Why I Don't Care If Valentine's Is A "Hallmark Holiday"



I am one of those people that happens to love Valentine's Day.  People say it's a Hallmark holiday, to which I say, yeah, yeah, yeah.  I still love it, and I think part of the reason is that I have many lovely memories associated with it.

7 Things To Save For A Baby Box




Sitting in a closet in my house is a plastic tub.  It doesn't look like much, but it's one of those things that always goes on the list of things I would take if we were evacuated for a natural disaster.  Because inside, carefully preserved by my mom, are keepsakes from my childhood.  It's my baby box.

It resides in my closet, but my baby box has been a part of my life for a while.  Growing up I remember how fun it was to open up our baby boxes every now and then and have my mom show us all the things she had saved from our baby days.  There were stories and memories to go with each item, and hearing the stories from my mom's perspective made me feel special.  Every time we opened it I looked forward to starting baby boxes for my kids one day, and maybe giving them a few of the things from mine. 

Now I have four children, and I have little baby boxes started for each of them. What do you put in a baby box?  I'm glad you asked.  These are a few basics that I have included in my kids' boxes.

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Photos.  

We take so many pictures of our kids these days, but so few get printed up.  I recommend taking a picture of your darling with each of the following items and including the photos in your box! It's so interesting to look at some of the things in my own baby box, and then see pictures of myself as a baby with those same items.  So print up a few of those pictures, and tuck them in your child's box.



Coming home outfit.  

We have two boys and two girls, and even though we are utilizing the hand-me downs, one thing I do not re-use is my kids' going-home outfits.  For each of the kids I bought a special outfit after finding out the gender specifically for them to wear home from the hospital, and when they outgrew it, it went into the box.

Baby book.  

Do I forget to fill things out some of the blanks in baby books?  Yes.  But I do try to write down as many milestones and memories as I can.  I don't think it matters if every blank space is filled - they kids will love to read about themselves as babies someday.  Hint: baby books don't have to be fancy or perfect - a notebook with a few memories is just as special!

Magazine or newspaper from birthdate.  

It's just fun to see what the world was like when you were born!  Include some publication from the year your kids were born that they can flip through (and maybe laugh at) someday.

Something from the nursery.  

This could be a special blanket that you made or bought, personalized artwork, a monogrammed item - anything that holds significance for you.  Bonus point if it's something your child can use for their own kids one day!

Favorite baby toys.  

Anything that your child particularly enjoyed at one time and that you would like to keep can go in the box.  Don't go crazy - you can't keep everything!  But it's nice to include a few of their treasured toys.  In Clyde's box we have a wubbanub that he was particularly attached to when he was a newborn - it was a short-lived phase, but I had to keep it!


Baby shoes.

There is something incredibly precious about baby feet.  Baby shoes are the perfect thing to include because it is a symbol of just how tiny they were at one time, and how much they have grown!  

If you are looking for the perfect baby shoes for your little darling, I have a great shop for you!  We just received these adorable shoes for Clarice, and I am just in love with them!

(Note: We received this pair of shoes for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.)

These little shoes are called Moccasinis, hand-crafted baby moccasins from this new Etsy shop.  These are soft, flexible baby shoes, so they are comfortable and gentle enough for even brand-new babies to wear.  They come in tiny sizes (like these that fit Clarice's three-month feet), up to toddler sizes!  Jessica, the owner of Moccasins and my friend, was even able to make these so they fit Clarice's itty bitty feet exactly.  You can check out the Moccasini shop here to see all the styles, or follow on Facebook to keep updated on new inventory!



As I said, I know the owner of this shop personally, and she does beautiful work - these shoes are so well-made.  There are many different styles to choose from, for baby girls and boys.  I am going to cram Clarice's feet into these as long as I can because they are so cute - and when she outgrows them, they will be a perfect reminder of just how tiny her feet were when I dig them out and look at them when she's grown!

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Even though my heart breaks a little each time I put something inside it, I am looking forward to sharing these baby boxes with my kids someday.  I treasure each of these little days with my babies, and I hope someday they can look through their boxes and know how much I love them and treasure every minute I have with them.


Are you creating any sort of keepsake box for your kids?  
What do you put in your kids' boxes?






Three Goal-Filtering Questions (With Grit & Grace Linkup)


Do any of you use a filter for your goals?  

