Top 10: My Fair Lady

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The Annual Fair Post. Where Life Gets Real.

No, seriously. Every time. One year, Lainey lost her tooth in a pile of pebbles and stood wailing next to the corn dog stand while Brett and I sifted through rocks on our hands and knees looking for one white pebble-shaped tooth in a pile of thousands of white pebbles. Last year, Dash fell hard in the driveway as we were loading up to go, and we had to gauze up his bloody shiner before leaving. And this year? Two potty accidents–one at the carousel and one at the funnel cakes–that left us with a little Tarzan running around in shorts made from my t-shirt with leg holes ripped with my teeth.

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With no further ado, my Top 10 Favorite Things About Family Fair Night

10. Fairs are Real Life Crayon Boxes.

For all the times I’ve bought a new box of Crayola 64 just so I can open the top and stare down at the perfect rows of rainbow and all their potential, walking through a fair is the closest human experience you’ll have to living in a crayon box. Candy Apple Red, Popcorn Yellow, Cotton Candy Pink, Rainbow Ferris Wheel Kissing Swirly Blue Sky. No matter how much grease you have to smear off your face at the end of the night or many dollars disappeared from your wallet, there’s always the color trip you get to go on when you buy a ticket to the fair. Worth it, my friends.

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9. 4H Friends

Blue ribbon bunnies, monstrous chickens, spotted piglets–the 4H tent is one of our kids’ favorites.

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My friend dragged me over to the bunny cages when we arrived (late, as usual). “Come here, I have to show you this bunny that looks like you.”

“See! He’s wearing liquid eyeliner!” I asked the bunny if hers was MAC’s Fluidline Blacktrack too, but she didn’t answer me back.

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8. Fair Dust Light.

Magic.

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7. Nice Carnies

Has there been a reality show yet on carnies and fair life and what it’s like to be on the road and running these things? I think it would be fascinating to see behind-the-scenes. I can say this year, the carnies were so kind to our kids. They went out of their way to make them feel special, let them win, have another round, get the prize they wanted.

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6. Dash’s “Gimme some money” face

Actually, did you know County Fair is synonymous with Gimme Some Money? Now you know.

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5. Breaking All the Parenting Book Rules

On fair night, we say yes to all the sugar because cotton candy and ice cream and trying an elephant ear for the first time are fair rites of passage.

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We waste money on silly games because huddling together as a family to cheer for the water gun shooter or the rubber duck fisherman is worth more than the $5 it cost to play the game.

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And we ignore bedtimes, choosing instead to let the little ones fall asleep in strollers and in our arms, to the sound of skiball winners cheering and Twirl-a-Whirl music blaring–because it’s 10:30, we’re together and how often do we get to do this?

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4. Grandparent Memories.

This is the second time we’ve had my mom and Grandpa George with us at the fair, and it made for some sweet memories.

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3. Winning a Prize Face.

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That there above? That’s Panda, our new goldfish. Brett and I are thrilled with this, of course.

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He’s lived six days so far, which–isn’t that like 89 years in goldfish time? Actually, I looked this up and sadly, I’m wrong. Life expectancy for a captive goldfish? THIRTY YEARS! Who are these people? I want to meet them because I think Google is lying. Regardless, Panda is happily swimming now in a glass bowl with a few cups of water and two Shopkins for social support.

2. Letting Go

At the fair, nothing matters. Peed your clothes out twice and nothing to wear? No big deal. Spilled your lemonade all over the stroller? Shucks, who cares. Smell like goat and grease and chicken poop? Welcome to the club. Fairs are for letting go and having fun, and that’s it.

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1. Knowing we’ll be back.

Same time, same place, next year.

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More Fair Tradition: Last year’s fair. 2014 Fair. 2013 Fair.

A Tale of Two Vacationers

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Why yes. Yes I did just start this with a horrendously overused Dickens quote. But the title–it matched.

