Sunday, March 22, 2015

Easy vs. Best

I love having conversations with my four-year-old. I always learn so much.

Take Monday, for example. The boys and I went to my parents' house for an early dinner with relatives I hadn't seen in years. I rushed around helping Mom get food on the table while feeding the baby and trying to maintain a conversation with the relatives. Meanwhile, my oldest son was happily playing with his cousin.

I should have made him sit down and eat, too. But I was busy, and he was happy, and I decided to take the easy road and avoid a battle over food and loss of play time. I decided to feed him later.

Next thing I knew, he and his cousin were eating cake! I should have stopped him right then, and made him sit down and eat dinner instead. But I was busy, and he was happy, and I decided to take the easy road and avoid a battle over food and loss of play time. I decided to feed him later, at home.

I'm sure you parents out there can see exactly where this is going. If I had stopped and thought about it for two seconds I would've seen it, too. But I was enjoying the rare privilege of adult conversation, and suddenly it was almost bedtime and we still had a 20 minute drive ahead of us.

And that's when it happened.

The Meltdown.

It started when my son and his cousin decided to have a race to decide who could eat the last ring pop. (Did I mention that they'd had candy in the midst of all this, too?) Of course my son, being younger and shorter, lost.

He did not take it well.

He stood there wailing and inconsolable. I tried everything I could think of to calm him down, but he could not calm down. I could see panic in his eyes--he wanted to calm down, but didn't know how to handle the way he felt. It was seriously the worst meltdown he has ever had in his entire life.

And of course he had it in front of relatives I hadn't seen since before college. How embarrassing.

A wave of guilt tempered my frustration at his behavior as I realized that it was rooted in my earlier "easy" choices. This poor kid, who had never missed a meal in his life, had skipped dinner and loaded up on sugar. The meltdown was inevitable, as was the stomachache that quickly followed.


I felt like such a bad mom as I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to calm him down enough to get him out the door and in the car so I could get him home and get some real food into him.

Our conversation on the way home went something like this:

SON (sniffling): Why does my tummy hurt so bad?
ME: Because you didn't eat your dinner, so you didn't have any good food, and then you ate a lot of sugar.
SON (accusingly): Why didn't you give me dinner, Mommy?
ME: I was trying to be nice. You were having so much fun playing with your cousin. I didn't think you'd want to stop playing to eat dinner.
SON (getting more upset): But now my tummy huuuuuuurts!! Why didn't you make me eat any good food?
ME: Because it would've been harder to make you stop playing and eat. I chose what was easier. And I was wrong, I'm so sorry. I think we both learned a lesson from this.
SON (skeptical): What?
ME: I learned that the easy choice is not always the best choice. And you learned that eating too much sugar makes you feel bad.
SON (after a pause): Mommy, why didn't you make me eat dinner?

Our conversation continued along those lines even after we got home. It always came back to, "Why didn't you make me eat dinner?" I had to answer that question many times.

I hope that drilled the answer into my head, because I know I will need to remember this truth as I encounter future parenting decisions: the easy choice is not always the best choice.

For example...

It's easy to react instead of respond.
It's easy to lecture instead of listen.
It's easy to prioritize grownups over children.
It's easy to focus on behavior and miss what's going on in the heart.
It's easy to give kids what they want and not what they need.
It's easy to avoid a battle and then end up losing the war.

This should not surprise me, because parenting is not easy. But it is worth it.

Just as the best choices are usually not easy, but, as my son and I both learned last week, they are usually worth it.

I wonder what he'll teach me this week?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My St. Patrick's Day Dilemma: Orange vs. Green

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day
with my second-born son
I'm Irish, in case you haven't noticed. The red hair kinda gives it away. My brother and sister have red hair, too, but our parents do not, so when we were younger and the whole family went out, say, for dinner, we would inevitably get asked The Question: "Where did you all get your lovely red hair?"

Though we dreaded the question, we had our answer down pat.

"It came with the head," we would reply, smiling serenely.

Beginning My Irish Journey

Our red hair really came from our paternal grandfather whose nickname was Red. He was Irish, and Catholic. My grandmother was not. She'd been raised Protestant, but when Red got sweet on her, his mom wouldn't let Grandma in the house until she converted.

Dad has a lot of stories like that, about the anger and bitterness he saw in some of his Irish relatives. Perhaps that is why we never celebrated St. Patrick's Day while I was growing up. I would tell the kids at school who tried to pinch me, "I don't have to wear green on St. Patrick's Day because I'm Irish." Oh, the logic of youth.

