Mom K, Grandmommy, Mary Jeane

Did you know there are only 7 Wednesdays left in 2017? I’m committed to getting out a #WCW blog for every one of them! ‘Tis the season for gratitude and I’ve still got so many friends I need to write about!

Today, I’m writing about my mother-in-law, Mary Jeane Kraft. It was her birthday on Monday. Incidentally, I now personally know FOUR people with birthdays on November 13th, all different years. It’s a little crazy! So, while all those others are wonderful as well, we’re just gonna celebrate her for a little while here today.

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I’m trying to remember the first time I met Mary Jeane and I honestly don’t remember! Tom and I began dating in high school and before we officially started dating, we did a lot of hanging out at his house for movie nights. Of course, I had no way of knowing that this “tradition” of movie nights at the Kraft house mysteriously appeared when Tom began showing interest in me. I did seem to notice that while the friend groups shifted from movie to movie, somehow I was always invited. Anyway, I digress…

I mainly remember her during these times as attending to Tom’s younger brothers, trying to keep them from being too underfoot, bringing snacks, wandering through the room with laundry or a school paper she was grading or something else. Now that I’m a parent myself of a teenager, I see what she was doing. Just inconspicuously keeping tabs on what was going on with a bunch of teenagers in her house, noticing the one person who kept showing up, watching out for her son’s heart, and trying to make her domain a place her son could feel comfortable filling with his friends.

Her intentionality towards her family is now something so obvious and so dear to me.  She asks great questions and listens intently.  She never inserts herself where she knows she’s not needed. But, that doesn’t mean she is unwilling to say hard things if she feels that the situation needs a course correction or for another perspective to be pondered. I’ll never forget the conversation Tom and I had with his parents when we told them we were thinking about planning to get married. (If that sounds confusing to you, welcome to my world. When you’re long-distance dating as a freshman/sophomore in college, it feels scary to say out loud that you want to marry someone, but also foolish to not consider the seriousness of the relationship). Anyway, sometime during that conversation, she looked at me and asked if I had ever considered any other man besides Tom as someone worth pursuing. Talk about a deer in the headlights moment. And she wasn’t trying to catch me in some sort of duplicitous moment – she was just making sure she wasn’t talking to two moony-eyed teenagers. She wanted to know if I had been looking at my options objectively. (The answer was yes I had and no one held a candle to her son and yes I do think I handled that very well thankyouverymuch.)

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The day she became my mother-in-law

 

And then we got married. I do not think there is a relationship in modern American society with more baggage than the “mother-in-law”. What in the world are we doing to the next generation with such negative stereotyping?!? It’s terrible! I do have friends that have fraught relationships with the in-laws, ones even that border on the abusive, so I’m not discounting that many have serious issues there. I am saying that I think we could do better as a society to honor this special relationship.

Over the years, I’ve just come to love my mother-in-law more and more. She remains intentionally focused on the well-being of her children and her grandchildren. She proactively seeks out relationship and opportunities to be with us. She notices the things that are important to people and makes an effort to make things happen. She does not offer empty praise, but instead sees positive attributes and the calls them out specifically. I have watched my children beam under her affirmation, not in an entitled, smug way, but in the way that shows they feel truly seen by her.

In the era we find ourselves now with people in power grasping tightly to whatever piece of the pie they can hold on to at whatever price, I notice that my parents and in-laws are going another direction. The only thing they are holding tightly to is their faith and conviction that God is good and that He is worth following. My in-laws have uprooted their family to move across the country, following a call to be part of a ministry they believe in. They left that ministry at personal cost when it became clear they needed to do that to find God’s flourishing in their lives again. They’ve continued in a limbo situation for a couple of years now waiting to see where and to whom God would send them next. Their faith is encouraging and convicting. Watching what they hold dear is a lesson they are teaching to us without having to use a single word.

My mother-in-law is someone I’m proud to know and enjoy hanging out with. She has fostered a strong sense of faith and connection to family in my husband and his siblings that is so evident today. She continues to learn and grow, sharing with us her nuggets of wisdom and passing along favorite books or passages that we may enjoy. She values service and hospitality, making sure everyone who enters her home feels welcomed, seen, and known.

