Sharing Toothbrushes & Whatnot…


Our kids – LOVE THEM

We have survived almost ten months now as a newly blended family with little to no internal friction.  A couple of small bumps in the road, but no devastating crashes.  Pretty good for having a house with two teenage boys and two pre-teen girls who live in pretty close quarters.

Who wouldn't want to hang out in this room all the time????

Who wouldn’t want to hang out in this room all the time????

I won’t say “tight quarters” because although the boys share a room and the girls share a room, they are unquestionably large rooms.  The girls have two double beds in their room and still have plenty of extra room to lounge around and watch tv or play games.  The boys have bunk beds with a sofa and coffee table set up in their room – the perfect Xbox set-up for teen boys.  So they are definitely not suffering in any sense.

They do, however, all have to share the jack & jill bathroom that is between their rooms.

Four kids. Two sinks.  That wouldn’t seem like a big deal, but it also means four kids and four toothbrushes.  Recipe for disaster… Last week one of the kids was brushing their teeth (I will be vague so no one feels like they are being made fun of).  Another child also went to brush teeth and was confused when their toothbrush wasn’t where it was supposed to be.  It was quickly realized it was because the other child was using it to brush their teeth!! Ewwwwwww.  Everyone was REALLY grossed out and I ended up having to give new toothbrushes to pretty much everyone in the house JUST IN CASE.

Four kids. One toilet.  Thankfully this hasn’t been a big deal because two of our kids leave for school just as the other two are waking up, so different wake times usually mean different potty times.  There are the occasions where I wake to hear quiet footsteps on the hardwood floors in our bedroom and see one of the kids standing near the bed with a deer in headlights expression.  I then hear the whisper, “There’s someone in our bathroom.  Can I use yours?”  We are still trying to figure out why they don’t just go downstairs to another bathroom, but whatever.

Four kids. One shower.  Fifty thousand towels.  I kid you not, THEY GO THROUGH SOME TOWELS.  We recently picked up 18 towels at one time.  18 towels between four kids.  And Joe, the obsessive laundry guy (THANK GOD), does laundry pretty much every single day, so they were towels accumulated over just a few days.  One of the kids said, “I don’t like to reuse towels because I always think someone else used the towel after me. That’s gross.”  Ironically, that was the same child who had someone else’s toothbrush in their mouth.  Nice try.


I’m a smart girl…

Being the problem solver I am, I resolved the “towel drama” by pulling out my old Bernina embroidery machine and each child now has two personalized towels to use each week.  They are responsible for hanging them up and no one is allowed to use anyone else’s towel.   It’s been working beautifully for a few weeks now!

Overall, the blended family experience for us all has been wildly successful.  Sure we have had to institute more rules in the house – with double the family, there becomes double the responsibility.  Everyone must carry their own weight, which has been a struggle for one child specifically.   We’ve instituted allowance, but rather than be happy that they now get paid in addition to the new rules, they are mad at how we “handle their money.”  Huh.  We also have more activities with four kids, so we all go to more stuff now… which again can be a major source of angst for a teenage boy who is all about his own wants and needs.  So we are working on it.  Considering it hasn’t even been a year yet, we are doing just fine. It’s constant give and take… and I know that someday the kids will realize just how good we have it.

I’m thankful for every second we have with each of them because it won’t be long before they are driving and out the door…  I may be a hot mess heap of hysteria at that time, so I will enjoy every single second of toothbrush/bathroom/towel drama until that day.  Then Joe and I will sit in our rocking chairs on the porch in New Bern looking out over the river and we will laugh remembering how much fun each and every day was with our party of six.


There Is No “Step” In My Love For Her…


I stayed up long after my family went to bed last night just so I could decorate the kitchen for Valentine’s Day.  We have been snowed in here in North Carolina since Tuesday, so I had to think of a homemade way to tell my family just how much they mean to me on this special day.


They ARE my life… nothing else matters.

I made a heart for each person in my family and I wrote all the things that I love about them.  On Joe’s, I wrote a letter telling him all of the many reasons I love him.  This is the heart I made for my daughter Crawford:


So many people have a cynical view of Valentine’s Day, but even though I have spent most of my life not celebrating it with a “Valentine,” I see it as such a joyous celebration of love and life.  It’s a day that makes me want to be even kinder to everyone I encounter – whether it be at work or Starbucks.  No matter who you are, you know that it feels good to be loved.

