How Playing With Your Kids Helps You (With Girt & Grace)



Do you play with your kids?

We recently had a speaker at our MOPS group that talked about the power of playing with our children (Cara Jakab, an author of "The Power Of A Playing Parent"*).  I don't know what I was expecting from her message, maybe just a "play-with-your-kids-all-the-time-so-you'll-have-a-super-close-relationship" theme.  That is great in theory, but not really practical.  I don't believe it's even healthy to keep your kids so constantly entertained that they are not able to entertain themselves.  So I went in not really sure if I was going to get much out of it, other than a nice dose of guilt that I don't play with my kids more often (I'm being honest here).

However, that is not what I got at all.  The speech was totally relatable and much more realistic than I thought.  But what stuck with me most was this:

Sometimes we keep ourselves so busy, with events or tasks at home, because we are trying to escape motherhood.

Not motherhood in a larger sense, because I think most moms truly love being moms.  But there are days, or even seasons, where certain aspects of motherhood are very overwhelming.  And instead of leaning into it, and leaning on the Lord to give us the strength to get through, we run away.  We escape with our phones and social media accounts.  With TV shows or books.  With moms groups or bible studies or trips to the zoo.  We escape with our to-do lists.  Anything to distract us from whatever mothering struggle we are currently facing.

But the thing that helps us remember what we love about this mothering gig is the last thing we think of when we are overwhelmed - spending some time playing with our kids.

I have experienced this first hand - I have had days where I am so overwhelmed, and nothing is going right, and I finally plunk down to the floor in defeat.

And down on the floor, eye-level with three pairs of brown eyes and one blue pair, I remember why being a mom is the greatest job in the world.

They show me a toy, or maybe crawl onto my lap for a minute, and I notice how her hair curls at the ends.  Or how long his eyelashes are.  Or what a compassionate little heart he has for seeing that I needed a hug.  And I fall in love with my sweet darlings, and motherhood, all over again.

As Jakab said at our group, playing with our kids brings balance because it slows us down enough to remember what a blessing it is to be a mom.  

And maybe it also slows us down enough to let the Lord work on our hearts too, through something as simple as a game of hide-and-seek.

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I have a little confession - sometimes entire days go by before I realize that I didn't really do anything with my kids.  I'm not talking about eating meals with them, or doing devotions together, because I obviously do that every day.  I'm not talking about doing something together by going somewhere, like church, the library, the zoo, or the museum - because we do those types of things weekly too.  By "doing something with them" I mean getting on their level and doing something that has no other purpose than the joy of doing it - which is the definition of play. 

So my goal for May is just to sit down and do some sort of activity with my kids every day, whether it's reading several picture books together just for the fun of it, working on a craft, playing a game, or having fun with their toys.  I want to make this a consistent daily habit, which has been hard to do for the last several years between being too busy and organizing everything around nursing schedules - and let's be honest, just trying to juggle the needs of so many young kids.  But I feel like now is the time to make play a part of my routine, because it really is too important to let it fall through the cracks.

I also realize that I am not very good at goals that require daily participation unless I have some sort of accountability, so I'm going to be posting on Twitter (maybe Instagram) what playful thing we did each day to keep myself on track.  I'm going to do my best to focus on just doing something and then sharing it, rather than doing something so I can share it, but I'm hoping that having a little accountability will help me develop get-on-the-floor-and-play into an actual habit.  I'll update you next month!

I am using the hashtag #ourdailyplay if you want to follow along or join in!  

* I haven't read Jakab's book, but it might go on my to-read list - her talk was really good.








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Update on my home renovation goals last month - I actually only accomplished about half of what I wanted to, which surprised me because I thought it was a pretty productive month before I looked back at what I had planned on getting done.

We finished painting all the doors, and I cleaned out the coat closet, but I never got to our bedroom closet.  I bought a dining room table (though it's not coming in until June - agh!).  But I haven't gotten a rug yet (hopefully this week).  We move Clarice out of the living room and into the nursery, but due to a delayed delivery of some furniture, her room is not finished yet.  Most of the delays were beyond my control, and if I've learned anything t's that this is just how it is when you are doing home projects.  Everything takes longer than you think.