When you fall in love with someone, you really don’t know what you’re getting with that person’s family. I count myself among the most blessed to be a part of the Kraft family now. Mary Jeane, I love your son and I love being part of your family. Happy Birthday week – I hope you get to keep celebrating! XOXOX

 

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Jan, my first bonus sister

This week’s #wcw post is going to focus on my husband’s sister, Jan. It’s her birthday this weekend and I want to celebrate her a bit.

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By far one of my favorite pictures of Jan. What happens when you go running in extreme cold. It also tells you pretty much everything you need to know about her.

By the time I got to know Jan, I was already pretty into her brother. Getting to know her was a bonus. I have rarely met another person so simultaneously generous in spirit, strong in conviction, and sure of her own value. She knows what she likes and what is good for her and she will fight for it, even if (and when – because we all know that a strong woman comes up against resistance every now and again….) others are confused or put off by it.

We had the best time together when we were stationed in Germany. She came and stayed with us for 2 months over the summer while she was in college. Some wondered if that arrangement would actually be beneficial for everyone – small apartment and a long stay. But it was a great, great time. Becca was about 8 months old at the time and a truly delightful baby. Jan loved playing with her and making her laugh. Tom was away a bunch of the time on training exercises and such, so we filled our days with little day trips and longer overnights, exploring Germany’s lovely countryside.

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From Trip Advisor: This train is how most tourists get up the mountain…

One of the things that happened while she was there was that she and Tom decided to run a race together – the Königstuhl race, which is a one-way run up a mountain in Heidelberg. It is a STEEP mountain. It was something that Tom thought would be fun to do and Jan agreed and wanted to do it with him. (Just a side note here – that last sentence is so incredibly foreign to me, I cannot even begin to understand.) So we went and I happily dropped them off and then drove up to the halfway point to cheer them on and then waited at the top. It was a great race and they were both happy with their times. We stuck around for the awards ceremony and were shocked when they called Jan’s name! She had won her division! (Or maybe it was third place, but really, who’s counting?)

Jan uses that same determination and gumption (that’s what I call it!) to take on other incredible tasks too. After their dear, dear grandmother passed away who had knitted all of their Christmas stockings, Jan took it upon herself to be the one making the stockings. And she didn’t do this just for her own children; my Bethany was actually the first one to get a Jan stocking – it is one of the most precious things she has done.

My other sister-in-law may argue that one with me though, because Jan HAND MADE the flower girl dresses for her little brother’s wedding. She had never sewn anything that complicated before, but knew her own mother-in-law could help fill in the gaps, and she just decided to do it! They were absolutely stunningly beautiful.

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Swoon.

Someone with her talent could literally do anything she wanted, but she constantly shares her talents and gifts liberally with her friends and family.  And please don’t take that as anything less than wholehearted generosity – it comes not from a sense of martyrdom or approval-seeking, at least not that I am aware of. She is generous with herself as well, allowing her self the time she needs to recharge, noticing the practices and rhythms that keep her healthy and staying true to them.

Jan, you are only one of the many bonuses I got marrying into your family and I’m so super grateful for it.

Dr. Cait-a-lin

I’m trying to decide where to put these writing assignments I’ve given myself. I still have so many friends I want to tell you all about but keep shoving off the writing as my plate gets ever fuller. When I come up with a plan to do this more regularly, I’ll be sure to let you know!

For today though – It’s Caitlin’s turn. Caitlin is a Hoo-hah friend and if you don’t know what that is yet, read August’s #WCW post here.  We call her Dr. Caitlin because she has her Ph.D. and teaches Anatomy and Physiology. As we approach our forties, it’s both dreadful and enlightening to have an A&P professor at your fingertips.  She would never call herself Dr. Caitlin, by the way, it’s just our term of endearment.

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Dr. Caitlin is the one at the top left. We’re hoohah-ing in her living room!

Caitlin is incredibly brilliant, musically gifted, and one of the most driven people I know. In college, she ran track, played in the pep band, sang in one of the most (if not the most) prestigious choirs on campus, and took crushing courseloads.  Today, her driven nature allows her to tackle the special needs of her children, while taking on leadership roles in academia and in her church.

She’s the kind of person who seems like she never cracks under the pressure. But the beauty of being her friend is that she allows herself to be vulnerable with us, letting us see the messy parts – the complications of her life that no amount of doctoral thesis or athletic training could have prepared her for.

