This Didn't Happen TO Me, It Happened FOR Me

Post Written by Markus

When I was in middle school, my family of origin broke apart. I don’t know the specific reasons although I can speculate - but really that doesn’t matter much to me now. It was a long process that from what I can tell began a few years earlier when I was still in elementary school. And really, our family wasn’t technically broken apart until I was a sophomore in high school. But it was definitely broken years before that and there were more than a few painful years while everything played out.  

I’ll be honest - at the time, I didn’t think much of it. Plenty of my friends at school were in broken homes and that concept seemed pretty normal to me by age 16.  But my heart (and my life) would tell you otherwise. Both were screaming in anguish and it would be about two decades before I started to regain a sense of security, belonging, and vulnerability.

For me, the aftermath of my family dissolving was in a word - devastating.  There were plenty of other things at play that made life from age 11 to age 16 excruciating but the breaking apart of my family dumped jet fuel onto an already blazing dumpster fire.  What little footing I had crumbled beneath my feet and I went into a tailspin in many ways, especially emotionally.  

There’s plenty of detail and plenty of stories for another day.  It’s hard to say which of those two decades was “harder” or “worse” - both of them included moments darker, more lonely, and more painful than I ever believed possible. It’s not until one year ago when I took the plunge and went on The ManKind Project’s NWTA weekend mens’ retreat that things tangibly began to change.  That weekend was a catalyst in the best way for the most profound healing and growth I’ve ever experienced.

What Did It Mean?

If you had asked me at any point during those two decades to talk about how my family’s breakup affected me, I would have given you one of these responses:

  • I’m good/fine/OK.

  • It’s not a big deal.

  • Tons of people come from broken homes and they’re fine, so I’ll be fine too.

  • I’m actually glad because before the breakup everything was even worse and at least now there’s peace.

Although I was in massive denial, my heart knew that none of those were true.  I distinctly remember the day I closed my heart up tight “so that I wouldn’t keep feeling so much hurt.”  Spoiler alert - it didn’t work. Not just that, it actually guaranteed that I would experience the exact emotions I was trying to avoid - pain, sadness, and loneliness. 

Now that I have a little perspective and am looking at much of this era of my life in hindsight, there’s an important question: how do I see this event in terms of what it means? The real question is the same no matter how it’s phrased, and it’s about Life itself:

  • Is Love even real or is Love just a fake lie?

  • Is the world a safe place or is a dangerous place?  

  • Can I trust that I’m going to be OK even when painful things outside my control happen or do I need to protect my heart by armoring up and not letting anyone in?

For me, the question boils down to this: did this event happen TO me or did it happen FOR me?  

Considering That I Might Be Wrong

The first time I even considered the idea that this event might have happened FOR me, I immediately dismissed it because it was obviously a stupid nonsense question.  How could my family dissolving possibly be FOR me? Anyone that might even suggest that’s the case must be insane - that event triggered the lowest lows I’ve ever experienced.  FOR me? Come on. Don’t waste my time.  

What I didn’t see at the time was that I was already bringing my own pre-determined meaning to this question. I had already made up my mind and it was not open for discussion. It was an open-and-shut case as far as I was concerned: Markus’ family dissolves and as a result, Markus experiences pain and sadness. This happened TO him.  Done and done.

If something happens FOR someone, that means they somehow benefited from it.  I would never have described my experience as something remotely beneficial or positive.  So therefore, it happened TO me. Negative effects = TO me, positive effects = FOR me. Easy. 

And yet - today I believe deeply that this (and plenty of other painful things in my life) happened FOR me, not TO me.  I’m honestly grateful for each moment of pain that I experienced along the way. Each of those moments has somehow led to my growth.  

Although it took a long time, my family’s breakup ultimately led to me at age 35 being desperate enough to sign-up blind for that mens’ retreat which ended up being an experience that blew the doors of my heart and my life wide open.  The positive effect of everything that’s happened since then has been blindingly obvious - which means that my family’s breakup actually did happen FOR me, not TO me. It was something that was brought into my life for my own growth.

Another big one was a severe ankle injury I sustained in 2003. It was a badly broken bone from a freak “sports” injury (paintball is a real sport, OK?) that led to multiple surgeries and hospitalizations, including a nasty staph infection in my ankle joint that wiped out all the cartilage.

I still have the scars on my arm from where I had a PICC line installed so I could self-administer my antibiotic IVs each day. I was two-years into my career as a student at SMU at the time and I quickly found myself in massive depression and realized I hadn’t been to class in a month. That turned into a downward spiral and I withdrew from SMU indefinitely - which turned into four years.

At my last orthopedic appointment earlier this year, my doctor told me (not jokingly) “Well, your ankle is still in terrible shape but it hasn’t gotten any worse. Honestly it’s amazing that you’re not in constant debilitating pain.”

But for me, today - it’s the same with this injury as it is with my family’s breakup. This injury happened FOR me, not TO me. The very painful journey that happened as a result of this injury taught me things I would not have learned otherwise and which I needed badly so that I could be of service to other people. Things like empathy - especially for people living with depression or disability. Also for people dealing with issues around body composition and fitness - I’d previously always thought it was a moral failing. I mean it was easy for me to stay in shape so why not everyone else? That perspective quickly changed when I realized I had gained about 75 pounds over two years and I learned firsthand how real that struggle actually is. 

That injury also led to me moving out to Lubbock in 2006 where my brother was going to school. I remember the conversation as him saying something like “Hey man, you’re not going to school and there’s nothing keeping you in Dallas - we’re looking for a roommate, wanna move out here for a while?” I knew I would meet a lot of dust and a lot of wind in Lubbock. What I didn’t know is that I would meet a girl who would knock me off my feet, rock my world, and that I would ultimately ask to marry me. 

It’s beyond obvious today that this injury happened FOR me, not TO me. This was a cosmic two-by-four that smacked me clear across the forehead and that forced painful experiences into my life for my own growth, so that I would be of better use (alright, any use) to the world around me. And so that I would meet Lilly, after which my life would never be the same - in the best ways. 

A New Default Mode

These days, I notice myself genuinely saying a phrase out-loud to myself plenty of times throughout the day, and it still catches me off guard. It’s after something has happened that seems annoying, frustrating, inconvenient, unpleasant, painful, or unfair. That phrase is “Thank you.”  

When I’m running late and I seem to catch every single red light?  “Thank you.”   

When my daughter accidentally knocks a full glass of water onto a clean wooden floor as I’m closing the door after saying goodnight?  “Thank you.”  

When I have one item at the grocery store, the express lines are closed, and it’s a 10-minute wait to the cashier? “Thank you.”

Because what I’ve come to realize is this:  I am the one who decides what the things in my life mean, whether they’re positive or negative.  Are they happening FOR me or TO me?  

And what I’ve decided is - no matter what it is, it’s happening FOR me.  

How do I know?  Because I’m playing the long game and because I’m no longer arrogant enough to assume that I know how everything (or anything for that matter) is going to play out over time. Everything that looks like it’s happening TO me in the moment, might be the exact opposite and I just might not know it for twenty years - because that’s exactly what happened in my life.

These days, if I can’t prove immediately which of the two it is (i.e., always), I now assume that it’s happening FOR me.  There are two options that it could be - TO me or FOR me. I’ve been down the “everything that’s unpleasant is happening TO me” road. I spent decades being cynical, jaded, paranoid, pessimistic and with my heart locked-down tight. I’ve lived as if the world was a bad, scary place and that everyone and everything was out to get me. I even had so much “proof.”

But no thanks, that’s not for me anymore. Whatever each day has in store, I’m there for it. Amor Fati - a love of fate. Not merely to bear what is necessary, but love it. The obstacle really is the way.

In the words of Marcus Aurelius - “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” What looks like it might be a total derailing of my life or at least an annoying, inconvenient mess - I now view as a scenic detour and I keep my eyes peeled for rainbows along the way. Believing (and knowing) that life is happening FOR me - to me, that’s the essence of what it means to live with an open heart. 

BY MARKUS, GROWMarkusComment
The Best Dates in Dallas Under $100 and your Date Night Spotify Playlist!
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We’re reformed adventure daters. 

Living in an urban environment, the opportunities for mind-blowing experiences abound. It feels like one of our favorite music artists is always in town or there’s a guest lecture at one of our top local universities. Thanks to this, our date night calendar stayed packed to the brim for years. 

So it was pretty surprising to figure out we’d lost connection and stopped communicating. 

Looking at the date night schedule for clues, it hit me. We were getting sitters and paying money to rush from dinner to events where we sat or stood next to each other, taking in the same experience but not getting the full ability to decompress and talk. 

We still love sharing those experiences, but it’s become a bigger priority to make sure we’re getting time out of the house to hang out as friends and talk about life in a bigger way than what’s on deck for the next few days. 

I wasn’t until we wrote out our favorite ways to step out together these days that we realized they were all well under $100! 

The 10 Best Dates in Dallas Under $100

  1. White Rock Lake

    I’m a little partial to White Rock Lake since we celebrated our wedding there 10 years ago next week. We try to do one thing with the lake around this time of year to bring back those memories, and it feels like each one is better than the last! We’ve canoed and paddle boarded with White Rock Paddle Company, rented a tandem bike through Richardson Bike Mart, brought our own bikes out for a spin countless times and just parked and walked around.

  2. Great American Hero and a Park Bench

    The best cold food experience in Dallas is at Great American Hero (best hot food is Maple and Motor, we’ll get deeper into that on a different day). I tripe dog dare you not to have a great time at the Hero. We love to pick up from there (they have gluten-free bread and will make any sandwich into a salad as well), add two of their massive iced teas and some Zapp’s, find a park bench and shoot the breeze. This is even better when the bench is one of the many along the trail around White Rock Lake!

  3. Concerts at The Granada Theater

    Why are these the best? There’s nothing better to me than rolling up here in a pair of cut off shorts and sneakers and enjoying the jams and beautiful space. We might stay the whole show or take some breaks on the front patio. Tickets are always priced where it can be a fun, flexible night.

  4. Oak Cliff

    We love to grab drinks at the new ultra 7-11 at Sylvan Ave and I-30 (they have organic Slurpees?!) then cruise over to Lula B’s Oak Cliff and browse their treasures. Everything in there is a new childhood memory to share with your partner or conversation starter. For nearby food, we love Tacos Mariachi, Lockhart BBQ or Chicken Scratch!

  5. Royal China Noodle Bar

    Even without drinking much from the bar, I love a counter seat experience at restaurants! The noodle bar at Royal China can’t be beat for me. I love filling up there, maybe swinging by Steel City Pops a few doors down and then going across the street to Interabang Books (which always puts me over the $100 mark for the evening - you’ve been warned!).

  6. Deep Ellum Dancing

    This is the date night spot for weirdo parents, and we are here for it. Shows at the new Dallas Comedy House, burgers and tots from Easy Slider (at the bar of course), dancing at Off the Record or Beauty Bar and one last stop at RocketFizz for some candy on the ride home.

  7. Founder’s Plaza Observation Area

    This is the best place in Dallas to sit and watch planes coming and going from DFW airport. It’s fun with kids during the day, but better just the two of you at night with take out.

  8. Flow and a Show in Mockingbird Station

    One time we went to a CorePower Yoga class together (I love their C2 classes), followed by showers there and walking next door to see a movie at The Angelika Theater in our sweats. I love movies, but find the ones at Angelika to be particularly conversation starting (our most recent fave there was The Biggest Little Farm.) Popcorn counts as dinner y’all! And Pure Milk & Honey downstairs is delicious frozen yogurt sweetened only with honey from the local, incredible Bonton Farms.

  9. Sunday Meditation and Brunch

    One of the most recent and best dates we’ve done is have a sitter come around 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. Our daughter got to linger and play in pajamas while we headed out to a meditation class (The Refuge Meditation is a great spot in Dallas!) and stopped to get some breakfast before heading home. Between the early start and meditation, we were rolling in the ideas and vision for our family by brunch time! Our favorite brunch spot that feels like getting out of town is Zaguan.

  10. Dinner Out on a Weeknight!

    Anywhere. Tell me I have a mid-week break with no cooking and no kid’s bedtime routine and my date night standards go down significantly. We love Taco Joint, TJ’s Seafood or Hopdoddy. Anywhere in an area where we can take a leisurely stroll back to our car is a plus!

    What are your favorite date night spots in Dallas? Add them below in the comments!

    And here’s an adults-only playlist from us to you to play on your date! These are our favorite songs about love to inspire the feeling and conversations around it during your time together. Follow our Spotify channel if you want to see more of our playlists!

My 10 Steps for Keeping Resentment in Check

About a year ago was the first time I really felt myself figuring out “adulting.” (Don’t draw attention to the facts that I had been working, paying a mortgage and raising a child for years). I knew my schedule. I knew where my stuff went and I put it there. I surprised myself and everyone around me with my meal plans, folded laundry and, most days of the week, clean floors. 

I was crushing on myself. 

Now that I felt pride in my competency, my issue was becoming other people. I flopped down exhausted on the sofa at night, every item on my to-do list completed at best-in-class standards. It was then I looked up and started noticing the other adults around me. My excellence hadn’t influenced them at all. 

As I overachieved on things I thought were important, a little inner dialogue started to form in my head, 

Everyone can count on me, but I have no one I can count on. 

I’m the only person who cares. 

I work my butt off because I love my family, so people failing me is proof I’m not loved back. 

I wasn’t trying to keep score, but I was doing a great job at it. The art of noticing made it easier and easier to see how I was doing more, giving more and working on more than anyone else. Any contentment and self-pride in my efforts was left in the shadows of feeling jaded and lonely when I compared my service to my family and the world to others and perceived an imbalance of effort. 

Markus would be out for the night and arrive home to a clean house, with the counters clean, lunches for tomorrow packed and a lit candle for dramatic affect. I came home from a night out to frozen pizza left out on the counter and a happy child still wrestling on her pajamas post-bedtime. 

While my perception of disparities was easiest to spot at home, it was an energy I was channeling into all of my relationships - family, friendships and work. I could feel like I reached out to my friends more than they did with me. I was always the one to organize social nights. I was single handedly saving the world through Instagram while the rest of you sat idly by. 

It took me a while to understand that I was in the throws of resentment, defined as “bitter indignation of having been treated unfairly.” Sounds like a great time. 

Being treated unfairly is the part I wanted to put on other people through blame. And I did. I was a Mom martyr - my love for my family and diligence to their needs through ways only I could provide came ahead of my joy and sense of self. The cherubs fluttered their wings around me as a violin played in the background and a bluebird came to wipe away my tears. 

My despair and angst were around a flawed concept that my state was permanent and something other people controlled. Until it hit me in the face that, like all feelings, resentment was an emotion that passes through to show me there’s more to learn about myself and my relationship with the world and others. 

The teaching ability that’s possible when I approach my feelings without shame still gets me all shook up. For me, when I’m feeling resentment and getting an itch to hit the blame button, I have a list of what might really be going on. 

My Resentment Tells Me:

  • I’m giving too much of my power away to other people. 

  • I’m forgetting there are other ways of doing things besides how I see it. 

  • I’m also giving myself too much power because, even though I’d be a fine candidate for the job, I don’t actually control the universe. 

  • It’s time to remember I’m not the only person carrying a heavy load. 

Noticing an experience as a short term feeling instead of permanent and truth is always a big step in the right direction with me. Since feeling resentment usually stems from my relationships with others, this one comes with homework. 

I hate homework, so I typically try to avoid getting into the throws of feeling resentful altogether. But as life happens and I feel a sanctimonious pity party coming on (I even have to throw all of my pity parties for myself - ugh) I consult my Resentment Homework Assignments List and go down the row until I’m feeling like my real self again. 

You’ll probably never need these, but to give you an idea…

Lilly’s Resentment Homework Assignments 

  1. Ask for help. Even in a home with a good equalization of domestic labor, I was getting bogged down in decision fatigue from being what felt like the sole brains of the operation, making every decision. It was time to stop making them all myself. Relatedly, some of your other friends can probably pick where you all have dinner sometimes. They might also be able to call the restaurant for a reservation. 

  2. Take something off my plate. This may have to include an admission of overscheduling and an apology. They are uncomfortable words that are capable of leaving my mouth or text fingers without resulting in my death. And if it results in the death of a relationship, it never was one anyways.

  3. Take my hands off someone else’s life. Sometimes a loved one wanted all of my advice and sometimes they didn’t, but I was giving away more energy than I could regenerate for myself. I’ve decided I have no option but to decide that everyone’s on their own path and has their own internal wisdom source. It’s not my job or duty to lend mine out to others so much.

  4. Set boundaries. If I’m participating in life and being a safe person for people to talk to, I’m going to hear some heavy things. I might also be around people who are hurting and not sure how to deal with it, which may affect their behaviors towards me. I can see, feel and understand them without making their hardships mine to carry. 

  5. Do something nice for myself. If I have to practice one of the previous assignments first to create the time or mindset to make my care a priority, even better. 

  6. Drop my expectations. When I haven’t already decided myself how everything should be, life is more of an experience, unfolding in surprising new ways all of the time. (Was I upset walking into an untidy house after a night out because I expected something else and didn’t communicate it? Jake Ryan would have a clean house ready for me, sure, but did it cross my real life spouse’s mind? And did it really matter?) 

  7. Do something nice for a stranger or someone I haven’t been able to connect with lately, without anyone else finding out about it. Like number five, this might mean diverting myself away from some of the usual grassfires that typically take my attention. Reconnection with others helps me remember there’s life outside my bubble of perceived influence. And those grassfires? They typically go out, or at least decide to stay self-contained until my dutiful return. 

  8. This one is a pest, but I try to practice...empathy. That Mom who never brings a snack to school functions might be going through some gnarly personal stuff. My parents are human beings who have to wake up and figure out a mess of life just like me. My spouse also had a long day and may have just been able to start cleaning up when I walked in the door. A staggering 99% of the time, everyone is doing their best given the circumstances. I’m allowed to believe that and adjust my expectations accordingly. 

  9. I forgive myself. Because just like them, I’m allowed to struggle, too. To make mistakes and blow some things off here and there. I’m a damn good one, but just a regular ol’ human being. I could accept imperfections and maybe even...chill out a little?

  10. I personally feel a higher power that sees my efforts, knows my heart and loves it when I place my trust there. When this relationship comes first, followed by the one I have with myself and then ones with other people, the load is lighter. 

