Ohana Means Family, And Family Means…

I worked with MomSelect and Disney Parks to bring you this information.  All opinions are my own.



Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind… or forgotten.

That’s one of my favorite lines from a movie I have come to adore; Lilo and Stitch.

I didn’t pay attention to it it at all until this past summer, when we visited the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World.  Lilo and Stitch are the main characters there, and the resort is themed in a gorgeous South Pacific Island decor with tasty food like pulled BBQ pork sandwiches, chicken wings, and the famous drink served in a pineapple.


One afternoon while my family relaxed, I made an important phone call.  I phoned my boss (yes, from vacation…) and quit my job. As these things sometimes are; it was life changing. I didn’t realize I was in such good company at the time; it wasn’t until later that I learned John Lennon had resigned from the Beatles at that same exact spot.


Great minds…. (and families) think alike.

My family is everything to me. Not just my immediate family; but my extended family too.  One thing about my family…. we like our parties.  We like to get together, and hang out.

We are not afraid to have a luau inspired by our favorite Disney resort in February… in Michigan.


We celebrated family, and showed off our #DisneySide while we were at it.

We had Lilo and Stitch playing in the background for the kids. (OK who am I kidding.  The world stops when that movie is on.)

Lilo and Stitch

We also managed to play some Disney Trivia (I won!), Disney Bingo (I lost!), did a little luau dancing, and enjoyed each others’ company.  In my family, almost one half of the kids in my generation are adopted.  No, not from outer space like Stitch was, but divorce and lives cut short by cancer and other illness have hit my family hard; yet we persist. We stay togetherNo one gets left behind… or forgotten.

I received free products in order to host a Disney Side @Home Celebration.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

A Kid-Friendly, Easy To Make Recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole :: Share The Table With Barilla

At the Family Forward conference, one of the things I most appreciated was that my entire family experienced the learning sessions together.  It is so frustrating as a mom to get some great information, be excited to bring it home and try to implement it with your family only to be met with a lack of interest that can only be described as “borderline eye rolling.”

When everyone hears the same information at the same time, though, something interesting happens.  It sticks. It’s no longer Mom jabbering about the importance of this and that – it’s the whole family that (kind of) hears the important message (mostly).

For the #ShareTheTable presentation we listened to an Italian chef from Barilla, who told us about awesome picnics on the beach (thanks Chef. I live in Michigan. There are like, 3 days a year that is even possible and my kids have asked 17 times already when we can do that).

Barilla Chef

Then, a nutritionist and family counselor spoke to us about family meals from their unique perspectives and gave us some suggestions for successful family meal.

Conversation starters for family dinner

I know we’ve all heard that family meals are important and seem to have some type of effect on all of the things we are all concerned about and hope to avoid… but one thing that got my attention was some research that showed:

A surprising percentage of teens (24%) desire more frequent family dinners. This rises to 52% among families that have three or fewer family dinners per week. Almost all (94%) of parents with three or fewer family dinners per week wish they have more.

The KIDS actually want more frequent family dinners. That was interesting to me because kids – especially teenagers – seem to so rarely know what’s good for them.

Then we made a family meal, except the dads kind of took over that part which was somehow adorable.  It was a version of this salad that included cooked chicken breast. They made a mean chicken pasta salad.

Pasta salad

Back at home I thought about the family meal idea more.  I’ve been cooking with my kids since they were little and they have pretty decent kitchen skills, but the one place I still have to watch closely is the measurement department. A teaspoon vs a tablespoon, how to be efficient and use one measuring cup instead of 3 different ones, and so on.

I developed this ‘measure by the container’ recipe for kids just to make it easier.  I realize that is an awful lot of cheese, however, I have a reluctant fish eater and other than a few exceptions have to more or less cheese or batter coat any fish related dishes. Let me know if you give it a try!


A Kid-Friendly, Easy To Make Recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole :: Share The Table With Barilla

A Kid-Friendly, Easy To Make Recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole :: Share The Table With Barilla


  • 1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 1/2 can of milk (3/4 cup milk)
  • 3 cans (about 5 ounces each) tuna in water, drained
  • 1 box 8 ounces pasta, cooked
  • 1 bag (8 ounces shredded cheese)


  1. 1 Heat the oven to 400°F. Stir the soup, milk, tuna and noodles in a 1 1/2-quart casserole. Put half of the cheese on top.
  2. 2 Bake the tuna mixture for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Stir the tuna mixture. Put the rest of the cheese on top.
  3. 3 Bake for 5 minutes or until the bread crumb mixture is golden brown.



