Friday Favorites No. 2

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Sienna ran a 5k with her running club last Saturday in Charlotte, and David did it with her.  She loves running and really enjoys the accomplishment of finishing a race.  It was an unexpected surprise when her coach called later that morning to say she had won 1st place for girls in her age group!  She was so excited and pleased that her hard work had won her a gold medal!  Henry was completely transfixed by the live music on the main stage.  It was a COLD morning!  It was the first time we all pulled our heavy winter coats out!

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Charlie’s soccer club had their tournament weekend last week as well, and after some ups and downs during the season, they ended up winning all three of their games!  Charlie has made a lot of improvement over the season, and again, he felt so good to get a gold medal for all of his hard work!  I could only be there for the second game (it was a busy weekend!), but watching Charlie’s team play is so much more interesting to me than any sports games on TV!  I could care less about the pros, but I’m completely engrossed in watching these first graders!

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Sienna went on her first church retreat last weekend with the other fourth and fifth graders.  It was held at a camp in the area, which was beautiful.  (Of course I forgot to take a picture of her there!)  She played games, went ziplining, stayed up late, sang songs, and hopefully grew closer to God.  🙂  She had an amazing time!

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We had fun at our neighborhood block party on Saturday. It was nice to meet some neighbors we didn’t know and chat with those we do.  Plus fire pits + roasting giant marshmallows = joy!

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I met my friend Kathryn again for coffee this week, and the coffee stirrers proved to be more fun for Henry to play with than the toys he brought.  It was fun checking out all the Christmas stuff at Target with him afterwards!

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I just finished reading this book with a small mentoring group that I’m in.  It said a lot of things that I know are true, but are always good to be reminded of, about how chasing perfection is damaging to our self-image, relationships with friends, and relationships with our husbands and children.  She presents a great, simple “antidote” to what she calls the “perfection infection,” which includes choosing to replace specific negative emotions with positive ones, and letting go off expectations.  It was easy to read and a great reminder to me to let go of striving for an unrealistic ideal that doesn’t exist.  Most times I do this without even realizing it, so this helped me remember to be more aware as well!
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I went to have lunch with Charlie again on Thursday, followed by a fun presentation in his classroom.  Each student read out facts about Thanksgiving, and then they all sang some Thanksgiving songs.  It was really sweet!  They had cookies and drinks, which each student served to their parent first, before going back in line and waiting to get some for themselves.  Their teacher had them do this because the Pilgrim children would always serve their parents food and then wait and eat after the adults were finished!  Hearing facts about the lifestyle of the Pilgrims made me really thankful for the way we live now, with all of our modern conveniences!  Even if it means that my children are not serving me food every day.  🙂

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Autumn leaves!  They’re fun to play with, but I like them best on the tree and full of color.  I saw some gorgeous fall colors this morning on a walk I took with Henry, which brings me to…

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I enjoyed a really pretty walk this morning with Henry!  The air was very brisk, and the sunlight still had that early morning glow, which highlighted the autumn leaves so beautifully.  It was a perfect fall morning.

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No view can compare with this face though!

I hope you had a great week too!

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A Weekend in Savannah – Part 1

As I mentioned last week, two weekends ago we visited Savannah for the first time.  David had been training for months to run his second marathon with our friend Jonathan, so our two families decided to stay together to turn the marathon trip into a mini getaway!  Jonathan and Judith’s children are older than ours, so they just had their youngest son, Isaac, (who is 13) with them on this trip.  I felt a little bad for him because my boys were clamoring for his attention, but he was so patient and kind with them!  Our friends had already been to Savannah before and stayed on Tybee Island, so we did the same.  It worked out really well.  It’s an easy drive into Savannah from the island and takes 30 minutes at the most.  It is so scenic, and downtown Savannah is quaint and beautiful.  I can’t get over the TREES!  All of that moss hanging from the twisting oak branches is stunning.  As soon as we arrived in Savannah, we went to the race expo so David could pick up his running bib.

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It was the Rock n Roll Marathon, so Henry loved seeing guitars everywhere!!
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Then we met our friends for lunch and a stroll through Savannah.

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This is Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah.  I heard it’s standard Southern fare, but I liked the worn brick exterior!dsc_0283

The city is filled with small, pedestrian squares with seating areas and monuments in each one.  And more of those gorgeous trees!  It’s definitely a pedestrian friendly city.  I was surprised by how few traffic lights we came across, but most of the drivers showed Southern hospitality and graciously stopped for pedestrians.  (How many times can I use the word “pedestrian” in a paragraph? 🙂 )

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Henry was sweeping the ground with a tree branch.

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And sweeping all of the benches.  There must be a way I can capitalize on that in our house!

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Forsyth Park is right in the middle of Savannah and was really pretty.  It contains a fountain that is famous for being featured in the film, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  Have you ever seen that? Do you recognize the fountain?  I’ve never seen the movie, but would like to now, if it’s set in Savannah!dsc_0304

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After our walk and time in the park, we headed to our holiday house on Tybee Island and ate a big dinner!  I participated in a lot of carb-loading, despite the fact that I wasn’t running.  I liken it to husbands gaining sympathy weight during their wife’s pregnancy.  It’s like my duty as a wife, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself!

Saturday was RACE DAY!  It was really cold in the morning!  I’m still getting used to Southern fall weather, which can be frigid in the morning and t-shirt weather in the afternoon.  The first marathon David ran was the New York City marathon, which was MUCH more crowded and stressful for spectators.  However, I went with just my sister so we were able to dash around and hop on Subways to watch David at a few different spots.  Because of the layout of the course in Savannah, plus the fact that we had three young children with us, we just cheered for the guys right around 8 1/2 miles and then at the finish line.

