Build with care

I used my grandpa’s level for a recent home improvement project. It’s wooden, sanded smooth and stained a deep walnut brown. Or, maybe it’s worn smooth from use, from being pressed against walls and beams and the oils of my grandpa’s hands conditioning the wood, him wiping it clean before putting it away, I imagine always in the same spot. I never met my grandpa, so what I know of him is what I have heard from others. He went to the Colorado School of Mines, I think. He worked in the coal mines that hugged the Ohio-West Virginia border. He taught my father how to set and check trap lines. He took care of his tools. In my mind, my grandpa is a black-and-white photograph and made up of these details, statements rather than stories. 

Between my grandpa and me, my dad had the level. Shortly after Levi and I were married, my dad gave us a Craftsman bag filled with basic starter tools—extras he had that would come in handy while living in a first apartment. Everything was well cared for. My dad takes care of what’s his. It’s one of the things I admire most about him. Everything has a place, everything is cleaned, instruction manuals are catalogued. Were those values instilled in him by my grandpa? Or from my dad’s time in the Marine Corps? Or maybe, a bit of both?

I wonder what my grandpa would think about me using his level to build something. I was told he knew I was on the way. My mom was pregnant with me when he died. So, in a way, I feel like I would have been to him what he is to me: known, but not. I wonder if it would make him happy that I am using his tools to build a place where his great-grandchildren will hang their coats and school bags. 

I hope he would notice I am taking care to build something correctly. Measure twice and then twice again and then make the cut. I would guess he would probably think it is senseless that I plan to hang the level on one of the walls above this project. A reminder of the man I never knew, the one who came before my dad. More so, a reminder of some of the values and lessons my dad has taught me, that may have trickled down through generations: build with care. Take care of what is yours.

And that’s what this small home improvement project was really all about. Creating a place where my kids can stumble inside, weary from another day in the world, and shed their coats and bags. A first glimpse of home, a safe space where they can leave any expectations and undue weight at the door. I hope it smells like home when they walk in. Something baking in the oven. Scrubbed countertops. Clean laundry and cozy throws. Most of all, I hope when they step inside and walk through that back hall, they feel a home built with care, and know just how deeply they are cared for. 

Personal Records

I’ve run races where I had a time in mind I wanted to finish in and I’ve run races where I simply wanted to finish. And it seems like when it comes to running, these personal records (PRs) are the two most common goals. Since running my first half marathon nine years ago, I’ve discovered there are other kinds of goals. They may not come with the same outward glory, but in a funny way, they can have a bigger pay-off. 

The 2019 Akron Marathon marked my fifth half marathon and it was big for a couple reasons. First, it was the first half marathon I’ve ran since having two kids. Second, it was the first half marathon my husband, Levi, has ever ran. 

Over the past ten years Levi has joined me on countless long runs—on his bike. He is an athletic guy but long-distance running was something he simply wasn’t drawn to. He did, however, know running was important to me. So, he kept me company and gave me peace of mind as I logged early morning runs, cheered me on at every race, and wrapped ice around my legs afterward.

We’re not entirely sure how we ended up registered for the Akron half. Levi swears I asked him to run it and I swear he asked me to run it—funny how that happens. Somehow, we said we were going to do it and spent the next three months training. 

As I was training, I knew I wasn’t likely to come close to my half marathon PR time. When I hit my PR of a sub-two hour half I trained hard, had a goal time, and running was a high priority in my life. 

But, a few years and kids later, my priorities shifted.

Levi and I jammed training runs into odd hours of the day—in the dark, in the heat, pushing our one-year-old and three-year-old in strollers—wherever and however we could squeeze miles in around caring for our kids, working, and summer travel. 

I was happy to be running long distances again, happy my body could run long distances after having two kids in less than two years, and it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t going to PR. Run your race I’d tell myself when starting out on a long run, and I let my body and how I felt guide how fast I ran.

As summer stretched on Levi and I were able to do a few of our long training runs together. For the first two, I ran faster than him. On the last one he was running faster than me, but at mile 10 he looped around to finish the final mile alongside me. When I saw him sweep around and start back toward me, I was both relieved and happy. I can do this. I thought.  I’m not in this alone. 

Race day came and we tiptoed out of our house at 5:45 a.m. to not wake our sleeping babies or my parents, who graciously volunteered to babysit. It was unseasonably warm and humid for late September but we were glad race day was finally here and we were both looking forward to crossing the finish line. 

As we waited with thousands of other runners in the start corrals we agreed if we were within sight of each other toward the end of the race, we’d finish together. 

