Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

What message are we sending our children about the value of women?

The words we say and attitudes we hold influence our children so much!

Each week my son goes to a ninja class where he learns tumbling and parkour (think “American Ninja Warrior” for little ones). He loves it! Last week, his class with filled with all boys who were age 5 to 7. They jumped and tumbled and ran. During one of their water breaks, I heard another little boy talking with his family. He said he was tired.

The kids had just finished jumping and running over and over, so it was tiring. He wasn’t whining. The grandpa leaned over to the child, pointed to the all-female competitive cheerleading team practicing on the next mat over and asked his grandson if he wanted to go to the girls. When he said no, then the grandpa advised him to stop complaining or he’d have to.

Undermining the value of women

I bristled. It bothered me. The message he just sent his grandson is that those girls aren’t as valuable. He told his grandson that going to a group of girls is a punishment. He told his granddaughter, who was sitting right beside him, that boys only do something girls do as punishment. Boys are better. Even crazier to me is those girls were older than his grandson and a heck of a lot better at their skills of tumbling. The grandpa was undermining the value of women.

OK. So it might sound like I’m over-reacting. I don’t want to rant and rave. But, as the mother of a boy, I want to be conscious of what I’m teaching him through my attitudes and words. As the mother of a girl, I want to be conscious of what I’m teaching her through my attitudes and words.

I don’t appreciate the idea that for a boy to go into a girls’ class is punishment. And I wouldn’t appreciate it in reverse either. I am aware there are differences between boys and girls and men and women. We tend to have different strengths and such, but that doesn’t make either gender less than the other. I never want my daughter to feel she is less than a boy just because she’s a girl. I never want my son to feel superior to a girl just because he’s a boy.

What was very interesting to me is that very evening on the way home from his ninja class, my son and I had a discussion right along these lines. He wanted to know if Adam and Eve had only sons, because he’s didn’t hear about their daughters.

I explained to him that through the years, as men wrote down history, including the Bible, they didn’t take women and children into account because they didn’t think they were important. We talked about how Jesus fed the 5,000, but that 5,000 was only the number of men. He actually fed way more than 5,000. My son was incredulous that they didn’t care about women and children. How could they not, he wondered.

God’s plan for the value of women

My best answer was unfortunately that’s just how it was. I did tell him God didn’t plan it that way from the beginning. Yes, He made Adam first, but that doesn’t mean that Eve wasn’t just as important. I reminded my son that God loves all of us the same, and seeing any one of His children being treated poorly based on gender or skin color must make Him sad.

I didn’t bring up this topic. But, I did find it quite timely that my son did. He didn’t hear the grandfather’s words. I didn’t say a word about it to him. In fact, I didn’t even share it with anyone aside from a friend I met for breakfast the next morning. However, the two conversations go side-by-side.

The power of our attitudes

The grandfather didn’t tell his grandson that he was superior and girls don’t matter or aren’t as important in those exact words. Not many people would say that, especially these days.

But his attitude showed a different picture. His attitude showed that he clearly thinks women are less-than, weaker, whinier and wimpier than boys. And THAT message offends me for myself, my daughter and my son. I don’t want to raise a boy to be a man with that attitude. His father doesn’t have that attitude. His Heavenly Father certainly doesn’t have that attitude.

The words we say hold so very much power. We live in a world of political correctness where people are often chastised for the words they use, sometimes to the point of what seems ridiculous. I understand that maybe we get tired of posts just like this one. Tirades exhaust us, and we roll our eyes at what seems an over-reaction.

But until these kinds of attitudes stop and aren’t accepted, they must continue. I will stop myself from getting off on a tangent about how women are treated and perceived inside the church. In fact, I’d daresay many churches are the greatest offenders of gender equality. I want to focus instead on thinking about the hidden messages in the words we say to our children. They are soaking every last one of them up.

That little boy didn’t go home last week thinking he was better than girls directly. He did go home having absorbed some of his grandpa’s attitude about the value of women. If he is given that attitude enough times, it will fully soak in and shape his views. That is what we must do our best to change and do better than generations before us. We’ve made progress, but so much more progress needs to be made. The message we are giving our sons (and daughters!) shouldn’t be one of superiority over any one for any reason.

Beyond the vows: ‘Til death do us part

“Beyond the vows” is a series about what marriage relationships actually look like once the wedding is over and life happens. Learn more about the series and how you can share your own story here!

When my husband and I vowed to love each ’til death do us part in 1999, I was 20 and he was 22; we thought death was a long time in the future for us. It didn’t cross our minds that it would be something we’d face much sooner. A few months later, we were traveling with my husband’s family and got carbon monoxide poisoning. It was so much that we ended up going to the hospital. I have wondered if my father-in-law hadn’t woken up thinking he was having a heart attack if any of us would have survived the night. I didn’t even wake up at the commotion, and my husband practically had to drag me to fresh air.

When we got home later, a friend sent me a bouquet of flowers with a card that read, “I’m so glad you didn’t die.” While we sort of laughed at it, we also realized how blessed we were that our story didn’t end differently and the “’til death do us part” segment of our wedding vows didn’t happen before we’d even celebrated our first anniversary.

Thankfully in the years since then, we haven’t had another near-death experience. We’ve both had some surgeries and such. My husband had a minor motorcycle accident but walked away with just a fracture in his shoulder and a couple of broken ribs. Our only other encounters with death have been through the loss of family members.

But what we’ve learned the very most through these 19 years is that “’til death do us part” means that we are together for the rest of our lives. It’s already been 19 years, which both seems like forever and just a few days. We’ve done a lot of living as man and wife. We’ve had our share of disagreements, but never once have we considered splitting up or divorcing. We haven’t ever discussed anything other than death parting us.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to get into my thoughts and fears about losing my husband because he is so much my other half that I don’t want to imagine life without him, and I dread the day that might come. Those same feelings, though, give me perspective. Sometimes the little things that might annoy me or aggravate me need to be let go because they really don’t matter in the grand scheme.

One of the first times that lesson really hit home for me was on Sept. 11, 2001. We lived in the Midwest and nowhere near where any of the terror attacks happened, but I thought of all the people who said good-bye to their loved ones that morning never expecting it would be the last time they would see them. It inspired me to always say good-bye to my husband before he left for work and not leave for the day on a sour note.

