Monday, March 5, 2018

Surviving Incredible Tragedy and Near Death

Have you ever had a loved one miraculously survived an incredible tragedy?
Have you ever escaped your own near-death experience?

In 2017, I had the unfortunate privilege of experiencing both. It was horrifying. It was tragic and terrifying. And I hope I make the most of what life I'm meant to live.

It's hard to believe that just a year ago, here I was posting about nearly losing my mom, and nearly every family member I have living in Ashland, KS.  It really is hard to find the words to describe what it is like to almost lose your family, for individual incidents related to the same fire - but in different locations, for different reasons, and even for fallout after the disaster. If you didn't read my post about the Starbuck Fire that affected TX, OK, and KS last March - you can read it HERE.

One year later, I still can't believe I almost lost multiple people I love from multiple family units.

Today I got the calls that once again, nearly a year to the day - they are fighting fires again. These are MUCH closer in proximity, which means flare ups are also close in proximity. It means none of them are sleeping, because they are fearful about missing the fire sirens to evacuate. Their PTSD is rearing its ugly head, as is mine. That helpless feelings, that constant fear that once of them won't ever return my call again, that they will suffer loss on top of their current loss. The whole darn state of Kansas is under high threat of fire outbreak - it's super dry, and the winds are high. All of us are on edge. And I don't know when it's going to be over.

Pictures from today's fire:

Back when all of this was happening in March 2017, I couldn't see what was coming next, nor could I have imagined it.

And later that summer, I would become a survivor in my own right. An ovarian torsion had me in so much pain, I desperately sought ER treatment, only to be released and sent home... TO DIE.

I am "lucky" I have had previous experience advocating for my son's health and treatment. Because unlike a few friends of mine who have suffered from an ovarian torsion - they eventually ended up in septic comas and almost died. ER doctors are not trained in how to look for an ovarian torsion - a pain quite similar to a burst appendix, with similar but not as extreme clinical presentations.

I don't know why my ER doctor didn't take the clinical presentations and lab results and give them proper consideration for a hospital admission. I'm grateful I have doctor friends I could take my questions to - who urged me to go see my Primary Care Physician and get a second opinion - it might be one of the only reasons I'm still here. What I do know, is in that week I was in-patient, and the following week or so - is that I was diagnosed with several, life-threatening medical conditions that would require 8 medical procedures and 3 surgeons to address everything going on. After another stint in the ICU, they confirmed that due to my sensitivities to medication and medical history, I will ALWAYS need at least an overnight in the ICU following any medical procedure. (If you wanted to read everything that was bubbling up inside of me and presenting all at once, you can read about it HERE.

These are things you just don't know until you are on the brink of life and death... again. When I had given birth to my son, I had also ended up in the ICU because according to my anesthetist friend, I was not "breathing enough to support life." OK, if you say so. I always feel fine, LOL.

So 2017 was probably the most scary one in my life to date. The things I can actually control, I am taking action on. The things I cannot control - well all i can do is pray, and keep tabs on my loved ones.

Don't take your life for granted, or the lives of those you love. Love more, serve others more, share your feelings with those you care about more. Be less negative, less selfish, and spend your time doing the things that matter the most and with the people you care about the most.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Out of the ASHland will rise

Photo credit: Bo Rader, Wichita Eagle

My family has suffered and extremely tragic week. If you haven't seen it on the news, Ashland, KS and surrounding towns near Dodge City & Hutchinson, KS and Beaver, OK are all still on fire, 5 days after they began. Farmers and ranchers have lost over 800,000 acres of land, property, livestock and crops.

Perhaps the scariest moment I personally experienced, not being there with my family who reside in the Ashland/Dodge City area - was when I was trying to reach my mother as she was evacuating, and she would not answer her phone. I was able to reach my stepdad, Tom (I just call him dad), who told me he sent her the wrong direction South, not realizing the fires were coming up from that direction too. He told me that he was just on the phone with her, and flames were surrounding her. That fire was on both sides of the road. Her visibility was zero and she couldn't talk on the phone because she needed to focus on just getting out of the flames she was now surrounded by.

As a parent, do you remember what it was like getting a phone call that your child was sick or had been hurt? Your gut usually tells you how serious it is, and you know whether or not to be upset or panicked. When I was on the phone with my dad, my gut and heart just sank.