We were separated early on but the crowd support and constant hills kept me distracted and propelled me forward. At mile seven I heard a voice behind me. “Where have you been?” Levi flashed a smile and fell in stride alongside me.

By mile eight Levi and I were both struggling more than we had on any of our training runs—the hills and weather were taking a toll. At mile nine we came to the biggest hill of the course and as we crested it we agreed we’d finish out the last four miles together. 

With the biggest hill behind me and only four miles ahead of me, I felt good. I was hitting my stride again. And at the same time, Levi hit a wall. 

So, I slowed down to stay with him.  

He repeatedly told me to run ahead, but to me, a 10-minute difference in my finish time wasn’t as important as finishing a half marathon alongside him. If you had floated the idea to me a few years ago to intentionally run slower in a race, I wouldn’t have considered it. But, at this race, where I didn’t have a goal time and I already knew I was going to be crossing the finish line, staying with Levi was easy. My goal was to stick with him like he stuck with me on that last training run. 

People passed me and I didn’t care. I read spectator signs, drank a Dixie cup of warm beer from a block party at mile 11, and when Levi’s quad cramped up and he had to walk some more I walked with him and offered up my best pep talk. 

When I think of the younger version of myself—the one who would have never considered slowing down her pace in a race—I know I had more to learn. I didn’t get a personal record in this race but in a lot of ways I am more appreciative of the outcome. My goal wasn’t about my finish time or whether or not I’d cross the finish line, but about the people I love. It was about running this race with Levi after we spent the summer training together and caring for our young family. 

Sometimes, it’s not about the miles, minutes, or medals, but who you are running with. And that rings true on and off the course. 

To the movers

In our eight years of marriage Levi and I have had seven addresses. We’ve moved a lot and started over a lot and we still have a significant amount of hand-me-down furniture with layers of corporate move stickers on it.

After living in Missouri, Illinois, and South Dakota, we bought our first home in Centerville, Ohio. That was four and a half years ago. At the time, I didn’t want to buy a house, but Levi said it was a better investment than continuing to rent. So, after reluctantly looking at listings online, I told him I’d go see one house. One. We ended up buying that house and we lived there for a little over three years.

It was the longest we had lived in one place and it was our first home. We gutted and finished the master bathroom, hand-scraped thousands of apples off the kitchen walls in what can only be described as a truly amazing wallpaper print. We repainted every cornflower blue room, fixed up not one, but two nurseries, and Levi hand-dug 40+ postholes and raised a fence in our back yard. We did a lot of these projects with the help of family and friends.

We hosted family dinners, birthday parties, and cooked and shared meals with our closest friends around our dining room table. I finished writing my graduate thesis on a barstool at the kitchen island. We rode out heatwaves, ice storms, stomach bugs, and sleepless nights with newborn babies.

It went from being a house, to being our home.

When we first talked of moving—leaving the house I didn’t even want to buy–I immediately began crying. We didn’t lay the cement block foundation or raise the walls of that colonial, but we had built our home there. I had built a business there. We had built friendships there.

We had built our life there.

It takes both time and work to stake out a corner of the world and call it your own. To know it as home. To have that and choose to leave it–to uproot with a toddler and an infant and move hundreds of miles away to a new city where you know no one and your closest family is hours away—is tough.

This kind of move is different than moving to a different home in the same city or the next town over–that comes with its own set of challenges. But this kind of move, the one I’m talking about, is where you leave behind the life you know and start a new one. And this is its own kind of heartbreak.

At first it feels like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes. Like your luggage was lost and you are borrowing someone else’s sweater and pants for an unknown amount of time until yours arrive. You’re just waiting for a new house and a new town to feel like yours.

You spend the first two months learning your way around with GPS. Making mental notes of street names and landmarks. Figuring out where the good grocery stores are. Finding new doctors, pediatricians, veterinarians, hair stylists, babysitters, and dentists. You so badly want it to immediately feel like home and it’s easy to forget that “home” feeling from the place you knew before, your old home, only came with time.

Slowly, you paint a room, hang a picture, become less dependent on Google Maps. You learn to love the way the morning light creeps through the windows when you sit in your favorite chair. Then, you build a fire in the hearth when it snows. You sit on the patio on a cool spring night and look for Cassiopeia. You sit on the same patio and watch your babies run through the sprinkler on a warm summer day. You put yourself out there and meet new people. Some turn out to be people you want to see again, others turn out to be people you won’t. Some eventually become friends.