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On to the linkup!





Welcome to With Grit & Grace  – a monthly goal link-up focused on supporting each other as we work towards our goals! Please join us on the first Wednesday of each month at 7:00 a.m. EST to share your goals and progress for the week, month, or year. We are all about building a positive community; please remember to read, comment, and share the posts of others – and let them know you found them at With Grit & Grace!
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    -Keri at Living In This Season
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3 Photo Printing Apps To Try


Once upon a time I started a photo album, sometime after Wyatt was born.  I was a new mom, and I was determined that my child’s every move would be documented and immortalized in our bookshelves (okay, not every move, but close).  I took a million pictures and put them into albums, and I thought I would do this for each child.

Then Gwen was born.  I haven’t had photos printed since.  I am officially three years behind.  

Every now and then the kids will pull out those photo albums documenting Wyatt’s first years, and they love looking at pictures of our family - but every time they do I feel guilty because only Wyatt is featured in the books!  The kids love looking through all the pictures, but I know Gwen and Clyde will soon be asking soon where all the pictures of them are.  I never wanted to be one of those moms that takes less pictures of subsequent children, and I think I have done a pretty good job of documenting milestones for second, third, and fourth child.  But getting the photos printed?  FAIL.

I have been recently trying to get my act together, and I am slowly sorting through old pictures on my computer for printing.  One of these days I intend to get caught up on the three “lost years”, but I am happy to report that over the last few months I have done a much better job of getting photos printed thanks to one thing - photo-printing apps! 

There are three apps I have tried so far, and I wanted to share my thoughts on each for any of you other mamas who have trouble getting those pictures off of you camera or phone and into your hands! 






Service: Artifact Uprising has several photo products, including square prints, calendar prints, photo books, and thank-you cards.  I tried the square prints.

App:  I wasn’t thrilled with my experience with the app.  It only allows you to print from whatever photo apps you have on your phone, so I wasn’t able to print any Facebook photos from it since I don’t have the Facebook app on my phone.  When I went in to choose which Instagram photos I wanted to print, it kept repeating the same photos and wouldn’t show my entire feed.  I feel like my version of the app must have had some bugs, so not everyone may have the same experience.

Product:  The square print set comes with 25 photos, printed on a very slightly textured 5x5” cardstock, with a small white border.  They shipped quickly, and I loved the final product!  The colors were printed perfectly.  I feel like the photos weren’t quite as sharp as I wanted, but I think that was a fault with Instagram, not with the printing.

Price: $21.99/set of 25 prints, plus shipping.  However, I believe they frequently have promotions for a set of free prints and you only have to pay the $8 shipping.  I probably wouldn’t pay the full amount, personally, but if you can get one of these deals it is definitely worth the money for shipping!





Service:  Parabo offers square print sets, color and B&W “engineer” prints (like a photo poster), various other styles of prints, calendars, and photo books.  I got a set of the square photo prints with a code for a free set.  

App:  I actually really liked the interface with the Parabo app (plus the colors/branding within the app was just my style).  You are able to pull photos from Instagram, Facebook, Dropbox, or your camera roll, and I loved all the options.  It was easy to choose which photos to include and to edit the crop on the photos.

Product:  These square prints were smaller than Artifact Uprising, about 4x4”, with a slightly thicker border and smoother paper.  They took a little longer to get to me than with A/U, but I am not sure if this was because they took longer to print or because of my mail carrier.  I thought the prints were adorable and good quality.  Comparing the A/U set to the Parabo set, I would say the quality was equal.

Price: $16/set of 25 prints, plus shipping.  I also had a code for a free set of prints with Parabo though, so I just paid $8 for shipping.  I am hoping they do this promotion again, because I liked ordering from them!  Bonus: I got a coupon for $10 off a photo book from Parabo, so I will definitely be trying that product as well - update coming!