We’re talking vacation. Best in that time off, perfectly packed suitcases, planned adventures, and all these little dreams of sun and water and skipping across beaches without a care in the world is what we live for, right? Worst in that vacationing with kids might actually be harder than living with kids. Or as Brett so eloquently put it on the beach the other day as Dash flung sand across a 6-yard radius, Nella collapsed crying and we calculated how much time we had to scout out a family-friendly lunch spot before the kids’ low blood sugar demons emerged from their holes: “What about this trip is supposed to be relaxing?”

And I, the rainbow unicorn of the family, pointed out six things about the situation that are awesome because that’s what I’m annoyingly programmed to do: “But they’re making such great memories (1)! And it’s good for us to get away together (2). And the kids will sleep so great tonight (3)! Plus we’re teaching our kids to explore and enjoy their world (4). And Nella–you know these experiences are so good for her (5). And look at this sky, it’s gorgeous, this is so much fun–just ride the wave, Brett (6)! At which point, I’m certain he imagined a great white flinging himself on shore and dragging me out to sea.

The thing is, we are two completely different vacationers. Brett ‘s like—wait, what’s super chill and relaxed? Bob Marley? Half-conscious Bob Marley? Bob Marley passed out in bed with ear plugs? Yes that. Wait, Heidi’s in my kitchen and pointed out that I can’t say Bob Marley because people are going to think Brett’s “smoking reefers.”

“Maybe make a point to say that’s not why Brett’s so chill,” she suggests. “How about Brett’s Bob Marley minus the reefer?” But then Bob Marley’s not so relaxed then, is he? Let’s go with Enya. Brett is Enya. This is terrible, my analogy game is going to the dogs. Let’s just keep it simple: Brett is chill.

Me? I’m a bit more of an “AT DAWN, WE RISE!” kind of vacationer. I treat the places we visit like the people I meet: I want to know you. Not surface here’s-the-postcard-version-of-me, but your real story. What’s your history? Show me your colors, your secret coffee shops, the things you’re most proud of, the corners you keep hidden. You don’t get to know a city watching movies in a rented house. No! You get to know a city by packing up the car at dawn and driving to all the destinations—with the windows down and the wind in your hair.

I’m aware I made my vacation mode sound superior, so now I’ll give Brett’s some love to be fair: Imagine getting away from busy day-to-day life in search of peace only to be met with a busy day-to-day vacation. Plus everybody loves Bob Marley, so he totally has that.

This is the Dichotomy of Us, on vacation, in life. Early Riser marries Night Owl. Set Sail meets Anchor at the Dock. It is the death of us, it is the LIFE of us. When the chain of my Yin bike has broken because I pedaled too damn hard and fast, his Yang bike pulls up and I hop on. In case you were wondering, and since I’m a visual person–his Yang bike looks like this. Go ahead, click on it. Didn’t know biking could be so relaxing, did you? Brett would like to add that his bike also has a cooler and a big screen TV bungee-corded to the front.

“But then how are you going to see where you’re going?” I ask.
“It pops up when you stop at the park to rest,” he adds. Of course. Rest stops. I should have known.

A lengthy prologue and wayward digression from the whole point of this post–our spring break trip to Tampa.

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So how does one do a family vacation then when you mix a Sit, Stay, Sleep parent with a Go, See, Conquer one? The same way we do life–with frustration and exhaustion and do-overs but also humor and grace, meeting in the middle, and goodness, such a deepening love for the rough edges that are real life.

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Alligator reflection at Florida Aquarium. Yin and Yang, baby.

We’ve found a few things that work for us. I am a morning person and Brett loves to sleep in. On vacations, I don’t mind taking the kids out early on my own in the morning and giving Brett his quiet alone time. And we were fortunate on this trip to have my niece (my first baby love!) with us, so we did morning excursions on our own–finding the best breakfast gems hidden in the city (The Blind Tiger!), taking walks through the neighborhood (Seminole Heights, you sweet charming little chunk of earth!), scouting out the closest park.

