Growing up, I was that kid who always had her nose in a book. Apparently, I begged my mom to teach me to read when I was five years old, but I had to take speech therapy first so I could actually say the sounds correctly. Once I did learn, I couldn’t stop. During my teen years we lived in a very small town but were blessed to have 3 libraries, albeit small ones, within a 30 mile radius. On library day, we would go to library #1, check out the 10 book limit, go to library #2, check out another 10 books, and then a day or two later, head to the other library where you could check out fifty books. And yes, there were times I checked out all fifty books… just because I could. And sometimes I would read all seventy books in two weeks time. So yeah, you could say I liked to read.

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In Micah I found a fellow book-lover (and found that he rivaled my record, too) and when the time came to start a family, we knew that we hoped to instill a love of reading in our kids. Books can inspire and ignite the imagination. Take you on adventures without ever leaving your favorite comfy chair. And for a couple of introverts, books were faithful friends throughout those awkward teen years.

The thing is, there’s was no guarantee that our kids would be readers. Some kids naturally love books while others couldn’t care less. All we can really do is try our best to inspire a love of reading and keep our fingers crossed for the rest.

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READ TO THEM AS BABIES

It all starts with them as babies. From a young age, read as much as they’ll let you! A bedtime story is a favorite tradition in many families. That was always more of Micah’s thing with the kids while I loved morning snuggle sessions. Whatever works! As for age-appropriate books, I discovered Baby Lit after Sam was already a toddler but I can’t wait to get them when the next one comes along.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE AND READ IN FRONT OF THEM

Children learn by example, so if they see your love for literature, hopefully that will help evoke their own passion. Even if you’re not a reader, it’s good to read something in front of your kids. Try for one book a month or a substantial magazine or two. One thing I’m looking forward to is having the kids read the Great illustrated Classics while I read the “grown up version” and being able to discuss our favorite parts.

And family story time doesn’t have to end when they are no longer toddlers. Try picking a book a few reading levels up, so if your child is in 1st grade, pick something on a 4th grade reading level, and read aloud a few days a week. That’s how I heard Little House on the Prairie for the first time, with my mom reading it to us during an especially long car trip. She would pause to explain any difficult passages or concept, ask review questions at the end of the chapter to make sure we were “getting” the story, and would even do voices for the different characters if she was feeling especially playful. To this day, I hear her voice when reading On the Banks of Plum Creek.

MAKE BOOKS EASILY AVAILABLE

Dedicate a low shelf or easily-accessible bookcase as the “kids books” and stock it full of the old classics and new favorites. Thrift stores and yard sales are great places to stock up on books for the cheap. At our local shop, Bishop’s Attic, children’s books are 10 to 50 cents each, even school books! A lot of books have found a new home on our shelves.

One important thing to keep in mind is that not every kid likes the same kind of books. Older readers may have clear preferences for specific genres. Younger readers tend to like certain series, characters, or subjects. I saved a lot of my childhood books and was excited to find that Caleb and Samantha love Berenstain Bears as much as I did.

Every kid should be signed up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It’s a free program dedicated to ensuring that each child has books of their very own to read and enjoy. Books arrive in the mail each month and I don’t know about your kids, but my kids LOVE getting their own mail. You can also subscribe to magazines, too. Caleb loves getting the Lego Magazine (free)!

VISIT THE LIBRARY OFTEN AND REGULARLY

I know we all have busy schedules, but don’t underestimate your local library as a valuable tool and resource. From multi-age story times to summer reading programs, libraries are making great strides to add more and more offerings so they can be an even greater benefit to families. As a past volunteer to the Children’s Librarian (best five years!), I know first-hand how much work and effort goes into creating the various programs offered. Even if you can only make it once a month, it will be one of the most looked-foward-to days for your kids. Promise.

Unfortunately, Thursday is one of my studio days so we can usually only attend Storytime 2x a month, but I can attribute our attendance for the past year with helping Caleb overcome his shyness, get rid of some wiggles, and falling even more in love with stories. We plan to attend as long as one of my kids is within the age bracket and once the stories get too “babyish” for the older ones, we’ll just have them bring their own books.

Libraries can help you save money, too! Instead of renting movies or having cable, check out movies from the library or in lieu of going out to the movies, try a family movie nights if offered. For the teens in your family, some libraries offer special teen-only nights, complete with a theme (our library recently did Dr. Who!), pizza, and even costumes!

Libraries also promote community involvement, partnering with local emergency services for safety week (complete with a visit from both an ambulance and a fire truck), and even wildlife services, bringing in animals to teach about conservation and live-broadcasting from an out-of-state aquarium to teach about sharks. This just goes to show all the amazing things libraries can offer. If you don’t have a library card yet, go today!

USE READING AS A REWARD AND REWARD READING

Instead of using treats, movies, iPad, or video games as a reward, why not use books? In our house, if the kids get ready for bed extra quickly then they are allowed to read for 15 minutes before lights-out. Who knew when we started that this would become one of their favorite things? Being allowed to do something special or out of the ordinary provides an added incentive, and is a great way to get in that 30 minutes of reading that homework requires.

