Eclipse Day

How does one celebrate a rare solar event? This question popped into my mind early as my mom was planning my grandparents’ 70th anniversary which coincided with the solar eclipse. Further investigation revealed that we live in an area to view 99.6% totality!

I’m not an event planner, so I’d planned to take the kids to our cul-de-sac for casual viewing (with the special glasses, of course). I was thrilled when my friend Lydia organized a Solar Eclipse Party for the preschool set at her mother-in-law’s farm. They went all out, and it was a blast!

There were happy sun balloons, decorations, lunch, cupcakes, and friends!

Unfortunately, complete cloud cover moved in about three minutes before totality, but we were able to see most of the first part of the eclipse and were able to experience the darkness, temperature change, and animal confusion as the cicadas and frogs had different sound patterns.

Susie had visual aides prepared in case of clouds and was able to reenact the eclipse for us. :) Violet was able to see the first part of the eclipse, and Cora tried her best to be like the big kids. They both did great keeping the glasses on while looking.

Even though our viewing wasn’t optimal, it was a fun day that the girls will remember. While they may not remember the actual eclipse, they’ll remember feeding chickens, having a picnic party, and playing with friends in the dark at lunchtime.

First Days of School: 2017-18

It’s “fall” once again – school, preschool, MOPS, ballet lessons, and church nights are all getting back into our routine. Here are our traditional first day of school pics and interviews. Hannah – Second grade

  • Class of 2028
  • Favorite book: whatever currently reading
  • This year I want to learn: cursive and multiplication
  • When I grow up, I want to be: a vet

Violet

  • Class of 2031
  • Favorite book: The Pigeon Takes a Bath
  • This year I want to learn: about animals
  • When I grow up, I want to be: a mommy and a ballet teacher

Cora

  • Class of 2033
  • Favorite book: anything Star Wars/Moana/princess
  • When I grow up, I want to be: in music theater

Meet My Happy Boxes: Planning that Works for Me

img_2700With each seasonal transition, I’ve seen tons of posts about fitness goals, healthy eating challenges, and planners. People ask for planner advice, but after years of hit-and-miss techniques I feel like there’s no straight answer. And the options are indeed overwhelming! Printables, bullet journals, Erin Condren, binders, monthly/weekly/daily, white boards, phone apps! There are a lot of factors for planner success such as age of kids, number of activities, what you want to plan. I’ll share what works for me, and maybe you can adapt it for your family.

I’ve been using this particular style of planner for two years, and I like that it has the option to go by the school year instead of the calendar year. This works much better for me as I can sit down in August with Hannah’s school schedule and fill everything in.

My favorite thing about this planner – the boxes. I labeled the boxes with the categories that I want to track:

  • Schedule – These are our daily activities. It includes scheduled events such as “parent-teacher conference 10am” as well as errands and to-do items such as “pick up Rx.”
  • School – First grade was a whole new world of responsibilities. This helps us keep track of the days’ specials (need gym shoes?), tests, homework due, library book due, guided reading book due, bring xyz for a science experiment, wear purple for the principal’s birthday, etc.
  • Food – Meal planning is huge for me. This helps me think ahead for smart shopping and coordinate meals with the day’s activities. For example, I’m not going to plan a slow cooker meal on a MOPS day because I won’t have time in the morning to prep it. I also star meals that are family favorites so I can remember to make them in the future.
  • Housework – I don’t have a cleaning schedule or a to-do list. Instead I have a “did” list. Usually I shoot for one thing per day. It could just be a load of laundry. But I write down what I DID, and it’s a documentation of productivity.
  • Memories – These are funny things the girls said or little things we did that I want to be able to look back on. It’s a very small journaling aspect.
  • Work – I don’t have work for a “job,” but this box includes my MOPS tasks, Kansas City Moms Blog schedule, and planning for this blog.

In the summer, I order the new planner and transfer anything from the previous year. (would stickers and color-coding jazz it up? yes, but I like the clean simplicity of pen and boxes) I go through the school calendar and fill in the new paper calendar as well as our Google calendar.

