dream, but it almost seemed like a bad memory!  I heard that the brain cannot distinguish the difference between a dream and reality so it FELT REAL)

Husband gets up and leaves for work and it occurs to me… its FREEZING in here.  Turns out that the furnace broke and we had no heat.  In Minnesota.  It was 28 degrees last night.  So I decide to bake some bread for breakfast in the hopes that the hot oven would help warm up the house.  And me.

Around 7:00am and I start making this bread.  (It tastes amazing, and I give big props to Diethood for her original recipe.  Hers is a bundt cake with some glorious maple cream cheese frosting, totally worth checking out!)  As it bakes the kids slowly rise and make their way to the kitchen.  Eddie is immediately grumpy because he didnt get cereal in a blue bowl as he demands EVERY SINGLE MORNING but the delicious warm bread eventually quiets him.

We start homeschooling and immediately the kids are whining.  Complaining.  Fighting me every. step. of. the. way.  I am freezing and keep trying to get the kids to put more layers on, but they dont seem to be phased by the chill.  I offer up hot cocoa for snack time and the marshmallows are hard as a rock and somewhat stale.  I add them anyway hoping no one notices.  No one does because they spend the whole time complaining that it’s too hot.

Olivia is awake and just fusses.  And fusses.  And fusses.  (totally not her norm.  I am completely throw off by this new behavior of hers, as she is normally so happy and content and loves to nap!)  Colton refuses to do his math and sits and the table and literally sobs at how much he doenst want to work today.  I am rockin back and forth in the corner in the fetal position.  Guess I did end up ROCKIN today.

Its about 11 and someone is coming over to fix the furnace.  He calls and says he will be there in 30 minutes so I quick try to feed Olivia.  I nurse her  and she actually starts to nod off (praise Jesus!) which is Eddie’s cue to storm into my room and scream “Mommy, where are you?!?!” as he looks me in the eye.  Olivia is awake.

I get word from a company (that I really wanted to impress) that a recipe I submitted has got a WRETCHED error in it and that someone complained.  I reply back to my contact with deepest of sincerest apologies and they are not impressed.  The twitch in my eye intensifies.

I have big project in November that requires extensive research and preparation and involves large expensive video devices to be pointed at me filming my every move.  (inner voice is a constant downer lately and I am convinced that my ex boyfriend from high school that I usually never think about and dont even know where he lives will see it and laugh laugh laugh at HOW FAT I AM and I am mortified)  I am given the wardrobe requirements for the shoot and they say, “No red, white or black.”  No black?  SURELY YOU JEST!  You might as well tell me I can only wear an itsy bitsy bikini.

Zucchini Oatmeal Banana Bread

Try to quick feed Olivia again and realize the guy-who-shall-restore-heat is here.  She is awake and fussy.  I am twitching.  Guy-who-has-restored-heat determines that its just a faulty control panel and gets heat roaring.  Hurray!  Guy-who-restored-heat tells me that in spite of how my children behave he still wants to have kids someday.

I try to prepare for dinner and  defrost some beef in the microwave.  It dies.  My microwave is dead.  My brand new state of the art microwave is dead.  I wish I could crawl into it.  Olivia is still awake.

Get email that I have an assignment due tomorrow that I forgot about.

I can hear kids screaming at each other and banging doors and walls.  They are playing “store” and selling each other stuff that they already own and it sounds like Colton just shorted Audrey some of her change.  I think she threatened to cut him.  I blame Spongebob.

zucchini banana oat bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 ripe bananas mashed
  • 3 cups shredded zucchini

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 and prepare loaf pans. (I used three small loaf pans)
  2. In large bowl add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and oats. Stir together.
  3. In a smaller bowl combine sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla and mashed banana. Pour sugar mixture into flour mixture and stir by hand. Add in zucchini and mix until well incorporated.
  4. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until bread pulls away from sides of pan and an inserted toothpick is removed clean.
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See that there is yet another BIG FABULOUS ALL EXPENSE PAID WITH UNREAL SWAG BLOGGER EVENT that I was not invited too.  Its ok, its cool.  These things happen right?  I am sure they know that I have a baby and that I homeschool and were just being considerate of my circumstances.  That, or EVERYONE JUST HATES ME AND OBVIOUSLY I NEED TO QUIT BLOGGING FOREVER AND EAT MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF COOKIE DOUGH RAW EVEN THOUGH THAT IS NOT RECOMMENDED.

Text husband that he has to bring home dinner.  He gets home and gets it ready and the family eats.  I cant eat anymore because apparently I ate an entire pan of this bread today.  So I go walk/run sporadically while Biggest Loser is on trying to see what workout they are doing and copy them.   This is effective as they literally show one move for 4 seconds then move on which is about how long I wanted to work out anyway.

Can hear Olivia screaming.  Its time.  She needs to sleep now or I think I may develop a permanent twitch in my eye.

She is out within seconds.  Exhausted.  Now peaceful.  Her little body relaxes and she cuddles closer to me.  I am jealous of a baby.

Moral of story.  On craptastic days make sure you make yummy cake-like bread that has a vegetable in it so you can pretend you actually ate healthy and that there isn’t dishes piled sky high and laundry mounds in corners of every room.

The end.

Zucchini Oatmeal Banana Breadp.s.  I hope this post made you giggle at least once.

Photography inspired by the amazingly talented Laura at Fork Knife Swoon.

sunrise


I could not resist sharing images of the sunrise this morning.

sunrise in minnesota
As I stepped out into the cool crisp morning air, its almost as if I could hear the colors the sun was weaving through the sky. They laughed and danced and stretched and paraded about in subtle grandeur.

The peace and joy that overwhelmed me can only be likened to intense love.  It was fulfilling.  It was majestic.  It was awe inspiring.

sunrise in minnesota

 

I stopped and prayed and gave thanks to a God who delighted in delighting me.

How lucky I am to get His grace anew every time the sun rises! (Did you know YOU are that lucky too?)