I love a success story, so I was thrilled when I got one so soon after starting my resentment detox process. This spring, I was busy - I was running our house, I was in the busiest season of my job, and getting elementary school registration underway. I was doing it all - besides taking my daughter to swim class. In Texas, swim class is not optional. So on top of fears of a summer where my daughter couldn’t fully enjoy the pool with friends, my letting swim classes continue to fall by the wayside was becoming complicit in the harm or death to my child (in my head). 

I could feel the resentment coming on. You wouldn’t have your daughter’s swim lessons locked up either if you were in charge of everything. The thought was so pervasive I did something I’ve never done before. I asked for help. I mean, I didn’t do anything so full-out-vulnerable as go to my partner and ask him to partner with me on something. But I did “update” him with a text, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by swim lessons. I know she needed to start back a while ago but the weeks go by without me having time to find the right class, enroll her and get it into our schedule.”

Markus responded in seconds. Just that morning, there had been a flyer up at his gym for kid’s swim lessons. With a few minutes more of his time, our daughter was enrolled and could swim on Saturdays while her Dad had personal time at the gym and Mom had a break for herself too. 

After a shame-free owning up to being behind on signing up for classes (because, we can say it together, I’m allowed to make mistakes), remembering that I’m not the only person who can do things, and asking for help, we were better than before. We found swim classes our girl loves, I think especially since they’re a special activity with her Dad. They’re not at the quaint, family-owned school I went to last year with fish murals and achievement ribbons, but, I remember, am not the only person who knows what is best for our family. For me, finding peace often comes through deference. 

The changes have been astounding, with a few side effects. I don’t feel like Wonder Woman as often in my life, but my invisible plane hadn’t ever shown up anyways. I’m more vulnerable to others. I have to trust things will happen and understand and forgive when they don’t. 

In the space left from my fading resentment and the gaps in my schedule when I don’t do everything myself, gratitude gets in. It’s easy to see how many people love me and want me to have the things I need when I share my heart and let people love me in the ways they know how.

I’ve broken from the resentment rut, but it’s a state for me is something I have to work to keep in remission. Thankfully, the only thing I’m consistently resentful about these days is how much water I need to drink in a day to feel normal (why?). As it bubbles up, I know what resentment tells me and what needs to be done. First up, having mercy for myself and the fact that while I can’t change other people, my attitude is always available for my handy work. It’s something to scan for and think about when I have time to myself. Usually, when my husband is competently taking my daughter to her swim lesson and I’m in my quiet home alone with plenty of time to do nothing but be grateful.

BY LILLY, GROWLillyComment
Not Afraid to Catch Feels

Post written by Lilly

“You’re so adventurous!’ “A free spirit!” “I admire your bravery!”

I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to hear compliments like this from people I love and respect. On my better days, I believe it about myself too. So long as I’m near my people. 

For decades, only a few people knew about my separation anxiety. I’m totally ride-or-die, as long as I’m riding next to a person I feel safe with - my origin family when I was little, my family unit now and a few choice friends. Without them, I’ve been in the most engrossing, beautiful places and distracted by an obsessive nagging that, since I’m not with the people that are important to me, everything is likely to fall apart. 

I know the backstory here - the highlight reel includes a return from a two-week trip abroad immediately followed by my grandfather’s sudden passing.  Right on the heels of that was the instability of family life with a sick parent and over or under on about 5,000 articles I’ve read on my responsibility to stay safe in a world that does little for the epidemic of violence towards women. 

I’ve called home from high school sleepovers for a pickup, I’ve sabotaged fun weekend getaways and declined more exciting invitations than I can count. I’m not a huge FOMOist - I’m a JOMO (joy of missing out). But the SOMO - shame of missing out - is unbearable.

“Everyone else travels with friends, travels alone and is completely capable and fun.”

“Think of all of your friends raising kids as single Moms who would think of how pathetic you are.”

“This. is. ridiculous.”

I tried to ignore my anxiety. My shaming thoughts would enter and I’d say, “You’re right. I’m going to ignore my dumbassery and stop this Bologna Joe. I’m going to act like there’s nothing wrong with me and I’m just as capable as everyone else.”

And then, after stuffing down my anxious thoughts, I would find them taking over and cornering me in a bathroom as I called my husband sobbing in a panic attack. 

About a year ago, we had a situation. I had asked the Universe for a plan on how to figure out more open-hearted communication and understanding in my marriage. I turned my palms up to receive and found exactly what I needed and the opposite of what I was looking for: the ManKind Project New Warrior Training Weekend

Three straight days with Markus somewhere in the woods in a situation neither of us knew much of anything about, with no ability for us to communicate with each other. 

For Pete’s sake guys. I was the one who asked for this. I was the one who said we (he) would try anything recommended to us by good counsel. So why did going the longest period without being able to talk to Markus in twelve years sound less like hope and more like a prison sentence?

The imaginary wise, talking owl that perches nearby in these moments laughed at me. “Watch out for scheming little plans to help the people you love grow up,” he said, “because you may find it’s time to do a little growing up yourself.” 

Thankfully, my realization that I was in a pickle brought on one of those down-from-the-gut thoughts. This was too much to try to keep in a corner of my head and pretend to ignore before combusting. I needed a plan, the type that can be assembled when I just look at something for what it is without shame, by calmly determining my needs and getting it done. 

We were going to need a really good hotel. 

“Remember! This is hard...for you! And that’s ok! Set yourself up for success!” I said as I booked a room for my four year old and I at one of the most coveted rooms in town. 

The weekend still crawled by, and I still felt silly scared of everything and nothing at times. But we did it - on high thread count sheets, with a beautiful pool to splash and laugh in with my daughter, with good food and with a few complimentary glasses of champagne. 

Before long, it was over. Markus brought home an incredible experience from his retreat, and I had one too. I hadn’t stared at my phone, paced the floors of our house or lost my nerves. We had a great time. I was also a New Warrior - and our little girl still talks about our girls’ weekend in the city as one of her favorite memories. 

And all it took was once, go figure. We’ve done longer times apart since that weekend with no issue. Now I see it coming, I own that this is a growing spot for me, I get a new face mask or make dinner plans with a friend. We all come back together again. 

I’ve come to notice that shaming voice in my head around other worries or emotions we tend to label societally as silly or unpleasant. Thoughts come around such as, 

“I should be grateful instead of upset.”

“No one likes a mope.”

“Angry women are unattractive.”

Without shame’s temptation to dismiss and ignore, I’m better equipped to get curious about the feeling and why it might be there. Is it time to take a closer look at a past event that’s still affecting me, take my lessons and make my peace with it? Do I need to make some changes or set some boundaries in my life? (I can’t tell you how much actually letting myself feel angry now and then has helped me know what does and does not serve me and change my life for the better. And, as far as I can tell, I have not turned into an old hag.)

I don’t have to attach to every feeling I have, but I don’t have to deny them either. They’re passing through to help me make informed choices. 

This past week, I did one of the most emotional things in my life. I sent my daughter to Kindergarten. 

To me, Kindergarten occupying this much of my mind and heart seems stupid. I’ll save the details for later, but I’ve seen and walked through some shit in my life that should make this a cake walk. She’s five, the school is perfect, the timing is here. From my basic understanding, almost everyone goes and lives to tell about it. If I’m being honest though, for some reason, to me, it is a big deal. 

Thankfully, Kindergarten requires many logistics. Things to buy, things to wash, things to label, things to pack, things to gift wrap, things to be orientated on. I was able to keep myself quite busy in a state of distraction and keep those blubbery feelings that one might identify with a less capable Mom than I tucked away. Until, I realized these busy days were the last of our summer. I had a choice. 

I could run myself ragged in distraction acting like my feelings weren’t happening. I wouldn’t feel the sadness, yes, or the happiness either. Or I could ride it out. Live in the present moment as much as I could. I cried reading bedtime books here or there, but I probably took even more mental photos in my mind of tiny, precious moments - the two freckles on her face, her cheeks rising up to her eyes when she laughs, the way she says “squirrel” - than I plan to take on the first day of school tomorrow. It was a ride, but I knew if I didn’t surrender and participate, my SOMO would be about missing these little moments by trying to avoid some of the uncomfortable feelings that came with them. 

Instead of being something to be ashamed of, those feelings are now the cue I could use a little more care, and I’m just the person for the job. Running away to a hotel again felt like a good idea, but most often I’m amazed at how things as simple as putting down my phone for an hour or making myself a glass of water make the things I need to be present with come to the surface and lets the rest float away. 

The last thing I’ve learned about feeling those nasty feelings: without having to say anything, by just recognizing the state I’m in, however sorry it seems, I always find the comfort I need. 

With Kindergarten, I felt excited. I felt relieved. I felt sad for the end of an era. I felt overwhelmed of the blank slate of life ahead of me after a slower two years of making myself available to our girl. I felt afraid - that as my baby’s dependency on me lessened, our connection would go too. 

That last one was tough to admit. And then as I brushed my daughter’s hair, she so casually said, “I’m lucky that you’re my Mom and my friend too.”

I know it’s only been one day, but I feel like I already know I’ll remember that forever. It’s that flashback that will play in my head at college drop offs or maybe a wedding (and to be honest, that one time she dares to call me a bitch in front her friends). 

She probably was going to say that anyways, right? But after looking at that fear, I heard it in a way I’ll never forget. Connection without dependency is friendship. We all have a great shot at being more than fine. 

I really wish I was Super Mom, but I’m more human than I like to admit. Every one of those pesky human emotions tried to call shotgun as I drive through life - happiness, contentment and confidence are regular riders, so is sadness on occasion, anger when I could probably stand up for myself a little more, and even for a fist up, “fearless” female like myself, a little fear. 

Sometimes to be as perfectly fine as I say I am, I have to tend to the thoughts that want to tell me I’m not. They don’t need to take the wheel, just get a pat on the head or, every twelve years or so, a night out at a five star hotel. My fears rest more easily on a really good mattress. And if Socrates was there, he’d stir the almond milk into my room service coffee, tuck me in and commend me on a great job of knowing thyself.

GROW, BY LILLYLillyComment
My Secret to Good Hospitality: Having Less

Post Written by Lilly

Growing up, one of the biggest dreams for my future adult life was entertaining: hosting parties and holidays in my family home, but more so creating a space where people walked in and out in comfort, with simple hospitality like cold drinks and tasty snacks at the ready. I know, I was an interesting kid.

It’s no surprise with this goal that I purchased my first home at 24. Ready to prove myself, I was anxious to fill it top to bottom with all of the novelties and “essentials” I had dog-eared on magazine pages since before I could drive. Someone probably could have intervened when I was registering for tea cake molds on my wedding registry.

I dumped all of my available funds, time and effort into feathering my nest, working extra hours as often as I could for that surplus in our budget for new chairs, new drapery rods or whatever was next on the list for our space to finally feel “complete.”

Years went by, and while our home was beginning to look so unique that it was being featured in publications (such as The Dallas Morning News, Apartment Therapy, and Young House Love), the hospitality part of my dream was still stalled. I always wanted to host and entertain more, right after we got a new sofa or finished that one final project

New Home, New Intentions

When we said goodbye to our first home of nine years last summer, I honored and appreciated all of the memories made in that home with our family. However, it was hard to believe that I could probably count on two hands the number of times I had used our space for bringing people together in those nine years.

That’s a lot of mortgage payments for very minimal lifestyles and dreams, y’all.

At our new place, I wanted things to be different. 

Hope + Direction + Community = Freedom

The most life-altering thing I’ve done to change my mindset around entertaining was signing up for the Uncluttered course with Joshua from Becoming Minimalist on a whim one year after our move. 

Working in Joshua’s modules, I heard about the freedom of those who have let go of an attachment to material belongings. Being in an accountability group with (literally) thousands of other people putting in the time and effort to clear their homes and change their relationship with stuff made it all click together for me at a level I finally feel has permanence. 

There’s no way you could have told me starting the Uncluttered course I would completely and easily fill the spacious cargo area of my car with donation items four times over nine weeks. It was as if the direction and mindset shift that the course provided made the release happen automatically.  

Since I know you are filled with grace in your heart for a busy family that can easily get into the habit of cramming things in cabinets and drawers, I’ll provide one before/after from my experience. :)

uncluttered course review.jpg

A Home of Less, Filled with Abundance

Today, I still wouldn’t fully consider myself a minimalist. We live in a 2,000 sq ft home in the middle of an urban city. My small clothing closet isn’t overflowing like before, but has more options than a basic capsule wardrobe. I still pop into favorite estate sales and consignment shops, although these days I typically come home just as inspired as when I used to visit before, but blissfully empty-handed.

When I walk through stores today, I have a deeper conversation with myself when I pick up an object. I’m no longer weighing the purchase solely by the joy it will give me immediately, but also in consideration of how it may contribute to or cost me my peace down the road.

The humbling part of this process wasn’t finding the time, but looking at an object and knowing I spent hard earned money on it thinking I needed it and have barely thought about it. Honestly, most of the time the time spent with the item was to clean it, move it or put it in “I didn’t really need this” purgatory until this course. Looking at all of those purchases get together and fill boxes is imprinted in my mind and has kept my trigger finger off the “one click purchase” button. It’s been the wake up call I needed for my relationship with finding, acquiring and dealing with…stuff that I feel had permanence.

My style has always been eclectic and colorful, not exactly hallmarks of the minimalist lifestyle.  I’m amazed how much more joy my “treasures” bring me when my home is truly a curation of my favorite things with plenty of space to shine. My home feels complete these days, not for looking a certain way, but because it holds my family and a few things we love, which is more than we need. 

I’ve been the most amazed since working through the course in how spontaneous I’ve become with offering my home for entertaining. I’ve had more people over in the past few months than I have in any given year before. When my husband’s father passed away unexpectedly and when our city lost power in 300,000 homes in a recent storm, I felt at ease offering my home as a gathering place on the spot - knowing that I could easily open our doors and provide a serene and welcoming space thanks to having less. 

Cleaning before guests is still a chore, but it runs at a totally different speed and efficiency when I’m not picking up and working around a bunch of c-r-a-p I don’t even love.

I hear it so often, but with most things in our home it’s really true that quality means so much more than quantity. I used to believe that I needed to have one of absolutely every possible home and kitchen item - so that meant that my cabinets were overflowing with unnecessary accoutrements. Now, our entertaining wares are really just two beautiful serving plates that are special to me and my daughter. I pull these out and arrange simple snacks on when preparing for company, whether the occasion is a grown up dinner party or a children’s play date. 

Speaking of, I love hosting children since we’ve simplified the toys in my daughter’s room. Little children’s voices flood the house while I relax with the parents, as I know the little ones can pull out every toy from the shelf freely while they enjoy themselves and it will still only take a few minutes to clean up once everyone’s headed home. 

An Open Door Welcomes Gratitude

I’ve learned now too, that when my mind starts thinking about all the things I think I need to buy or add to our home, the antidote is opening our place to community. Our guests never look for what I think is missing, but rather show appreciation and thankfulness for our simple efforts to be hospitable. My focus has been able to turn from worrying about my home and what it says about me to excitedly anticipating time and new memories with our guests. 

Entertaining gives my home a purpose beyond appearance. This home may never be in a magazine, but it will be remembered by good people for being a space that values community and love - thanks to me changing my focus from “what else do I need to acquire to be worthy?” to “what do I already have that’s worth sharing?” That lesson was worth every bit of my investment in building a more simplified home (but, man, finding those tupperware lids in an instant is HEAVEN).

The Magic of Prayer

Post Written by Markus

Prayer has meant different things to me across my life.  From a comforting evening ritual with parents, to a “boring” experience at plenty of conservative churches, to an inspiring and raw experience at some tiny churches, to a very unpleasant and disingenuous experience at some big flashy churches, to a desperate cry for help and reassurance in many of my own dark, quiet, lonely moments.  For most of my life I understood prayer to be at best a hopeful, but not guaranteed, petition for some desired outcome - and at worst, a resignation of admittance that I couldn’t handle life on my own and was “one of those weak, pitiful people who needs God for real and can’t handle life on their own.” 

That understanding has since shifted, seemingly out of nowhere.  One early morning a few weeks ago, an idea in my mind gripped me to write it down because it felt significant in my heart. I expected it to be a relatively brief complete thought, so I just grabbed the closest thing which was my phone. Fast forward to an hour later when I looked up and realized that it was much longer than I had expected and would have been way better suited to typing on my laptop.  But there it was, as it had shown up.  

Note that I use the word “God” throughout.  This is actually not the term that resonates with my heart the most for my higher power - those terms are “Source”, “Love”, “Life”, “Universe”, and “Infinite”. To me these convey the essence of something that is at once very personal - yet profoundly powerful; tangible - yet without boundary, beginning, or end.  For me, the word “God” brings with it many associations and connotations that were taught by well-intentioned people but that served mostly to make God smaller and more manageable to fit neatly into a conservative Christian box. That said, using the word “God” in this writing actually brought about a sense of healing for me as those layers of projection began to fade away, leaving a sense of loving compassion instead.  These are those words:

When I pray - does God listen? Why is it important to pray and to talk with God? If I’m honest and open with God, what does that do for me? It really doesn’t matter where God physically exists or if God hears those specific words in English that I say out loud or in my mind to God - as one person out of billions of people on the planet today and of trillions of people across all time. It does matter though that I say these things to myself, out loud or in my mind. That I’m honest and open with myself. And what happens then? Who hears these things?

Anything I express - worries, fears, desires, emotions, pain, hard truths about the world, hard truths about myself - I can bring them to God. Even doubt and even anger. Out loud and in my mind I can bring these to God. At that point there’s no denial and no repression. If I’ve named and expressed an emotion, it’s not hiding under the surface anymore. If I’ve taken an honest look about a shortcoming about myself, it’s not hiding anymore. So that’s an important step. That’s not nothing - that’s a massive first step. To be aware. To not resist what is. To let life live thru me.

So who’s listening? Does God hear? Does it matter that I pray beyond just keeping myself out of denial and repression? Something happens thru these moments. There’s something that’s troubling me, usually. Either about “the world” (something outside my self) or about my self. Really they’re both about my self. The world is what it is. It’s my resistance to “what is” that’s the problem. 