A Little Bit About Life Right Now

Right now, we have no dining room table.  We have two oversized chairs and a folding camping chair in our living room.  The four of us are sleeping in two queen beds… in the study.  My kitchen counter has power tools all over it. In fact; everything has power tools all over it.

We’ve moved.

We don’t live in my beloved Grand Rapids anymore. We don’t live in our cute house with a cute little yard in the city anymore. We live out in the country, between two lakes. We have some land, and trees, and space.

It’s really weird…

It was my Dad’s house.  My Dad, who many of you know from reading this blog, is one of the most important people in my life.  He took care of us as a single parent after my Mom died.  I was 16.  He was 44.  The older I get and the further I get in my parenting journey the more I understand how difficult that was – and how tremendous his love for us is.  He was the first fan of my blog, and gave me my sense of exploration and travel; and taught me the importance of citizenship.  In many ways, the core messages of my blog come directly from him.

My Dad died this winter.  It was sudden and unexpected and excruciating and painful and shocking and unbelievable. Seven months later I am barely able to write that without crying. It’s still really hard.

Right before my Dad died, we decided to attend this amazing trip from called Family Forward. I had several friends who had gone last year and they highly recommended it as a family trip. I signed us up – and had planned for my Dad to come with us.  He often joined us on our excursions and I thought it would be a perfect way to take HIM on a trip rather than the many, many times he took me.

After he died we considered not going. Would it be just a big reminder like everything else that my Dad was gone?

Ultimately we decided we still needed to go – and brought someone in my Dad’s place; my sister! It is called Family Forward, after all.  When we arrived in Orlando we all got name badges.  They must have been created based on the original participant list, because one was created for my Dad. This might sound macabre, but my sister took it and wore it; we all felt somewhat comforted by it and had no doubt that Dad was there with us.

Going was not a mistake. It was an incredible vacation and one that made me realize despite a crazy housing situation, abrupt changes like new schools and a new house and not having any friends yet – my kids are OK.  We are raising them in a way that lets them roll with it. They know they are safe, they know they are in a family who will take care of them and have very, very imperfect parents who love them the best they can.

We spent time with other families; kids who bickered and whined and parents got impatient and frustrated and who we so clearly trying to do their best it brought tears to my eyes. We all came together and learned the importance of a family dinner from Barilla, satisfied the kids’ natural sense of curiosity about animals with Animal Jam, learned about what makes airplanes fly from Southwest Airlines,

Southwest Airlines Presentation

laughed our heads off together at Blue Man Group, slept in comfy beds in a fancy resort at Loews Portofino Hotel,

Lowes Portofino Hotel

and rode the rides and took in all the entertainment at Universal Orlando.

Universal Orlando

I asked my Dad once if I was the same kind of parent my Mom was. He said yes; in that I am a deliberate parent. I think anyone who was with us at Family Forward was the same way – deliberate.  Conscious and conscientious. Intentional and, well. Focused.

I am blessed by this organization and that is not a word I used lightly or even frequently.  Family Focus isn’t just a trip; it’s a way of life. It’s part of Mom It Forward which helps support families in bonding, growing, traveling, and togethering. Yep I just made that word up but it fits. So many of you would have fit right in on that trip; I encourage you to look at all of the free materials Family Focus has put together for you to use with your own family.


Camping At The Hungry Horse

There are some things that completely and totally suck about working from home.  One is that work never ends and the expectation to be always available – even on the weekends and vacation – just comes with the territory.

There are some things that completely do not suck though.  One is that working from home is like being a stay at home mom; if you’re always at home you’re doing it wrong.

A few weeks ago I spent 5 days with my kids at the Hungry Horse Campground in Dorr, Michigan.   Other than a couple of WiFi blips I was able to knock out what amounted to be a very productive week despite being in a little pop up trailer.

Awesome to some, horrifying to others

This is the kind of camping my husband and I used to approach with significant disdain.  A swimming pool; pfft! THAT’S NOT CAMPING.  You can call it camping. Or you can call it glamping.  Or you can call it glorified trailer park living. I really don’t care; it was fun.  And for the record; I DO consider it camping.

Bounce pads are totally part of experiencing the Great Outdoors.

Bounce pads are totally part of experiencing the Great Outdoors.

We still had swimming lessons and orthodontist appointments and prescriptions to pick up so we were not totally detached from our life.  We also had daily visits from my husband (who has to be to work very early) and our dog (who is a puppy and not ready to camp).

I declare the firewood at the Hungry Horse the most delicious in all the land.