If your little one has a hard time reading, don’t be stingy with the rewards! Set rewards for each list or challenge they complete, like reading for three hours a week, making it through their summer reading list, or tackling that really long book. Celebrate those accomplishments, no matter how big or small! This is especially true of new readers where each book read is the equivalent of us finishing Moby Dick!

TRY DIFFERENT MEDIUMS

Don’t waste your commute. Check out your local library for audio books and make use of your time in the car by playing books-on-cd’s for the kids. You can usually find all the classics, like Charlotte’s Web and The Chronicles of Narnia as well as more recent (and shorter) favorites like Curious George.

If playing audio books off your smartphone or computer is more your thing, then check to see if your library has a digital library, like ours here in Alaska or use a service like Audible. We can check out audiobooks for two weeks at a time, just like a physical book, and download/stream it to our smartphone and tablets.

A remnant from Micah’s childhood, we were blessed with the Alphabet Pals and the Early World of Learning audio cassettes and accompanying books (anyone remember Zak and Amy?) and incorporate them as part of Caleb’s school.

And it doesn’t stop at audio books. Both Micah and I grew up on Adventures in Odyssey and have recently started playing episodes on our hour-long trips to and from church on Sundays. While not strictly books, listening to audio dramas helps promote listening skills (obviously), as well as audio-to-visual interpretation, and the ability to sit still for 30+ minutes at a time.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF READING APPS

When used in moderation, tablets and apps can be useful tools! The key is to have the apps be more education-based with a few fun games sprinkled in the mix.

One of the best programs out there is Teach Your Monster to Read (free for the computer!) as well as these favorites:

Phonics and Reading With McGuffey

Super Why

Endless Reader / Endless Alphabet / Endless Numbers / Endless Wordplay (the kids love these!)

Reading Rainbow

KNOW THAT EVEN WIGGLY ONES CAN LOVE TO READ

Our Caleb is quite the wiggle worm. For the last few years, getting him to sit still is like nailing jello to the wall, as my Granny used to say. But he’ll sit still for hours with a stack of books. Most times.

Provide a special reading chair and comfy pillows or cushions that encourage sitting still. Or, if reading upside down with feet in the air is more their style, go with it! At least they’re reading, right?

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What are the ways you try to inspire reading in your kids? Any tips to add to our list?

When we first moved into the Palmer House and divided up the bedrooms, Samantha got the smaller of two. But what it doesn’t have in extra square footage, it makes up for in gorgeous light. And I’m all about the gorgeous light.

For the last year we’ve had Samantha and Caleb sharing a room while her room was used by various guests and relatives, all the while remaining in clear “nursery” mode. Now it’s time for the baby room to take its first steps towards becoming a big girl’s room/guest room. We have a summer’s worth of visitors lined up and they’ll probably appreciate something other than an air mattress.

My plan is to paint the room a pale mint color, though I’m not settled on a shade just yet, along with touches of gold and coral. (Any recommendations??) For me, artwork helps solidify the vision of a room and set the tone and stye. While I’ve always been a fan of gallery walls, I’ve yet to really do one in the house except the fledging one in the master bedroom, but we won’t discuss that pathetic attempt right now.

This week only, Michael’s has the Canvas and Frames on sale for 40-70% off. At such great prices, you had better believe that I stocked up! A dozen or so frames later, I was left with finally deciding on and ordering the artwork for the bedroom. For this gallery wall attempt, I chose to keep things simple and only do six main frames so I could add non-picture elements and decor as I found them. Another decision was whether or not to do all white frames or a mix. Since the headboard we ordered is gray and gold is one of the accent colors, I wanted to bring in some warmer tones to contrast the white. Three white frames, two gray wood, and one warm wood ended up being the perfect combination and should blend and evolve nicely.

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Vintage Botanical | Hymn Lyrics (not exact) handrawn by artist Andrea Yohe

Geometric Print (handcolored by myself) | Flower Saying

Watercolor (not exact) handpainted by myself | Handdrawn Deer

For furniture, we’ll be “upgrading” from the air mattress to a twin bed (with the possibility of a full bed once we see how the twin handles the space) and we’ve ordered this headboard in gray.

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That, of course, is not the bedding that we’re going with- and there’s the dilemma. We have ruffled white curtains that I’d like to keep and a couple of feminine pieces of furniture, so we can’t go to plain, but we are bringing in the gray headboard to mature things up. And since we’re doing mint/coral/gold, it could be very easy to go too bold or too bright and I’d like to keep it more muted. At the same time, as much as I love white bedding, I don’t know how practical it is and that’s a whole lot of ruffles, frills, and lace for one room.

Here are some of my favorite inspirations from Pinterest:

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Yes… I know, I’ve pinned a whole lot of white. So help a girl out! What kind of bedding would you go with?