The Google calendar keeps Brett and I on the same page and provides a mobile version of our main activities. I only include appointments and scheduled activities on the Google calendar. There are a lot of schedule/calendar apps (I’ve heard rave reviews of Cozi for bigger kids!), so look around for what meets your needs.

The third form of calendar that I use is a white board in our eating area. This is for family reference – activities and dinner plans. Now that Hannah’s a reader, this is especially useful.

I keep my planner always open on my desk as part of my “mommy workstation.” It helps me keep an eye on things and easily jot down what I’m doing.

Maybe this seems overwhelming: the meal planning, the planner, the online calendar, the whiteboard, etc. But I didn’t start doing all that at once. If you’re jumping into better planning, pick one and add later.

I think the two most important aspects are meal planning and writing down commitments. Meal planning is huge for sanity and budget reasons. Writing down responsibilities for work or school or friends is also of great importance because we forget! Time gets away from us, and we can drop the ball and let people down if we lose track of our commitments.

So it takes three things to keep us on-track with our schedule. I’m still tweaking, such as now using pencil for my planner instead of pen, but this works well for us. Paper planner for me, mobile calendar app for us adults, and posted white board for the family.

I plan according to the school year not the calendar year, so I’ve ordered my next blank slate and can’t wait to fill in those boxes!

Clothes: Where I was, What I did, and What I’m doing next

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A little over a year ago, I was staring at my closet. My style and my sizes have fluctuated over the last few years, so I’ve had a pretty high turnover of fashion. I’ve gotten rid of a lot. It felt good. I feel like I’m finally finding my style. What I buy and how I buy have changed a lot in the last few years.

Looking over my closet, I noticed that about 70% of my clothes were purchased used. I’ve been a big fan of ThredUp.com (aff link) for years, and our house here is literally a mere 90 seconds away from a good consignment store (seriously, it’s dangerous) Clothes Mentor. So a challenge entered my head – if such a high percent of my clothes was already being purchased used, why not shoot for 100?

So I did it. And then I wrote about it. Of course, I’m a blogger. Read more of my reasons and what I did in a full post over on Kansas City Moms Blog. I detail the why and how of my year of buying used. And I never even set foot in a thrift store.

Here are a few examples of outfits purchased in the last year, just to show that a person can have a used wardrobe on a budget without looking frumpy and dumpy (I hope, haha). And buying used doesn’t just mean sketchy brands from thrift stores.

pink-shirt

Spring – Here is an Express shirt (ThredUp) paired with some 7 for All Mankind jeans (Clothes Mentor). Total outfit cost $28 for me. New would have been over $150.disney-shirts

Summer – This isn’t my favorite shirt, but this picture shows a money-saving tip from our Disney trip. I wanted us to all have Disney shirts to wear on the trip, so the girls could feel festive (without paying park gift shop prices, yikes!). So off to our local children’s consignment store I went. All our shirts above (Mickey, Minnie, and Cinderella) were found and purchased for about $4 each. I found two for myself by looking in the 14-16 size (girls) section.

roller-coaster

This one just makes me laugh. So fun to take Hannah on her first big roller coaster, even if she wouldn’t sit up front with me. :) This Minnie tank top is still in Disney parks gift shops for $34. Mine was $4 at Once Upon a Child. date-night-outfit

Date night! Gap shirt (Clothes Mentor) and distressed jeans (ThredUp).vest

Fall – Almost everything in this shot is used. Downeast tank, Lands End vest, and Steve Madden shoes were from ThredUp, and Old Navy maternity jeans were from Swap.com. I think my coffee cost more than my tank top. ;)

If 2016 was my year of buying used, what is 2017? 

I still plan to buy used as much as possible, but I want to branch out into supporting more small businesses. This is not as budget-friendly as buying used, but I think there are a lot of other economic advantages of supporting small businesses. Plus, cute and unique items. So Target has been permanently dethroned as my primary clothes source, though it is no longer completely off the table.

And I’m not one of those writers that takes on crazy personal challenges for the sole purpose of personal publicity. When 2016 began, I was in a nine-month blogging “break” and Kansas City Moms Blog was nowhere on my radar. So the clothes thing started just for me, but I’m excited to share it to encourage others to think about other shopping options.