Also, I think this is a good place to make a very important declaration. Ready? Here goes: Sweet baby Jesus, there is a doughnut in this world that will take you to other places. Unicorn places. Places that blur your vision and make you smile without knowing you’re smiling. Put Tampa Dough in your GPS and start driving there, no matter how many miles. Just drive. Order the creme brulee doughnut. Shut your eyes when you take your first bite. You will see God. Also the French Toast one is great and so is the maple bacon and okay the S’mores one too. Yes, I tried all four.

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This is what I love about traveling to places even just a little bit far away from home: my taste buds open up. I wake up a little bit more.

To new and unfamiliar….

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Magic that glows, Florida Aquarium

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But also to things I think I know…our comfortable familiar. I love viewing my family from the eyes of a tourist:

That big sister. She’s so caring. Aware. Look at her quietly take in her world. My, what a deep thinker she must be.

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So gentle and patient. An old soul, isn’t she?

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And the one with braids. An eager little learner.

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That wonder, that enthusiasm. I want that!

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Oh, and that little one.

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What a hoot. I bet he keeps his parents on their toes.
But look harder…some spirit that kid has got. My goodness, he’s going to make good use of that in the world, isn’t he?

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And would you look at that dad? He’s  got a story, I’m sure.

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Watch him talk to his kids. Now that’s a feeling. 

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Somewhere in the scope of even a short four-day vacation, I get lost and am found in the magic of the rough but also glittery edges.

The corners where We’re-Losing-It meet We’ve-Found-It.
Where I’m-Sorry kisses I-Forgive-You.
And I’m-Tired hugs I-Could-Do-This-All-Day.

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Home is a beautifully complex noun. And stepping out together with your family–anywhere–is a great way to both solidify and expand what home means.

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What I know to be true:

Home and Family are like Art: Exquisite and limitless and begging to be explored in new ways.

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Have kite, will travel. Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. 

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Tampa glitter:

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Oxford Exchange…a truly sensory experience for a meal. Shop, drop, eat, and roll.

One thing we’ve figured out: Pick one thing. An aquarium, a zoo, a park, a show, a museum. Just one big thing a day. Keep standards reasonable. Show up and be amused, entertained, inspired by the little things. Stay flexible. It also worked really well this trip to make lunch our big meal out and then stay in and cook dinner at the house we rented (first time using Airbnb–we found the sweetest deal on a family-friendly, character-filled home in a charming neighborhood). The kids did better eating out during the day, and the home environment at night was great for winding down and chill time…with Bob Marley.

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We all loved visiting the Florida Aquarium again…

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…and Glazer Children’s Museum. We stayed until closing.

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Note: I’ve become the worst mom for playing restaurant. I used to be really good at it, but now I feel compelled to say things like “Is this gluten free?” “Could you toast this a little darker?” “Are these tomatoes local?” “Is there MSG in this?” maybe because I never say those things in real life. It confuses the kids and they end up yanking the rubber sandwiches away from me and serving them to someone else. At which point I yell “ONLY TWO STARS IN MY REVIEW!” which only confuses them more.

I behaved like a proper and good mom at the indoor beach though.

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The kids’ favorites?

Most definitely the fountains next to the Children’s Museum…

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…neighborhood walks to Starbucks.

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…and spa night.

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And mama’s favorites?

Watching love.

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Dash finds dead lizards. Always. And talks to them.

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At dawn, we rise. At night, we retreat. And in the middle…we love.

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Happy Monday and Happy World Down Syndrome Day, a celebration of a journey that is really just another kind of vacation.

Discovered: Family Buried Treasure

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This post is sponsored by Legacybox.Tracking Pixel

Before social media, before digital cameras, before Instagram feeds and Snapchat accounts and phones you can whip out and record at any given notice, there were memory-preservers who took pictures of first steps and family vacations on film and tapes and–if you were anything like my family–the favorite medium…slides.  A good Friday night in our home was snuggled up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a nice crowd–cousins, grandparents, friends, people from church–it didn’t really matter. We’d sit in the dark, staring at the screen my dad rigged up from a white sheet and some clothes pins, and wait for the next click of the slide tray. What picture would be next? Click: a baby. Click: an exotic landscape from a missions trip. Click: an oldie of my grandma pulled from the archives–immediately followed by oohs and ahhs or the occasional burst of laughter. Family slide shows were a regular thing when we got together…until gradually they disappeared. Slides boxed up and put in storage. Projectors sold or given away because “who needs this thing anyway?”

