How to Party Like It’s 1985

The year was 1981.

Ronald Reagan was President.

MTV had just been born, and so had Justin Timberlake.

The cool kids were playing Frogger at the arcade while their parents critiqued the 25-foot train on Princess Diana’s wedding gown.

Raiders of the Lost Arc was a box office hit, and Harrison Ford was a heartthrob.

Sunscreen and seatbelts were still underrated.

And these two cuties were in kindergarten.

Mary Kindergarten     Ryan Kindergarten

Now fast forward your VCR to 2016.  (Let me give you a minute.  Your VCR was slower than you probably remember.)  A few things have changed since 1981.  No one is pegging denim anymore, maybe because the jeans are too “skinny” these days.  Dark wash is cooler than acid wash now, and we aren’t all choking on AquaNet fumes anymore.

And those two kindergarteners?  Well, we’re turning 40, which is basically impossible, unless we fell into a time warp somewhere between our high school graduation in 1994 and today.  Otherwise, I just can’t explain how this happened.

This is a big year for my husband and me; we both turn 40, which is some kind of milestone in American culture, I guess, and we will celebrate our 100th wedding anniversary in June.  I say 100th anniversary because I like to measure marital bliss in “Hollywood years,” which means that every year of marriage is worth seven or eight, and also because on a bad day it sometimes feels like it’s actually been that long.  (I can say this because we have mostly good days – and because I know there are days when he would agree!)  In calendar years, though, we will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this summer.  But, again, with that time warp we hit somewhere in the 90’s, I’m not sure how long it has actually been.  Maybe only four.

A few years ago, in a dreamy state disconnected from reality, I had hoped that we could do something really exciting to celebrate these occasions, like go on our first cruise or vacation in Mexico.  But my husband is so kind that he encourages me, the brainiac who was supposed to be highly successful in something that pays well, to follow my passions, like devoting hours to writing a blog that pays in only personal growth and satisfaction.  And since resorts in Mexico will not accept this as payment, I needed to find a less expensive way to celebrate his birthday.  (Note to self: Maybe stop blogging about the 80s and start writing travel reviews instead . . .  Cha ching!)

Seriously, though, I did want to make his 40th memorable while keeping affordable, too.  I started tossing around ideas, plans for a big party with all of our hometown friends and family and all of our friends nearby, and, frankly, it started to feel a bit overwhelming and not so low cost anymore.  I also realized that I was planning the party that I thought he should have, but not necessarily the party that my husband would actually want, so I decided to nix the element of surprise and just ask him.  The answer was not shocking since we have been married for 100 years.  He said, “Keep it small.  Really small.”

And I said, “THANK GOD!” under my breath as I exited the room.  Thank.  You.  Jesus.  Because small is much, much, much, much easier to do.

But let’s be clear; small doesn’t have to mean boring, and 40 doesn’t have to mean decorations that say “Rest In Peace.”  (Seriously?  Who is comfortable with that?)  And that takes us back to the 80s, because even though we were both born in 1976, that decade is a blur of diapers and formula for us.  But the 80s, well, EVERYONE born in 1976 remembers “Livin’ on a Prayer,” right?  Ferris Beuller’s Day Off?  Knight Rider?  Of course, they do!

I love 80s

Thus, our 80s party was born.  The ideas that we used were super simple, and we suggest that you modify them to fit your needs and throw an 80s party yourself, just for fun!

First, we needed an 80s atmosphere with fun decorations and bright colors.  As always, we were extremely busy, so I opted to buy some 80s décor from Party City rather than figure everything out on my own.  The prices were reasonable, and a little went a long way.  We also scoured the house and some boxes in the basement to find anything with an 80s vibe.  Movies, music, toys, cassette and VHS tapes, vintage t-shirts, old pictures – anything from the time period will add to the fun!

80s Window  Decorations

If you are throwing a birthday party, don’t forget some pics of the guest of honor!  The 80s clothes and hairstyles captured in those moments will provide plenty of entertainment for your guests, too.

Ryan Pic

You can also use some of the party supplies or favors to create focal points that become decorations themselves, like these glasses from Party City that we gave to the kids.

Future So Bright

Or these white gloves from Walmart, purchased for less than 25 cents a pair at the end of the season.  Michael Jackson was my FAVORITE back in the day, as proven by the creepy Michael Jackson doll my mom just found in the back of a closet.  (If you are even thinking about having an 80s party, go buy these NOW on clearance!  There is no legit 80s party without M.J.)

MJ Gloves

And then there was this bit of fun for the kids, and the kids at heart.  Now, if you are a purist, these candies weren’t introduced in the 80s, but, really, who cares?  I remember Pop Rocks as a special treat during my childhood, so these worked for us, and the kids loved the novelty of them.  Also, Pop Rocks were discontinued at one point in the 80s, possibly as a result of crazy rumors that they would cause a kid’s stomach to explode.  That is cool 80s trivia.  Read more about it here!

Pop Rocks

What to do for a cake?  My husband didn’t want a cake at all, but he asked for a big iced cookie instead.  Perfect – the shape of Pac-Man!  This dessert was made by my friend Laura at Sweet Treats by Laura, and it was so, SO good!

PacMan Cookie

Now that the decorations and treats were prepared, entertaining everyone was the priority.  Not a problem.  First, we asked everyone to dress in 80s fashion, and that alone provided plenty of entertainment.  I mean, when a friend comes dressed in the vintage New Kids in the Block memorabilia that she dug out of storage, you know you are going to have plenty to talk about!

New Kids

The kids dressed up, too, which was especially entertaining.  My son and one of his friends spent all afternoon making jerseys to look like Dell Curry and Muggsy Bogues from the Charlotte Hornets.  They just needed fake mustaches and some shorty shorts to complete the 80s NBA look.  Their costumes were, like, totally radical, ya know?

image1 (1)

Our friends are generally happy to just sit around and chat, but an easy, fun alternative to entertain a small crowd is to play the game Catch Phrase Decades.  This provided a lot of laughs as we tried to get our teammates to correctly guess names, titles, and products from the 80s.  It was hilarious to see how much we did and didn’t remember from the past, and the game brought back many long-lost memories.   (What did Mr. Mister sing again?  Oh, yeah, THAT song!  Right!)