This starting over, hewing a new life from a fresh block of wood, is one of the most difficult things you will do. But it will open you up to more experiences and people than you knew a mere matter of months ago. It will force you to see the world differently, to have more empathy. It will challenge you to prioritize what is important. It will make you ache for your old home, the one that smelled like home and you already knew which floorboards creaked and what windows rattled in the wind. It will make you envious of the people who’ve never moved—the ones who’ve never had to figure out where the grocery store is, or start over from scratch with friends, or not have family close by to help out in a pinch. But ultimately, it will teach you things you wouldn’t have otherwise known.

This is for the movers. The ones who do what most others haven’t and won’t. The ones who say goodbye to one life and take their young families somewhere they’ve never been to create a new one.

It’s that young family you’re doing it for. To give them every opportunity. But it’s you who unexpectantly also ends up with new opportunities. Your circle grows, your perspective grows, you grow. It’s hard, but you do it. And finally, one morning, you wake up and realize there is more than one corner of the world that can become home.

Twenty Tips for a Disney Day Trip with Toddlers

Last month we went on a week-long family vacation to Florida. We stayed in Orlando at a great vacation property owned by friends.

It is a two-bed, two-bath unit with full kitchen, family room, and private balcony. The gated community has an amazing pool with a zero-edge entry, large splash pad with small water slides, and an additional set of three-story waterslides. There are multiple playgrounds within the neighborhood, sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, tennis courts, and walking paths. Needless to say, there are plenty of things to fill a week of fun in the sun without ever leaving the property.

We knew we could swim, take walks, play at the playground, and go to the beach for a day while we were visiting.

Canaveral National Seashore is our favorite beach for a day trip when we’re staying in Orlando.

With the unit being so close to Disney we wondered whether we should attempt to take the kids to the parks.

We were skeptical because they are SO little–two and one at the time we went. We knew they would never remember the trip. But when we checked ticket prices we found out kids under three are considered “infants” and get in to Disney parks for FREE.

Since we were going the week Garrett was turning three we knew it would likely be the only time we would be able to get two kids into a Disney park for free and we decided to go for it.

Magic Kingdom seemed the obvious choice for toddlers so it was an easy decision which park to go to.

Confession time: I did minimal reading and planning for our day in Disney. We aren’t those people who have been to Disney as adults, order personalized and themed Disney attire for our trip, or spend months planning and researching. I’m talking maybe one hour of online browsing just three days before we left. We made a decision early on that we weren’t going to stress over this trip and our entire goal was to make it fun for the kids.

Somehow, with what little planning that went into our Disney trip, we ended up having the perfect day. Here are our best tips for a low-stress, magical day trip to Disney’s Magic Kingdom with toddlers. 

Twenty Tips for a Disney Day Trip with Toddlers

  1. Download the Disney app

I didn’t bring my computer on vacation so we booked and managed our entire Disney trip on my phone. You can purchase your tickets, reserve your fast passes, check wait times, make dining reservations, and more all within the Disney app.

2. Purchase your tickets online

We didn’t purchase our tickets until we were actually in Florida because we wanted to make sure we went on a day with ideal weather conditions. If it was raining all day or extremely hot we knew the kids would not be down for it. Waiting until we were in Florida to purchase our tickets gave us a better handle on what the weather was going to be like and we picked a day with no chance of rain and a high of 75 degrees.

Kids under three do not need tickets. I called to verify this. I assumed they would need some kind of infant ticket or wrist band. Nope. I also assumed I’d need to have their birth certificates as proof they were actually both under three. No again. If your kids are under three you just purchase the adult ticket(s) and bring the kids with you.

3. Reserve your fast passes

Every ticket has three fast passes that “come with it”. You can reserve your fast passes in one-hour windows and reservations can not overlap one another. (Ex: if you have a fast pass from 9-10 a.m. you can’t book another one until 10:05-11:05 a.m.). I didn’t know if we would use all of the fast pass reservations we made, but I saw it as an opportunity to guarantee we could definitely get on a ride or meet special characters with minimal wait time at different points throughout the day. Fast pass reservations can fill up quickly, but we were still able to get all of the slots we wanted 24 hours in advance. I would not wait any longer than 24 hours ahead of time to make fast pass reservations–the earlier the better.

4. Make a lunch reservation

I was worried about having somewhere to sit down in the middle of the day. With a lunch reservation we were able to sit down in the air conditioning and eat without waiting. Dining reservations fill up quickly, so the earlier you can book, the better chance you have of getting a table in the restaurant you want (a downside of waiting to purchase your tickets until the day or two before). So again, as soon as you have your tickets, book your dining reservations!

We ate at Tony’s Town Square and it was a great place to catch the MousekeDance parade at 11 a.m. and then go in and eat. Bonus: one large pizza and two fruit cups were enough for all four of us so lunch was less than $25.