In all of the years since then that lesson has stuck with me. I’m so thankful that now my husband and I get to work from home together. I only see him off in the morning for the 25 minutes it take him to drop the kids off at school. On days when he has to go into his office, I miss him a lot.

And while we do love each other and enjoy one another’s company, we do have problems that arise. We have differences of opinions. Those happen much less frequently these days than they did in the early days when we were first learning more about each other and adulthood, but disagreements happen.

To stay together until death do we part, we have had to learn how to disagree. We can’t always predict what we will feel or what will cause problems in our marriage, but we can always keep in mind how we want to disagree. We have agreed to no name-calling, no empty threats of divorce and no hitting below the belt. I know the things that can most hurt him as he knows the same for me. We have learned it’s best to never take advantage of that knowledge and bring up hurtful things during disagreements. We do our best to focus on resolving the disagreement and not winning the argument or making the other person feel bad because we are angry.

Are we perfect? No way! Do we ever get mad or irritated with each other over small stuff? Yep. We’re human. But we are also in this marriage ’til death do us part and so we find ways to compromise, apologize and move on.

My husband and I have had the blessing of growing into full-fledged adults together. We’ve changed since those early days in our small college apartment. We’ve changed since we said our vows. We have grown and matured. We have come to know one another better. I hope and pray that ’til death do us part doesn’t happen until we are both old(er) and gray(er) and have lived 50 more years together.

Learn more about the “Beyond the vows” series and how you can share your own story here!

Find other articles from this series:

Truth Tuesday: Bible verses for kids

A growing collection of Bible verses great for children

When my daughter was in kindergarten, I started sending her a note in her lunchbox every day. Now she is in third grade and her brother is in kindergarten and I am writing two lunchbox notes a day. I keep the notes simple and add on a couple of stickers and they both love them.

To help me continue to come up with content, I have gotten creative sometimes. For example, a few times I’ve sent in a serial story for my daughter that builds on itself each day of the week. Since I’ve been doing hers for longer and she can read so well, I can get more creative with her.

This growing collection of Bible verses is great for children! #Bible #BibleVerses #Truth #TruthTuesday #BibleVersesForKids #ChildrensMinistry #MemoryVerse #MemoryVerses

One of the things I started was Wacky Wednesday. Each Wednesday I send in a joke or something funny. For my daughter, I can write the joke out more now and she understands them. For our son, I keep it simple or send a funny drawing or something like that.

After my daughter spied some pre-printed Bible verse notes I’d printed out a few months ago in my lunchbox note folder, she thought having a Bible verse on her notes was a great idea. So I began Truth Tuesday. Each Tuesday now I send in a Bible verse for her. For my son, I keep it simple to say things like “God loves you and so do I” or “God is good.”

I’ve really been loving the International Children’s Bible for finding verses for the kiddos. And so with all of that said, here are some verses that I’ve done recently. I’ve found that finding verses for my daughter encourages me just as much as it does her! (These are all from the International Children’s Bible unless otherwise noted.)

1.”The Lord loves us very much, His truth is everlasting. Praise the Lord!” — Psalms 117:26

2. “This is how we know what real love is: Jesus gave his life for us. So we should give our lives for our brothers.” — 1 John 3:16

3. “Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love continues forever.” — Psalms 136:26

4. “I can do all things through Christ because he gives me strength.” — Philippians 4:13

5. “Every good action and every perfect gift is from God. These good gifts come down from the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars. God does not change like their shifting shadows.” — James 1:7

6. “Be kind and loving to each other. Forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.” — Ephesians 4:32

7. “The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus, the one who was killed on the cross. But he is not here. He has risen from death as he said he would. Come and see the place where his body was.” — Matthew 28:5-6

8. “I say this because I know what I have planned for you,” says the Lord. “I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. I plan to give you hope and a good future.” — Jeremiah 29:11

9. “But Lord, you are a God who shows mercy and is kind. You don’t become angry quickly. You have great love and faithfulness.” — Psalms 86:15

10. “We will speak the truth with love. We will grow up in every way to be like Christ, who is the head.” — Ephesians 4:15

11. “So these three things continue forever: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13:13

12. “Do for other people what you want them to do for you.” — Luke 6:31

13. “The Lord himself will go before you. He will be with you. He will not leave you or forget you. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.” — Deuteronomy 31:8

14. “This is my command: Love each other as I have loved you.” — John 15:12

15. “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad today!” — Psalms 118:24

16. “It is good and pleasant when God’s people live together in peace!” — Psalms 133:1

17. “God’s word is true. Everything he does is right. He loves what is right and fair. The Lord’s love fills the earth.” — Psalms 133:4-5

18. “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord show you his kindness. May he have mercy on you. May the Lord watch over you and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:24-26

19. “Every word of God can be trusted. He protects those who come to Him for safety.” — Proverbs 30:5

20. “The Lord your God is with you. The mighty One will save you. The Lord will be happy with you. You will rest in His love. He will sing and be joyful about you.” — Zephaniah 3:17

21. “A friend loves you all the time. A brother is always there to help you.” — Proverbs 17:17

22. “The Lord gives me strength and makes me sing. He has saved me. He is my God, and I will praise Him. He is the God of my ancestors, and I will honor Him.” — Exodus 15:2

23. “God began doing a good work in you. And He will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again.” — Philippians 1:6a

24. “I praise the Lord because He guides me. Even at night, I feel His leading. I keep the Lord before me always. Because He is close by my side I will not be hurt.” — Psalm 16:7-8

25. “Thank the Lord because He is good. His love continues forever.” — 1 Chronicles 16:34

26. “A child will be born to us. God will give a son to us. He will be responsible for leading the people. His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6

27. “Remember that I commanded you to be strong and brave. So don’t be afraid. The Lord your God will be with you everywhere you go.” — Joshua 1:9

28. “The Lord is good. He gives protection in times of trouble. He knows who trusts in Him.” — Nahum 1:7

29. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” — Matthew 5:8 (NIV)

30. “Do not worry about anything. But pray and ask God for everything you need. And when you pray, always give thanks.” — Philippians 4:6

31. “I was very worried. But you comforted me and made me happy.” – Psalm 94:19

32. “Give your worries to the Lord. He will take care of you. He will never let good people down.” — Psalm 55:22

33. “The proof of my teaching was the power that the Spirit gives. I did this so that your faith would be in God’s power, not in the wisdom of a man.” — 1 Corinthians 2:4b-5

34. “In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do. Live so that they will praise your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16

35. “Let us hold firmly to the hope that we have confessed. We can trust God to do what he promised.” – Hebrews 10:23

36. “Lord, show your love to us as we put our hope in you.” — Psalm 33:22

37. “God sent his Son to die in our place to take away our sins. That is how much God loved us, dear friends! So we also must love each other.” — 1 John 4:10b-11

38. “You are my hiding place and my shield. I trust your word.” — Psalm 119:114

39. “Yes, I am sure that nothing can separate us from the love God has for us.” — Romans 8:38a

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Peanut butter honey nut cereal clusters

An easy recipe your family will love any time of the day!