Service: Chatbooks is a photo printing service that will send you little books of your Instagram feed or Facebook albums.  You can either order individual “custom” books with photos from your camera roll, or sign up for a subscription and have a book sent to you each time you reach 60 new photos.  I am signed up for a subscription service of my Instagram feed, and I get an email each time a book is about to print so I know my card is about to be charged, and I can edit the book before printing.




App:  I feel like the app is really easy to use, and seems to work wonderfully with both Instagram and Facebook.  It is also really easy to customize your book by picking a cover or removing photos that I don’t want to include.

Product:  These books are so cute!  They are 6X6”, and look so cute stacked on my end table.  The pages are a glossy photo paper.  I feel like the photos don’t look as crisp on the paper as they do on my Instagram feed, but I think that may be Instagram and not Chatbooks since they look this way through all three of the apps.  The kids LOVE looking through these books, and I don’t worry too much because it would be easy to order a replacement volume if one of the pages rips. 

Price: $6/book, including shipping.  By far the best value for your money of all the services I have tried so far! (Hint: This is not a sponsored post AT ALL - I'm sharing because I've used these apps.  But if you use my referral code "XC9PVVKU" in Chatbooks, you can try your first book for free, and I'll get a little credit to use in the app.  Which I will definitely use, so thank you.)






It is so convenient to order prints and photo products from my phone, and I have no idea what took me so long to try out these apps.  Anything online that gets done these days is usually something that can be done from my phone, and I am loving that I can order prints so easily while I am nursing Clarice!  I’ll probably do another one of these posts to update you all as I try more apps, but I was happy with the products from each of these.  I’ll probably be using each of these again.


Have you printed any photos through apps?  Any recommendations for me?







Letters To My Daughters (A Book Review + Vlog)




5/5 stars. 

They say never to judge a book by it's cover, but I think in this case you absolutely could.  I originally picked up Letters To My Daughters: The Art Of Being A Wife by Barbara Rainey because the cover was just so pretty.  When I received it in the mail it gave me the impression of a gift book that you could give to a newly engaged or married friend.  

(Watch my vlog review on Youtube below.)





However, the content is much greater than gift-book quality, in my opinion.  Each chapter compares marriage to a different art form and includes letters that Rainey writes to her daughters.  I am not sure what I was expecting from this book, but it gave such solid marriage advice.  I love how Rainey incorporated stories from her own marriage on things she did well and things she could have done better, and how any correction she offered through her letters was done in such a gentle and loving spirit.  It really did come across like she was speaking to one of her daughters, even though clearly she is writing this for many young wives.

I had a couple "aha" moments while reading this book, and it brought to mind things I would like to change about how I interact with my husband in the future.  I was not expecting to get so much out of this book, and I so appreciated how biblically grounded the advice was.

The pages in this book aren't just text, they are splashed with watercolor illustrations, pages of lettering, and beautiful photographs.  I think it can be a touchy thing to give someone a book on marriage, but this book is so beautiful that it would be natural to give it as a gift - and the content is solid enough to be a great jumping-off point for brides.  However, I think even ladies who have been married for a while could get some insight from this book.  I certainly did, and it made me wish I did read this earlier in our marriage!

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Flirtation Walk (A Book Review + Vlog)



4/5 stars.

I have enjoyed many of Siri Mitchell's books in the past, so when I saw her new one was up for review I was excited to read it!

In Flirtation Walk, Lucinda Pennyworth comes to Buttermilk Falls to start a new life after her con-man father dies.  She meets Seth Westcott, a cadet at West Point, and finds herself drawn to him as an honest, upstanding person - which is ironic, since Seth finds himself trying to lower his grades and accumulate demerits in order to be assigned to the cavalry and rescue his sister who is trapped at Fort Laramie.

(Watch my review on Youtube below.)




The funnest part about this book to me was the friendship between Seth and his friends, who are trying to help him not be such a perfect cadet.  I thought the personalities of Deacon, Dandy, and Otter were just plain fun and added a lot of interest to this book.