Waiting for our table at lunch. Even with dining reservations and fast passes there is still some waiting!

5. Pick up your magic cards the day before you go to the park

The day before we went to Disney, Levi kept the kids at the condo while I drove over to the park to pick up our magic cards. Magic cards are essentially your tickets–you use them for entry to the park and for your fast passes on the rides. You have to go to the actual park to pick up your magic cards. You can park your car in the “15-minute” drop-off parking zone, go through security, and then stand in the Will-Call / Ticket Purchase lines.

These are not separate lines–whomp whomp. It took me almost 45 minutes to get our magic cards. Luckily, my car was still there when I got back! It was a bit of a headache but this was 45 minutes we didn’t have to wait with the kids at the very beginning of our day at Disney and it helped start things off on a positive note. **Only Levi and I needed magic cards–kids under three do not need magic cards to get into Disney or ride the rides. **

6. Go early!

When I picked up our magic cards the day before, I left the condo at 10 a.m. and it only took me about ten minutes to get to the security gate. However, we learned the hard way about the morning traffic when the park first opens! The park opens at 9 a.m. so we left the condo at 8:15 a.m. Despite already having our magic cards we still were not in the park until 9:30 a.m. If we do is trip again we will plan to leave the condo at 7 a.m.

7. Take your own stroller, if possible

I know Disney is changing the stroller rules but we were lucky enough to go when we could take our own double stroller. We were used to pushing it, the kids were used to riding in it, and that was a big bonus for a long day. It was comfortable for all of us and Laine took a mid-day nap. Disney has strollers for rent but these are essentially plastic carts with no sun shades that can be hosed down and disinfected at the end of each day.

8. Regular parking

Regular parking was $25 for the day while premium parking was $40. We decided to try regular parking and parked around 8:45 a.m. in the Simba Lot. We were still close enough to the premium lot that it was an easy in and out of the park and we saved $15.

9. Wear comfortable shoes

I feel like this is a no-brainer but socks and tennis shoes are a must. You’re walking a lot but there are also lots of strollers / scooters / other walkers that are bound to bump into you (I had someone drive a motorized scooter up the back of my leg-ouch!).

10. Take the ferry over

After you park, you have to go through security. Choose a security line all the way to the left and you’ll breeze right through. The trolleys unload on the right so everyone queues there. Since we already had our magic cards, after we made it through security we could go straight to the ferry or monorail. The ferry ride over is a nice slow ride and the castle is coming into view the entire time.

11. Snap your castle shots early

Levi hates taking pictures but I asked someone to take ours as soon as we got in the park. The earlier in the day it is, the less crowded it is and the less tired the kids are. Stopping for a quick minute right when you arrive to get the shots guarantees you’ll have them and there will be a greater chance everyone is smiling.

12. Toddler-friendly rides

The following are the rides we picked for our fast passes and the they were all great for our one-year-old and two-year-old.

It’s a Small World – This was hands-down the kids’ favorite. We had our fast pass reservation for 9:05-10:05 a.m. and we could walk right down the line and step into the front row of the first boat. Zero wait and front row seats–can’t beat it!

Dumbo – The kids enjoyed this one but I personally felt the pay-off was not worth the wait. We had to wait about 15 minutes to ride this one and it lasted about two. We had a fast pass reservation for this ride from 10:30-11:30 a.m. and headed over to it right after It’s a Small World.

Jungle Cruise – The kids really liked this one too! We had our fast pass reservation for 12:30 – 1:30 so it was starting to get warm and they were starting to get a little cranky. We waited about 20 minutes even in the fast pass line but somehow we got a front-row seat again. The cruise is about a 10-15 minute ride with “jungle animals” to see along the way which the kids loved. The boats are also covered with shades which is a bonus in the middle of the day!

13. Use mobile ordering for snacks and treats

Had to get a dole whip. The kids love soft serve and I love pineapple. As with most things Disney, there was a long line at this stand. I spotted a mobile pick-up line, hopped on my Disney app, and placed the order there. It was ready in less than 10 minutes. When you mobile order take a screenshot of your order confirmation so you can show it when you go to pick up. Cell service was slow and sticky, like it is at sporting events or concerts, and you don’t want to not be able to pull up your order confirm when it’s your turn.

Dole float from Aloha Isle

14. Catch the parade

Magic Kingdom has a Move It! Shake It! MousekeDance It! Street Party parade that typically runs at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 5:45 p.m. We caught part of the 11 a.m. parade in front of the castle on our way to our lunch reservation and we watched the beginning of the 12:30 p.m. parade after our lunch reservation on our way back through the park. It wasn’t difficult to get a front row spot for either.