When my husband walked out of the bedroom this morning, I literally popped up in bed with a smile.  I can’t explain the joy I felt just knowing that he would feel loved when he walked into the kitchen and saw his heart.  I reached over and read an email telling me about the death of my friend’s husband who has been fighting cancer.

My heart fell… and it fell far.

What a juxtaposition of feelings I was feeling.  The joy of love and life.  The sadness of loss and death.  All within a few moments.  My sweet husband brought me breakfast in bed soon after and all I could do was think about my friend losing her husband… on Valentine’s Day.  It certainly set the stage for a pretty sad day.


He loves me…

It was slow moving this morning as I got ready for work.  I started letting everything bother me.  I got sad thinking about not having my daughter and son with me on Valentine’s Day.  Silly, I know.  It’s not like it’s a “major holiday,” but I was disappointed just the same. My heart was feeling very weighted down.

Then my sweet step-daughter came skipping into my bathroom and said, “Do you want to dress up with me today?”  She wanted to wear a heart bathrobe and a pink hairbow to go to work with me.  In a quick dismissal I said, “It’s a place of business, so we need to look nice.”  As she walked out of the room looking disappointed, I decided in that moment that I couldn’t let the bad news ruin my entire day.  I needed to live my day to the fullest and do whatever I could to make the day a little better for someone, ANYONE, else.

So Hattie and I headed in to work and she said, “Since I am not at school today and can’t tell all my classmates Happy Valentine’s Day, I am going to tell everyone I see Happy Valentine’s Day from this point on…”

And she did.

For the rest of the day, that sweet girl said “Happy Valentine’s Day” to EVERYONE she encountered.  One of my co-workers took her down to get cupcakes for the office and she said it to every person in the cafe (including my boss – who she didn’t know was my boss).


Yummy cupcakes from Cafe Carolina

When we left work, she spoke to every person we passed on the way to the car.  Once in the car, she yelled out the window to people on the side of the road and people pumping gas.  She said it to the homeless man sitting alone in the corner at Starbucks.  She said it to the old couple getting in their car next to us.  Here is a quick video I took:

She had said she would stop once she got to 30, but once she got to 30 she said, “You know how sometimes you have extra valentines, so you give those out too?  I’m going for the extra.”

SHE MADE MY DAY.  And not to mention she made the day of numerous people all over Raleigh.  And all by showing just a little bit of kindness and a smile.  And that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about.  It’s not about romantic love.  It’s about showing those around us love and by showing those we love just how much we love them.  THAT is what it’s all about.  It’s about making others feel good.  It’s about spending time when people. It’s about telling our family and friends WHY we love them.


My valentine for my dashingly handsome husband….

Tonight at dinner, when my step-daughter said to my husband, “We had the best day ever,” I realized just how much joy she brought to my day.  And then she looked at me and said, “I have a poem for you for Valentine’s Day: Roses are red, violets are blue, Yes I have a big smile, but you do too.”

Yes, sweet girl.  I do tonight and it is because of you…

I Love Being A Mom – Even in Winter Storm Pax


No one is playing basketball today!

This has been one of the longest weeks that I can remember… and it’s not over.

Those close to me know that I am a very anxious person at times.  It’s not something I am plagued with full-time, but often situations that are out of my control are very difficult for me to handle.  This week’s weather left so many uncertainties that I was an absolute trainwreck.

My husband was in Greensboro for work and two of my kids had to get from their mom’s house to our house and the other two had to leave our house to go to their dad’s house.  Mind you, Greensboro is about an hour and a half away and both of our exes live about thirty minutes from our house.

Add in the potential for “debilitating,” “crippling,” and “devastating” weather (thankyouverymuch for that national news) in the south and it’s a recipe for a mom meltdown.  We are just not equipped for this kind of weather – physically or emotionally – so my anxiety has been in hyper-drive.

As a mother, one of the hardest things about my divorce has been letting go of the kids when they go to their dad’s house.  It’s not that I doubt him in any way, because I know they are well taken care of and that he makes good decisions.  My problem is I am not there to hold their hands.  I’m not there to clean scrapes or kiss bruises or wipe tears away.

Now that my kids are older, that fear is more related to safety issues beyond my control.  So this week, the potential weather had me in a frenzy with all of the “what ifs.”