My nerdy brain knows that people die in fires, and not just because they burn up. The fire steals all the oxygen in the air, and carbon monoxide can silently consume you. People die from smoke inhalation. Towards the end of our conversation, I could no longer keep my composure. I had to get off the phone with my dad because he too was not yet safe. He was in fields near the fires refusing to evacuate to the shelter a few towns away. I knew he had to keep it together so he could get through everything happening. I have been in his shoes through 3 hurricanes and a flood. You don't have time for anything except survival in this situation. There is no time to be emotional.

I called my sister, Shala, whose family was evacuating to the shelter. She was supposed to meet my mom at the corner near the Sitka grain elevator. When she told me that she wasn't there, and they went on down the road assuming she had already gone on to the shelter. At this point, I may have become a bit more hysterical. I knew my mom was NOT OK. I felt the fear in my gut.

30 minutes later, my mom finally called me. I could hear in her voice she was shaken. I was SO relieved to hear her voice, but on the inside I was crying out to God, thanking him for sparing my mother. I knew she had survived by a miracle.

I wanted to curl up in a ball and just cry about all the thoughts that I could have lost her and what that would have been like. I was grateful I had somewhere to be that night, so that I wouldn't stew in the "what could have been's". I needed distraction.

I knew at that moment my step-brother Shane and wife Jenny's family had evacuated and made it to friends. I knew my family were all SAFE. And I could at least breathe a prayer of thanks and relief for that. So instead of stewing over the anxiety of wondering if any of them would lose their homes, businesses, livestock, livelihoods - I went to be with friends. I was still in shock over most of it, so I wasn't a total mess... yet.

I called my sister on my way home. She let me know how everyone was doing, but that Shane and Jenny had probably lost their home. I think I cried all the way home. We spend a lot of time with Shane and Jenny when we come home. My husband enjoys his guy time with Shane, and Jenny is just like a sister to me. She is one of the most generous people I have met. She makes soup and sandwiches to serve at every blood drive in town, she organizes VBS for her church, she leads fundraising events for the local early learning center and daycare in town. To think that this was someone who had lost everything, it just doesn't seem fair.

Photo credit: Bo Rader, Wichita Eagle

My sister Shala's family and my mother would be spending the night in the shelter at Coldwater High School. I cried thinking they had no other option, and they evacuated with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Hurricanes and floods are different like that - we get notice, we have time to plan. With wildfire, you don't get that luxury.

I spoke with my sister the next morning as they were being released from the shelter and were allowed to return to town. For now, the town was safe. My mom and sister's homes are in town. They were put on notice that they could evacuate again, to keep their vehicles packed and ready. Shala had gone to see my mom at work after they got back. My mom asked if she had seen the scorch, the burned areas my mom was trapped in the night before. Mom had experienced something very traumatic, knowing how harrowing it all was - that she was lucky to have made it out. They embraced in a way that perhaps neither had before. Death had been cheated.

Photo credit: Bo Rader, Wichita Eagle.
This is the the area where my mom became surrounded by the fire.

I talked Jenny briefly the next morning, and we cried together about their loss. And at least she let me know they were clothed, fed and had shelter. Her parents' home had somehow survived! The next day they would do the only thing they could - focus on clearing the dead livestock and try to regroup as best they can. This week would be focused on cleaning up and assessing damage. On their family ranch (of 30,000 acres) they estimated around 2500 cattle were lost. It would take some time to bury them and assess loss.

As the fires still burned, my dad still didn't know if his livestock had made it. Same for Shane who had livestock in the same area. So on the second night, my mother would let my dad sleep and keep watch. Tom has breathing problems and all the smoke he took in had taken a toll on his body. Mom was still shaken, and I think she was afraid to sleep - afraid to not wake to an evacuation order or phone call, afraid to once be caught again amid the burning flames. Earlier that day I had seen pictures from where my mom was trapped. It was a true miracle she made it out. I got chest pains seeing the pictures of where she was. It was like seeing horrific accident pictures of a mangled car, where your loved one survived. You can truly appreciate the miracle bestowed upon your survivor.

Wednesday, my sister had gone to check on my mom and dad. She stopped a moment to look at my mom's truck. She called me later to tell me that she has no idea how her tires didn't pop. That asphalt was so hot it had melted to her tires. God's angels were certainly watching over her that night. My dad and stepbrother were finally able to see if any of their livestock survive. By another miracle, they had gathered to eat on smaller patches of grass that somehow did not burn! Only one cow was lost.