My son is obsessed with peanut butter. I send it in his lunch in some form almost daily: on bread, on flatbread, on bagel thins or with crackers to spread it on. Sometimes he likes some honey mixed in with the peanut butter for variety, because he also doesn’t like jelly.

The flavor of peanut butter and honey is so good and seems like such a treat! Those flavors combine for this super easy, super yummy, not-too-bad-for-you treat. I’ve been making these peanut butter honey nut cereal clusters for a couple of years. Every time I make them, my family gobbles them up. The last time I made them, I doubled the recipe so they would last more than a day.

I have served them for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dessert. They’re the kind of treat that I don’t feel bad about giving my kids because there isn’t a refined sugar and other bad stuff for them. It includes whole grains and protein. You can’t get much better than that — except if you can make it easily.

I would daresay this is one of the easiest recipes in my repertoire. It takes only about five minutes and doesn’t even require the oven or stovetop. I know it sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t!

Start with 1/4 cup of honey and 1 cup of peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. I use my large glass mixing bowl.

Put the bowl in the microwave and heat on high for 30 seconds. Stir and heat again for 30 seconds until the peanut and honey are melted together. (If you’re making a double batch like I did with this one, you may have to heat for another 30 seconds.) It should look like this:

Gently stir in 2 cups of honey nut Os cereal. (Clearly the name brand here is Honey Nut Cheerios, which I have found really does tend to work better than store brand just because they have less of a stale taste to them.)

Once it’s all stirred together, drop immediately in clusters of about 1 tablespoon each onto parchment paper. I used two spoons. I scooped the cereal out of the bowl with one and then used the other to help plop it onto the paper. While I use parchment paper for this, I think that wax paper or even aluminum foil would work just fine as well.

A single batch makes approximately 24, depending on how big you make your clusters them. Let the peanut butter honey nut cereal clusters cool for 30 minutes or so and they are ready to enjoy! Store them in a ziptop bag or plastic container with a lid to keep them fresh. They don’t have to be refrigerated.

Peanut butter honey nut cereal clusters


  • 1/4- cup honey
  • 1/2- cup peanut butter
  • 2 cups honey nut Os cereal


  • Put the honey and peanut butter in a microwave-safe mixing bowl.
  • Heat on high for 30 seconds. Shake around or stir a bit. Heat for another 30 seconds.
  • Stir well and then add the cereal and stir gently to coat.
  • Put small clusters out on parchment paper. Let them cool about 30 minutes and then enjoy.

Join the Families with Grace Acts of Grace challenge and receive a FREE devotion book today! In just a few minutes each day for seven days, you can focus on what giving grace looks like and how to put that grace into action.

Simple DIY resurrection eggs (FREE printable!)

Resurrection eggs perfect for toddlers through elementary aged kids that you can easily make yourself

A few years ago, I was searching for ideas to help my kids understand the meaning of Easter. They were 2 and 5 at the time. I knew the 2-year-old wouldn’t grasp too much, but the 5-year-old definitely would. So I began my search for something simple, yet effective, and discovered resurrection eggs.

Resurrection eggs were a new concept to me. They weren’t something I grew up with or had ever heard of. I did some research and learned  you can buy or make them. A lot of them were for 12 days, which seemed overwhelming to me.

Then I found a plan that used six eggs. I did some tweaking, and we gave it a try four years ago. The resurrection eggs were a hit and worked really well.

My kids are older now at 6 and 9, and they look forward to our resurrection eggs each year. I love that the eggs help us stay focused on the real reason we celebrate Easter. It is very similar to what we do with our Christmas countdown using Bible verses to tell the Christmas story. Each evening we open an egg and have the kids tell us what has been happening in the Easter story so far.

How to make the eggs

I am not one bit a crafty person, so I can assure you that these are really simple to pull off. All you need to do is buy six plastic Easter eggs. The rest of the stuff you most likely will have at home. I went with the bigger eggs rather than the small ones that we usually do for an Easter egg hunt. That’s my best suggestion, but the small ones could work, too.

After you have your eggs, label them with a permanent marker number one through six. Next print the paper of verses and cut them into slips and put them into their corresponding egg. Each slip will tell you what is needed each day. (Click the image below to open and/or download a PDF of the verses.)

Day one

Luke 22:14-15 needs bread crumbs (I put these in the day of instead of ahead of time and just pinch off pieces of sandwich bread or from a bun or whatever I have.)

Day two

John 19:17-18 needs a cross (You can also use any cross you have that will fit in the egg, including a printed picture of a cross or simply a cross shape you’ve drawn on a piece of paper. Two years ago, my dad made us wooden crosses that we can use every year.)

These are the wooden crosses my dad made for us to use two years ago. I love that he made one for each member of our family.

Day three

John 19:40 needs a strip of cloth (If you have a scrap of cloth, great! If not, I use a piece of a paper towel. It works.)

Day four

Matthew 27:59-60 needs a rock (I went outside and got one from my yard.)

Day five

Luke 24:1-3 needs nothing

Day six

Matthew 28:5-6 needs candy (You could totally use gummies or whatever your kids enjoy.)

And that’s pretty much it. You open an egg a day starting the Tuesday before Easter, and it will take you through Easter Sunday.

Looking for an even easier version?

Check out my paid version on Etsy that comes with images to cut out and put in your eggs as well. All you need are eggs!

Looking for more Easter ideas?

Letting go of the expectations of motherhood and embracing the unexpected

This post first ran on my Written Creations’ blog back in March of 2012. That was almost a year before my son was born and when my daughter was 2. I read it again last week and got choked up. While I’ve learned so very many more lessons about motherhood in the seven years since then, they all have defied my expectations. Here are my words from seven years ago with minimal editing:

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing some major cleaning in my house. It was a Saturday morning and my husband offered to help me deep clean. So we shipped the kiddo off to her grandparents’ house a few minutes away and got down to work. Thanks to my mother, I can’t clean without music cranked. Well, I can and have, but I much prefer some tunes on to rock away to. I found a purple CD. My husband had made it for me right after we were married when I was halfway through college. I had forgotten completely about it. But, it had some of my favorite songs of the time on it. I stuck it in the kitchen radio and had a great time while I was cleaning. Oh the memories that flooded back!