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They were looking great at this point!  We didn’t find out until later that David had hurt his calf somehow around three miles in and seriously thought he might not finish the race.  I am so thankful for Jonathan, who stayed with him and prayed with him, despite the face that David kept telling him to keep going without him.  They stuck together the entire race and crossed the finish line together.dsc_0396

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Our friend Shane was also running in the race and it was fun to see him and cheer him on too!

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 The kids worked on these posters to encourage our runners, but we realized that we didn’t have one for Shane!  So Isaac had the idea to add a little addendum to the poster on the left.  Can you see it?img_3806

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Shane loved it! 🙂

You may be wondering what we did with the kids for the long period of time between mile 8 and mile 26.  We strolled over to Forsyth Park, where the race was ending, and played in the playground!  On the way we stopped to see the Candler Oak tree next to the park, which is estimated to be about 300 years old.

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Henry’s trying for peace signs.  He got one and a half!

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They had live music and some other fun things set up after the race, but we just headed back to our cars, after taking a few pictures, of course!

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We took a few family group pictures (like you do when you have kids) – and I just had to put up the progression of Henry’s facial expressions.  I couldn’t stop laughing!

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Haha!  I don’t even know where that bottom expression came from!

Ok, that’s enough for today!  I’ll put up the rest of the pictures soon!

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Friday Favorites No. 1

1-img_3794-2Last week, Sienna went on a field trip and brought some of her own spending money for the gift shop.  She came back having not only bought herself something, but also surprised us by getting an arrowhead for David and the boys and a pair of earrings for me!  It was really sweet to see her generous spirit in action!  I’m wearing the earrings she bought me in the picture above.  I love the turquoise color!

2-dsc_0310 We spent a beautiful weekend in Savannah with friends, because David and our friend Jonathan ran the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon down there.  We stayed on Tybee Island, which has a gorgeous beach, and also had time to stroll downtown Savannah.  It was our first time visiting that city, but it won’t be our last!  I’m writing a separate post about our trip, but here’s a little peek:

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3-dsc_0337I’m always proud when I see David run at an event, and this was no exception.  There is also a great attitude of encouragement among the spectators of a big race, and I love the energy in the air!  Without fail, every time the thought runs through my mind that maybe I should attempt a half, just to feel the rush of crossing the finish line with all of that encouragement!  Then I come to my senses!

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I love the colors of fall.  And beautiful autumn sunsets.  God is the best artist in the world.

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I had a great morning on Wednesday meeting up with my friend Kathryn and her daughter.  We grabbed fancy drinks at Starbucks (I tried a salted caramel mocha with half syrup for the first time and it was AMAZING), then walked to Chick-fil-a to get some food for the little guys and let them play in the inside playspace.  Well, it was being deep cleaned and sanitized, so the poor kids had to entertain themselves for an hour while waiting for the workers to be finished.  I’m sure the playground has never been that clean before when they’ve been in it!  At least, until another kid in there decided to spit chewed up food onto the steps of the playset.  Fortunately, that was right about when we needed to leave anyway so I could be mystery reader in Charlie’s class.  I love when I can surprise the kids by doing something in their classrooms.  It doesn’t happen very much now that Sienna is older, but I still get to sign up for things in Charlie’s class sometimes.  I stayed and had lunch with him.  He was so excited!!

6- stranger-thingsSTRANGER THINGS – David and I took a little over a week to watch this show (we didn’t watch every night, but doubled up some nights!) and I was completely addicted! It’s a Netflix original and at just 8 episodes it has almost instant gratification.  I normally don’t like sci-fi that much and I hate horror, but I loved this.  It has some great characters (I love the little gang of outcast middle school boys), great acting, extreme suspense, laughs, major conspiracies, and the entire thing feels like a show birthed in my childhood, because it’s set in the 80’s and pays homage to all of the popular films of the same genre from that time period.  Although I had to watch more than a few scenes through my fingers (you just KNOW something is going to jump out at you!) the scares don’t stick with you once the episode is over. What does remain are the questions that are raised, and although the ending of season 1 was satisfying, I’m excited that they are already working on season 2!  I would highly recommend this show for adults who like suspense and don’t mind some scary bits, occasional bad language, and poor judgment on the part of teenagers (that can be extremely frustrating to watch)! (Image from netflix.com)

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Starbucks is having a Buy One Get One Free holiday drink sale through Monday!!  I am going to use this opportunity to meet Kathryn for another fancy coffee drink and try the Caramel Brulee Latte!!  I just started drinking coffee a couple of months ago and can finally understand how people spend a fortune at Starbucks.  I need to limit my exposure to Starbucks, or I might find myself spending way too much money there (and gaining ten pounds in the process!)  (Image from momsbyheart.net)

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The Ghosts of Halloween Past

I thought it would be fun to find the pictures of all of the kids’ past Halloweens, and I decided to share them with you too!  I’ll work my way backwards from last year.  Sorry that the quality is terrible in some pictures!

2015: Ariel and Sebastian.  Fortunately, Sienna already had the Ariel dress and wanted to use that.  We bought the wig at Target.  I made Henry’s costume out of felt and cardboard using a glue gun.

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Harry Potter!  Charlie wore clothes he already had under a robe I made out of cheap black fabric.  Sienna had the Hogwarts pin from a Harry Potter birthday party she attended, we borrowed the wand from a friend (it’s a Great Wolf Lodge wand!) and I bought the glasses on Amazon.  The actual Harry Potter glasses were pretty expensive, so I ended up ordering these that are supposed to be for a Santa costume for a few dollars!  (And free shipping – don’t you love Amazon Prime?)

