Favorite Thanksgiving Moment

After a week full of Thanksgiving festivities, I am feeling quite bloated with great memories and good times.  Nuked leftovers cannot compare.  However, there is one moment that stands out as my all-time favorite.

I could tell you it was…

* Holding hands with my man while strolling through Rockefeller Center

* Playing games with the entire family clan

* The first snowflakes of the season dancing on our windshield

* Everyone gathering around to watch Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving

* Our trek to NYC and walking for hours upon hours despite foot surgery just 7 weeks ago

* Lots of laughs, smiles and hugs

* Enjoying my favorite pizza in the entire world – Lombardi’s!

* Going to church together

* Taking the traditional after-dinner walk with my kiddos and nephew

* Black Friday shopping with my sister-in-law who is one of my closest friends

* Cold turkey sandwich using only bread, turkey, mayo and pepper – don’t mess with a classic!

* Watching the kids ice skate

* Tucking in sleepy kids after a good day of playing

* Endless jokes!

* Going to a matinee with the whole crew – on a work/school day!

*  Traveling with my family of 5 plus the dog and a hedgehog.  Just being in the same place at the same time even if it’s stuck in a van from sun up to sundown.

* Watching how excited our dog gets to see that famous red chicken outline or those golden arches while traveling on the highway.  She gets grilled nuggets or a hamburger patty and loves to help with the drive-up window ordering.

* Saying grace before the Thanksgiving feast with everyone holding hands

* Admiring beautiful blue rocks the kids found in a nearby creek

* Having friends come over for Thanksgiving dessert to catch up

* Showing some family folks Pinterest for the first time!

* Long talks with everyone

* Football

* Macy’s Parade

* Not setting an alarm clock for an entire week

As much as all of these (and more) meant to me, there is one moment that will stay with me forever.  It was Thanksgiving morning and I had slept in a bit.  Sounds around the house told me I was one of the last to wake up.  I hustled through a shower and all that jazz – feeling like I needed to join everyone.  After all, the parade had already begun!

I knew my brother-in-law was preparing the turkey, bed-headed kids were sprawled on the floor playing games and adults were bustling about getting everything ready for a great day.

Feeling hurried to join in and help, I abruptly stopped.  One important step in my morning routine had been overlooked.  I had not said Good Morning to God.  Every morning I pray to God and tell Him I love Him.

I had packed my devotion, but honestly, with a house full of people and a calendar of fun to be had, it is difficult to squirrel away and have quiet time.  Nonetheless, I stopped and prayed and put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-19).

The clock was ticking, and because I overslept I felt like I needed to get moving.  But, I wanted to spend time with my Abba Father who gave me every reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving.  Torn between God, family and what I felt was my contribution to help out around the house, I literally stood frozen in the middle of the bedroom and didn’t know which way to turn.

In a quick moment, I turned, left the room and headed for the stairs.

As I walked toward the stairs, I felt a strong pull on my heart.  It was odd.  I took more steps toward the stairs, but with every one, I felt like I was pushing into a force that was stronger than me.  A hesitancy.  Lagging.  Drawing.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I was torn between being a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt…and child of the King.  I thought perhaps it was the guilt I felt for not spending longer with my God who deserves more.

Just as I stepped onto the top step, the morning sun brightly shining into my eyes, God spoke ever-so clearly.

He said, I love you, too.

My breath caught as I gripped the handrail.  In four words, He changed me.  In four words, He told me He understood.

Yes, God always deserves our best, our most.  We often fail to give that to Him.  I am guilty of putting others before Him, people-pleaser that I am.  Ug.  I get caught up in projects and deadlines and busyness.  Double ug.  But, this morning, it was my heart – not my head that was torn.

I wasn’t avoiding Him, hiding from Him, angry at Him or anything else that would keep me from staying with Him longer.  I just didn’t know how to be all to all and caved in thinking pleasing people was momentarily more pressing.

You know what God did?  He cut me some slack.  Gave me grace.  Met me where I was. He simply loved me.

An action we could apply to all of our relationships.

He read my mind and heard my heart.  He, God of the universe, time and space, turned His face toward me and spoke to me.  That was the draw.  His presence was almost tangible. That is what I sensed.  It was as though He stood on the step in front of me, gently placed His hand on my anxious heart, and made me stop to hear Him.  All that was missing was eye contact, and that I felt through the blazing sun shooting through the window.

It was a miraculous moment.  A private moment between the Almighty God and me. I was undeserving.  Lavished on.  Humbled.  Loved.

I love you, too played over and over in my heart for the rest of the day.  He knew I felt straddled between two worlds and instead of judging me – He joined me on the journey.