 

We sent our our Christmas Cards with the saying “Best.Year.Ever.” and oh, boy, was it true! 2015 was the year of adventures, of getting out of our comfort zone, of trying new things, of friends and family, travels, joining the league of homeschoolers, and so much more. It was a year filled with many, many wonderful memories and moments, and here are a few of my favorites.

JANUARY

January was cold. Like bitterly, don’t dare go outside with wearing five layers, kind of cold. Yet, it was strangely void of snow. We had a big dumping over Christmas, enough to go sledding in near blizzard conditions, and then one warm week melted everything off just in time for temperatures to plummet again. It limited our outside activities, but we managed to to make our own adventures indoors just the same. One day, after watching a LEGO superhero movie, the kids decided to become superheroes themselves. And so they did.

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We also were gifted with tickets to a Hockey Game featuring our very own Alaska Aces… “Let’s go, Aces, let’s go!” It was probably the first game that we’ve attended where the kids actually paid attention throughout the whole game instead of getting bored halfway through the first period. I mean, come on! Who gets bored watching hockey?!

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But the most exciting moment of the month came at the very end when we (finally) decided to give my office a much-needed makeover. When we had first moved into he house, the walls were painted a soft green color that we had used in another house and loved. Unfortunately, we remembered the name incorrectly and it came out much more neon green than subtle green and I hated it all year long.

Thankfully, January is a time for new beginnings and honey-do lists. 48 hours, two gallons of paint, and a billion screws later and my office was done. A year later, it is probably my favorite room of the house and has proven to be that calming “retreat” that I needed- and I have the increased productivity and decreased stress to prove it.

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FEBRUARY

Ah, February. The month that broke our fence. Literally. One of the very few not-so-great aspects of Palmer (seriously, we love it here!) is that it has severe winds that come in off the river. Most of the time the wind is strong, but it just means I need to wear a long skirt or risk a Marilyn Monroe moment. But apparently during the winter when the natural buffer of trees and foliage is gone, the winds get even more powerful and intense, garnering enough strength to take out entire fences and rob our neighbor of their trampoline. (And yes, it’s happened again this year, too)

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That’s pretty much all that happened that month. Woohoo.

MARCH

March was better than February, by far. For starters, Caleb turned five years old that month. Of course, I was a complete ditz and didn’t take a single picture for the birthday party. But it was a Lego themed birthday party (do you notice a trend yet?) and we had a blast. Of course, since there are no pictures or video from said event, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Moving on.

The little snow we had received during February was almost gone by then and the trails were clear enough for us to go on our first hike of the season. We’re blessed to have a trail system close to our house, and we spend many a summer evening walking along the river.

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March was also the month where I felt myself coming into my role as a work-from-home/homeschooling mom of two. Up until then, I had worn so many hats and juggled so many tasks that I never felt able to do my best at any of it. My house was always messy, my son weeks behind in his schoolwork, my business unorganized and stressful, and I had no time for “me”, much less the time to actually enjoy my family. But something had begun to change in my heart and my perspectives, a subtle shifting in my priorities. This was the moment when I felt myself fully deserving of the title of “Mom” – and finding joy in that role.

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APRIL

I think that we can safely put this next one down as one of my least favorite moments of 2015 and one of my all-time biggest “mom fails”.

Caleb’s teeth were bad. There, I said it. Somehow we had been brushing his teeth wrong (how can there be a wrong way of brushing teeth?) for over a year and given him entirely too much apple juice, even though it was watered-down. The result was cavities galore and teeth desperately in need of repair. In fact, the procedure would be so in depth that Caleb needed to be put under so they could do the extensive dental work needed. Oh, my poor baby.

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Of course, now he’s quite proud of his metal teeth. Meanwhile, my momma’s heart aches a little bit every time I see those teeth glean. And you’d better believe that we’re the poster family for properly brushed teeth now.

With the weather getting nicer by the day, we found ourselves spending more and more time outside. Now, I’m one of those people that hates going somewhere alone (unless it’s to the grocery store!) and I especially hate hiking by myself as I haven’t felt capable of keeping up with the kids by myself. But I was determined to make a conscious change to my physical activity level, and especially to my endurance. I was tired of feeling tired. Having started a workshop regime back in December, I added weekly solo + kids hikes to my routine. Needless to say, the kids were thrilled with that choice.

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MAY

In May we went on our first “big adventure” of the season and hiked the McHugh Creek trail along the Seward Highway. We’ve visited McHugh Creek dozens of times over the years but for some reason never tried the South Trail. But one sunny Sunday afternoon we decided to turn left instead of right, and although we didn’t make it the whole way, it was the epitome of a perfect day.

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Apparently we kept up the trend of perfect days and so for Mother’s Day (which often marks among the first of our long, warm, summer days) we spent the afternoon cooking out moose burgers and playing football along the banks of the Knik River. And yes, I find it wonderfully ironic that I spend the day set aside for celebrating my motherhood by being “one of the guys” and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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On a productive note, we got exasperated with Remington slowly taking over the yard and decided to enclose a section just for him. This corner gets good sun while still having shade for most of the day, is right next to his best friend aka canine buddy so they can “chat” through the fence, and can see right into the living room so we can check on him when he’s outside. Of course, we  neglected to do a sufficient enough job with pulling up the grass roots so the mulch lasted barely a week before the weeds started to grow and overtake the area once again, but hey, at least it looked good for a little while.