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There was also a little Captain Hook wandering around the house around Halloween!

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2014: Our first NC Halloween!  We had Elsa, Captain Hook, and Peter Pan.  Sienna wore a dress she already had been given as a birthday gift, and we added on a dollar store crown.  Charlie had a vest I made by cutting up an old t-shirt and hot gluing ribbon onto it.  I made the little cuffs with felt and lace, and his hat was from the Target party favor aisle – I just hot glued strips of black fabric scraps to look like hair!  He already had the hook!  I sewed Henry’s little Peter Pan shirt and hat.  We reused the belt and dagger I had made when Charlie was Peter Pan as a toddler.

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David and I were supposed to be Katniss and Peeta from the Hunger Games, but you can’t really tell we are dressed up at all!

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2013: I barely took any pictures this year!  Sienna was Princess Leia, Charlie was Darth Vader, and Henry was Yoda.  I have this picture from Sienna’s costume parade at school.  She just wore a bathrobe and we put her hair in buns.

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I don’t have ANY pictures of Charlie from Halloween – I don’t know how! I found this from Star Wars day at our library in New York, and he was wearing the same shirt and dollar store cape.  He also had a Darth Vader mask on Halloween that had been a birthday present.  By the way, he was thrilled to meet Darth Vader at our library that day!  There were also storm troopers there and they were all appropriately menacing!
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I had to take a photo of this photo from a book my Mom made for Henry’s first birthday.  Somehow she got this picture but I can’t find it!  We borrowed a Yoda hat from a friend for Henry’s “costume.”

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2012: Rapunzel and Buzz Lightyear.  Everything was store bought except Sienna’s braid, which I made out of yarn.  We actually just gave these away when we purged a bunch of toys.  They used them for dress up for a looooong time.  The braid went to my friend’s little four year old girl, and I love it when we go to their house and she’s wearing it!
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2011: Beauty and the Beast.  Sienna’s costume this year was hands down my favorite ever, because it was a labor of love!  It might be my favorite sewing project that I’ve ever done!  This was another costume Sienna used for dress up for years.

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“The Beast,” who everyone (understandably) thought was a dog.  I just sewed furry fabric on an old sweatshirt and made little furry shoe and hand covers.

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They reused their costumes from 2010 for a pumpkin painting party at a friend’s house.  I just love these frosting covered faces!

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2010: Tinkerbell and Peter Pan.  I made Charlie’s hat, shirt, belt, and dagger.  Sienna’s dress was store bought, I made the tutu skirt, and I made the wings out of a clothes hanger and tights.

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2009:Sienna was Tigger!  This costume was a hand me down from a friend.  It’s strange to remember the days when we just had Sienna!

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fall-2009-jan-2010-0082008: I have no memory of what we did and no pictures! #ilostmorebraincellswitheachbaby  So here’s a (few) pictures from around Halloween that year!

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2007: Sienna’s first Halloween!  She was a cow, in a borrowed costume.  Her cousin was a little chick.

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I hope you enjoyed taking that little walk down memory lane with me!  I love looking back at older pictures of the kids and seeing how they’ve grown.  Another thing that this post makes me think is that I need to get back into sewing and crafting.  I used to do a lot more of it when the kids were little (and when there were less of them!)  Any good sewing/crafting project recommendations?

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Halloween Weekend in Pictures

Ok, get ready for picture overload!  This post is probably best for the grandparents, family, and my dearest friends.  (Friends: if I ask you a question about something in this post and you don’t know the answer then I’ll know where our relationship stands).  😉  We had a great weekend and a fun Halloween night!  We kicked it off by (finally) carving our Jack-o-lanterns on Friday night.dsc_0265-1

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The kids made designs on paper first, then drew them onto the pumpkins.

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I took this picture just to show that the kids disappeared rather quickly once they were done drawing on the pumpkins!  Henry said he wanted his pumpkin to say “hi” so this is what we came up with!

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Charlie’s was rather detailed.  He was actually disappointed when I said I couldn’t carve out the words, “BOO BOO.”  Haha!

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On Saturday, we went to a fall festival at a local park.  The kids were a ninja, an Odd Squad agent, and a witch.

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You can see our sweet friend Carol’s foot there next to the pile of toilet paper – after Henry’s fifth unsuccessful attempt to knock them down, she gave him a little helpful nudge!

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Watch out, Batgirl!  There’s a ninja behind you!  It was fun to run into some friends!

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Saturday night we went to a friend’s fall party/bonfire night.  The big kids had fun shooting a bb gun for the first time!

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Actually, Charlie had fun…once was enough for Sienna!

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I love spending time with girlfriends.  It’s a bonus when our kids like to play together too!

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Tonight was beautiful weather to be out trick or treating!

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Sienna was a “witch cat” and the rest of us were members of the Odd Squad, a show that the kids like.

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Here’s a side by side comparison!  The kids changed costume ideas about ten times, so I was glad when the boys settled on something that David and I could do with them! (I love family group costumes!)

 

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“You look pensive.”

“Man, I was going for thoughtful.”

(I know the quote is not completely accurate, but who can guess the movie reference?  Hint: it probably helps if you were in high school or college at the end of the 20th century!  I watched this movie approximately 5 million times as a teenager.)

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Sienna and her sweet friend from down the street.  She actually carried a fake tree with her as part of her costume!  She won for best “trending news” costume haha!  We had a fun weekend and great night tonight.  But I’m excited to be moving into the Thanksgiving season!  From now until New Year’s is my favorite time of the year!!!  I hope you had a great weekend and got to dress up and be goofy.  Any other grown ups don a costume this year?