Catch Phrase 80s

Meanwhile, the kids were busy downstairs reliving our childhoods.  They played Pac-Man, and they didn’t even find it boring thanks to Adam Sandler’s Pixels.

PacMan Closeup

Great Scott!  They watched Back to the Future. 

Back to the Future

And, my favorite, they had a ball with an 80s photo booth.  This started with an inexpensive backdrop from Party City.  Then, we stocked a basket with 80s fashions – crazy bright hats, fake mustaches, white gloves, net gloves, a net shirt, gold and neon bling, sunglasses, a microphone, and inflatable instruments, all from Party City and Walmart.  The kids dressed up and took pictures all evening, and the photos are great keepsakes, too.

Photo Booth

Photo Booth Stuff

MJ Wannabe

Our small party was a big success, and it is something that we will remember for a long time.  After the party, we finished celebrating my husband’s birthday by giving him more than 40 cards from friends and family members who helped with this fantastic surprise.  It included notes from kids he has coached, a card from one of his own basketball coaches from the 80s, and messages from so many people who have been so important to us during different phases of our lives.  I am grateful to everyone who helped, and I still feel the need to apologize for sending group Facebook messages.  Those are just terrible.  Thanks for not unfriending me!

If there is one thing I know about 40, it is that our experiences now are less about the experiences themselves and more about appreciating the people who experience them with us.  Our 80s party and the many birthday messages for my husband allowed us to reflect on all of those important relationships, past and present, for one totally tubular celebration.  What will I do to celebrate my 40th?  That’s still uncertain, but it doesn’t look like I will make it to Mexico.  If I am with the people I love, though, that won’t matter much at all.

40th Cards

To My Friend Behind the Caution Tape

I want to know your

I know something is wrong, my friend.  I feel it in your too-quick response when I ask if you’re okay.  I hear it in your veiled excuses and unnecessary apologies, your cancelled appointments and rejected invitations.  Your smile looks like work now, and your eyes are flat like mirrors instead of windows.

I know that you are hurting, but I don’t know why.

I know you, but I don’t know you, because you’ve built a fence right through our friendship, and it does not have a gate.

We’ve been friends for a while now.  We’ve spent endless hours at the park and at the school and on play dates here and there.  We’ve talked about news and kids and weather, about all the things that are light and full of air and float up to the surface.  But we have never filled our lungs and held our breath and risked our comfort to dive down deep, to plunge below the surface.  We have never ventured where the pressure builds and the risks increase – and the discussions really matter.

Our conversations have an edge, my friend, and I have noticed it, and I can see that you are so afraid of falling over.  There is caution tape all around the words we string together, and I have learned to tiptoe carefully without touching your guardrails and setting off alarms.

And this is okay with me, if this is all you expect from our friendship.  I won’t cross the boundaries you have made.  I would never push you past the caution tape and shove you off the cliff.

But I am not sure how to help you.  I don’t know how to dismiss that there is so much more that I can’t know.  You see, my closest friends and I, well, we have thrown caution to the wind.  For this friendship to grow, I need you to jump the guardrail, too, and here is why:

I want to see your REAL.  

With me, you do not need to show your PERFECT or your POLISHED.  Please don’t unpack your unruffled or rehearsed or preapproved for me.  Friend, I don’t need your censored or your flawless.

I just need your REAL.

Because here’s the truth that you’re not seeing: I am a mess

I am imperfect and unpolished, sometimes angry and upset and unprepared.  Some days I feel like a failure.  Sometimes I need advice.  Once in a while, I need to be completely open, painfully honest, unrestrained.  I need to vent to someone safe, a friend who understands.

Sometimes, I need to be REAL, too.

Always, I am flawed.  Because I am human.  And so are you.

But we aren’t really sharing that, are we?  We are just peeking over the fence.

Maybe this friendship is exactly what it is supposed to be, but I care about you, and I hope that you have other friendships without guardrails.  I hope those friends are seeing what I see and encouraging you through whatever challenges you face.  I hope that you laugh together and cry together when you need to.  I hope that you have plunged beneath the surface, that you have faced the risks and felt vulnerable, that you have experienced the beauty and the peace that lie below, in the depths of those friendships where you set your REAL free.

If your REAL is stirring and you are feeling brave, you are welcome to dangle your feet over my cliff and glance below.  You will see me there with a few close friends.  We will probably be in our gym clothes, looking a mess, though we honestly never made it to work out.  We will be taking a break even if our homes are a mess and our schedules are overbooked and our to-do lists are out of control.  We will be eating snacks and sharing drinks that we won’t tell our kids about.  There will be no make-up there, nothing hiding the wrinkles or the sun damage, no magic tricks or expensive illusions to conceal what really is.  We may be sharing our horribly embarrassing moments.  We may be crying about our parenting missteps.  We may be analyzing our fears and regrets.

That sounds like scary stuff, I know.

But it is REAL.  And when we smile and laugh and celebrate, that will be REAL, too, not part of a calculated game of emotions that we pretend to feel.

Friend, I am worried about you, and maybe I am not your match, but when you find the friends to make that jump with you, I know you won’t regret the plunge.

You won’t even miss the guardrails.

In fact, you might feel safer without them.

Yes, I’m a Christan. No, I’m Not Like That.


Yesterday, my boys and I played a very small role in a very big project that involved three hundred volunteers from our church packing 60,000 meals for Haitians in need.  Each meal could feed a family of six, and we calculated that my little boys’ hands helped to pack somewhere around 1,500 meals.

As I looked around the room during our shift, with groups of eighteen people at twelve stations, many of whom had never met before, working in unison for the good of thousands of people we will never know, I thought about how generous and kind my Christian family is.  I thought about the people overseeing the project who had volunteered to be trained, to organize the supplies and the shipping, and to prepare to make the service project as efficient as possible.  I thought about their patience in letting our kids, who weren’t always as quick or as coordinated as the grownups, experience the rewards of service, too.  And I thought about how much I wish THIS were the stereotype of Christians that was accepted as reality.