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May was also filled with that beautiful, spontaneous moments that just “happen” – one such moment coming on a warm afternoon while Micah was working in the garage. The kids went into our side yard and I think the golden light streaming down had a little magic mixed in with it. Next thing I know, Caleb was asking me to take their picture and I was more than happy to oblige. Dancing, tumbling, hugging, and laughing. Childhood at its best.

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A few days later we had our own beautifully spontaneous moment. One evening Micah said he wanted to go to the river to collect driftwood and asked if the kids and I wanted to go along. So we did. What followed was hours spent playing, exploring, and making these beautiful memories together. That day went down as one of my favorite moments of the year, and probably of my life. No cell phones, no distractions, no deadlines. Just us, being a family.

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JUNE

Come summertime, Alaska is green from head to two and pretty much every waking moment is spent outside, especially once fishing season starts up. The first months of June were spent checking out new fishing spots up in Hatcher Pass, one of the prettiest and most beloved spots in the MatSu Valley.

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Micah’s mom and youngest brother came for a visit and we had the chance to visit the Museum of Transportation which housed vintage airplanes, trucks, cars, and farm equipment. But the pride and joy of the collection was an original train that you could go in and explore to your heart’s content. Oh, I loved that train.

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JULY

The big event of the month was that MY LITTLE BROTHER GOT MARRIED! We welcomed Auntie Kristen and I finally got a sister to join me in the Shaw family.

The trip down there was probably the smoothest traveling experience we’ve had with kids. Flying with two little ones, five and three years old, is no light matter and kids get antsy after the first two hours. We tried to take all this into account when booking tickets and purposely chose long layovers in kid-friendly airports that had playgrounds and plenty of room to run and get those wiggles out. Additionally, I packed new magazines and books, small toys and treats that we doled out every few hours of our trip. I also packed food and snacks.. apparently way too many as we also used the snacks for the return trip and still had some left over. But better to be over-prepared than not at all, right?

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Once the wedding was over, we stayed another two weeks visiting with family. Our first stop was the Adventure Science Museum. This place was huge! One of the largest museums that we’ve been to as of yet- there were whole sections that we never even got to see during our visit. Oh, and those animatronic dinosaurs? Yeah… the kids were terrified of them.

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Another unique place we visited was Cannonsburg Village, a recreation of the original townsite from when Murfreesboro, TN was founded. It’s one of those places that we always overlooked while I lived there and during every trip back, too. Yet, it seems that it was worth my wait since I got to experience it with my parents and kids for our very first time. We explored cabins, witnessed life in the 1800’s, saw original farm equipment from nearly every century, and really get a sense for what it was like in this small, country town.

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AUGUST

My sister and brother in-law, Rebekah & Jacob, and their family just so happened to be passing through Nashville during our last few days there and we were able to see them. It’s amazing how much kids can grow in just two years! Jacob had always wanted to see the Nashville Parthenon and once we picked our jaws up from gapping at it’s sheer size (it’s a full-scale replica of the original building), we then visited the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. While their main exhibit of the evolution of fashion was, ahem, not quite suited to our tastes, their hands-on art center was! The kids had such fun painting, building, and sculpting. We have quite a few budding artists!

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And the fun kept on coming… this time we went to the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring with “Auntie Katie” and she got to experience the never-ending energy kids have when it comes to children’s museums.

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Let’s see… we also visited the Nashville Zoo, one of my absolute favorite places. Of course, we had the distinct pleasure of visiting on what seemed like the hottest day of the summer and filled up our special-edition Icee cups no less than a dozen times each. My brother, Brandon, earned the title of “most awesome uncle” that day and was up for anything, including taking the kids into the petting zoo and being Sam’s personal mode of transportation.

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On our return trip home we flew out of St. Louis, arriving a few hours early so we could tour the city a bit and visit two important landmarks: the St. Louis Arch and the St. Louis Cardinals Stadium. Of course, we’re not Cardinals fan ourselves, but Micah’s brother is a huge fan and we certainly couldn’t go to St. Louis without seeing the Stadium in person and rubbing it in his face just a little.

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 SEPTEMBER

As soon as we got back home, salmon season was going full-swing and we were out fishing most days… afternoons… evenings… nights… By the end of the season we had gotten so much fish and game meat that we had to get a second stand-alone freezer for all the bounty. To this date, a good 80% of our meat comes from our freezer and I’m so thankful for the healthy provisions and blessing to our finances. We also managed to find a few untapped places for picking berries and picked enough that Micah was able to make another year’s worth of jelly. That’s another blessing- we haven’t purchased store-bought jelly since 2014!