In recent years, I have become a bit too ambitious with my goals.  I have all these big plans and before you know it I have set so many goals that I barely have time to breathe, I get overwhelmed, and I end up becoming stress-paralyzed (it really is a thing)!  

For me, I have found that it is better to focus on one or two goals at a time, instead of creating a big list of goals that will paralyze me into not even accomplishing the easy things.  Because when I get stress-paralyzed, my default is plopping on the couch with whipped-creamed coffee and Netflix and binge-watch the afternoon away while that kids nap and/or play (surely I can’t be the only one?).

If I were to create an expansive list of goals with four young kids at home I would be setting myself up for failure!  At this life stage there are a few questions I need to ask before setting goals, to filter out the ones that are stress-paralyzers.

Is this going to add too much pressure to my life?  
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Some pressure can be good, but I tend to put too much pressure on myself to meet expectations (real or imagined) of other people, and adding my own expectations to the list doesn’t help matters.  If a goal is too big, or if it’s going to add too much stress, I need to at the very least cut it down into manageable chunks. 

Is this goal going to take away time from my family?  

I am smack-dab in the middle of the formative years with my kids, and I have to fight the urge to make myself too busy.  If a project or goal is going to take time away from my kids, I need to carefully consider it before committing.  I want to protect that extra time to read a book to my kids or take a spontaneous trip to the park without being stressed out about my to-do list.

Is this goal complicating or simplifying?  

My word for 2015 was “simplify”, and this is something that I want to continue to work on in 2016.  In this season of my life I am realizing that margin is really important.  I want to have that space to not only be there for my family, but just to rest.  When I don’t have rest, it is not good for my mental state, and it also damages my relationship with the Lord because my quiet time is typically the first thing I drop (sad, but true).  That is not okay, so protecting and working toward that margin is important in my goals.


Because I am trying to be really careful and intentional with my goals this year, I was excited about the opportunity to co-host a goals linkup with some of my blog friends!  How does this linkup fit in with the filtering questions I listed above?  I think spending a little time reflecting at the start of each month will naturally help me be more careful with my goals, evaluate the pressures from myself and others, and figure out what things need to improve and what things need to take a backseat so that I can leave room for that margin.


So what is my one and only goal for February?

I want to develop an intentional daily routine.

I’m not going to lie, some days it’s all I can do around here to keep this house from descending into utter chaos!  Part of that is just life with four kids under five years old (only for another week - my baby is about to turn five!).  But part of the chaos is due to the fact that every day looks entirely different.  Some days we sleep in, and some days I’m up at 5:00 AM.  Some days the kids get a nap, and some days they don’t.  Some times we manage a craft project, and some days we watch TV all day (I’m being brutally honest now).  

I think our lives will be a lot more orderly and productive if I can develop a routine.  Notice I did not say a schedule.  If I try to keep a strict schedule, not only will I fail, but I will totally stress myself out (a violation of the first goal filter listed above).  By "routine", I mean that I want to have an order of things we will do each day, and stick to it. as much as possible  The times may be different, and we may have to rearrange a few things sometimes, but a little structure would be good for all of us.  This is what I am thinking our routine will include:

-Getting up to do my devotions before the kids come looking for me in the morning.  (If I don’t do devotions in the morning, I’ve found it doesn’t get done - and time with the Lord is too important to be as sporadic as I have let it become.)

-School work and/or craft each day before lunch.  (This will be good practice for consistency since Wyatt will start kindergarten at home next fall.)

-Nap/quiet time for the kids in afternoon, during which I will take time to write at least twice a week. (I need to force myself to get a little writing time in so I don’t stress and squeeze out my margin when I have a deadline looming!)

-Start dinner as soon as the kids get up from their naps. (As opposed to five minutes before or after Derek walks through the door.)

I am hoping by the time we do another With Grit and Grace linkup, I will be able to report a typical “day in the life” to you, because there will actually be a typical day!

What kind of “filter questions” do you use for your goals?  Do you have a consistent daily routine?






And finally, whip up your own February goal(s) in the next week or two and link them up below, Friends!  I’d love to read about what you want to work on! 

