Everyday Life

Two Months From Christmas

Well folks, it’s October 25th, so the obvious question for all of us is: ready for Christmas? Got your shopping started? Began prepping the teacher gifts (you know how long that vanilla extract takes!)? Shopped for matching outfits for your kids’ Christmas photos? Deep cleaned your house so that the moment your fall pumpkins rot, you can whip out all the greenery and twinkle lights?

Good grief, October 25th, and it’s time to get pumped and do this thing or go home. It’s time to prepare for holiday magic, but I’m already preparing for holiday exhaustion.

Image result for vanilla extract homemade
Photo from Gimmesomeoven.com

Doesn’t the fact that we have to start preparing for Christmas in mid-October or set ourselves up for definite and absolute failure tell us something? Things have gotten out of hand. Twelve secret santas, four hundred teacher gifts, thirty-two holiday parties….I may be exaggerating, but only slightly. It’s all a bit much. And the crazy thing is, the things that are potentially my favorite parts of the holidays – Christmas gifts, Christmas home decor, holiday gatherings — are also the parts that stress me out the most. They’re both the detractors from holiday joy and the givers of holiday joy.

Or are they? Do I really expect them to bring me joy? Christmas epiphany: if I don’t already have joy from deeper, more imporant things, I won’t get it from the outer trappings of our cultural Christmas traditions. I’m the one who brings the soul joy I receive from a heart of worship and love for God and others to all of that extra, surface stuff.

So as we gear up for Christmas 2018, maybe what we shouldn’t be doing is soaking vanilla sticks in vodka for our vintage jar gifts (that was so 2016 anyway)…maybe we should be soaking our hearts in worship? Maybe it’s worship that will make my heart both tender and strong for all the love and joy I and you and all the rest of us are expecting to pour out when late December dances into our everyday lives and reminds us that hope has always been here and it’s here to stay. Maybe that’s why Thanksgiving always comes first. After all, worship starts in gratitude and humble awe. That’s why today, I’m choosing not to skip Thanksgiving in my holiday preparations. It’s easy to brush over it in favor of all the tasks Christmas brings to a person, and especially a parent, in this current holiday frenzied age. Yes, it’s October 25th, two months ’til Christmas, but it’s also four weeks ’til Thanksgiving. The real Thanksgiving can start today.

Preaching it to myself and sharing it with you, in hopes that our hearts and not just our homes are ready for Christmas 2018.

Everyday Life, Parenting

My One Answer for How to Homeschool with Littles

Taking a break from writing about books and book culture in our homes to answer this frequently asked question:

How do you homeschool with little ones always around?

Wait, I should be the one asking this question, right? I’m the new homeschool mom with little kids!  This is our 5th year homeschooling and my brain is finally catching on: “Ohhh. I should know this now…” Up until this point, my answer has been so unhelpful. A shrug and a “some days are better than others!” is all I’ve mustered because (1) I hate to sound like I’ve got it all figured out and (2) I don’t have it all figured out! But I do know this: We want to instill in our children a love of learning, the ability to learn for themselves, and the strength of character that comes through hard work and good relationships. Our ideal for our homeschooling days may be full of warmth and beauty, but the chaos that comes with babies, toddlers, and/or preschoolers wages war on our ideal. How can this ever work?

This is about what our homeschool life looks like every day. There are crumbs on the floor, a babbling baby at the table, and a conglomeration of papers, pencils, and crayons scattered everywhere. We are all together the whole time, from youngest to oldest, either at the kitchen table or at desks in our schoolroom, like a crazy one-room schoolhouse in 1858. How in this madness do we (a) learn together and (b) still like each other?? How do you homeschool with littles in the mix? I’ve thought and thought about how to answer this question, and I keep coming back to one over-arching practice in our family. I wish it were a quick fix, a busy bag solution or a magic scheduling technique, but it’s nothing very pinnable like that. It’s totally uncool because the word “longsuffering” comes to mind. But let’s leave out “longsuffering” and use the word commitment.” My one answer to homeschooling with Littles is an everyday commitment to practicing togetherness.