This is the part of the movie where the wind blows sand over the buried treasure, scene fades and then the screen says “30 Years Later,” reopening with a modern world setting: digital girl (that’s me) holds arms open for giant toolbox-looking thing that her dad hands over. “There’s hundreds of them,” her dad says. “It will take forever to go through.” Toolbox-looking thing happens to be the Holy Grail–at least one of them our grandpa left. It’s filled with hundreds of old slides, many of them with handwritten captions my grandma scrawled on the cardboard edge: Ricky’s WeddingJapan; Florida, 1976. And if anyone understands this is the Holy Grail, it’s me. I speak fluent Memories and Family Photographs.

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I know there are stories I’ve never been told buried in these slides, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

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That’s where Legacybox comes in. They preserve any format of outdated memories, from VHS tapes to Super 8 film, digitally–so you can relive them, again and again. Legacybox sends you a kit that you fill with any formats in your collection, then send it back pre-paid. The kit includes a guide, round-trip shipping, crush proof box, and personal concierge so you can talk to an expert any time.

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And kits are organized with barcode stickers and online order tracking to ensure your memories stay safe throughout the whole process.

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Because we weren’t completely digital when Lainey was born (we were still using old video tapes), we also had videos of Lainey’s first year on little tapes that we never took the time to convert. Meaning we’ve NEVER SEEN THE VIDEOS. So I threw those in our Legacybox with the old slides and sent all those memories on the trip of their lives.

And then I waited. Because Legacybox knows memories are precious, they sent me updates on where those babies were on their entire journey.

Christmas finally came last week. The doorbell rang, with thump. The box had returned. In it? All those memories in their original form plus a stack of DVDs and this little drive.

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I plugged it in, and a whole new world opened up. My shovel hit the buried treasure.

What did I discover?

Well, for starters, I discovered where I get my fashion sense. HELLO, PATCHWORK GRANDMA, I LOVE YOU!

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I also discovered that, while both my parents were raised conservatively in the Free Methodist Church where rules included no dancing, no face cards and no “hard play” on Sundays, secretly they were rule-breaking rebels. Fist bump, Mom & Dad.

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I realized I’ve passed some pretty significant gene power to my kids. Going through the new pictures, we exclaimed all three of the following: “Oh my God, that’s Lainey!” “Whoa! That looks like Nella!” and “Holy DASH!” Decide for yourself.

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And I got to see what it looked like, falling asleep on my dad’s chest when I was nothing but a little flour sack. It looked like heaven, by the way.

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I uncovered a gold mine–beautiful photos I’ve never seen before, connections to my family, story upon story of who we are. Some of the slides I sent in were my dad’s–pictures of my parents when they were young; my mom fully pregnant, holding her suitcase on the way to the hospital; my siblings and me all dressed up for Easter Sunday (chapped lips, chapped cheeks, crooked bangs). I framed several to display in our home including a giant enlargement of the most gorgeous photo of my grandparents’ Airstream trailer in the mountains–still waiting on that one.

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My mama! 

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And Lainey’s baby videos that came back? Be still my heart. We had our modern day family slide show the other night, huddled around my computer watching video after video of a baby girl and her new parents who had really annoying baby talk. There was actually a clip of Lainey in her crib, swatting at her baby mobile, and you can hear me behind the camera say, “Someday I’m going to watch this video and she’s going to be all grown up, and I’m going to want to reach through the screen and hold this baby.”

The kids have watched the videos every day since they arrived.

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Our memories, our photos–they help tell our beautiful stories and connect us to those we love.  So whether you’re uncovering hidden stories of the past buried in film and slides and tapes or insuring that your prints have digital copies that won’t get lost, Legacybox makes it easy for you to keep life breathing through those memories.

And they’re giving the first 100 readers, who use the code KELLE, 40% off their orders today. Click here for details.