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One big thing that September held was the official start of Caleb’s schooling! We followed in Micah’s footsteps and enrolled in IDEA, a homeschool umbrella school here in the state of Alaska. While officially enrolled in Kindergarten, he is doing both K and 1st Grade work. With both Micah and I having been homeschooled, the learning curve was easier than most but adjusting our daily schedule to accommodate schoolwork and making sure we covered every topic properly has not been easy. But Caleb is learning and enjoys learning, which is the best part of all.

OCTOBER

Even though Samantha’s birthday is at the end of October, we hold her party as early in the month as possible. Not only is late October a very busy time for church events, but there are also several other birthdays that take place then among our friends and we try to keep the parties from overlapping. Personally, I like have Sam’s birthday celebrated as early in the month as possible so we have the best weather possible and can overflow to the outside for the party. The same rule is followed for Caleb’s birthday as we hold his party as late in March as possible so the snow has a chance to melt and our cabin-fevered kids can round around outside like banshees.

Thankfully I learned from my Caleb’s birthday-fail and actually picked up my camera to snap a few pictures during Sam’s “Enchanted Woodland” themed party. Samantha was, of course, a fairy, as was I. Meanwhile, Caleb and Micah grew their best beards and went in full lumberjack mode after shooting down my gnome idea. Oh well, at least the costumes were easier.

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But before the birthday party we “remodeled” our living room, making some pretty big changes and getting rid of the Builder’s Blah Beige (its official title) and painting the entire living room- sans our blue accent wall- our beloved Gray Ghost color. We also added a rug (that will need to be replaced since it did NOT hold up to both a dog and kids, but a more neutral tone and pattern this time), new chair, new side bookcase, curtains, accents, you name it. The transformation was pretty incredible, but was still only step 1 of our long-term plan.

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Later that month, the remodeling continued as we decided to redo our master bathroom by painting and getting a real sink + cabinet. Oh, my! Counter space, how I’ve missed you.

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NOVEMBER

November, like February, was a relatively quiet month. It snowed, we went sledding, or as much sledding as can be done in an inch and a half. Micah and I celebrated eight years of marriage and went out for the evening. We ate way too much for Thanksgiving. Installed a new floor in the Studio. It was boringly nice, if that’s a thing?

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DECEMBER

Ah, December. The month of Christmas and holiday celebrations. Like most Decembers, it was a bit of a whirlwind but we tried to set aside dedicated time for family and friends, celebrating, and sometimes, staying home and doing absolutely nothing.

One celebration that we hope will become a yearly tradition was decorating cookies and gingerbread houses with our good friends and next door neighbors, a fellow “P” family. Caleb and Samantha were mirror opposites in their decorating styles as Samantha was borderline minimalist while Caleb put frosting on top of frosting. They loved the resulting creations (which was a good thing because the boxed cookies tasted awful). Meanwhile, the graham cracker “a la” gingerbread houses were proudly displayed for the entire season on top of our kitchen cabinet- and may or may not still be on display a month later. But hey, at least our Christmas lights are down?

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Other holiday activities included an Ugly Sweater Party, watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the library (popcorn and cocoa provided!), making brown bag reindeers at Storytime, and taking Christmas Day pictures in front of the tree. Maybe next year we’ll try to actually have them wear Christmas PJ’s or at least red & green.

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All in all, it was a truly wonderful year and probably one of my favorite and most-enjoyed years to date.

What were your favorite memories of 2015?

This morning, my desk accurately reflects the current state of my life. Stacks of bills to pay, orders buried under correspondence, recipes to go over for Thanksgiving, even more recipes to enter into my new favorites cookbook, and receipts to put into the monthly budget. The wind has chapped my lips something awful and I haven’t been drinking nearly enough water. And don’t even ask me where my to-do list is located as I’ve yet to find it today.  All while recovering from a cold as evidenced by the zinc tablets (and I think that I may be losing my voice). Still, it’s Monday- a fresh start to the week. Even with all the clutter on my desk (and in my brain), today is day to get things done, no matter how long it takes, so we can relax and enjoy the rest of this holiday week. Let’s go get ’em!

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This right here is my favorite recipe for protein shakes. Actually, to be completely honest, it’s the ONLY recipe that I like. Yes, I’m picky when it comes to health shakes, which is strange because I’ve never really been a picky eater. When you’re married to an Eskimo who regularly enjoys dishes like “Fish Head Soup” and paired with a Southern upbringing that dictates that you eat whatever is set in front of you, pickiness just isn’t an issue. Yet, when it comes to health shakes, suddenly I am acutely aware of texture and that weird aftertaste left by artificial sweeteners.

There are dozens of protein shakes on the market with one of the most popular being Shakeology, which I do still enjoy (though I can still taste the artificial sweeteners). Recently, though, I found another brand of protein shakes, Spirutein, with the same nutritional benefit but without the artificial sweeteners (I’d rather have the real stuff + work out a little harder) and at 1/3 of the price, which is quite the bonus.

Whatever your choice of protein mix, this recipe is seriously delicious and is my “reward” for working out. Chocolate milkshake for breakfast? Yes, please!