Ceili dance at a feis fundraiser (I'm 2nd from right)
Fast forward to college, when I fell in love with traditional Irish music. I started taking fiddle lessons at the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix. There I heard about ceilis (KAY-lees), or Irish social dances, so I dragged some friends to one. I was hooked. A friend and I started taking Irish dance lessons together, and soon we were competing at feisana (FESH-na) and performing at schools and nursing homes and then I found myself planning to march with my dance school in the St. Patrick's Day parade!

My Dilemma: What Color To Wear?

When talking with a friend at church about my plans, he told me I should wear orange to the parade.

The Irish flag flies over Hance park during
the St. Patrick's Day Faire (I'm 2nd from right)
I wouldn't have understood the significance of that suggestion before getting involved in the Irish community. Now I knew the meaning behind the three colors in Ireland's flag. The green stripe on the left represents the majority of the country's population, the celtic Irish (typically Catholic) who had been oppressed for centuries by the invading English (typically Protestant), represented by the orange stripe on the right. The white stripe in the middle represents the hope for peace between the two factions.

That's a very simplistic explanation for the complex, deeply rooted conflict that has troubled Ireland for centuries. Most of the Irish I know define themselves in the green classification, though I do know some who fit in the orange category but prefer the white section instead.

Still, wearing primarily orange to the Phoenix St. Patrick's Day Parade would be interpreted by many as a very offensive act. 

When my friend suggested I should wear orange, I know he just meant that I am not Catholic, which is true. I am not. My parents were both raised Catholic, but were "born again" in college and left the Catholic church to join, for lack of a better term, Protestant churches.

But while I am not a Catholic, I am also not a Protestant.

I am a Baptist.

I say that not as a point of pride but classification. People calling themselves Baptist have been guilty of the same sins as people calling themselves Catholic or Protestant--or Jewish or Muslim or atheist or any other label they want to use to describe themselves. Sin is a human problem, and I am just as susceptible to it as the next person, no matter what I call myself.  I do not think that being a Baptist means I am better than a Protestant. It is just a label that better describes my beliefs. 

Beginning My Baptist Journey

It wasn't until I was in college that I understood the difference. Before that, I would describe myself as "a Christian who attends a Baptist church." I would sooner use the word Protestant to describe myself than Baptist.

Until I learned what both words really mean.

As I said, my parents converted from Catholicism in college, and I grew up attending a wide variety of churches. For various reasons we never stayed at a church longer than a year or so, and when I was a teen my parents, though still firm believers in Jesus Christ, stopped attending church altogether. 

Accompanying the singing at an outreach service
at ASU with my boyfriend (now husband) 
When I turned 20 I decided it was time I took responsibility for my spiritual development, and started attending churches with friends. I got quite involved with one church, where my friend's dad was a pastor, and then started also visiting my boyfriend's (now husband) Baptist church. The pastor there started preaching a series on Baptist history, and for the first time I learned what it actually means to be a Baptist. And I realized that I really was a Baptist; I had been for a long time. (A few weeks ago he covered a lot of the same material in one message which you can listen to here.)

I learned that my spiritual forefathers had been persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants. The English Protestants called the Baptists dissenters. That's not to say the Protestants and Baptists didn't agree about anything. They both placed a strong emphasis on individuals having access to the Bible in their own language so they could read it for themselves rather than rely on someone else to interpret it for them. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Bible was pretty much only available in Latin, which usually only the church leaders could read. We have many Protestants like Martin Luther to thank for the privilege we now take for granted today, of being able to read the Bible for ourselves.

But while Protestants had certain theological disagreements with the Catholic church leaders, they largely favored keeping the existing church/state structure intact. Baptists, on the other hand, broke completely from the Catholic church and established their own self-governed congregations, earning themselves the "dissenter" label.

That's not just because the Baptists were more cantankerous that the Protestants (though that might've been true; I've known a few cantankerous Baptists in my day and have probably been one myself from time to time ;-) but because their theological differences ran much deeper. It simply wasn't possible to remain a part of an organization that had such different views of the roles of the individual, the church, and the state. 