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A Trip to Wise Acres Farm

If you live in the Charlotte area and have young kids, Wise Acres Farm is a great annual fall activity to add into your schedule!  This was our second trip to the organic, family-owned farm in Indian Trail, and already it has grown a lot in two years.  There is plenty to do, delicious food offerings, and a cute pumpkin patch as well.  It is completely free to park and play on the play areas that are set up, one of which is primarily made of recycled items.dsc_0297

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dsc_0296I love the quaint red barn in the background!  In that barn is where you can purchase admission to the hay ride, barrel train, giant corn pit (a huge sandbox filled with corn kernels!), as well as organic cotton candy and slushies.  We had the apple cider slushie and it was REALLY good!  There’s a little gift shop as well with locally sourced gifts and treats.dsc_0265

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My goofy boy.

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Henry was not so sure about being up on the pallet swing!

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Sometimes I wish my baby would stay like this forever!

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This is a whole second play area further back on the grounds.  There was a much bigger zip line here, as well as a few other play areas, including a small train that Henry loved!dsc_0314

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The barrel train rode around the perimeter of this play area.  We didn’t buy tickets for this attraction, but it looked cute!dsc_0321

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The kids went on the tractor hay ride on their own.  Side note: I was a little panicked about letting them go without one of us, but that is why David is the perfect husband for me.  I would prefer my kids to wear helmets, elbow pads, and knee pads (and mouth guards) before they leave the house, and he is basically the opposite.  So we balance each other out really well!  He encouraged me that the bigger kids could take care of Henry on the ride, and that they would all be fine.  He also reminded me that at Sienna’s age he used to take a public bus to school by himself, but that’s another story.  (“When I was your age….” statements are coming out of David’s and my mouth more and more frequently now!  Which means that basically, we are getting old!)

The kids loved the hay ride, and I think the older two felt really proud about doing a good job taking care of their little brother too!  If my memory serves me correctly, the tractor ride was $3 each.

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If you do plan a weekend trip to Wise Acres Farm, I highly recommend the brick oven pizza that they offer!  We got the cheese pie and it was soooooo good!  They also locally source some of the ingredients, including the mozzarella cheese, pesto, and whole wheat flour.  Check out more info. here.  The crust was nice and doughy, giving it a delicious chewy texture.  Combine that with the slightly charred flavor you get from the brick oven, the fresh toppings, and…mmmmmmm it was so good!

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If you go in the fall, you have to visit the pumpkin patch!  We ended up letting each of the kids pick out a smaller pumpkin, and getting one big pumpkin to carve.  Although we paid a little more than we would have at the supermarket, our Wise Acres pumpkins are still in pristine condition weeks later, and I have had to throw away a supermarket pumpkin already because it started rotting badly!

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They have a row of wagons you can use to cart your pumpkins around.

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I would highly recommend that you visit Wise Acres Farm!  They also have strawberry picking in the spring time, so I know I’m marking my calendar to go this spring.  It’s all organic, and my friend who went this past spring said that the prices are better than organic strawberries at our local supermarket!

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September Book Review

Because the middle of October is a great time to write about the books I read in September, right?  🙂

I absolutely love reading, and although I wish that non-fiction inspirational biographies or educational books made my heart beat faster, I’m hooked on novels.  Recently, I’ve been a sucker for a gripping storyline and fast moving plot.  I read five novels last month, some great, some not as enjoyable, and one that gave me the biggest shock I’ve received from a book in years!  I’m listing these in the order that I read them.  (If you want to purchase any of the books, you can click on the link under the book image.)

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The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
“The Goldfinch” had been on my radar for a couple of years, since it received many rave reviews and won a Pulitzer Prize.  Donna Tartt’s story follows the main character, Theo, through a shaky adolescence that was unhinged when he lost his mother in a tragic museum bombing.  Although Theo walked out of the building (relatively) unscathed physically, his life course was altered dramatically in that moment.  Without the stability of his loving mother, Theo ends up shifting from one home to another, and the bright future that seemed guaranteed grows more and more dim and out of reach.  What Theo carries with him to each residence is not only the pain of loss, but the titular painting that he took from the wreckage of the museum on that fateful day.  It both sustains him and haunts him, and eventually causes him to enter a dangerous path that he never intended to go down.

At first, “The Goldfinch” was incredible.  The writing is beautiful and descriptive, and I was immediately drawn into Theo’s life.  The rich character descriptions and intense moments are so inviting that you feel as if you are among the characters, bearing witness to their intimate encounters.  Around a third of the way in, however, the tone changed drastically and I found myself becoming bored.  I believe Tartt intended for this segment of the book to be depressing and dry, but it was quite long and I found myself speeding through it, hoping that Theo’s circumstances would change.  If I had personally felt more connected to Theo, I would probably have moved more slowly through this portion of the book to absorb everything he experienced.  It made me think of Kate Atkinson’s novel, “A God in Ruins,” which is her companion piece to “Life After Life.”  The main character of “A God in Ruins,” Teddy, was a beloved character in “Life After Life” and so I was very fond of him and felt invested in finding out all of the details of his life, despite the sometimes achingly slow moving plot.  In “The Goldfinch,” however, I felt like I didn’t care enough about Theo to pause and wade my way through this depressing section.  I had to skim through it!  Things picked up again, but the end of the book contained a rather unexpected and slightly outrageous turn of events, in my opinion.  I would definitely recommend this book, however, because even if you do not enjoy the entire story line or don’t even finish, it is worth it to experience the gorgeous writing in the beginning.