So here’s to new adventures in 2017, and happy shopping!

Expecting Over Christmas: Deep Thoughts, A Funny Story, and the Name Reveal

Even though this is our fourth baby, it was the first time we’ve been expecting over the holidays. We’ve previously had 0-3 month olds at that time. The first holidays with a newborn are so sweet. They’re so relaxed; extended family doesn’t/shouldn’t have many expectations from a family in the newborn stage. Everyone snuggles the little one under the twinkling lights, and there’s the visual of “Unto you a child is born.” You pose the baby under the tree and feel like a new version of your family as you start the new year.

Being pregnant over the holidays is different. I couldn’t gorge myself with the excuse that I’m breastfeeding and need the extra calories. Nope, instead I was having visions of the scale at the next prenatal appointment. Put that extra cookie down.

And instead of feeling sweet family togetherness, I was feeling a missing person. We had four stockings hung on the mantle, and the girls talked excitedly about the new baby. But the new baby isn’t here. He has an identity, he has a name, he’s a subject of much conversation, but he’s not with us, and I think we all felt it more acutely than expected.

It seems natural at the holidays to grieve a loved one who is gone, but it’s a weird feeling to grieve the absence of someone who hasn’t even been born yet. It’s not the achy longing of infertility, it’s the acute knowledge that part of my family is missing.

And that’s my deep thought – a sense of incompleteness in a season of joy.

The funny story involves our name surprise. For the girls, we waited until birth to announce the name. Seemed like a fun surprise for everyone and prevented any weird comments. We picked a name and planned to do the same this time around.

Then the stocking.

I was afraid our classic Pottery Barn style would be discontinued before next year (and after their disastrous change of manufacturers this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is, but that’s another story…), so I went ahead and ordered a monogrammed stocking to match the three girls’. Excited to see it, I immediately opened the package… and realized Hannah was standing next to me… and remembered Hannah can read.

She’s no dummy. “I know the baby’s name!!!” she announced. Yep, the secret was out, and Brett and I decided it was easier to go public than try to keep the girls quiet for four months.

So welcome, baby Grant! We can’t wait for you to join us in three months. You are already so loved and anticipated, and next year you actually get something in your stocking. ;)

The Year in Review: 2016

I’m squeaking in the last few moments of 2016, but I wanted to look back. This year I was able to be a little more active on the blog with 20 posts from June-December. Dead air for the nine months before that, though. Sorry.

So there were a lot of things that unfortunately haven’t been written about – Hannah’s kindergarten year, our trip to Disney with Brett’s family, lots of recipes, etc. – but I’ve enjoyed getting back in a bit of a writing routine. The increase in posting was prompted by my application to join the Kansas City Mom’s Blog contributor team. I remembered how much I enjoy writing and the value of documenting our little life stuff.

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In my 20 posts of 2016, I hit an all-time personal high after my post about what I buy at Aldi made its way around Facebook and I got close to 800 views in one day. Most of my new posts get about 40 (thank you, friends and family, for reading!!!), so that’s a significant difference! My second top post of the year was something I’d shared with my MOPS group during October for pregnancy loss awareness month. I talked about my faith maturing after our miscarriage and how I had to let go of my plans.

By the way, I was indeed added as a monthly contributor for the Kansas City Mom’s Blog, so you can check out some of my posts over there like The Bins and Experience Gifts in the Kansas City Area.

So I hope to be more faithful in blogging in 2017 by documenting more life things and having the guts to hit publish on some deeper thoughts that have been rattling around for a while. Cheers to 2017 – my 35th year of life, my 13th year of marriage, hopefully several dozen more posts published, and a new baby to add even more adventures along the way.

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The Summer Bucket List is Done

Yes, I said done. Not completed. There are some boxes left, but no one seems to care. It’s November, so I need to wrap this up.