When I bring these things to God, I’m saying “These are things that exist. Things about the world or about myself. They’re troubling me and right here, right now, I don’t have the answers or the immediate power to change them to be as I wish them to be in this moment.” This may sound obvious. Why even mention this? There’s nothing I can “do” about them - right? So why waste time talking about what I can’t change?

This is the heart of the serenity prayer. To understand what things are outside my control to change. So if I can’t change them, what’s the point of spending any mental time on them, not to mention prayer time? The point is that in these moments, someone is listening. I know and can prove 100% that someone hears these. I’ve always been able to since I was a young child, but that’s not unique to me. When I pray, I am listening. ME. My self. When I pray, I hear these things. Concerns, problems, griefs. And I understand that the ones about the world are not in my control. Though I may wish for a certain outcome, I can’t create it myself and I can’t expect it from God. Maybe there will be a change and maybe not. I can’t control the world or circumstances.

When I talk with God about things in the world that I can’t change, I’m honest about them. I’m not saying that they’re OK but I’m taking a look at them as they are today. There they are and they’re out of my hands. That’s honest acceptance. Seeing things as they are and not as I wish them to be. And taking my hand off the wheel and not trying to force them to be different. 

When I bring these to God as things outside my control, it frees up a tremendous amount of energy in me to not carry these concerns with me each moment of each day. Carrying them as concerns is one thing, and putting them down frees up so much energy on its own. Yet even more energy is freed when I don’t carry the burden of responsibility each day too. And that burden is one thing - though even greater is the burden I place on myself for what it means about me to carry that responsibility. If I have the responsibility for these things, then I’m accountable. I MUST be able to change them. But obviously I can’t. So what has that meant in my life to date?

It’s meant that the responsible person was incompetent; and because of that, this person was bad; and because of that, this person was unacceptable. That person was me. That meant that I was incompetent and unacceptable and bad. I was supposed to do these things and I didn’t or couldn’t. I tried and tried and tried and failed. If I was to look at the situation honestly, I would have agreed with the individual pieces. That I can’t actually change these things and so really I’m not in control. But something there doesn’t add up. Because even seeing these things and agreeing to the individual pieces, I still didn’t let go. 

There’s something I’ve clung to here. Desperately. I’d have told you it was about the world, but actually it was about my self. I clung to the deep belief that I was incompetent and therefore bad and therefore unacceptable. So deeply that I look back and see these moments all throughout my life. Being surprised when I’ve succeeded at something because I expected failure - over and over. Declining compliments from others about my self because I believed they weren’t true and that I was unworthy, unattractive, and unlovable. Denying my own needs over and over, needs as basic as food, rest, fun, friendship, and pursuing my dreams - because I believed I didn’t deserve these things.  And because I believed very deeply that I specifically deserved the opposite of these.

So I have these two things - things about the world that I can’t change and a deep need to not accept myself because I can’t change these things. That is a need to punish myself and withhold the things that my body and mind need in order to thrive and grow and live the life that my self naturally wants to live. When I bring these to God, someone sees them. I see them. There they are. About the world and about me. They’re both there, in the palm of my hand, and I can turn them over. I can see them as being outside my self, even the ones that are about me. They describe actions I’ve taken or not taken and they describe how I’ve felt. But neither of these is me. 

I used to believe that they were both me. My actions and my emotions. What else could be me? I believed that my actions defined me and that if I made a mistake, it meant that I was bad. OK, not necessarily just bad - also stupid, not OK, unlovable, unacceptable, and not deserving of anything good in life.

I missed an important distinction - the problem wasn’t making mistakes, the problem was not recovering from mistakes.  I can’t avoid making mistakes. If I do, I’m not living - I’m just cowering in fear - and that’s the biggest mistake of all.  I could write volumes about that - I would say that I have more direct experience with that than anything else in life.  The years I spent with my number one goal as “just don’t make mistakes” drained my energy and made my existence miserable, endlessly anxious, and very, very small. Everyone falls down trying something hard for the first time - and still makes mistakes many times after that. And accidents happen too beyond our control, even big accidents - ones that can stop us dead in our tracks in an instant. Yet everything is in the recovery. Not the cards I’m dealt but how I play them. 

It was true all along but I didn’t understand it. I was focused on not making mistakes so much that I never learned how to recover from making mistakes. A mistake was a verdict about my self and meant that I was bad and unacceptable. At that point, the proof about my self was already there and there was no use fighting it. I was unacceptable. My only hope was to hide those mistakes from others and from my self and use all my time and energy to try as hard as I can to not make any more of them as long as I was alive. 

And that’s where prayer comes in. Me looking at these things about the world and about my self and understanding that I can’t change them. I look at what is - as it is today, here, now. Then I lay all of it down. I don’t carry these things. They stay here and I’m not responsible to carry them. They’re not mine and that was never my role, even if caretakers told me that was the case when I was too young to understand they were wrong because they didn’t know.  I’m not responsible for the outcomes and because of that, the outcomes don’t mean anything about my self. I do my best and the chips fall where they may.  

The point of prayer isn’t to “do” anything - it’s not to affect a certain outcome in the world outside my self. I may consciously believe in the moment that the main “problem” that I want to pray about is the world. Prayer often starts with me talking about the world - something outside my self. That I want to accept the world and circumstances as they are today. But really I want to accept me.

I need to accept me. As I am - today, here, now. A person on this earth who’s here for a very short time and who needs deeply to live freely and to grow toward the light and to express openly and fully the love in my heart. If I don’t accept my self, I can never do any of these things. Ever. It’s 100% guaranteed. I can’t give anyone else something that I don’t already have. What I want and need to give to others is love and an honest open expression of my natural self in each moment. 

I realize that projection is heavily at play here.  Donny Epstein argues that at least 80% of what we “see” in the world around us (people, places, things) is our projection - not what’s actually there, but what we believe is there.  We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.  That said - when I accept myself and accept the world as it is (as best I honestly can), I’m able to see easily where I can change things and where I can’t. And those are hugely important distinctions. They’re part of the work I’m here to do. But my work is not my self. My work is not my heart and it’s not my soul. It’s just my work.

Prayer is a moment to look at my self as I am and also to separate things “about me” from my heart and my soul. To accept whatever is there “about me”. To accept it as “OK”, but so much more than just that. To accept my heart and my soul, my true self - to accept it as beautiful, good, worthy, attractive, and beyond all - deeply and truly lovable. This is the real Magic of prayer.

Our Favorite Indoor Fun for Kids & A Living Room Dance Party Playlist!
Photo credit  B Family Films

Photo credit B Family Films

Post written by Lilly

Summer is always connected to being in the great outdoors, which we love to enjoy, but it’s always a process to remember in late July and August how nearly impossible that is in Texas!

Just because we’re not outdoors, doesn’t mean we can’t move, connect, create and explore. It definitely takes having a mental list I can draw on during these long, hot days for ideas in the moment. Here’s my inner list of responses to boredom when my go-to can’t always be, “Go outside!”


I know I can push the envelope a little with “messy” crafts like tie dye with kids, but there are so many great crafts that are much better suited for sprawling out on the sofa or kitchen table.

My mom always took us to the craft store towards the end of the summer and got us into a new-to-us craft concept. This summer our daughter and I are making loomed potholders (this seems to be the perfect balance of challenge and obtainable success for a five year old) and beaded bracelets for everyone we know.

Here’s a few more we got totally absorbed in growing up that I look forward to trying:

We’ve made these non-stop this summer with a set we got at the craft store.I wish we had this  rainbow kit!  There’s enough in one box to make six potholders.

We’ve made these non-stop this summer with a set we got at the craft store.I wish we had this rainbow kit! There’s enough in one box to make six potholders.

I think we could be ready for  these  this summer! These bring back fun memories.

I think we could be ready for these this summer! These bring back fun memories.

We’re a little young for these this summer, but I remember one summer when my cousin, sister and I (ages 8-12) made  these  all day for a week!

We’re a little young for these this summer, but I remember one summer when my cousin, sister and I (ages 8-12) made these all day for a week!

Which brings up a little trick I have with crafts that I think my Mom did growing up.

I find we’re way more engrossed in an activity when it has a greater purpose. So often with crafts or art, I ask for something specific for someone’s birthday, or we scheme up a plan on how to surprise gift our creations to people we love, or even brainstorm a concept for a little pretend store where we can sell our wares to “everyone we know” (aka, Markus and myself.)

This little dialogue has taken art time from minutes to days before. A little motivation seems to go a long way at our house. And thanks to this, I currently have pre-made custom birthday cards for everyone I know until November.

Photo credit  B Family Films

Photo credit B Family Films


Our favorite board game, Sloth in a Hurry, was given to us by my sister. It’s been a really easy, fun game to start even if we’re strapped on time since it’s very easy to set up where everyone has fun and everyone wins. We laugh sooo hard playing this! It really helps your kids see your childlike, silly side and connect with you in a different way.

We also love Mancala. I love any game that gets your attention but is easy to start and stop so we can do a round or two before dinner or bedtime.

The next game I want to get is Tenzi! Have you tried it?

Song & Dance

Nothing beats an impromptu jam session or talent show!

Our daughter had such an expansive experience attending theater camp for the first time this summer and is now planning performances in our home as often as possible - especially if we have company. (This is one I know I can’t bring up to my Mom. Payback city for making everyone watch my shows growing up!)

But our favorite thing is all dancing together freestyle in our kitchen and living room! Honestly, we have so much fun that it becomes a great way to get energy out during these hot days of summer.

If you plan to dance it out, check out our family Spotify playlists with our Living Room Dance Party!

What are your favorite ways to have fun beating the heat?!

LIVE, BY LILLYLillyComment
Where to Stop When Driving from Texas to Colorado

I’m a super late bloomer here - growing up, a summer migration to Colorado was not my family’s thing. It actually wasn’t until I was working for a Texas retailer with a big ski and outdoor selection a few years ago that the concept piqued my interest.

Colorado is the perfect complement to Texas life - the mountains, the cold, crisp air and all those trees! It’s a short flight from Dallas, with major airlines now going direct into resort towns during ski season.

I’m a big advocate though, of finding a simple condo, packing up the car and bringing as much home life as possible to the Rockies - bikes, balls, even our Vitamix, and, if you can swing it, the dog. Stay every minute you possibly can until there’s a nice mirage that the heat of a Texas summer is gone and your real summer living is done up in the clouds with the windows open and blankets on the bed at night.

Our Favorite Colorado Towns


Markus, our daughter and I identify as a Telluride family. There are nice amenities here, but, thanks to the old gold mining town’s architecture still in tact and a city ordinance against chain retailers coming in, it still feels rough around the edges- like a simple, funky portal into nature. If you like athletic vacations, Telliuride is TOUGH in a good way. It’s a tall peak at 8.750 feet.

For this reason, I’m thankful this is where I learned to hike and ski! My favorite part of Telluride is the free gondola system that is not just a summer novelty but a main source of transportation there between the town of Telluride and Mountain Village. For that reason, I like to stay in Mountain Village so we can ride it back and forth into Telluride proper, making sure our stay overlaps with the awesome local music festivals (we’ve seen Widespread Panic, G. Love and Special Sauce and many other smaller acts in this perfect concert backdrop).

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The past two years, my extended family has gotten on board with mountain travel and we’ve gone to Vail. It’s 8,120 feet elevation, which my parents can feel as a considerable difference from Telluride when adjusting to the altitude. It also offers a lot more multi-generational programming (kid’s camps and beautifully made playgrounds, adventurous expeditions and spa options are plentiful), a wider selection of dining, a good mix of luxury hotels and basic condos (my parents stay at the gorgeous Hotel Sonnealp and my sister and I get family condos in Lionshead,, so it’s the best of both worlds). The towns are impeccably clean, there’s a more diverse offering of trails for varying skill levels, and nothing is far with the free bus system. I’ll take it in a heartbeat.

There are a million cool Colorado towns and resorts. It’s all about taking a look around and finding something perfect for what you like to do and what makes the outdoors exciting for you!

Since we meet family there, we love finding different paths for the drive from Texas to Colorado to get some time as our own family unit and mix up the experience. Here are our favorites so far!

The Best Stops Driving Direct

Most of the direct ways from Texas to your favorite Colorado resort town will pass through most or all of these stops with a minimal detour. Check your route and then decide what’s calling you!

*indicates that this stop is on the original US Route 66 - Route 66 landmarks are such a fun way to engage in our country’s history while seeing more of our landscape! I highly recommend trying at least one every trip to connect with our country’s history of recreational family road travel!

Archer City, Texas

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Per the New York Times, 1,850 people and 450,000 second hand books live in Archer City, Texas (although I know many of the books have been dispersed since the writing of this article thanks to some large liquidation sales, I believe the ratio remains impressive). The reason for this mind boggling statistic is Larry McMurtry, author of my favorite book of all time, Lonesome Dove, and proprietor of the Booked Up used book stores that take up much of Archer City’s main drag.

This is a great spot to stretch your legs, feel like a Texan and find your vacation reading material. Down the road is The Royal Theater, made famous from another one of McMurtry’s books turned movies, The Last Picture Show.

*Shamrock, Texas

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conoco station shamrock texas.JPG

This is another charming spot to stretch and use the bathroom at the restored Conoco station, a registered Route 66 Historical Landmark. We got to meet one of the visitor center guides, Theresa, whose grandfather owned the station in its hey day. The spot also housed a diner where Elvis ate once, so don’t forget to rub butt cheeks with the King by sitting in the same booth!

*Amarillo and Canyon, Texas

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This is a favorite overnight spot for us, especially if you can plan early and book a coveted Palo Duro State Park Canyon Rim cabin. These structures were built by the CCC during the FDR programs and have stunning views, as well as decent showers and cozy beds - just the right amount of “camping” for our family. At night in the canyon, there’s a famous play, Texas, that runs in the amphitheater after sunset.

Dinner at The Big Texan is a must, and we’ve been lucky enough to get to witness brave souls take on the 72 oz steak challenge while we’re there. The Don Harrington Discovery Center was great for when we stayed an extra day one summer and needed indoor fun and fantastic outdoor playground. Even if we’re just driving through town, we love to pop in to Evocation Micro Coffee Roasters.

The Historic Route 66 area is fun if you like dive bars and funky antique shops (which we do - a lot).

And the stop at Cadillac Ranch is totally worth the photos you’ll get and the look on little faces when they’re told they can spray paint a car!

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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suitable digs santa fe.jpg

We really got the full Santa Fe experience when we opted to stay at Suitable Digs, a completely solar powered grouping of bungalows with great people and gorgeous views from the common areas of the property.

We always end up at the Tune Up Santa Fe for breakfast or dinner, and it never disappoints.

The best thing our family can recommend you do with your time ever is go to Meow Wolf! This place is NOT like the fun but commercially focused art pop ups you may have experienced in Dallas, but instead the result of a free-thinking art collective focused on experiential exhibits. Our advice is to go as early as you can and plan to spend double the amount of time inside that you think you need. Markus and I recently saw Meow Wolf: Origin Story in a local theater and it’s made the place even more special to us. I highly recommend watching it before you go if you can!

*Albuquerque, New Mexico

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We did an overnight here on our most recent drive and absolutely loved it.

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The El Vado Motel is a fully restored historic motor lodge and complete perfection. Everything that should look original and everything that should feel new is executed with a brilliant attention to detail. Our suite was perfect for a pit stop with a kid in tow. The pool and outdoor dining was great for expending energy, and there’s the Botanical Gardens right across the street if you need even more room to explore. Even with all of the exciting activity, the rooms are completely quiet at night! We loved the quirky shops on the other side of the lobby, especially Metal the Store.

Keeping with the Route 66 theme, we ate at 66 Diner and were happy campers with the food, aesthetics and service. The itty bitty ice cream sundae is just right!

Before hitting the road, we headed over to Las Palomas Lavender Farm for breakfast and milling about. Holy Nora Ephron movie, this place is a dream. We had an incredible breakfast, the most uniquely flavorful and satisfying, for $20 total for three people. The powerful aromas of the gift shop, filled with every product you made ever need made from farm fresh lavender, will knock you off your feet. Every detail is thoughtful and every desire is anticipated and met in a beautiful way. I can’t wait to come back here for a weekend with my girlfriends!

Taos, New Mexico

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Even though it was only another short stop over, we had the best time exploring and catching up with resident Taos girl turned Texas lady, Andrea Overturf of Loubies and Lulu. If you plan to spend more time in Taos, you have to check out the guides on her blog. Her ancestors are memorialized in bronze in the Taos Plaza - she’s legit!

Our first stop after a long day in the car was Twirl, a local toy shop with an incredible play structure in the back. This is such a good spot to get out energy and find some “good behavior rewards” - in your family you may just call them bribes, and that’s ok too. Twirl is attached to the Taos Plaza, which was a wonderful spot to walk around and experience coffee, handmade items, live music and some good food with friends.

Our stay was at Hotel Luna Mystica and - WOW. From the incredible sunset to the quiet of the morning and openness of the scenery and sky, our short stay here will be imprinted in my memory forever. Next time I’ll definitely be hitting up the fire wood attendant they have on site to make us a fire under that beautiful star blanket.

The next morning, we couldn’t leave town before dining at Farmhouse Cafe (Andrea’s family ranch, Martinez Family Ranch, provides the beef). We had a very tasty breakfast and helped ourselves to some of their gluten free desserts out of the case for the rest of our drive.

Abiquiu, New Mexico

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I embarrassingly haven’t done much in the Georgia O’Keefee wheelhouse in Santa Fe, mostly because of the great experience I had visiting her private home at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu.

We stopped here one summer on the drive back and Markus and our girl enjoyed a beautiful hike while I did a Georgia O’Keeffe landscape trail ride, going through the natural scenes of some of her most famous paintings up to her personal home where she worked. This was such an inspiring experience for me! I would love to come back for one of the artist workshops or retreats.

*Tucumcari, New Mexico

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This is my favorite stop on Route 66 I’ve seen so far! I love that there are a few restored motels where many travelers love to stay the night, really bringing the feel of Route 66 to life! We loved the Blue Swallow Motel. It might be my favorite place we’ve ever stayed the night on this trip. It’s so charming and clean and they’re right - that refrigerated A/C is ice cold!

We also loved Kix on 66 Diner here for a morning cup of Joe before hitting the road and driving through the town to see all of the murals!

Denver, Colorado

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Last year, we decided to head out of Vail but spend a night and morning in Denver before hitting the long road home. This is such a great town, and we had so much fun!

