Monday, July 29, 2013

The Great (and random) Giftcard Week

I think I might need to start a new blog.
One just for all of my "traditions".
I'm running out of witty ways to say "every year we..."
But, I just can't help myself.
If it is fun once, surely it will be fun EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. 
(oh wait, i've said that before, too.  shoot.)

Sooooooo, we have a new tradition.
Some might say it was born out of laziness.
I call it survival.
And F-U-N!

We seem to always have this random collection of coupons and giftcards around our house.  Some are random credits left from stores, some random kids meals earned as rewards at school (mostly by KJ), etc.  They never get used by our family.  They are located in any one of approximately 15 locations around our home and vehicles.  I'm sure there is some really creative and organized way I could keep up with them all.  But I'm feeling good to get all of the laundry put away so I'm going to ask you to spare me getting stuck on that part of the story. 

RRL and Cbug were out of town for EIGHT DAYS.  24 meals. 7 bedtimes.  I mean, if I was counting.  And I decided there had to be a way to make the way a little more fun (and maybe a wee bit easier) for the rest of us.  Thus, "Random giftcard week (RGCW)" was born.

I gathered up all of the coupons, credits and giftcards I could find and made a plan to use at least one everyday.  The kids L-O-V-E-D getting to take turns choosing a restaurant based on the coupons.  We did have a couple fails (expired coupons), but overall it was a huge success.  Our week looked a little something like this:

Lou got to use birthday giftcards at Target.  She chose a wedding Repunzal and an Arial.  No shockers there.  The cool part was that KJ was geniunely delighted for her.  He helped her shop and was excited that she was thrilled with her purchases.  What an awesome brother!  Sadly, RGCW was just getting rolling and I didn't think to take any pictures.  In fact, there are several days I missed taking pictures of.  Probably because I was having so much fun.

We also got to use bonus (and fake) coupon of "bring a cantelope, get free dinner cooked for you" when our sweet friends the Senters adopted us for the evening.  They totally kicked the week off on a high note!

It was KJ's turn.  We had several random Walmart giftcards that I let him choose what to get.  He and Cbug have been talking for weeks about getting a badmitton set (which I had to convince them wasn't called "bad men" after they played the first time) and KJ was thrilled about finally getting to bring one home.

You know, not everything about a fantastic tradition is quite a good as you hoped.  Some parts of this week will N-E-V-E-R be repeated.  Like this stop.  The food was bad and the service was terrible.  I love free, but kinda wish I had just thrown this free kids meal in the trash.
Only one member of our family was thrilled.  He happens to love bread in all forms.  Even the dry and burned form apparently.
Luckily we had another coupon to cash in, and the rest of us washed our dinner sorrows away with yummy custard.

SONIC night!  Hooray!  I might have a new obsession in the form of a pretzel dog.  We may or may not have gone for dinner before church and again for dessert after.  And we still had giftcard leftover!  KJ was thrilled to finally get to try a "Summer Shake".  That's some awesome marketing right there that even my seven-year-old could say "There are shakes.  And then there is the summer of shakes".  I didn't have the heart to break it to him that his "Oreo Summer Shake" is available all year.  I hated to squash the joy of RGCW I saw in his eyes.  Part of what made it so glorious for them was that they are so deprived the other 51 weeks of the year (I kid, of course.  Kind of.)

SNOWCONES!  Thanks to the awesome V family for starting a punchcard for us, we only had 4 stamps left before we got one free.  So, we invited a friend to come with KJ and had after dinner treats. 

This was the very best and most anticipated day of all.  KJ earned a six flags pass for all of his reading during the school year.  And Lou and baby C were going to spend time at one of their favorite places, too, the Hatchett house.  While KJ and I were off having a blast they were getting spoiled.  Lou even got to go with Aunt Stacie to get her toenails painted.  And its a good thing she was having so much fun.  Otherwise I might feel a little badly that she missed out on quite possibly one of my favorite parenting days ever.  Seriously.  We had a BLAST.  And I was so proud of KJ.  He rode everything he was tall enough to ride. 

