First Things First

I have three hanging baskets of petunias on my fence in my backyard. I love hanging baskets because they automatically make the yard look like summer.  The petunias started out looking colorful and summery and all was right with the world.

I watered and adored my flowers and one day I noticed they were getting tall…..maybe too tall?

One in particular started looking really rough. It no longer looked lush and full- it was thin and its color was not good. I debated about what to do, and eventually decided to cut all my petunias back to nubs. It wasn’t pretty. It felt wrong. I cut off lots of beautiful blossoms. Instead of beautiful flowers, we had little greenish yellow stubble.

Then, we waited. (And bought back up plants, because this is real life). But we also waited.

And waited.

And after a week we started to see the leaves and stems grow a bit.

The next week we started to see some little flower buds.

Now four weeks later our baskets of hanging petunias are once again full and lush and beautiful.

First Things First

You may have noticed my blog has been pretty quiet the past several weeks. I started my blog last spring, hoping for a creative outlet to share my thoughts and the projects we do around here. And the response from you all has been more than I could have hoped for. I had plans and ideas for growth for my blog and beyond.

But then I started to feel a little too stretched.

I am not going to tell you I am like my petunias. I won’t give some labored metaphor about how I have to cut back- even cut off some beautiful blossoms- so I can regroup mentally and put my focus back where it matters. That might be a little dramatic.

But it’s totally true.

I am taking a step back from my blog. Even with a little blog like this, there is still enough work and management requirements to distract from what is truly important. And that is not okay with me.

First Things First

I love writing, so I don’t want to say I am “closing” my blog. We’ll call it  “pushing pause”. I am sure I will be back whenever we do a cute project or I feel the need to stand on a soapbox. You all have been more than supportive and I am truly grateful!

First Things First

So, friends, I will see you in a bit. It’s time for me to put first things first again.

Book Review: Simply Tuesday

“Mama….mama……MAMA”!

It’s 5:45 AM and our toddler will not be deterred. Ready or not, it’s wake-up time.

Hubs retrieves our two year old from his room and plops him in bed next to me. Our sweet boy snuggles in and we listen to him tell us stories in his garbled toddler language. We sleepily smile and nod and exclaim in response as the creamy morning light starts to filter through the blinds.

It’s an everyday moment straight out of a daydream. And it’s beautiful.

Fast forward five minutes, our early riser stands up and announces “want toast”! Hubs and I try to talk him into snuggling longer. We compare notes about who did more with the kids yesterday, or in the night, competing for who gets to stay in bed for a few more minutes. But now the requests for toast have elevated to tearful demands and our dog is ready to go out, so we both drag ourselves out of bed, just maybe with a less than enthusiastic attitude. The hustle of toast and fruit and and coffee and dog treats and getting ready for the day has begun.

It’s an everyday moment. And guess what? It’s beautiful too.

081

In Emily P. Freeman’s latest book, Simply Tuesday, she takes the reader into the normal, everyday, “Tuesday” moments.  In her heartfelt and thoughtful style, the author invites us to notice that most of our lives take place in the “everyday”, and just like those small moments, we are small- in a good way. This approach puts things in perspective and brings meaning to what I might have previously rushed past.

There was so much about this book that I loved. But perhaps one of the most impactful statements (for me) came in the second chapter. As a mother and a budding photographer, I feel I am pretty good at spotting the pretty moments in life. But the author challenged my preconceptions of everyday beauty when she delivered this totally mind opening thought: even the not so lovely moments are beautiful.

What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them“.

Jesus Christ is in the midst of our everyday moments. Jesus, who was born humbly in a manger. Jesus, who taught in the small towns and villages. Jesus, who had all knowledge of everything, but spoke to the common people in parables relevant to their everyday lives. Jesus didn’t come for only the perfectly styled, Instagram worthy moments. He came for all of it. The way too early wake up calls. The cranky kids. The breakfast hustle. He is right there in the every day with us. It is a truth I quickly forget and I find it to be both an inspiration and a relief.

There is so much goodness in this book. Whether you worry you are rushing through life too fast to notice it, or you have an immense appreciation for the everyday. Whether you are exactly where you want to be in life or you are so far off track you don’t even know how you got there. Wherever you are on your journey, this book is for you. Simply Tuesday is filled with truth and grace.