We stayed at the Curtis Hotel downtown. I can’t recommend it enough for kids. It’s a super clean, mid-level hotel in the middle of downtown Denver. Each floor has a theme - the elevator makes sure you know by announcing it when the doors open! There’s even more thematic suites, like a video game room with Mario wallpaper, that will make sure you always remember this pit stop.

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We loved walking around the Santa Fe Art Trail and found some great art for our house from Access Gallery, an art program and gallery space for makers with special needs. There’s a mural around every corner to take in here!

Speaking of immersive art, you’ll have to decide if a family stop at The International Church of Cannabis is your taste, but we loved sitting under the mural by Okuda San Miguel. Famous rap producer and art collector (with partner Alicia Keys), Swizz Beatz, hired Okuda to create a special design for his home the day he saw photos of the church ceiling in the New York Times. The space is open to the public, including children, when church is not in session.

The last activity we enjoyed in Denver is the trolley, tucked behind a nice Starbucks/REI combo. The trolley drivers are friendly as all get as they take you up and down a nice row of children’s museums and attractions, which you can stop off to enjoy if you don’t want to ride directly down and back. Don’t forget to ask to drive or ring the bell.

Worth Going Out of the Way

Now that we’ve done the drive a few years and know the fun of it, we’ve started veering more and more off course to get the most out of our week in the West. These are pretty much, almost, on the way.

This year, we started in Albuquerque and headed west to the Grand Canyon before going north to Utah and then dipping southwest into Vail.

You won’t regret it!

Petrified National Forest and *Holbrook, Arizona

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This was a fun drive through experience. The National Petrified Forest was a fairly pretty drive. I actually liked the painted desert vistas more than the petrified wood. We essentially went through the park back onto 40 into Holbrook, checking a national park off our list in the process.

The Rainbow Rock Shop held some wonderous “good behavior rewards” and Route 66 visual perfection with the hand painted signs and dinosaurs out front. Definitely make sure to pass by the Wigwam Hotel for a look at one of the final hotels in tipi style from the Route 66 hey day.

*Winslow, Arizona

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If you keep heading west from Albuquerque instead of going north to Colorado, you’ll continue on the Historic Route 66 and hit Winslow, Arizona.

You will, inevitably, find yourself standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, (per The Eagles), with a mural, signage and even a flat bed Ford available for photo ops. There’s also a clean coffee and ice cream shop with a great restroom and a selection of Route 66 shops with souvenirs worthy of coming home. Pull over!

*Williams, Arizona

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Williams is the one of the best preserved spots on the “Mother Road,” and where the Pixar team who made Cars came to nail the Route 66 aesthetic. At dinnertime, the sidewalks had people walking around, patios were full with families having dinner, live music was streaming out of historic bars. We had the best time feeling back in time and taking it all in!

Williams also has one of our most talked about stops on the trip, Bearizona. This drive through and walk about animal sanctuary is beautifully done, and houses Black Bears, Junior Bears, mountain goats, bison….there’s not a woodland creature left behind. The “oooohs” and “WOWs” coming out of the car were from every family member. I can’t believe I saw a bear y’all! This was so great. ‘

The Grand Canyon

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It’s a bonafide disgrace that I’m attempting to write about The Grand Canyon when we only stayed there for about 20 hours at the most, but trust me on the fact that if you’re ever in the “neighborhood,” it’s worth everything to come in and see what you can in the time that you have. Holy. cow.

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We stayed at the very basic but incredibly cozy Yavapai Lodge in South Rim of the park, which made it very easy for us to wake up early and make the short drive to Yavapai Point for the sunrise. The grocery store next to Yavapai Lodge was amazing, just as good as home, with breakfast sandwiches and coffee. When we come back, we’re definitely staying for a week and staying at Yavapai for more fun.

Page, Arizona

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Our pit stop on our drive The Grand Canyon to Moab was in Page, Arizona, where we met with the wonderful Navajo family who owns Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours.

Our combo tour took us out on an open top, off road truck to the family’s private land that features one of the picturesque and mysterious slot canyons made famous by the Antelope Canyon area. This experience features just one canyon (which is all we needed) with a maximum of 12 people in the group. Everything I’ve heard about Antelope Canyon experiences points to it being very beautiful and also quite crowded, so this tour really appealed to me. I especially liked supporting a Navajo family using their sacred land as a way to support their family, which paid off since everyone with Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours couldn’t have been nicer and more informative.

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Our tour also included private access to Horseshoe Bend - a small curve in the Colorado River that bends into a horseshoe shape. The family that owns our tour company told us how this spot has always been on their land with no public interest, but, thanks to Instagram, it’s become one of the most coveted spots to photograph in the world. In fact, there’s now a special parking lot with entry fees to get in on the government-owned side of the spot, and lines can get unruly! I loved getting to see this beautiful creation in more of its original presence, with just eight other people and lots of quiet time for reflection.

Moab, Utah

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From Page we drove straight north into Moab, arriving late after driving through the most surreal sunset and arriving at Red Cliffs Lodge under a blanket of stars. We loved our suite. After being on the road a few days, the kitchenette in our room was a welcome sight! We put our girl to sleep and enjoyed the star blanket on the back patio.

Coming in at night made the morning even more magical. We walked out onto the back patio to see a gorgeous green belt running behind this block of rooms, red canyons stretching up to the sky and - oh my God - ponies!! Horses drinking from the creek behind our room and walking up to the fence line for pets and ear rubs. This is another place where we’ll be back for a week as soon as we can. Pure magic.

Every view at Red Cliffs is incredible - but breakfast over the Colorado River as it ran between the cliffs couldn’t be beat. We took a swim in the pristine pool and caught (and released) frogs before packing up and driving through Arches National Park before another four hours of scenic travel to Vail!

And that’s everything we’ve been able to see from going a little off the path driving from Texas to Colorado - so far! These trips always expand us, reset us and make us think outside the box. (You cannot see a sunrise at The Grand Canyon and go the rest of the day without getting a big idea, I’ve decided.)

Where do you love to head to in Colorado? If you’re reading this planning your route, TAKE THE LONG WAY and happiest trails to you!

The Refrain of Love

Post Written by Markus

[I originally wrote this in Winter of 2018. It was a moment where emotion pulled me to pick up a pen and write what was there. I’ve made a few minor edits for clarity but other than that, the words are unchanged. Something pulled at me again to find these specific words and share them. I hope they speak to your heart as they spoke to mine - and still do.]

At what time does pain become too great to bear?
Is there a breaking point of the heart, and if so – how would I know?
Are there signs to look for or are these just a false weakness of wanting to escape pain?
If life is an allegory as per many of the great teachers, then no pain is ever too great.
No cost too high to not double-down and pay it every time.
Then there is no fool who gave too much or who did not hold his own.
There is only Love – and the cost is irrelevant because it must be paid and because there is no other choice.
Ultimately, what if there truly is no other choice?
Maybe it’s just a matter of time.
We all must choose Love at some time, it just depends on when and if we do so willingly.

Then who is the fool, in Love?
How is an identity maintained?
That further brings the question of what identity even is – which is likely nothing, like so many things in life.
An illusion, a construct, a narrative of the mind – that exists only in the viewer’s imagination.
Just like the ego.
The I.
I am not me any more than an individual wave in the ocean is its own anything.
All the waves are minute instances of the energy of the sea – intricately played as instruments by the moon and the weather and the forces deep within the earth’s core.
The whole earth then is but one.
So many distinct individuals – but that is a lie.
That is the great lie.
That we are anything but one, anything but connected.
Our fates are the same, our song is the same.
The specific details of our problems vary, but we all have them.
We all have burdens to bear, though they take different forms and names.
Even privilege cannot escape this – though from its perspective, the other and the individual are much more pronounced.
It’s not that we’re in this together, it’s that we are this together.

What then is life, if not empathy?
What besides reverberating at the pulse of the Source could be worthwhile?
We are all unique instances of the Great Love, though we often forget, and often for far too long.
Like a clogged artery or arterial, we become taken with some minor facet not worth our attention.
Mere constructs, mere illusion.
More reasons to confirm our pain, and the other, and ourselves - as individuals.
We do not deserve what we have, to a person.
Whether good or bad, everything we have was given to us.
We are products of our genetics, of our environments, and of our upbringing.
We bring elements from within our heart and soul to the table, certainly – but where did these originate?
Did we conjure these up from nothing?
Did we create what was not there on our own merit or even our own choice?
Through tragedy and through joy – we are but resounding instruments.
We observe and we feel and Energy lives out its Purpose through us.
We are a light, we are a sound.
A brief refrain in a symphony millennia upon millennia long, with glorious accompaniment from the sky, the fire outside our planet, and the great vastness beyond.

For one fractional blip on the radar of the infinite universe, we matter.
That is, we are matter.
One day we do not exist – then Energy lives its Purpose through us – and then we are off to another plane.
The aftershocks, good and un-good, echo through the world around us until they are dampened by time and distance.
Neither is bad.
Both simply are.
But the Light, the Fire, the Source, the Infinite Ocean, the Eternal Summer, the Pulse, the Song, the Masterpiece of the Universe – this is our calling.
To turn ever to Love, as a flower turns to the sun.
As in meditation the mind turns back to the Breath, and merely notes “thinking.”
We must turn to each other, not because we are all we have, but because we are all One.
The fool is not the one who loses all in the pursuit of Love.
What would he even own to be able to lose in the first place?
No, the fool is the one who believes the lie of the other, of hurt, of pain, of ownership, of preservation, of self-protection.

We breathe in, we breathe out – and another beat in the song of the Infinite passes and yields to the next.
Forever playing on, forever passing, forever now.
Forever changing, growing, and dying – though beneath it, the Source remains.
We are the Source.
We see glimpses of the Source, though we cannot understand.
We are too small, through no fault of our own.
The Source is too bright, too great, too vast, too deep.
The pieces we see are enough for our time in this plane.
We all see glances, we all know.
We get hurt, we scar, and we defend – but we know.
We cannot escape the Source because we are the Source.
For our size and our reach, where would we go?
In a galaxy within galaxies, as a pure burst of Energy, where is our home?
Our home is with growth, with Sunlight, and Water.
The descriptions and synonyms are true.
What we need shows us an attribute of what we are.
Generations upon generations of beings.
Embodying joy.
Writhing in pain.
We cannot do else.
For what we are, this is our path.
We improve and innovate, but these will remain.

The cycle of the breath, the day, the year, the lifetime – they are relentless.
They are our marching orders.
Turn to each other.
Love each other.
No – turn to your self, love your self.
There is no other.
When one grows, we all grow.
When one hurts, we all hurt.
Forever as one – not individuals connected, but one and the same before the construct of time began.
We must love.
We must give all.
We have naught else.
If there is anything we can offer, it is everything we are.
Each smile, each tear, each burst of laughter, each embrace.

We must love, no matter the cost – because there is no cost and there is nothing else.
Love is not the top choice, it is the only choice – the only response.
Each day as the Sun rises, so do we – and so must our Love.
We tune ourselves as an instrument and we are ready to play our Song again.
The Song of Us.
The Refrain of Love.
The Infinite Rhythm of Everything, and Beyond.
If we have not Love, what have we?
If we are not Love, what are we?
Love knows no limits, Love has no end.
Love always perseveres, always hopes, always believes.
We are Love.
Are Love.

The Best Audiobooks and Podcasts for Curious Kids and Parents

Post written by Lilly

We returned this week from an epic summer road trip. Seeing five states in eight days meant a LOT of scenic driving - over 40 hours!

Markus and I love to use this time to listen to audio books and podcasts that help ignite more emotional and creative conversations with each other. Listen, hit pause, share, cultivate deeper understandings - repeat!

This year we were excited that our daughter’s interest in audio books from riding in the car with me during the day transferred to our trip. We had the adults’ book running through the car Bluetooth on my phone and kid’s programming running to Markus’ Bose noise cancelling headphones on his phone. With something to listen to and some sticker books and coloring supplies for idle hands, she barely wanted to talk to us and, much to my surprise, we went the entire trip without watching movies!

If you’re hitting the open road this summer and want to dig a little deeper, here are our top picks!

Adult Audio Books

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Markus: Wow. I realize that’s a cliche way to begin any book review but if there’s one that’s worthy of it, this is it. Whatever you’ve heard about this book is true, starting with it being a favorite of Oprah and Barack Obama’s and Bill Gate’s Winter 2018 Books List not to mention that it’s spent months on the New York Times Bestseller list and has 4.5 stars on Amazon based on over 8,000 reviews. Without going into spoilers, the basic story is that Tara is raised in a reclusive and isolated fundamentalist family in rural Idaho without getting any formal schooling at any point. The story begins with her parents’ paranoia about The Federal government and Illuminati - because of which she doesn’t have a birth certificate until age 9 when she finally gets a “delayed” birth certificate (and to date, she still doesn’t know what date her actual birthday is). If you think that premise doesn’t lend itself to keeping you on the edge of your seat, you’d be wrong. We only took breaks on this audiobook when we absolutely had to - it pulled us in and gripped us that hard from start to end.

It’s an insane ride through interwoven topics like family dynamics, personal identity, generational trauma and abuse, mental health, education (obviously) and learning to ask for help. There are plenty of excruciating moments that were almost impossible to listen to and in the end made me so much more grateful for all the opportunity and privilege I’ve enjoyed in my own life. In the end, all that each of us knows is what we’ve been told by our parents and teachers until we explore the world for ourselves. We do this by becoming educated in one way or another - and that’s when we can break free from what hasn’t been working for prior generations and leave our own mark of love and beauty on the world through our own life and decisions. Get ready and hang on tight.

Lilly: I first loved Kelly because she is one of my people, a modern feminist mother and writer raised in an Irish American Catholic family. “We” (Irish American Catholic families) are so incredibly loud but surprisingly insightful, effusive to the point that we often scare strangers or newcomers to the family (my Mom still praises sweet, German Markus for being able to “ride out” getting to know us) but stoic at the same time. It’s always so good to hear a voice of reason from the group.

Tell Me More is Corrigan’s collection of personal essays centered around the phrases that have changed her ability to relate and communicate as a mother, daughter, wife and friend. Her honesty with herself and us shows how the smallest things like changing an “I’m Sorry” to “I Messed Up” can grow and heal us and our relationships. Corrigan wrote the book while raising two teenage girls and losing her force of a father and a special best friend, all seasons of life that challenge us to go inside and relearn how to do things, especially when they happen all at once.

I loved her reading of her own writing in the audio format. I both laughed and cried so hard in parts I had to make sure I could drive. It’s now my favorite book to gift to a friend.

Markus: In the late 1960s, Richard Alpert traveled to India after he and Timothy Leary were kicked out of Harvard. After a few years on his spiritual journey, Alpert returned to the States as Ram Dass, which means “Servant of God.” In 1971 he published the best-selling book Be Here Now where he shared a wealth of what he learned – spoiler alert, just live in the present moment and you’ll be fine (so I’m told). Since it was so heavy on illustrations, Be Here Now was more of an experiential book than something text-based with chapters, paragraphs, and sentences. Polishing the Mirror touches many of the same threads as Be Here Now, though in book format and with nearly 50 more years of experience from Ram Dass. The reason this is number one on my list is the book’s tagline “How to Live From Your Spiritual Heart.” Even today, he still boils down his lessons from India to these simple words: Love Everyone, Serve Everyone, Remember God.

Lilly: Markus and I are dreamers and hard workers. So, how do we still end up pulling into Taco Joint in dinner desperation once a week (besides it being delicious)? What’s up with the seemingly constant struggle to start good habits and break negative ones? I’m a little over the self-improvement books telling me to have a life I’ve dreamed of - tell me how! I got so much out of this book that I asked (begged) Markus to have a listen too. As Clear states, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your habits.” His systems and tips are formulaic, so if you’re willing to try them success seems (and, in my experience, has been) imminent. And I’ve truly seen personal changes! I also appreciated the author reading his own text and the very easy to access online portal for any diagrams referenced in the audio format.

Markus: This was a very good book, I really liked reading this book. Fifth grade book report joking aside – this is the most important book I’ve read in the last few years. The premise is that brain fog, fatigue, and the “afternoon slump” are not normal – and that instead they’re warning signs from the brain that it isn’t getting what it needs. Dave argues that there are many ways we’re shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot when it comes to energy, focus, and overall wellness and ease in our bodies – most of which have pretty easy fixes with exponential results. Forget fad diets and “weird tricks”, everything in the book is based on documented, repeatable research. Dave doesn’t present any rules or preach – he just offers what he’s learned so you can try and see what works for you. But don’t take MY word for it!

Adult Podcasts

We’re discussing trust a lot right now. It takes the pressure off my relationships so much if I know I can completely trust a person - the rest is details. I loved this quick talk for very tangible ways I can scan relationships as trustworthy and be a more trustworthy person myself.

After so much time together last week, Markus and I were both completely interconnected and frayed at the edges. We both listened to this podcast yesterday - a lighthearted group conversation on intimacy with folks ranging from currently single to married with kids for up to 14 years. It’s already one of our all-time favorites.

Another all-time favorite in our relationship that kick started a new chapter of intimacy in the house. (We don’t have to talk about it Mom.)

I got to understand more of why Markus loves Dave Asprey and he got to know more about why I love Jen Gotch. It also reminds us of a great few days in L.A. last year where we would walk to the Venice Beach Bulletproof Cafe and I, by surprise, enjoyed a fun workout class and off-the-cuff mental health conversation with none other than Jen Gotch. Markus and I are excellent at L.A.

Do you have plenty of ideas that are just as good as Superbad? (Even as a major Seth Rogen fan I’m going to go with yes.) Markus and I loved this conversation on getting in creative flow, how to make and keep creative relationships and just some more back story about some of our favorite movie guys. I love when Rogen talks about how much his parents enjoyed watching comedy together when he was growing up. You never know what you’re giving your children by simply doing what makes you happy.

Kids Audio Books

I have an affinity for the Quimbys since my Dad read me every book growing up, and Stockard Channing’s narration hits the mark. Listening to these together was fun for the whole family and a very needed and nice reminder that a real family is the best family - we love each other, parents have conflicts, kids are naughty, money comes in and out in ways we don’t get to plan and, when we’re lucky, we enjoy a nice dinner together at the Whopper Burger. I love that every book featuring Ramona is in this one download for easy enjoyment.