After the first ride we completed, I looked over at him and his face was as white as a sheet. I was certain our day had just come to an abrupt H-A-L-T.  I tried to be positive "Wasn't that fun?!?!?!" but he didn't speak.  Until we got off.  Then he just kept repeating "My skin felt like it was going to crawl right off."  He admitted that he thought it was scary, but that he also really liked it.  And we learned a new word "thrilling" where something is both FUN and SCARY.  And THRILLING was totally cool with him.  So we set off in search of more thrills.  My favorite KJism from the day was at the mid-point on a ride when we reached a bit of a lull, I turned and asked him "How ya doing?" and he responded "Right now I'm terrified, but in five minute I'm going to love this."  He's hilarious, everything is so calculated.
His favorite ride was the one on which we got soaked. I scored some major mom points for being willing to ride it twice. We were DRENCHED. but this face made it totally worth it.

 He did ask me lots of safety questions all day.  Measured himself on everysingleride.  Checked and rechecked the saftey harnesses once he was buckled and reminded me to buckle mine.  But he still did it.  It was so good for both of us.  He trusted me.  I lead him to some "thrills" and safely back to the car when it was over.  He probably said "thank you" no less than a million times and told me it was his very favorite day ever.  And I later heard him tell Cbug, "When you get to go to Six flags, you need to know that you might be a little scared.  But I can assure you, it will also be the most fun you've ever had.  And that's called thrilling." 

On Saturday I double failed at the gift cards.  Actually triple failed.  I forgot to take my free tea/cookie coupon when Lou and I ate lunch at our favorite place.

I had planned to take Lou to use a giftcard I had at a nail salon. But she decided she didn't want to go. She had "already gotten her toe-nah-nails painted" and wasn't interested in her fingernails.

And finally, I tried to get Pizza for dinner. And the coupon had expired.  Two weeks ago.  And they still wouldn't honor it.  Apparently I used up all of my negotiating skills on Cow Appreciation Day.

But Lou and I did have a super fun day together laughing, talking about silly things, and going shopping.  I sure wish I had a picture of helping me pick out clothes for work or holding clothes for me to try on.  She was hilarious.  And adorable.  It made shopping completely bareable.

We were a little crazy by this point.  There is such a thing as too much fun.  And there certainly is such a thing as Daddy and Cbug being gone TOO long.  We made (what I thought was) one more stop on our way to the airport.  And I think the pictures are pretty descriptive.

Turns out it wasn't the last stop because the last leg of the awaited flight was delayed.  So I drove that direction anway, out of giftcards and out of plans, ready to have my family together.  The kids fell asleep in the van and I parked in a Sbucks parking lot to steal WiFi.  But then I felt badly about stealing WiFi so I drove through the drivethrough to get a drink.  Either the barista was just feeling nice, or I really looked that bad (quite possibly the 2nd).  Either way, I scored a free drink without even telling him about RGCW or about my hubby's delayed flight.  I did thank him profusely, reparked in the lot, and used the WiFi to post about missing RRL.

And indeed, we did miss those guys.
But we also loved this newly created tradition. 
(maybe at least mostly because I cooked exactly 2 times in the whole 8 days).
Random Gift Card Week 2014. We are ready for you!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

You win some. You lose some.

Every month during our seven-kids-for-the-weekend adventures, I have this ridiculously lofty goal of getting a good picture of them all together.  Its almost like a competition between me and them.  I'm not sure they know they are playing, but if we were keeping score they'd be WAY ahead.

Today, I think I learned a couple of strategic lessons.

What does work.
Bribing with marshmallows.

AND What doesn't work.
Trying to teach seven kids (aged 7 and under) how to do "jumping" pictures.

I guess I forgot to tell my professional photobomber that he shouldn't jump directly TOWARD the camera.

They might have been laughing AT me instead of WITH me.

I think they win again!


Friday, July 26, 2013

Ain't No Party Like a Cow Party

This post could alternatively be titled "the time when I wrote way too much about free food"

Second friday in July.  COW APPRECIATION DAY!
I love this holiday.  Probably because I LOVE me some F-R-E-E.  But also because now even my kiddos know and love this fun day where we dress silly, say silly things ("Eat more chicken"), eat junk food, and well...get FREE FOOD!  KJ was hilarious getting his siblings pumped with excitement about this day he's come to anticipate.  Future accountant in the making!