Ready to look at your Tuesday moments in a whole new way? You can pre-order (for a great price!) a copy of Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman on Amazon.

(**I was selected to be a part of the Simply Tuesday Launch Team and I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I truly love this book and the opinions I express are my own)!

Menu Plan Monday: July 6th

And…we’re back!

I hope you all had a safe and happy holiday weekend! We had a great time at my parents’ house in the country. We played in the garden, swam in the lake, fed horses, had a campfire, and slept in a tent. And, as with any successful holiday, we ate more junk food than any Annie’s devotee should ever admit to. It was fun while it lasted but we are definitely trying to ease back into our healthier eating habits. I went for more real food and super easy prep with this week’s menu.

I hope you find some dinnertime inspiration!

Steak + veggie foil packets: These veggie packets are really easy to make! Just dice whatever veggies you like, toss with olive oil and seasonings, wrap in foil, and place the packets on the grill for a few minutes until the veggies are tender.

Summer spaghetti: grilled veggies + pasta + butter garlic sauce + fresh basil: Fresh basil as in, all the fresh basil I can pick. My little herb garden is already over flowing- a very happy predicament!

Sweet and Sour meat balls + rice + green beans

Taco salad + creamy taco salad dressing + homemade guacamole + tortilla chips

BLTs + veggie tray + homemade ranch + chips

Sriracha lime chicken salad + peanut sauce: I made this salad several weeks ago and it was delicious! I subbed in a homemade peanut sauce for the dressing and loved it! Highly recommended!

Pizza Night

Have a great week friends!

The Low-Maintenance Girl’s Summer Make-up Essentials

You know those women who always look perfectly pulled together? Hair, nails, make-up, always done? On top of every latest trend and pulling it off impeccably?

Yeah. I am totally not one of those women.

I want to be. Kind of. It just takes a lot of energy to make oneself look perfect all the time. Being more high maintenance is one of those goals that’s up there with running a marathon for me. It sounds like a nice thing to try….someday. Definitely not today though. And probably not tomorrow either.

But, as I said in this post, wearing a little make-up does make a difference in my attitude. It’s not that I am ashamed of how I look without make up. I left all those “I feel bad about my neck” type insecurities behind long ago. I just like to look and feel a little bit pulled together. And for me, personally, that includes making a tiny effort in the make-up department.

If you are one of those flawlessly pulled together ladies…please avert your eyes. I am not a beauty expert! But if you are looking for something to give you a more finished- but still very natural- look, these products have been great for me.

Low-maintenance Summer Make-up Essentials

Low Maintenance Summer Make-up Essentials

1) Tarte BB Tinted Treatment: This is a tinted primer with SPF 30. It is a BB cream so it does all the things: minimizes pores, covers under eye circles, evens and brightens skin. I really love it for summer- just a few dabs and you are done.

2) Tarte Cheek Stain: Cheek stains sound scary, but I promise this one is not. It comes in a big stick, so you just dab it, blend it in right away, and you are good to go. It also looks great on your lips if you are feeling fancy.

3) Sephora Retractable Brow Pencil: I know what you are thinking: “Whoa. What? I thought this was called low maintenance make up”? Don’t worry. My hairstylist, who is also a mom, gave me this tip. It is worth the extra 15 seconds. Particularly if you have lighter brows, just the tiniest bit of filling in can make your whole face look more “done”. Per my stylists’ advice, I got a quick lesson in the art of brow lining at Sephora and never looked back. Just do it!

4) Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof Mascara: I love buying make-up at department stores. It makes me feel so grown up. But sometimes, the cheap stuff just works. This mascara is what I always go back to. If you have lighter lashes like I do, a quick coat of mascara makes a big impact.

5) OPI: Lincoln Park After Dark nail polish + Formula X: The System: I have actually made the attempt to be more high maintenance in the nail care department. But only in the most minimal way. I fell in love with black nail polish late last summer. This shade from OPI is surprisingly neutral and when paired with the Formula X long-wearing polish kit, my manicure actually lasts a week before I have to redo it- my pedicure can go as long as three weeks. (And I am a boy mom, we don’t have time to baby our manicures. So trust me when I say this stuff works)!

