Sunday, August 28, 2016

I'm Loving...Installment #1: A few of my favorite things from August 2016

It's no secret that the best way to cultivate joy is to think about the simple gifts that make our lives happy. Once a month I'm going to take a few minutes to think about the things I'm loving, write them down, and share them with you. I'd love for you to do the same!

1. Fast drying nail polish
Charlotte is in a very feminine, girly phase right now. It's all twirly dresses all the time around here. She also insists on having pretty fingers and toes. Her sitting-still stamina has come a long way, but she's only four and waiting fifteen minutes for nail polish to dry is still an eternity. Thank goodness Sally Hansen has come to the rescue with their line of insta-dri nail polish! It comes in every color of the rainbow (including purple glitter) and dries in one minute! We have weekly mani/pedis now during T's naptime (we'd need a ten second dry time for that little busy bee) and it's such a fun little ritual for both of us. I usually paint my toenails to match whatever color she's picked, and she loves being "toe twinkies" with me! Note: The polish does wear off fairly quickly. Clearly it's time to repaint those nails.

2. My hubby's new work from home job
Chris started a new job at the beginning of August, and now a month in I can honestly say this has been such a positive change for our family. His old job had him working very long hours, where he wouldn't make it home until 6:45 or 7 every night. So many nights we ate dinner without him. His stress level was so high it was hard for him not to think about work even when he was home with us. We began praying for a new job that wouldn't require us to relocate, (most of the jobs in his profession are out of Southern California, San Francisco, or New York City) that would have more reasonable hours, and be more in line with the direction he wants for his career. We were amazed and overwhelmed when God brought him a new opportunity the first week he started applying for new jobs! It was a scary step of faith for him to give up his great position at a company he'd been with for ten years and accept a job with a much smaller company, but we are both so glad he did. We are able to eat dinner together earlier every evening, and he has so much more time with the girls now. I'm trying not to take advantage of him being home, but I'd be lying if I said I haven't made a few Walmart runs while Tessa naps in the afternoon. :) 

3. Peaches
I've had a love affair with this juicy, sweetly tart fruit ever since my dad planted a peach tree in our backyard when we lived in Southern California. Last year wasn't a great year for peaches, but this year they are absolutely delicious! We buy them in flats of eight at Sam's Club and they are gone before the week is over. I mix them into my overnight oatmeal with a hearty sprinkle of cinnamon, make peach muffins, add them to greek yogurt, blend them into smoothies, and eat them just plain. I've found if I let them ripen on our windowsill and then refrigerate them as soon as they are ripe they last a bit longer too.

You've probably heard of this on-line consignment service, and I had too several months ago. I put the app on my phone and occasionally scrolled through their categories but I never really found anything I liked. Until now.  The secret is to use the filters to narrow down category, size, condition, etc. which helps it not feels so overwhelming. I also had some mental filters that helped me scan quickly (certain colors, cotton fabrics, stripes, floral, no collar, no "wrinkly" material). I ended up ordering three sets of leggings and eight tops for my fall capsule wardrobe (I know I haven't blogged about my capsule wardrobe attempt yet, but I promise I will just as soon as I finish it). I kept all three leggings. Only three of the tops worked (the rest were either too tight or not flattering) but I absolutely love them and never would have bought them new. One of them, a super soft basic white tee from J. Crew, retails for $89 (!!! I paid $22). Today I just hopped back on my account and followed their simple return procedure, printed out a free shipping label (you can return for free if you take store credit, if you want a cash refund you have to pay shipping). I'll have to run by the post office to drop the package off, but that's it! I've already "saved" a few more things in my cart, but I should really wait to order more until I get my refund credit (which unfortunately could take several weeks, boo.)

