Showing posts with label Motherhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Motherhood. Show all posts

Our Valentine Gifts For 2017 (And 10 More Card/Gift Pairings)

I never really considered myself a "people pleaser".  I fancy myself one of those people who wouldn't change my own opinions or convictions just to please someone else, and I always thought I had pretty good boundaries.

But I realized last year that no, I am kind of a people pleaser.  The way it manifests itself for me is a difficulty in saying "no".  This really became a problem this last fall.  All of a sudden I had several writing commitments and other commitments at church, and barely time to breathe!  

Unfortunately because of this busyness, I decided I needed to let some things go, and one of those things was co-hosting the With Grit & Grace Linkup.  However, I don't see any reason why I can't still share what I want to work on each month!  As far as goal-setting goes, you all already know that I'm not a resolution-making, goal-setting kind of girl.  When I pick a goal for the month, it's one thing, and usually a bit vague at that.  Another blogger wrote recently about how she accomplishes more when her goals are vague - and even though all goal-setting experts say that vagueness is a no-no, I find the same thing is true of me. 

So here is my one, not-super-specific goal for February.

I want to give Valentines!  

To whom?  I don't fully know yet.  However, this goal fits in with my larger focus for the year, and it's also something I just want to do.  I have a hard time with the love languages concept, because I feel like I could claim all of them as a personal love language, but I do enjoy giving gifts, even small gifts.  I like to make my own gifts occasionally too, especially when they are simple.  It makes my non-crafty self feel like I'm not a complete failure in the DIY area!

(Affiliate links below.)

Especially every year around Valentine's Day, I get the urge to make something, which is convenient because Valentine's Day is a great creative outlet! This is one of the things I came up with for the kids to give their friends this year.  Did anyone have some of these crayon melts growing up?  I wrote a whole post once about my first-grade crayon melt wishes.  We have a bunch of broken crayons around, so I bought a heart mold, melted the crayons in the oven, and let them cool completely before I removed them!  

They turned out pretty well, and I am planning on making enough for all the kids' little friends.  I'm still looking for the perfect valentines to include with the crayon melts though!  I've had the opportunity to work with Minted in the past, and this year they gave me a chance to pick out some classroom valentines.  Oh my goodness.  The choices are endless because every single one is so cute!

To help you out in your valentine-giving efforts, I put together a few ideas for little gifts to include with some of Minted's classroom valentines.  But do yourself a favor and check out the entire collection, because there were so many cute ones I didn't have room to share here!  (Also, I'll take feedback on which one you think goes best with the crayon melts.  As I type this, I'm still not sure which ones to pick.)

Firefly Love Valentine - This is a great Valentine for glow sticks, or glow-in-the-dark anything, really.

Banner Takeoff Valentine - I have given airplane gliders as valentine gifts in the past, and this one is the perfect valentine for that!

Sharp Student Valentine - Cool pencils would go with this one.  You could even include a sharpener if you wanted to add something extra.

Bee My Valentine - Minted has a few adorable bee-themed valentines, and if it were me, I'd include a honey stick!

Precious Gems Valentine - So many possibilities with this one.  Ring pops, gem-shaped erasers, plastic jewelry.

Sweet Bubbly Valentine - A bubble gum valentine! Tuck a stick of gum in with it, and there you go!

You Rule Valentine - Colorful plastic rulers, obviously.

School Of Fish Valentine - You could go with gold fish (the crackers), or any sort of fish toy with this one.

Color In My World Valentine - Crayons, and the valentine recipient can finish coloring this one themselves!  Minted has a few valentines that are also activities, like this one.  This one might be a contender for our crayon melts.

Bugs And Kisses Valentine - I would go with inexpensive plastic bug toys or magnifying glasses with this one.  This is also a great example of one of the activity valentines!

Smart Cookie Valentine - Bake some cookies!

The bottom line is that you could choose almost any valentine treat or theme, and Minted probably has a classroom valentine choice that will go with it!  I seriously had a horrible time narrowing down which valentines to show you in this post - it's going to be even harder to pick the ones I want for my kids to hand out.  I'm still debating on whether I'll stick with the "melted" theme, or not!