Being Caitlin’s friend means your life is enriched by an incredibly advanced vocabulary (somehow she still uses 3 and 4 syllable words while mothering 2 children under the age of 5 – what is that superpower?!) and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the ways our body works.   But intellectual stimulation alone would never sustain a friendship. Caitlin really shows up with all of herself to every conversation. She’s thoughtful and self-critical, always pushing herself to learn new things about her friends, her family, her faith, her beliefs. She finds the best restaurants, is willing to go on any adventure, still loves silliness, and loves beauty of all kinds.

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Nothing like the beach to bring out the best smiles in everyone.

As a fellow introvert, I also greatly appreciate how she has come to appreciate and honor that part of herself, never apologizing for needing to detach or for desiring to spend the night in her jammies with hot chocolate on the couch with her dearest friends. She knows how to take care of her own soul and models that so well to us her friends and to her darling children.  I love sitting in her cozy living room surrounded by her favorite books, listening to the chatter of her children and the laughter of dear friends.

Caitlin – you are a treasure. The beltway lies between us and interferes with our getting together as often as we would like. Nevertheless – every time is sweet. Love you!

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me and dr. cait-a-lin

A Marginal Morning

It’s not even 9 am and it has been A DAY! It started relatively peacefully with me waking early and getting in a walk and prayer time. When I went up to hop in the shower, I noticed that Michael was awake. He’s been waking up pretty early lately (between 5 and 5:30) but usually enjoys playing and singing (or yelling) in his bed. Having made sure that his noise isn’t waking up his sisters, we’ve decided to leave him there until we’re ready to get his breakfast going. But today, he was crying – so I went to check on him. This is when I discovered that my morning was officially derailed.

The precious boy had pooped and decided that he didn’t like how it felt and so removed the offending diaper from his body and threw it across the room. Unfortunately, that didn’t actually remove the feeling from his body and he only succeeded in spreading it over his bed and hands and body. So, we cleaned up.

And this is where the margin comes in – my husband was around and could help. A few months ago when my business started taking off some more and I was working more regular hours, I told him that what I needed in the mornings was margin. Anyone with children of any age knows that parenting is often a series of interruptions to what you thought the day would be. So, when I wasn’t managing clients and deadlines, basically all the interruptions just dictated the flow of my day. But things have shifted now that my work life is different. So what I asked Tom is to provide some margin in his mornings just for situations like today. Most days, it just means that we both have a little more time to sip the coffee or check in to our apps/games/books. But today, it meant that I didn’t have to clean up poop by myself. It’s just one of the many things I’m grateful for in the scheme of this morning….

…because unfortunately that wasn’t the end.

After the cleanup of room, baby, bedding, clothes, and self, I allowed myself to just sit for a while. Which was totally fine until we realized that we had just missed the high school bus. Oy. Insert second derailment of the morning. The High School is about 10-15 minutes away depending on traffic and the third kid wasn’t even awake yet for the elementary school bus that was coming in 40 minutes. Oops. Everyone shot up into full go-go-go mode and miraculously everyone got to where they needed to go and had what they needed to have (except for a lost very important piece of paper that has disappeared into the unseen regions of a home with 6 active people living in it.).

What’s interested me about this morning the most is how I’ve handled it. This kind of thing – cleaning up poop, missed buses, missing papers – this is normal. It’s the everyday stuff that adds to the chaos and stress of managing a family. But today, I didn’t feel overcome by the stress of it all. I for sure blurted out in frustration – Oh no! We missed the bus!!! But I didn’t yell at my daughter for not telling me or spend the whole drive berating her about time management skills. I was definitely frustrated with the toddler – and ohmygoodness did he hit the ground running this morning after being cleaned up – we are in the toddler chaos zone right now. But it wasn’t pushing me over the edge and into snapping at everyone in the family.

Why am I telling you this ?  It’s not to brag really. It’s just an observation of how things have changed in my heart and mind over the past almost 15 years of being a parent. And I guess I just want to say that things really can get better. My usual way of dealing with mornings like this has been to devolve into just more and more frustration with every. little. thing. going exactly the way it shouldn’t. And today it didn’t. So I’m marking a moment. I don’t want it to be a marker that brings shame to anyone, not the least of which my old self or my future self. It’s just saying – today, love and peace won over the chaos.