What if I go in to work and the kids get out of school and I can’t get home to them?  What if Joe goes to Greensboro and can’t get home to us?  What if I need to go get two of our kids from their mom and I can’t drive in the snow?  What if they are pulled on the back of the four wheeler at their dad’s and hit a tree?  What if their step-mom gets stuck in traffic taking them out to their house and they are in danger and I can’t get to them?  What if the power goes out for days and I run out of fire wood and Joe is still not home?  What if the water stops working? What if… what if… what if…

If you have anxiety, then you know that all of that was running through my head AT THE SAME TIME last night while I was trying to fall asleep.  I think it was close to 2am before my brain finally gave me a rest and I fell asleep.

I woke up this morning still feeling anxious until I got a text from Joe that he had gotten up and driven back to Raleigh at 5:15am to avoid any bad weather.  He said he was going to pick up the two kids with their mom and would be home.  I instantly felt an overwhelming sense of relief. That was a major weight off my shoulders.  I had been an absolute basket-case worrying about Joe driving back in the bad weather just one day after out 9th month as husband and wife.

Thankfully, I brought my laptop home and had my calls forwarded, so I was able to work from home and didn’t have to worry about leaving my kids alone.  That is such a blessing on days like today because I was able to work all morning in my bathrobe and know my kids were safe and not alone.

I can’t explain the peace I felt in my heart when my husband and two kids came walking in the door this morning.  It’s that amazing feeling like a part of your heart that has been missing is back.  Slowly but surely I felt peace returning in my chaotic brain.  My children were picked up by their stemom and driven out to their dad’s house.  The snow had just started and I was a keyed up mess for the entire 30 minute trip until I got the text that they were home safely.  At that point, the snow was falling steadily and hard.  The news soon after started to show people deserting their cars on snow covered roads.

My entire family was where they were supposed to be and safe, so I did what any mom would do… I took a nap.  And it was such a good one. I slept hard and woke up to a beautiful snow falling out the windows by the sofa.  What did I do next?  I mixed a little drink and took a long hot shower… and then painted my toenails.  We cooked a nice dinner and ate together as a family (minus two).

Unless you are a mother, you cannot possibly understand the realm of emotions I have felt today – fear, hope, worry, love, relief, peace.  I have hugged all four of my kids a little harder today.  I have snuggled with my husband while watching the weather. I talked to my kids earlier at their dad’s house and was relieved to hear their voices (again).  I’m so thankful that they enjoy talking to me and telling me all about their day because I just can’t get enough of them.  I hung up with an “I love you so very much” and a smile… My cup has runneth over with love today as I have dealt with my fears and seen God take over and keep everyone safe.  It was one of those days where if I could actually hear God speak, then I am pretty sure he said, “Val, chill out… I got this.”

And then just to ease my stress even more, I got the call from work that our office is closed tomorrow.   That means when I climb into bed with my handsome husband in a few minutes, I can sleep well knowing that even if the power goes out or if the ice storm really does cause damage, we are safe at home… together.

The house is quiet right now, but I am not lonely.  My husband may be asleep in his recliner and two of our kids may be snoozing away already upstairs, but my heart is happy just because being a mom has to be the scariest but most rewarding job I have ever had in my life.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

For My Teenage Sons – Lessons From Super Bowl XLVIII

Our handsome boys at our wedding...

Our handsome boys at our wedding…

Published today by the Huffington Post:

In our home, we try to teach our children through real life examples.  Rather than just tell our teenage boys not to use drugs, we talk about Lenny Bias like he’s an old friend.  Because they both love basketball, the Lenny Bias story is a human anti-drug ad that shows our boys that it only takes one time for drugs to kill you.  Whether or not it was the only time Lenny Bias used cocaine doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that our boys learn that two days after being chosen as the second overall draft pick, before he could even sign on the dotted line for his new endorsements that would make him rich beyond belief, Bias was dead.  Through his story we have taught our boys that no one is invincible and that drugs don’t discriminate.  Drugs don’t care if you are rich or poor – they kill you just the same.

The Super Bowl and the weeks leading up to the big game gave us plenty of material to discuss with the boys.  Sure there are lessons that we can all learn from the Super Bowl – lessons about being a good sport or how practice pays off.  But there were also some players in the final game that can be used as teaching tools for our teens.

1) The Richard Sherman Lesson – People will always remember the bad you do, and the good can be quickly forgotten.