Do you hand out Valentine's (for your child's class maybe?).  
Am I having a little too much fun with this?  I have this sneaky feeling that putting together Valentine's gifts for other people's kids is supposed to be burdensome, but I think it's so fun!

(And just as a little bonus - check out these Valentine-inspired prints!  Perfect for a gallery wall or as a Valentine's gift for a grown up.)

(I love a beautiful vow print - I have one on our wall!)

(You can customize this print with your own photo.)

Stay tuned and I'll update in a week or two on which valentines I picked to go along with the crayon melts!

Note: I will be receiving Valentine classroom cards to review in exchange for this post.  This is my honest opinion.

How We Do Advent

Advent season is almost over, but I really wanted to do a little spotlight on our Advent Calendar this year.  I've had a few friends ask me this year what we do for Advent as a family.

The year we had Wyatt, Derek's brother, Jeff, and his wife, Rae, sent us this Advent calendar!  My sister-in-law is a master potter who is so talented, and she made the jars - and Derek's brother fashioned this cool rotating display for them.

We have one pot for each day of the month up to Christmas.  Every year before December 1st, Jeff and Rae send us a box filled with goodies to put in the calendar!  It's their Christmas gift to the kids each year, and it makes it so easy for Derek and I to do Advent, because we don't even have to think about putting everything together.

Each jar contains a paper with a verse on it and a chocolate for each of the kids.  I usually let the kids eat their chocolates while we read the verse and then talk about it (or sometimes we'll work on memorizing the verses, now that the kids are getting older).  And then some of the days also have an extra surprise in the jar.  

This year so far the kids have been surprised with coins for their piggy bank, a charitable gift in their names (which is great for talking about giving at Christmas time), and if it's a present day they will get a little card with a present number on it.  In the box of stuff, Jeff and Rae send numbered presents for each kid, usually four or five of them!  The kids get so excited about doing Advent each night, and when it's a present night everyone cheers!

(The kids got these jammies as one of their presents this year, and they were so excited!  I let them wear them exactly one night before I stashed them away for Christmas Eve.  You know, so we have fresh, clean jammies for Christmas morning? I didn't buy Christmas jammies this year, and my kids seem to ruin new pajamas after two nights, so I'm saving them.)

I love our Advent calendar, and I am so grateful to Jeff and Rae for putting it together for us every year.  It's a great way to focus on Jesus's birth and have some Christmas fun each night with the kids, and I honestly don't think I would be organized enough to do this every year without their help!

What do you all do for Advent, as a family?

On Life (And A Little More On Old School Blogging)

It's Tuesday, and as promised I'm back to some good old-fashioned blogging today!  I have to tell you, I have been itching to sit down and write this post all week.  It was so refreshing last Tuesday to write something and publish it without making a fuss.  I thought of so much that I wanted to say, both about the old days of blogging and life in general, so I'm warning you now, this is going to be a long one.  I've included convenient section titles, so you may read whatever sections are of interest to you (you are welcome).

Christmas Baking And How The Good Stuff Sticks

Yesterday we finally did some Christmas baking.  I couldn't believe it took us this long to get around to it, because I planned my Christmas season out way ahead of time so I would have very little on my to-do list in December - and still, I barely find time to bake with the kids.  Why is it that no matter how hard I try, December is still nuts?  I am glad that I had most of my Christmas prep done, because it would be panic time right about now if I didn't.

Our Christmas baking was supposed to happen last Thursday, but I woke up and within about a half hour I figured out it was not going to be a wise day to try to bake.  Things went awry right from the beginning, and I shudder to think of the disaster our baking attempt would have been, so I left the sugar cookie mix in the package.  I did think we could handle chocolate-covered pretzels, so we did that instead.  I may have caught Clyde licking chocolate off his pretzel-dipping spoon.  The pretzels are staying within the family now.

You know the funny thing is, last Thursday I was itching to sit down and type out all the ways Thursday was not ideal, because admit it, it's fun to read about disastrous days (when it's someone else's day).  And it really was one thing on top of another that day (it was a good call to stick with pretzels).  But now that I am sitting down on Tuesday to give you the play-by-play, I can't remember all the little things that went wrong.