5. Tessa's stumbling toddler walk
Little Birdy has been trying out her walking skills for months, but only in the past few weeks has she gotten to the point where she chooses to always walk instead of crawl. She's still new at it, and she's constantly waving her arms, sticking out her booty to check her balance, and tipping over and almost falling with every step. It's hilarious to watch, and also quite impressive the way she just picks herself right back up again after a tumble, no muss no fuss. I wish I was so resilient! My favorite place to watch her is in our backyard, where she has the extra challenge of a slope, uneven ground, and shoes (she loves her shoes, but she's not very good at walking in them yet since all of her practice has been on bare summertime feet). Doesn't it make you glad to know that God feels the same way about our stumbles and falls? He loves that we are trying, that we are moving forward even if we're not very good at it yet, and He's so proud of us when we shake it off and get back up and try again. And when the fall is extra-hard and we bump our noses or bruise our shins, He's right there, gathering us up in His arms for a kiss and a cuddle. Oh if I could always remember that God feels this way about me, I would have so much less shame and guilt when I fall!

What about you? What apps, circumstances, clothing, or stories are you loving right now? I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Picks #3: 5 Heartwarming Classics (when you need a break from reality by escaping into a simpler time and place)

Reading has always been one of my favorite hobbies, but as a child and then a reading teacher my books choices tended toward children's or YA fiction. I also love a good cozy mystery, and the occasional best-seller, but my reading life was certainly not well-rounded. Last year I resolved to choose books from a wider variety of genres, especially adult fiction and literary fiction, neither of which I've read much of (so overwhelming I didn't know where to start!) Then I discovered the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and summer reading guide, and my TBR (to be read) list exploded! I did a deep dive into more serious literature and modern fiction this summer, and while I enjoyed several of my selections (others not so much) all the heavy themes, tortured characters, and realism left me longing for sweet, simple stories with happy endings. So I put the brakes on modern fiction and went back to some of my very favorite classics. Most of these I read as a teen, and some I haven't picked up in years. There is a broad spectrum, even among a group of "heartwarming classics," but I can pretty much guarantee that these books will "warm the cockles of your heart."

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

This is the sequel to Alcott's Little Women (if you haven't picked that one up in a decade or so then start with it!) and centers around Jo's family and the boys' school they started at Plumfield. The endearing characters have their flaws, but they are mild and easily modified. The plot is character driven, and features such delightful scenes as berry picking, a play kitchen, an egg hunting business, pillow-fights, and cozy contemplation in a big willow tree. The characters from Little Women and their children are frequent visitors, and it is a delightful escape into a simpler, much less busy way of life. This book kept me smiling and made me wish I could open my own Plumfield School.

Christy by Katherine Marshall

This is another book about a school, but that is where the similarities end. Christy is the story of a nineteen year old girl who volunteers to go teach school at a place called Cutter's Gap in the middle of the Smokey Mountains. Of course her idealistic crusade for bringing hope and education to these impoverished people gets a rude awakening as she plunges into this very foreign sub-culture that includes corn liquor, superstitions, homemade medicines, and primitive living conditions. Christy slowly comes to recognize the strength and dignity of these backwoods people, and though she stumbles regularly over her own preconceptions and prejudices a passion for helping them burns brightly inside her. This story gets pretty dark, full of tragedy, injustice, and despair, but ultimately its message of friendship, hope, and the power of God at work in us leaves the reader satisfied. I will say that I wish Marshall had included one more chapter to wrap things up a bit more neatly, but then I like a tidy conclusion with no loose ends. :) Also, I watched and loved the mini-series they put on TV a while ago, but as they say, the book is always better. 

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter

The main character of this story is a one-handed teenage orphan boy who is given the improbable job of guarding a stretch of timber inside the great Limberlost Swamp in Indiana. It is a wonderfully told story of courage, beauty, self-discovery, and love that is sure to please. I haven't read this recently, but I have read it multiple times and it always draws me in and leaves me with a smile and a few happy tears. 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I loved this story as a child, and even more as a grown-up! We follow spoiled, sour-tempered Mary as she is sent to live with a distant uncle after her parents die of malaria in India. This change is a shock to her system that almost overwhelms her, until she discovers a key that opens a whole new world (quite literally) which cultivates her little soul and makes her bloom, just like the flowers in her "secret garden." I love a good transformation story, and there are many as each character goes through their own soul awakening journey. Beautifully told and richly detailed, I can hardly wait to read this aloud with my girls (although four might be a bit too young still). 