As I was mopping the floor, I was reflecting to myself, “Man, if that collegiate newlywed Stacey only knew how things would turn out, she’d be surprised.” Then I almost literally stopped in my tracks. When I was in college and you asked me what I wanted to do, I’d have told you that I wanted to work at a magazine and then eventually be a freelancer while I raised a family. I took a bit of a roundabout path, but it hit me I am doing exactly that. I am a freelancer. And it is great while I am raising my kiddo.

I didn’t get here how I expected I would. I thought I’d work for a magazine first. I was wrong. After being an assistant historian for a while at a museum, I quit and began freelancing full-time. It wasn’t my plan. But, it was what worked best, especially because I was barely able to leave my house for a while. My health had taken a downturn for sure. However, it jump-started my freelance career and slowly but surely I began building up a base of editors and clients. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t what I had planned, but somehow it was perfect.

My work is far from the only thing that’s different than I expected. There have been a whole slew of hard times that I didn’t see coming (who ever does?). There have been challenges. But, there has been lots of goodness. And more than any thing else in my life, motherhood has been the most unexpected.

I expected to be a mother. I very much wanted to be a mother and knew that somehow, someday I would be. My plan maybe got pushed back a few years thanks to my health and some other circumstances, but when the time was right, it was right. My husband and I agreed. The whole thing started out defying my expectations. I figured it would take a while to get pregnant. By the second month, I had a positive test.

I fully expected that my bladder wouldn’t go into remission and I’d be miserable throughout my pregnancy with IC. You know what? I did go into remission. I ate things I could never have otherwise. I even drank some — gasp — orange juice! To give you an idea of how major that is, orange juice has caused me bladder issues my entire life. I still seldom give it to my child because I feel like I’m giving her poison when I do. So, yeah, it was remission.

Then I went through labor and delivery. I had expectations of how it would go. Ha, ha, ha! Silly Stacey. It wasn’t what I expected. But, man oh man, that didn’t compare to motherhood. Holy cow! I expected it to be hard. But it was way harder than I could ever have imagined.

These feelings have been popping up recently as I’m working on an article about exclusively pumping. You see, I also had expectations that I’d breastfeed my baby. I had no grand desire to do so. I was fine with, “I’ll give it a try and see what happens.” I wanted her to have some breast milk. I liked the benefits. I liked most the one bit of information I’d found that said breast milk reduces chances for UTIs. Having suffered with my bladder like I have, that seemed like a golden ticket to me. My goal was to go for six months of nursing if I could. And if I needed to go back on my bladder medicine sooner, then I’d stop.

That first week was so freaking hard. My daughter couldn’t figure out where to put her tongue to suck effectively whether she was taking a bottle or nursing. She wasn’t getting any food and my milk was drying up faster than the Sahara Desert. I started a regime of exclusively pumping thanks to advice from my pediatrician, a lactation consultant and my sister-in-law who was three months into exclusively pumping for TRIPLETS!! (Yeah, if she could do that, who was I to complain?) I also started down a path with one complication after the next for myself. By the time my kiddo figured out what to do with her tongue it was a month and a half later. And she wasn’t going back.

I tell you all this to tell you it certainly wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t what I planned. But, it worked. By Christmas (about three months later), I had pumped every two hours for long enough that I was able to completely feed her milk without formula. I maintained that for a year! A whole entire year! It was twice as long as I had set out to do. Maybe that’s why I needed to pump. Maybe that was God’s plan. 

It wasn’t what I expected. It was hard. It was exhausting. I had times I wanted to throw that pump out the window. I HATED getting up when everyone else was asleep (including my baby) and hooking up to that machine. I hated washing the bottles. I hated washing the pump parts. I hated having to put my baby down instead of taking extra snuggle time because I had to pump.

But, at the same time I loved it.  I loved seeing those little thighs get chubby. I loved seeing her smile (once she started smiling) when she got her bottle. I loved looking deep into her eyes as I fed her. The kid never once held her bottle on her own. She was eventually fully capable, but she was just never interested. And that was OK with me. It was our time. We weren’t bonding like I had thought we might with her breastfeeding, but we were bonding nonetheless. And she was growing. And she was healthy. And she was strong. And she was beautiful. And she was perfect. And she was worth it.

I look at her now — at my vivacious 2-year-old — and I’d do it again. It was unexpected. This motherhood journey is quite unexpected. Heck, even just looking at her and seeing what I see is unexpected. Having brown hair and brown eyes and being married to a man with black hair and hazel eyes, I never dreamed I’d look at redhead with blue eyes and call her mine. Motherhood is full of surprises and the unexpected. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. And some of it just is.

I think the biggest challenge is to get over what we expected. To let go of what we had planned and just enjoy and appreciate what we have. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I had thought I was 100 percent reconciled to the fact that I ended up having to exclusively pump. I thought I had dealt with those emotions of disappointment, sadness and frustration. They’ve been bubbling up as I’m working on this article. And that’s OK. It’s a grief process sometimes to let go of what we expected from life and move on. But, that’s what we need to do. We need to move on. While we don’t want to get stuck in the past, neither should we get stuck in what we expected. I don’t think any adult on this planet would ever tell you his life turned out as he had planned. And that’s OK. If my life went exactly how I’d planned, I’d have missed out on some good things along the way. I’d have missed some lessons. And I sure as heck wouldn’t appreciate the good times nearly as much as I do for having been through the hard ones.

Anxiety, depression and spring break

A recent spring break trip sent me home with a souvenir of lessons about my anxiety and depression

A few months ago, I made my first video for my Facebook page about my struggle with anxiety and depression. I recorded it multiple times because making a video gave me anxiety (it still does!). The irony wasn’t lost on me. But that video got a decent response from folks who were glad I shared. That was my first indication that I’m not alone and sharing about my anxiety and depression may make me anxious and vulnerable, but it can help other people.