Stuart as a person/mouse is just o.k. in my book, but I am here for the beautiful language and other redeeming characters. We enjoyed listening to this over the course of a week running errands. The chapters are short, it is easy to start and stop and the narration is very soothing and beautiful - bringing a nice calm to the car after a boisterous day at camp or the pool. Our daughter requested it every time we started the car when listening for the first time and has asked us to repeat it since.

I don’t understand these stories and prefer they didn’t exist. They are odd, a little dark (Markus says they are not dark, but I raised an eyebrow when a mean teacher turned kids into apples. Our daughter laughed at it.) and explore topics such as boogers. In reality, they are not anything more sassy than the TV shows I was watching at our daughter’s age. She is engrossed in them, and her imagination has seemed to explore fantasy a lot more since getting hooked. There are two collections of short stories about this school so weird it was built sideways, and over our trip she listened to each book four times. They are an exercise in Markus’ right to also decide what we read and listen to in the house, even when it is outside my more classical taste. When our girl recites the rhymes or silly phrases he lights up, remembering singing them as a young boy with the same delight she does now. That alone is worth it to me.

Thanks to some random and kind relatives, there may be readers of this blog that live or were raised outside of Texas. This description is really only for their benefit. These were a family road trip staple growing up, and I think I laugh more at them now. I love the narration, the recurring cast of characters and the music in the background, making all of the escapades more thrilling. The adventurous life of a Texan is only more exciting when seen through a dog’s eyes.

Another childhood classic that I laughed harder at this go round. We also had a time explaining the concept of a tollbooth to a modern five year old. Rainn Wilson of The Office narrates! The least popular with our daughter but overall enjoyed, and it did prove successful in putting her to sleep. :)

Kids Podcasts

This is really the only chlidren’s podcast we listen to, so I could use your recs here! Any topic involving animals is a favorite, and I particularly liked listening to this one on the affects of screens and their addictive nature together.

Help us out and share your favorite audiobooks and podcasts in a comment below!

And if you burn out on information overload, load up our Family Friendly Spotify Playlists, The road trip playlist is over three hours long!

Happy trails!

Side by Side Chores List for Children and Grown Ups (How I Get my Child to Talk to Me)

Post written by Lilly

There was a lot of rapid fire change for us this spring - we changed what school we enrolled our daughter in for the fall, quit attending her preschool earlier than we had planned and, to be able to feasibly pull off both, I changed my job with a work from home summer. It was crazy, but good. I reminded myself there would be struggles but huge benefits. Just think of how often we would be able to connect and talk!

Except, at first, I couldn’t get our five year old to talk to me.

“How was your day?” “What do you want to do?” “What do you think about (insert anything)?”

Was all met with “I don’t know.”

And I had no way to entertain her. And I wasn’t getting anything done around the house myself.

I gave myself a pep talk that we were going to have to up the chores game, together. Our girl needed something to keep her busy and I needed to get our home to a standard of living above the slum houses of a Dickens novel. I worked a little less apologetically and started finding ways for a little assistant to contribute to my housework load. After getting the picture I would not be relenting, she joined me. The help was actually pretty nice. And I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

She talked to me.

That’s the nice thing about tedious work. There’s literally nothing to do with a task in front of you and busied hands but chat. I probably could have known this, since I met my husband washing dishes in a commercial kitchen. Our daughter was more available to me, but I was also more available to her. The funny thing about laundry is I can’t fold and be on my phone at the same time.

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On a deeper level, I started to think about generational modeling we create when we work side by side with our children. Part of Markus’ intro into his ManKind Project New Warrior Training Adventure weekend was an excerpt by poet Robert Bly that discussed the loss of this modeling that comes from parent and child working closely together when our communities went from agricultural to industrial.

“Before man took up machine, the father would work on the family farm, cultivating two things: a chosen crop and a family.”

Speaking of the change from farm to machine work, Bly continues on its affect on the family.

“And the worst to suffer,” says Bly, “are the [children], who have been deprived of nourishment both emotional and physical.”

This approach, that I’m not simply knocking out chores but also modeling capability and creating an environment where I’m completely available, has finally kept us on track with housework. I’ve thrown in examples from books we’ve read together, like The Little House on the Prairie, to remind both of us that, yes, appliances take the burden off of us physically, simplifying many cores to a one Mom job, but we all get more out of it, short term and long term, when we roll up our sleeves and work together.

Now my daughter even asks to fold dish towels together, “like they did in old fashioned.”

We still do some individual chores, such as tidying our rooms and making the bed. But the lion’s share of house work is done together now, making it more fun and connective for both of us. Here’s a list of what we’ve made into “side-by-side chores” this summer if you’re ready to try some at home!

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Last week, I was talking to one of my favorite Moms at my morning dance class. She has two older children nearing phases that scare me (Junior High to be specific) and they couldn’t be a closer, more creative family. I asked her what they were doing with the rest of the day. Expecting her to tell me about some enriching group outing or activity, I was happily surprised to hear, “Laundry.” A decade into parenthood ahead of me, she told me how between her and her husband the children spend a majority of their weekly “quality time” working with one of their parents on the home or yard.

outdoor chores for kids.jpg

There’s hope friends! For a semi-tidy house in the summer and children who bring their ideas and worries to you long after its been made uncool by peers. A time tested route to both of my desired outcomes is a life in the trenches together, scrubbing toy cars and drying dishes. I’m finding new ways for us to enhance our home and relationships this summer, till the baseboards shine.

What are some of your favorite chores to do with your kids?

Calmer Than You Are, Dude: A Calm Meditation App Review

Post Written by Markus

I toed-into meditation kicking (not literally) and screaming (literally).  I don’t remember the specific circumstances or what my exact frustration was, but I remember exactly where I was and how I felt.  It was a few years ago and I was getting into my car in front of our house and I couldn’t contain how upset was.  I felt beyond frustrated, beyond overwhelmed, beyond distraught. 

Somehow, I managed to take out my phone, search for a meditation app, download it, open it, and do a 5-minute “Emergency Calm” session.  That session was very weird to me, having never done this before.  All I could think was “am I doing it right?” and “Is this even going to work?” and “What is the point of this even?” (well, throw in as many expletives as you can, and you’ve got it).

Amazingly – it did work.  That first session was excruciating, even just to sit still and quiet that long - but it did keep me from throwing my phone against a brick wall.  Whatever happened in those 5 minutes was enough to take me from redlined to just slightly-below-redlined.  I would describe the experience as when a parent helps a child calm down by lovingly guiding them through deep breaths and honoring their emotion, whatever it is.  “There might be something here,” I thought.

I had previously read the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris and it made a lot of sense to me and I bought-in to the idea of meditation in principle – but I had no idea what it was (“Is that some kinda Eastern thing?”).  I figured I’d keep the principle on-deck in case I ever got desperate enough to need it - which luckily I was on that day.


So what is the Daily Calm?  In short, it’s an exercise in calming the mind that channels resilience and acceptance when done regularly over time.  Really, there’s not much to it – the only things you need are:

  • Yourself

  • Your phone with the Daily Calm app loaded (there are others, like Headspace that are great too)

  • A quiet place where you won’t be disturbed

  • Optional – headphones if that’s your preferred method of audio (it’s definitely mine, specifically these – the noise-cancelling function is incredible and makes me 3% calmer)

That’s it in terms of tangible ingredients.  My favorite places to do a Calm session are:

  • On a yoga mat at the gym after a workout

  • On the sofa at home

  • In our wellness room at the office

  • In my car, especially since this is easy in terms of access, I know I won’t be disturbed, and audio is easy over Bluetooth.  I keep a pair of sunglasses in my car to wear during sessions so it looks slightly less strange if someone walks by.

    (I’ve been told that meditating in the car is not actually an ideal location from a Pavlovian standpoint. If possible, the goal from that perspective is to have one regular place where most meditation sessions are done. Ideally that would be a place that’s not used for anything else so the automatic mental association of that place is one of calm and “this is where I calm down and meditate” rather than “this is where I channel stress during rush hour traffic”.)

In terms of the best time to do a session:

  • The absolute best time without a doubt is the time that works best for you.  Just like a diet or exercise plan, the “best” one is the one that you’ll actually stick to.

  • Within that context, the overwhelming consensus is that morning is best (or the beginning of your “day”, if you’re on a non-standard work schedule).  Meditating in the morning sets the tone for the day as a tone of calm.  By doing it in the morning, it’s a guarantee that the session actually happens before the changing schedule-landscape of the day begins.

So what actually happens during a Calm app session?  As little as possible.  From what’s observable – a person sits still with eyes closed for about ten minutes while listening to guidance (well, mostly quiet with some guidance) from the app. After the session, the person opens their eyes and is ostensibly – calmer.  My app shows that I’ve logged 359 sessions so far and I can attest that without exception, this is the result every time.  That said, across all those sessions, there have definitely been some sessions where I wasn’t “as calm as I should be or wanted to be” after the session, but definitely was still calmer than before doing the session.

Which brings up a great point – there is no “should” with meditation and there is no physical “goal.”  The point is to listen, observe, accept, and be – and if it’s “there” today, the idea is to calm the river of thoughts in the mind.  Usually that’s brought about through a focus on the natural breath (just breathing normally, not forcing deep breaths) and observing thoughts without attaching to them or following them.  Whatever’s there in the mind today is what’s there – in terms of emotion, and especially in terms of thoughts.  From a metaphysical perspective, the theory is that “we are not our thoughts” and that instead we are the person witnessing the thoughts. 

The metaphor of standing behind a waterfall is a great way to illustrate this.  The river is the flow of thoughts – endless, rushing, turbulent, deep.  When the river goes over the waterfall, the observer watches the waterfall from an alcove behind the actual waterfall.  Even though the stream of thoughts is so fast and powerful, the observe can see that “I am not my thoughts, I am the person hearing my thoughts.”  Big deal, especially when you’re dealing with a tyrannical mind (my case) – which is a topic for another day.

Another of the most common metaphors used to describe meditation is that of watching clouds pass in the sky.  The observer doesn’t identify with the clouds as “I am the clouds that I see” but only watches them as they pass, noting “Hey, there’s a cloud.”  In the same way, the idea with meditation is to watch thoughts pass in the mind and not attaching to them as “these are my thoughts” or “these thoughts are me”, but instead noting “Hey, there’s a thought” – and honestly leaving it at that. 

After that, it’s a return to following the breath – in… and out.  In… and… out… and… in… and.. out… Really the entire process boils down to that – maintaining a loose focus (in the Daily Calm, usually a focus on the breath – or in other practices, a focus on a mantra) by breathing naturally and redirecting.  Redirecting is just that simple moment of noticing when the focus has shifted from the breath over to a thought, letting the thought sit where it is, and going back to the breath. In and out.


That moment is where the rubber hits the road for me.  Saying “whatever this thought is, I trust myself enough that if it’s really super important, I’ll remember again later.”  In this moment, while I’m doing my Calm session – there’s nothing more important that I could possibly be doing, not even remembering a thought or idea that I have during the session. And I know that my marching orders are to just notice “hey, there’s a thought.”  As a person who writes down almost everything “or else I won’t remember”, this has not come naturally to me - but has made all the difference.



This has been tough for me to quantify because there is no directly measurable external metric (well, technically there is and you could even have meditation “contests” to see who’s “better” at meditating – but that flies directly in the face of the concept of non-attachment). 

The ultimate test in my view is “am I leaning more toward Acceptance, Breathing, Presence, and Non-Attachment over time?”  If the answer is yes, then it’s a clear indicator that you’re moving in the right direction.  If the answer is no, but you’re enjoying the daily 10-minute session and feel like you’re getting something out of it – then I’d argue that yes, you’re still doing it right.

And you’re not limited to once per day (especially if you draw inspiration from comedy great Jerry Seinfeld who’s famously been a huge proponent of Transcendental Meditation – crediting much of his success in dealing with the stress of “Seinfeld” to taking two breaks each day for a 20-minute meditation session). Once a day is a great frequency to get rolling with meditation and makes it an “easy win” that doesn’t seem too daunting each new day. Where the Daily Calm shines is the daily meditation session that’s new each day and specific to that day. Serendipitous, kismet, The Universe Has Your Back, whatever you want to call it - it’s eerie how timely the daily topics can be. Beyond these there are also plenty of pre-loaded sessions that are available to listen to any time.  These cover topics such as “Managing Stress”, “Calming Anxiety,” “Emergency Calm,” and “Emotions.”



Most days, I start my day with a Calm session.  Not. Every. Day. #Blasphemy, I know!  On a fair amount of the off days, I’ll work in a session later in the day.  Plenty of days I don’t do a session at all – not intentionally but I’ll notice that’s how it shook out.  I don’t see that as a problem – I just notice.  The next day, I look to make it happen more intentionally since I missed a day already. 

I’ve found that the times that I’m most consistent overall in life are when I’m doing the Calm app regularly. I’ve also found that that I’m most consistent with sitting still for a Calm moment when I do it first thing in the morning. It’s called “Daily Calm” and doing it daily is obviously the goal. That said, in the almost three years that I’ve been pausing for Daily Calm sessions, my longest streak is 12 days in a row – still shy of two consecutive weeks.  As a dude who has a PhD in All-or-Nothing approaches, that’s humbling.  And it’s OK. I notice it, and I let it sit. And then I breathe in. And I breathe out.

I also use the Calm app in other ways – the sleep stories and the Breathe bubble.  Our daughter actually loves both.  The sleep stories are usually about 30-minute stories read by soothing narrators (think Matthew McConaughey and Anna Acton).  Stories include The Nutcracker, The Wind in the Willows, and even some by Bob Ross, the master of Happy Little Accidents.  When our daughter goes to sleep, I’ll set a timer on the phone for 5 minutes and we’ll listen to a portion of whichever sleep story she chooses.  Pro tip – if you’re using you phone as the timer, use the “Stop Playing” option instead of an actual alarm sound. The story just stopping keeps the “time to sleep” vibe going much more than a loud ringtone alert does.

The Breathe bubble is so simple but so profound in what it does. It has a few different options to set duration and type of breathing – my favorite is box breathing (made famous in part by the Navy Seals). At times when our daughter (or me, let’s be real) is overwhelmed, this is a great option to take a few minutes and seriously reset.  Box breathing is no joke, and can take either of us from wound-up-real-tight to ahhhhhhh-relaxed in just that short duration of a few minutes.

If this sounds like something that might be useful to you, check out the Daily Calm app and give it a spin!  The app allows each person to give out five 30-day guest passes - here’s my link for the first lucky five people! Calm also published a book that features many of the same principles as the app - and is great if you’re a very visual person (me, me, me).  I hope this gets you one step closer to being “Calmer than you are, Dude.” Namaste, homies.

Jake Ryan is Dead to Me
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post written by Lilly

Sixteen was not the easiest year for me. My grandfather was an extra parent to me. I lived in his house at times, I ate dinner with him upwards of five times a week, he was perfectly over- attentive to me and my goals and accomplishments. The summer before I turned sixteen, he had suddenly died on my third day of my sophomore year of high school.

High school - that was another problem. I was a second generation legacy at my Mom’s private, all-girls Catholic high school and a square peg to say the least. Especially with the added loss of my grandfather, it was all I could do to keep off the sensation that I was drowning and not just walking down the halls between classes. People that I thought were my friends from middle school were moving on to more elevated social circles, and it felt to me like a key step in this process for them was treating me like I was dead. As a July birthday, I was a full year younger/behind most of my classmates at a time when it seemed that every second on the life experience clock counted - the more mature you were, the better. Add my cluelessness to the lack of control I had over my grief, and I was completely socially inept and useless. The worst part was, no one else had these problems. Everyone else was perfect and I was lost. Until I found John Hughes.

John Hughes movies, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink, were finally spaces where I could find other people like myself (and even some empathy for those pesky popular kids who, given some of these plot lines, may not have their lives all figured out either).

As a self-proclaimed invisible sophomore feeling a little lost with all of the changes happening in my family, Molly Ringwald as Samantha in Sixteen Candles was the storyline of choice.

Just like Samantha, I had a family that I loved, although the more independent I felt and the more that was going on, the more I began to wonder how much I truly identified with them (which seems about right for sixteen). Maybe home was in a fresh start, possibly with someone incredibly handsome and adored by everyone in my social circles so my self-doubt would be infinitely tamed and I would know everyone could clearly see how much I mattered. Maybe, based on the iconic popularity of this movie, you felt this way too. I’m just grasping at straws here.

Life was hard right now, but my Jake Ryan was just around the corner. Love would come for me. And it would know my birthday without having to ask and, when everyone else around me was caught up in their own humanity, this love would know everything I wanted and deliver it eagerly. My birthday cakes would be gorgeous and thoughtful forever, with my favorite icing flavor I never had to share and candles that matched my bridesmaid’s dress.

And then, miraculously, I got him. My Jake Ryan, complete with the hair, chiseled jawline and perfect amount of stubble. He didn’t have the Trans Am but it sure felt close when he drove anywhere and I was in the front seat of his car. Twelve years later, it still does.

There was one pesky problem. The romance. There was no doubt he loved me. I could see it every day with his respect, attentiveness and care. It was just, like...where were the grand gestures? When I felt a little lost or unsure of myself, where was my unanticipated act of reassurance from him? Where was my surprise perfect birthday cake?!

How was this wonderful man “the one” if he wasn’t anticipating and meeting all of my unspoken needs? Did he even know me?

No, he didn’t. Because I hadn’t fully shown him who I was.

Sharing what I need can be so vulnerable, more so the older I’ve gotten. For me, it only took a few times of saying what I needed and not getting it - in friendships, family or even at work - to teach myself that the lesson here was no one cared and there’s no point in saying anything, making the fantasy that one person did even bigger.

The story became “If he loves me, he’ll know what I need,” instead of “He loves me and wants to know what I need.”

Sometime this past year, we met with our marriage counselor, going over a sticky morning from earlier that week. The day before we had a wonderful morning, where Markus walked in from exercising to greet me still in bed, lovingly talk to me and then going to turn on the coffee. It started my entire day perfectly. But just the next day, it was the opposite - he walked to the other end of the house to the coffee pot first followed by popping his head into our room to say hello.

I explained calmly to our therapist how difficult it was to try to be in a relationship with someone who prioritized me one morning and then not the next.

