Once I hit puberty, I became what’s known as chubby. I just couldn’t lose my baby fat from childhood. Even as I developed curves, I stayed chunky and just never felt very good about myself. Following a breakup (my first and only) when I was 18, I decided to concentrate on myself and get into shape. I was young and without commitments, so I worked out for an hour before work, 30 minutes during lunch break, and for up to two hours after work too. I counted calories, watched what I ate, and barely splurged at all. For three months I was the epitome of self-discipline. And it worked. I went from a size 14/16 to a teeny tiny size 5 and dropped nearly 30lbs. And more than the number on the scale, I felt great about myself.

Fast forward a few years and I was engaged to the most wonderful guy (yes, the one I had broken up with before. It was our we-need-to-get-serious-with-God phase), trying on wedding dress, and planning for a life together. On our wedding day, I had never felt more beautiful.

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After seven years of marriage and two kids, I found myself far from the size-six, toned bride I once was. Life had gotten busy, habits had gotten lazy, and the pounds started adding themselves to my waistline.

Gradually, at first, so that I barely noticed the weight gain. After all, it was to be expected that I’d keep some of that baby weight, but as I kept having to buy new jeans and found myself getting winded after climbing just a short flight of stairs, I knew that things were getting to a dangerous point.

So I tried half-hearted diets, fruitless hours spent at the gym and on the elliptical machine, but nothing really seemed to make any difference. My metabolism had changed after 10 years and I no longer could drop weight just like that *snaps fingers*

When I finally exchanged my pants for a size 16, I broke down. All the excuses and platitudes I had told myself were proven to be just that- excuses. In reality, I wasn’t “doing fine” and while, yes, I could be heavier, I was not healthy and things needed to change.

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A good/awesome/amazing friend of mine shared her favorite workout program with me (BeachBody’s Piyo) and after going back-and-forth for a while I decided to give it a try and actually commit. 

December 1, 2014- I started my first day of PiYo. And life hasn’t been the same since.

This past year has been an amazing, transformative journey. And yes, still a bit of a roller coaster. My 80/20 looked more like 10/90 at times. I went down nearly two sizes and 10 lbs only to go back up to nearly my starting weight. But I still count this year as a success. Not because of inches lost but because of confidence gained. Because I can now hike a mountain with my family without getting winded while carrying our daughter in her hike pack. I can run without feeling like I’m about pass out. My knees, which I fondly referred to as those of an eighty-year-old grandma, no longer ached after each workout. And goodbye lumps!

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Even though I still have a long way to go, I feel good about my body for the first time time in seven years. I’ve learned to love my curves and hold my head up high because I am DOING, not just wishing. Each new goal reached makes me want to do a happy dance because I am setting an example for my children- to not except the way things are just because it’s the way things are, but pursue the best that life has to offer. And I am stronger and better for it.

Free Printable Weekly Meal Plan Worksheet w/ grocery store-ready clipable shopping list

(click the image to download)

I’m one of those odd ducks who really enjoying grocery shopping. Our local market is less than a mile from home and quickly become my store of choice. In fact, my grocery store and I are such great friends that we’re on a first name basis. I call him “Freddy’s” but he’s known to the world as Fred Meyer, part of the Kroger chain of grocery stores. Anyone from the Northwest, and Alaska especially, will recognize the name Fred Meyer and agree that it’s one of the best grocery stores available. From great customer service with hardly any waiting in line (the manager will personally open a new checkout if there is more than 1 person waiting), Freddy’s not only keeps their shelves stock and produce fresh, but they run fantastic sales, specials, and markdowns.

Due to our close proximity, I’m able to make multiple trips a week, shopping off of my grocery list while snagging the best deals. This has allowed us to keep our grocery budget quite low for Alaska, where food prices are notoriously high. Last year we were spending nearly $700 a month on groceries, which was excessive for a family of four with young children. This year, my goal was to cut that monthly bill in half, and we’ve been able to consistently stick to that goal and even come in even less some months.