This is a lovely old childrens' story about an impoverished but plucky little family, a widow and her five children. Sure the language is antiquated and the characters are impossibly cheerful and sweet to each other, but that's its charm! I read this as a kid and am in the middle of it now, so I don't remember how it ends, but so far the Peppers have weathered making a birthday cake with a broken stove, been given "a bit of butter" by the kindly minister's wife, and now half of them are down with the measles, including the two oldest children Polly and Ben who are Mrs. Pepper's steady support. Things are looking bleak, but I have full confidence that they will pull through. :) 

Are any of these your favorites? What heartwarming classics would you recommend to someone looking for a satisfying, happy ending? Please share! 


Monday, August 22, 2016

A blogging soul-search

I started this blog the year my oldest daughter was born. I didn't really have a central theme, I just shared bits and pieces of my life as a brand new mom. My posts included DIY projects, seasonal decorating, crafts, funny stories, and deeper musings on the process of motherhood. I am really all over the place. There has been definite ebb and flow in my blogging as my life and the blogosphere has changed. I've heard, in fact, that blogging is dead and as a mommy blogger I am a relic of times gone by. This information, along with some recent drama/criticism has made me reevaluate the purpose of this little blog. For a while I thought about just quitting all together. But I really do love writing, and I received so much sweet encouragement from you, dear readers, that I've decided to keep going. This blog has told the story of my ever-changing mom life, and I'm not ready to give it up.
However, I do feel that I need to clarify both the kind of blog I want to write and the reasons behind why I blog. After mulling it over for a bit I decided that my blog really has two purposes. 
One: To share tips, ideas, and resources that simplify and/or add joy to our day to day life. 
Now, please note that most of these ideas did not come from my own brilliant inspiration. Oh no. I read lots of mommy blogs, listen to podcasts, and scroll/search Pinterest which is where I find almost all of the new ideas I want to try out. My posts are an attempt to explain how I've adapted these ideas for our life, and how well they work. I figure if they work for me, then you might be interested to hear about them. Or not. I'm completely fine knowing that if you scan the first paragraph of a post and find it uninteresting or impractical for you, you close the window and move on. I do the exact same thing all the time.
Two: To share honest glimpses into the highs and lows of real life and what God is teaching me through this life season.
I am trying very hard to fight against the pressure to be "Pinterest perfect." Our life is pretty great, but it's certainly not all hand-made costumes and learning games over here. I want to share both the highlights and the rough spots, and hopefully occasionally you will find yourself nodding as you read and thinking yep, me too. This mom-life can be isolating, and I think social media can make it worse. I've heard it said that comparison kills joy, and I know that is true in my life. I never ever want you to read what I've written and think Well she certainly thinks she has it all together. Must be nice... so I try to be as real as possible. It's scary to share my struggles along with my triumphs, knowing I could be criticized for both. But I'm going to do it anyway, because if you feel relief, or encouragement, or solidarity from anything that I share it's worth the risk.
So you can read my blog, or not, skim it occasionally, or open every post eagerly (hey, a girl can dream) but please know that the reason I write is to encourage you, dear reader. I know the risks of talking about my life openly online. The internet is huge and sometimes scary, but it also gives us the amazing ability to connect with people all over the world. So thanks for reading friends. I choose to believe the best about you, and I hope you will do the same for me. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fall Schedule and Ambitions (AKA my time budget)