The post game rant of Richard Sherman’s following the NFC Championship game quickly became news around the world.  Most of America spent the week before the Super Bowl arguing over whether Richard Sherman is or is not a “thug,” rather than speculating about the big game.

What must be explained to those who know little about football is that Richard Sherman is actually a very well-educated man.  He graduated as the Salutatorian from his high school in Compton, California and played football at Stanford.  He started “Blanket Coverage – The Richard Sherman Foundation” to get proper school supplies and adequate clothing for families in need.

Sure he has succeeded in life, but how will people remember him for years to come?  He will be remembered as that raving lunatic who looked like he wanted to push Erin Andrews.  Through this example, we hope the boys will see that “pretty is as pretty does” (my father’s favorite saying as I was growing up) and that all of the good that you do can be wiped away by just one slip of the tongue or one mistake.  Granted Richard Sherman has had a LOT of slips of the tongue over the years, but this particular example is what will be remembered forever.

As William Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”

2) The Percy Harvin Lesson – A man isn’t judged by how many times he falls, but by how many times he gets back up.

Percy Harvin had a frustrating season in the NFL.  He began the season by having hip surgery which kept him from playing in 15 of the 16 regular season games.  He came back excited to play in the post-season and suffered from a concussion after two plays in his first game.  So again, Harvin found himself on the sidelines and was probably doubting himself as a player and worrying about his future since the Seahawks had made a major investment in him.  Finally, as the Super Bowl neared, Harvin decided he was ready to play.

And boy did he ever play!  He accounted for 137 yards in his first four touches, but he will be remembered best by the opening kick-off of the second half where he ran an 87 yard return for a touchdown to put the Seahawks ahead 28-0.

If you saw that run without knowing anything about Harvin, then you would have been impressed by his lightning fast speed, but knowing that he had just recently recovered from hip surgery and a concussion makes it even sweeter.  Sure he could have doubted himself and stayed out of the game.  He could have been self-deprecating and beaten himself up for being weak.  He could have given up instead of going through intense rehabilitation for his hip.

But he didn’t.  He got back up… and he got back up wearing a Super Bowl ring.

3) The Peyton Manning Lesson – A man’s character is defined by how he treats other people, even those who can’t do anything for him.

I read a fabulous article online titled “Peyton Manning Leaves Crushing Super Bowl Loss With Reputation Intact.”  In the article, Dan Wetzel writes about how even after their terrible loss to the Seahawks, Peyton Manning was still stopping to sign autographs and talk to fans.  As Wetzel so eloquently put it, “At some point, though, at some level, what really matters about a man is how he treats people who hold no leverage over him, let alone how he treats those people in moments of tumult when it would be quite understandable if he just ignored the request.”  SO TRUE.

We want our boys to learn that it’s not how you treat people who can offer you something in return that counts.  It’s how you treat people no matter who they may be.  My father is a well-respected former judge who was the perfect model of this.  Over the years I have heard so many people say how kind he was to them, even as they stood in front of him in court.  I have always told my children that they too need to treat everybody as if they are SOMEBODY.  Peyton is an example of this and because of it his reputation is one of class and he is viewed by most with admiration and respect.

4) The Russell Wilson Lesson – You may not be the strongest, but you can work the hardest and play the smartest.

Russell Wilson was told over and over again that he was too small to play football professionally, but last Sunday he became the shortest quarterback to ever hold up the Lombardi trophy.  That’s quite a fete for someone who was the 3rd round pick in 2012.  Elizabeth Merrill wrote a great article called “The True Measure of Russell Wilson” on  In it she quoted Wilson as saying, “My faith is so strong that I believe that God made me 5’11” for a reason… For all the kids that have been told, no, that they can’t.”

He learned that attitude from his father who always encouraged him to play his hardest and to work to be the smartest player on the field.  Because my son hasn’t really started growing yet, but plays basketball with a bunch of 8th graders who look like grown men already, I constantly try to teach this lesson.  I tell my son to be the one who makes the smartest passes and to be the most prepared so if you get the chance to shoot, that you MAKE THE SHOT.  The only way you can do that is to practice/train nonstop.

For our boys, I think the Russell Wilson lesson is most definitely the most applicable right now.  He is proof that it’s not the size of the man that matters… it’s how long he practices, how hard he plays, and how smart he is about both.