So fun and snappy, I know. And what does it even mean? Well, after Day One of my homeschooling career, I realized my ideal of one child doing schoolwork with me while one child played quietly with toys and another napped was never going to happen. That just doesn’t fly in the world of kids under age 5 who have to be touching me/each other all day every day or spontaneously combust. Right away, I could see there would be no separating small children from our schooling. But if these tiny people expected to be included in the homeschooling fun (and they did), they would have to also expect to BEHAVE. No interrupting, no whining, no singing songs that sound strangely similar to Benny and the Jets out of tune incessantly under their breath. I guess the idea became if they wanted to be treated like students, they would have to behave like students. It’s crazy to expect this from a two or three-year-old, right? Maybe, but after weeks of consistent (and sometimes frustrated) training, an amazing thing happened – they behaved. They could sit and listen to our read aloud, they could color and be quiet during history, and a lot of times they could even answer many of the same questions about the lesson that their older sibling(s) could. I was floored.

I’m not really sure in those early days if I had an epiphany about setting schooltime behavior standards or if it just sort of happened out of necessity, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re plunging into homeschooling with little ones in your home, or you’re already wading through it, maybe practicing togetherness—welcoming the younger children into the experience along with setting standards of behavior—could change your days as much as it changed mine. Separating them from our homeschool life certainly didn’t work for me! To make our home the peaceful and loving place I envision it to, I have to keep practicing this togetherness of welcoming the small ones into our school environment.

Crazily enough, now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think having someone like my four-year-old involved actually enriches the experience. For one thing, she is hilarious, and laughing is good for our souls. But more importantly, our family culture being built on shared narratives and histories gives us a lot to talk about and imagine further as we learn it all together. But that never would have happened if we hadn’t set some expectations at the beginning!

So that’s my answer, my one big homeschooling with Littles discovery – if you expect great behavior from them and teach them how to do that…well, some day, it might just happen. =) I realize so much of it has to do with what personalities I’m dealing with and my own upbringing (I was the oldest in a homeschool family). But because it’s worked so great for me, I figured I would give sharing it a shot, and finally give a straight answer to that frequently asked question!

And now for some more fun and snappy side notes I’ve learned to stick with along the way ~

  1. Keep hands busy – drawing, playing with play-doh, building with blocks, or other quiet thing will stretch an attention span beyond your wildest imagination. In fact, some studies show that busy hands make brains learn more easily! My oldest now likes to stay focused while she’s listening to lessons by taking notes, but up until this year, she was sketching or molding dough along with the others.
  2. Take it outside – literally, take all of it outside any chance you get. Little people are happier out of doors. Fact.
  3. Snacks are golden learning opportunities – while many homeschool families do their ‘morning time’ or cultural studies first thing, I find that a 10:00 gather round the table with a snack works best for us. We have a snack, read some poetry or listen to a composer/hymn or study a piece of artwork, do some literature or geography, read a Bible passage, and the whole time the little people are (relatively) happy because they have their little hands busy and bellies full.
  4. When you have a breastfeeding baby, find a favorite educational show. I know, I know, TV is a crutch, but some babies don’t eat well when there’s a lot of action around them. A 20-minute Wild Kratts or Wishbone gives just the right window for giving the baby a good feeding in the mid-morning, hopefully followed by a nap, and that  100% makes the rest of the morning go better.
  5. Share some responsibility – There are some things we just can’t do all together. During these times, we trade responsibility. One child is responsible for keeping the baby happy, while the other student is taught by the parent, and then we trade off. This works best if I set an expectation for how long and why I need one of the kid’s help, so that they can understand the important role they’re playing in our family and so that they don’t get frustrated with being asked to help when they feel like they should be having a break.

Family dynamics are unique and ever changing, but I’m pulling for you as you figure out what works best for your amazing family in your homeschooling journey. And if you have any epiphanies about what works for you, please share!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Thoughts on Leaving the House in the Morning: A Meme Story

Made my first meme today. It’s brought to you by the moment when I leave the house in the morning. Pretty much every time I leave home, I look around at the utter chaos and disorder, and say to tell myself:

If I arrive somewhere looking like I just barely made it out alive? It’s because I did. It’s like a bank heist gone wrong, a calculated plan poorly executed that doesn’t have as much to do with not tripping sophisticated alarm systems but more with getting the dishes done and beds made before exiting the building. (Although, a one-year-old??? Talk about a sophisticated alarm system. Do NOT take that Tupperware lid away from her).  This is especially true when we’re going to be gone for most of the day and we’re packing picnics, leaving dishes strewn across the counter and drawers and cabinets open everywhere, forgetting to put away hairbrushes, toothbrushes, pretty much everything. Why not just stop to clean it up? We’d be a good hour late, maybe two, and I’d be hoarse from all the “come back and put away!”-ing.  Better to call it a morning and pick up the pieces of dismissed outfits and twelve water bottle lids when we get home. The silver lining? A wrecked house to clean up is a good excuse for making an afternoon cup pot of coffee.