Christians certainly aren’t the only group of people who are stereotyped, manipulated, and portrayed unfavorably, especially in political news, but if you are not a Christian, you may not realize just how ridiculous the caricatures of us really are.  It’s no wonder that people who have no experience with our faith have cool feelings toward religion if they spend any time watching the Christians in the news or if they listen to so many of our politicians talk.  The negative stereotypes are a barrier to meaningful relationships and relevant conversations between people who have much more in common than they don’t.  Plus, being misunderstood just plain hurts.  We’ve all been there before, right?

I certainly can’t speak on behalf of all Christians, but I can speak on behalf of the ones who are similar to me, and here are a few things that we want you to know about us.

  1. We are smart.

From what you have seen on television, you may think that we are religious because we just don’t know any better.  We are often portrayed as being foolish and gullible, sending our money off to any televangelist who claims God told him that he needs a personal jet with jewel-encrusted head rests to fulfill the great commission.  We are dismissed as uneducated people who are easily manipulated by right-wing politicians and who live in a bubble that shields us from the problems that everyone else in the world understands.

The truth is that God doesn’t care if we dropped out of high school or if we have a Ph.D.  The party is BYOB (Bring Your Own Bible) and open to all, and if you can’t BYOB, we’ve got you covered.

However, we are weary of the stereotype that Christians just aren’t very smart.  We are all kinds of people with all levels of education. We are doctors and lawyers and teachers and engineers.  We are tradespeople.  We are stay-at-home moms.  We are college graduates.  We are innovators and business owners.  We read books.  We watch the news.  We are interested in the events happening in the world around us.  We are seeking solutions to the same problems as everyone else.

We even believe that global warming is real.  We love science.

I know.  That one just blew your mind!

  1. We are not weird.

Okay, some of us are weird.  Some of us are really weird.  But we aren’t any weirder than the rest of the population, so please just let that stereotype die.  And, really, we think Jesus might have used the word “quirky” instead.

  1. You work and play and go to school with us, and you don’t even realize it.

When you first meet a Christian, she probably won’t be wearing a t-shirt that says, “I heart Jesus,” but kudos to her if she is.  Most likely, you will meet her diligently working in her cubicle at the office, not marching in a picket line or shouting Bible verses in front of the courthouse.  The truth is that most Christians don’t necessarily stand out in a crowd – at least not right away.  That’s because we enjoy many of the same things that you do.  We like social media and know about pop culture.  We follow sports and go to the movies and work out at the gym.  We love to have fun, and we know a good joke when we hear one.  Over time, I hope that the Christians you know will stand out because they are consistently generous and patient and kind.  I hope they model joy and compassion and grace.  I hope they apologize for their mistakes and exemplify Christian values.  But the idea that you know one when you see one, well, it just doesn’t work that way.

  1. We care about people.

All people.  It doesn’t depend on your race or your gender or your age.  It doesn’t depend on your income or your appearance or your religion.  It doesn’t even depend on the decisions you have made in the past.  We are called to love one another.  Love is not the message that you hear when many politicians’ lips are moving, but it is the truth of our religion.

Ice Cream

  1. We want you to have freedom of religion, too.

Really, we do.  Your freedom of religion guarantees our freedom of religion.  We get that.

  1. We can and do look at both sides of an issue.

We not only enjoy a good debate, but we want to understand an opposing argument – and not just so that we can challenge it.  We want to understand the complexities of an issue.  We want to know how ideas affect different groups of people.  We can even be swayed to think differently about an issue once in a while.  We don’t have to “win” every argument.  Most importantly, we don’t have to agree with you to care about what you think.

  1. We are not perfect – and we know that.

The big idea of Christianity is that God extends us grace and forgiveness through his son.  If we thought we were perfect, then we wouldn’t need that, would we?  This one just doesn’t make any sense.

8. We aren’t judging you.

Really, we’re not.  We try to leave this to the big guy upstairs.  We have to figure out what we are cooking for dinner and when we can pick up the prescription at the pharmacy and who will take off work to wait for the repairman tomorrow and how to get two kids to basketball practice in two different places at the same time tonight.  We don’t have time for this.  Please stop worrying about it.

  1. We aren’t all Republicans.

We also do not trust people just because they say they are Christians or quote Bible verses.

And while we’re at it, we don’t all watch FOX News.

  1. We don’t understand the political obsession with “moral issues.”

Any issue that is up for political debate impacts people.  Any issue that impacts people is a moral issue to us.  That does not mean there are easy answers.  It just means that our morals should influence all of our decisions – both personal and political.  There aren’t just one or two moral issues.  There are lots of them.

  1. We are not perfect – and we know that.

That just seems worth repeating.

  1. We would love to share our faith with you, but we can be friends regardless.

Even Jesus did not exclusively spend time with Christian people.  We don’t either.

As Christians, political seasons are difficult because, like so many other groups of people, we often feel unfairly categorized and misunderstood.  We don’t like being characterized as immoral, anti-Christian, or not-Christian-enough if we lean toward the left on an issue, and we don’t like being portrayed as narrow-minded, uneducated schmucks if we lean toward the right.  We definitely don’t like being associated with any extremist who will dance for the camera and drive up the network’s ratings.

In reality, we are individuals, similar in some ways yet as different as two snowflakes tumbling from the sky, human beings with messy lives who are just trying to do the best that we can with the comfort of God’s grace when we fail.  If you feel overwhelmed or misunderstood, there is a good chance that we have some idea of where you are coming from.  Please do not judge us all by what you have seen on the news or even by your experiences in the past. You may be surprised by just how much we have in common – even if our religious views aren’t on that list.

The Year of New

2016 the year of new

On the very last day of 2015, I squeezed in this new year’s post and shared this resolution worksheet with all of you.  It was a small token of my appreciation for all of the kindness that you had shown to my little blog in 2015.  Frankly, I am still surprised, humbled, and incredibly thankful that you have come along for the ride so far!