Highlights since my last update:

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We tackled the giant 24″ pizza from local Original Pizza. We decided not to take on the project alone and called in my sister and her family – polished it off! Even though the slices were so big they didn’t fit on the plates. :)

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Hannah got free Royals tickets as her Perfect Attendance Award, so we got to go to a game. Too bad they didn’t play as well this year, but it’s still a fun experience. Hannah polished off a giant hot dog, and Brett and I shared super nachos out of a helmet. Side note: big thumbs up for our new ear protection. Hannah can be sound-sensitive, so these really help. They also hopefully blocked out the foul-mouthed drunk people behind us.

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Since we included big and little summer adventures, root beer floats were checked off. Yum!

So we didn’t make it to Union Station, mini golf, or the marble factory, but that just gives us a head start on next summer’s list!

Pregnancy, Loss, and Faith: The Joke of Family Planning and the Lie I’d Believed

About three years ago, I went to party and was chatting with some new acquaintances. As moms, of course, the topic quickly turned to our kids. When I told one lady that I had two girls who were three years apart, she said, “You planned that so well. Good for you!”

I laughed in her face. I know that was NOT the godly response, but I couldn’t help it.

Planned? Ha. Almost nothing about our first two went according to our plan. Our first was an adoption with a majorly unexpected twist that ended up basically the opposite of our plan. Then when we decided to grow our family, we had a miscarriage. Nope, that wasn’t in the plan, either. Then instead of getting pregnant again quickly, we had a long wait.

I could tell you a lot of things about that time… the dumb things people said to me, the feeling that everyone in the world was pregnant except me, the awesome friends who cried and prayed with me… but there was my heart.

For the first time in my faith journey, I looked at my life, my plans, and then looked at God and said, “This isn’t fair.”

It wasn’t fair because I’d been a good girl. I grew up in church, I followed the rules, I didn’t have sex before marriage, I was in Bible study, I was doing all the things right.

But God wasn’t holding up His end of the deal, right? It wasn’t fair.

Unconsciously, I’d fallen for the lie of the prosperity gospel. The idea that if you’re good enough and pray enough and try really hard, God will shower you with all the good things.

But it’s a lie. Nowhere in the Bible does it paint life like that. John 16 says: In the world you WILL have trouble. James 1 says: WHEN you encounter trials. It’s not a conditional situation dependent on your behavior, it’s reality.

The world, even the “Christian” world spreads these lies, though. Think about the memes you see everywhere. “If you just let go of it, God will make it happen.” “Pray often enough, try hard enough, have more faith, dream big enough… and God will bless you.” And by bless you, of course that means give you whatever you want. That sounds fair to me, I like fair.

But life isn’t fair. Miscarriage isn’t fair. Infertility isn’t fair. Cancer isn’t fair.

But God is good. How? Through the troubles He warned us would come, He provides peace and hope, and He put us in community to remind us we are not alone in hard things.

So what am I trying to say? This: Family planning is a joke.

You might laugh and say, “Yeah, she’s pregnant with her fourth kid. Obviously she thinks family planning is a joke.”

No, this is not about birth control and family size and whatever. What I mean is MY family planning was a joke. I realized I had fallen for the lie that the success or failure of pregnancy reflected the success or failure of my faith. Without knowing it, I’d written up a contract where I did a pretty good job at following His rules, and then He made my plans work out.

But it’s so different. Because of grace.

Him giving me a baby does not depend on what rules I follow or how much I pray or how good I try to be.

And Him giving me salvation does not depend on what rules I follow or how much I pray or how good I try to be. His work on the cross, not my work or good intentions.

And that gave me a peace. It didn’t take away the ache or the grief or the longing. I am still heartbroken over our miscarriage even though it was five years ago. It was hard to wait. It was hard to accept that my plan doesn’t prevail. But I learned life isn’t a tally sheet of my goods and bads. Instead there’s hope. Even in loss, even when my plan fails, there is hope in Christ.

(This was originally shared with my MOPS group to recognize October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month)

family-planning

What Spice Mom am I?

 It started as I was reading a Facebook post. Someone described a super spiritual crafty activity she was accomplishing with her small child. The following comments were things like “I’m going to do that, too!” and “That sounds so great, I’m totally interested!”