Related image

So, yes, we need some better leaving the house practices. It’s definitely a delegation issue at this point in my parenting. But for now, may the coffee be strong, the afternoon productive, and the evening full of something similar to if not necessarily Chick-fil-A.

Everyday Life, Nonfiction, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

A Quest for Sustainability – Summer Reading 2018

A snapshot of my current reading pile on this mid-summer day made me realize that I have a pretty clear theme going on in this season:

Apparently I’m not gravitating towards titles with words like “revolutionize” or “begin” or even “new.” No za-za-zing or va-va-vroom hear, please! No, I’m checking books out that are about “ordinary” and “everyday” and “the middle.” Somewhat unconsciously, the theme of this summer has become the pursuit of sustainability. What good things can I do and keep doing? How can I keep doing the things I must and do them well while also keeping the joy and fun in life? This quest for sustainability is really uncool, very boring-sounding, but I’m drawn to it like a tired person is drawn to a plain white duvet and a familiar pillow. I’m weary of the fads, I’m figuring out some things about what doesn’t work, and I want to be faithful in the seemingly monotonous places in life. I don’t want to struggle along anymore in the everyday, ordinary parts of life. When the summer ends, I want to be ready for doing the school year well. I’m not itching for new– not a new house or a new career or even a new baby (and I treasure my babies) – I’m longing to get the house I currently have fit for a productive and full life, I’m settling into this homeschooling/homemaking/writing/so-much-more career, and I’m trying to squeeze every last snuggle and game of Uno out these four babies that are already here. So on that note, here’s what I’ve been reading this summer:

Everyday Holy is a collection of short devotionals, good for gently waking my brain up a bit in the morning. This is the third devotional I’ve read this year, which is…surprising. I used to dislike the idea of devotionals, but there are times when self-directed study gets hard…when you’re super busy or groggy from lack of sleep or simply a bit apathetic and you need a starting point to get you thinking in the right direction. I always appreciate Melanie Shankle’s blend of humor and honesty, and her constant grappling with the mundane, circumstantial elements of life that can numb us to the life believers are called to and graced with in Christ. My current morning reading practice is half a chapter of Proverbs (I spent the first six months of this year in Psalms and now I’m moving on!), a day or two from Everyday Holy, and a chapter of The Liturgy of the Ordinary or Give Them Grace. (Yes, I read a lot of books at once. No, I do not have ADD).

The Liturgy of the Ordinary is mostly about worship during the mundane chores and tasks we do each day. We fight in this culture against constant entertainment and a fear of the ordinary. Tish Harrison Warren explains in her book how she’s reconciling the ordinary with the sacred and coming to view them as not so separate after all. I liked parts of the book, though I don’t agree with all the author’s viewpoints. On finishing it, I’d give it 2.75 stars. I think I’m going to need to dig into The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris next, because this book quotes it often! My biggest yet most unimportant beef with  The Liturgy of the Ordinary Day is that the text is constantly interrupted with bold main points. Listen. I know this is a common practice in non-fiction publishing right now, but I hate it. I already read that sentence, and you’re interrupting my train of thought to read it again??? No. Put it off to the side in the margin if you must, but here’s a thought: maybe you should trust your readers to read the page of text and gather the main points on their own, intelligent selves? This may come as a shock, publishing world, but we are capable of drawing conclusions and recognizing the heart of the message. Thank you, rant over. (But don’t get me started on back and forth, present to future viewpoints in historical novels…gah! Hate it. (See, told you I don’t have ADD. What’s the opposite? Complete focus at the expense of all else? Tunnel vision? I have that)).