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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!
Just a reminder…
  • All forms of goal posts are welcome. They can be for a specific area in your life, or your general goals for the day, week, month, or year. We love to hear updates on your progress, too.
  • Make sure to use the URL specific to your post and not your blog’s home page.
  • Link back to With Grit & Grace with our button or link in your post or party page.
  • Comment on the post prior to yours in the link-up. Support others through comments and shares – don’t forget to tell them you found them at With Grit & Grace.
  • By linking up, you give us permission to feature an image on our blog and social media. Proper credit and links will be given.
  • Join in on social media with: #withgritandgrace.
  • We want to support you! Please follow your hosts in some way.




Is There A Purpose To Your Reading?





When I was in first grade, cliques were a big deal.  It mattered what group you belonged to, and once you were in a group you really couldn’t associate with other groups without risking being banned from your own group (I know because I was banned from my group by associating with someone who didn’t fit in).  The level of peer pressure that was placed on my little seven-year-old self by other seven-year-olds is actually a little disturbing when I think about it.

Anyway, we called these cliques “teams”.  And I still remember in first grade, forming my very first “team” with another girl based on the fact that we both read the Saddle Club books.  Books have been a big part of my life for a very long time.  

It was cool to be a part of our book-based group in first grade.  I’m not sure the book group would have been the cool group had our Saddle Club “team” survived until high school, but thankfully I was being homeschooled by then anyway, and me and my bookish friends all continued to read together.  We even wrote our own stories and read them aloud to each other - a writing club of sorts, and it was all so much fun.

I’ve carried my love of reading into adulthood, but I have to admit, it’s harder to stay motivated these days.  When four little kids are calling for your attention all day long, it is terribly tempting to use your moments of down-time to just veg and watch TV.  But it’s important to me to keep reading, to keep learning new things, even though I don’t have to anymore.

I love how Whitney has specific goals for her reading.  Instead of just setting a number of books as a goal or 2016, I have taken a cue from her and decided to be a little more intentional about my reading as well.




My goal for 2016 is to read one book for each of the following categories each month:


One Book To Strengthen My Relationships.

This could be a marriage or parenting book, a book about friendships, or a book to help me know myself better in an effort to improve my relationships.

One Book To Improve My Spiritual Health.

This could be a book that will instruct me biblically, a book on theology, a bible study, etc.  (One book I hope to read for this category is “Your God Is Too Small” - my pastor mentioned it a few years ago, and I have been wanting to read it ever since!)

One Book To Grow Intellectually.

I’d love to include a few more academic books on my to-read list.  This could include books about science, history, politics, or culture, or classic fiction.

One Book To Entertain.

I still have to fit some fun fiction in.  That’s where my love of books all started, after all.



The point of setting category goals like this is to hopefully stretch myself to read books that I am not always naturally drawn to, and to read books that will help me draw closer to Jesus and the people in my life.  I think it is perfectly acceptable to pick up a book that is easy to read, but I don't want to only pick up easy-reads.  The more you read, and the more difficult material you read, the easier it is to tackle those "hard" books that make you grow as a person.  I want to get to the end of this year being more capable of getting through a difficult book.  When you are working out physically and you want to see improvement, you have to push yourself to do something a littler harder each time.  It works the same way with reading.




If I stick with my goal, this should mean that I will read 48 books in 2016 (at least), and hopefully make it through some of my ever-growing to-read list! I am going to try to write a post each quarter to update you on my progress.  I am not worried about hitting the 48 book goal, because that is less than I read in 2015, but I do think it will be a challenge to stick with my categories.  It's a worthy challenge though.  Hopefully I’ll have some good, strong books to recommend to you throughout the year.

To see a few of the books that I hope to read this year, check out my shelf on Goodreads.  I'd also love to hear your recommendations for me!


Do you have any specific goals for your reading?  What was your first favorite book?







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Also, A New Linkup!

I also have something fun to share with all of you - I am going to be a co-host for a brand-new linkup this year!  With Grit & Grace will be a monthly linkup to share goals and accomplishments with each other.  

There is something about writing out goals that helps me be more tenacious in actually accomplishing them.  At the same time, if some goals don't get accomplished because more important things - like family - take precedence, that is okay and even healthy.  We want With Grit & Grace to be a goals community that encourages each other to work toward our goals but also give ourselves a break when life happens.  

I am looking forward to sharing my main goal for February along for the first linkup this Wednesday, the 3rd!  If you are a fellow blogger, share your goals on your blog and then head back here to linkup with us!