In another post, I’ll share in depth on how we’re saving money on our grocery bill, making creative meals, occasional splurges, and lots of fresh produce while spending $75 or less a week (with NO coupon clipping!). For now, we’ll start at the foundation of all smart shopping and that’s the all-important Meal Plan. After trying out dozens of meal plans downloaded from various blogs over the past few months, I finally sat down and created my own Weekly Meal Plan Worksheet that has the best flow for planning, with a familiar calendar layout, and ample space for notes and my favorite feature: a shopping list that can be cut off to take with me to the grocery store!

So what ARE the benefits of meal planning?

1. Having a plan means spending less
money on needless groceries or junk food.

2. Since you’ll know quantities in advance,
there’s no danger of buying too much or too little. 

3. Checking your pantry while meal planning
keeps from double-purchasing items. 

4. Meal planning allows you to plan meals around
what’s on sale or even use coupons for extra savings. 

5. By planning in advance, you’re able to cook once,
use twice to stretch your time and budget even further.

6. Less stress when planning meals allows you to be more creative and
adventurous. Try out a new recipe each week, you might find a new favorite!

7. If dieting or clean eating, making a meal plan helps
keep you on track and promotes healthy nutrition.

8. Knowing your schedule in advance allows you to break out the crock
pot, use up leftovers, or plan to splurge on “Friday Night Pizza.”

9. If you’re home late or have unexpected company, you can quickly
switch around meals since all the groceries are on hand.

10. Planning encourages you to be more intentional and
consistent about having meals together as a family.

Each weekend I sit down and plan the meals for the coming week. With our lifestyle, we tend to be a bit spontaneous with last minute hiking trips and afternoons spent fishing if the weather’s good. We’ll come home just before dinnertime and the next hour+ will be spent with fish guts spread across my kitchen island and a hoard of hungry people. By prepping ingredients in advance, like chopping vegetables or cooking a double portion of rice earlier in the week, I’m able to continue on with my meal plans even though my kitchen smells like fish and I’m picking scales out of the diced onions. Or, we’ll have friends or “the uncles” drop by and suddenly I’m needing twice the amount of food as planned. Since all our groceries were purchased in advance, I can switch meals around to something that can be stretched or borrow from another meal so everyone goes home with full bellies. With no meal plan, I would be left scrounging the pantry with more stress than I’d like.

Click the image above or follow this link to download the  Weekly Meal Plan Worksheet.

Happy Meal Planning!

Now that Caleb is five years old, in Kindergarten, and actually has likes and dislikes, it’s time to start work on his “big boy” room! I have all the basics in place, like the furniture, shelving, and curtains for the window (these from Target, Caleb picked them out cause it looked like books).

Decorating a vintage aviation-themed bedroom for a young child or teenager. Lots of custom touches and DIY projects (or can buy ready-made). w/ Links.

LINKS
1. Set of 4 Framed Vintage Airplanes 2. Card Board Letters Painted Silver 3. Collection of Postcards 4. Light Blue Accent Wall & Navy Blue Main Walls 5. DIY White Clouds on Ceiling 6. Paper Airplanes Made from Map Pages 7. Wood Shelves with Metal Accents 8. Wicker Baskets for Storage Cube 9. Cozy Reading Corner 10. Framed Quote Prints 11. Striped Rugby Bedding 12. Maps on Walls

I’ve ordered the Striped Rugby Bedding from Target and will be doing a set of 4 Vintage Airplanes in mis-matched frames above his bed, and the silver-painted word F-L-Y over that. We’ve collected some postcards over the year and are going to give a jumpstart to Caleb’s own collection of postcards. They are a great low-cost souvenir to get while on trips and take up hardly any room in luggage.

We have some original flight charts of Anchorage and Micah’s hometown of Bethel that I’ll be adding to each side of the window. His toy bins in the 9-cube need to be replaced and I’d love to find a great deal on wicker baskets or at least some more durable bins that will stand up to Caleb’s level of destruction. The room will be finished up with some paper airplanes hung from the ceiling and maybe a few clouds, too.

Of course, Caleb informed me today that he wanted to do firetrucks instead of airplanes. Tough luck, kid.