Now, onto the cookbooks! I may have mentioned three or three hundred times that meal planning and prep is the bane of my daily existence. This summer, I’m out to conquer my struggles by keeping simple meals on repeat. Usually what happens is I swing from an uber-healthy eating phase to an “I’m sick of all this food prep give me pizza” phase. I stay in the second phase for quite a while before swinging back, but I feel nagging guilt about it all the time, so I end up avoiding buying “unhealthy” foods because I know they’re poison but then I don’t have the energy or forethought to provide my family with healthy foods and my grocery shopping is all a muddle…and then the week is suddenly a disaster. No, I’m not being dramatic. That’s why I was drawn to Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook. Sustainability? Balance? Yes, please. I have yet to cook anything from it, but the Breakfast Egg Salad and Greek Yogurt Pancakes are on this week’s menu! I haven’t made it out of the breakfast section yet…the photos are beautiful. I have tried two recipes from Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites and they were winners, especially the Chicken and Rice Street Cart Style. Have I ever gotten chicken and rice from a street cart? No. But I will be making this recipe again and again.  One of the best parts of these two cookbooks is the authors are not just good cooks but excellent writers; I actually want to read all the text and introductions to each recipe. Not sure how I became a person who reads cookbooks (or a Goodreads friend whose shelves are cluttered with cookbooks…) but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the pursuit of sustainability, haha.

The Baker's SecretOn the fiction side of things, I haven’t been hitting the novels very hard. I love being outside in the summer, running around with the kids, doing house projects, swimming, so the cold winter months are really when I do the bulk of my reading. I did read The Baker’s Secret,  and really enjoyed it, though there were definitely depressing parts (war novel). If you like WWII historical fiction like The Plum Tree or The Nightingale, you’ll like this book. I also finally got Ronia, the Robber’s  Daughter off my to-read list, and mostly enjoyed it, though it was much darker than I was expecting. I won’t be reading it to my kids…it’s more of a YA book, in my opinion.

Now homeschool planning for the coming year is heavy on the brain, so my reading habits probably won’t pick up til September or October, but I’d love to hear what your summer reading is looking like! Happy summer! And head on over the Modernmrsdarcy.com to see more of what readers have been reading this summer on the QuickLit feature!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Giant Balls of String – The Untidy Parenting Journey I’m On

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you may remember that I write some posts about parenting now and then. You may have noticed that I write those posts far less often now than I used to. Something about having children older than, oh about three years old, can make a parent question why she ever thought she had much parenting wisdom. With my two older kids 9 and  almost 7, and my two younger ones throwing me for loops daily, I hardly ever find myself thinking, “Wow, I should share what I’m learning with the world at large.” For one thing, what I’m learning isn’t neat and Image result for balls of stringeasy to whip up into a tidy blog post. Parenting is beginning to seem like untangling a gigantic ball of string. You start at the beginning with varying emotions and you hit particularly tangled snags and you also go through some smoother parts. There was a clear beginning to this ball of string, but who knows where the end is or what it will look like, or even what kind of material we’re dealing with– I have wool and you have silk? Both? I don’t know. This analogy is getting weird. Either way, giant balls of tangled string don’t make for good blog posts with clear beginnings and neat conclusions. All I really know is as my kids get bigger, my wisdom gets smaller.

Most of us, when we find ourselves lacking wisdom, go looking for it. We skip out into the information age, sure we’ll find some ideas. A few minutes later, we run back and hide our heads under a pillow. So many opinions. So many serious, earnest voices. And so many do’s and don’ts.

“Make your bed everyday and you’ll be successful in life!”

“Don’t make your bed, that’s gross!”

“Throw everything out that doesn’t bring you joy and you’ll be freeeee!”

“Don’t throw that away! Repurpose it into an amazing entryway bench or life-changing crafting opportunity with your child!”

And whoever started the terribly trendy articles titled “5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Spouse” or “The 10 Worst Things You Can Say To Your Teen” should be well, not shot, but maybe sentenced to Antarctica to shovel snow for life. You can find convincing arguments for all sides of both important and trivial issues in books, online, in conversations with friends, in forums (ugh…we should all agree to just skip the forums…). And then, to smooth it all over like peanut butter on very, very lumpy bread, we have the phrase, “You do you.” Thanks. That fixes everything. I mean, at this point I don’t have time to think about who am I, much less how to do me. I’m too busy sorting through mixed reviews on sippy cups. I thought I was just going to jump online and buy a sippy cup, but which one? There’s this one… some people say it will change your life and some people say that it’s so defective it will ruin the interior of your mini-van and you’ll have to buy a whole new van, or maybe it will give your kids cancer. Am I the kind of person who buys a stainless steel sippy cup, anyway? How can there be this many STRONG opinions about a sippy cup?