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PEANUT BUTTER & CHOCOLATE PROTEIN SHAKE RECIPE

INGREDIENTS:

1 heaping scoop of your choice of chocolate protein mix (can use vanilla protein mix and add cocoa powder to taste)

8oz of almond milk or 2% milk

1 banana

2 tsp of peanut butter or peanut butter powder or almond butter (can add more to taste)

Dash of Cinnamon

Handful of ice cubes

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Place milk, chocolate protein mix, banana, peanut butter, and cinnamon in a blender

2. Blend until smooth (usually 30 seconds), scraping sides as needed

3. Add handful of ice to reach desired constancy.
NOTES:

– More ice = a thicker shake. If you add too much ice and the shake is too thick, add more milk to thin out.

– Feel free to add more banana and peanut butter for more flavor. I actually enjoy 1.5 bananas, frozen in advance for a creamier texture.

Makes 1.5 servings

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Do you have any favorite recipes for protein shakes? I keep telling myself to be brave and try new things- would love some recommendations!

 

Some days are awesome. Some days are awkward. Some days are a bit of both. In either case there are some things that are just too good (or awful) not to share.

AWKWARD

1. The word “awkward” and feeling like a squawking bird whenever I say it aloud. Especially if my tongue gets all twisted up mid-sentence and I just say, “AWK………kdhnkjdh….(hacking cough) ….ward.” Dignity restored.

2. Wearing the super cute maxi dress that I absolutely adore but is about two inches too long for me. Add to that wearing heeled boots and stepping on my hem every thirty seconds. Problem remedied by picking up my dress like a maiden straight out Camelot until I realize how ridiculous it looks and drop my skirt. And proceed to trip into a clothes rack less than a minute later.

3. While wearing said dress and taking care of “business” I somehow dunk my hem into the toilet… before flushing. And have to walk around the rest of the afternoon with pee-soaked fabric slapping around my ankles. It was gross. And annoying. And cold.

4. Getting into an argument over whether “that actress from that show” is blonde or brunette only to realize her hair is dyed ombre and so technically we’re both right.

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AWESOME

1. Playing “hooky” for the day and going sledding with the family and our next-door neighbors who are always up for an adventure. Also awesome? Having awesome next-door neighbors. Especially ones who are up for spontaneous adventures. Like us knocking on their door saying, “Want to go sledding in two minutes?” kind of spontaneous.

2. Beating Destiny (the video game, not the great life force) and leveling up above my husband. My life is now fulfilled. I can go back to binge watching NCIS.

3. Running into a fellow mom-with-a-toddler at the markdown rack at Fred Meyer’s and feeling like we had known each other forever. We helped each other find boxes of pasta for 69 cents, shared recipes and household tips (including my quick-and-easy recipe for pancake muffins) and she gave me the last box of Pop-Tarts with the bent corners. Now THAT is a good woman in my book. Hopefully I’ll run into her again one day. Maybe she goes to Story Time?

4. Actually having a clean house for 2 whole hours until Small Human wakes up from her nap, joins forces with Slightly Bigger Human, and destruction rains again. Then, in a moment of clarity, I realize that what I had told my Bestie just days before: “the messier the house, the better the mom” really was true. Empowered by that heady truth, I let the kids wreck to their heart’s content as they built forts, “help” with dinner, read stories, battle imaginary pirates, and build Lego sculptures that rival the Empire State Building. And for a while my heart is calm and my soul is at peace. Once they are in bed, I mix a little June Cleaver with Rosie the Riveter and clean until I am satisfied and we can actually see the counters again.

I’ll put up with all the awkward for more chances of the awesome. Agree?

Target is one of those stores that seems to have read your diary in anticipation of each shopping trip. Every time I go in there something else leaps off the shelf and into my cart. And that $1-$3 dollar spot at the very front? Dangerous!

Two weeks ago I went in with the vague notion of giving our living room a mini makeover. I was tired of all the brown and blah and ready for things to “pretty” things up before hosting Samantha’s birthday party the following week. Nothing like a social gathering to kick you into high gear and have the season’s to-do list checked off in a matter of days.

Walking through the aisles of Target, everything began to fall in place as I found things I had seen and loved on Pinterest and different decor blogs, as well as some unexpected surprises. I came home with full bags and more set to arrive from ordering online. The result is a living room I absolutely love and did without breaking the bank. (Anticipate a full reveal showing up within the next few weeks!)

Since then, I’ve kept up the window shopping and have even more things to add to my wish list… and a couple of things that found their way to checkout.

Target Top Picks, Window Shopping

1. Carlisle Metal 24″ Counter Stool | Awesome stools! We got a set of 2 of these earlier this year and couldn’t be happier with them. So much so that we just ordered some more today since they are on major sale right now.

2. Threshold™ Decorative Basket Felt Snowball in White | These are my new favorite kind of “soft baskets” and would look great next to a couch or chair with a blanket or two in it. Or perhaps the catch-all for library books? So many possibilities!