I declare the firewood at the Hungry Horse the most delicious in all the land.

We had sandwiches from the grocery store, hot dogs (over the actual campfire), a brisket in the crock pot, pasta bake thing in the crock pot, and fried chicken from the grocery store. This is the ‘working mom’ version of a camping menu.  I barely have time to make dinner at home; let alone start a fire mid afternoon so the coals are nice and hot by dinnertime.

It rained the first day.  One of the main reasons we got a pop up is because we live in Michigan, where it rains and snows more often than not.  A couple of really soggy camping trips later we resigned ourselves to needing more protection from the elements.

NO PROBLEM. We tucked the beds away and presto – by the power of RV magic we suddenly had a table and played cards until the weather cleared up.  We rented some go cart things and wheeled around for a while.

In case there is any doubt - these vehicles have the right of way.

In case there is any doubt – these vehicles have the right of way.

Call it what you will.  We had an awesome time, the kids were week day camping kids (which is a whole different world than the weekend crowd) and became part of the social ecosystem of The Hungry Horse, complete with some break ups and shifting alliances of the social tribe.  By the end of the week I was ready to go home, but it was a fun and different way to make good use of summer!


I Spy With My Little Eye…A Way To Make Family Game Night Happen!

KFC has compensated me for sharing this information.  It is with great pleasure that I do so; and all opinions are my own.

Family is everything to me and I fiercely protect it.  In this instance; ‘fierce’ is not an understatement.  I have come close to growling when someone impedes on family time and am probably a little too unapologetic about saying ‘no’ when something else comes up.  It’s a cultivated response; one I developed after my kids were both in school and the world seemed to be crawling in the windows and sneaking into our lives anywhere it could.

I am completely pig headed about it, and insist upon family time whether my family wants it or not. Like vitamins and homework; I’m certain it’s good for them and that they will appreciate it someday.

Two of our family time activities are Family Movie Night, and Family Game Night.

The older my kids get, the more difficult it becomes to squeeze these events into our lives.  There is baseball and CCD and Spring Concerts and Fall Concerts and conferences and …. you know the drill.  This time of year especially; the Big Finale to the school year when every night consists of some event (I skipped the Band Rental Meeting.  Don’t tell.  I just can’t do another meeting today. I’m fairly confident in my abilities to figure out the mysterious world of trombone rental all on my own) and every day involves some complicated packing list for a field trip or Snuggle Up And Read Day or Marketplace Day or Bring Random Junk To School For No Good Reason Day.

I used to feel like A Terrible Mom for getting take out on Family Game or Movie nights; but I wanted to maximize that time we spent. Then I realized being together and spending that time interacting was more important than letting the kids watch TV until dinner was done.

I love KFC’s Family Game Night deal; you get a free I Spy game when you buy a 12 piece (or larger) Tender meal with two large sides (may I recommend the coleslaw and mashed potatoes?) 4 biscuits (pour honey on them) and 4 sauces (Creamy Buffalo needs to be one of these; you’re on your own for the other 3).

Dinner is done. Dishes are done. We can move right to the important part of the evening; which is hanging out and playing games.  Mother against son; father against daughter, kids against parents, girls against boys, every Binder for him/herself; however we play – the important thing is that we are playing together.   It’s much easier to make Family Game Night happen and become a routine rather than a once in a while thing when it’s easy.  I think where we get hung up is – and I mean this with no offense – looking at blogs or at Pinterest and seeing what we thing Everyone Else Does.  Do what works.  Family is everything.


Driving Through The Seasons In Our Kia

This post is sponsored by Kia.

I’ve shared some great experiences we have had as a family in the past few months; did you notice that most of them involved our beloved Kia Sedona minivan?  I don’t scrapbook.  I tried, but gave up. In fact, if my life were reflected by my scrapbooking efforts my husband and I would be stuck in time on a horrible vacation in Toronto. We would not have our kids yet; in fact we wouldn’t even be married yet.  I’m glad I am not stuck in time, and that I chose to document my life on a blog instead.

I’ll begin at the end, because that is really the beginning.  The beginning of our experience with Kia, that is.  My (then) five year old son’s simple question about getting a big car so we can “drive a whole bunch of kids on field trips” led us to years of  traveling in our Kia.  I love that I can say “Yes! I can drive!” when the teachers ask for volunteers, and even more so that I can transport up to five kids at a time.  Minding them once we are at our destination is another matter; but I know we’ll get there safely and comfortably anyway.