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Jane Steele
“Jane Steele,” by Lyndsay Faye, was a fun read for anyone who enjoyed “Jane Eyre” (I love it!)  Rather than being a re-write, it makes a lot of fun references to the classic novel.  The plot follows Jane Steele, who is inspired to record her own story after reading and immensely enjoying “Jane Eyre.”  Set in the same time period, there are unmistakable similarities between the two Jane’s:  they are orphans, sent away to a miserable school by a cruel aunt, have been told they’re inherently wicked, and end up governesses in grand homes with cantankerous masters…who they fall in love with.  Our new Jane has a little more adventure along the way before she ends up in Mr. Thornfield’s house (a nod to “Thornfield Hall” from the classic novel), as our heroine is a murderess.  The darker side of nineteenth century England is on full display here, and Jane unfortunately crosses paths with many unsavory characters whom she feels she has no choice but to eliminate in order to protect herself or those she cares about.  Believe it or not, however, her role as a serial killer is not the main focus of the story.  The plot really picks up when she begins her role as a governess and is plunged into a household brimming with mystery and unique characters.  Even with the mad woman upstairs, “Jane Eyre” is tame compared to “Jane Steele,” which has its own satisfying twists and turns.

I really enjoyed this book!  It was convincingly written in the language of a nineteenth century novel, and its protagonist is likable, even with her criminal record. I did find myself slightly annoyed with her at times, because she was meant to be tough as nails, but then acted incredibly insecure and meek at times.  Then she might turn around and do something stupidly rash and risky that required extreme bravery.  I suppose, however, that everyone’s character can be a little inconsistent at times, depending on their circumstances.   I would recommend this book overall, but especially to people who enjoy “Jane Eyre.”

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The Last Midwife: A Novel
This book caught my eye on the new fiction shelf at my local library.  I love “Call the Midwife,” (both the memoir and TV show), and am interested in the experience of midwives, so the title jumped out at me.  I found out after reading “The Last Midwife” that Sandra Dallas has written many successful novels, so her style of writing must appeal to a large population of people.  I have to say, though, that I wasn’t a big fan of this book.  Set in 1880, “The Last Midwife” follows Gracy, who has been a beloved midwife for around half a century, with most of the years spent in the small Colorado town she currently lives in with her husband Daniel.  Everyone is shocked when a wealthy mine owner and his wife accuse her of murdering their newborn son, and immediately the town is divided over whether or not she is guilty.  We the reader immediately know that Gracy is innocent, but are left wondering why this man would make such an accusation, and what actually happened.  While waiting for the trial, Gracy continues visiting mothers and delivering babies, as this is her purpose and love in life.  Dallas slowly reveals Gracy’s own past as well, which has a surprising amount of pain mixed in with the joyful moments.  There are a few surprises as the case against Gracy progresses, and one major bombshell.

As I said, however, I did not enjoy this book that much.  I skimmed most of it just to get the story and find out what actually happened to the baby, but I found the protagonist, Gracy, to be unrealistically gracious and forgiving with a level of self-control that becomes annoying.  I could see why people really enjoyed it because there were some very interesting characters and plot lines, but it just wasn’t for me.  What I did love about “The Last Midwife” was the view it gives into what it was like to live in that part of America in the late nineteenth century.  It was eye-opening to read about the harsh environment, rigorous travel methods, quaint quilting groups, and how much work (and time) it took to make a decent cup of coffee!  I love getting insight into different lifestyles, and on that front, “The Last Midwife” did not disappoint.  If you are interested in reading a novel about a more modern day midwife (who is also accused of a crime), I would recommend Chris Bohjalian’s “Midwives,” which I read years ago and enjoyed immensely.  Narrated by the midwife’s daughter, who is reflecting on events that took place during her adolescence, “Midwives” is mystery, the world of midwifery, and a coming of age drama all wrapped up into one.

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The Forgetting Time: A Novel
Ooh we’re getting into my two favorites of the month.  I got both of these book recommendations through the blog Modern Mrs Darcy, and they did not disappoint!  First up: “The Forgetting Time,” by Sharon Guskin, is haunting, suspenseful, and had me hooked from the start.  Single mom Janie loves her little 5 year old boy Noah more than anything in the world.  But the older he gets, the more she realizes that something is wrong, and she has no idea how to help him.  He is very attached, terrified of water, has night terrors about drowning that end in screaming episodes, and he keeps asking for his “other mother,” saying he wants to “go home.”  I don’t want to say any more, because I think this is a novel in which much of the enjoyment is peeling back each layer of the story for yourself!  It explores unusual territory, which some readers may feel is too “out there,” but I think it’s still a really interesting read and would recommend it.

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I Let You Go
This was definitely my favorite book of the month, the last few months, and maybe even longer!  It is gripping, well written, and I gasped aloud while reading for the first time since I read “Gone Girl” a few years ago!  Clare Mackintosh’s novel begins with the unspeakable: a mother lets go of her young son’s hand for a moment, and he gets hit by a car and killed.  The driver immediately flees the scene, so it is up to DI Ray Stevens and his trainee Kate to investigate and find the person responsible.  While their investigation keeps coming up dry, Jenna, haunted by the accident and mourning the loss of her son, leaves Bristol to start over in a remote town in Wales.  Although the mystery of the hit and run driver gives the book it’s initial spark, the intensity of the novel is really fueled by its characters.  You are drawn into each of their lives and don’t want to leave.  There are some disturbing scenes and heavy subject matter, but the plot moves at lightning speed and you are left thinking about “I Let You Go” long after turning the last page.  This is truly a compulsive read, so the last page may come sooner than you think!  I read this in one day!

If you’ve read any of these books, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts!  (No spoilers in the comments, please!)  Also, I am always looking for good book recommendations, so please let me know if you’ve read anything good recently!

*Note: this post contains affiliate links.