Since then, I’ve shared a few posts about anxiety and fear here on the blog like what a dog taught me about anxiety. I have a guest post about anxiety coming soon on The Mindful Mom Blographer. The proverbial cat is clearly out of the bag about my struggles with anxiety and depression.

Honestly, for years I just thought this is how I’m wired. I figured it was normal to have these thoughts and concerns or, at the very least, normal for me. I didn’t realize until more recently that the stuff going on in my head has a name: anxiety disorder. Knowing it’s an actual issue doesn’t really change anything, but does give me perspective. I can stop beating myself up so much for struggling with these thoughts. I can stop feeling like a huge failure when they win.

And all of this struck me yet again during our spring break trip last week to Florida for a visit to Disney World and Universal Florida. But it didn’t strike me in the way you might expect. Yes, I had some worries about the trip. That was to be expected. Yes, I thought a few times about how sad the story would be if on my kids’ first flight on the way to Disney World of all places our plane crashed and we all died. I pushed that from my head and didn’t voice those concerns to anyone else. Yes, I worried about losing track of the kids in the crowd just like any other parent. But, I probably focused on it a bit more than I needed to. Yes, I fretted about my son falling down the long staircase we were waiting on to board the Hogwarts Express, even though I was right behind him to catch him — or at least break his fall.

However, those things weren’t what I learned most about my anxiety. Those were normal-for-me things that I expected. And I’ve told you before how I don’t want to live life in fear of getting more hurt while doing something out of my comfort zone. My health issues of fibromyalgia and interstitial cystitis have caused me to be paranoid to do anything out of the ordinary and make my pain worse. But I knew that going into the trip. I did my best to be practical and realistic yet also not miss out on making memories with my kids.

What I learned, though, was how much anxiety’s good friend, depression, was hanging out with me. This past year or so, I would have told you that my struggle with depression was in a good place and I’m doing well. It turns out that may not be completely true. And this is where I’m going to get incredibly honest and vulnerable. I learned on my trip that I’ve been living life like I don’t have hope of the future. I’ve been living like maybe I’ll live another 10 years or so at most.

I don’t consciously think that way. In fact, having children who are 6 and 9, I am terrified I won’t live long enough to see them grown, which I desperately want. But, I haven’t necessarily been living like that is my desire. I’ve been beaten down and focusing more on getting through the present than thinking about what I want for my future.

Maybe it was the timing of the trip combined with a visit the week before to a new fibromyalgia doctor who has given me a sliver of hope that maybe I don’t have to feel like this all the time and can be proactive. (I literally got choked up in her office when she told me she thinks she can get me feeling better with tweaking my medicine and having me start physical therapy.) Maybe it was combined also with her talking to me about my weight. Maybe it was combined with realizing that my current weight is the highest it’s ever been aside from when I was pregnant. And maybe it was seeing myself — ALL of myself — in so many photos and reflections throughout the theme parks.

But for the first time in a few years, I felt like I got a good look at myself. I saw a woman about to turn 40 who stopped caring about herself. You might not know it from looking at me and seeing my face with makeup, my hair styled and my clothes halfway decent. But if you looked on the inside, you’d see a woman who didn’t think it mattered what she ate or whether she exercised, because everything was always going to hurt and there was no hope of it feeling better. On my inside, you’d see someone who had not pushed herself or tried to do better for herself because she really didn’t think she was worth it. You’d see someone who was so mad at her body and the multiple ways it has betrayed her these past few years that she didn’t really care what happened to it.

By the end of the trip, all of these things were churning through my head. When I put on my swimsuit to go swimming with the kids on our final full day in Florida, I knew it was time to live differently. My kids are now old enough that we can go and do things like theme parks and travel. I don’t have a grand desire to travel all the time; I’m a homebody. But this trip gave me hope that we can travel sometimes. It gave me hope and joy to watch my kids as they saw and experienced new things. I want to offer that to them. I want to find a way for us to take a big trip every couple of years.

I can’t guarantee that I will always be physically up to walking around in a theme park all day. I managed it this time, but barely. By the end of each day, I was hobbling out to the car with aching hips. But, I’ve realized I can actually do my best to feel well. I can try. And that is how I know that my good friend depression is being pushed away. Because now I feel more hopeful and purposeful moving forward. I’ve realize that turning 40 in May isn’t all that old. I realize that maybe I don’t have to just accept that I’m old and everything hurts. Maybe there is something I can do.

Don’t get me wrong. I am also realistic. I know that I have these chronic pain issues, and they aren’t going to go away. My body will never be pain free. But, maybe it can be better. At the very least, I can make an effort to be in the best health I can be in so that I can have adventures with my kids. I want to be able to do more than just take care of them, which was my goal and desire for a few years when that was a struggle. Now that I’ve attained that goal, it’s time to get to work. It’s time to stop listening to the voice in my head that tells me I’m not worth it and I will never get better no matter what I do. It’s time to try. Just try. Maybe my quality of life can be even better. And maybe it won’t get better, but I’ll at least know I’ve done everything I can.

That hope of maybe feeling better is what gets to me most. It’s why I choked up in my new doctor’s office. The doctor viewed me as a woman who was struggling with pain and being out of shape. I viewed me as a woman who is feeling the best she has in a couple of years. Both pictures are accurate, though. While I am feeling the best I have in a couple of years, I am now seeing there is hope that it could be better.

I wish I could say that having hope and joy always win over anxiety and depression. They don’t. I trust God. I cling to Him. I fall at His feet. And I have to do it over and over again, because the struggle is very real. I take medicine to help me manage. I’ve learned tricks and techniques to help myself with my anxiety and depression. But they are always lurking in the background. They are waiting to get me down. Many times I let them. But after last week, I feel a renewed desire to fight back. I feel a renewed desire to be proactive and not settle.

I want to do it for myself, but I want to do it for my children even more. They deserve a mom who can fearlessly adventure with them. I won’t always be that mom, but for their sake and mine, I need to move forward and really try.

15 things to know before going to Disney World and Universal Florida

The Internet is filled with loads of posts about how to get the most out of your Disney World and Universal Florida vacations. I know because I read many of them when my husband and I decided to take our kids on their first flying trip to Florida for spring break last week! I’m not going to give you a comprehensive, everything-you-need-to-know list of tips, but I do have some lessons I learned last week that I think could help you as plan!