We donned our cow-wear early to go to breakfast before RRL headed off to work.  Free Meal 1.  Which was almost only "partially free meal 1" because of a technicality.  We "technically" weren't dressed from "head to hoof".  But this has never been a problem in the past FIVE YEARS.  So, I politely mentioned to the very kind cashier who was just doing his job, that I really thought sticking spots on 4 small cows, myself, and one obliging husband most definitely counted as enough effort to qualify for a free meal.  I may or may not have quoted the rules from the official Cow Appreciation Day webpage (which says you only receive a free entree instead of meal, if you carry a cowspotted purse, or wear a cowspotted vest- examples for which I'd argue our efforts were far superior).  I may or may not have even plead my case to a manager (that RRL embarrasingly knows).  In the end they only charged me for my orange juice and we called it even.

I LOVED this post from a friend about "How to make the most of Cow Appreciation Day".

I totally agree with getting the most bang for your buck.  Which is why we enjoyed CFA 3 times this day.  For free.  And why we spent exactly NOTHING on our costumes.  I literally printed cowspots from this link, cut them out en masse, lined up everyone's white shirts and stuck em on with packing tape.  And before lunch: reprint, recut, restick.  (total process about 20 minutes...even with moving cow targets). 

Because if you spend much time or money getting your free food.  Welp, it is no longer free.

I politely wanted to point this out to other patrons.  In fact, I had these two mini-conversations in my head with unsuspecting targets:

Dear Mom with 5 adorable blondes who sat so politely enjoying their free food in their obviously homemade t-shirts (which I can just tell you let the kids help you with) marked with hilarious twists on famous quotes like "give me liberty or give me death chicken"...
We could totally be friends.

Dear Mom who had an adorable (yet ridiculous) cow/bandana print outfit made for her daughter and the occasion,  painted both yours and your daughters faces, rang cowbells constantly....
ain't nobody got time for putting facepaint on much less cleaning it off much less keeping it off of the carseat and other furniture along the way.  And you do know they give away food for just wearing spots.  right?  your free food just became not so free.

But even if I have a line on how much effort I'm willing to put forth to acheive "free", we did try to make the most of the holiday.  The boys and I even morphed from white cows to grey cows (excuse the lack of bovine knowledge) between breakfast and lunch.  And all of the kids made their own tails before we headed out again.  You know, just in case we had to argue another technicality.

And bonus- we got to meet Daddy at another CFA AND some of our favorite cousins for lunch (Free Meal 2).  Where we stayed until 3pm.  Enjoying the FREE food.  FREE playtime.  FREE family fun.  And just being together.  So glad they invited us for the party.

I especially loved LD's quote "Let this fantastic day get you out of your comfort zone and TALK TO PEOPLE!! Dressing like cows together really breaks down some barriers. It is so much fun to have an excuse to talk with people, and this is a great one."

But, unfortunately, this is the four-small-cows version of the story. So, truth be told the only people-talkin' I really did all day was:
"Stand still so I can stick your spots on.  Because if we went to McD's we wouldn't be appreciating cows.  Yes, they do kill cows to make hamburgers.  I don't know if there is chicken appreciation day.  Please sit in your seat. Leave your brother's cow ears alone. Please don't take his sticker. I don't know if you can take those balloons home with you. Yes, you can get icecream. No, you can't eat her icecream. Please don't touch your sister's food. Would someone PLEASE give the baby a bite? If you want more water you'll have to go ask for it yourself. Say please.  Are you finished eating? Nope, for the 103948563 time, you can't go to the playscape yet. Now that you are in the playscape, please stay in the playscape. You are going to smash his fingers. If you have to go potty you'll need to put your shoes back on. WASH YOUR HANDS."

Yeah, so strangely enough, I didn't have much time for visiting with other herds. Unless you count the conversations I had with them in my head (see above)... which I totally do.

But my very favorite part of this day was brand new to the tradition this year.  DATE NIGHT.  At the last minute, I texted a babysitter to come over so RRL and I could go for one more round.  Karlie-the-amazing raced over, I printed (more) spots and we headed out, taping them on as we drove. 