Thank you God!

 

A Hoohah for a long overdue #WCW

It’s been forever since I wrote a #WCW post – life’s been full.  But this weekend was my 14th Annual Hoohah – where I gather with 4 of my best friends from college for a weekend.

A hoohah? I know you may be thinking in the words of Inigo Mantoya – “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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Well, yes and no! NOW we know it’s a euphemism for our lady parts, but when we came up with the word for our gathering, we didn’t. Once we realized WHY other people looked at us a little funny when we talked about the hoohah, we decided – what the heck?  The term obviously still applies and so 14 years later – the Hoohah proudly continues.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to my hoohah friends, the women who have enriched my adult life in innumerable ways. Have no fear – they’ll each get their own #WCW – because each woman is a powerhouse in her own right. But for today – the group dynamics  🙂 It’s been 20 years since we all met the fall of our freshman year. It feels insane to think it’s been that long, but I find myself thinking about that time a bunch right now as I have friends sending their babies off to college for the first time.

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Pink Shirts from the First Hoohah

My first memories of Carolyn and Norah was the laughter. After the chaos of moving in and saying goodbye to our parents, my new roommate and I were quietly, shyly getting to know one another, stumbling through conversation – two introverts with intense personalities does not make for a boisterous atmosphere. But next door?! Gales of laughter! Lots of movement around the room, loud chatter – basically fun was being had. Little did I know that these women would eventually become some of my dearest friends.

I don’t remember when I first met Caitlin, but one of my first memories of hanging out with her was when we discovered that we both have the odd talent of being able to speak backwards. It’s a completely useless talent, but strangely entertaining to a limited audience. Hence, our friendship. (Mine’s Lehcar Nirac Tfark in case you were wondering.)

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Pink Hats and a baby belly – another common theme at Hoohahs!

I think I met Sam through Caitlin – they were roommates. And we became fast friends, rooming together the rest of our college time. She taught me how to play guitar and introduced me to all the cool music.

The five of us lived together in different pairings all through our college careers, shared classes, pulled all-nighters, experienced young love and broken hearts, pranked each other, cried on shoulders, took road trips, pulled off surprise parties, went to each other’s plays, recitals, and competitions. I have so many memories from college with these women, but it’s really the relationship since then that feels miraculous.

I graduated a year early and got married and part of me wondered if we’d stay close or if we’d drift. But ever since the summer of 2004, we’ve made it a mission to get together and HOOHAH! We’ve been through the highs and lows together – weddings and babies along with depression and anxiety, infertility, chronic illness, travelling spouses, uprooted families, assorted personal and familial crises of all nature. Our gatherings now also generally include a list of all the ways our bodies are beginning to betray us with the added benefit of Dr. Caitlin’s observations of the wonders of the human body.

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The first (and last) time kids (who weren’t breastfeeding) were invited to the hoohah….

(Seriously – having a PhD in Physiology in the group makes for some fascinating convos.) But one of the things I love about us is that we’ve not tried to relive college life once a year. Instead, we’ve just continued “living” with each other even from afar. We talk about whatever most consumes our thoughts that year. I treasure these friends who know all my history, who will ask about that thing that was going on last year – “Is that still going on? Has there been any change? How are you doing with that?” Jumping back in with these women for a weekend every year has been one of the most life-giving things to my heart.

So, I’ll end this with the ingredients for a successful hoohah, just in case you want to do this with your circle of girlfriends. (And you totally should.)

  1. Name it – you don’t HAVE to use a silly name that may or may not be a euphemism, but I can assure you it will never lose its hilarity if you do.
  2. Chocolate – our favorite is York peppermint patties. Just make sure whatever it is, you bring a ridiculous amount of it.