I really wanted to add, “Yeah, me too!” But I stopped. The chances of that activity ever getting completed in my house are truly very small. I had a little pity party moment of how I’m so busy with three kids now, I just can’t do things like these moms of one or two.

Then I was honest with myself.

Those things aren’t ME. I don’t hate Jesus or hate crafts or hate spending time with my kids, I just don’t get around to it. I didn’t do those things even when I had one kid. If there’s something crafty in our house, it was probably done with one of the grandmas or was from their Kiwi Crates.

So if I’m not Crafty Spice, what am I? Crafty Spice seems to be the ideal these days. That or Healthy Spice. Posting things like “Look at my kindergartner and the Valentines she crocheted out of recycled sweaters!” or “Here we are at the Farmer’s Market again – these kids just can’t get enough organic parsnips!” or maybe “My two-yr-old can spell all the books of the Bible with Cheerios!”

I don’t want to spend my time searching Pinterest for the next activity to turn my kids into geniuses. Some people love that, and that’s awesome. Just like some people love running for extensive lengths of time; I do not. These things are not bad, they are just not what I like to do.

What do I like to do? What do the girls want to do with me?

So I decided. I’m SitOutsideWhileMyKidsPlay Spice.

Two in Texas: Mother-daughter trip to Austin

It’s been almost two years since we moved back “north,” and it was time for a trip back to Austin. Hannah’s memories were definitely getting fuzzy, so it was good timing to go back and catch up with people and places. 

Saturday, we flew in and rented a car. Hannah picked a blue one because it’s her favorite color (yay, Hertz Gold members get to pick whatever car they want!). Then we spent the afternoon and evening with the friends we spent the most time with when we lived in Austin. It was fun to see how much everyone had grown, and it felt like Meghan and I picked up where we left off. Hannah was happy to see her friends but seemed particularly excited about getting to know their backyard chickens. Yummy taco dinner followed by frozen yogurt and park playing. Great evening!


Sunday, we went to our “old” church, and I was hit with an emotional deja vu. Just a weird feeling to be doing those familiar things after two years away. We had lunch at La Madeleine, a favorite spot of Meghan and I, and Hannah liked the door handles. 


Then shopping. These came home with me. They have sunflowers on them which I thought was the perfect tie-in of my Texas and Kansas roots. 


After checking into the hotel and some pool time, we met Hannah’s birthmom at Hula Hut. That’s a fun Austin restaurant where you actually sit on a big deck over the lake. We had a good time catching up, watching fishing, and feeding turtles. 

Thanks to technology, I was able to easily join a virtual meeting that evening for my new adventure as a contributor for the Kansas City Moms Blog. I could hop on a conference call while Hannah watched the Olympics, both of us comfy in our hotel beds. 

Monday was a long day in the car. We’re big fans of the show Fixer Upper, so I couldn’t resist taking a day to drive up to Waco to visit the Magnolia Silos. It’s a store started by Chip and Joanna, the Fixer Upper people, but it’s much more than a store. (More on that in another post)


On our way back into Austin, we stopped by to hang out with our cousins. Technically, the kids are third cousins, but it all counts. 


Monday night we hit up Torchy’s Tacos for the best tacos ever. With a side of chips and green chile queso. 


Each evening ended with more Olympics. I was thankful to have something fun on TV for our extra down time instead of trying to flip channels to find anything decent. 

Tuesday morning we joined Meghan and kiddos at the YMCA for playtime. We sent the kids running laps on the indoor track, then they enjoyed the outdoor playscape shaded by live oak trees. While we chatted about life – new eras for us as we are now elementary moms! 

By the end of the trip, we were so ready to be home! I love my big girl, of course, but it was a long time to be just the two of us. And the feeling was mutual. The final plane ride involved someone yelling, “Get away! You have peanut breath!” So that was delightful. But the whole experience was so great that I definitely want to start the one-on-one trip as a tradition with each girl. 

And in the meantime, a few Austin ex-pat friends and I in the KC area are considering a Torchy’s franchise.