Recommended reading for creative moms who

I have a not-so-secret confession to make: I LOVE TO READ. Ever since my childhood, I haven’t gone anywhere without having a book stuffed in my purse. Even a one-hour commute to church meant at least five or six chapters progressed in the storyline. As a wife, mother, housewife, and business owner, my free time has dwindled away and I don’t have nearly as much leisure time to read as I used to. Instead, reading has become my guilty pleasure at the end of the day when I’m ready to snuggle in bed and settle my mind before going to sleep. These are the three books I’m currently reading through or are planning on starting for the Autumn season.

1. A Light In The Window by Jan Karon (Mitford Series #2)
There are a few favorite series that I read through at least twice a year on rotation because I just enjoy them that much. One of those series is The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Set in a small country village in the foothills of North Carolina, the Mitford Series follows Father Timothy Kavanagh, as he cares for his parish flock and a dog the size of a Buick. With over a dozen books chronicling Father Tim’s life and adventures, it’s truly one of the most enjoyable and thought-provoking series I’ve ever read (10+ times now) and was one of the influential reasons for my wanting to settle in a small town in real life.

2. Worth Every Penny by Sarah Petty & Erin Verbeck
This is one of those books that any entrepreneur who actually wants to make a viable living for themselves should read. The authors, from the acclaimed Joy of Marketing, finally combined their years of knowledge into a book that proved to be an eye-opening and business-changing experience. I first read this book when flying back from a photography workshop and it built off of everything I had learned during the workshop, instilling confidence in myself and my abilities, while driving home the irrefutable truth that I was “worth every penny” and then some. Since then, I’ve recommended the book numerous times, eventually lending the book to my dad who has promised to return it with the next care package.

3. One More Wish by Robin Jones Gunn (Christy & Todd: The Married Years #3)
This is another one of those series and authors who I find myself returning to over and over again. The character of Christy Miller has been my companion since the tender age of 12. Since then, I grew up alongside Christy, sharing in her struggles with boys, changing relationships with friends, finding God’s will for her life, deciding on a career path, navigating college, and finally marrying the boy she’s loved since her 15th birthday. (Fun fact: I met Micah when I was 16 and knew that he was “the one”). This book was just released by Robin last month and is currently sitting in my Amazon basket waiting for checkout.

There you have it! My three top book picks for this Autumn. Story time starts back up in two weeks at the library and I can’t wait to browse their new releases shelves for even more books to add to this list. Happy reading, everybody!

Homeschooling Schedule

Our day tends to look a bit different than most families. We are all (kids included) night owls and prefer to sleep in come morning rather than getting up at the crack of dawn. Since we’re often out later in the evenings, having flexibility when it comes to bedtime is crucial and still be able to have a relaxed, easy start to our day.

Since I am self-employed, I have the ability to set my own schedule and go to the Studio on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the week and work from home the rest of the week. There are some days when the kids need “mommy” more and my productivity goes way down, but I’m usually able to make up the workload during nap time or by staying up a little later.

With the school year just starting, we’re still getting a feel for our daily routine and some of this is more idealistic than reality. However, slowly but surely we’re making adjustments and having a smoother daily experience.

Our Daily Homeschooling Schedule

8:00am – I try to wake up between 7:30 and 8:30, usually snoozing once before finally getting up. I like being able to have an hour or so before the kids wake up to do my Piyo workout, devotions, and return emails.

9:00am – Caleb usually wakes up first, either crawling into bed with us if he woke up early, or coming out with his sleeping bag wrapped around his shoulders to greet me at my desk or sitting on the couch with the laptop. I then get Samantha up between 9:00 and 9:30.

9:30am – The kids eat breakfast while I either do my workout or clean up in the kitchen and pick up the living room. I like to start the day with a clean house and really enjoy my morning ritual of opening the curtains and letting the sunlight pour in.  Oh, and Caleb feeds the dog his breakfast.

9:45am – We gather on the couch and read a Bible story together.

10:00am – With the chores out of the way and my inbox cleared, we get started on schoolwork for the day. Caleb really enjoys Math and we start with that first. It should only take 30 minutes but some days he takes a full hour to complete his work. Even though Sammy is only two years old, we have her sort counting bears or work with shapes while Caleb finishes. If he gets done early, then he plays Legos or Cars until time for the next subject.