What I remember is calling Derek at about five o'clock, crossing my fingers that he would say he was almost home.  I remember having a tiff with him on the phone because he was going to be later than I wanted, and then hanging up because I heard Wyatt howling down the hall with his fingers stuck in a slammed door.  He cried for ten minutes as I gently washed the bloody skin flap with water and put a bandaid on it, and he finally stopped when I squeezed the injured digits in my palm and started an episode of The Lion Guard, all four kids gathered around me as we watched the termites take over the pridelands (don't worry, the Lion Guard got the pridelands back).

Then Derek walked in the door, and he gave me that look, and I gave him that look, and I walked over to him to give him an "I'm sorry" hug, and I buried my face in his shoulder.  His coat was warm, and he had that smell, that good husband smell, like home (if you are married I imagine you know what I'm talking about).  And the day just didn't seem so bad anymore.

I called making dinner a lost cause for the day and ordered Chinese food, and we sat on the couch with our Kung Pao chicken after tucking the kids in bed and watched the season finale of Survivor.  And now when I think about Thursday, I really can't remember all the things that went wrong anymore.  Sometimes the daily frustrations seem like such a big deal, but really it's the good stuff that sticks.

Wood Floors Are Not Invincible.

I take it back, I do remember one thing that went wrong on Thursday.

As part of our house renovation this year, we put (vinyl) wood floors upstairs - Aquaguard (which means water resistant) and scratch resistant.  These floors are durable.  This was also a good decision if we are to judge by the amount of crumbs that end up end under the table after each meal, because all of that used to end up in our carpet!  When I think about how seldom I used to vacuum, I'm a little grossed out.  Now when I see the crumbs I can only tolerate them for precisely 10.2 minutes before I have to sweep them up, which you would think would be a bad thing, but it's not.  It's quick and easy to sweep, and then I feel at peace and confident in the cleanliness of everything.  I don't have OCD tendencies at all.

So here I am, patting myself on the back for the last six months for the fact that I no longer have to deal with nail polish and grease stains on my carpet because I was shrewd enough to upgrade to wood floors...and then Clarice, our little firecracker, sufficiently burst my bubble by drawing on the floor.  With a permanent marker, and I am still scratching my head about where she even got it.  I guess our wood floors aren't as invincible as I thought they were.

(Thankfully my handy dandy Norwex cleaning paste got it right up, so all is well.)

(She also was not wearing this dress when the aforementioned Sharpie incident occurred. I just took this picture when I was taking our family Christmas pictures the other day, and I thought it was pretty.  And now you get a sneak peek of our Christmas attire.)

Some Thoughts On What Really Happened To Old-Fashioned Blogging.

I've been putting a lot of thought into this old-fashioned blogging thing since my post last week, trying to decide how to move this forward.  I don't feel like I ever went into full-blown impersonal blogging on here (at least I hope you all didn't feel that way), but my blog has been in a weird in-between place for the past three (?) years. The more I think about it, the more I'm grateful that you all have stuck with me for so long.

For a quick blogging history review, the year it all started to blow up was 2013.  The blogosphere was flooded with fresh new bloggers, and the focus became marketing your blog, pushing it on social media, networking for blog business purposes, and gaining sponsors (sidebar ads or paid posts).  For me personally, it started to get hard in 2014.  I just had Clyde, and I struggled to balance life with three kids.  Reading blogs was the first thing to go, and the more I think about it, the more I think that's what led to the downfall of old-fashioned blogging, at least for me.

I think many in my little circle of the old-school blogosphere had the second or third kid around that time, and we all maybe handled the balancing of life and babies and the metamorphosis of blogging in different ways.  Some kept on faithfully, some slowed down in blogging or shifted focus, and some quit all together.  For me, when I stopped investing my time in reading and commenting on other blogs, it became easier to quit putting myself out there on my own blog.

Which leads me in a roundabout way to my point, which is that the thing that made blogging go 'round in the old days was the fact that if you were a blogger, you read blogs.  You read, and you commented (remember all the commenting joy before blogland got so self-centered?).  And when someone commented on your blog, you reciprocated not just by replying to their comment via email, but by going and reading something on their blog and commenting.  There was something so unspoken and natural about all this.  If you wanted people to read your blog (or keep reading your blog), you read theirs.  Nothing written, either in the posts or comments, had to be particularly important, it was just all a part of getting to know each other and sharing our lives and having a conversation.  It was outward-focused, and generous, and beautiful in the simplicity of it.