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Not just on field trips, but on road trips where we combine the best of modern comfort with 1950’s pragmatism. We spend a lot of time together as a family, and that is deliberate.  We have wanderlust, and enjoy visiting new places as well as returning to some old favorites. Our kids have become good road-trippers; but not without some effort and trial and error.  Error that included both of our children wailing and crying as we tried to play a karaoke CD on one ill-fated trip.

Some of our trips are much closer to home, but just as fun.  We love the simple pleasure of packing a perfect picnic, heading to a park, and enjoying a great meal together outside.

We knew we could fit all of the gifts our birthday party guests generously donated for the Humane Society in the back of the Kia, thanks to being able to ‘tumble’ forward the seats.

The seats just flip forward to give you more space, and flip back when you are done.  Very easy, very convenient, and keeps my husband’s pleadings for a truck at bay.  Not only do we have a TON of space with the seats tumbled forward – we have even more when we need it by taking the seats out entirely (like we did when we took a day trip to Lake Michigan!).

We can also tow our pop up camper behind us; and we love camping together as a family. We start in the early summer and go as late into the fall as we can – we still still have one more trip squeezed in later this year!

This summer has been good to us.  Our Kia has been good to us.  Thanks for sharing in our adventures, and thanks to Kia for sponsoring this series of posts. My family and I are true fans, and are grateful to have such a reliable vehicle to get us to the many places we go!

 Field Trip Of Dreams


If You Go To The Circus… {Our Night At The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus At VanAndel Arena in Grand Rapids}

This is what you’ll see:

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People hanging from ceiling in huge globes that open and close.  It’s like watching a dance; absolutely beautiful!

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 8.38.43 PM

Lion and tiger trainers casually hanging out with huge cats.  Huge, fierce, roaring cats.  Huge, fierce, roaring cats that do tricks.

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Adorable and clever dogs doing flips, jumping hurdles, and doing something like the conga line.

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A colorful, fun, fast moving show that constantly entertains and mesmerizes.

The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus is a childhood memory maker and an amazing evening with your kids.

You can get tickets with this link, and even get a $5.00 discount off of some shows. Valid on the $25 and $20 price levels only.  Valid on select performances: Friday, Sept. 20 @ 7 PM; Saturday, Sept. 21 @ 7 PM; and Sunday Sept. 22 @ 5 PM.  Not valid on Opening Night tickets.  Not valid on circus celebrity, front row, VIP, or $15 seating.  Not valid with any other offer or discount.  Must purchase via Ticketmaster.com or charge by phone at (800) 745-3000.  Limit 8 tickets per order.

Have you been to the show? What did you think?




Field Trip Of Dreams

This post is sponsored by Kia.

Like so many of you, I was never going to be a minivan mom.  Looking back I’m not sure now what my sense of defeat was; it’s not like I was hanging out at the club, wearing cool clothes, and dancing all night and the only thing holding me back from being completely cool was a minivan…

No, that lifestyle left long ago but I still hung on, desperately, for dear (cool) life.  I made it through five years of parenting and then one day, just like that, it was gone.  What happened? It was field trips.  Field trips were my final downfall. The nail in my coolness coffin.  Field trips did me in.

When A.P. was in Young Fives, he deftly removed my heart from my chest and broke it into two pieces with just one sentence.

Can you get a big car so you can drive a whole bunch of kids on field trips?

And just like that, it was all over.  I wanted to be the mom that drove a whole bunch of kids on field trips.

I do not ask for a lot materially. I am not a big shopper, and I seldom insist we buy something. When I came home insisting we get a minivan, he was first surprised, then amused, then jumped to action.

I had a Kia Sedona minivan by the end of the week.

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It was affordable and dependable, and in four years I have driven ‘bunches’ of kids all over greater West Michigan on school field trips for A.P. and Maybelle’s classes.  I have loved some trips, and come home with splitting headaches from others.

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 7.22.56 PM

It’s wonderful that I can fit five kids at a time, even with booster seats, because I know I am genuinely helping the class out.  My kids are proud and silly and excited and probably sometimes embarrassed, but I know they love having me be a mom that drives a whole bunch of kids on field trips.

Just yesterday the Field Trip Sign Up Forms came home.

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And I signed up for another year of having a van full of kids with matching, colored T-shirts  being safely and comfortably carted around to the Zoo, the Museum, the Theater, and the Gardens. Someday in the frighteningly not too distant future; my kids will not want to be seen with me.

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 I’m making this part last as long as I can.




 Happy Birthday To The Animals


Happy Birthday To The Animals

This post is sponsored by Kia.