If we’re reading all these reviews and searching for the right information to help us raise our families, we probably are living life with laser focus on getting things right. That’s a good thing…parenting is important…until we wake up one day and wonder if something might be missing. Something important, like light-heartedness. Something like freedom…you know, the freedom to not feel bad for rewarding your children with popsicles after they clean out the back of the SUV on a hot day, even though you read that viral article on why you shouldn’t use food as a reward. Or something like fun…why do I feel bad when I say “yes” to UNO instead of forcing that phonics card game on my 6-year-old? Games are supposed to be fun! In the grand scheme of things, it’s this all-important Something, the cheerfulness, freedom, and fun, that I know without even having to hear it from someone on the internet is what I want my children to look back and see in their time with me before they become adults themselves. I don’t know about you, but in the past two or three years of my parenting life, I’ve noticed that Something is missing.

This gradual realization that I’m losing cheerfulness, freedom, and fun as a mom in my earnest pursuit of parenting perfection is what has kept me from posting anything about parenting here lately. I don’t want to be one more voice that comes across like I’m telling parents how to do every little thing the right way. I am sick of those voices myself. And, like I said earlier, my parenting wisdom just keeps on shrinking. So I kept quiet until I thought maybe I could be a different kind of voice. In the meantime, I read your messages about this blog. Some of you lovely readers asked me if I would be posting again on parenting or homeschooling again. Those messages and in-person conversations surprised me so much! I’m truly grateful for them. I doubt I’ll ever again think I have tons of good ideas to share about parenting like I must have had when I started this blog with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old and no clue that I’d have two more children come along and ten thousand moments of doubtful parenting in my future. But if I can do one thing on this crazy internet, I would choose be a voice in a parenting movement of cheerfulness, freedom, and fun, in pursuit of connection and relationship with our children. I’ll get a million things wrong along the way, but I’m starting to understand that being okay with getting a few things wrong is the first step in parenting from a place of strength and lightheartedness, even as we parent with purpose.

And of course, there will be book reviews for you and your kids as a great season of summer reading approaches.

Thanks for reading!

 

Everyday Life, Parenting

Best Valentine’s Day Gifts for Kids (That They’ll Use All Year Long!)

In two days, Valentine’s Day will be here! Did it sneak up on you like it did me? I mean, wasn’t it just Christmas? I love this holiday, but it sort of presents a conundrum. It feels like we don’t need one solitary extra item around here, but the front shelves at every store are stuffed with giant pink unicorns and candy hearts as big as your kid’s head. Those sorts of gifts can absolutely say, “I love you!” loud and clear, but they can also give you a big headache…”Where are we going to put this thing?” or “how can I sneak away half of this candy without them knowing?” So! If you need some last minute ideas for what to give the kids in your life this Valentine’s Day, grab something both thrilling to kids and useful to them, too! (Yes, it is possible, trust me). Here are some ideas to replace all the stuffed minions and candy:

  1. Baking kits – Put together a little cookie dough and some fun cookie cutters and Voila, everyone is excited. Throw in an apron and it’s a gift that can be kept for years. Bonus: aprons are an easy way to use up bigger scraps of fabric if you happen to be a crafty person with remnants hanging around your crafting closet. (Props to Aunt Destiny for this classic at our house!)
  2. Card games – Old Maid,  Go Fish, or for older kids, a fun travel sized game could be a great gift. My oldest daughter (8) really loves the game Authors.
  3. A special mug that’s kid-sized and a packet of hot chocolate – Can anything say I love you every time you use it more than a mug picked especially for you? 
  4. Sticker books – For kids 3 or 4 and up, a sticker book can be hours of entertainment that’s screen free and no mess!
  5. Temporary tatoos – This is what my kids will be getting this Valentine’s Day from me! The metallic ones are especially fun, but be prepared to scrub them off with some coconut oil because they will stick around for weeks (ask me how I know…).
  6. Cups with lids and straws – We call these our smoothie cups. I grabbed them on whim for Valentine’s Day last year and the kids use them several times a week still!
  7. Play-doh or modelling clay
  8. Bubble bath
  9. Books – Obviously. Try your very best to pick something the child you love will actually enjoy reading…maybe not a gushy Valentine’s book? Not saying they’re bad! Just…you know…get something kids like to read, k? ; ) [Check out our favorites in this category here and here].
  10. Pajamas – Okay, okay, this has a reputation as being the classic underwhelming gift, but actually, my kids love receiving new pajamas.
  11. Rainy day gear – rain boots, umbrellas, a poncho – all great fun for rainy days of late winter and early spring!
  12. An invitation – Kids love time spent together more than anything else. Make an invitation for your kids to go get ice cream, go to a movie, or whatever fun thing would be special for you and them. Easy and maybe the best gift in this whole list.