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Our Weekend in (Mostly) Pictures

We had such a fun, full weekend!  It started on Friday night when Sienna and Charlie planned a little surprise for the rest of us.  They love sending us to one room so they can turn the rest of the house into a “hotel.”  They have made signs before for the “lego hotel” and this time they created “The Little Sea Turtle Hotel.”   It started with this card that they left for us that included “tickets” to the hotel!img_3489

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We followed our instructions and found ourselves at the “check-in desk.”

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We received our room keys and were shown to our room.
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I love the chocolates left on the pillows!  And I love it when the kids want to plan little projects and surprises like this independently.  Speaking of which, Sienna started making special desserts on her own for us over the summer, that would usually include ingredients from the pantry combined with melted chocolate and/or peanut butter to look like a certain object or place.  Here’s an example – this one was a campsite (use your imagination!)img_2926.  Friday night, Charlie asked if he could make one on his own, so he created a candy old-fashioned house.

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My favorite part was the upside down lollipop (a butter churner).  My favorite part to eat was the melted chocolate that coated the entire plate!  Mmmmmm.  It was really fun to see him concentrating so carefully when he was putting this together for us.

On Saturday I had the great privilege of bringing Sienna and Charlie to serve at a meal packing event held at our church.  This was completed in collaboration with the organization Feed the Hunger, which is a Christian organization that brings food and the gospel to needy people in the United States and across the world.  Over 250 people came out to help in the session we attended.  At each of 12 stations, teams filled small bags with dehydrated vegetables, beans, a vitamin/nutrient mix, and rice.  They were weighed for accuracy and then heat sealed and boxed.  It was a well organized, efficient assembly line method that allowed our group of volunteers and the group of about 300 that came in the afternoon to fill over 16,600 bags total.  Each bag contains enough food to feed 6 children a meal, and we packed over 100,000 meals!   Originally, all of the meals were going to be sent to Jamaica, but because of the devastation in Haiti caused by Hurricane Matthew, half of the meals are going to be sent to Haiti to help in areas that have been hit the hardest.  It was a great opportunity to serve with the kids and provided the launch point for a lot of good conversations with them about poverty and serving others.  Sienna and I were able to participate last year as well —

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You gotta love the hairnets, right?  She looks so much younger!  This year Sienna was meeting two of her friends there and it brought me a lot of joy to watch those girls working hard together to bring good to hurting people in the world!

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Charlie was really excited to be able to go this year.  I was so proud of how hard he worked lining up the bags filled with food and helping to pack them into boxes.  img_3521

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It felt so good to run into lots of friends who were serving as well.  We are so blessed by the community we are a part of through our church! And haha- I just realized I wore the same shirt both times!  David stayed home with Henry, since he wasn’t old enough to come to the event.  They had a great time playing with cars, listening to Chris Tomlin music (Henry’s favorite) and playing guitar together.  Henry used to carry his guitar around constantly, but hasn’t been interested in it for a while.  David’s played his guitar with him more in the last few days, and now Henry is back into playing his guitar!  Yay!  He’s actually playing it and singing right now.  🙂

After the Feed the Hunger event, our family headed to a friend’s house to celebrate their youngest, Hudson, turning one!

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Look at how gorgeous my friend Julie is, surrounded by her three sweet kids!

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Sienna was so sweet and gentle with Hudson.  img_3580

She asked me to braid her hair while we were hanging out at the party.  I tried!

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Henry clutched his balloon the entire drive home.  He kept saying, “I’m not going to let it float away!”

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The kids came home to a package from my mom with some new clothes!  They modeled them so I could send a picture to my mom.  Henry didn’t have anything in the package (he has plenty of hand me downs from Charlie) so I pulled out some of Charlie’s old car PJs for Henry to get to open and he was so excited!  He’s in a big cars and trains stage.  🙂

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Charlie dressed himself before church on Sunday and came down wearing this.  It’s the suit he wore for my brother-in-law’s wedding in England this summer!  I love it.  Especially the mismatched buttons on the shirt.  He ended up wearing it without the jacket, but he was still the best dressed boy at church that morning!  It’s great being at the stage where my kids can dress themselves and it’s always fun to see what they come up with.  We had a relaxed day at home, and then a sitter came over so David and I could attend our church small group.  Once again, I felt really blessed to have made such wonderful friends through our church.  Those were some highlights from our weekend.  How was your weekend?

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3 Simple Tools That Help Me Be More Disciplined

Yesterday, I talked about my need to live a more disciplined life.  In case you missed it, you can read that post here.  Today, I’m going to share three tools I’ve found that are super helpful in keeping me on task…when I am dedicated to use them!  Again, please give me grace, because I am a major work in progress in this area!  I just thought these few tools might be helpful to someone reading this and so I wanted to share them!

1- The Make Over Your Mornings Course

As I mentioned in my last post, I have done lots of research looking for ways to keep my days organized and productive.  I’ve come across TONS of strategies, methods, and printables out there which I think are kind of like “fad diets.”  They work really well for a small population, but are difficult to maintain or ineffective for most people.   Last spring, however, I came across a course that has been really helpful to me, did not cost a lot of money ($17 full price), and is very easy to follow through with.  It is called “Make Over Your Mornings” (MOYM), and was created by Crystal Paine of moneysavingmom.com.  I am not getting compensated or anything for recommending this course, I just found it really helpful!  I enjoy reading Crystal’s blog, not just to spot some good deals or yummy recipes, but also because she is constantly writing encouraging messages that help me have a positive attitude and feel more self-confident.  This course that she created is broken down into one short video, one short lesson to read, and a few small action steps for each day.  This takes about 15 minutes a day, and there are 14 days in all.  To be honest, I crammed all of the lessons in a few days straight because I was riding a wave of motivation, but you can take the whole two weeks if you want!