When I posted this worksheet for you, I hadn’t yet tried it myself.  It was still a theory, as in, “I just know this is going to be fantastic!  This is good, right?  Maybe?  Fingers crossed!”  But I am also a pro at embracing theories that fail miserably.  Like my theory that our boys needed a really cute, rather expensive playhouse in the backyard that turned out to be invisible to them except when it interfered with their soccer game.  (Not really my problem.  My kids don’t know something amazing when they see it.)  Or my theory that getting each boy his own hamster would prevent headaches for me in the long run.  (Did you know that a female hamster can get pregnant immediately after delivering the first unexpected litter of baby hamsters?  No?  Yeah.  Me neither.)  Or my theory that roller skating  with  my kiddos would allow me to feel young and free of responsibility for a while.  (You know I’m still paying the medical bills for that one.)

Fortunately, this time my theory proved to be correct, but not right off the bat.

First, let me remind you that I live with three human beings who are all fighting for survival in one stage of manhood or another.  At my house, this means that words like “feelings” or “reflection” or “mom has a great idea” are usually met with some combination of grunts and moans and groans.  Generally, any suggestion that doesn’t involve sports or inappropriate jokes or video games has to marinate with them for a while.  As one of my smaller men said while pretending to cry (to get a laugh from the other men, I’m sure), “Sometimes it really stinks to have a mom who’s a teacher!”

Plus, they always know that I’m outnumbered.  It’s so unfair.

So when I first mentioned at the dinner table that we would be doing this little project, they scoffed and made a few jokes and grunted and acknowledged their masculinity.  Once we got that out of the way, everything went just as I had planned.  Lesson to be learned, ladies: If you have a tough audience, don’t give up too quickly.  That tough stuff is all on the exterior, I promise.  Unless you actually know my husband, in which case I swear that he really IS a tough guy, inside and out.  Seriously.  No, really, he is.  Don’t get me into trouble.

I may have planted the seed during a family dinner, but my secret to learning the joys and the hurts and the longings of my boys’ hearts is to corner them when no one else is home.  Those quiet times, times when we can talk without distractions, when the testosterone level in the house is not at a critically high level, are some of my favorite moments.  And no matter how much they scoff at my crazy ideas together at the dinner table, they are surprisingly receptive to them when we get to spend some quality mom-and-son time with one another.  Honestly, we had a lot of fun filling out these worksheets together, just the two of us, reflecting on the year that was and the year that is still to come.

Sometimes we take for granted that we know our kids, that we know what is important to them, what matters to them most.  But sometimes we are wrong, and that’s a shame, because they will often tell us if we just take the time to ask some questions and then to listen to what they have to say.  I wasn’t surprised that both of my sons remembered 2015 as a year of sadness.  It was a tough one for all of us.  Our fall was a fog of farewells and funerals.


But the second part, the part about Lola, was something that I didn’t even remember at first.  I expected my son to talk about a sports achievement or a report card for this one, but his proudest achievement from the entire year was the time he saved our puppy from harm.  He had been carrying her on a snowy winter day when he slipped on the ice on the patio and crash landed; she was just a tiny pup, and he was responsible for her, so he cradled her in his arms even as his head hit the cold, hard concrete.  I had forgotten about how worried I was that he might have had a concussion.  I had forgotten about how proud he had been.  I had forgotten what a warm, loving heart that boy has when he’s not telling fart jokes.

And then there were conversations like this one, with my sarcastic pre-teenager.


Yes, that actually says that in 2015 he learned that “a date is also a fruit that makes you poop.”  I guess this is a quotation from his favorite cartoon, Gumball.  This kid loves an audience, but he is also happy just to crack himself up.  And he really is funny.  He is witty and smart, and it was nice to take a break from questioning his filtering mechanism just to laugh with him for a while.  He can be serious when he wants to be, too.

year of less

I’m pretty sure that we haven’t cut back on screen time just yet, but he is doing well so far with the others.  He also decided to spend more time on art this year because I think he had actually forgotten what a talented artist he is.  He made this Star Wars card for his friend’s birthday recently, and I am pretty sure that if that kid weren’t one of his best buddies, he wouldn’t have given this away.

star wars

My favorite part of the one-on-one sessions was helping each boy choose a quotation to guide 2016.  My younger son scoured the Internet for quotations from athletes he admires.  We talked about several of the quotations that he found – some examples of good character and others, not so much – and he settled on this one from Lebron James:

“Don’t be afraid of failure.  This is the way to succeed.”

Nice choice, right?  My older son immediately ran to his room to find this quotation from NBA basketball player Muggsy Bogues:

“If you can play the game, size doesn’t matter.”

So many of the things that we worry about don’t really matter if we are willing to work hard and stop making excuses, right?  This boy is passionate about basketball, but he is small, so this quotation motivates him to stay in the game just like Muggsy did at 5′ 3″.  Another good choice!

I shared my quotation for 2016 with the boys, too.  It doesn’t need an explanation:

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26

Next, we needed to work together to create a family motto, so it was back to the dinner table one evening.  Our goal was to complete the statement, “2016 will be the year of ___.”  I was thinking of something like “kindness” or “teamwork.”  You know, something that would promote good character at home.  But that was just me.

One of my men suggested, “2016, the year of the chicken.”

Don’t ask.  I have no idea what that means.

Another suggested, “2016, the year of awesome.”  Now this seemed, well, AWESOME, at first, but we quickly realized that it would be impossible to measure.  I imagined a year of conversations like this:

           “Wow!  Those roasted Brussel sprouts were awesome.” (Me)

          “No way!  Yuck! That was awful!  You know what was awesome?  That football game
we watched last night!  Remember when that one guy did that one thing and they
replayed it twenty times?  That was awesome!” (A son)

          “Yeah, right, that was great . . .  I loved every minute . . . *Sigh*”  (Me)

Then my husband suggested, “2016, the year of NEW!”  And on the outside I was smiling and nodding, but on the inside I was thinking, What are you doing???  Work with me here, dude!  New?  What does this even mean!  I knew we should have talked about this . . .   However, as the idea started to take shape, I realized that this was a fun and challenging resolution.  New doesn’t mean that we have to BUY new things every week.  It means that we have to TRY new things every week.  And they don’t have to be BIG things; they just have to be NEW (to us) things.  And NEW is easy to measure.  You have either tried it before or you haven’t.  No debate!   So here is what it looks like so far:

Week 1: New Recipe
(It was okay . . . Not wonderful . . . But it was new!)