These products have really helped me create a simple, low-maintenance summer look!

What other low-maintenance tips, tricks, and products do you love for summer? Share your beauty secrets with us in the comments!

Slow Summer

We didn’t really mean for it to happen. We kind of wanted to save money. We kind of forgot to plan ahead. Mostly I think deep down we were just tired and in need of some rest. The kind of rest and refreshment that can only come from being still. And taking in large doses of sunshine.

We are having a slow summer.

There are no big trips or projects planned.  We aren’t running all over town for various activities and lessons. We aren’t even doing our usual sensory and art projects. My brain is apparently on vacation from housework too, but I won’t go there in this post.

Simple Summer

So….what are we doing?

Playing in our water table, sandbox, and playhouse, sure.

And there is pure joy when we take out our pool.

But mainly we are searching for giant bugs.

Looking for airplanes.

Puttering around watering and preening our plants- while my toddler collects and stashes away all the wilted blooms.

Occasionally digging holes in the lawn (sorry Hubs)!

Eating lunch on the patio.

Running as fast as we can.

Playing with sticks and mud.

Practicing somersaults on a blanket.

Wondering where the birds are flying to and why the bark on trees is so rough.

We are doing nothing, yet my boys are more engaged and busier than ever. I am trying to be a little more hands-off and a lot more observant.

simple summer

In the winter, stuck inside for weeks and months on end, we do projects. All.The.Time. It’s necessary for my sanity. And I am a former kindergarten teacher. That’s the kind of stuff I love! But I am seeing that this accidentally slow summer is teaching my boys to be self-directed. To observe and explore the world around them, and filter their findings through their own thoughts.

So if you are having a slow summer, I encourage you to embrace it. Yes, going all the places and doing all the things is fun. Don’t get me wrong, we love to do that too! But staying home, doing nothing other than being present and soaking in some sunshine, is good for the soul too!

Happy summer friends!

Menu Plan Monday: June 22nd

Here’s what we are having for dinner this week! I hope you find some inspiration!

Buffalo Chicken Salad: This is an adult favorite but it is really spicy. To make it kid friendly I either save out some plain chicken before I add the sauce, or I bake up some (healthy-ish) chicken strips from Perdue or Applegate brand. No battling, no mom guilt. I call that a win.

Grilled Chicken + Strawberry Mango Salsa + rice: I love, love, LOVE this salsa! It gets bonus flavor points this week courtesy of some garden fresh basil!

Grilled brats + marinated veggie salad + chips

Chili Lime Chicken Tacos: Fair warning, if these turn out anything like the photo, I will be Instagram-ing them. Pretty food is my favorite food!

Pizza Pasta Salad

Tortilla roll-ups + fruit + chips: I might try making these with bacon. How bad could that be?

Pizza Night

Have a great week!

Tips for Happy Garage Sale Shopping

Waking up at 6AM on a Saturday when I was 20: “Wha…?! Hahaha! No. Hard pass”.

Waking up at 6AM on a Saturday at age 30 (or so): “Well we have already been up for 15 minutes, let’s just get ready, pack some snacks, and get going”.

Saturday is garage sale day!

We haven’t always been garage sale shoppers but when your children get up at the crack of dawn…well you need to find things to do.

My boys love garage sales! It didn’t take them long to figure out that the odds of me actually saying “yes” to their requests are exponentially higher at a sale! Even my two year old was excited last weekend when the puzzle he was admiring got to come home with us. (It was educational and priced at one dollar. That’s a no-brainer in my book)!

My love for garage sales has definitely grown since becoming a mom. I like to scoop up hardly worn dress clothes for the boys for just a couple of dollars. And I am a total sucker for any educational type things.

Mostly I go for the home decor though. Here are some of last week’s finds:

image
This star was a fun addition to my gallery wall for $2.
image
This stool looks great in my kitchen and it is a great spot to enjoy a cup of coffee. And it only set me back $3.
Tips for Happy Garage Sale Shopping
This adorable and rustic Americana wreath is perfect for our summer patio. This was a steal at only 50 cents!