The biggest benefits I received from MOYM were creating an effective morning routine, but more importantly, an evening routine.  I will share with you a specific change that I have made:  I used to wake up to a sink full of dishes and a pretty untidy kitchen, with the mentality that each morning I would clean up from the night before.  I wanted to spend the evening relaxing with David!  But there’s just something about waking up to all of that mess that made me feel defeated before the day even started!  Through this course, I identified what my ideal morning looks like and took small steps to figure out how I could make that a reality. (Spoiler Alert: I’m not there yet!) Crystal’s tips are all so easy to follow through with, and it’s now my habit to clean the kitchen and run the dishwasher every night after dinner.  I’m sure for many of you that sounds like no real accomplishment, but to me it is!  I think my favorite part of the process was when I was in England over the summer and my mother-in-law said, “David’s told me that you decided to clean the kitchen every night after dinner and that it’s made a big difference.”  (Or something to that effect!)  It felt so good to know that David had praised my efforts to someone else and noticed all the hard work I had done.  Plus, I feel like it’s worth it every morning when I come downstairs to a clean kitchen!  There is so much more to the course as well, like breaking down big goals into actionable steps, and how to best structure your to-do list.  It’s super helpful, super practical, and I highly recommend it!

2- A Bullet Journal

Speaking of a to-do list, which I highly recommend having, I have just started a brand new (to me) approach to my daily to-do list.  I first heard of bullet journaling over the summer in this post on the blog Modern Mrs Darcy.  She also references this post, which was very informative about how to start your own bullet journal.  A bullet journal is just a blank notebook that you can customize to be a day planner, personal journal, list of things to remember, and basically whatever you want it to be.  It sounds pretty confusing, but both of the links above break it down so that it’s really easy to understand!  I like to use mine (so far) as a resource for books I’ve read, books I want to read, things/people to pray for (and a section for answered prayers!), a personal journal (of sorts), and to organize my days.  Each night, I look at what is on the schedule for the next day, any places I need to go, and any tasks I need to accomplish.  I write these out in a list on the next blank page of my bullet journal, labeled with the date and using different symbols to categorize the to-do’s.  As I get certain things done or finish appointments, I make a notation of that being completed.  This has been such a great time management tool for me!

My favorite part of bullet journaling, though, is the “personal journal” aspect.  I have always wanted to start journaling and keep a record of special little things that happen each day, or funny/sweet things that the kids say.  Journaling seemed like a big pressure, though, as if I had to write long, eloquent entries that were written with the thought that my great grandchildren could come across this journal in the dusty corner of an attic one day and read it.  (Am I the only one who thinks about things like that?  I might be.  I’m kind of weird.)  Basically, outside of a few elementary school diary entries that were mostly about boys that I liked, I have never written in a journal.  By the way, those diary entries are pretty funny.  I wanted to marry this boy in my class and have about 50 different species of animals as pets in our backyard.  I told you I’m kind of weird!  But I digress; the great thing about using a bullet journal to record highlights of the day is that it’s format welcomes simple, jotted down notes that you can add quickly during the day or before bed.  There’s no pressure to add too much detail or be so articulate, because the point is to quickly capture the memory.  Although this isn’t directly related to time management, it clears mental clutter and gives me a huge sense of accomplishment!  Many people seem to use their bullet journals in lieu of a daily/weekly/monthly planner as well.  I tried to do this at first, but I can’t replace my beautifully formatted weekly Simplified Planner by Emily Ley.  Which leads me to…

3- A Planner/Calendar That Works For You

You could definitely incorporate this into a bullet journal, but for me, having a separate weekly planner is really helpful.  I can see each week at a glance, and scribble down the dates for clubs, sports’ practices, Bible studies, date nights, church events, parties, appointments, and everything I need to remember ahead of time.  Mine also has a small box to record what you’re making for dinner each day, which is great when it comes to meal planning.  I scribble all over my planner with things I need to remember on certain days, then use my bullet journal to create a more orderly task/activity/things to remember list for each day the night before.  Some people also use google calendar or a scheduling app on their phone for this, but I am a pen and paper kind of girl!

So those are my three most useful tools for helping me stay on task each day!  Definitely not rocket science, but I thought I would share them in case it could help anyone.  Please let me know what you do to manage your time well!  I am always interested in seeing how other people approach time management and would love to get some advice from you!

 

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A More Disciplined Life

I have had these thoughts simmering in my brain for a while and thought I would share them here.  I sprinkled in pictures of the kids to lighten it up a little!

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Recently, I’ve been feeling like I can’t get anything done.  Like I’m always behind on my to-do list.  Like I can’t keep track of everything I’m supposed to be doing, and even when I do remember I’m still dropping the ball.  Like I’m busy all day, but there’s not much to show for it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m checking off the necessities, but there is so much more that I want to accomplish each day.  I have dreams of spending more quiet time with God, blogging much more frequently, journaling more, writing letters to friends and family, completing craft projects, and spending time with girlfriends (guilt-free!), among other things.  I tend to go through patterns of being weighed down by a lack of productivity, which leads to frustration and an intense desire to find some kind of system to get me more organized and on task, which works for a short amount of time, until it doesn’t, which then leads to being unproductive, and then to the search for a new and better system to get me back on task, and on and on it goes.  Can anyone identify with this?  I am very skilled at researching different methods for “setting up a schedule that really works,” or “making goals you can follow through with,” or “keeping a clean house in just 15 minutes a day,” or “getting everything done that you need to while still making time for yourself.”  I scour pinterest, and search through endless time management and lifestyle blogs for everyone’s opinion on what works best.  I’ve created cleaning charts broken down with tasks by day so that the whole house can be cleaned in the week.  I’ve made comprehensive weekly meal plans with coordinating shopping lists.  I’ve bought the fancy daily planner, the time management e-course, and a binder to keep my papers in order (with cute folders).  Yet I am still searching for that magic method that will make my day to day more structured and manageable.  I recently went to a women’s breakfast at church when a speaker went over some fabulous, practical time management tips that can help free up time for Bible study and prayer.  I had already heard all of the wonderful advice that she shared through my research.  So why am I still struggling?  Here is my secret:

I lack discipline.