Had I known how hectic the whole ‘Back To School’ season would be, I would have probably chosen not to have my children on Labor Day Weekend.  In addition to filling out forms and figuring out schedules and buying the correct number of dry erase markers, we spend these last few weeks of summer celebrating not one but two birthday parties.  Some years we are lucky and they agree to have a joint party, but some years they each want their own party, at separate places on separate dates with basically the same kids attending both parties.  It’s very inconvenient, really, not just for us but for the parents who have to buy two gifts and spend two weekends in a row with us.

Not that we’re not fun, but still.  That’s a lot.

Another downside of having two birthdays just three days apart is the massive influx of toys into our house.  It’s like Christmas, only with less eggnog.  Our home is a complete disaster, just in time for school to start.  And then there is the ordering and hauling around of two cakes; because of course separate parties requires separate cakes. And snacks, and party games, and favors, and… oh my.

I am getting the vapors just thinking about it.

Last year it was simple.  They wanted to have their parties together, so we rented a park pavilion (Sight unseen, mind you.  I have great faith in Parks and Recreation people.) and kept it simple.  We had a piñata, a sack race, mummy wrapping, and only one cake.


And rather than gifts, our kids agreed to accept donations to the Kent County Humane Society and asked that their guests bring something for the animals instead. People were incredibly generous and brought tons of dog and cat toys, Kongs, rawhide, peanut butter, dog treats, canned pumpkin, and cat litter.  We had so much that when we went to the Humane Society to donate it, I had to tumble forward both of the back seats in the Kia just to fit it all in.


The staff was really kind to our kids, and gave them a personalized tour to meet the animals they had just helped.  It’s amazing we made it out of there without a new pet!


Don’t you love the dog and cat sculpture in front of the building?


While A.P. has decided to throw his support to a local agency that supports homeless people this year (you may recall that it’s kind of his ‘thing’); Maybelle will again be asking her friends to bring donations for the animal shelter.

They’re good kids.  I guess I can’t be too upset with them for wanting separate parties this year.  At least we’ll have lots of leftover cake.
 Popping In To Do A Little Camping Popping In To Do A Little Camping Popping In To Do A Little Camping



The Proper Answer To The Question :: Are You And Dad Getting A Divorce?

Last week A.P. came out of his bedroom long after bedtime.  He seemed rattled, and not right.  We asked him what was wrong and he mumbled; obviously afraid to say “it” out loud (whatever “it” was).  We asked him again, and again, he mumbled, no louder than the first time.

Finally, he said “it” a little louder. “Are you guys getting a divorce?

My husband and I do not have an easy marriage.  There is confusion and frustration; and there is also commitment and love.  This season of life has been relatively peaceful though, and we were confused by his concern.  We assured him that we were not… and asked him why he was worried.

“Because Mom keeps going away on trips.”

Then any cloud of guilt that had been hovering over my head broke open and rained down.  Hail and snow and rain and sleet – all guilt; pelting me.  It literally hurt.  My skin hurt and my heart weighed a million pounds.

I chose – we chose – for me to stay home with our kids when they were born.  We scrapped and scraped and duct taped and patched together a nice little life.  Not a perfect one, not an easy or luxurious one, but a nice one.  Last month I went back to work full time.  I’ve traveled a little for the job; and went to a blog conference I’d had tickets and plans for since November of last year.  This little boy, who is growing up so wonderfully into a unique and amazing young man, was worried that his mama was gone so much.

And of course he was.  I have been at home with him since he was born.  For ten years; his whole life – and now I was gone and calling home from hotels in other cities and promising to come in and wake him up to say good night long after he’d gone to bed because I had a late flight home.

We reassured him.  No; we are not getting a divorce.  I promptly sold my next blog conference ticket and am doing my best not to be gone more often than I have to.  I called the hotel where the next conference was being held and switched from a king bed to two queens.  My husband and kids came with me this weekend; and although it wasn’t quite like taking a family vacation it was glorious to see them between sessions and eat meals with them and snuggle up at night.  A more little crowded, yes.  I missed a few sessions and didn’t sleep as well as I would have with my original reservation of a king room.  Extra gas money and extra restaurant meals are expensive.  And they were worth every single penny.

My job? It is perfect for me.  I am perfect for it.  I love it, am passionate about it, and feel extremely fortunate to be doing it.  I have to work hard to balance family and work because I love it so much.  What a gift A.P.’s concern was to me.  What a powerful and shocking question; and what a blessing to know how quickly kids perceive changes and what a reminder to try and process and explain life changes through a child’s eyes.


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