I will never forget the magnetism that drew me to Him on that stair.  The electricity of His presence.  How incredibly and deeply loved I felt.

This was my favorite moment of the whole week – and it will be one I carry with me for the rest of my life.

Thanksgiving one-liners, oh my!

My family traveled to visit extended family for Thanksgiving week. When you put 12 people – ranging from 9 to 73 years old – a dog, and a hedgehog in one house, it’s bound to be interesting. Thought I’d recap some of the one-liners from the week. Enjoy, and I apologize in advance…

And for the spicy, jalapeno turkey I stuffed a bottle’s worth of Tums inside it.

We decided to have a bloodbath to end it. (Re: The annual testosterone-filled, “friendly” game of Risk)

(Worried about our fuel supply driving to our family’s house, I wanted to stop and fill up, but Bruce didn’t. On a lonely stretch of highway, in the dark, I looked out the window and saw a gas station off the highway.) To prove my point, I said, We just passed gas! Everyone busted out laughing. Took me a minute to get it. 🙂

I can’t help it. I hear the music for Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving and my eyes won’t stay open.

Do it again and I’ll take the keys to your car away.

We should’ve never teamed up. (i.e. Risk)

(Road trip stop at Chic-Fil-A) – May I have 4 grilled chicken nuggets…for my dog.

***

You’re in my personal space!

No! You’re in MY personal space!

***

It was me! Hey, everyone does it sometimes.

If we’re going to be stuck in the Holland Tunnel much longer, I’m going to use this empty cup.

It’s never a good idea to hit bumps on the road while drinking hot chocolate…just look at my shirt.

Let’ play a game…everyone close their eyes. I’ll hide the turkey and you guys try to find it!

(At the movies with our motley crew with a very annoyed candy clerk) Hey! Would you look at this! We have coupons for free popcorn, free soda and cheap candy. It’s our lucky day! Oh, and can we have 4 little drink cups and 5 popcorn trays? (Tacky, I know.)

I’ll moon you!

The dog is on the table… again!

Get the plunger!

Do you realize all our men have left us wives, children and grandmother alone in Chinatown, in the dark, without our car?

I think the dog did it.

Totally worth it! (Re: Lombardi’s pizza and Ferrar’s desserts)

Screaming and crying – My pet hedgehog’s paw came off and there is blood all over the place!*

Sister-in-law after returning from the vet with me – It’s interesting to see what a day in the life of your family is like…

We’re in Kahootz!

There’s a reason why the bathroom has a fan and a can of apple cinnamon spray.

Yeah, I couldn’t eat my breakfast of sausage, eggs and ketchup after the hedgehog incident.

(Regarding the hedgehog to cousins) So, do you still want a hamster?

Roll down the window!

***

So…um…my watch caught the edge of the table that had Uncle’s chocolate frappacino on it…sorry!

Get the carpet steamer…QUICK!

***

(On Sunday) When is it a good time to do some of our laundry?

Saturday… when you go home! 😉

***

Conversation –

Do you have any Sprite?

No, I’m sorry we don’t.

That’s okay. (Spontaneously found one in the garage fridge and drank half the bottle. Sister-in-law returns to the room.)

I replied, Hey! I found one!

Really? Let me check the expiration date because we never buy this. (Pause)

I can’t read this…does it look like 2010 to you?

(Pause) Yep, as I nearly spit it out.

***

Conversation taking family pictures –

Now that I’m 18 can I be in the adult’s picture?

No.

***

You forgot to wear deoderant again, didn’t you.

I need a nap.

(Re: the Macy’s Parade) Hurry up in the bathroom, you’re going to miss your favorite floats!

If everyone would just stand still and smile, we can get this photo over with sooner.

Eww, he swallowed his loogie!

Someone left rocks from the river in the bathroom sink and it freaked me out cause it looked like something else!!!

Stopping for a restroom break on the way home, one person took longer than usual. Questioning if they were okay – the response…Sorry. I fell asleep on the toilet.

(At 4am) Help! I have a booger stuck in my nose and can’t get it out!

***

Should we tell them the bread was molded?

Nah.

***

(Madden Football on one tv, Wii playing on the other and the women want to watch “Say Yes to the Dress.” We women stood united and outnumbered the male Wii players) – Estrogen has entered the building and we’re taking over the t.v.

Hey! It’s the Naked Cowboy! (In NYC)

***

(Sitting on icy cold, metal bleachers outside watching the cousins ice skate)

I can’t feel my butt.

Me either.

***

Is that snow?!?!?