Our therapist: “Mm, yes. And at what point did you tell Markus how important the previous day’s interaction was to you and that you would like to continue doing that?”

My internal dialogue: Why would I have to do that? They don’t do that in the movie. Also, I’m in a fight with myself over deciding it was time to find a therapist that challenged me.

And this was the first time in twelve years of dating the same guy (and many other previous experiences I can see more clearly now), that it dawned on me. This idea of love was from a movie.

Jake Ryan, you guys, is a movie character.

People may not even be able to act like that - to read our minds and just give us what we want without asking. The whole concept and plot could be a work of fiction, which may also explain how he was able to clean his house so quickly after that rager.

We have a new phrase in our house, thanks to our therapist a la Brene Brown, “clear is kind.” If you love someone, help them make you feel loved by being clear with what you need, what you expect, how you feel. I could try to trade my husband in for a mind reader, but I don’t think he would be as good looking, funny or perfect for me in every other way.

Last week, I got hit with a stomach virus. Barely able to stand or talk, I could see Markus standing in my periphery either trying to think of a way to help or waiting for my head to start spinning.

“Hey,” he said, “I”m so sorry. Can I do anything to help?”

My internal dialogue: Think of what I need so I don’t have to and do it for me. Take this excruciating pain away from me. Then find a small but strong family of doves to wrap me in a chenille blanket and carry me the ten feet to our bed where you will stroke my hair with the exact cadence and pressure I’d like without me having to tell you.

Then I got still enough to think and got the strength to mutter, “May I please have a glass of still, room temperature water?”

As much as I didn’t want to have to use this new and still uncomfortable-to-me method in such bleak circumstances, I knew I had to in order to get the help I really needed. With all the physical suffering I was in, we had a razor thin margin for error without me coming completely unhinged.

In that moment, it finally clicked that by not communicating, I’m really only creating scenarios where I feel hurt and lonely from my own actions, not my partners’ lack of.


I rolled my eyes and gagged with the micro comfort of knowing what I needed was on the way. From a guy who still looks a lot like Jake Ryan, which is an added benefit.

The process of being forthcoming with what I want still doesn’t seem as easy as Samantha literally making eye contact with Jake at the dance, walking off and getting her perfect birthday cake 20 hours later. But the happy endings are abundant on this new model and my husband is pretty dope for a non-movie character human being like myself, so I’m willing to participate.

And here’s the thing about those acts of reassurance. I can create them for myself.

Maybe Jake Ryan is toxic, or maybe there’s a deleted scene where he calls Samantha and asks if he can have anything at his place for them to enjoy and she mentions, why yes, it’s her birthday and she’d like a two-tier buttercream icing cake with 16 evenly lit candles. Maybe Jake got this one right on a fluke, but for the sake of all of the birthdays, anniversaries and all the everyday moments in their future, I hope Jake and Samantha get to figure out clear is kind. Maybe we’ll all get to see for ourselves in the sequel, A Simple Breakfast at Home for Mother’s Day Because We Talked About It and That’s What My Wife Really Wants.

Easy Kids DIY Tie Dye (with Dallas Artist Mione Plant)

I’m going to tell you something that, given my hippie parent tendencies, may surprise you. I’m not a tie-dye gal. You see, there’s a spectrum to hippie-next-door parenting you may not be completely versed in, which is respectable. I fall hard and fast on the “most likely to be seen wearing a calico dress in a wildflower field listening to Tom Petty and drinking bone broth” end of the hippie parenting spectrum. Thankfully, Markus lands straight opposite in the the “aggressively outdoorsy in my Merrells, referring to both genders with ‘man’ and ecstatic dancing to Phish” zone. It’s those people over there, far over in Markus’ camp, that tie dye is strictly reserved for. Until now, if you are a fashion trend Instagram scroller like me.

I am so deeply aligned against tie dye that I can literally remember making tie dye shirts at Vacation Bible School at age 10 and thinking “I’m never going to wear this.” But then there was a singular Joe’s Crab Shack shirt, tie dyed in shades of blue, that I wore almost every day in seventh grade, on account of my mother refusing to take us to eat there and it becoming such a point of contention that my grandfather finally got behind me, took the whole family and bought me the t-shirt. He took a photo of me sitting on the railing while I’m beaming my face off in the shirt, feeling both seen and victorious.

Anyways, lately I cannot get enough of how I’m seeing tie dye. I’m loving it on seriously everything and anything, especially with Ralph Lauren and other high end lines like Alice & Olivia and even Everlane. Preppy polos and cable knits is the first place you’d think this effect would never belong, which just too perfectly visually synopsizes how I’ve felt growing up in my little thought and style bubble at times. I was getting some major summer Mountain vacation vibes as well, which is perfect for this summer’s family vacation plans.

Image c/o Polo Ralph Lauren

Image c/o Polo Ralph Lauren

Image c/o Polo Ralph Lauren

Image c/o Polo Ralph Lauren

I knew myself well enough to know this wasn’t worth the splurge, given my thoughts on tie-dye before it was trend. I almost went for a $20 shirt of the same variety from a boutique, until thinking for the same amount on supplies I could probably work some magic on a few items I already own and have some creative time with Heidi.

We went through our drawers and found a white t-shirt for her and white button down for me that were looking in need of a refresh. The best thing I did was order this Tulip Tie Dye kit from Amazon. With so many colors, I may have come out on top vs the cost of buying individual dyes, plus it came with gloves, a table cloth, rubber bands, the bottles and pattern instructions. I liked that it was all in one kit so I could order it but have everything neatly tucked away until it was go time. I added a pack of white bandanas to my order so we could have lots of places to experiment without having to invest in more t-shirts.

The co-best decision I made was involving another Mom in the mix, especially one of the most creative and artistic ones I know. Mione Plant and I became friends through her involvement in the Dallas art scene, especially with philanthropy efforts such as Dwell with Dignity and Markus and I’s Bold Strokes auction last year. I love her pattern play in her paintings. There is always a perfect paradox or something unexpected, often inspired by nature or her son’s toys. She screams “fun Mom who rocks backyard textile arts” to me. Plus, she is a vibe magnet I could hang with for hours. I took one of her painting workshops before and legit thought I could paint under the care of her encouraging spirit - a first for me - so if anyone was going to get me in a creating state of mind it was Mione and her adorable son.

Mione with a few of her gorgeous paintings. Photo c/o  Mione Plant  with  Maestri Gallery

Mione with a few of her gorgeous paintings. Photo c/o Mione Plant with Maestri Gallery

It’s like anything else - choose the right quality ingredients (my Amazon finds and Mione in this case) and the magic is bound to happen. Our little girl and boy were all about making a perfect mess of themselves, exploring how different fabrics absorbed dye differently and how to create barriers for the pigments, how to work with complementary colors, exploring positive and negative space, but most importantly the value of thinking without failure.

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The Tulip kit ended up being a life saver in terms of knowing I had everything I needed. Plenty of dye for four active artists, and I felt confident it would have spent more than the $20 I invested and even more of my time on sourcing the supplies individually. Plus, the bottles and case in the kit can easily be reused for other projects.

I think by the end of our time together, Mione and I had enjoyed letting the kids experiment to the point of releasing any expectations on the finished products. The kids had gotten weird and we were mighty proud. Mine also had skin of many colors thanks to refusing gloves. That’s what summer is all about, right?


It turns out, there’s no such thing as mistakes in tie dye for bomb results. We let our dye sit overnight, then rinsed each piece in the sink with cold water until it ran clear before popping them in the wash. The patterns and colors were amazing!

Some of the funky kids’ creations with really rich colors turned out to be my favorite.


I can’t wait to take all of the bandanas we made to the mountains as vacation presents for my family. My girl very proudly wore her tie dye shirt to preschool the moment it was dry.

I’m spinning my wheels now thinking of more fashion DIYs we can explore at home! Any ideas?

LIVE, BY LILLYLillyComment
A Dallas Mom Getaway at First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas

My friend Ruthie and I met when we had the same first day of work nine years ago at The American Red Cross, her in development and me in communications. We started in September and for Halloween just a month later, I asked her if she wanted to dress up as Laverne and Shirley. I was pretty psyched when she said yes, and more so when I found out on Halloween day she had never even seen the show. This girl was fun and impressionable.

We’ve schlemiel/schlimazel-ed our way through her engagement, the arrival of my daughter, the wedding, about four million new jobs between the two of us (mostly mine) and now, Ruthie becoming a Mom herself to a baby boy, also welcomed through adoption.

With all this life, the scales finally tipped for a while before we realized we had gone far too long without some quality time together. We needed to make up for a few dozen phone calls lost to now each having our own child yelling from the backseat on the drive home from work these days. Soon I realized Canton, Texas, First Monday Trade Days, a flea market held on the weekend that holds the first Monday of the month, was calling our name.

I love this trip because it’s just far enough to feel like you road tripped out of town but extremely doable in one day. I’m all for extended time away from the fam, but adding hotel rooms and goodnights on FaceTime always brings a few more layers of logistics. When I tell myself I’m too busy for just one full day with my friend, I feel like I’m really acting a little self-important that the world can’t turn without me, you know?

Canton is the perfect girls’ day formula: very easy country drive filled with wildflowers, no place to officially go or be, folding tables with mountains of visual inspiration for new conversations, and tapping into our intuitive need to hunt and gather. We’ve done a couple of great spa days together, but I thought this was so much more fun and economical. It was one of the best days of our friendship ever.

Before you go:

Bring cash, more than you think you need (but not a dime more than you’re actually allowed to spend, if you’re me). ATMs are scarce and have fees, and not only does cash help negotiating but generally this is an experience still left untouched by digital payment methods.

Don’t knock the value of the little carts the veterans pull behind them. I did, until I got home and had to massage the imprint of roller skate laces out of my shoulder from where they dug into me while being hauled on my back - more on that later. A folding wagon is coming with us next time. I even brought large reusable shopping bags but forgot them in the car when basking in the glory of a day without being responsible for everyone else’s belongings.

The hardest part of feeling like a trip to Canton was successful (re: the huntering and gathering at least) is knowing where to start, as the grounds are actually bigger than they look. The main pavilions have more mass produced items. (Most of which, by the way, includes phrases acting as a very intense reminder that a lot of these fine people don’t…vote like me, which I, surprisingly, seem to be more accepting of based off what they are willing to print on t-shirts and hand paint onto reclaimed wood signs. So, no harm here but - you’ve been warned if reminders of a divided nation kill your vibe.)

To get the “best junk,” bypass the main entrance to the trade days and head to the back of the Canton Civic Center, taking Flea Market Road off of W Dallas Street to the RV park. The blue building by the parking lot has the cleanest restrooms.

This is how Google Maps should take you from Dallas to the Promised Land.


From then it is really just on like Donkey Kong. Ruthie decorates like her house is on Fixer Upper and I decorate like my house is on Clarissa Explains It All, so in terms of being pleased with the decor offerings laid out for us, we’re fishing in a barrel. All gold as far as the eye can see. Vintage red firetruck ride-in cars for dapper young babies for her. Flintstone’s 30th anniversary commemorative glassware commissioned by Hardee’s for me. Of course I got the glasses. I mean, what better way to remember my love for Hannah-Barbera shows and my Dad taking me to Hardee’s every day when my Mom signed me up for both public school and Catholic school kindergarten. He ordered a double cheeseburger with large curly fries and a strawberry milkshake, then turned to me at age five and said, “What do you want?” like I even knew life outside what my Mom put in front of me. I said, “Uh, the same.” And ate that for lunch every day with my Dad for the year.

Sorry to digress, but these are the types of stories you get when enjoying a day on the scenic route.

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One thing out in the fields that kept stopping us where those “tacky in a way you want to participate in” metal yard decorations. We were admiring a vendor’s space when I literally said, “I always look too closely at these groupings thinking the perfect one is going to find me.” And I found her, a weird stand-alone red and white mushroom, just like the ones I painted on my walls in college. Where trust me, I had a ton of friends (sarcasm font may be applied).

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This was love. But I wanted to say I got a deal to enhance the story, so I had to haggle and then do the walk away move. So we went forth.

My best find of the day were these vintage roller skates in exactly my size for $3. We just got a new bike trail behind our house and I will be “that person on rollerskates.”


Ruthie has a good eye. She spotted this guy, and he had gorgeous handwoven baskets and other items. Ruthie and I keep a pretty big/little sister dynamic despite a slim age difference, just because she is so wildly accepting of my bossiness and unsolicited advice (thank you KRUB you are the best). But then she will pull something super grown-lady-ish, like picking out a nice handwoven basket for buying fresh produce from her special farmer’s market vendor, Omar, and it’s like, who’s raising who here?

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Father’s Day is just around the corner…


In the end, we walked and talked, got just the right amount of lost and went home filled with finds sure to completely enhance our life. Including my metal yard garbage twin flame.

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But mostly, we just had the best time together.

Here’s the deal, for me at least. Us emotional laborers used to get together regularly and just listen to each other’s real stuff: quilting, bridge club, walking over to each other’s houses. I know it still exists, but sometime the pace of life these days doesn’t make it happen, at least for me. Standing get-togethers and girls’ weekends become lunches, lunches become coffee dates then keeping up on social media, phone calls become texts. By the end of a full day as we sat over our not-to-be-missed bison burgers and fries at the neighboring Dairy Palace, we were way out of the highlight reel that conversations can so easily stick to these days. We both promised to do it again ASAP, knowing our husbands and children could not only handle themselves but also appreciated our friendship and the treasures we so dutifully source for our homes.

On that note, has anyone been to Round Top?

The Only Four Questions I Ask Kids About Art & The Best Children's Art Exhibits in Dallas this Summer
A post-dance recital trip to see Zeke Williams’ TWO FOR ONE, on view at Erin Cluley Gallery through June 8, 2019, concurrently with the child-friendly exhibition THE ART OF CHiLDHOOD.

A post-dance recital trip to see Zeke Williams’ TWO FOR ONE, on view at Erin Cluley Gallery through June 8, 2019, concurrently with the child-friendly exhibition THE ART OF CHiLDHOOD.

Post written by Lilly

I have a confession to make. Five years into the game, this summer is the first that I’ll be home with my daughter full time. We have a half day preschool two days a week, and then I’m on my own. Trying not to burn out with a packed schedule or go too stir crazy confined to our home, I've promised us both one outing a week.

While I plan to switch it up, in the Texas summer, museums are a Mom’s best friend. Spacious room to get those steps in, new ideas to explore and, the best part, they pump A/C like the art has to be preserved at a crisp 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

The only daunting task of taking a child to an art experience for me can be how to engage in exhibits in a way that inspires meaningful conversations and carves those precious brain pathways. The good news for me is, my first summer out of college I was fortunate enough to intern at the education department at Dallas Contemporary. I walked in with a freshly embossed art history degree, note cards and highlighter in hand, ready to study their current exhibition and impart all of its facts and symbolism onto young children. The executive director blew my mind when she explained my dialogue with our student visitors that summer would be limited to three questions.

At first, I was a little shocked. How could the children get the full experience without obtaining the valuable insight of the artist’s intention and biography? What the program knew better than I, a classic museum brat raised by an arts supporter, is to many, the facts around art can only intimidate. I learned how many people who do not get to be in an art exhibition space by high school, when surveyed, respond that they do not like art because they “don’t get it.” The facts and background that I saw as necessary in exploring artwork can certainly add value to the process but just as easily distract from our personal feeling with the work and even intimidate. Art has become so much about displaying what we know that it can limit our ability to just sit with what we feel. It can easily be thought that if one doesn’t know about an artist before visiting an exhibit, he or she won’t be able to have a full experience.

Now, I take my daughter to museums. We often get to a point in our conversations where our curiosity inspires us to explore the audio tour or provided materials, but, thanks to the insight I learned that summer, that’s not where we begin. My agenda is limited to those three questions I learned one summer, plus one more of my own.

What do you see?

What do you see that tells you that?

What more can you find?

How does that make you feel?

(Something I’ve learned: If a child has a hard time visually exploring an artwork, drawing it is a great start! Most museums have pencils and paper available for this reason, but I always grab a notebook and pencil on our way out the door to help facilitate this and make the most of our time. Markus taught me through his example that kids enjoy this even more if you sit and draw with them yourself.)

I love these questions for making the priority of experiencing art personal. We go deep in exploration to see what we can find, we back our claims with visual evidence, we go back in for more and we get curious and share openly about how it makes us feel. This often inspires us to learn more about the artist’s intention for comparison, but we’ve begun the experience simply recognizing that art is about our reactions, not what others believe we should understand or think about it. A bonus to this process is that there’s no need for us parents to study up before packing the car and heading on an art adventure.

Speaking of adventures, there’s a wealth of summer art programming available in the Dallas area that I am super excited about! Here’s everything on our initial summer art punch list - so far!

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Dallas Museum of Art: Jonas Wood and Dior: From Paris to the World

This is just the ultimate summer art exhibit line up for me. I’m so excited to see a contemporary art show take focus at the DMA. I’ve been following the Dior exhibit since it’s beginning, so tempted to travel to see it each time I saw photos, and couldn’t be more proud or delighted it will be in Dallas. Last time Heidi and I went to a fashion-focused exhibit (Jeremy Scott at Dallas Contemporary) we had weeks of ideas around making, exploring processes and design. I think Jonas Wood and Dior are a wonderful complement to each other for taking a group of mixed genders and interests to one fun day at the museum!

Arlington Museum of Art: Keith Haring, Against All Odds

I’ve never been to the Arlington Museum of Art (and it’s slightly questionable that they do not currently have any information about this exhibit on their website), but I cannot wait to attend this when it opens at the end of June. I love Keith Haring and am excited to see works that specifically highlight his passion for creating dialogues around social justice. There’s a lot of great conversations to be had in his work around inclusion and practicing respect and empathy for others, and a perfect way to explore the AIDS epidemic and its social reactions if your children are of an appropriate age. All while getting to see such an iconic style up close. A great way to meet up with Fort Worth friends!

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The Perot Museum of Nature and Science: The Art of the Brick

I’ll admit that when I first saw the press release for this exhibit I thought, “Ok, LEGOs are cool. We get it.” I was absolutely WOWed with this exhibit exploring how contemporary artist Nathan Sawaya uses LEGO bricks to recreate famous and new artworks. It’s a great way to expose small children to famous works of art in a context they’ll enjoy. I also loved the way the exhibit is presented, showcasing the amount of LEGO bricks in each work and the ratio of size between the artistic recreations and original artworks. Seeing LEGO in this new way, not just for building towers and bridges but for creative expression, has inspired us to play at home in new ways. Another great exhibit for children of different genders, interests or ways of thinking.