Baptists based their beliefs solely on a straightforward reading of the Bible, trying as much as possible to stay away from human traditions that had built up over time. For example, I'm studying the book of 1 Corinthians right now, which makes it extremely clear that God chose to use "the foolishness of preaching" as the ONLY way to spread the Gospel. Not the sword. Not political pressure. Not familial pressure. No, we are just to tell others about the good news about Jesus dying instead of us, and each individual is free to choose how they respond to that message.

A brief glance at Ireland's history shows that this view was not held historically by the Catholic or the Protestant church. Even today there is extreme cultural and familial pressure to remain in the church of your birth.

Since Baptists believed strongly in freedom of conscience and personal autonomy, they believed the church was made up of those who believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings--not those who lived in a certain area or fell under the jurisdiction of a certain political leader. Whereas historically Protestants and Catholics viewed the state as an arm of the church, Baptists have always believed in separation of church and state.

Today I think we all find the idea of forcing someone to join a certain church or profess certain beliefs repugnant. That is because freedom of conscience and separation of church and state were institutionalized in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (thanks in no small part to the diligent efforts of Baptists) and have become ingrained in American culture.

Continuing My Journey

So that's why I call myself a Baptist, and why I did not wear orange to my first St. Patrick's Day parade. I wore red--my dance school's uniform. The next year, when I was privileged to be the queen of the parade while serving as the 2005 Arizona Colleen, I wore green. 

Since then, my involvement with the Phoenix Irish community has continued. I competed in Irish dance for a few years, developing friendships that continue to this day. Then I taught beginning Irish dance at the Irish Cultural Center for four years, retiring when my first child was born. I served on the Arizona Colleen Selection committee, and to this day I do graphic design work for the community. My husband and I traveled to Ireland for our honeymoon, and would love to return someday. We take our kids to the St. Patrick's Day parade every year.

That's why I wear all the colors of the Irish flag on St. Patrick's Day--because I'm Irish. After so many years in the Irish community, I've seen both good and bad in the Irish. We are, after all--whether Catholic or Protestant, Baptist or atheist--human. And as C.S. Lewis (an Irish Protestant, by the way) wrote about being a son of Adam or daughter of Eve, "That is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content."

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What I Wish I Had Known About Jamberry Nail Wraps Before I Bought Them

When I first started learning about Jamberry nail wraps, I tried to find a straight answer about how well the wraps work and how long they last, but all I could find were glowing testimonials and photos of people wearing freshly applied wraps. 

Yes, they looked nice, and yes, the designs were so fun, but what I wanted to see was photos of the wraps at the end of their lifespan!

In the end, my curiosity got the better of me, so I ordered some wraps so I could test them myself. Here is what I learned.

1. Yes, Jamberry nail wraps last 14 days...for some people (not me)

The Jamberry website says that wraps are supposed to last on fingernails for up to two weeks. What?! I love painting my nails but since polish only lasts for a few days on my hands, I've had bare nails pretty much since having kids. I just can't justify taking time to paint them when it will almost immediately start chipping and look horrible anyway (see the photo of my current three-day-old polish manicure).

Nail polish after 3 days
However, for me the wraps last about seven days. By that point the tips are pretty worn and tugging on my hair and generally annoying me, and my nails have grown out so much that I need a new set of wraps anyway. 

Does this mean Jamberry is lying? 

No--some people can get two or even three weeks out of their Jamberry manicures. It depends on what kind of nails you have. Some people have thin nails, some thick, some are more dry while others are more oily, some are very curved while others are more flat, etc. Those variables, as well as the type of wrap used (metallic, matte, etc.), the application method, and what the manicure is put through, all affect the longevity of a Jamberry manicure.

Jamberry wraps after 7 days
Apparently I am really hard on my nails. Here's a photo of my Valentine's Day manicure right before I removed it. If you aren't the mother of a toddler who still likes to throw food on the floor (requiring lots of time on hands and knees scraping hardened mandarin oranges from tile with your nails) hopefully your manicures will look better than this after a week. ;-)

But at seven days, wraps still last way longer than polish. I can justify taking time to apply them on a weekly basis.

Oh, and wraps last forever on toes--I've waited as long as six weeks before removing them, and they were still going strong!