Week 2: New (Old) TV Show With the Kids
(Parental warning: This has been fun, but there is more innuendo than I remembered!)

image1 (1)

Week 3: Ice Cream Taste Testing
(Sorry, Jimmy.  Colbert wins by a landslide.)

ice cream vote

Week 4: Lunchbox Quotes of the Day
(More about this to come in another post!)

quote of the day

January is almost over, but it’s not too late to start a new 2016 tradition with your family, too.  So far, the “year of new” has prompted some interesting conversations about what we have learned or tried each week, and we already have some fun ideas in store!  It is also relatively easy; you can always try a new food, read a new book, see a new movie, or play a new game without investing too much money in the experience.  From our house to yours, we hope that your 2016 is off to a great start!

Be adventurous!  Try something new!

~Mary Ann

A New Year’s Gift for You!

hand 2016

There is nothing magical about a new year’s resolution, but I do love the freedom and promise of a fresh start.  Don’t you?  The transition from one year to another is a perfect time to think about the year that passed and to plan for the year ahead, if for no other reason than because you probably have a little bit of time off when you could squeeze some reflection into your busy schedule.

New year’s resolutions get a bad rap.  I feel a little sorry for them, actually.  They don’t fail because they are a bad idea; they fail because we call them “resolutions” when they are usually just fleeting thoughts rather than sincere commitments.  We break up with our resolutions when we were never seriously dating them to begin with.

It’s not you, Resolutions.  It’s us.  We were just pretending. 

Setting personal or family goals is a great way to model for your kids or grandkids how goal setting is really supposed to work.  Put something in writing.  Break big goals into smaller pieces.  Post reminders where they are visible, and put checkpoints on the calendar.  Encourage one another.  Teach your kids the reward of accomplishing a goal, and teach them how to pick up the pieces (rather than quitting) when the train runs off the track.  Because it will.

That is not called failure.  That is called “real life.”

Sometimes we forget that reflecting and planning and goal setting are LEARNED SKILLS.  I have taught countless high school students who have huge dreams but no goals; they are confident that they will play for the NBA or become President of the United States or earn a Ph.D., but they have no concept of the thousands of small steps that they could begin taking right now that might ultimately lead to those accomplishments.  Trust me; you want your kids to have these life skills, and you want them to learn them early, you know, before they are making critical decisions about finances, marriage, parenting, careers, and dangerous temptations.  You and I both know that life will test our children’s resilience over and over and over again.  I want my own sons and all of my students to grow into people who are able to reflect, plan, and adapt.  Isn’t that what you want for your own family, too?

As a teacher and mom, I love it when I find a fun tool to use so that I don’t have to create something myself, so here is my new year’s gift to you!  Try out this printable pdf for yourself!  It can be a fun starting point for both kids and adults to discuss the coming year.  Talk about it over a family dinner this week, and don’t forget to contemplate the smaller steps that you and your kids can take TODAY to start reaching your goals in 2016!

Bring it on 2016


HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Thank you for sharing and reading!

What are your goals for 2016?  Leave a comment and join the conversation!


A Broken Arm Christmas 2015


This December has been nothing if not unusual at our house.   First, there has not been snow on the ground here.  Not.  A.  Flake.  There are not even flurries in the air as I write this.  We could be running our last-minute Christmas errands in swimsuits because it is a balmy 64 degrees in Ohio at this moment.  We haven’t seen our breath since last winter, so I’m not even sure if we’re breathing.  It’s scary.  (But just to be clear, I’m not complaining.  I’m okay with this part.  This was our puppy in the snow in the middle of November last year!)

But that’s not the only difference this year.  Instead of baking sugar cookies and mixing up Chex Muddy Buddies (my holiday addiction . . . it’s like Christmas crack for us law-abiding citizens), I am binge watching Christmas Through the Decades on the History Channel while delegating holiday duties to my poor kids and husband to avoid testing the limits of my broken arm.  (And I swear that I totally could have written the episode about the 80’s!)

Yes, it’s my right arm.  And, yes, that’s my dominant one.  Merry Christmas to all of us at the Ware house.

You may be wondering how this could have happened when it has not been snowing and there is no ice on the ground.  The answer is that I am clumsy, and, apparently, even clumsier on roller skates.  In my defense, however, I fell only one time.  There were kids flopping around all over the place on that skating rink floor, but their bones are more like saltwater taffy while mine are more like peanut brittle.

And this proves that aging is not as much a state of mind as I had hoped.  It’s for real.  I’m getting old.  Bah humbug.

Anyway, after a long, stressful week, we took our kids to their school skating party to blow off some steam and share some quality family time.  Did I mention the week had been long and stressful?  That was a contributing factor, for sure.  I desperately needed some joy, so with just a teeny bit of mom peer pressure, I rented those brown and orange skates and thought, why not?  I mean, it only cost $6 (initially).  And I really did feel like I was ten-years-old again for an hour or so.  (Don’t believe my friends who will tell you that I even skate-danced a little to “Who Let the Dogs Out.”  I will not confirm whether or not that is actually true.All joking aside, it really was fun.

But maybe it should have concerned me when they made me sign a waiver before they would take my $6. That’s for real, friends.  The grown-ups have to sign a waiver at the skating rink.  If that shouldn’t send any right-minded adult back to the observation area, I’m not sure what should.  Oh, hindsight.  How you torture me.  I might have been better off signing up for the skating lessons advertised at the bottom of my receipt . . .  And, no, I don’t anticipate being back soon, but thanks for the invitation.

Skate Lessons

Because it started all fun like this with my kids and my friends. . .


And it ended all sad like this at the Urgent Care with my very patient husband. . .


A broken wrist.  Fa la la la la, la la la la.

We have tried to remain festive with cast #1 being red and green . . .

Cast 1

And cast #2 being green and red . . .

Cast 2

Look at my poor dog in that picture.  She’s silently asking, “When will  this end?  Will you ever take me for a walk again, Mom?”

So Christmas at our house has been different, and I have had to be okay with that.  Our Christmas celebration before the huge family gatherings was no gourmet meal . . .