3. Threshold™ Fretwork Rug | This rug now resides in my living room (or rather, one very similar to it since I couldn’t find the actual one online). I was lucky enough to be able to find a 4×5 on a clearance end-cap and got it for $38. It completely transforms the traffic-weary brown carpet and handles our family and guests quite nicely. My only complaint is that it does snag easily, but some pads on the bottom of the ottoman nipped that problem in the bud.

4. Nate Berkus Wood and Metal Inlay Tray | One can never have enough good trays and the wood + metal ties in beautifully with modern decors. I envision this tray on a kitchen countertop holding the salt & pepper shakers, a vase of flowers, and a bowl of fresh fruit from Friday’s farmer market.

5. Threshold™ Desktop Globe w/ Gold Base | I actually own this globe for the Studio and get so many compliments on it. Of course, the dads all like to point out how inaccurate it is so I usually have to make a joke about it being not-to-scale. But hey, it’s pretty! Just don’t use it to teach geography.

6. French Seam Square Pouf – Pumice Gray | These poufs are really tempting me right now. A set of two of them would go perfectly with my new armchair and curtains (same linen weave, just gray instead of light blue) and would provide some comfy seating when we have company. And they’re on sale right now which makes them even more of a temptation. But, I’m going to be a good girl and hold off until springtime or clearance prices, whichever comes first.

7. Hex Modern Geo Comforter Set | Good bedding seems so hard to find and we’ve had our eye on this set for a while and just pushed “buy” today. We wanted something in the gray family and really light and airy without actually being white. Now if I could just decide to go with gray or blue for the paint color?

8. Crosby Schoolhouse Desk Lamp – Ebony – Threshold | While over at a friend’s house the other day I saw they had a lamp similar to this and instantly developed a middle-school-worthy crush. Not only is industrial/vintage very trendy right now,  but this lamp is like the sophisticated cousin of those metal lambs with the bendy necks from 2004.

9. Threshold Copper Etched Measuring Spoons | These measuring spoons are absolutely adorable! I have measuring spoons and cups coming out my ears thanks to last Christmas, but these copper spoons would be perfect for a country kitchen, especially paired with white pottery bowls.

What have been your favorite finds lately? Do you prefer online shopping or browsing in store, because I’m seriously torn.

 

My Sanity Saving Morning Routine, helpful tips for having a non stressful, organized, productive morning

It seems that one of those inevitable truths of life is that if your morning goes awry, it’s hard to reclaim the rest of your day. Rough mornings throw off your groove, to borrow the phrase. Having a plan usually makes a morning run smoother but even the best of plans can still leave you feeling frazzled, stressed, and drained.

Call me crazy, but I really love mornings. Even on those not-so-rare days where I went to bed too late and got up too early with little sleep in between, even then I still love the fresh promise of the new day and all the potential it holds. Still, for all my pep and hope, if the morning starts to fall apart then my day falls apart, too. I find myself losing focusing, energy zapped, my productivity next to nothing. And if by some miracle we manage to stick to our schedule, I’ve lost every ounce of sanity in the meantime and probably have a couple of new gray hairs to boot.

Last week I met with Caleb’s contact teacher for his umbrella school (I.D.E.A– it’s awesome!) and during our discussion there came one of those lightbulb moments and I realized the difference between having a morning routine vs. a schedule. A schedule has set tasks and if those tasks aren’t completed on time, then you’re left playing catch up the rest of the day. Meanwhile, a routine is merely a series of familiar tasks that happen when they happen. Got showered and dressed quicker than expected? Now you can enjoy an unhurried breakfast and perhaps even a few leisurely moments before getting started with your day.

As a homeschooling family, most of our mornings are spent at home. While we aren’t rushing to get out the door, if we’re not careful I lose track of time and the entire day can slip away. Before we know it, it’s the middle of the afternoon and we’re still in our PJ’s with unbrushed hair, eating cereal out of the box, with phonics pages half done, but the laundry is folded and put away!

The truth of the matter is that I can’t stick to a schedule. But a “To Do List” I can do! A set routine and way of doing things that is so easy I can do it pre-coffee, that I can do. The thing with routines is that they become second nature, and one task naturally progresses to the next. Having the same routine every morning helps make the complicated tasks more familiar and before you realize it, you’re sipping your second cup of still-hot java while the disherwasher’s going, laundry done, living room picked up, kids dressed, and three things are already checked off the to-do list.

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My Sanity Saving Morning Routine
(and a few tips too)

Wake up before kids & take time for myself.
This is a big one but not always easy to do with a little boy that likes to wake up at the crack of dawn. (We set rules for what he can do if he wakes up early) Ideally, I like to wake up 1-2 hours before the kids so I can do my personal devotions and prayer time, return emails, get in a 20-minute workout, and be blow drying my hair as the kids wake up. This head start on the day proves to be invaluable even if I don’t get any tasks accomplished and have spent all the time on “me.” It provides a peaceful, relaxed start where I feel fresh, competent, and in control- ready to meet whatever challenges the day throws at me.