If I Run (A Review)



My mom introduced me to mystery books when I was a girl - in fact, the first books I really remember being interested in were the "Encyclopedia Brown" mystery books.  I rented every single copy our library had, and I've been hooked on mystery and suspense novels ever since.

Terri Blackstock has long been one of my favorite mystery/suspense authors, so I was excited for the opportunity to review the first book in her new series, If I Run.  This book grabbed my attention right from the first paragraph, when Casey Cox discovers the body of her murdered friend and immediately goes on the run.  You aren't sure why at first.  It sucked me right in.

As the story develops it is told in the first person from the perspective of two characters, Casey and a private investigator that is hired to track her down, Dylan Roberts.  As Dylan tries to understand Casey in order to find her, we start to learn that there is something fishy going on.

I don't want to say too much so I don't ruin the suspense, but I loved the characters in this book.  They were smart and troubled, but believable.  Sometimes I have to force myself to finish a fiction book, but that was not the case here - the entire book was enjoyable.  The plot line kept me interested from beginning to end, and I appreciated a secondary mysterious situation that was worked into the story.  This secondary plot was resolved at the end, even while the book ended on a cliffhanger, which I thought was a very smart way for Blackstock to bring some resolution to the book while continuing the story.

And the fact that is it ended on a cliffhanger is making me anxious for the next book to come out!   If you are a fan of mystery or suspense books like I am, this is definitely a series to check out!

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from Litfuse Publicity Group.  This is my honest opinion.

Check out this giveaway too!

If I Run Terri Blackstock

Bible Verses For New Moms



If there is one thing I have learned about motherhood, it's that we all transition into it differently.  Some sail into motherhood on a cloud.  Everything comes easily, and they enjoy every minute of it.  Others crash into motherhood with a rude awakening, and it looks nothing like they thought it would.

But every mom I know would say how much she loves being a mom, and one look into those precious little faces just puts everything into perspective, no matter the entrance into this mothering journey.

Still, I can guarantee there will come a time when you need some encouragement as a mom.  Maybe it's right away when you just need to make it through one more sleepless night, or maybe it will be a couple years down the road when you have a rough day and worry you are messing your kids up.  Sometimes you just need that extra boost to remind you that the work you are doing has significance.  Every ounce of energy you put into you kids matters, more than you think.  It matters to your kids, and it matters to God.



So to help remind you, I wanted to share some Bible verses that I find encouraging on those days when mothering is hard.  If you are in a rough patch, I hope these will bring you some hope!  And if you are feeling like you have this mom thing down, just tuck this post away for a time when it doesn't feel so easy.



I have broken these down into times of day - I know I need different reminders in the morning than I do in the evening.  Memorize these verses so you can bring them to mind when you need them (you can even teach them to your kids while you are at it)!


For The Morning

"The Lord's loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23

I love this verse for rough days, because it reminds me that no matter how badly I mess up, the Lord loves me and tomorrow is a fresh day.


"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."  Psalm 118:24

The best wake-up verse you could ask for!


"See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are."  1 John 3:1

When you look at the cute little faces of your children, remember that the Lord loves you even more than you love them!


For Mid-Day

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as a reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ."   Colossians 3:23-24

Motivation to keep going strong - because when we are serving our families, we are really serving Jesus!


For The Evening

"Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world." Philippians 2:14-15

When you are starting to feel "the witching hour" (i.e. the hour before dad gets home when everyone goes crazy), remember this verse.  I don't know about you, but I want to be a light in the world, and be an example to my kids by not grumbling when I feel like it.  Still working on this one.


"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoicing usually comes more naturally in the morning when I am refreshed and energetic!  I typically need the reminders to rejoice and give thanks more in the evening, when I am tired.


For The Middle Of The Night

"When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:3-4

This verse is about giving to the poor, but the concept of being seen by God when we give sacrificially without drawing attention to ourselves is also encouraging to me as a mom.  

"May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge."  Ruth 2:12

My prayer for you, friends!  Seek refuge in Him, be faithful in this work of loving and training your children, and may the Lord reward your work!


And as a little pre-Valentine's day gift to my newsletter subscribers, I am giving you these verses as free printables!  Somehow I find it easier to remember a verse if it is printed on a pretty card.  I hope you enjoy these cards and find the verses an encouragement like I do!