Disney World

I am going to start here for two reasons. First, I see the most posts about Disney World. And second, it’s the first place we started! I have read lots of posts from folks who seem to have drunk some sort of Disney Kool-Aid and think it’s incredibly magical. Of course, they could also be an affiliate of Disney. Neither of those things apply to me! I enjoyed our time at Disney and don’t regret going, but Magic Kingdom was my least favorite park of all the parks we visited.

While I had been to Disney World as a child, my last trip there was 30 years ago when I was 9. My husband and kids, who are 6 and 9, had never been there. Our original plan was to get a 5-day pass for Disney and spend the whole week at Disney parks since they have so many of them: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.

Know what is at Disney — and what isn’t.
We prepared ourselves with ideas of what we wanted to do. I checked websites and talked to friends who had been there. We started reading the first “Harry Potter” book to our kids to prepare. And that’s where the problem started. Harry Potter isn’t at any of the Disney parks. Then we realized that though Disney owns Marvel Studios, it doesn’t have the rights to Marvel for rides and such.

Both Harry Potter and Marvel are part of Universal Studios Florida, which is not only separate from Disney World but is a direct competitor. As we looked at Universal, we realized our kids know a whole lot more Universal characters than Disney ones. With Harry Potter, Marvel Superheroes, Jurassic Park, Transformers, Dr. Seuss, Minions and more, we knew that Universal Studios needed to be on our to-do list. So our plans shifted. I was literally within a day of buying our 5-day Disney tickets when I realized this. I’m glad I did before we spent money on non-refundable tickets and weren’t able to do half of what we were looking forward to.

Think about food.
There were two things I’d read most about food at the Disney parks. One was that if you wanted a sit-down restaurant or character dinner, you had to book months in advance (and MAYBE sign away rights to your oldest child). I didn’t worry about that so much because a sit-down dinner wasn’t something we were interested in. A character dinner sounded fun (especially at the Be Our Guest restaurant since I’m a HUGE fan of “Beauty and the Beast”), but I realized we were going to want to spend more time in the park since we only allotted two days for Disney.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the lack of other food. I assumed that like most theme parks I’d been to that Disney would have various stations of quick foods to grab in between rides. I also assumed that since it is a place that caters to kids that it would have plenty of kid friendly foods. I was wrong. We were disappointed in Magic Kingdom. We checked menus through the Disney App and found that there weren’t many grab-and-go options available anywhere unless we wanted just a Mickey ice-cream for lunch. We ended up tracking down an OK and over-priced lunch. Over-priced I expected, though. I mean, it’s a theme park! We struggled for dinner even more and ended up with sweets at the highly over-priced Gaston’s Tavern. (I kinda hated to support Gaston…)

Does good food for families exist at Magic Kingdom? I’m sure it does based on what I’ve read online, but I didn’t find it readily available where we were at any time for lunch or dinner. So definitely do research and decide where you’d like to eat then plan your day around that. Seriously. Magic Kingdom is large and so busy that you can’t walk across it to get to dinner and then return to where you were. You can also bring along your own food. While we talked about doing so, we decided not to because we didn’t want to bring a backpack, but I totally wished we had!

I will say we had much better luck at Epcot, which was the other Disney park we visited, but I also had to scope it out ahead of time and plan our day around it. I was up at 6 a.m. that day reading menus on the Disney app.

Decide on bringing a bag.
There are lots of people with backpacks at Disney parks. I found lists ahead of time of all the things you can or should bring with you to Disney. We were on the fence about it and then decided to forego bringing a bag. Here’s what I will say, if we still had a kid in a stroller, I’d totally take a backpack of stuff! But, we don’t. I didn’t want to take my purse because thanks to my fibro, no matter how light it is, it hurts my shoulder by the end of the day.

So, we figured out our essentials and were able to fit them in our pockets. My husband in charge of cash since he carries cash in his pocket anyway. He also carried a small tube of sunscreen that we used for touch-ups throughout the days as needed. My pockets contained my cell phone, ponytail holder, small pill container with meds I needed and lipstick.

My parents were with us, and my mom brought a small purse. She had hand cleaner for all of us, so I didn’t worry about that, but I also had individually wrapped handi-wipes that fit in my pocket, too. BUT, her purse did teach us one thing about security. There are different lines based on whether you have a bag or not. If you do have a party member with a bag, once the bag is checked, you all get through without having to go through the metal detectors. It actually made security go a bit quicker for us since there were six of us.

Go to Epcot.
We had two days. I figured we would spend them both at Magic Kingdom or maybe the second one at Animal Kingdom. But my 9-year-old daughter surprised both my husband and me with how much she wanted to go to the “Frozen” section at Epcot. She’d be sad if she didn’t get to go, in fact. We looked at Epcot and its rides. We debated back and forth just a bit, but of course we gave in. Because she’s 9 and chances are the next time we take her to Disney she won’t be into princesses. Then a friend told me that Epcot was totally worth it and wasn’t what I remembered as boring from my own childhood.

I am so glad we went. It was my favorite of the two Disney parks we visited! Epcot wasn’t as packed. It offered more places to sit and had stellar rides. I loved almost every single one of them — seriously! The only ride I didn’t enjoy was Mission Mars, because despite my instincts telling me to go for the less intense mission, I went with the harder one and didn’t feel great for a short time afterward. And I highly recommend the Soarin’ ride. It was phenomenal for everyone from my 6-year-old to my parents!

“Frozen” did have a super long wait for the ride, but we had a Fast Pass for it, which was nice other than missing out on some of the scenery in the wait line. My biggest regret for Epcot is that we didn’t have time to go all the way through the various countries.

Beware that not all character experiences are created equal.
While I knew a character dinner wasn’t going to fit into our time for the Disney parks (and I hadn’t started planning six months ahead), I did want to have some character interaction.

I got us a Fast Pass at Magic Kingdom for StoryTime with Belle, because it seemed to be filling up and I love Belle. LOVE Belle! But, it was disappointing to me. My kids enjoyed it, because it was 100 percent focused on kids. But we got very little time with Belle and no photo opps for the adults, only for the kids.

The kids were separated from us a bit for this as well, which I didn’t like because part of the fun of Disney is seeing their faces light up. The other thing to know is that the story time offers various roles to re-enact the stories, but not all kids get chosen for much. Long story short, it wasn’t so worth it and I regret using a Fast Pass for it.

However, it was our best way to see a character at Magic Kingdom. We didn’t see any characters walking around in the actual parks, which I thought they might do. Of course, they could totally do that and we just missed them. But of the two days at Disney parks we didn’t see that happen.