By Friday night, my dad would be in the hospital, suffering from respiratory issues. And by Saturday a heart issue has been discovered. We are hoping he will return home on the mend very soon, provided the meds do their job. Mom needs a doctor too, as she was struggling with respiratory illness prior to the fires, but now she will focus on my dad and put her needs aside. I'm hoping they are both able to get the medical advice they both need, and the medicines to heal their bodies, now ravaged by exhaustion and other things.

Here in Louisiana, we know first hand post-flood, that recovery is a marathon. That this will take six months to two years to recover and restore only part of what was lost. The ranching community is one of grit and strength. By helping one another, they will get through this. Their community, their land, their lives - they will rise out of the ASHES and live again. They will rise to the occasion of helping thy neighbor. By remaining #AshlandStrong, they will find their road back to a new normal.

Photo credit: Denise Cleckler

I wanted to share with you a note I sent to my family. I hope it offers anyone reading the same encouragement I hope to offer them as they recover.

Friends and loved ones –

When this disaster began, I immediately thought of the song I used to sing my medically fragile son to sleep by, “Be Not Afraid.” Since here in Louisiana we flooded in August, this song immediately came to mind. Here are some lyrics to offer possibly some of the same comfort it provides me:

You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst. 

You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way. 

You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand. 

You shall see the face of God and live. 

Be not afraid.
I go before you always;
Come follow me,
and I will give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown. 

If you walk amid the burning flames, you shall not be harmed. 

If you stand before the pow'r of hell and death is at your side, 

know that I am with you through it all. 

Be not afraid.
I go before you always;
Come follow me,
and I will give you rest. 

Blessed are your poor, for the kingdom shall be theirs. 

Blest are you that weep and mourn, for one day you shall laugh. 

And if wicked men insult and hate you all because of me, 
blessed, blessed are you! 

Be not afraid.
I go before you always;
Come follow me,
and I will give you rest.

Here are some scripture verses that I have found comfort in through this situation, and I hope that they bring you some encouragement too:

“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭1:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.””
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭12:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭41:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭42:16‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭61:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.””
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭17:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.””
‭‭Nehemiah‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.””
‭‭1 Samuel‬ ‭28:13‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?””
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭13:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭1:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬ (For survivors not affected, and friends who will support recovery)

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭1:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬‬‬‬‬

“Then David continued, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the LORD is finished correctly.”
‭‭1 Chronicles‬ ‭28:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬‬‬‬‬

“But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.””
‭‭Mark‬ ‭5:36‬ ‭NLT‬‬‬‬‬‬

“So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭10:31‬ ‭NLT‬‬‬‬‬‬

“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭12:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬‬‬‬‬

We love you, your community and neighbors love you. Don’t be afraid to accept the help when it comes. This will be a MARATHON recovery. The enthusiasm of strangers and even family will eventually taper off, and you will still be in recovery – so please accept the blessings people bestow upon you while they are willing. You will be blessing those you allow to show you kindness.

Much love from Louisiana. Out of the ASHland will rise… stay #AshlandStrong.

Kodi L. Wilson

Photo credit: Bo Rader, Wichita Eagle

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Christian Conundrum: Politics and Pro-Life

I am a momma bear to a special boy with extraordinary medical needs. I am fiercely loyal and protective of those I love and care about. And that's how I became an advocate for the special needs community too, speaking up for those without a voice. Many of you may know about the Special Legislative Sessions in Louisiana this year and the budget cuts proposed would mean cuts to healthcare and higher education. Our "brilliant" state constitution dictates those are the only places to be cut. It meant that thousands of individuals with special needs in our state on waiver programs were all at risk of being cut. These programs help individuals remain housed with family, get medical equipment desperately needed and gain access to supplies they need to care for these individuals.

This momma bear and advocate jumped into action and started spending time on "the hill" at the Louisiana State Capitol in Senate and House committees that make decisions affecting this funding. I didn't want anything to do with politics, and I resented feeling like I was forced to be there to plead for funding for my son and his friends. For many, this funding is the difference between a quality life and certain death. Before all this, I thought I knew which political party stood for pro-life. But let me tell you, there are no clear lines here anymore.

I observed Republican legislators fight for bills to ban late term abortion, and prevent abortion measures against an unborn child diagnosed with Down Syndrome. This is what I would have anticipated witnessing. But I did not see them doing what I observed Democrat legislators doing - fight for human rights and services for the disabled community throughout their lifespan. It was confusing to me as a Christian.

I had believed that the "pro-life" stance meant a "right to life," protecting the lifespan of an individual. But the sad truth is that "pro-life" no longer means that. Now a legislator can claim to be "pro-life" when they really mean they are just "pro-birth." Legislators who claim to be "pro-choice" have shown more fight for the human lifespan than Republicans who claim to protect it.