Okay, now hurry, Valentine’s Day is in two days! I hope it’s full of warmth and joy for you and your children (and throw in a little candy, too…).

 

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Everyday Life

What’s Saving My Life, 2018 Edition

We’re halfway there! Halfway through winter, that is. How’s this season been for you? Where I live, it’s been the coldest winter in years and the flu has hit record numbers.  Joy. When I say, “Yay, we’re halfway through!” what I’m really thinking is “I cannot believe we’re only halfway through.” It’s been winter for forever. But! Whether or not the Groundhog sees his shadow today, we have a ways to go.

To get us through this often doldrum-ish time of year, we’re asking the question, “What’s Saving Your Life Right Now?” I’m once again linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and other bloggers on this mid-winter day to share some of the little things that are making life easier or more enjoyable this winter. Join us in focusing on the good stuff!

  1. Grocery Pick-Up + Plan to Eat – Life. Saved. Weekly. I never thought I would be a mother who couldn’t stand taking her children grocery shopping with her. Oh, but I am that mother x 20. Now, I can simply make a meal plan on Plan To Eat and then put everything from my Plan to Eat list into a cart online at a grocery store (several stores do this but the closest one to us is Walmart), and someone else will get all the stuff for me! And check it out and put it in bags! All I have to do is show up and put it in my car. Yes, thank you. Sure, some mistakes are made, but heck, some mistakes are made when I do my own shopping. It’s a no-brainer for me right now. And my adoration for Plan To Eat could take up a whole post on its own. I have been using it for three years and I hope to never, ever stop. All my recipes are there, and all I have to do is drag them onto the calendar on the day I want to serve them. Then, Plan to Eat generates a shopping list. I loathed meal planning before I started using Plan to Eat. Now it’s not so bad!
  2. Homemade trail mix – Did anyone ever tell you before you had kids that they would be hungry ALL the time? Maybe people told me and I just didn’t understand, but now I do. Therefore, I’m always on the hunt for semi-healthy snacks. My two middle kids snack on their self-made trail mix almost daily. Maybe it’s such a hit because they get to put chocolate chips in it, and they aren’t allowed to have the chocolate chips without other additions. I guess it goes back to this:

Image result for everything is better with chocolate chips meme

But if you can’t have the chocolate chips without the raisins, well then, where I live, you eat the raisins, too.

Image result for illy coffee3. Illy Coffee – New favorite splurge! It’s so rich and delicious. And also pricey, compared to our usual Seattle’s Best/Elixer of Life, but sometimes I find it marked down at T.J. Maxx and then I try not to shriek with glee in the middle of the store.

4. Electric Mattress Pad – I love warmth so much, and hate cold equally. I told myself this is the year I would finally buy some flannel sheets and save myself from freezing cold cotton sheets, but my husband beat me to the punch and purchased this thing when it was on sale before Christmas. It’s heavenly. The only downside is getting out of bed fifteen times a night with little ones is extra difficult.

5. Google Keep– When I’m overwhelmed with tasks and things to remember, I go back to the Facebook Live video by Aimee Kolmansberger that made me realize my brain is meant for focusing and creating and not keeping all the things organized and at the forefront of my mind. A lot of times, the overwhelm will happen when I’m driving or in the middle of something else. Enter technology! I like Google Keep because I can open a note in the app, click the mic button and start telling the app everything I have to do. Then I can go back to it later on my computer or phone and make a plan of attack when I have time to do that. I also keep notes of funny things my kids say, stuff I need to put in Baby books (one day), or books to check out at the library. Another perk of Google Keep is my husband and I can share grocery lists and to-do lists and whatever other notes. It’s like a shared bulletin board that goes with us everywhere. I’m a fan!

6. Seashell wreath – When I look at this wreath above my desk, I remember that there is such a thing as summer, sand, waves and warmth. I’m transported to Oak Island, NC, our family’s vacation spot since I was a little girl. My mom made this wreath for me for Christmas from seashells she has gathered over the years, and it’s by far my favorite home decor in my house right now.