I thought it was really interesting how Lucinda was lying in order to look better at the same time that Seth was lying to look worse, a fun play on the typical posing-as-something-you're-not plot.  I also appreciated how Lucinda is on the path to learning more about God by the end of the book.  The story doesn't include a dramatic conversion experience, but I have started to like when books leave the character on the way to coming to know the Lord, without explicitly spelling it out.

As always, Mitchell's books are well-researched, and the nerdy side of me loves that she explains her researching thought-process and why she chose certain plot elements at the end of each book.   It doesn't look like she has any plans to turn this one into a series, which I find vaguely disappointing, since the secondary characters were some of my favorite characters in the book.

I will say that I had to get about a 1/4 through the book before the fun side of the plot really took off.  Many of Mitchell's books jump right into an interesting plot line, so this was a slower starter than a lot of her books.  But if you stick with it, it is worth your time!

Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Roots And Sky (A Video Review)



3/5 stars.

Oh, why do all the books I read have to give me such mixed feelings lately?  I wanted to love this book from start to finish, because the start was so good, but I just couldn’t love it all the way through.

Positives

It has been a long time since a memoir resonated with me the way Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy has.  This book is a memoir, written by a blogger I have never heard of, but I feel like this book is almost a reflection of the last year of my life.  She had her fourth baby in the fall (as I did), right after they moved into their new home, and though we haven’t moved, we have been taking on a lot of house projects lately.  As I read about her journey settling into her new home with her four kids, I felt like I could have written much of it myself, especially when she writes of motherhood.

This book is so beautifully written, and I think I might keep it just for the writing.  I want to re-read it and study the things I like about Purifoy’s style.  Though she gets very reflective, there is a bittersweet happy-ending quality to her musings, and I love it.

Negatives

I will say that I suspect after reading this book that I do not necessarily agree with the author on every doctrinal point.  She talks frequently about God’s Kingdom in this book.  If I were being thorough I would look up the term, but there is a school of thought that believes the world will slowly get better and better until God’s Kingdom is ushered in.  Though she never out-and-out says that this is where she is coming from, different vague statements in the book make me think so. I do not agree with this view of the end times, because I do not believe the Tribulation has already happened.  I think this is a non-essential issue, and I was willing to overlook it for the sake of the poetry of her writing, but it was hard to do because Purifoy brought it up so much through the second half of the book. 

At least I think she did.  So many times when she said something “spiritual” I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant. 

I think she gets overly-reflective sometimes and muddies the waters too much - like when she talks about how we aren’t made for Heaven, we are made for earth because God will eventually establish His Kingdom on earth (pg. 150).  It seemed like she was trying too hard to hang onto beautiful earthly things with this philosophy, and minimizing the beauty of Heaven.  Though I know where she is getting that idea, she is overlooking the passages of Scripture that speak about how this earth will pass away and there will be a New Heaven and Earth, and how our citizenship is in Heaven (Hebrews 11).  

In many places I don’t necessarily disagree with what she is getting at, but I felt many of her thoughts on spiritual or Scriptural matters were too vague or incomplete, or she seems to jump to conclusions that aren’t really what Scripture says, as she does in the example above.  Then she doesn’t just let it be a passing statement because she builds on it through the next chapters - but the foundation seems questionable.  I don’t consider everything in this book doctrinally thorough or correct - read with your eyes and Bible open.

But doctrine isn’t necessarily the main purpose of this book either.  I certainly enjoyed the beautiful writing, and that was the main purpose to me.

Oh, the mixed feelings.

First half of the book 4 stars.  Second half of the book, 2.5 stars because she muddies things too much with vague or confusing spiritual statements.  Overall 3 stars.  I’d recommend this one for the writing, but not necessarily for the content.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free, in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

You can watch my video review here below:




Why I Pick Birthday Party Themes Early ($150 Minted Giveaway)



Disclaimer:  This post on planning for a first birthday party is brought to you in partnership with Minted.com, and contains affiliate links.  I was given credit to order products to review for this post.   All opinions are my own.