Let me explain a bit further. This year Republicans voted in a bill to protect termination of the unborn diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Those very same Republicans refused to pass measures that would sustain waiver program funding for the disabled community. As a Christian, I am heartbroken with disappointment to understand that their stance really is "pro-birth" and not "pro-life." Does it make sense to you that Republicans would force a woman to have a child with a lifetime disability, yet do nothing to actually support the needs of that same child? Where is the Christianity in these actions? A lifetime of forced medical debt, isolation, emotional and financial suffering is NOT the Christian thing to do to a family. The divorce rate in the special needs community has been estimated to be above 80%. When the number one root cause of divorce of any family is financial problems, you are setting the family unit up to fail with this action.

Yes, there are many blessings in parenting a special needs individual. But it does take hope and faith to see past the daily muck we must trudge through. But blessings and feelings don't pay the bills that come and often surpasses several hundreds of thousands of dollars. For some families, those financial medical burdens will surpass the million dollar mark before a second or third birthday.

While Democrats have traditionally been "pro-choice," they demonstrated support for measures to support funding for the disabled community, through elderly care. So now must I choose to support both "pro choice" and "pro lifespan" to achieve my goals to support my community?

Do you see the conundrum here, Christians?

We can no longer blindly support a "pro-life" candidate. Are they really pro-life or really pro-birth only?

"My people" must also know where they stand on the disabled community, SPECIFICALLY. We must know where they stand on elderly affairs - what is their LIFESPAN stance? Or dare I say stance on HUMANITY?

I saw Republicans refuse to vote in any revenue-raising measures because they were more worried about re-electability than doing the right thing for their fellow voting constituents who struggle as special needs families. I don't think that's very Christian at all.

Now what we really need to see spelled out for us, is their stance on:
- Pro-birth vs. Pro-choice
- Pro-Lifespan Support Measures (Pro-Humanity) vs Anti-Lifespan Support Measures

I have always been an independent voter with no political affiliation. I don't need anyone else thinking for me by suggesting I blindly elect someone because of a party affiliation. I don't think it's that simple. And now I KNOW it's not that simple.

I also want to know their stance on:
- Medical marijuana
- Expanded waiver supports
- Healthcare coverage
- Supports for elderly

The waters are very murky. There are no easy answers. Let's have some respect for differing opinions. Let's not condemn others for making different choices from our own. But I wanted to warn my Christian counterparts that "pro-life" may not mean what you think it does and to do your diligent research before voting. It's time to dig deeper.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Anytime (or holiday) Chex Party Mix

It's an age old holiday treat... seasoned Chex Mix. I've tried many recipes and feel I've finally perfected one that everyone seems to love. The thing is, you can make your own best or favorite too. Feel free to get creative and experiment to find your own personal favorite mix! Here is the one I make that my friends usually ask me for.

But let's talk about a few of these ingredients first. CHEX CEREAL... the rice, (while gluten free) is really fragile and breaks apart very easily. Corn chex is also gluten free (if that matters), and sometimes you can find a honey corn Chex - the sweetness of it usually adds a nice compliment to the spicy. I usually use half or less of the honey corn version. Wheat chex is the most hearty of all, an absorbs the most seasoning, though not gluten free.

NUTS - pick your favorites, the seasoning coats them pretty nicely and you can make your own special blend of what you like best.

PRETZELS - The square kind I like the best, it seems to grab the most seasoning flavor, but the regular twist kind work fine too. I don't find that the sticks are very user friendly.

JALEPENO PRETZEL PIECES - I don't usually add these to the mix that gets seasoning added to it, it has enough flavor on it's own.

CHEEZ IT's - I usually add these to the mix that gets the flavor, even though they have enough good flavor of their own. You can choose to add seasoning or leave them be. They absorb the seasoning mix well so I add them.

CHEETOS - I don't add them to the part that needs seasoning, they are plenty flavorful all their own. I like to use the jalepeno cheetos.

THE SEASONING MIX: I usually use one full batch and another half batch to coat what I want seasoned. And I don't follow a recipe exactly, I sometimes just "eyeball" how much of each "looks right" for my mix. This will make two large rectangles containers full. You have to decide how much you want to use, based on how strong you want it to be. There are some ingredients I don't throw into the mixture until the rest is out of the oven.