Little Caesars

Our gifts look like they were wrapped by a nine-year-old because, well, many of them were . . .


(He did a really good job, I must say.)

And we are planning to leave Santa a few stale brownie bites that a sweet friend left after a party at my house last week.  No fresh sugar cookies here, Santa.  Sorry!  Better luck at your next stop!

For Santa

But, on the bright side, we have been forced to prioritize, and the basic things that we look forward to every year have all been covered.  The stockings were still hung by the chimney with care . . .


My loving husband pretended to be happy while pulling all of the trees and boxes and more trees and more boxes from the crawl space since I couldn’t do it . . .

Christmas Tree

My favorite things are all in place – because I just LOVE this holiday and everything it represents to my family and my faith!


And we have spent time and will spend more time with all of the people who mean the most to us during this special season.  Some of the hustle and bustle has been removed, leaving time for conversations and board games and Christmas movies and quiet time together.

This Christmas season has not gone exactly as I imagined it would, but I am learning a few things in spite of my frustration.  I am learning to love online shopping and appreciate gift bags.  I am learning to accept help from friends without feeling guilty about needing it.  I am learning to show more gratitude for  my husband’s sacrifices and to let my kids do more for themselves.  And I am learning that sometimes being forced to slow down is a blessing in and of itself.

Maybe you should consider the benefits, too, without waiting for a broken arm to adjust your perspective.  🙂

From our home to yours, we wish you peace, joy, and a very merry Christmas season!  Thanks for reading my blog!  And if your kid gets a skateboard for Christmas, please, I beg you, don’t even try . . .

Christmas Card

Teaching Kids Kindness in the Face of Fear

Paris (1)

For the first time in forever, I was able to savor a quiet, un-busy weekend at home, so I curled up with a blanket and a cup of tea on Saturday morning to catch up on my long-neglected newsfeed. Lucky for me, I stumbled upon this essay written by a talented mom who blogs at You Have Six Kids? In her post, she reflects on the question of how to teach kids kindness in a world where unkindness often feels like the norm. Her post caught my attention because she drives home the point that we, as parents, as people, cannot allow fear to seep into our hearts and erode our own values of love and generosity toward others. Recent events in Paris and Mali have fed into our darkest fears, fears that aim to manipulate and isolate us.

In her post, she explores the truth that when bad things happen in our lives, we are tempted to disconnect from others, to focus on self-preservation at the expense of what is inherently good about ourselves and our country. Helping people who need us can be scary. It can feel risky. It can even be painful. But that doesn’t mean that helping is any less right than it was the day before something terrible happened.

And these ideas really got me thinking about how my feelings do not give me a one-way ticket out of difficult situations. About how uncomfortable predicaments that test my convictions not only allow me to help others, but also promote my own personal growth. About how if I am able to help, and available to help, and especially if God has put me in the right place at the right time to help, then helping is not so much my choice as it is my responsibility. About how our children learn to do good by watching and participating when we ourselves do good, and about just how many opportunities to help others exist all around us every single day.

heart rock

Now, I don’t know the mom who wrote this article, but she has street cred, for sure. Her personal story is the epitome of faith in action. You can check it out on her blog. She is selfless. She is generous. She is inspiring.  I am grateful to have read her words this morning.

But there was something else that stuck with me after reading her essay, something that I just couldn’t shake from my brain. Here it is, in the second part of this statement from her post: “Teaching kids to be kind to one another can be difficult, considering we live in a world fueled by hate and evil.”

Teaching kids to be kind can definitely be difficult. Preach it, Sister!

But a world fueled by hate and evil?


That. Is. Depressing.

And I just can’t believe that it is true.

Now let me just say, based on the rest of this writer’s essay, that I’m not so sure that she and I disagree on this point at all. In fact, I have a feeling that we would actually be on exactly the same page here if we had a heart-to-heart conversation over lunch, like mom friends do. But this IS a scary premise that many people embrace these days, and it feeds anxiety, and it has influenced some smart people to do and say some crazy, hateful things, exactly the kinds of things that this writer challenges in her post.

Don’t get me wrong. There is hate and there is evil. We saw it in Paris. We have seen it on American soil. We have witnessed it through vile acts of international terrorism and through deplorable examples of domestic crime. We watch it on the news locally, nationally, and globally every day. It runs as a constant stream across our newsfeeds. It interrupts normal broadcasting. It screams for attention through “Special Reports” and “Breaking News.” Photographs of perpetrators of evil flash across our television screens and glare at us from the front pages of newspapers. We watch footage of bombers hiding their secrets in crowds at marathons and planes crashing into buildings over and over and over again.

And we start to believe that this is all there is outside our front doors. The world is hate. The world is evil.

Except that it isn’t.

Remember that fear we were talking about? Well, he’s a liar.

As the writer at You Have Six Kids? explains, we teach our kids kindness by showing kindness ourselves, especially when being kind is a difficult, scary, or inconvenient thing for us to do. She is so right! Let’s also teach our kids kindness, even when frightening things are happening all around, by helping them to SEE THE GOOD in the world outside of the bubbles that we have created for them.

Because it is everywhere.

Because it is powerful.

Because it is contagious.

Because it can change people.

Because it can build a bridge where there is only a divide.

Because it can speak English. And Arabic. And Chinese. And Russian.

And because last week, we all learned to speak kindness in French.

Good is always present, even in the dark places where evil lurks, even in the face of terrible atrocities. There are always some people who are choosing to do what is good. Always.

I want to help my children see them.

I want them to know that there were many, many more people praying for Paris than attacking it, that there were many people from many places sending resources to help, that there were many countries offering assistance.

You see, my goal is not to shield my children from the harsh realities of the world around them, but I do want them to see a world that is fueled by faith and hope and love, a world where evil, while it may threaten, cannot maintain a strong grip if the people who are working for good are working together. I want them to focus on the heroes. I want them to see the servants. I want them to know that in the battle of good against evil, the good guys outnumber the bad.

It is my goal, just like it is the goal of the mom at You Have Six Kids? and the goal of the other moms who are part of my village, to raise children who become the men and women who someday lead our communities and our nation in pursuit of what is right.