When I was growing up, we didn't have birthday parties every year.  There are a few birthday parties that I specifically remember, filled with balloons, streamers, and organized games.  But so many years we just stayed home, maybe had a friend or my grandparents over for dinner and presents.  Looking back now as a mom myself, I think my parents struck the perfect balance.  Birthday parties were fun and special, but we didn't expect a big party every year.

This year we've been toning down our birthday parties with our kids, but I am a firm believer that there are a few special years when a big party is called for - and one of those, of course, is my baby's first birthday! 



I am fully aware that my kids won't actually remember their first birthday, but for me, it feels important.  Their very first birthday party seems like it should be special - I have dreams of many more birthdays spent with my children, and I want to start it off right with this first party.  This is totally for me, not for them, but I do believe they will enjoy seeing the pictures someday!  I still have the pictures of my own little circus-themed first birthday party, and they are fun to look at.

Since Pinterest has taken off I have realized just how all-out some people go on their children's birthdays.  I am not immune to the pressure to pick an adorable, perfectly-coordinated theme (plus it's just kind of fun to see what I can come up with).  But after planning 3.5 first birthday parties so far, I have learned one thing.

If you want a Pinterest-worthy first birthday party, it helps to pick a theme early.

By early, I mean when your child is still a newborn, or even in utero.  That might seem a little ridiculous at first blush, but hear me out.




When you pick a theme early, there is less stress in finding things to fit with your theme.

With all my kids I have picked a theme in the first three months of their life, and then through the rest of the year I am always on the lookout for things that will go with their party theme.  I realized the advantages of having so much lead time when my initial theme for Gwendolyn's first birthday party ended up being too difficult to match, and I chose a different theme that was more manageable for me.   It would have been a nightmare to change a theme with only a couple weeks left before her birthday, but because I started planning so early, I had plenty of time.  If you start early, you have more wiggle room to find the perfect decorations, food, etc, and adjust the theme as needed.


When you pick a theme early, you can incorporate some things into nursery decor.  

This is something I only attempted with my last two children, but it is so convenient to have a first birthday party theme that is similar to the nursery colors/theme.  If you can work this out, you can pick party decor that can be used in your baby's room, or vice versa.  Killing two birds with one stone!  

I was able to work this out beautifully (so far) in planning Clarice's first birthday party.  Before she was even born I had been mulling over different party themes, and I thought about going with a "woodland" theme.  When I was looking for some art to hang over her crib, I found a beautiful aspen tree canvas.

When I recently had an opportunity to order some birthday invitations and party decor with Minted, I knew exactly what I was looking for!  They had these adorable floral birthday invitations that I think will go perfectly with a floral/woodland themed first birthday party.  







I had never ordered from Minted before, and I was impressed with their birthday party lines!  If you happen to be reading this post with not much party-planning time to spare, I definitely recommend Minted.  They have a party package option with everything you need to throw a perfectly coordinated, Pinterest-worthy party.

We ordered from the "Botanical Affair" birthday party line, and I was excited to get two birthday banners, some table confetti, cupcake toppers, and table signs that all match the invitations.  The design of the decorations is adorable, they will work perfectly with her theme, and I can use the part of the banner with Clarice's name as nursery decor since the party and her decorations have the same woodland feel!


When you pick a theme early, you can take advantage of good deals and it's easier on your budget.  

When you have a theme chosen so far in advance, it is much easier to wait until things go on sale, which is easier on your wallet.  It is also more budget-friendly when you are able to spread out the cost over several months by buying things as you go, instead of having to fork over a big chunk of change for everything all at once.

Speaking of good deals - Minted is offering to give one of my readers a $150 credit!  If you have any parties coming up, this is enough to get you invitations and coordinating decorations, or you can check out their home decor, art prints (I really like the "Mornings Away" print and "Out To Sea" print), cards - there are so many options!

You can enter the giveaway by clicking here and entering your information!

Do you choose your party themes early?  What other party-planning tips do you have for first birthdays?