7. The Psalms – I decided to read a Psalm a day in 2018. Best decision of the year so far.

8. The Great British Baking Show – I don’t like to cook a whole lot, but I’m actually inspired by this show. It makes cooking/baking into something more than drudgery. Maybe it’s the English country side and the soft music, but all of a sudden, I kind of feel like an artist when I craft something for my family. I get new ideas and I also relax and watch a TV show, which is a novelty in and of itself! Last week I up and decided to make a homemade chicken pot pie because of this show, and it actually turned out beautifully.

9. Thriftbooks. Even better than The Book Depository! For all your old book needs (which are mammoth in my life).

So those are the small things saving my life this winter! And all of the things on my last winter’s list are definitely still in my daily mix of favorites as well. What’s on your list? I hope the rest of your winter is short and wonderful!

Everyday Life

Cherries and Wicker – A Summer Favorite Things List

Back in February, I joined up with Anne Bogel and other bloggers to post about what was saving my life in winter. For sure, winter can be a bleak time when we need some life giving practices and a focus on celebrating the small things. It’s easier to thrive in the summer. Still, there are challenges in summer that make life a bit heavier than we’d like. Take swimsuit shopping, for example. Or cooking in 100 degree weather. So I thought it’d be fun to do a favorite things post in the summer. Because you know I’m always on the lookout for favorite things after failing to have any favorite things a year ago.

Here are a few of my favorite summer things this summer!

  1. Target Swimsuits – I told myself I would be a serious swimsuit shopper this year. I’ve had the same suit for three years and I was sick of it, even thought it was holding up surprisingly well for a $30 Target swimsuit. I scoured all the boutique websites friends were posting for great swimsuits, but nothing called my name. (Shout out to Camellias and Copper for collecting some great options in this post.) Then I happened to be passing through Target with only one child in tow, and thought, “Hey, I’ll just look real quick.” And I found a suit I loved in less than ten minutes. Sold! Apparently I am firmly in the Target swimsuit camp. I’m simply not a serious swimsuit shopper yet.
  2. Rainier Cherries – I always thought these cherries looked gorgeous when I saw them gleaming in the produce aisle, but I never bought them because of the price tag. How different could they be from these much cheaper Washington cherries? Oh, I was missing out. Rainier cherries are my new favorite summer snack. But for my favorite summer dessert, see the next item…
  3. Aldi Super Premium Ice Cream – Aldi is currently selling ice cream with only five ingredients in it – cream, sugar, eggs, milk, and cocoa or vanilla flavor. It is so choice. And only $2.99. Also, their Mango ice cream bars are highly addictive.
  4. Short runs – It’s pretty cool how “in” it is to run in 5ks, 10ks, and lots of other ‘Ks these days. We need better health in our country, and the popularity of running can only be a good thing. But I’ve come to grips with the way I run right now, and that is not with a lot of ‘Ks. My 10-15 minute run three times a week isn’t going to impress anybody, but I love it. I’m up early, I’m outside, I’m moving my body and breathing hard, but I’m not wearing myself out in this time of life when I’m already pretty dang tired.
  5. Wicker chairs – I got two of these wicker chairs from my husband for Mother’s Day/Our 12th Anniversary (they were on the same day this year), and they were every bit as wonderful as I thought they’d be when I oh-so-helpfully e-mailed a link to them to my husband a few weeks before Mother’s Day. (I’m learning.) I love sitting in these every chance I get, but especially early in the morning with coffee.
  6. Games with my kids – I am not as good as I once was at playing imaginatively these days. It’s sad, but I’m too tired and too distracted by my endless to-do lists. I still want to engage in play with my children, though, so having the perimeters that a game gives is invaluable. Our current favorites are Labyrinth and Authors. Uno and Monopoly, Jr. are also go-tos, and our favorite preschool game is and probably will always be Hi-Ho, Cherrio! I’m hoping to get Old Maid soon, another simple card game I think my kids would love.
  7. Ektorp Ikea couches – I’m telling you, once you have a couch that is washable, you might never go back. I’m livin’ the dream here. Sweaty kids/self? Spit-up from baby? Blood from the giant cut my son somehow didn’t realize he had on his foot? The dreaded stomach bug? It all comes out in the wash. They are quite comfortable, too, even according to my husband who was pretty resistant to the idea of Ikea furniture at first. We are now both big fans.
  8. Grass – Grass has made our summer. We’ve been living without it in our backyard for a year-and-a-half, but now that we had a good landscaper come and scrape the backyard of all its ivy and other infestations in June, we have been able to lay down some sod and voila! our backyard is an oasis. Summer vacation to the beach? Not happening this year. But a green backyard is a fabulous trade-off, in this family’s opinion.
  9. Book Launch Teams – I’m on two book launch teams this summer that I am thrilled about! Basically, that means I get to read advance copies of books and write about them. I’m like “eek!” inside every time I think about it. Look for reviews on Ruth Chou Simon’s new book and Melanie Shankle’s new book this month. Both books will release this Fall.
  10. These water bottles are so great for older kids. They don’t break, they don’t leak, they keep things cool. Violet had a smaller one, too, but she went all rogue two-year-old on us and threw it away at a baseball park this spring for no apparent reason. Sheesh. Toddlers. They are so cute and equally crazy.
  11. Every Mile Mattered – Nichole Nordeman released a new album on July 28th. I’m not a fan girl of any band or musician (other than maybe Switchfoot), but this has been on repeat nonstop on my Spotify app. I especially love her rendition of Beautiful Day.