Summer has flown by and it's already time to jump back into our regularly scheduled programming! Charlotte had her open house for pre-K this morning (I can't believe she only has one year left before kin...I can't even say it). She will be going two days a week this year, and is super excited. Her teachers are wonderful and she has several friends already in her class, including her two besties that she's known since babyhood.
She's going to be fine, but the fact that I will have less time with her coupled with this being our last year before the demands of "formal education" begin makes me want to be very intentional about our time. Just like how a budget helps us manage money, I've found that I'm wiser about how I spend my time if I "budget it" by writing out how I spend my hours. I'm posting it here, not because I think this is a perfect plan that everyone should follow, but more like accountability for myself. Plus I love knowing how other mamas spend their days, so I thought you might be interested (especially if you have younger kids). As a former teacher I revel in routines and schedules but if those aren't your thing and you like to be more spontaneous with your plans and activities, more power to you! Like I said, this isn't meant to be preachy or make you feel guilty if you don't like this much structure, it's just what works best for me. :) So here is a basic outline of our daily schedule for this fall:

6:30-7:45 - (me) get up, workout, quiet time/prayer, breakfast, shower/dress
7:45-8:45 - (girls) get up, breakfast, get dressed/do hair
9-11:30 - morning activity/outing (playdates, park, prek, etc.)
11:30-12:00 - lunch/clean up
12:00-1:00 - play, read books, finish chores
1:00-2:00 - nap time (T), show time (C) me time (blog, read, scrapbook)
2:00-3:00 - nap time (T), learning time (me and C) - read aloud, art activity, pre-reading/math skills
3:00-3:30 - snack time
3:30-5:30 - play outside, read picture books, free play, nature walk
5:30-6:30 - make dinner, eat, clean up
6:30-8:00 - family time (walk, backyard games, etc.)
8:00-8:30 - bedtime routine, lights out (girls)
8:30-10 - Adult time (watch shows, read, computer, etc.)
10:00 - nightime routine, get ready for bed, read in bed
10:30 - lights out

We also have evening activities also to throw in the mix: meetings, girls/guys nights out, date nights, etc. Also C has her dance class one evening a week so the schedule will change a bit on that day.

C has pre-k two days a week, so those days will look a bit different too. Thankfully with Chris working from home I'll be able to put T down for her nap before I leave to get C, so her naptime won't be thrown off twice a week. This is definitely a major perk to Chris's new job!

What do you think? Am I being ridiculously over-ambitious? Probably. But I find it's so helpful to have a plan in place. It's so important to me to have a good balance of intentional activities and lots of free time for the girls to just play.
As C gets older it's definitely harder to guard our family time and keep open space in our lives, but I'm trying to fight for it! I promise I'll post an update in a couple months of what works and what doesn't. And if the whole thing is a wash? I'll let you know that too. ;) What about you? Do you have a plan in place for this fall, or do you just like to wing it? Do tell!

Fall Schedule and Ambitions (AKA my time budget)

Summer has flown by and it's already time to jump back into our regularly scheduled programming! Charlotte had her open house for pre-K this morning (I can't believe she only has one year left before kin...I can't even say it). She will be going two days a week this year, and is super excited. Her teachers are wonderful and she has several friends already in her class, including her two besties that she's known since babyhood.
She's going to be fine, but the fact that I will have less time with her coupled with this being our last year before the demands of "formal education" begin makes me want to be very intentional about our time. Just like how a budget helps us manage money, I've found that I'm wiser about how I spend my time if I "budget it" by writing out how I spend my hours. I'm posting it here, not because I think this is a perfect plan that everyone should follow, but more like accountability for myself. Plus I love knowing how other mamas spend their days, so I thought you might be interested (especially if you have younger kids). As a former teacher I revel in routines and schedules but if those aren't your thing and you like to be more spontaneous with your plans and activities, more power to you! Like I said, this isn't meant to be preachy or make you feel guilty if you don't like this much structure, it's just what works best for me. :) So here is a basic outline of our daily schedule for this fall:

6:30-7:45 - (me) get up, workout, quiet time/prayer, breakfast, shower/dress
7:45-8:45 - (girls) get up, breakfast, get dressed/do hair
9-11:30 - morning activity/outing (playdates, park, prek, etc.)
11:30-12:00 - lunch/clean up
12:00-1:00 - play, read books, finish chores
1:00-2:00 - nap time (T), show time (C) me time (blog, read, scrapbook)
2:00-3:00 - nap time (T), learning time (me and C) - read aloud, art activity, pre-reading/math skills
3:00-3:30 - snack time
3:30-5:30 - play outside, read picture books, free play, nature walk
5:30-6:30 - make dinner, eat, clean up
6:30-8:00 - family time (walk, backyard games, etc.)
8:00-8:30 - bedtime routine, lights out (girls)
8:30-10 - Adult time (watch shows, read, computer, etc.)
10:00 - nightime routine, get ready for bed, read in bed
10:30 - lights out

We also have evening activities also to throw in the mix: meetings, girls/guys nights out, date nights, etc. Also C has her dance class one evening a week so the schedule will change a bit on that day.

C has pre-k two days a week, so those days will look a bit different too. Thankfully with Chris working from home I'll be able to put T down for her nap before I leave to get C, so her naptime won't be thrown off twice a week. This is definitely a major perk to Chris's new job!

What do you think? Am I being ridiculously over-ambitious? Probably. But I find it's so helpful to have a plan in place. It's so important to me to have a good balance of intentional activities and lots of free time for the girls to just play.
As C gets older it's definitely harder to guard our family time and keep open space in our lives, but I'm trying to fight for it! I promise I'll post an update in a couple months of what works and what doesn't. And if the whole thing is a wash? I'll let you know that too. ;) What about you? Do you have a plan in place for this fall, or do you just like to wing it? Do tell!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Summer Recap

It's been pretty quiet on the old blog for the last few weeks. Lots of reasons for this, but basically I've been too busy living life to write about it. :) My parents ended up staying for the entire summer, which was so much fun.
Tessa is a fan of all food, especially Mimi's milkshakes
We had lots of special outings and long afternoons playing outside (when it wasn't scorching hot). I took ruthless advantage of the free babysitting and made countless trips to Walmart and Target alone, which as every mom of littles knows is mini-vacay. ;) Mimi and Poppy left last week, and we are feeling their absence in a big way. Still, my brother (Uncle Matt) is here now permanently (he moved here from Oregon this spring), and we've already taken advantage of the pool at his apartment complex. We paid him back with a home-cooked dinner. :) He is so wonderful at playing with the girls, and we are so thankful to have him so close now!
Independence Day fun

We took a staycation in June, and then my hubby got a new job (he's working from home now! More on that adjustment later) and an unexpected week off before it started. We took advantage of the time to visit my cousins in Maumelle AR. It's a mere three hour drive but we have yet to manage a visit since Charlotte was three months old. They had planned to come up last Christmas, but the stomach bug we came down with put an end to that plan. There are seven little girls between my two cousins and me, all between the ages of one and six. It made for some high drama, but also adorable and hilarious moments. They put on a concert featuring Christmas favorites on the Cinderella karaoke machine, played mermaid princesses at our hotel pool, had a naptime "slumber party" while watching Inside Out, and took the most glorious bubble bath in the big whirlpool tub. It was the stuff girl dreams are made of, and their excitement was rivaled by all the adults as we watched our girls get to know each other. Hopefully we won't wait three years in-between visits next time!
princess concert