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    yeah. sugar plays a role at the hoohah
  3. Matching attire – The first hoohah we had shirts. Bright Pink Shirts. With the words “First Annual Hoohah” emblazoned across the chest. And yes, of course we walked all around DC in them. No, we didn’t realize the double meaning at that time. Yes, I felt slightly ridiculous walking around in it BY MYSELF when I had to duck out of the hoohah to say goodbye to my deploying husband. Now we have pink hats! And we wear them, sometimes in public.
  4. Delicious food – this one has become even more important as we have spawn who have ridiculous food restrictions or who just won’t touch food that isn’t beige or who can’t be trusted to remain civilized in a restaurant for more than 5 minutes. We pick yummy, local favorites and eat family style.
  5. Nicknames and just general goofiness – life is full of #$*%$(@.
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    Bring back the silly – then, maybe don’t give the pictures to the blogger?

    Allow yourselves a weekend of nicknames, inside jokes, and not caring if you look foolish. There’s something incredibly empowering about just being yourself with your buddies and allowing that experience to buoy you for weeks afterward.

  6. Keep it simple – usually we just go stay at one of our homes. The husband and kids get to be there too, but usually stay far away from the hoohah zone once the yorks start flowing. We’ve done one where we rented a beach house and we’re looking to do a bigger one when we all hit a milestone birthday – but I think a big reason we’ve been able to keep up the tradition is that we’ve tried to keep it simple (and cheap).

Carolyn, Norah, Caitlin, and Sam – Can’t believe how lucky I am that you’re in my life. I crush at you.

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Some thoughts on the beginnings of our love story.

The first time I met him, I didn’t know I had met him. My friend had conspired with him to introducing me to two guys that night – one was “Ramon” a tall guy with a crazy mop of brown hair.  I was confused by his abrupt departure from the room after our introduction.  About 10 minutes (if that) after I met “Ramon”, I met Tom – a tall guy with close-cropped brown hair and brilliant blue eyes.  I didn’t notice the rest of the night that “Ramon” never made another appearance. It was MONTHS later that I figured out (or my friends told me) that Tom and Ramon were the same person.  (Apparently Tom couldn’t wait to shed the Ramon persona – our mutual interest sparked early!)

We were 14 when this meeting occurred. 23 years later and we’re celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary this weekend. Our love story has been full of these kinds of moments – the silly, the awkward, the friend-conspired, the only-one-of-us-in-on-it kind of moment.

Now that we have a 14-year-old in the house, it feels unreal that the seeds of our romance started so young. Whenever friends have wanted to know our origin story, I’ve always joked with them that they probably don’t want their teenagers in the room to hear the story.  But I feel differently now with my own daughter.  It’s ok for me that she knows her dad and I started dating really early and stayed together.

I think if that were the end of what we communicated to her, there could be some confusion, and even pressure to follow the same path, but I hope that sharing the fullness of the story helps all of our kids see that the road to love and fulfilling relationship is not a formula you can replicate.  I don’t believe in soul mates or fate or destiny. I do believe in faith, commitment, and perseverance. There were plenty of voices in my life telling me I could do better, or that there were more fish in the sea, or questioning if I wanted to settle down so early.

Now I look back on some of those conversations and think to myself – had they ever talked to a teenager before?!? Did they really think those kinds of comments or questions would change anything?? I’m thankful that the people closest to us – our parents and closest friends – just kind of rode the wave with us, seeing where it would take us without a lot of commentary.  I think that a simple infatuation works itself out pretty quickly without much interference from others outside the relationship.

That message of “I could do better” though? How hurtful. It still stings. I do not live under the delusion that either one of us is perfect, but that concept of “doing better” is just so icky.  So, I’ll just end this by talking about how I think I COULDN’T have done better, how he’s the BEST fish in the sea for me, and how I’m so glad I got started on life with him as soon as was absolutely possible.

Tom’s faithfulness and integrity have always been evident. When he makes a commitment to something or someone, he keeps it. He shows up even when it’s inconvenient. He does the right thing when no one is watching and gives credit to others whenever possible.

Tom is fun. He does not hesitate to get on the floor with his kids and tickle them until they say, “Please Stop!” He’ll initiate a dance party in the living room (although, honestly, I think he just likes the excuse to test the sound of the speakers at any opportunity). He takes every opportunity to laugh at the absurdity of our life, and tries hard to push away the serious nature of his day job when he walks in the door at the end of the day. He loves to do fun things with his family – hiking, swimming, going fast on the jet skis, biking, playing games – you name it, he loves having fun with his people.