If you are already a subscriber to my blog newsletter, these should be sitting in your inbox - if you are not a subscriber, sign up below, and I'll send them to you within a week!  These cards also stack well with my printable verses for labor.  

I am so grateful for all of you who take time to read my musings! Enjoy!

Please note: These printable are for personal use only.  Do not redistribute or sell in any way.  Giving them in printed form as a gift is fine, but please redirect people to this post for the digital files.  Thanks guys!










How I Stop Comparing On Social Media





I'm sitting down with a bowl of salad and scrolling through my Facebook feed.  I have carefully curated my feed to make sure that I will only see updates that I want to see - updates on what my good friends are doing, pictures of their cute kids, interesting articles.  I have blocked all complain-y posts and I'm not friends with anyone who annoys me, so it's about as harmless as a Facebook feed can get.

But as I scroll, there is a small knot in my stomach that twists a little.  

Oh, she got to go to Hawaii?  How fun is that?  Why can't we afford Hawaii?  

Oh my goodness, look at her adorable baby.  Perfectly styled, no less.  I need to buy new outfits and take new pictures of the kids.  

Oh, the newlyweds are on another date night.  I think they've had about five date nights since Derek and I went out last.  Was that three or four months ago?

Suddenly I am feeling a little jealous and much less content with my life.  

And you know what, I can't even blame my Facebook feed - it's carefully curated, remember?  I want to see this stuff.  No, the problem isn't with social media or anything else.  It's with me.

I have a comparison problem.

I know I am not the only one who struggles with comparison - this is a hot topic.  But no matter how many articles I read on the subject, no matter how much I am reminded that I have it pretty darn good too, it is still hard not to let that knot twist me into a discontented mess.

(Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.)


I was excited when I saw a book available for review called "I'm Happy For You . . . Sort Of . . . Not Really" by Kay Willis Wyma.  Don't you love that title?  I'm not going to lie, I have secretly had those feelings in that exact order.  Many times.

This book was so helpful to me in this struggle with comparison.  As I was reading through it I was more aware of comparison than I normally am, and I realized just how much it affects my day-to-day happiness.  When I am so focused one what everyone else is doing, it's harder to be happy for the things I have, and this book brought sharply into focus for me.

The chapters addressed different areas of comparison and reasons why this is such a struggle in our modern culture.  One thing that stood out to me in this book is that comparing to others is the way we can be sucked into the sin of coveting.  Whenever we desire something that someone else has (often through comparing what we have to what they have and coming up wanting), we are coveting.  Comparison doesn't just "steal our joy", it is also a gateway into sin.

I love the solution this book offers to the comparison problem - to say "I'm happy for you" and mean it.  Without a hint of sarcasm.  It's not easy to do, but the book made me realize that being happy for someone isn't just something I feel, it is something I actively choose to do.  

It's hard to pick a favorite chapter because the whole book was so good, but I really appreciated the chapter on the need to belong.  This chapter was a good wake-up call to me that people want to feel known.  It should have been obvious to me, because I know that I want others to notice and encourage me - so of course other people want the same.  I felt challenged to look at those around me with fresh eyes, notice what makes them unique, and maybe even tell them.  I want to be the person who can make someone else feel noticed and special.

Since I started reading this book I have been trying to truly be happy for those around me.  So when I scroll through my Facebook feed, my goal is to turn off the train of thought that will lead me to be jealous of my friends, and instead smile to myself at their blessings. 

And the one thing that has helped me most in overcoming the comparison game? 

I like the status update and comment with something encouraging.  

It is really hard not to be happy for someone when you focus on crafting a non-sarcastic, truly happy comment.  It's the perfect solution because it encourages them, and I feel my own heart changing in the process.  It's a chance to slow down and remember that I do really care about this person, and I am really happy for them, regardless of my own situation.  It takes my eyes off me, and puts it onto others - and maybe even directs my mind to God as I shoot up a "thanks for blessing my friend" prayer.

So the next time you find yourself feeling a little jealous as you scroll through your social media feed?  Type out a nice comment and mean it.  I know it's made Facebook a lot more fun for me!

Do you struggle with comparison and jealousy on social media?  What do you do to overcome it?

Note:  I received a copy of "I'm Happy For You" for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.



(Also, yes, I didn't paint my toes for this picture.  (1) It's the dead of winter, and (2) no time.)

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