We did one other character experience, though, and that was at Epcot. It was great! We had photo opportunities with Mickey, Minnie and Goofy. We were able to take photos of just the two kids, of the four of us and with my parents as well. My parents also did photos just the two of them. And we got one priceless one of my dad kissing Minnie Mouse on the cheek! We had a 20-minute wait for that, and it was definitely worth it. I also appreciated that the photographers were more than willing to take a photo for you with your phone so you didn’t have to rely just on paying for the Disney photos.

Consider Magic Bands.
Since we didn’t stay on a Disney property Magic Bands weren’t included for us. We debated about whether they were worth it for $15 each for the plain ones. In the end, we decided to get them and I did like them. It made getting into the parks a breeze as well as the Fast Passes. You could totally do it with tickets, but the bands really did work well. I was almost disappointed that we didn’t have something similar for Universal. And my kids thought getting to wear them was super cool!

The Magic Bands also let us have most photos sent automatically to our account so we could decide whether to buy them. We didn’t do the $200 photo pass for Disney. But, you can opt to spend $80 for a day’s worth of photos or order products with the photos on them to get whether you get any of the access.

Along with photos there were a couple of experiences that worked in the Magic Bands. The end of It’s a Small World featured our names thanks to them and so did a ride at Epcot. Pretty cool!

Universal Studios Florida

Plan ahead where you can.
There are a couple of big differences between Universal and Disney. First is that the two main parks we went to (we didn’t go to Volcano Bay, which is a water park) are close to each other. I didn’t pay for a Park Hopper at Disney, but I did for Universal and don’t regret it. If you want to ride on the Hogwarts Express, you have to have a multi-park in the same day ticket, because it takes you from one park to the other. That was our main reason for getting those tickets, but it worked well because the Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are so close together. Islands of Adventure includes the Marvel superheroes. Both parks include Harry Potter experiences.

But unlike Disney, Universal doesn’t automatically offer a Fast Pass system. Its Express Pass costs around $100 per day per ticket. If you stay on their properties, it’s included free, but we didn’t stay on their properties. Express Pass works on any ride at any time, though, so its flexibility would be nice.

If you don’t have Express Pass (and we didn’t because the cost was pretty substantial), you need to know what rides have long waits and head there early. The two days we were at Universal seemed pretty slow in the mornings. Not so slow that there was no wait, but definitely it worked best to be there early and head to popular attractions first like Escape from Gringotts and even Olivanders.

Find characters everywhere.
Another notable difference at Universal is that we ran into characters all the time. The first day we started with Islands of Adventures and got to meet Spider-man. Listen, I love Spider-man as much as I love Belle and I was pleased that Spidey was so nice and chatted with my son and then was happy to do a photo with me. He even laughed when my son told him that I love him more than my son does. I had a total fan girl moment.

Look! It’s Spidey and me! Heart be still!

But Spider-man wasn’t just it. In the superhero area, every half hour or so, the superheroes take to the streets and you can spy Spider-man, Wolverine, Storm and Cyclops (or at least that’s who was there the two days we were). The lines to have your photo taken with them are pretty short as well.

And it isn’t only superheroes who are readily available. We saw characters from Madagascar, Transformers, Harry Potter and more I know I’m forgetting.

The photo package is worth it.
Because there were so many character photo opportunities, we decided to get the photo package for Universal. For $100, you get a photo pass that lasts for three days, which is half the price of Disney’s. You get a lanyard to wear and every photographer that spies it asks to take your photo. We got some good photos this way and I’m glad we did it!

The Universal photo package resulted in this photo of my husband and me at Hogsmeade. You can see the photo lanyard around my neck.

I will add that the downside to the Universal photo package is that since Universal doesn’t do something like a Magic Band then you have to have your photo card on your lanyard scanned in order to have the photos in your account. That means after rides with photos you have to stop by the photo kiosk at the end and such. But it really wasn’t cumbersome or inconvenient.

The other downside is that the photos require a separate app from the park’s app. But, again, that didn’t bother me.

Skip the character dinner.
While Disney has a multitude of character dinners, Universal only offers a superhero one. We were super excited about it and forked over $50 a person to do so. We arrived to find the dinner had been canceled and we hadn’t been notified. Talk about disappointing! We got a refund. They offered for us to come the next night, but we weren’t going to be at the park that day.

However, I’d skip the character dinner anyway because the characters are so readily available in the park for photo opps. Having more time with them at the dinner would be nice, but if it doesn’t work out or isn’t in the budget, at least you will get a chance to see them.

Enjoy a wider variety of food.
Universal did better with food. There were lots of different and quick options that were more like what I expected from a theme park. We didn’t have trouble finding places to eat in the parks. Even better, we also didn’t have trouble finding somewhere to sit to eat either.

Just outside the parks is Universal’s CityWalk, which is like an outdoor mall. There are stores and restaurants. Those restaurants can be pretty full in the evenings, but not too bad as we found when we had to go to plan B after our character dinner was canceled.

General tips

Downsize your stuff, including your wallet.
We tried to not carry more with us than necessary. For me that meant cleaning out even my wallet before we left home. My library cards and store credit cards weren’t going to be needed on our trip. I took along my debit card, credit card, driver’s license and health insurance cards. (And I’m glad I had the health insurance cards since my daughter came down with strep throat halfway through our trip and needed to make a trip to Walgreens’ Minute Clinic!)

Get prepaid credit cards for the kids.
Our kids each had spending money for our trip. They had been given some from us and from other relatives and they also had some money saved from Christmas gifts that they used. To make life easier and avoid having to keep track of cash envelopes for both of them, we bought prepaid credit cards for each of them. I wrote their name in a Sharpie on the front of their cards and affixed a Minnie Mouse sticker for my daughter and Mickey Mouse sticker for my son so they’d be even easier to tell apart. We kept track of their balance on my husband’s phone. Calling to check the card balance was easy to double-check our math and make sure we hadn’t missed a receipt. It worked incredibly well.

We considered getting a Disney card, but the kids ended up with a decent amount of spending money and having the prepaid Visa let them use it anywhere we were.

Check toy prices.
While my kids were thrilled to have their own spending money for our trip, their idea of souvenirs was toys more often than not. My husband and I were OK with that and helped them decide how to best use their money. We expected a price markup in the parks and surrounding areas, but some things were crazy. For example, my son found a Jurassic World toy he wanted. It was twice as much inside Universal’s park as it was on Amazon. So we opted to order it from Amazon. And it gave him something to look forward to coming home.