So here you go:
3 C corn chex
2 C honey corn chex
3 C wheat chex
1 C or 1 medium can of nuts
1/2 - 3/4 bag of pretzels
1 box Hot N Spicy Cheez Its

8 TB butter
2 TB Worchestershire
1 TB soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp Season salt (Lowry's)
1 tsp garlic powder or salt
1/2 tsp onion powder

Melt the butter in a microwave safe dish, stir in the seasonings. Pour over parts of the above that will fit in a large roaster or electric skillet. I use my electric skillet to stir and coat the mixture. Then I put in shallow cookie or bar pans or a roaster to bake. Bake at 250 for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Once it's done, I add the following ingredients to take it up a notch:

1 bag jalepeno pretzel bits
1 bag jalepeno Cheetos

So that's it, I hope you feel inspired to make your own special mix or even copy mine.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

TEN tips for a successful Black Friday, from a Black Friday NINJA

I consider myself a Black Friday Ninja. My sister says it’s like my personal Olympic sport, and I am prepping many weeks in advance. Perhaps it’s my competitive nature and my quest to find the best deal possible that brought me to my destiny of Black Friday savings.

My husband thought I was a bit crazy when we started shopping on Black Friday. With the crack of dawn trip to get ads, the hours pouring over ads to make our lists, sharing the lists, gearing up with walkie-talkies, cell phones, hot chocolate and breakfast to go – he was a bit overwhelmed at it all. And then we tallied up our spending for that year, and he has been a supporter ever since. We saved nearly HALF on what we used to spend on birthday gifts and Christmas shopping over the prior year. You really can save that much money and more, IF you know what you are doing. Part of my strategy is to use after-Christmas sales to buy stocking stuffers for the next year, and use Black Friday to buy remaining gifts needed for this year, and birthday gifts for the coming year. For example: Instead of the $25 I budgeted for a birthday gift, I only have to spend $10-$12 for the same gift on Black Friday!

If you are a Black Friday novice or the queen clipper of extreme couponing, there are some things you should know. Black Friday has evolved into something like a Gray Thursday, with stores and deals available on Thanksgiving Day (or before) the game has changed and I am here to help!
Here are some tips for your 2015 Black Friday quest for savings:

1. Shop online early. In 2014 many stores opened up their deals online ON Thanksgiving Day, no need to wait until Black Friday or even Cyber Monday. This year, some stores like Wal-Mart will offer their deals online and skip the door-busters. Maybe it’s just safer for everyone this way anyway. I mean someone getting in a fist fight over dollar priced towels probably doesn’t need encouragement of live competition and lack of sleep to slip into the Hunger Games in a box store. So check now, your favorite place to shop might already have deals going!

2. Don’t have your heart set on any THING. Know that unless you have been camping out for a few days already, you might not get all the things you have on your list. You might not get any of them because that store only got three of them. This is part of strategy, so get a better game plan than just locking into one gift for one person, and it has to be this thing I circled in their flyer. If not getting that one thing on your list will ruin your day, week, or Christmas, Black Friday is not for you.

3. Have a game plan and be flexible. Your strategy is to have a back up plan, when an item you wanted is not available, or you just aren’t willing to wrestle someone else for it. This is a novice mistake. Refer to #2. You may just want to skip it if you are not willing to budge on your list, but trust me when I tell you it’s unrealistic to believe you will get everything you want at the price you want at the store you want. You can pre-shop the flyers before they come out at if you want to spend more time with family that day! You can also see upcoming and ongoing deals called Brad’s Deals on their facebook page or website

4. Bring your flyers with you. I keep them on me and in the car. When #2 happens and you need to learn #3, it’s a good idea to have your back-up plan ready in the car. I like to keep a few on me at once, so when I need assistance from a sales person I can point out the very thing I am looking for. I also look at them while waiting in line to the next store’s flyer. It’s like my “pregame” routine to get ready for the next stop.

5. Get your finances in order. Bring cash, or call your bank on Tuesday to let them know you need your limits lifted from your cards if you plan to do a lot of shopping. Many bank cards have daily limits set to prevent theft. Call ahead and have them lifted for the time period you will be shopping. It’s embarrassing to finally get through the line with your cart full of stuff, only to have your bank decline the charge, even though you have the money to pay for it all.

6. Pay close attention to the savings. Many offers will be for rebates that you mail in the receipt to get back, so just be aware you may be waiting for your money back instead of getting instant savings.

7. Plan for sustenance and hydration. Bring energy drinks or beverage in a cooler in your car, and a few snacks too. Nobody should shop “hangry”. Or take a mid-spending break after a few stores to get a 3am hamburger or an early breakfast.