We'd already eaten dinner at home (we steer our herd clear of the dinner-time-parties on this day.  too crowded for us).  But I was feeling pretty good about my negotiating skills after my breakfast encounter and felt quite certain I could convince someone (at a different location) to give us free dessert if we came in dressed like cows. I mean its cheaper than a combo, why wouldn't they rather give us just dessert than an entire meal?  (Dessert is technically not on the official rules at all...I mean, if I happened to have researched it.)
So, we strolled in confidently, RRL already laughing at me and my hare-brained schemes and asked the very nice cashier if we could forgo the free meal and just get dessert.  I may have mentioned that we were "on a date" and she might have giggled a little.  She went to ask a manager.  The manager didn't even look up from her task when asked and just shook her head "no" to the request...until I chimed in "Please.  We got a babysitter for our four kids just so we could enjoy some dessert together."  She looked up.  Grinned at us.  And gave us free dessert.


And even better than the free dessert was the time I got to hang out with this guy.  Who tolerates the way I might (slightly) overddo traditions this.  Who plays along.  And loves me all the more for it.

What a grand holiday.
And I'm already making plans for next year.
But not too much.
Because then it wouldn't be free.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

I missed you when...

RRL and Cbug have been gone for 8 days.  Hopefully you'll get to here more about their international    adventure soon.  And I can't wait to tell you about "random gift card week" on the homefront.  But for now I'm stealing SBucks wifi near the airport, three sleeping babes in tow, and waiting on the delayed plane bringing my boys home.

Dear RRL-

When I found a sippy cup in the car that had contents turned to sour cream

When the pint sized person taking your place in bed had lethal knees and elbows

When no one knew I had a busy week at work and still kept it together on the homefront

When it was dark and I was scared to take the trash out

When I stayed up way too late planning our getaway

When I left dirty dishes in the sink and they were still there in the morning

When I realized the mail didn't come in from the mailbox all week

When  our kids said funny things but I knew no one else would find them quite as hilarious

When I hatched one of my hare brained schemes ("random gift card week") and you weren't there to play along 

When I realized I had no idea how "it" works (and "it" was pretty much any contraption with an "i" at the beginning)

When I carried heavy boxes down the stairs 

When there were tough decisions to be made and I needed your level head to balance my emotions 

When I woke up in the middle of the night knowing something in my heart needed to change

When I knew what you would say, but still wanted to hear it from you

When no one else would understand 

I missed you.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Waiting on a Miracle

It is late.  I'm exhausted. But I can't go to sleep without writing this.

I've been waiting on a miracle.

Like nothing before in my life, I've been waiting on this miracle.

A miracle that even my children pray for, very specifically, every time they bow their heads.
A miracle that for years, our family has invested into with our time, energy, hope, money, love.
But mostly we've just waited.

In the last couple of weeks the Lord has gently been showing me that the waiting, the waiting for this specific miracle, has grown my heart very calloused,  a little hard, quite cynical.
Because it just doesn't seem possible. 
Yesterday He started unwinding something in me.  He started giving me words for my deepest fears. Words through a picture.
Maybe you, too, are waiting on a miracle.  And maybe you, too, have grown calloused in the waiting.  If so.  This picture is for you, too.  I wish I could paint or draw or otherwise give real light to the vibrant colors of this picture in my head.  But, instead, you'll have to stumble through the avenue the Lord has given me to share.  Words.

I'm waiting for the parade to begin.  And if we are going to do this, this parade watching, we are going to do it BIG.  I'm decked out in my red, white and blue.  I'm READY.  My family is ready.  We've reserved our seats, but we barely sit we are so excited.  We invite others to join us.  We stare expectantly down the road.  Waiting with great anticipation.  Knowing it will be even better than the last.  Knowing it will be amazing.