We can teach our kids to DO the good even when the work is hard or scary.

We can teach our kids to SEE the good even when the bad demands our attention.

And we can teach our kids to BE the good wherever in the world life takes them.

Paris (2)

photo credit: <a href=”″>gratuitous eiffel tower shot</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”″>Rock Hard Love</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”″>Johann Wolfgang von Goethe A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;




EASY Fall Decorating Tips and Tricks!


Confession time, friends. I’m in a bad relationship.

You know the kind I’m talking about.

The kind like leftover Halloween candy that seduces you with sweet promises but leaves you with a toothache and a few extra pounds instead. Unhealthy, yes, but just sooooooo tempting. The kind where the people who love you beg, “Just stop already! It isn’t worth it! We liked you better before you signed up for this!” The kind that begins with hope and the thrill of a million possibilities and ends with all those ugly feeeelings – the low self-esteem, the inferiority complex, the sense that you will never be able to measure up.

The relationship just isn’t working.

But it’s not me, Pinterest. It’s you.

Seriously, though, I do have a passion for Pinterest, and I love it, and I hate it, and all of this is REAL. I could spend hours, maybe days, staring at my laptop, searching through all of the amazingly fantastic things that you people with incredible imaginations and a little (or a lot) of extra time on your hands have created. I am in awe of you. I enjoy your clever party plans. I have stolen your ideas for teacher gifts. I am eternally grateful for your crockpot recipes. I revel in pinning page after page of your designs onto artfully named boards, just as I once snipped pages from magazines and squirreled them away in manila folders. (And I’m not willing to swear that this is true, but I could still have the aforementioned folders . . . mostly because I am pretty sure that the eleventh commandment would have been “Though shalt not dispose of any brilliant idea that you might, maybe, possibly be able to use someday AS IF it is GARBAGE.” PLEASE! Who would do that?)

In truth, Pinterest stalking gives me a few minutes of calm and peace in my frantically-paced life. It reminds me of the hobbies that I wish I had more time to pursue, and I appreciate that. A lot. But those time-consuming projects that require lots of planning and skill? I. Can’t. Even. I am way too busy grading papers and finding a pair of matching socks for every member of the family and picking up the hundred mangled pieces of the paper towel my dog just shredded to invest the time into crafting and decorating that I would like. And I just got a sort-of-friendly reminder from the elementary school that I forgot (oops!) to pay our sons’ school fees (because the taxes and school supply shopping didn’t suffice), so I don’t exactly have a lot of “fun money” in my pocket at the moment, either.

And this is a problem – both the lack of time and the lack of money – because I love fall, and I LOVE seasonal decorating. I so enjoy bringing each season into our house and being reminded of the beauty and uniqueness of each new phase of the year. (Please don’t ask my husband how many crates he has to drag out of the crawl space before Christmas. Seriously . . . Please don’t bring it up.) But whatever I do, it’s gotta be easy. And quick. And inexpensive. And it has to blend in with the general messiness that is real life at my house. Nothing too fancy here, I promise. Maybe I can save you from getting a Pinterest inferiority complex by sharing a few of my favorite, simple fall decorating ideas so that you can add some fall flair to your space, as well – unless, of course, you already finished your Christmas shopping and are ready to put up your tree.  Don’t even . . .


Save money by repurposing things. That simple yellow-green Russell Wright plate is something special that I inherited from my grandmother, yet it was hidden away in a cupboard. It didn’t cost a penny to add this colorful touch to a few decorations that I already had. Look through your cabinets and your basement. Think about how you could use items in different ways. Could the wreath that you didn’t hang this year be used on the table instead? Could your magazines with fall covers decorate a coffee table or fill a basket? How could you move some things that you already have, like the “W” I have here on my mantle, into different rooms to make new decorative displays?  Look for more repurposing ideas below!  And, by the way, shades of green work in all seasons.  I like to think of green as a neutral color!

pine cone candles

Fall is a great time to bring nature in. You can buy pine cones and sticks and leaves and acorns, or you can send your kids or grandkids hunting for them, for free!

outside gourds

Invest in containers that you like and then fill them with new stuff each season. I didn’t realize that this is my super-simple, go-to decorating technique until I started taking some pictures, but it is. I do this all over the place. You can fill your summer planter with real gourds.

mantle plate 1

Fill a big glass jar or vase with gourds, too. (Okay, I guess I like gourds.  At least these ones can be used again year after year.)

dark moss balls

Fill decorative bowls with candles and moss balls. (By the way, I bought this decorative bowl – one of my favorites – at Walmart years ago, and I just purchased the moss balls at Target. We’re not talking Pottery Barn investments here.)

candy pumpkinscandy corn

Fill canning jars with seasonal treats. (I see décor; my kids just see candy.)


Instead of hiding it away, fill your drink dispenser with seasonal fruit. It’s also more handy when you need to use it!

potpourri chalkboard

Fill a wooden bowl with potpourri.  Seriously, just fill containers that you can use all year with different stuff.  I told you this is my go-to technique!  If you do make a run to the craft store to get your potpourri, you can also buy a role of burlap.  It is inexpensive and comes in different widths.  Snip off the length you need to make a runner for your dinner table or coffee table.  Very fall.  Very easy.


This might be my favorite tip. Decorating with photographs is inexpensive and packs a decorating punch. In the fall, I display photos of my children in their Halloween costumes throughout the years. These pics make me so happy. (Or sad . . . They are growing up so fast! Sniff, sniff.)  They also embarrass my children, which is sometimes fun, too.  But, seriously, aren’t they adorable?

pirate pumpkin

I recommend buying matching neutral frames and ordering prints for all of them for all seasons at once. Store the pics for other seasons right in the frames so that they are easy to rotate when you change your decorations.

window wreath

Instead of buying lots of different kinds of decorations, start a collection. I personally like pumpkins as a fall decorating staple, so each year I buy myself one more. This year, I bought a small green glass one for $5.99 at Home Goods. Again, it’s a small investment (and this one might actually be an apple?!?), but it’s the collection that makes the statement, and you don’t have to think too hard to make a collection work.  It is also fun to add to it each year and watch it grow!