Children and parents enjoying storytime with Dallas contemporary artist Zeke Williams at Erin Cluley Gallery. photo credit: Kevin Todora c/o Erin Cluley Gallery

Children and parents enjoying storytime with Dallas contemporary artist Zeke Williams at Erin Cluley Gallery. photo credit: Kevin Todora c/o Erin Cluley Gallery

Photo credit: Kevin Todora c/o Erin Cluley Gallery

Photo credit: Kevin Todora c/o Erin Cluley Gallery

Erin Cluley Gallery: The Art of Childhood

I may have to check my bias here as I was fortunate enough to be able to assist with this exhibit before wrapping up my time working at the gallery, but this gallery exhibition for children is phenomenal. Twelve children were selected to curate the show, resulting in a beautiful salon wall of contemporary artworks in the gallery space. There are also floor mats and cheater quilts by contemporary artist Zeke Williams for more rough and tumble exploration, areas for puzzles and drawing and wall installations where children can color and create in a collaborative way with others. This space has all of the trappings of an institution-level children’s area with front door parking, a low key environment and contemporary art (Zeke Williams’ TWO FOR ONE in May and Denton textile artist Taylor Barnes’ SACRED SPACES in June). Sign up for Erin’s emails and be in the know about the story times she has planned, where artists in her program will share their favorite children’s art books.

Where are you headed on art adventures this summer?

The ManKind Project’s NWTA Weekend

Post Written by Markus

On a Monday afternoon last September, Lilly sent me a text: “Hey, I found this weekend men’s retreat that sounds interesting, would you consider going?”  I was on a huge deadline push at work that day and I read the text quickly before replying “Sure, thank you.” Lilly had heard of a similar retreat a year or two back that I also attended and based on that experience, it was an easy decision for me. That prior retreat was on the shores of a lake nearby and it was a silent retreat. No talking, no phones – just being. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and it was incredibly grounding, calming, and centering for me. Apparently, I was now the kind of guy who regularly goes on retreats like this – bring on the silence and a break, I thought.

What I didn’t know was that this weekend was a bit different than the first one. This one was called NWTA (“New Warrior Training Adventure” – I’ll be honest, I rolled my eyes at the name) a three-day “retreat” that seemed to be the main event put on by an organization called The ManKind Project (MKP). I was still trying to figure out what any of this actually was and I figured that if MKP or this warrior weekend was really such a big deal, then I would have already heard of it before now.

Full disclosure – Lilly hadn’t found this new retreat as something unique and interesting just because she cares about me (although she does and she would) – but because it was a long shot at trying to get things moving that were stuck, specifically in/with me. Things like emotion (me not expressing emotion, me not understanding Lilly when she expresses emotion, me having low empathy), listening skills (or lack thereof), reliability in general, and my lack of a well-defined purpose beyond “work hard and be good for my family.”


That same Monday afternoon, I got a (slightly) better picture of what I was getting into as I was texting Lilly:  “OK, so what is this retreat exactly?”, “Where is this place?”, “What do people who’ve attended say about it?” On the MKP site they describe the weekend as “not a retreat” (thanks guys - wait, OK what is it then?) and they refer to it as “a real-time hero’s journey” (way to be dramatic about it, I thought).

The official MKP description of the weekend is: “You'll get more than you're willing to hope for: purpose, passion, vibrancy, joy, healing, connection to self, new energy, clarity, power, freedom, understanding, brotherhood, trust. Over 64,000 men have now taken this journey, and every man's experience has been unique.” That description also didn’t help me much – that’s just a list that sounds like it was pulled from a BuzzFeed clickbait post titled “13 Things The Modern Man Needs To Be a Hero (Number 8 May Surprise You!)”.

Boy, it seemed like these guys really weren’t doing much to pitch this to the average guy as something that might seem even remotely appealing – unless he was a guy who needed a Hail Mary attempt at keeping a marriage together, which was the case for me. With that context, it honestly didn’t matter what they called this non-retreat adult man sleepover weekend. Like so many other decisions in my life, this came about because it was finally too painful to not change.

As I was looking for any third-partyreviews of this experience/weekend, the trail pretty much ran cold. I could find almost nothing online about this organization or the weekend – which meant my imagination began to run wild.  What little I did find seemed questionable at best and what I didn’t know at the time was that there were two things at play:

  1. MKP is by definition a men’s group (explicitly welcoming to GBTQ) by each man’s own definition.  Saying that to say – as a group, men are generally less effusive, and are already less likely to write reviews of their weekend non-retreat experiences.  My opinion is that this is one reason why there are few reviews out there.

  2. The weekend has been running for over three decades, is held in many countries, and generally still takes the same shape today as the early years. A fair amount of the efficacy of the weekend is based on the construct of following a hero’s journey where a large part of it is the unknown of the path before you. To this end, MKP asks attendees to talk in generalities about the weekend and leave the specifics for each man to experience on his own during the weekend. In my opinion it’s this request, coupled with #1 above, that leads to the shortage of actually useful third-party information about MKP online.

Where this really doesn’t work in MKP’s favor is that online, the vocal minority has the floor. The guys who are attending and having awesome, life-changing experiences are not writing about it – at least not where other interested guys can find the reviews. For me, that was crucial and I was basically taking a leap of faith with little time to decide whether to spend $750 (wait - seriously, $750? Seriously.) for the weekend. MKP does offer case-by-case options and they want to make sure that cost is never a barrier to attendance.

Lilly sent me that text on a Monday and the way the timing of this retreat fell, it was that upcoming weekend in a rural area outside Houston. If I would have paused at any point between that moment and the weekend (I didn’t) to make a list of the things I thought were not working in my life and that I might like to examine during the weekend, it would have included:

  1. Lack of emotional attunement

  2. Lack of traction/consistency in progress

  3. Lack of connection with my inner child

  4. Unawareness of shame (and the major role it was playing in directing my life)

  5. Lack of a clearly-defined purpose – sure, I wanted to be a good husband, good dad, and have a good career – but I had never defined the actual goal and hadn’t considered what greater overarching purpose there might be

  6. Fears that I had never faced that were redirecting my life by me avoiding them

  7. Though I couldn’t put my finger on it, what I now recognize as a constant need for approval

Even though I didn’t put it into those words before the weekend, I had a strong sense that something was going on. I also believed that I was the only one feeling like this and that these problems were unique to me. That led me to avoid talking about them, which only made them worse.


The best way to describe the weekend actually is MKP’s standard description from earlier in this post. Each man’s experience is different. It’s an opportunity to take a look at things in life that are working (and things that aren’t working) in a different context. Think Joseph Campbell and his paradigm of the myth of the hero’s journey – especially the quote “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

The other best way to describe the weekend is describe what I got from the experience, including lessons about these topics below. By “lesson”, I mean something that I absorbed to a level deeper than just a theoretical surface-level understanding.

  1. What a man is, and what he is not (most of the images and archetypes celebrated by our culture are at best incomplete, and at worst, destructive to self and others)

  2. Emotional attunement (even just the “base” emotions of happy, sad, angry, afraid, ashamed)

  3. An understanding of agreements – the moments where I agree to do something and how I do (or do not) honor that agreement

  4. Integrity (aligning my words and my actions) + accountability (doing what I say I’ll do)

  5. Shame

  6. My inner child’s deepest need (and out of that, my mission)

  7. Understanding that I’m not on earth just to be a work-horse productivity machine

  8. Actually hearing my real Voice for the first time (both figuratively and literally)

  9. Connection with other men, besides just surface-level

  10. Connection with the Earth, with Nature, and with Life

  11. A deep sense of connection to the men who came before me in prior generations and those who will follow

The weekend was surreal in terms of cultivating a sense of reconnection to myself – and coming back home (literally and figuratively) was even more surreal. Everything at home felt very familiar yet also very different.  Our house looked the same when I walked up to the door, but my connection to it felt much stronger. I can’t explain how overcome with love, gratitude, and adoration I was when my eyes saw Lilly, My Love, for the first time after I came home.  

It was a deep sense of appreciation for an ocean of incredible qualities about her. For believing in me, for finding the weekend and encouraging me to attend, for her support in general – and a deep appreciation for her as a woman, especially for her intuition, for her emotion and her attunement, her love, her physical beauty – and her smile, her kind eyes, and her presence.

We talked some, but mostly we were quiet. I couldn’t stop looking into her gorgeous green eyes – holding her gaze, staring at her pretty face and taking in her beauty.  Lilly had picked up dinner for me and I was ravenous from the drive home – but I could barely be bothered to eat it, I was so taken by her. I’ve always been smitten but this was different. Just being next to her was enough and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The intensity and intimacy of our connection that first day back and across the next few days felt like something from a classic love story.

The first week was back to “normal” life was so surreal. I wore out Porangui’s album Ayahuasca Remixed which has the most awesome primal, tribal energy and beats. One of my favorite quotes from the movie Fight Club kept resonating in my mind “After fighting, everything else in your life got the volume turned down.”  It felt like everything in my life, especially the mundane work-life items, had become very muted in my daily life. The hard landscape was technically still the same but it seemed like everything had changed.

Before, it was a world where there were “so many” “important” things that I needed to stay aware of, pay attention to, and do something about. I had a death-grip attachment to viewing myself as Work & Productivity Man - and that attachment had long been trying to fill the voids in my life that I now call Identity and Purpose/Mission.

The thing I needed the most from the weekend (though I couldn’t have put it into words) was to have some kind of experience where I at least glimpsed a sense of trusting myself again. The experience of the weekend gave me a peek at that sense of trust and I could feel deeply that a very old need and wound was beginning to be met and healed. At the time I didn’t know quite how old and deep that wound was. I also didn’t know that the first week back was NOT actually the new normal, not yet at least – and not without a lot of hard work still ahead of me, and in so many unexpected areas of my life.

That first week passed and after that, the weekend was still semi-fresh on my mind – but definitely a little less fresh and a little less intense.  It seemed like “reality” was setting back in and I began to wonder if my weekend experience had produced real, lasting change – or if it was just an isolated experience to itself with no ultimate tangible translation to me actually living my life.


One of the things that has not been lost on me is what purpose the weekend experience has served for me, besides the obvious shifts in emotion, Voice, and Connection. Those three weekend days together with the first days back at home were nothing short of an experience like looking directly into the Sun. It was white-hot, bright AF, and nurturing, and it let me directly experience first-hand the heights of what is tangibly possible for me in my life – and here’s the kicker – with what I already had inside myself that’s been there all along.

The toughest thing for me since the weekend was that realization that the initial “new normal” was not actually a new normal – at least not yet. I would compare it to the experience of coming back to “real life” from a proper vacation. On so many prior vacations, I’ve tapped into what I would describe as the core essence of my being – and that’s been via Connection to both myself and the world around me. I’ve gotten there essentially the same way every time – slowing down, breathing deeply, being present with myself, getting out in the Sun, and moving through nature. The Markus that came back from those trips was instinctively more focused on Energy, “Vibes”, and Fun than before the trips.

The main word I would use to describe MKP as an organization is Connection – with oneself, with other men (and with women), with emotion, with love, with nature, and spiritual connection (not religion - think along the lines of native American spirituality) with the ultimate goal of being a better man for those we love and the world around us. The other word I would use is Awakening – to the world, to others, and most importantly to oneself. I would describe this Awakening as the first step toward Recovery. By this I mean Recovery in the sense that Russell Brand defines the word: “recover[ing] the person you were born to be.”

Something I’ve noticed on many occasions since the weekend is increased attunement and intuition. One way this manifests is during times when I notice the opposite - a strong sense of mis-alignment in my life. That can be anything – the way I’m breathing (or not breathing), how strong (or weak) my Voice is on any given day, where my energy is focused, and especially my purpose/mission.

There are plenty of days that I wonder how I ever got to 36 years old before learning some of these (seemingly) very basic things that I learned about myself and about life at the weekend. I usually counter that with this quote from Steven Tyler, “I’ve got a lot of great excuses. Don’t we all? So what if I was 60 years late - I was busy getting ready.” Busy getting ready – that was me, and that was OK.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I discovered something deep and important that weekend. I got glimpses at deep, powerful Truths that I’ve felt all along but hadn’t touched and couldn’t put my finger on. I heard my Voice for the first time.

What I got from the weekend actually was the “more than you’re willing to hope for,” just as advertised. There was the immediate impact and the lessons listed above – but it didn’t stop there. The weekend served as an initial catalyst and the amount and depth of things that have been healed since still blows my mind. I can 100% say that I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t attended that specific weekend last September. Either directly or indirectly, my weekend has somehow influenced all my growth since then.

Two Joseph Campbell quotes have also resonated very strongly with me since September. One is, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” which I have taken to heart. For a long time in my life I wanted to (and did) conceal who I was, so this hits very deep for me.

The other is Campbell’s description of The Hero Path. This has been my understanding of life since the weekend:

We have not even to risk the adventure alone

for the heroes of all time have gone before us.

The labyrinth is thoroughly known

we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.

And where we had thought to find an abomination

we shall find a God.

And where we had thought to slay another

we shall slay ourselves.

Where we had thought to travel outward

we shall come to the center of our own existence.

And where we had thought to be alone

we shall be with all the world.

Before the weekend, I would have called this poem overly dramatic or trying too hard. After the weekend, each line resonates deeply. “Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.” I had thought that my problems in life were due to something outside myself - but when I took an honest look, the issue was actually me. When I started to change, magically so did my problems. “Where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” What initially felt life-threatening was actually life-giving through the Connection that can only come from vulnerability and openness.

Check out the MKP FAQ page for more details about the weekend - I’d also love to answer any questions.  Hit me up in the comments below or send us an email for more!

Spotify Morning Mix and Our Morning Hacks

Mornings can be such a challenge. On one hand, there’s so much magic in this space we get to share together as a family before we have to reckon with the outside world. But also, we need to get out the door and be ready to take on the day! I want a pace for our mornings that feels calm, manageable and my own (versus running against the clock), but with good energy flowing through ourselves and the house before we go see what the day brings.

Music is such a big part of this! Markus can lure me out of bed best with music. He loves to get the speaker cranked up in the kitchen where he’s typically making coffee to get him in his headspace for the day. His tunes have the added benefit of being just loud enough where I can’t go back to sleep and I eventually relent and show my face to the world. A few minutes after that I start to perk up and actually enjoy the morning’s music myself.

Whether it’s musicals, the classics or something new, we gravitate towards fun, energetic music in the mornings to help our outlooks and days follow suit. Here’s what we’ve been cranking in the morning lately!

Don’t forget you can follow our Open Hearted Home Family Friendly Spotify Station for all of our playlists for cool families.

Here’s 10 other ways we “hack” our mornings:

  1. Markus: Very first thing, every day - a drink of water. No set amount, but always cold.

  2. Lilly: I wake up almost every morning by doing Morning Pages, a practice of writing three pages of stream of consciousness thoughts in a journal never to be read again. It’s like flossing or (for a tad grosser example) scraping my tongue, where I can clear out the first gunky layer of thoughts and let my brain go to more interesting places over the course of the day. I write out what’s on my mind, which eventually lets me air out my worries and on the spot I write them into prayer and surrender them for a higher power to deal with. It’s my way of taking my mind out of the picture for a minute and just handing the day over to the greater forces. Our girl is a morning cuddler in our bed, so to be able to pull this off I got her a journal and pen of her own that she practices letters or doodles in while I write. We both get out of bed in a different frame of mind if we’ve done our morning pages!

  3. Lilly: When we have to be out the door at a certain time, we use this visual timer to guide our daughter as she works on developing her focus on singular tasks and concept of time. Not wanting it to take on any bootcamp and/or Captain Von Trapp vibes, we typically offer it as a helpful tool and set it for a little longer than we know it takes our girl to complete one of her morning tasks, such as finishing breakfast or getting dressed for the day. We also set it for five minutes as a “tidy timer” so we can take a moment and try to put away at least a few things that made their way out in the morning so we can walk back into a well-cared for space when we come home towards the end of the day.

  4. Lilly: Markus makes me the “perfect” cup of coffee every morning. I think this may have begun a few years ago as a short term project to get on my good side, but like some great ideas, it’s worked so well he may be stuck doing it and reaping its rewards of my affection for life. Below is the recipe should you need to start your day with the best cup of coffee ever or get on someone’s good side yourself. I treat this as a morning smoothie and it holds me off until a late morning snack or even lunch.

  5. Markus: This recipe is a twist on the classic Bulletproof coffee recipe that’s been around for what seems like forever by this point and that’s still my personal favorite. The version I make for Lilly takes it up a notch in terms of creaminess and overall nutrients. Although “true” Bulletproof coffee by definition has very specific steps/ingredients (here’s the rabbit hole), generally I:

    1. Make coffee

    2. Pour 16 oz of coffee into blender

    3. Add:

      1. 1 Tbsp organic ghee

      2. 1 Tbsp MCT oil (Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil)

      3. 2 Tbsp Nutpods (esp. Hazelnut, Peppermint, or Pumpkin Spice)

      4. 1 scoop collagen peptides

    4. Blend on high for 30 seconds

    5. Pour into a huge mug and try to contain my excitement at how frothy this drink is that I just made in my own house by myself.

      (Two notes about MCT: (1) Don’t go cheap, speaking from experience here.  Avoid MCT oil that contains lauric acid - your stomach will thank you. (2) Make sure that your blender container is made of HDPE or glass and that your mug is ceramic or glass (metal is fine too).  MCT generally melts plastic and styrofoam.)

  6. Markus: I start most mornings with a 10-minute Daily Calm app session. The daily sesion is new each day and the 10 minutes are about evenly split between guided meditation, “quiet” time (not necessarily “silent” because you can choose your own background sounds), and a daily topic for reflection. There are tons of background sound options like waves on a beach, rain in the jungle, or my personal favorite called Open Ocean, that makes me imagine I’m deep down below the surface of the endless sea. When I start my day with the Daily Calm, the rest of the day seems to flow and everything seems more manageable that I expected, even the tougher parts of the day.  When I don’t start my day with the Daily Calm, it’s generally the opposite - it’s that simple. The narrator usually recommends sitting up tall, although my favorite way is laying down on my back with a towel over my eyes so it’s totally dark.