Yes, and never eat yellow snow.

***

On a long stretch of dark highway – Uh oh. My braces just broke.

I’m glad I can’t smell.

Seriously, how long can you wait till we have to stop?

My feet are bigger than yours!

Keep a watch for Sasquatch! (While changing drivers in the pitch black middle of nowhere.)

(Re: metal folding chairs at the Thanksgiving dinner table) – Why do I have to sit in a fake chair?

Do you have any household disinfectant?

With a pouting chin resting on the kitchen table, I don’t want to go home.

I’m going to miss you.

And the award goes to the best one-liner of the week – Someone needs to wipe.

Family time. It may be crowded. Loud. Cluttered. Chaotic. But it’s also so much FUN! Put the whole shabang together and you gotta love it. Happy Thanksgiving from our crazy family to yours. 🙂

* Hedgehog will be fine. The vet determined that she ran her paws raw on her spinning wheel. It was a horrible sight of blood everywhere, but her paw was in tact. It was a wood ship covered in blood that was mistaken for her paw. She is on 10 days of bed rest with no spinning to recover. She’ll be fine, but my nerves won’t be for a while!! Sheesh! :O

Family Travel Review – New York City, Part 1 of 2

With summer around the corner, Another category is being added to the blog that I’m excited about…Family Travel Review.  Here, I’d like to offer our family’s two cents advice on what has worked, and not worked, while traveling as a family.  It’s a compilation of our trips and others who have shared their experiences.  Feel free to add posts with what works and what to avoid.  Everything below is family-friendly!!

Let’s start with a favorite – New York City!  This is a city that we just love to visit.  We’ve been going there for years and have some favorites to share.  Maybe they’ll become favorites to you, too!  As we continue to go back to the city that truly never sleeps, we’ll update the blog.  There’s a lifetime of things to do here.

New York City with the family:

Yes, it is possible to take children to NYC and have a ton of fun.  Some tips on how to make the most of your time there…

1. How old should children be to go to NYC?  We waited until our children could carry their own small backpacks and have good walking legs.  We didn’t want to bother with strollers or carry anyone, no way!  The more people in a group, the more water bottles, snacks, wallets, etc., which makes for a back-breaking experience.  When every can carry their own stuff, it’s so much easier on the parent.  We bought “travel backpacks” that are used every trip.  They are simple, inexpensive school-like backpacks.

2. Plan ahead.  There is so much to do there, make a wish list – then cut it in half.  Hey, it’ll give you an excuse to go back!  In an ideal world with no lines, no traffic, no oversleeping, and no crowds one could attempt to check everything off on his or her list.  But, that’s just not the case.  Realizing an activity really takes 1.5 – 2 times as long as it ideally should, helps a family go into a busy trip to NYC with more realistic expectations and cooler attitudes.  It’s vacation, after all, and should be enjoyed. J

Keep in mind the group with whom you are traveling.  I remember our most recent trip last fall, we wanted to check out the Guggenheim.  We took a subway as close to it as possible, with the idea of walking to the Gugg, then walking to our favorite ice skating rink (I’ll share that later).  Once we finally got to the Gugg, the majority of the crowd (children) were less than impressed.  We wound up touring the gift store and leaving.  Ug.  Then we walked a LONG way to ice skating. By the time we got there, the adults were too tired to skate.  The walk was gorgeous, and made for great chat time, but to do it over again, we would’ve skipped the Gugg with the kids and saved that for a later date.  So keep in mind what and where you want to spend your time.  View online maps and arm yourself with hours of operation, reservations, if needed, and subway strategies.  Your homework will pay off.

3. Restaurants:  There are a bagillion places to eat in NYC, and many are very kid-friendly.  We are pizza connoisseurs – okay, pizza snobs.   Our family’s favorite?  Lombardi’s.  Oh man.  It’s a small joint that serves up big pies.  Pizzas are coal-fired with a sweet sauce and real mozzarella slices melted on top.  There is no other pizza anywhere like Lombardi’s.  The waits are never bad (we beat the normal dinner crowd and get there before 6pm) and there is seating on the roof for spillover.  People there say NYC pizza is the best because of the water that is used in making the dough.  Whatever it is, it’s so good!  John’s Pizza is good too, and one location is a renovated church with stained glass ceilings – which is really cool.  If you’re looking for a traditional pie, this is a great place.