Just choose the common element (pumpkins, in my case) and then add pieces of various colors, textures, and materials over the years. Include some in groups, and sprinkle others around the house. So simple.


Chalkboard art is a favorite of mine, too. Now this one requires some skill, and I enjoy having an outlet for some artistic creativity, but you can keep your designs much simpler. Search “fall chalkboard art” on Google Images or (*gulp*) Pinterest, and you will find lots of ideas, from simple to complex, in a snap. You can do it yourself for the cost of the chalk, which will last through many, many seasons.


Seasons are also about smells, so consider adding a fall smell to your house! Pumpkin spice smells are my fav, and they seem to hide the other smells that live here like “sweaty boy” and “dog that needs a bath.” Dig out your candles or buy a couple of plug-in air fresheners. Aaaahhhhh! Delightful! If you are really ambitious, make some applesauce in your crockpot to make your house smell good. Then the results are tasty, too.


After you have brought fall inside, you can pick up the mess in that one room where you like to relax, pull on a comfy sweater, and curl up with a good book and a pumpkin chai latte. Until someone starts yelling, “Mommmmm!”

Which probably won’t be very long.

Maybe wear your earbuds and pretend that you can’t hear them, just this one time.

Hopefully a few of these ideas will work for you! What other ideas do you have for seasonal fall decorating? Please join the conversation!  Leave a comment!

And HAPPY FALL to you and those you love!  Thank you for reading!

~Mary Ann

This Week I Will Notice People

Notice People

This week, I will notice people.

Not the people who are loud and rude. Not the ones who shout demands. Not the wheels that squeak.

I will not notice them.

This week, I will notice the unnoticed ones.

I will not pass them briskly, blinded by my distractions. I will notice them. I will peek over the walls that separate us. I will look past the boundaries of our skin. I will gaze into their hearts this time. I will listen earnestly to hear the words that they aren’t saying.

I will see the tears that are not being shed.

I will feel the pain that’s hidden deep within.

I will recognize the anger that is heartache in disguise.

I will sense the grief concealed beneath a smile.

I will perceive the hopelessness in eyes that won’t meet mine.

I will spot the fear that no one else detects.

I will notice.

I will meet the shame, and I will shake its hand. I will see the sadness and the exhaustion and the despair. I will greet the desperation, and I will be the one who does not turn away. I will not pretend that I don’t see.

I will notice.

And I will offer hope.

I will flash a smile that is sincere.

I will encourage with a story or a hug.

I will model bravery even when I am afraid.

I will buy the coffee that brightens someone’s day.

I will say hello and how are you to the ones that no one sees.

I will sacrifice my own conveniences.

I will surrender the closer parking space.

I will hold the door.

I will really listen.

I will allow the gratitude that is in my heart to overflow.

I will prove my interest by connecting with my eyes.

I will show compassion.

I will ask questions because I care about the answers.

I will be the evidence that there is love.

I will invite the struggling mom to cut in line.

I will react with patience and with love.

I will reveal my own weaknesses.

I will share grace.

I will take time.

I will forgive.

I will be aware.

I will be nice.

This week, I will notice.

Will you notice people, too?

photo credit: <a href=”″>Liverpool Street station crowd blur</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Lessons From Loss: Choose Joy


**It’s so good to be back, friends!  My head is still spinning from the start of a hectic school year combined with a tough few weeks for my family, but writing is doing what it always does for me – bringing me peace.  You can start reading my latest post here and then finish it over at The Today Show Parenting Blog, where I would REALLY appreciate your vote of approval!  Thanks!  And, please, start choosing JOY.** 

Like a shadowy veil, a dark cloud recently settled over my family, and the air was still, and so it sat there, making itself comfortable despite our cries that it was an unwelcome guest. On one of the darkest days of its visit, we lost a courageous aunt to a short battle with lung cancer, and a few days later, with that cloud still hovering above, we rushed to our beloved grandmother’s bed to hug her one last time, to say farewell. So much sadness. So much loss. So much pain in my heart for my children and my husband and his grieving family.

Now the gloom is lifting, the sky changing from a heavy charcoal to a dusty gray, but the shadow still looms. It hardly seems appropriate to write an essay about happiness. Not now. It just isn’t right.

Or maybe it’s perfect.

Grief is far from easy. It is the opposite of easy, actually, far worse than hard. It drills down deep, to the very core of our humanity, and leaves us with gaping hollow spaces that we cannot fill. It is real and it is heavy and it is slow. But this essay is not about healing after loss because those answers are not mine to give. I wish that I could write that essay, I wish that I could throw that lifeline, but I can’t. I don’t have enough experience. Not yet, and hopefully not for a long while.

So this essay isn’t about dying. And it’s not about healing.

It’s about living.

It’s about how experiencing loss can remind us to reacquaint ourselves with joy. It’s about how loss knocks down walls and puts everything into a new perspective. It’s about how, in an instant, my schedule and my task lists and my obligations, the homework and the sports games and the housekeeping, my urgent emails and my important messages and my top priorities – my entire life – all of it – can immediately screech to a halt with just one desperate phone call. It’s about how loss reminded me of some things that I knew once but forgot, like:

*Life is short. I want mine to be a happy one.

*I allow a lot of things to steal my happiness, and most of them aren’t really that important.

*In the big picture, most things, in general, aren’t really that important.

*We make happiness seem much harder to attain than it probably is.

*The greatest happiness comes from appreciating the simplest joys.

I’ve drawn a few more conclusions from these dark days, too. I want to live a life that overflows with joy because I focus on what matters most. I want to create a home that attracts happiness to our front porch and then invites it in to eat dinner and sit at the table with us. I want to instill an appreciation of the simple things in my children so that they experience peace, even when the air outside is still and dark clouds hang like a heavy curtain at their door.

So here is our starting point, some simple ideas to invite more happiness inside our home, and maybe yours . . .

**I know, I know . . .  Stopping in the middle is just mean!  But you don’t have to wait.  Just click here to finish reading this post on The Today Show Parenting Blog. If you enjoy it, I would be very grateful for your vote!  Thank you so, so much!**

photo credit: <a href=”″>smiley face stress ball</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;