15. Dum dum suckers and fruit snacks

I’m convinced these are two of the great secrets of motherhood. Sorry, Shiela if your kid doesn’t drink juice or eat anything with corn syrup. Kudos to you. Suckers and fruit snacks got us through some longer wait times with no tears and minimal complaining throughout the day.

16. Bonus fast pass 

If you use all three of your fast passes you get a bonus fast pass. The kids loved It’s a Small World so much we booked our bonus fast pass for 2-3 p.m.

17. Go with the flow

When we got back to It’s a Small World around 2:15 p.m. even the fast pass line was pushing 30 minutes. We knew the kids weren’t going to do well with that long of a wait during peak nap time and we also wanted them to see the 3 p.m. parade. We abandoned our fourth fast pass to keep the peace.

18. Stake out a spot for the 3 pm parade

Around 2:30 we started to walk back towards the park entrance and noticed they had the streets cordoned off. Laine was finishing up a nap so she and I grabbed a spot right behind the rope with the castle in the background and Levi and Garrett went to walk around for 30 minutes (and saw Mary Poppins!). It becomes near impossible to find a good spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade quickly and by the time the parade started people were packed 4-5 rows deep behind the cordons. The double stroller made it easy for the kids to have a guaranteed front row seat without anyone trying to push them out of the way. Laine even got to meet Snow White!

19. Go with the flow

This one gets a double mention because we felt it was so important. After the 3 p.m. parade our kids were done so we called it. We were at Disney for them and if they were tired and ready to head out, we weren’t going to force them to stay until fireworks. Remember, this is about the tiny people! If they aren’t having fun, is anyone really having fun? By the time we got out of the gates it was close to 4 p.m.

20. Take the monorail out

When we left we were all hot and tired but the kids were excited for the monorail ride. It also went a lot faster than the ferry ride in which was fine with us! Taking the ferry in and the monorail out gave us the opportunity for the kids to do both with an exciting entrance and a quick exit. We were back to our car by 4:30 p.m.

We felt like one day was the perfect amount of time to take our one-year-old and two-year-old to Disney and have major respect for families who take toddlers on extended Disney vacations!

If I were to add a 21st tip to our list it would be to have whiskey at your condo for the evening after Disney. Levi and I were happy for a stiff drink when the day was over and the kids were in bed. The biggest challenge for us on our day trip to Disney was the crowds. We aren’t used to vacationing with large crowds and the sheer amount of people and constant level of stimulation in Disney is overwhelming in and of itself.

We’re glad we decided to go for it and take our toddlers to Disney. We had a great family day and will definitely be back in a few years. Likely when we won’t need to bring a stroller :).

To New York, With Love


New York has an undeniable pulse to it. Step off the grinding subway to a thundering drum performance and you can physically feel the beat. Every corner turned boasts a different part of life.

Joy, sorrow, love, loss, beauty, disfigurement—it all can be found in New York. Centuries-old stone churches kiss new-construction steel skyscrapers. Every age, gender, race, and class swirl through the streets. You can buy a 99¢ slice of pizza next door to a restaurant where $99 is the standard entrée price. The dichotomies are overwhelming and gorgeous.

This past weekend my husband took an extra day off work and watched our kids while my mom and I drove over to visit my brother in the West Village. (Can I get an Amen for husbands who are equal partners?).

This was my fourth time to New York City but first time staying in the West Village and it offered a side of the city I’d never experienced. The residential feeling I never felt in Midtown and the Upper East Side was found in the West Village.

After this weekend it is easy to see why so many artists are drawn to the city. There is no shying away from life when you’re there. Art, music, theatre, food, people—there is inspiration seeping at the seams.

How cool is it to have a brother who lives someplace this awesome? To say I hit the sibling jackpot with my older brother and younger sister is an understatement. I hope one day my own kids will stop fighting over the Dory plate and like each other. I hope even more so that when they’re adults they’ll like to spend time together. I know I have years of refereeing knockout matches over Cozy Coupes, television shows, and car keys between now and then, but here’s to hoping.

My brother hosted the perfect weekend—great food, jazz, once-in-a-lifetime seats at Hamilton—and it was such a different scene from my day-to-day life. Don’t get me wrong—I’m deliriously happy with my life—but this weekend was a perfect testament as to why it’s good to step outside of our own lives every now and then and travel.

Taking a trip is the ultimate reminder that there is so much more beyond the walls of our homes, streets of our communities, and routines of our lives.

I can’t help but feel this past weekend was a little bit of magic. To be in the city where anything is possible and spend time with some of the people who have known me from the very beginning, who have informed who I am today, is priceless.


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