2. Yes, Jamberry nail wraps are easy and fast to apply...after you get the hang of it

My first Jamberry mani took at least an hour to put on. Mostly because I was so terrified of messing it up. Below is a photo of the result. Not too bad, if I do say so myself! By my fourth Jam I had the process down pretty well and had gotten much faster. Now it takes me about 20 minutes (that does not include prep time--removing old wraps, pushing back cuticles, and cutting/filing nails--I usually do all that at a different time). This my weekly "Mommy time" -- after the boys are in bed, I put on an audiobook and get girly putting my on Jams! :-)

My first attempt at a Jamberry manicure
So, yes, there is a bit of a learning curve, but to be fair, nail polish isn't exactly easy to apply either. At least you don't have to wait for wraps to dry. There are several different application (and removal) methods; just open YouTube and search for "Jamberry application" and you'll find 11,000 videos! Try a few different techniques and you'll find the combo that works best for you.

3. Yes, the Jamberry mini-heater really does make a difference

I am a cheapskate. So there was no way I was going to spend an extra $20 on an official Jamberry heater when blogs said I could use a blow dryer or embossing gun and achieve the same results. That's what I used for my first three months of Jamberry manicures, before I caved and bought the mini-heater.

I'm glad I did; it makes a big difference. First, it is easier to use because you don't have to hold it, so you have both hands free during the whole application process. It saves time because you can leave it on while applying multiple wraps instead of turning it on and off. But most importantly, it perfectly heats the wraps in a few seconds, removing the guesswork so you avoid under- or over-heating wraps, and manicures last longer. Wraps go on easier and last longer when you use a Jamberry mini-heater.

4. Other things I've learned
  • Patterns with light colors hide wear much better than solid or dark colored designs.
  • Metallic wraps are more finicky to apply, the edges lift more quickly so manicures don't last as long, and they are a pain in the neck to remove because the metallic part sticks to the nail. 
  • If you have very curved nails (like I do) use a tweezer to hold wraps while applying them so you can gently stretch them and avoid buckles.
  • If you use oil to remove your wraps, wait at least an hour before applying a new set of wraps.
  • Avoid immersing new manicures in water for an hour.
  • Give your nails a break every month or so by going a few days without wraps on them.
So while Jamberry nail wraps didn't quite live up to the hype (they don't last as long as I'd hoped, and the learning curve was a little steep), I love them way more than I thought I would and have been using them almost continually for four months now. They are available in so many different designs that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with polish. Catching a glimpse of a fun, colorful design on my nails just makes me smile, and sometimes that is all I need to get me through a long day.

(And just to clarify, I don't sell Jamberry and am not being reimbursed in any way for this post. I wish! ;-)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Why I Like Legoland Better than Disneyland

Before you Disney lovers go all hater on me, let me clarify that I love Disneyland. I've been there several times and enjoy it even more as an adult than I did as a kid. But in this season of my life (mom with two little boys, ages 1.5 and 4), I love Legoland more. And here's why:

1. Legoland is Cheaper than Disneyland

I'm not saying Legoland is cheap. It's not. One day tickets are pretty pricey. But unlike Disneyland they run a lot of specials and you can buy discounted tickets at a lot of places. Last year we got our tickets through our local AAA office (so we got a discount on top of the current Legoland deal which was 5 day tickets for the price of 1!). Right now our Costco is selling three month passes for $84! Upgrading to memberships cost less than the price of another ticket. All this adds up to a lot of saving over Disneyland.

For example, two summers ago we went on our first family vacation, to Disneyland. We brought our two-year-old and our two-month-old, and our in-laws, and spent three days at the park. We had a blast, and I would like to go back again someday.

But last summer we took our family to Legoland instead. This time we brought along two more family members, and went to the park for five days instead of three. Oh, and we had to rent a minvan to haul everyone around.

So, admission tickets for two more people, three times the hotel expenses, and a week-long van rental...and our trip to Legoland was STILL cheaper than our trip to Disneyland!

Legoland is cheaper. Hands down. This allows me to enjoy my time at the park more, rather than stressing about "getting my money's worth" out of every minute. While at Disneyland, I couldn't help but calculate the ticket cost per hour, and weigh my enjoyment of each hour against the cost...yeah, I'm a little nuts like that.

By the way, when we first went to Legoland, I was skeptical that we would even want to go to the park for five days. We got a hotel within walking distance of the beach (Surf Motel, I highly recommend it) in case we wanted to do a couple of days on the beach instead of going to Legoland. But we ended up going to Legoland each day instead!

2. Legoland is Less Crowded Than Disneyland

Granted, I haven't been to Legoland during the peak season. The closest we came was Valentine's Day/President's Day Weekend, which was definitely more crowded, but still not nearly as bad as Disneyland on the least crowded day I've experienced.