I have the knowledge.  I know what I should be doing.  I’m just not doing it.

 That is hard to admit to myself, and even more difficult to type out for other people to see.  But I want to put it out there, because I think I’m not alone.  There must be other women like me, or else all of these time management courses and systems and printables would not exist!  But I think we all like to pretend we are on top of our game.  Yes, we complain about life being SO STRESSFUL, with the kids, and the house, and the cooking, shopping, cleaning, activities, exercise, appointments, (insert important activity here).  We do this while at the same time presenting our best self to others and acting like we are managing all of our responsibilities just fine.  But behind closed doors, we are scrambling to get it all done and wondering why we were so busy all day, yet accomplished so little.  If you cannot identify with this at all, please share your wisdom with the rest of us!  If you can, you might benefit from some things I’ve learned through my extensive research 🙂 and some self-evaluation.  Now please, give me grace, because I still need to do a lot of work in this are.  I am the first person who needs to take this advice and own it!

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1) Daily “chores” will never be fun.

I kept thinking that if I looked hard enough, I would stumble upon the magic solution that would make the monotonous tasks of laundry, doing dishes, and cleaning somehow enjoyable.  It doesn’t exist!  When I’ve tried to have a show, vlog, or podcast on while cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry, it’s made the task I’m doing take longer because I’m not as focused.  I think the best thing for me is to play some music and try to get the boring stuff done as quickly as I can.  I know lots of women put a timer on and rush against the clock to get a task done and out of the way.  I think that’s a great idea!

2) “I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.”

I absolutely love this phrase, coined by Emily Ley.  She said that the meaning of this phrase is found in 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” My weaknesses humble me and allow God’s grace to enter my life and do mighty things.  That reminder makes me feel a lot better about all of my imperfections and shortcomings!  When I’m cleaning my house, organizing, or cooking dinner, it doesn’t have to be perfect! It just needs to get done.  Getting caught up in things being “just right” is too draining!  And if I slip and have a day where I hardly get anything done, I need to stop beating myself up so much and remember that tomorrow is a new day with a fresh start.  (By the way, Emily Ley created the fancy daily planner I referenced buying earlier and I LOVE IT!  You can see her products here.)

3) Always have a to-do list.

If I go into my day without a to-do list, I’m moving around the house like a chicken without a head.  I start tidying the kitchen, then put an item away in my bedroom, then get caught up doing a task in my bedroom (while the kitchen still isn’t finished), and then Henry calls out that he needs help with something (i.e. he’s done going potty and needs help wiping!), so I help him but then start cleaning the bathroom because I noticed toothpaste all over the sink…and you get the idea.  I get super distracted and then super frustrated when I’ve chipped away a little at multiple rooms but not actually completed any one room.  A to-do list solves this problem because you can see exactly what needs to be done, and create an order with high priority items at the top.  If you see something else that needs to be done as you’re going about the day, add it to the list (or tomorrow’s list).  It is SO gratifying to cross things off of a list!  It just makes me feel extra productive!  (That’s, of course, when I actually have a to-do list.)  🙂  I told you I need this advice more than anyone!

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4) Put that phone away!!!!

This is probably the main culprit in the derailment of my productivity.  (I hope that sentence makes sense).  A “quick response” to a text can lead to checking email, which can lead to doing an internet search or checking facebook.  And once you open up facebook, you’ve basically consented to waste an hour of your life!  It’s not intentional, and it’s not all wasteful.  However, falling into the trap of phone distractions leaves me feeling really discouraged, and makes the important tasks I have yet to do seem harder to complete.  If scrolling facebook is really important to you, put it on your to-do list and give yourself a time limit.  I find that when I really think about it though, I rank many other things higher in my list of priorities.

5) Incentives are not just for children.

Yes, I bribe my kids sometimes.  If Henry is good in the supermarket, he can go on the dragon ride by the entrance (it only costs a penny!)  I get my kids to persist through meals they are not fans of with the promise of dessert.  Please don’t be harsh on me if you don’t agree with my methods!  My point is that an unpleasant chore is easier to bear when there is a reward waiting for you.  As I said, I am still working on being more disciplined and productive each day.  Something that I am trying to do is schedule a time each day that is just for me.  I need to have finished all the boring responsibilities for each day, and if I do, I can spend that time doing something that I love.  Like writing on this blog, reading a book, or working on something crafty.  I used to shy away from writing things like that down in my schedule, because it didn’t seem right when there are other things I could be doing that are not just for fun!  But we all need times like that to refuel so that we can give more to others.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the illustration that in an airplane emergency you’re supposed to put your air mask on first before putting one on your child? Well, doing things that energize you fill your soul so that it’s easier to serve those around you.  So give yourself a nice reward for the time you spend doing the boring stuff.  It will not only benefit you, but those around you!

I hope that these simple observations will help if you struggle the same way that I do.  In my next post I’m going to address a few tools I’ve come across that are helping me get my days in order.  (When I am diligent in utilizing them!)dsc_0242

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