11:00am – Time to work on Reading! Caleb knows all of his letters and most of his sounds, so we continue to work on Phonics and are now introducing sight words. We have several computer apps that we use as well as an audio program that was passed down from Micah’s childhood. Since hands-on is best, I also have Caleb arrange the letters of the alphabet, play alphabet matching and memory games, and his all-time favorite, Boggle! We have two versions of the game and Caleb plays the harder, timed version while Sam plays the simple matching version.

11:45am – My goal this school year is to have dedicated Story time here at home in addition to our time at the library. We’ll read three books together and then start beginning journaling by having Caleb retell the story summary and draw pictures, write some words from the book, preparing him for the many years of journaling that lie ahead.

12:00pm – For Handwriting, Caleb writes letters that we mail to family members, practices writing numbers and words, and  writes his name. This year we’ll be adding in his address, telephone number, the names of family members, and the days of the week, months of the year, time of day, seasons, etc.

12:30pm – We break for lunch and send the kids outside to play for a little while if it’s nice or encourage play in their room so I can have a little break while I eat my lunch and catch up on social media.

1:30pm – This year we’ll be introducing Science basics through reading books and doing easy science experiments, practicing with the junior microscope, and doing beginner journaling. Mainly we’ll be learning about the world around us, including the seasons, weather, how plants grow, animal behavior, solar systems, and all the things that kids naturally find interesting. We won’t be going in depth into science until 2nd or 3rd grade (at which time, Micah has claimed the subject), but it’s importance to establish the foundation while they’re young.

2:00pm – Like with science, we won’t be going in depth into History until the higher grades (and once again, Micah is excited to teach the subject), but we’ll be reading books, discussing events and peoples, and journaling what we learn. We’ll be starting first with the major events in American history, typical things like studying the Pilgrims come November. There’s a great set of videos by Nest Entertainment on historical biographies that I grew up watching and I just discovered them on DVD- they will be making an appearance before the end of the school year!

2:30pm – Blessedly, Samantha still naps for 2-3 hours in the afternoon and it’s when the majority of my workload is completed. Caleb is released from schoolwork for the day and I sit down at the computer to work on sessions, design birth announcements, and return more emails and phone calls. Most of the time Caleb plays with his Legos, watches a “quiet movie”, or plays outside with our awesome friends from next door.

5:30pm – It’s time for Samantha to wake up and join Caleb with whatever he is doing. I finish up my work for the afternoon, pick up the house before the evening starts, and finalize whatever I’m making for supper.

6:30pm – We eat dinner, either in the dining room or while watching a movie or show together. After dinner we may go hiking, fishing, or hang out with friends. If at home, everyone does what they want. Sam and Caleb usually play outside with friends, Micah researches some new fishing technique while on his second pot of coffee, and I put in my third load of laundry and then start editing personal pictures while watching a show. Yes, I like to multitask.

9:00pm – If we went out for the evening, then we’re usually just coming home and give the kids quick baths in preparation for bedtime. They get to stay up for just a few more minutes while I take care of any loud chores, such as laundry or vacuuming.

9:30pm – The kids get put to bed with a story, kiss, and prayers. Micah and I settle on the couch with yet another pot of coffee and talk, play a game, or catch up on Dr. Who.

12:00am – I get really productive right before bed and head to my desk to edit sessions for a while. Micah stays up working on projects in the garage or prepping things for an early morning fishing trip.

12:45am (or sometimes 2:00am) – We realize what time it is, call ourselves crazy, and finally head to bed.

So there you have it, our daily homeschooling schedule. Now, if it’s a Tuesday or Thursday that I’m in the Studio, then I’m usually gone from 9:30-3:00 and tag team with Micah or flip flop our day and do school in the evening. If it’s a Tuesday that I don’t have to go into the Studio, then we’ll attend story time at the library in lieu of reading and phonics for the day. And of course, as good homeschoolers, every so often we play hooky and go on adventures for the day. That is really what I love most about homeschooling: the ability to infuse learning into every aspect of our day to day life.