Stop by those cheap souvenir stores.
On our very last day we stopped by a souvenir store with a giant wizard statue on it. I wish we would have gone sooner in the week. While it advertised T-shirts for ridiculously low prices, it also had some decent finds. We got some cool souvenirs there that were nice. I found a tote bag I loved for only $8 and picked up a sweatshirt for $20, which was less than half anything I’d seen at either park and I liked them both better than anything I’d seen.

Beyond the vows: For better or for worse

“Beyond the vows” is a new series about what marriage relationships actually look like once the wedding is over and life happens. Learn more about the series and how you can share your own story here!

Melissa, from Momma Melissa’s Musings, is sharing her story of being married for better or for worse for the “Beyond the vows” series. You’re going to be inspired by her story!

When my husband and I got married we had the dreams that most newly married couples do, I guess. We wanted it to just be the two of us for a little while and then we would start our family. I wanted five kids, and he was willing to give me what I wanted. Then we would raise our children and grow old together as we served the Lord in the ministry. 

Little did we know the trouble that we would have along the way. When you are planning and envisioning your life, you don’t really envision the rough times. You think everything will go just like you plan it. When we said “for better or for worse,” I am not sure we were picturing what it would actually take to see our plans come to fruition, but God knew. God knew what we would go through and everything happens for a reason and in God’s timing. 

About a year and a half to two years into our marriage, we decided that we wanted to start a family. Well, months went by with no pregnancy and we both started to get discouraged so I went to the doctor. Turns out I have polycystic ovarian syndrome and a thyroid disorder, so I was put on the proper medication and told we could keep trying. As each month passed, hope faded. We dealt with a lot of anxiety and worry that it would never happen.

Finally, after nearly two years of trying, we found out in November 2010 that I was expecting our first baby. We imagined all the things that parents-to-be imagine. We dreamed about what that child would do, who they would be and what kind of impact they would have on our lives. We planned out the perfect way to tell our parents and extended family. Everyone was so overjoyed and celebrated with us and dreamed those dreams with us.

That is when it happened. That is when we experienced “for worse.” The loss I felt was so great. The loss of a child, the loss of the hopes and dreams, the loss of memories that we would have made. I kind of collapsed into myself a bit, but my husband wouldn’t let me collapse too far. He wouldn’t let me cry by myself. He didn’t want me feeling alone, even though sometimes I felt alone when I was with an entire group of people.

I went through times of depression, anxiety and worry that we would not conceive again and we would never be able to realize our dream of being parents. My husband encouraged me to talk these feelings over with him and let him grieve with me. He was my rock. Even though this was definitely “for worse,” keeping God at the center of our marriage, we were able to become stronger together. We clung to His promise in His word that He would not leave us or forsake us and the hope we had of one day seeing that baby.

As more months went by and our due date came and went, the hope of a new pregnancy was fading. I had nearly given up on God when a visiting preacher preached a message on the persistent prayer. I was so convicted that I began praying anew and with a new spirit, all the while understanding that I don’t know the mind of God. His answer could be “no,” but it could also be “not now.”

Two weeks later we found out we were expecting our Rainbow baby. That pregnancy was filled with anxiety and worry and many ultrasounds and checking on the baby. We clung to each other for strength as we both clung to the Savior. The moment we welcomed our first child into the world was definitely “for better.”

The Lord has blessed us with three miracle babies that the doctors weren’t sure we would ever have, but God knew. He knew all the “for better” and the “for worse” that we would ever have and ever will have. I am sure there will be many more of these times in our lives, but with the Lord’s help we can make it through them all together!

Melissa is a stay at home wife to a husband who is in full time ministry. She has three beautiful children who are 6, 4 and 3 years old. In her free time, if she gets any, she loves to craft, shop and spend time with her family. You can find more about Melissa on her blog, Momma Melissa’s Musings.

Learn more about the “Beyond the vows” series and how you can share your own story here!

Find other articles from this series:

The one hack you need to make a brownie box mix so fudgy good!

One simple tweak to a brownie box mix makes all the difference!

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This hack is super easy to make brownie box mixes so fudgy and delicious. When everyone asks for the recipe, it's up to you whether to share the hack! #Baking #BrownieBoxMix #Brownies #Fudgy #Hack #Yummy

About 20 years ago, I discovered a hack to make box mix brownies so good and fudgy that it doesn’t even matter what brand of box mix you buy. My brownies are one of my most requested desserts to bring places. I am almost ashamed at how easy they are to make!

I start with a brownie box mix and make it up according to the directions on the box. Any size works for this recipe, but I will say if the box says it will fit in a 9×11 pan, go with that size.

If you use a smaller pan, the brownies wouldn’t be as fudgy since they would be thicker. Having a bit thinner brownie gives you more fudginess!

Then follow the directions on the brownie mix to. Stir the batter, and put it in your pan.

I highly recommend the Rachael Ray bakeware. It is nonstick and my absolute favorite bakeware I’ve ever used.

This is where the brownie hack happens. Are you ready for it? Grab your bottle of chocolate syrup out of the fridge — the kind you put on ice cream or use to make chocolate milk — and swirl it over the top of the brownie batter in the pan.

Check out the baking time on the brownie box mix. Set your oven timer for 3-5 minutes prior to the shortest time given. Check your brownies then to see if they are done.

I always test my brownies by sticking a toothpick into the center and seeing if it comes out clean. If so, they’re done. If it is still goopy, bake the brownies a few minutes longer and check again. Feast your eyes on this gorgeous fudgy-ness! (Is that a word? I don’t even care!)

And that’s it. Once the brownies have cooled, they are ready to cut. If you are going to stack them on a plate, give them PLENTY of time to cool. Otherwise, they meld into one giant fudgy uni-brownie. Trust me, I speak from experience!

Look at those lines of fudgy goodness!

Also, check out this pan. Nothing sticks to the Rachael Ray bakeware! I did spray it with a light spritz of non-stick cooking spray, because I’ve used mine so much they need a bit of help, but this Rachael Ray cake pan is my all-time favorite. I LOVE it!

Because these brownies are so fudgy, they don’t need to be frosted. And they are usually best eaten with a fork or spoon!

I promise you people will ask for your brownie recipe. I’ll leave it up to you if you want to share this hack with them!

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