But we have experienced both Legoland and Disneyland the week after Labor Day (different years) giving us a pretty apples-to-apples comparison. And Legoland was definitely much less crowded than Disneyland.

Miniland at night is magical!
It's totally understandable. I mean, can Emmet really compete with Mickey? Disneyland definitely has more magic than Legoland. More shows, parades, better rides, more well-known characters.

All that adds up to less crowds at Legoland. Oh, yeah! That means shorter lines for rides (granted, the rides at Disneyland are more worth the wait), for food, for photos with characters...and more time for enjoying the park!

I remember walking through Disneyland's Main Street at closing time, barely being able to move in the dense crowd. Ugh. Makes me claustrophobic just thinking about it.

Contrast that with walking through Legoland's Miniland at closing time. It's mostly deserted, and with the sun setting and the lights on in the New York City display, it has its own kind of magic. I always try to take this route while leaving the park, so I can pause while crossing over the Lions Gate Bridge to take in the view of the Statue of Liberty, and just savor the moment.

Maybe it's because I'm an introvert, but I just enjoy a less crowded park more.

3. Legoland has Better Food Options than Disneyland

I might be wrong on this one. It could be lack of memory or experience on my part. But I love the food options at Legoland. There are several restaurants throughout the park, each with their own theme, providing many kid-friendly options that are also palatable for adults: pizza, salads and sandwiches, pasta, burgers, hot dogs, Asian, BBQ. Our favorite is Pizza Mania, where our oldest gets a personal pizza for lunch every day. (Oh, well, it's vacation, right?)

There are plenty of quiet, shady spots to eat. Our favorite is the patio behind The Garden. It's a great place to stop for an hour or two to let the baby nap in his stroller while we enjoy our food and the peace and quiet.

Of course the food is a little pricey but members get 20% off which makes it a lot more doable.

Also, while they say coolers and outside food aren't allowed, this is not enforced at all. On our last trip we brought bread, etc., from home, assembled sandwiches in our hotel room, and brought them to the park for the adults to eat, so we only had to buy food for the kids. That made a big difference, and also let me justify splurging on treats like apple fries and churros with chocolate sauce. Yum!

4. Legoland is a Better Place to Play

The last time we went to Legoland, I think we went on a grand total of four rides during our three days at the park. Seriously. My son would rather play in one of the several play areas, his favorite being The Hideaways on Castle Hill, which is a giant three-story tree fort with several slides and climbing areas.

There is also a two-story play area in the Land of Adventure where kids can shoot foam balls through air-powered tubes, and Duplo Playtown, a big play area in Duplo Village that is great for toddlers and preschoolers.

And, of course, everywhere you go there are Legos to build with. I especially love the Lego play areas strategically located in the waiting areas for rides. While parents stand in line, kiddos can build with Legos. Love it!

Sure, we could (and do) play with Legos at home, but there's something about building with Legos at Legoland that sparks my four-year-old's creativity in a special way. Also they have giant foam bricks at Legoland which offer instant gratification as it takes only minutes to assemble a tower taller than a person, or a fort big enough for a little one! So rewarding.

I don't remember any play areas at Disneyland. It's a great place for kids to passively consume entertainment, but at Legoland kids are actively engaged in creating their own "magic."

Which brings me to my last (but not least) point...

5. Legoland is More Educational than Disneyland

This is something I'm especially sensitive to now that our oldest is in preschool. I'm always looking for teaching opportunities in daily life, and I love that Legoland is full of them. Beyond building with Legos, kids can learn how Legos are made at The Factory, practice driving at Driving School, test their creations at the Build & Test area, explore cause and effect by pushing buttons on the displays in Miniland, dig for fossils in Dino Island, see world landmarks on The Coast Cruise, and learn about fire safety at The Big Test show. There's even a Lego Mindstorms experience for older kids.

Maybe my memory is failing me, but I don't remember anything comparably educational at Disneyland. That's not necessarily a bad thing (everything doesn't have to be educational) but it's just one more thing I appreciate about Legoland.

I'm sure we will find ourselves at Disneyland again in the not-too-distant future. But for now we're getting good use out of our Legoland membership! It may not be "The Happiest Place on Earth" but it's my current happy place! 

(And just in case you were wondering, Legoland didn't pay me to write this or anything. But people ask me all the time for my opinion about Legoland since they know we have gone a few times, so I figured I'd put it all in a blog post. :-)