* Junior’s.  The serve a rockin’ breakfast!  Actually, all of their food is really great.  If you like cheesecake, you have to try Junior’s.  They have indoor/outdoor seating, very cool atmosphere, casual, and it’s right down the street from Broadway so often people watch a show then head to Junior’s.  My children’s favorite memory of this incredible restaurant is when we went to just have dessert.  For a family of five, it was less expensive to order an entire cheesecake than by the slice.  So we did.  But, we had leftovers, obviously.  We took the other half back to our hotel room and stuck it in the mini fridge.  We were checking out the next morning, so yes, we had cheesecake for breakfast.  The kids still remember – the day Dad & Mom let us have cheesecake for breakfast!

* Street vendors.  Some of our best meals have been on the street.  It’s hard to walk by and not be taken in by the smell of hot dogs, curry chicken, peppers & onions, pretzels, etc.  It’s mouth-watering.  It’s also affordable.  We like to grab a meal, take a break and people watch.  It’s almost better than sitting inside a restaurant because we can see all the action outside.

* Smith & Wolensky.  You gotta get the seafood tower (big enough for the whole table).  It’s out of control and the rib eye is one of the best steaks you’ll ever have.  Career wait staff – excellent service!  Pricey.  A total NYC experience. (Submitted by my husband who went their while on business.)

* Ferrara Café.  This jewel of a find is in Little Italy.  The atmosphere is busy and the ambiance very NYC Italian.  The desserts are mouth-watering.  They offer just about anything Italian you can imagine.  Pricey.  But, it’s worth the splurge.  We usually go there once while there.

* Peanut Butter & Co.  We haven’t visited this establishment yet, but we buy their products in our local grocery store.  VERY delicious!  White chocolate, dark chocolate, maple, cinnamon swirl – all varieties of peanut butter.  Next time in NYC, we will definitely go there and check it out.

4.  Things to do:

* Carriage ride through Central Park.  You gotta do this once.  It’s pricey, but my family really enjoyed this.  The clip-clop of horses meandering through Central Park, breathing the familiar NYC air, it’s part of the experience.  Afterward, we chatted with the SPCA division of the police force giving an impromptu check on the horses.  The horses are clean and well-cared for, but it made me feel even better to hear that from the police force.

* Empire State building.  Another must!  Buy tickets early or be prepared to stand in line half a block long (at least).  The main tickets get you to the main viewing floor (think Sleepless in Seattle).  An additional ticket takes you to the very peak on a separate elevator.  We did both.  We found that the additional money to the tip top wasn’t worth it.  It’s small, cramped, and the windows are fogged up.  It felt just like being on a boat in the cabin underneath.  And, there is only one elevator, so once you’re ready to leave, be prepared to wait a very long time.  But the main floor viewing was awesome.  Great photo op, windy, and even King Kong makes an appearance for a photo op.

* Statue of Liberty.  Yes, you must.  It’s patriotic! We took the ferry from the Jersey side, which is less-traveled.  Very good idea.  What we didn’t realize was the never-ending security process.  It took us about 3 hours to get through it (albeit it was July), then we could actually begin enjoying Lady Liberty.  People are no longer allowed to climb up it like they used to, but there is a museum experience inside it that’s cool.  Bags are not permitted, so what we didn’t realize when we skipped lunch to catch the ferry, was that we’d have to wait hours and hours to eat – not good with smaller children.  All in all, glad we did this!

* Broadway show.  We splurged once and saw The Little Mermaid.  Unbelievable!  The props, acting, the whole shebang.  Such a great experience.  I was surprised at how casually everyone dressed.  Everything from jeans to dresses.  Catch a show if time permits.  Tickets, sometimes reduced, are on sale in Times Square for same-day shows if you feel the mood.

* Metropolitan Museum of Art spectacular.  No way to see it all in one visit.  Better for older children.

* American Museum of Natural History  – so worth it!  Great for kids of all ages.

* Enjoy the go! by Charmin.  Nicest bathrooms in all of NYC.  Big-screened tv’s, music, lots of wait staff standing around.  This sounds ridiculous, but bathrooms can be really hard to come by.  Most times there is a line down the street to get in Charmin’s.  If you pop into a restaurant, be prepared to purchase something for the privilege of using their facilities.

* Toys R Us versus  FAO Schwartz.  Definitely Toys R Us.  FAO is small, over-priced, and not as conveniently located as Toys R Us (in Times Square).  Skip the huge piano keyboard at FAO (which has very long wait lines and kids don’t know what to do on them after 5 seconds anyway).  Toys R Us is 4 stories, complete with indoor Ferris wheel.  They have live demos of the latest toys, bathrooms, and every toy imaginable.  I never thought we’d take time to visit a toy store in NYC, but this is more of an attraction.

<<Check back tomorrow for part 2 with more attractions, accommodations, etc.!!>>