But we wait.  The parade doesn't begin.  Not when I believed it should.  Not hours after I thought it would.  It didn't come at all like I expected.  But I still waited.  At first I found ways to pass the time, I dreamed about how great it would be, I held onto the hope of this parade. 
Slowly my jumping for joy turned into a quiet seated posture
then more slowly into an elbows on the knees slump. 
I still looked down the street, I wasnt giving up because I knew I shouldn't, but I just wanted it to be over now so I could go home.  As others joined me in waiting, I would bite my tongue not to remind them how long I'd already been waiting.  How far past due this parade was.  How they really shouldn't bother setting up their chairs at all.  It might not even come.

But behind me.  Just past where my slumped eyes could see.  I was missing it. 
I was missing a shop owner washing the windows of the business he loved.   
I was missing the painter covering over the graffiti on a wall.
I was missing the aromas of a baker creating goodness to share with weary travelers. 
I was missing the older man talking to passersby as he filled the cracks in the sidewalk.
I was missing the quiet glow of the streetlights coming on as the sun set.
I was missing the families around me laughing and working together and creating memories.
I was missing the preparations of the town and the gathering of the crowd.
The town behind me was coming alive.  Slowly slowly slowly, coming awake.
And I was missing it.
Because I was watching for the parade.

The parade was so very important.  The parade gave the town something to prepare for.  Something to look forward to, a reason to come ALIVE.  But it wasn't the miracle.  The miracle was in the preparations.
And I missed it.
Because I was so sure that the parade was coming.

I know I've said it before.  The thing about miracles is that they don't ever look like what you expect.  That's the very thing that makes them miraculous.  I'm no theologian, so you can't quote me on this.  I don't know the Greek/Hebrew/whatever language definition.  But I'm coming to believe "miracle" should be defined as "but Jesus...".  When you read "but Jesus..." in the Gospels you know He is about to do something no one else expected.

Just like in Mark 9.  A man comes to Jesus and asks that Jesus rescue his son- his son was possessed by an evil spirit.   vs 25-27 from the Message:
"Seeing that the crowd was forming fast, Jesus gave the vile spirit its marching orders: 'Dumb and deaf spirit, I command you—Out of him, and stay out!' Screaming, and with much thrashing about, it left. The boy was pale as a corpse, so people started saying, 'He’s dead.' But Jesus, taking his hand, raised him. The boy stood up."

Did you see it? "BUT JESUS..." The people, they saw the spirit come out of him, but they also believed the miracle didn't work..."He's DEAD" they exclaimed.  What did the boy's father think?  In that instant was he tempted to believe it didn't come true- the miracle of healing wasn't his to be had?  It certainly didn't look like he expected, this miracle.  His son was free of the spirit.  But his son was dead.
And then.
And then it happens, his miracle.  Otherwise known as his "BUT JESUS...".

"But Jesus, taking his hand, RAISED HIM."
The miracle didn't look like anyone expected.
But Jesus...

And the same is true for each of us.

We ask boldly for babies. And learn it won't be so.
We ask for marriages to be healed.  And they crumble.
We ask for quick healing. And people die.
We ask for change of heart.  And much time passes.
We ask for freedom from addiction.  And the darkness continues.

We wait on the miracles.   And our hope seems disappointed.

But Jesus brings a child into a family through adoption.
But Jesus brings a boy out of a broken family and leads him to counsel teenagers toward hope.
But Jesus provides a path for families to turn their grief into encouragement for others
But Jesus changes our own hearts while we wait.
But Jesus provides a path out of darkness and back into the light.

But Jesus, taking our hand, raises us up.
This miracle I've been waiting on was never mine to define.  I wasn't asking for a miracle.  I was asking to have "it" done my way.  My frustration in not seeing it come to pass has nothing to do with whether He can make it so.  It has everything to do with my heart and my ability to see the miracles all around me.

But Jesus...
He is indeed miraculous.  His power is present.  He is at work.  Transformation is at hand.  Windows are being washed, walls are being painted, the aroma of goodness is drifiting down the street, the cracks are being slowly filled.  The parade is coming.  HE is coming.  And while we wait, lets not miss the incredible opportunity He has given us to experience the miracles all around us. 

Because if we miss the changes in our own hearts, if we miss the lives changing around us and we miss the opportunities to partner in the transformation, we've missed the very point. 

Why else would we still be waiting?
Be blessed in the waiting.
Believe in miracles.