He is generous with his time and affections.  He’s always available to help a neighbor or family member. He plays with his nephews and nieces with the same enthusiasm as his own kids. When we were being foster parents, he didn’t hold back his love from the two little ones in our care. He resisted the urge to be stand-offish, to hold back in a desire to self-preserve in anticipation of their departure from our home. He’s not afraid to show his affection and love for his kids out in public. My favorite memory of this that happened recently was at Lydia’s softball tournament on Father’s Day. We were up on a hill in the shade watching the game. Lydia made an incredible play and Tom just whooped and shouted – “That’s my Lydia!!!” at the top of his lungs. I love him for that.

Tom is intelligent and thoughtful. We talk about deep and heavy things often – it’s what we introverts love to do! Even when he holds a strong opinion that’s different than mine, he listens to what I have to say. We refine each other’s opinions and beliefs. He uses his intelligence to help others solve problems instead of retreating from those without his same knowledge.

He is a great friend! He values my friendships with my girl friends – buying our favorite treats for our annual getaway. He pays attention to the things his friends and I enjoy and remembers them when it’s time to give a gift or when they’re having a bad day.

He geeks out about many of the same things I do (and indulges my inner geek even when it doesn’t overlap with his.) He’s not quite as in to Star Trek as I am, but his love for Dr. Pepper, Star Wars, Princess Bride, and Tchaikovsky to name a few, more than make up for it.

I could go on all day really.  17 years in to this marriage and I know for sure I’ve got a keeper.  Every year and every new adventure reveals more about his character. The more I get to know him, the more I love him.

Happy Anniversary babe – thanks for taking off that wig 23 years ago and introducing me to the real you.

Summer’s coming – keep those kids busy!

So, I guess since it’s almost the end of May (WHA?? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN ALREADY?), we should maybe start thinking about summer. Whenever I think about summertime and the new routine of kids being home and how it’s all going to shake out, I think of my friend, Kristen Mason. You guys are going to LOVE her if you don’t already.

I met Kristen back in the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) days pre-Bethany and Michael, when Becca was 3 or 4 and Lydia was 2ish. She was the leader of our group of Table Leaders, and was a huge encouragement to me as a mom of tiny people that life would continue at some point and my brain cells would (maybe) return. Her kids were just a couple of years older, but you could tell she wasn’t living in that perpetual state of sleep-deprivation that is evident on the faces of moms of babies and toddlers. She also didn’t have anyone in diapers, which felt to me like a Mecca I would never see.

Anyway, it was so great to be around someone who had survived toddlerhood, but who still remembered it, AND who had great tips for how we too could survive and then transition our kiddos into the next stages. I watched her continue to step out of her comfort zones and expand her crafting business, begin speaking at area MOPS meetings (If you’re anywhere in Northern Virginia and you attend a MOPS group, you’ve probably heard her speak), and eventually launch a website focused on parenting, learning, and purposeful living. She has been a personal inspiration – someone who’s had dreams and has chased after them well.

The reason I bring her up as we approach summer is because of her FABULOUS site called Busy Kids, Happy Mom. She has so much great stuff there; you really must check it out. One of my favorite things is her program of “Summer Points“. It’s basically a way to make (and keep!) a doable plan for your summer. You set up certain tasks/chores/accomplishments for your kids (or you) to achieve over the summer and assign them a point value. When the family/kid get to certain point values, there are rewards.

What I like about the Summer Points is that she has so many great ideas for helping the summer not just get to the “I’m bored” phase super quickly. She’s trained as a teacher, so she has great resources and idea on how to keep up summer learning. We’ve used summer points to encourage learning a new skill – like using the stove for cooking a meal. For that kind of thing, I highly recommend her Life Skills lists. These have been so helpful to me when figuring out what kids of jobs the kids can do around the house.  There are also great suggestions on there for when your kids developmentally can do certain things. Definitely check it out here – Life Skills List.

Through her inspiration, over past summers, my girls have planned the menu for dinners and dessert and then cooked/baked them, memorized scripture, read different genres of books, learned to mow the lawn, learned to ride their bikes, improve swim times, and more. We’ve “earned” family overnights in a hotel, trips to the movies or baseball games, family game nights, and downtown adventures.

I hope you check out Kristen’s resources – they really will inspire you and give you practical tools (that actually work!) to survive your summer and come out the other side having experienced some great things as a family.