Allow myself the privilege of sleeping in a least once a week.
This may seem like the direct opposite of the previous tip, but hear me out. We all have at least one morning a week where there is nothing pressing to be done. And on those mornings it’s tempting to wake up at the same time and play catch up on all the things we didn’t get accomplished during the past days. Yet, I’m a firm believer that those days are the most important days of all. Hitting snooze, or better yet, turning my alarm off completely, allows my body to get the rest it needs and has been sorely lacking. Even if I was able to get 8 hours of solid sleep each night for the past week, my body will still receive a boost from waking up naturally vs. jarring awake with my iPhone’s alarm.

– Set out clothes the night before.
The last thing I need is to realize that the kids have no clean socks when I’m already running late or spend 10 minutes arguing over the blue or green shirt. When putting the kids to bed I simply reach in their closets and lay out their outfits for the next day. And if I’m feeling really productive, I’ll even take the basket of clean clothes with me and put away the laundry before tucking them in for the night.

– If staying home, wear real clothes.
While it’s tempting to stay in yoga pants the whole day, once my workout is over I get dressed as if I’m going out in public, even if I’ll be staying home. Putting effort into my appearance somehow switches the day from “casual mode” to “productive mode” and has the added bonus of keeping me from feeling embarrassed when the UPS guy stops by. Of course, I’m a huge fan of PJ Thursday. The UPS guy will just have to deal with it.

– Have a dedicated spot for clothes, shoes, and coats.
It does no good to have everything set out in advance if the kids have to look in a different spot each time. The whole idea of a routine is daily consistency. If the kids know that the shoes are always in the wicker basket by the door when I tell them to “go get their shoes on” I won’t be fielding a dozen questions or having to give turn-by-turn directions to wear to find their mud boots. Of course, teaching the kids that the shoes go IN the buckets and not next to it or in the hallway is also key.

– Realize that even the youngest toddlers can still be helpers.
Young children love to help- so let them! It might take a tiny bit longer or turn out a bit messier, but helpful children are happy children and that means a happy mom, too. By giving my littlest simple tasks to do, such as putting the dirty sippy cups in the sink, stacking the library books by the door, straightening the throw pillows, or putting spoons next to the breakfast bowls, I teach her to contribute to the family and keep her from being underfoot or bored. I may still have to go behind and ensure that the task was completed correctly, but keep up the routine enough and soon even Sammy will be a full-fledged helpful helper.

– Create “Mini Routines” with each Morning Routine. 
With all the stuff to do each morning, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I’ve found that dividing my mornings up into smaller sections, each with its own mini routine has proven to be one of the best sanity saving tips out there. For example, serving the kids breakfast is made up several tasks: first I empty the dishwasher while the kids finish waking up, then I fix breakfast (cereal or toast if we’re going simple, eggs are medium difficulty, pancakes or breakfast bake for special mornings). While the kids are eating I load the dishwasher and start a sink of soapy water so I can wash dishes off and on during the rest of the morning. Last step is putting on a pot of coffee to perk while I finish my breakfast and get Caleb started on school. One main task of “eating breakfast” just took off half a dozen things off my to do list without any extra time and little additional effort.

Take advantage of the power of five minutes.
It really is amazing what can be accomplished in just five minutes. Part of my morning routine is taking five minutes at a time and focusing on a certain task, project, or room. Living room messy? I set the timer on the oven and blitz clean for five minutes. If the timer goes off and I’m not done yet, I just set it for another five minutes- after all, that’s the beauty of a having a routine instead of a set schedule.

– Don’t put off the little stuff.
Many times I find myself putting off seemingly small, insignificant to-do’s simply because I don’t feel like doing them at that moment. But then all those small things pile up into one big thing and where’s the sanity in that? If something will take five minutes or less, I tell myself to suck it up and just do it. And then I reward myself with chocolate. Or more coffee. Or both.

– Keep the kitchen table/island/counter clear.
This is one of those things that I didn’t realize how much of a difference it made until I incorporated it as part of our morning routine. The kitchen island is our gathering spot for afternoon coffee, where Caleb works on his math homework while Sammy colors. It’s where I go through bills and slice apples for mid-afternoon snacks. It doesn’t have to be spotless, that comes later, I just need it clear and useable.

– A routine puts the kids on auto pilot in a good way.
Every night before bed Caleb asks, “What are we doing in the morning?” and we go over all the events tomorrow holds. He gets most excited to hear that the next day is Library Day and since it’s one of our weekly routines, come the next morning he knows just what to do. Library books are gathered, an extra big breakfast is eaten, and Caleb asks if he’s earned enough stars on the reward chart to get a new Hot Wheels car from the thrift store after story time. Kids thrive on consistency. Knowing what to expect each day gives them time to anticipate their own responsibilities, prepare for any thing they don’t enjoy like nap time or homework, and allows the day to transition smoothly and naturally.

– Know that some mornings will go all wrong. 
It’s going to happen. Just regroup and start fresh. After all, in the famous words of Miss Scarlet O’hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”

What’s your morning routine? Any tips keeping your sanity that you’d like to share?