cousin friends

all the girls with Uncle Allen and Aunt Janet

post-bathing beauties
We had planned to take a beach vacation in early September, but after our trip to Maumelle I made the unprecedented suggestion to cancel it. The beach is absolutely my happy place, and I can't wait to go back to the gorgeous white sand and sparkling clear water of the Florida panhandle. But the thought of packing up all the gear we'd need to take, plus four days total in the car with our very active toddler who does not appreciate being strapped down (she screamed for the last thirty minutes driving to Maumelle, causing us to miss the exit) put a damper on my enthusiasm. After our last rather disastrous trip to Galveston two years ago I've lowered my expectations for family "vacations," realizing that sometimes it's just more hassle than it's worth. In the end we decided to postpone a beach trek until Tessa is a little older, when driving won't be such torture for her.
A huge box really does make the best toy ever
As summer winds down we're tried to soak in the last moments with trips to the splash pad, pool, playgrounds, and the county fair.
we had a great time at our church's annual swim night, but the girls got a little cold at the end, hence C's face
Backyard swimming in the wading pool
I've been filling my spare moments with reading, both old favorites and new ones (I'm excited to share them with you!) and compiling a list of picture books and read alouds to fuel our "preschool at home" time that I'm planning to institute this fall (details to come, unless it fails miserably. Either way I'll let you know. ;) ). We've lifted the ban on evening screen time since the Olympics are on, and it's been so fun cheering on the USA and watching Charlotte's excitement over the spectacle of it all. This is the first Olympics that she really understands, and she's thrilled every time America wins gold. Her favorite events so far are women's gymnastics and watching Katie Ledecky win gold.
School starts tomorrow for public schools around here, and Charlotte's last year of Adventureland starts next week! I had planned to share our loose fall schedule in this post, but as usual I've rambled on so I guess I'll have to make that a separate post. Have you had any summer adventures or beach trips? Please share, I'd love to live vicariously through you! :)
P.S. Most of these images are straight from my iPhone, un-cropped and unedited. Hope you don't mind the unvarnished snapshots of our summer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Book Picks #2: Summer time and the reading is easy

One huge perk to a simpler, slower summer schedule is I have a few more hours to find time to read. Of course having my parents here to run interference with the girls may have something to do with my extra free time too. :) I've set a somewhat arbitrary and challenging goal for myself to read fifty books this year, and at twenty-four books finished I'm right on track! Amazing what you can accomplish when you delete Facebook off your phone. Oy. As I mentioned before I'm trying to branch out and stretch my reading into genres and topics that I'm not typically drawn to, but this season I'm finding myself reaching for easy, fun reads rather than books that explore deeper topics or darker themes. I'm still working my way through my "to read" list (which is getting longer instead of shorter) but here are a few titles I enjoyed and I think you might too.

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

This story of self-discovery and re-invention is a light, page-turning read that still manages to touch on some more substantial topics. Helen, a thirty-something, recently divorced teacher, signs herself up for an intense wilderness survival course in an effort to change her life's downward spiral. To her dismay she finds out her brother's goofy best friend is attending the course too, sabotaging her plans to reinvent herself. To further complicate the situation she sticks out like a sore thumb among the college age sorority girl/frat boy group that is taking the course with her, not to mention the fact that she's a klutz who hates the outdoors. This story is funny and inspiring, a fun, safe dive into adventure, romance, and finding joy where you least expect. Four stars.

Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie

This is the third book in a series featuring an English inspector named Duncan Kincaid and his sargent Gemma James. The first two books were good, but I felt like this book really drew me in and made me connect with the characters. It's your typical police procedural, but reads more like a cozy mystery with lovely settings and interesting characters/suspects. When the son-in-law of an important man drowns Kincaid and James are called in as a favor to investigate. On the surface it seems a straightforward case of a tragic drunken slip into the river, but of course things are never that simple. We're taken along for the ride into the world of English gentry and the glittery/tawdry world of opera as Kincaid uncovers more about the dead man's family and finds nothing is as simple as it seems. Personal lives get complicated too as a bit of a love triangle develops. Set in the picturesque English countryside, this enjoyable mystery allowed me some summer travel without having to leave my couch. Four stars.

Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

The follow-up to her enormously popular The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, this book gives more practical and specific tips for sorting and organizing. Kondo is still pretty mystical and "woo-woo" in her approach to caring for your belongings (she talks about rolling socks as torturing them and encourages you to "thank your belongings for their service") but her tips are smart and easy to implement. Thanks to Kondo's prompting I managed to condense all of my bathroom supplies and toilettries down until they fit in one small drawer in our vanity and a set of plastic drawers under the sink. A word of warning: this book might turn your lazy summer days into a discarding/organizing marathon instead, so make sure you are up for that before you pick this one up. Four stars.

Your turn! Any easy breezy summer reading recommendations? I'd love to add them to my list!