This giveaway is only open to legal residents of the 50 United States and District of Columbia who are at least 18 years old as of the date of entry, except officers, directors, members, and employees of the Sponsor, the judging organization (if applicable), or any other party associated with the development or administration of this Promotion, and the immediate family (i.e., parents, children, siblings, spouse), and persons residing in the same household, as such individuals. This Promotion is void outside the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, and where prohibited. Giveaway will end on Thursday  April 21, 2016 at 7:00 AM EST.




A Letting Go Month



I stood outside the nursery window at church last week, staring at my baby girl's face and trying to determine if she was actually crying, or just about to.  My Bible study leader caught me looking and assured me I was doing the right thing, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't about to burst into tears right there.

We can't focus in church anymore because she's so noisy, and I know she'll grow to love going to "class".  Still, I turned to Derek and told him to buy me a coffee so I could drown my sorrows in caffeine, only half joking because it's hard to stay sad when you are drinking a mocha.  It's just the church nursery, but it's also the first real step my baby girl has taken away from me.  My last baby.  It was refreshing to take sermon notes unhindered, but I missed her the entire time.

Clarice has been growing so much this month, but she is still so little.  I can get away with putting her in some 3 month clothes still, and her feet are too tiny for even the smallest size I could find in white Easter shoes.  She is wearing a size 2 diaper.

Sleep has been horrendous lately, and I am starting to suspect that it's too cold in her living room corner.  She wakes up 1-4 times a night, and each morning as Derek leaves for work because there is nothing between her and the cold air from the front door.  Her things are stuffed into the space between her crib and her wall.  I am very much looking forward to moving her into her own room as we continue this house renovation! I painted her room last week and ordered a bookshelf to store her baby things.  

We started solids on Sunday after church, some oatmeal cereal mixed with formula.  We knew she was ready because she has been staring at us when we eat, while chewing on her tongue.  She made a face every time we stuffed a bite in her mouth, but then she smacked her lips and swallowed it down.  Nursing is still her favorite, but she finally started taking a bottle of formula from Daddy this month too.  I think it's nice for them to have some bonding time.

She has rolled over both ways, but she doesn't make a habit of it.  She doesn't particularly like her "baby city", a seat surrounded by toys.  She prefers to be held, and if she must be laid down on the couch or floor, she wants her siblings all around her, and she is content.  She sits for a few seconds if I sit behind her and balance her right between my legs.  Her "baby abs" are very strong though - she is constantly doing "crunches", trying to see everything that is going on around her.




Her newest thing is hanging her finger in the corner of her mouth and chewing on it, or sometimes she'll stick all four fingers in her mouth and hook them behind her gums while she smiles.  I think a  tooth will be showing it's face soon, and I'm going to miss her gummy, finger-y smile.

Her laugh is still the funniest thing I've ever heard.  How did one of my babies not learn to laugh?  All baby laughs sound a bit like a gurgle, but imagine a real, throaty gurgle - that is her laugh.  Every now and then she'll let out a loud, real giggle, but most of the time it's this hiss/gurgle.  It's about as cute as you can imagine.

She has been particularly snuggly as I write this on Monday morning, and I think it's because she wants to be as close to me as possible after that nursery situation, even though she handled it like a champ.  I, on the other hand, may still be traumatized, so I am taking all the snuggles I can get!



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My Sweet Clarice,

This has been a month of letting go, even if it's just a little bit.  You started taking a bottle, you started in the nursery, and you started eating real food.  I can't believe how fast you are growing!  You still seem so tiny, but you are on your way to one year old.  My darling, I am loving every minute with you.  I still nurse you at night, and every time I pick you up from your crib you snuggle your face into my neck.  I don't even mind getting up with you, because the cuddles are so sweet.  I carry you around in a carrier sometimes when we go out.  You don't fuss because you can't see, you grab onto my shirt for dear life with both hands, like a little hug, and rest your cheek against me.  You can't slow this time down, and I guess neither can I, but boy, am I going to try!  I'm going to remember every little minute, and notice every little thing, and maybe it won't go by so fast.  I love you so much it hurts, my sweetheart.  Stay my teeny baby a while longer.

-Mama
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