I also like garage sale shopping because it is a fun way to spend time with my family. Driving around town, chatting about the various neighborhoods and our purchases… its a pretty relaxing time.

Here are my tips for happy garage sale shopping with your family:

1) If you are on a mission, leave the kids at home.

Or at least in the car with your husband. Let’s be honest: with all the snacks and sippy cups and drama of misplaced toys…most parents don’t think as clearly when they are with their kids. If there is some specific item you just have to get, leave the kids with Daddy. You will be able to find the item more quickly and be able to make a sound decision.

2) Don’t be on a mission.

Part of the fun is just meandering around town, seeing what’s what. Sometimes we find amazing deals, sometimes we come away empty handed. The fun is not contingent upon the purchases.

3) Have a little cash, and stop when it is gone.

Shopping is fun! And when items are marked at low prices, it’s hard to say “no”. But it is not fun at all to overspend every weekend. In the summer we put our small bills and quarters in a “garage sale fund” jar. Then on Saturday morning we just grab some money from the fund and get going. This way we aren’t taking away from our budget and we have a built in spending limit.

4) Pack snacks and drinks (for the grown ups too)!

Nothing turns a fun family outing into a grouch fest quicker than cranky voices  from the back seat (or the driver’s seat…..ahem) telling you they are sooooo hungry. Besides the usual drinks and snacks for the kids, Hubs and I will bring coffee and a little snack for us too. (Or if we are splurging, we’ll swing by Starbucks before we head out. It kind of defeats the purpose of saving money, but its a fun treat)!

5) Get out and walk.

If you are lucky enough to have a sunny Saturday, get out and enjoy it! Find an area where a few sales are close together, pop whoever needs to be in the stroller into the stroller, and get moving. Enjoy the sunshine- and walk off that latte too!

Garage sale shopping with your family can be fun when you take a relaxed approach and remember the point: having fun.

Have a great weekend!

Chubby Babies & Gratitude (….also chocolate)

I don’t want to brag, but I make some pretty chubby babies. My first born was a shocking 9 pounds and his baby brother was not to be outdone at 9 pounds 6 ounces.

My older son in particular never slept. I am only partially exaggerating. As an infant he would be awake for 8 hours at a time. And he loved to snuggle but he was not content to sit. We had to walk with him so he could look at everything. His little eyes would be wide and bright, just taking in the details of our surroundings.

And through the trials and drama of life and motherhood, he was always there. My little sidekick. Truthfully his intense personality was one of the things that forced me to hold it together when I thought I just might fall apart.

Our first baby changes us. They bust into our formerly organized and well- rested (mildly self absorbed) lives and mold us into experts on all things baby, people with softer hearts, and into a new person called mom.

My friend Carolyn over at Bison Booties did a great post the other day about babies growing up and I couldn’t agree with her more.

The thought of my sidekick turning into a big boy and sending him out into the world….well that makes me want to eat a whole lot of chocolate. And binge shop. And type all the sad face emojis.

But I won’t.

Chubby Babies & Gratitude (....and chocolate)

A few days ago I was looking at the schedules for the activities we have enrolled him in, feeling a mix of sadness and excitement, when I heard that still small voice of truth: be thankful.

I cannot believe my chubby, ever-awake little sidekick is now a tall and skinny string bean who is going to start preschool. But every time I want to think sad thoughts about this, I am going to replace them with one thought: thank you.

Thank you that he sleeps through the night.

Thank you for his quick wit and crazy plans.

Thank you that he is growing up healthy and strong.

Thank you for the front row seat to this little firecracker’s bright future.

He has a few years before he is actually grown up. Before he loses his first tooth even. But I know the time will go by in a blur. Gratitude in every phase is going to be the thing that keeps me from being the awkward, tear-streaked lady in the background of every picture.

Gratitude….and most likely chocolate.

Menu Plan Monday: June 15th

Things to know about me this week:

1) I have declared a one-woman war on the squirrels who insist on digging in my flower pots. I know some people are like “oh, come on, they are so cute”, but as I confessed here, I am a flower hoarder and I take their transgressions seriously. It. Is. ON. (By the way, if you know of any squirrel repelling tricks besides sprinkling nutmeg and cayenne pepper on the soil or yelling at them through the window like a crazy lady, please let me know)!