8. Set a budget. It’s easy to overspend if you don’t set limits for yourself. It’s not smart to go into debt just to give gifts.

9. Sign up ahead of time for any rewards systems. Because it’s great to save money, but getting money back to spend on yourself is even better!

10. Use the buddy system. Divide and conquer. Split up into teams! Team one goes to the ladies department and team two will head to kids. This is where list sharing is so helpful!

Remember to laugh, have fun, make some new friends in those long lines and not get too serious – you want to enjoy the journey!

NOTE: This year you won't see my "haul" be very big. Despite all my tips here, I have been reflecting for a few years now on our consumerism lifestyle and the real meaning of Christmas and giving. This year I combined birthday and Christmas gifts for my nieces and nephews, to instead provide their families with "experiences" to make memories. They each get stocking stuffers to open, but the real gift is that they will have a memory that will last long beyond a toy. I can only remember a hand full of Christmas toys from my childhood, which challenged me to instead focus on "making a memory". For some it will mean swim lessons, cooking lessons, a family trip to a museum or zoo or sporting event. No judgement from me either way, I didn't become a Black Friday Ninja by accident. If YOU also opted out of traditional toy gifts, I'd love to read your comments and reactions from the families you gave them too!

WELCOME to Extraordinary Life, Not Ordinary

My life is anything but "normal". Man, how I crave normal somedays, but that's not the life that I was given.

My husband and I are raising a miracle boy who is a warrior... he has received over 9 miracles in this lifetime and outlived his prognosis by more than 7 years now. He is 9 years old, medically-fragile, terminally-ill and living with Leigh's Disease. We have chronicled our journey from the beginning, and we hope it helps other families know they are not alone on this scary road. You can check out that part of our life here:

After infertility and miscarriage, we embarked on the journey to adopt. Through adoption, you can set all sorts of criteria for for the child you want, the type of family you want to work with, where the family is from, etc. We established a set of criteria and quickly learned that God had other plans for us than we knew!! We have adopted a beautiful mixed-race baby girl, and still have hopes of adopting a son in the next few years. Adoption is NOT for the faint of heart. It is not easy, there is loss, uncertainty, and JOY. Oh the joy. I haven't made many blog posts on our journey, I mostly used social media. Here is our Facebook link: and a few blog posts here:

On this "Tough Loves" blog I also talk about what it is like to mentor the next generation. My husband employs over 200 young people every semester at LSU since 2002, and I spent nearly 9 years at LSU managing over 150 student employees. We have learned a LOT about how this generation differs from others, how to bring out the best in them, how to provide guidance and discipline to prepare them for real world scenarios and be productive employees. It has been these experiences that also has prepared us on how we want to raise our own children to be best prepared for life out of the nest!

My "therapy" and passion is in the kitchen. I love to cook, and my specialty is taking those time tested family recipes and finding ways to make them in 30 minutes or less. Easy, healthy meals for families on the go. More recently, I was diagnosed with IBS, lactose intolerance, soy intolerance and gluten sensitivity - so I like finding yummy recipes to fix up and share for others on the same journey. I do have a cookbook available, self-published as a fundraiser for my son's medical expenses. You can find some of my recipes here: Soon I will be embarking on making organic baby food for our newest addition to the family, so I plan on sharing some of that journey too.

I love to save money, and am a bargain shopper. I am not an extreme coupon or anything, but I like to share little tips I've learned about saving on every day products for life on a budget. I am also a "Black Friday Ninja"... and will share some of my stuff with you here!

I am a God-fearing, people-loving human who loves to serve others. My spiritual journey has been long, and I have learned much along the way. I hope to share some of what God is revealing to me here, and on my blog focused on the battles of the spirit "Armored and Dangerous: Awakening the Warrior Woman of God".

I have a long career in marketing, event planning, sales, business strategy and planning that includes social media, web development, SEO and app development. I have presented at nearly every convention and conference I have attended, and have been teaching these topics for over 13 years. I have garnered the highest possible achievement as College Media Advisor of the Year, and have a proven track record in sales management and new product development. I will probably use this blog to discuss some of those things that might be helpful to the general population or small business owner here. I will especially love to share what i have learned that will help young people take steps to build the best possible career track for themselves and share tips on creating digital profiles here too. Just shoot me a question, and I may even do a whole post about it.

This jack of all trades is ready for your questions, and I hope you look forward to this melting pot of a blog!! :-)

Be blessed!
Kodi L. Wilson