And that wraps up my summer favorite things list! I hope your summer has been full of small and significant delights, and that many more are still to come.

Everyday Life, Parenting

Slow Summer

Summer is so wonderful. We love to go to the beach, the mountains, the library, the zoo, the park. Summer energizes this family and makes us want to go, go, go. But this summer, everything (including my reading pace), has been slow. Here’s why:

Lydia is sweetheart, we can’t resist her and her kissable cheeks, but we also can’t predict her. Her only pattern at 3-months-old is a good morning nap, and the rest is anyone’s guess. Sometimes she naps four times a day, sometimes we can’t get her to sleep from noon til midnight and we think we must be the worst parents in the world. Whoever says fourth babies just roll with it and are totally laid back…well, they haven’t met Lydia. Some days she’s completely blissful, some days she cries her head off. She’s not colicky but she’s not the classic happy baby. She’s just Lydia. And we love her.

Spending so much time trying to soothe a baby or catch up on all you haven’t been able to do while trying to soothe a baby (hello, dishes from yesterday) makes the summer surprisingly slow. The blessing in it is we don’t get tempted to dash off to a hundred parks and play dates. I pace and hold Lydia and listen to Ella, Isaac, and Violet play with cars, with Legos, and everything between. There are forts of sheets and chairs in the living room, there are paper crowns taped onto baby dolls’ heads, there are chores actually being done, there is an eight-year-old with a book on the couch on a rainy summer’s day….there are all sorts of beautiful, everyday things to soak in when you’re just holding a baby, and all kinds of opportunities for kids to just be and play and learn with no rush and hurry.

Would I like Lydia to have a more predictable schedule and to be happy all the time? Yes. Absolutely. But she is as unpredictable as she is cute (very). She’s a gift and she is unintentionally giving us the gift of a slow summer. I look forward to adventures with big kids, day trips to the beach and the mountains, a meal out without a meltdown, but for now…I’ll take the slow summer.

Whether your summer is full of slow days in the sun or jam packed with on-the-go fun, I hope you’re enjoying it fully and soaking it up.

Happy Summer!

Photos by Wenzel Photography (in a very casual, short photo shoot in the middle of a playdate! Aunts are awesome).

Everyday Life

Lydia Blythe

Our littlest girly arrived two weeks ago. Meet Lydia Blythe.

She came six days after her due date, at seven pounds and fourteen ounces, with a head full of hair and a good appetite for sleep (most nights). We are rejoicing. And we think she’s pretty cute, too.

Everyone is smitten, but nobody more than her big brother.

For the first two days after we brought Lydia home, I couldn’t get him to do anything but hover around her, begging to hold her. Never let anyone tell you that sisters are the only nurturing ones…this big brother is full of attentive care for his little sisters and cousins. Lydia’s two big sisters ask for their share of holding time, too.

The transition from three to four children has been much easier than the transition from two to three, but that’s largely due to Daddy being around way more, thanks to a much more flexible work schedule. It already feels like Lydia’s newborn days are flying by. We snuggle with her as much as we can, because we know she won’t be this small for more than a nanosecond.

So that’s what has been going on here! Aside from softball almost every night of the week for two of our family members, and racking up a $25 library fine in the past two weeks. Somehow, I forgot about not being able to drive for a couple of weeks after having a baby…should’ve returned those videos sooner. We’re off to the ATM and the library this morning to refresh our book selection! I’m hoping to post a Spring TBR list soon. Until then, Happy Springtime!

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