  7. Markus: After the Daily Calm session, I’m usually in my personal power hour. My brain and body are awake and my energy is calm and focused. I’ve found this to be the best time to write, especially in terms of flow and general quality. Usually I’ll walk away from a writing session pleasantly surprised and feeling like I can’t take credit for the words on the page, even though I remember typing them just minutes ago. When my brain and body work together like that, it feels like an out-of-body experience where I’m just observing and that I’m just along for the ride. I’ve had zero writers block with this approach, rather it’s always the opposite - I feel like I could easily write for hours more.

  8. Markus: Music, preferably loud. The genre all depends on the day, though typically hip-hop, rock and pop are big players. On days where I feel that I’m dragging, I’ll generally throw on something with a beat that’s faster than my heart rate, like a good NYC house music playlist.

  9. Markus: Sitting Still.  This is the toughest one of every morning, even the weekends. It’s also the best one. This is normally on the order of 5 minutes and happens at the tail end of the morning routine. No phone - usually just me and my coffee.  This is the calm before the storm.

  10. Lilly: Sunday is our one day a week where we don’t set an early alarm. I wait for it all week! We’re at a glorious phase of life now where we all sleep in a little and once Heidi is up she climbs in our bed for a good dose of snuggles and laughs. So my “hack” is saying no to morning plans, Sunday school or anything else that might make it longer than a week before I can savor this slow wake up. Until it’s time to nudge Markus out of bed for that morning coffee!

What’s your favorite way to start the day?!

Enjoying Disney World in January with a Five-Year-Old Girl

Oh boy, has an innocent family trip to Disney World become a topic of debate or what?

Camps are divided over whether a Disney trip is the family vacation of choice, to the point of it now almost existing as a subculture. Those outside this subculture often not-so-gently remind parents that for the costs and commitment of Disney, there’s an entire “real” world out there that children can explore through travel.

Personally, this is one where I love the middle ground. Yes, we love (and need!) slow, simple vacations and immersion into new world cultures through travel. But, we also LOVE Disney World and its magic and ability to put us into that child-like creative space where, like Walt believed, anything is truly possible with an imagination, some engineering and a little bit of pixie dust.

With that in mind, I’ve wanted to take my girl to Disney World since she was born. My grandfather and parents loved to take me growing up, and it was a travel tradition from my family of origin that I was excited to pass on. My two cents on Disney travel is there is a time, a place and a way to do it where it is experienced in its fullness before going down the (white) rabbit’s hole and everyone becoming exhausted and jaded. I waited patiently until my daughter’s fifth birthday - that time and place where I hoped a trip of this intensity would be exciting, memorable and magical to her but have her still at an age where I could control the experience and keep us all from being overwhelmed.

Spoiler alert: it worked.

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Since my girl is a Christmas Day birthday, it felt like a good way to (barely) offset costs of the trip and make the announcement a special memory by presenting the trip as a surprise from Santa, Mom and Dad. A new suitcase “all my own” has been the top of the list of desires for our girl, so she awoke on Christmas Birthday morning to a new Disney-approved suitcase filled with some second-hand costumes, Disney surprises and a letter from Santa with the exciting details.

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The timing also worked out perfectly where we could book our trip about 30 days out to let anticipation build and to travel at one of the record low attendance weeks for the parks. I partnered up early with a Disney travel planner, Small World Big Fun, who was a massive help with locking up our hotel and meal reservations. Meals seem to be the hot ticket item and I specifically had my eye on Cinderella’s Royal Table (inside Cinderella’s castle). My agent, Jody, looked for available reservations first and booked our trip around one available table left at the castle in the month of January (!!). From there, Jody was a massive help in working with me on an awesome itinerary based on what we wanted to be sure to do on the trip and our total budget. It was a huge relief to get the bulk of planning done over what felt like just a few emails, down to reservations for some of the best rides in the parks!

Another thing we took care of was getting PhotoPass, which is an package that allows parks employees to take your photograph at the parks with the images going straight to the DisneyParks app on your phone - with full photo rights for all images! Traveling as a little threesome, it was a great relief to know we would have all of the family photos we might desire (which was going to be a LOT based on my financial and time investments, k fam?).

Based on our daughter’s age and the length of the trip, we opted to just focus on Disney parks, side-stepping Universal, etc. and we stayed on the Disney resort at Caribbean Beach. We got a “preferred” room which put us about 60 seconds away from the resort bus stop and about three minutes from the lobby building. This seemed like small beans at the time of booking, but once we got on the property we noticed that some room blocks were a 10 minute walk from the bus! I would rate Caribbean Beach as just right for our needs on this trip - a cozy place to crash at the end of the day. If you’re bringing along smaller babies (that need a break at the hotel or in the rooms during the day) or grandparents, I might suggest going up one hotel tier. Disney hotels are rated as “value”, “moderate”, and “deluxe”, with Caribbean Beach being a moderate hotel. All of the staff at the hotel were excellent and accommodating and our room was spotless every day, which is all any of us required. Tip: The best part about staying at a Disney hotel are the free wake up calls from Disney characters! Just call in your wake up times and your phone will ring with a recording by a surprise character. Having the phone ring “for her” was such a highlight of the trip and she still talks about speaking with Winnie the Pooh on the telephone!

Since we were staying on Disney resort property, we took the Disney Magical Express bus from the Orlando airport to our hotel. This is such a nice cost savings (maybe “cost savings” is a bit of a stretch at Disney, but airport transfers are something I often overlook when budgeting our vacations and they can be SO expensive?! Not the case with the Magical Express.) and it’s extra helpful if you’re checking bags. Checked bags are magically picked up by special baggage handlers and then dropped off in your hotel room - so you can just get going without having to wait at the baggage claim or lug large, heavy bags upstairs with the kids in tow.

A few tips on this: Make sure you are wearing or carrying onto the plane everything you want to have with you for the first day! It can take half a day or so for the checked bags to make it to the rooms. There’s nothing like having to walk around all day in your flight clothes when you’re wanting to get into the spirit of the parks! Also, even if you plan to only carry-on bags and not check any luggage, I recommend still bringing the bag-tags that are mailed to you so you can use this service for transfer of your carry-ons from the airport should they get gate checked. We had a full flight to Orlando and our bags were gate-checked at our departure where I was very happy to realize I had the bag-tags in my purse - which meant we could avoid stopping at baggage claim in Orlando and instead got straight onto the bus to the hotel.


We kicked off the Disney happenings with what I think is the best thing we did on the entire trip: Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party at the Grand Floridian Hotel (GF). The hotels themselves were such a marvel for our girl, it was fun to savor just that for a moment at the GF before getting overloaded with the parks! I made the tea party reservations in advance and for the cost (about $45) I thought the programming and surprises were above what I would expect if I were paying the same price for a similar experience at home in Dallas. The event is capped at 12 children, but our little girl was just one of two guests for the afternoon! Stories are still told in our home about the things that Alice and the Mad Hatter said, how they decorated cupcakes and drank Apple Juice Tea and designed their own tea set to take home. (Tip: We were headed out to one of the parks from here so the bell hop at GF took our teapot off our hands and sent it over to our hotel for us!)

This is also a children-only event - hallelujah! That left us parents available for a leisurely seated meal at the hotel to catch up and exhale from a long morning of travel which may have involved turbulence-induced child vomit. (There is a high tea at Grand Floridian at that time with champagne that looked Heavenly even though we passed on it, should you be inclined.) Everyone was really in vacation mode and feeling the Disney magic after this!

PhotoPass does the heavy lifting at the tea, since the kids enjoy themselves while a photographer takes care of getting photos that go straight to your phone.


From here we went over to Epcot for the evening, which was a nice transition into the parks madness. The best part of heading over here from the tea party was traveling by Monorail! Epcot is a great half-day park if you logistically need one, like we did after arriving mid-day. By now we were up for just walking around to see the sights and we weren’t looking for anything so major that we had to do a lot of waiting (especially since we had Fast Pass reservations for the Frozen ride thanks to Jody!). The big show at Epcot for us was meeting Anna and Elsa. It was enchanting to see the generosity and friendship values of Disney Princess Lyfe already impacting our daughter, as she kept her floral bouquet and pinwheel from her tea party to gift to Anna and Elsa when she met them.

This was a day with a -gasp- costume change! Wearing costumes to the parks was not a thing during my upbringing, so I was trying to get on board and understand the ins and outs from a distance. Santa brought some costumes via Facebook yard sale and one Etsy semi-splurge with the news of the trip. I wore a backpack to the parks where I packed the costumes and clothing changes in gallon Ziploc bags. My girl simply changed from Alice to Elsa in the restroom at Epcot with no fuss.

Since we’re on the topic - I originally thought she would wear her Cinderella dress only to breakfast at Magic Kingdom and then change into play clothes, but I did not know at the time that every Disney cast member is required to call a child “Princess” or “Your Highness/Your Majesty” when dressed in costume. My favorite example of this occurred when we were all completely beat and walking out of Magic Kingdom at the end of the night when the park closed. As we were walking, two security guards got down on one knee and bowed to our daughter! It was worth tracking some princess dresses down, finding ones that I was on board with for photos and also packing an outfit change or two so she could get into the spirit. Even the way she carried herself walking through the park was more elevated in her costumes - princess manners!


After the World Showcase, we had dinner at Seasons and loved Soarin’ and a few other rides before sitting down with some French macarons to watch Illuminations. A perfect first day!


Magic Kingdom was the big show and our destination for our first full day at Disney. Planning this for the second day was great for us as we still had lots of energy and were feeling transported into a magical world where everything registered high on the WOW factor. We got in right as the park opened and headed to the castle so we would have plenty of time before our 10:00 a.m. breakfast reservation. We did not do the Bippity Boppity Boutique, but I had heard a rumor that the Castle Couture shop right by the back side of the castle would pixie dust your hair on the house. Our daughter loved this! We also had time to ride the carousel which was a really nice way to take in the park and get jiving. Right in front is the Sword in the Stone which I love for photos. We even saw a boy pull the sword out!


Choosing to experience the magical and special feeling of dining inside Cinderella’s castle was a no-brainer for me - especially for a little girl’s trip where the alternative way to have the same experience was to wait in line to meet a bunch of lovely 20-year-old college interns dressed as princesses. Instead of dealing with butterflies and trying our collective patience waiting in line, I’ll take checking celebrity meet-and-greets off the list while seated and eating.


From there it was all of the best park stuff, from Pineapple Dole Whip to Dumbo and fireworks. The creature of habit that I am was quite pleased.


On the morning of our second full day at Disney, we were completely beat - our daughter had fallen asleep standing up on the bus the night before! We were also relieved that after two days of early mornings and late nights, I hadn’t made a reservation for this day until noon, so we were in no rush. We still woke up early and got to Hollywood Studios, rushing straight to the back corner for Toy Story Land.

Slinky Dog Dash was the only ride I was not able to get on FastPass before the trip so we headed there first and had our only hour-long wait of the trip. I’m still surprised to say, we enjoyed it. It’s so easy to shortcut and plan out every minute of a day here - but we enjoyed actually needing to stand around a little and pass the time, making conversation and letting anticipation build. The details in Toy Story Land are bananas and this was our daughter’s favorite ride by far. We even lined up later that evening to ride again and almost did it three times! So with that said, I wouldn’t write off an attraction just because it’s not available for you to FastPass!

Hollywood Studios was a great third day park for us. Our five-year-old is too short to ride a few of the rides at Animal Kingdom, but she could ride Tower of Terror (which impressed me!) and the Toy Story rides, so Hollywood Studios seemed like a more age-appropriate choice of park for this trip. This was also my favorite park when I was little and I am selfish. Logistically, with this park being smaller and featuring more show-based attractions, it made sense for our tired feet! It was a leisurely day that helped us wind down our trip. I also can’t believe that it will have the Star Wars land there soon, so I wanted to soak up the kind of old school vibe of the park before it gets too crazy with the addition. Our daughter did not know what to make of the Star Wars attractions or shows that were there at all, and she was switching back and forth between reactions of curiosity and being freaked out. Now all she asks us to play at home is the Star Wars musical score and she is obsessed with Chewy!


The last day we had an evening flight, so we had a leisurely wake up at the hotel and went to Disney Springs for lunch and poking around before our flight. This area has changed so much for the better! The shopping is great and we loved Raglan Road Irish Pub. It was lively, even at Sunday lunch, so it didn’t feel like a downer way end to vacation. The Irish performers are great and even invite the kids on stage! The gluten-free fish and chips were the best I’ve ever had.

Our energy as a family on the flight home and over the next weeks was so vibrant and connected! This was just the perfect amount of time for us to peek up from our New Years routines and winter to do something fun and commemorate such a special milestone - going from toddler to little girl. We are so proud of our daughter and this trip and all of the sacrifices, planning, and even figuring out a new app (if you’re at Disney your life is run by the Disney app) was completely worth it to us. It was also a great conversation starter for our family on the magic of making joy for others, saying thank you and practicing gratitude, using our table manners and patience - all things that I’m focusing on as we get ready for Kindergarten!

Share your favorite Disney memory below or let us know what we need to do next time!

All You Need is Love: A Beatles Birthday Party

Post Written by Lilly

I’m writing to you today from some alternate reality where my tiny surprise-baby miracle-daughter is five years old.

For some reason, this was always such a distant future and major milestone for me when she was a baby! Five years old - leaving the entire baby/toddler/preschool phase behind for little girl life. To make the milestone even sweeter, we added another little bundle of love to our family last year when my sister had a baby girl. Both girls’ birthdays fall during the week of Christmas. To celebrate them both and their milestone birthdays, we combined a big fifth birthday party with a big first birthday party! The party was also a reason to open our new house to a few of our daughter’s school friends plus our adult friends and family. It was also a relaxed, daytime holiday party - with a kangaroo (spoiler alert!).

The best thing I did in prepping for the party was to send a random-feeling email to my friend Kelli at Nine Photography and ask if they might be around and up for shooting a kids’ party - they were! Knowing that Nine Photography was at the party, everyone in my family was able to attend the entire event without needing to keep their phones nearby for photos the whole time - and so they were able to participate in every moment while still knowing they would enjoy the photos for a lifetime (and that the photos would be awesome). I hope you enjoy this snippet of Kelli’s beautiful work - all the images in this post were taken by Nine Photography.

I turned to my ever-faithful Etsy for Beatles themed party invitations that got everyone into the spirit!


With the Christmas decor already up at our house, I wanted something that would excite our guests as they walked up to the house - and also something that would help them find us, since we had recently moved and it was the first time here for many of them! I considered using one of the companies in Dallas that create gorgeous turnkey balloon installations for parties but I happened to find this balloon arch kit on Etsy. It’s a hilarious-to-me observation that we’re all going this buck-wild on balloon displays these days, but why not - especially since the price was fair? Balloons are awesome, most especially in beautiful rainbow colors draped across an entry way. Party on.

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This sounds a little crazy now, but a few years on a Facebook resale group a Mom was selling some adorable wooden signs with Beatles song titles painted on them, along with some other Beatles party decor. Our entire family loves the Beatles (my Dad played Here Comes the Sun and Back in the U.S.S.R. on the way to school every day for two straight years when we were in high school - without explanation now that I think of it, but that’s beside the point). I originally planned to use the signs for our girl’s second birthday party (that I never threw) - but everything happens for a reason, and it was the perfect theme for our family’s double-birthday!

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Abbey Road continued from outside our front steps into our entry with a crosswalk I made by taping black plastic table-covering sheets over our entry tile and taping white cardboard crosswalk panels on top. The Union Jack flag helped set the tone and gave a proper backdrop for guests to take photos walking Abbey Road - with or without shoes, of course.

While looking for similar craft ideas online, I found a Yellow Submarine felt tablecloth concept someone had made. My girl and I had a blast going to the craft store to get big pieces of felt - and then we cut and glued with hot glue the layers together to create the tablecloth below the Sunday before her party. I try not to “over-craft” for a birthday party where I’m likely to be tired (or over it) by the end of the party. There’s such a balance between getting into a vibe versus going overboard and risking being burnt out! This tablecloth was the perfect thing to drape over our dining room table to help the theme along - and it added some anticipation for both us as we were coming up on our big day. I loved making it together and I added the paper flowers around the back to femme it up for our birthday as a tribute to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, “cellophane flowers of yellow and green, towering over your heads.”


Everyone loves a delicious and beautiful theme cookie at a birthday party, which can be very tricky to find gluten-free - especially in December when the bakers are also slammed with holiday orders! Thankfully, Nancy’s Sweets was available and down to experiment. I Amazoned her (it’s a verb, get on board) my go-to gluten-free flour substitute which she used for the most adorable little-girl Beatles cookies (and smash cake) of all time.

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Since this was the first party we’ve hosted at our home, I had never booked “entertainment” before. Enter The Creature Teacher - who had the draw of being able to move inside if it was too cold, with Markus gently reminding me that the number of people I had invited wouldn’t fit in the house if it was too cold anyway.

Our handler brought five animals that Heidi hand-picked to show everyone out of the huge selection they have available. At Heidi’s school they are still talking about The Creature Teacher!

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I was originally going to rent a bounce house so kids could jump and dance to Beatles music. I am so happy we went with The Creature Teacher instead, especially with hard-to-predict December weather - and even at a party with a lot of adults, where it was tough to tell who was enjoyed the animals more - the parents or the kids! The Creature Teacher should definitely host happy hours.

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Nothing says “my parents are making up for my birthday falling on Christmas Day every year” quite like a live kangaroo jumping around your backyard.


This is my sister and I with our birthday babies. Growing up, we played with baby dolls almost every day. It was so surreal to plan this party and share this moment with her! It felt like another one of our pretend days from when we were kids ourselves. Also - LOOK AT THAT BABY, I CANNOT BELIEVE IT IS I WHO HAS BEEN CHOSEN TO SPOIL THAT BOO-BOOS.

Heidi’s cake request was for one that she and I baked together at home, which I was happy to oblige.


I know I’ll never forget this day and also that I’ll remember these adorable little personalities on our precious girls at these ages so much better with such cute photos and memories of them interacting with the party. Grandparents, parents and little kids all enjoyed being in Beatlemania for a day, remembering that All You Need Is Love!

With that said, I already need a theme to top this one next year! Hit me with your favorite theme below!