2) I haven’t put laundry away in a week. Its clean and folded semi-neatly in baskets in the laundry room. Other than some inconvenient, towel-clad runs through the kitchen to get to our clothes, I don’t see any major problems with this so it might continue for some time.

3) My older son will be turning five in a few short months and he might as well be turning 25 as far as my emotions are concerned. We are in the process of getting him signed up for karate (or “kung fu” as he calls it), swimming, and preschool. He is basically a grown man. (I really want to type all the sad face emojis. But I won’t. I will share why in a later post).

So, clearly, my life is full of serious issues right now. That may or may not be why I felt compelled to include a dessert in this week’s menu. Nothing solves problems like eating dessert on the patio, while you watch your kids play, defend your plants from squirrels, and pretend like you really have your house keeping act together.

Or something like that.

Here is what’s for dinner this week:

Peach Pie: Yes, peach pie is first. Life is short, people.

Crock pot Cashew Chicken + steamed veggies + rice

Simple Italian Shrimp + steamed broccoli + garlic bread

Taco Salad + chips + guacamole

Chicken Broccoli Alfredo

Burgers + fresh corn + watermelon

Creamy Chicken Mushroom Soup

Pizza Night

Have a great week!

When Bible Study is Boring

You know that old joke “as long as there are tests in schools, there will be prayer in schools”?
Well I would venture the mom version is “as long as kids resist naptime in homes, there will be prayer in homes”.
As a mom I truly live 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing”- and I bet you do too. Whether it’s praying that my kid didn’t break anything when he flipped off the couch (despite my telling him not to fifty times prior) or asking God to please please PLEASE make both my boys take a decent nap, I am praying all the time.
And I think that it’s good to talk to God throughout our day and certainly to rely on Him through the challenges of daily life. But we can’t count solely on those desperate two second prayers to enrich our relationship with God.

We need to dig deeper.

Digging deeper can be hard though. I am not one of those people who reads a passage of scripture and is fascinated by what each word means in Hebrew. I’m just not. I needed to work a bit to create a prayer and study time that actually appealed to me. Because if it appeals to me, I will make time for it- and now I actually look forward to it.

image

I think sometimes we have a picture in our mind of what prayer and Bible study “should” look like and for a lot of people…it’s a very boring picture. It shouldn’t be that way though! God made each of us uniquely so it would make sense that we would all relate to Him differently.

If you are of those people who are fascinated by the Hebrew definition of words- go you! I have learned a lot from people like you! Maybe you are one of the people who “paints your prayers” and your Bible has become a true work of art- so cool! I might try that too! Maybe you like to snuggle up with a cup of coffee and read and write. If so, you might like some of the resources I suggest below!

While we can’t take an “al a carte” approach to what we believe, we do have flexibility with how we choose to expand our knowledge of it.

Here are some resources that have helped me study and pray in a way that is meaningful to me. I hope you try them or at the very least are inspired to find resources that work for you.

She Reads Truth: I love this online resource! There are a variety of studies to choose from. Each study is broken down into multiple days with a few different scriptures to read and then a devotional. What I particularly like is that the authors of these studies have taught me to read through a “God lens”, learning more about Him (as opposed to reading through a “self lens” trying to find a takeaway message about myself).

Val Marie Paper: Prayer Journal
This little book has been amazing for actually moving my prayers from tiny (often selfish) snippets to prayers of compassion and purpose. The journal is set up in a monthly format with sections for praying for other countries, our nation, friends, family members and ourselves. There are also spots for recording answered prayers, specific scriptures and other thoughts.  This little notebook has made a big impact on me.

Savour: Daily Devotional by Shauna Niequist

This devotional is like sitting down with your best friend and having a mini heart to heart. Sometimes it’s encouraging, sometimes it’s challenging, and you always walk away just a little bit better for the conversation.

Bible study and prayer are completely vital to our well being- and they don’t have to be boring! If you haven’t found a way to truly study and connect with God, I encourage you to try something new. Keep trying things until you find what’s right for you.

Your relationship with God is worth pursuing!