We’re blessed that Alaska is very homeschool-friendly and doesn’t have a slew of regulations regarding reporting or even daily hours requirements. Because of that freedom, I know that I have to be diligent that we do get everything accomplished and hold myself personally accountable as Caleb’s teacher. Some days are longer than while other days are more productive, but it all equals out in the end. The big thing is that I want Caleb to enjoy school as much as possible during the formative years, before the experiencing the drudgery of algebra and the joys of essays (can you tell which subject I excelled at in school?)

Our schedule will probably change as the school year continues but for now it works for us, building off of our current daily routine and remaining flexible enough to adapt no matter what situations or adventures arise. Either way, I’m looking forward to our first official year as a homeschooling family!

What does your school day look like?

One day, out of the blue, Micah suggested visiting a new place we had never been before. At first, I was just going to let it be him and the kids but I needed a break from my to-do list and decided to go along, too. At the last minute, I stuck my “work camera” in our backpack, reminding myself that I had made the commitment to capture as many candid moments as possible.

It was the perfect day, with the sun shining brightly and barely a cloud in the sky. The temperature was a balmy 65 degrees with a light breeze that made it just cool enough for a sweatshirt and we drove with the sunroof open, welcoming the hot touch of summertime.

The Matanuska Riverfront, a mere five minute drive from our home, is located on the edge of the town of Palmer, just as the road bends and joins the community known as the Butte (named for the Butte Mountain in its middle). While we had never been to the Riverfront before, we had visited the historic walking bridge a time or two, never venturing to the wide expanse off to our right.

Pulling into the parking lot, we unpacked the kids, grabbed a backpack for “treasures” and headed through the tunnel to the trail.

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The first thing the kids said when we got to then Riverfront was, “Sand! We’re at the beach!”

Well, kind of. At least, as close to a “beach” as we have in the Valley.

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The riverfront is covered in driftwood and fallen logs, which apparently makes for a great jungle gym.

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While Caleb was jumping off logs, Samantha was happily playing in the dust, I mean, sand.

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Micah wanted driftwood for some of his woodworking projects, so he kept the kids busy running back and forth collecting pieces.

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I even managed to get in front of the camera for a bit for some pictures of me and my girl. And look! We’re twins with our matching pink hoodies!

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I love the pure imagination and wonderment that comes with being five years old.

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Caleb even got to handle the “big camera” for a few minutes and took some pictures of mommy & daddy.

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At one place on the riverfront, someone had built a teepee out of driftwood and the kids LOVED playing in there. It’s things like this, enjoying the creation of a fellow Alaskan, that reminds us why we love this close-knit community.

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“Look, Mom! I made the number ten!”
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Oh, Alaska, how I love you.

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As soon as the snow melts and the temperature gets above 45 degrees, spring fever comes hard and fast. I’m ready to head outdoors and have adventures, and soak up as much sunshine as possible. Now that we’ve been in our house for a year and have a vision of what we want to do long-term, I found that spring fever quickly turn into decorating and gardening fever. Each evening Micah and I would brainstorm ideas and the next morning we would make use of the fresh start and burst of energy by checking off as many projects as possible. Over this past week we’ve cleaned up the yard, repaired holes dug by our dumb hyper dog, repaired the fence (also damaged by Remington), moved the playhouse, made a “doggie sandbox” so Remington would have a dedicated place to dig (instead of in our yard), built a raised bed under the front bay window, brought our winterized plants out of the garage and freshened them up for spring, and hung the flowered wreath on the door, which is my personal “official sign of spring.”

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We also bought and planted an apple tree in the backyard, thus fulfilling one of Micah’s bucket list items: have an apple tree in the backyard. Eventually we want to plant a few more trees on the side of the house and a larger tree at the fence corner, something that will grow big and have beautiful fall leaves.

On Saturday I woke up inspired from my late night of exploring Pinterest and was determined to actually paint the welcome sign I’ve been eyeing for the past few months. The project took less than two hours, dried quickly in the hot sun, and was in it’s new home next to our front door before Micah came home on his lunch break. I can’t wait to share the full tutorial!

And then to complete our springtime makeover, I stopped by Fred Meyers’s gardening department before starting my grocery shopping and snagged two flats of struggling Impatiens off their clearance rack. They’re a little worse for wear, but a little water, fresh soil, sunlight, and lots of TLC will have them back in full bloom in no time.

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How are you getting things ready for spring?