The secret is, there are still corners of the blogosphere out there like this.  I know because I spent all my breakfast reading time on blog surfing last week, and I think I found them.  And some of them never left (check my comments from last week's post).  If it's anything like the blogging community of old, they will still welcome us with open arms if we go in not focused on what we can get from it, but what we can give.

Bottom line: I think if we want to bring old-fashioned blogging back, we're going to have to be generous, and do unto others as we would have them do unto us (yes, the Bible applies even to blogging).  So I'd encourage you (as I'm encouraging myself) - if someone comments on your blog, dig back and remember the good old blogging etiquette.  Don't just reply on your own blog, but go visit on their blog and comment on something they wrote.  I think that's the first step in this little old school revival, as well as the first step in making friends, to make conversation.  That's what we are all missing most I think, is the friendships.

Well, sheesh, that was a longer point than I intended.

An Old School Blogger Shoutout.

To wrap this up, how about a little shoutout?  We've all kind of lost touch with each other, haven't we?  I thought about a linkup for those of us who want to find this community again, but there is something so market-y about linkups (especially in this day) that it rubs me wrong.  Linkups are also easy to hijack, and I don't want to lose focus here.  Instead, I'm going to point you to two old-school bloggers each week along with these stream of consciousness posts (because yes, I will be back at it again next Tuesday), and I'd encourage you to go visit their blogs and comment!  Comment below each week if you are also interested in a shoutout, and I'll make it around to everyone eventually.

Old School Blogger 1: First, Natalie from She Builds Her Home!  For those of you who aren't aware, Natalie's first blog was Extraordinary Love.  Remember The Blessing Box?  Now that was a good linkup.  Natalie wrote an old school post last week after I wrote about it here, so I wanted to give her the first slot!

Old School Blogger 2: Next, Laurie from From The Koala Tree (which is just a cute blog name, right?), who also gets the first slot because she also wrote about old school blogging last week after my post!  See, we are not alone!  Laurie is a friend of one of my blog friends from the old days, and she also helps to run Airmail Christmas (it's too late to sign up this year, but bookmark it for next year.)

I wanted to share these two ladies first, because remember how we used to all link to each other like that? Someone would read something that resonated with them, and if it resonated enough they'd write their own thoughts about it on their blog and link back to the original post.  I don't know about you, but when someone linked back to me like that, it made my day, and these ladies revived that feeling for me last week.  I wanted to return the favor (generosity, remember?).

See you all back here (and maybe on your blog too if you want to join in) next Tuesday!  Next week may be short though.  It is the Tuesday after Christmas, after all.

What I'm Drinking: Nutcracker Sweet from Celestial Seasonings, which is THE tea of the Christmas season to me.  I like it best with a Hershey bar.  When I was a kid I used to retire to my room each night with my Nutcracker Sweet tea and my Hershey bar, and stay up way too late in the glow of my Christmas lights reading The Lord Of The Rings.

How To Take Better Pictures Of Your Family This Christmas (+ A Black Friday Deal!)

(Note: Affiliate links used in this post.)

When Wyatt was one year old, I bought a DSLR camera.  I really didn't know what I was doing at the time, I just knew that I wanted to take better pictures of my son.  I wanted to capture the details of his babyhood in a way that my point-and-shoot camera just wasn't letting me.

I have never regretted that decision to buy a "big camera", and after a lot of trial and error I finally figured out how to use it!  My favorite time of year to take pictures is finally here - Christmas time!  I just love all the sparkles and colors and festivities this time of year - the "December" picture folder on my computer is always a little more full than the others.

Unfortunately December is also a difficult time to get good pictures, between the freezing cold weather that may make it hard to go outside, less daylight, a flurry of festivities, and kiddos that just won't sit still.  I've got a few ideas for how you can get some pretty adorable pictures even amidst the Christmas hustle and bustle, but point #1 is what you need first if you are going to get those Christmas-y pictures you might envision.

1. Know your camera.

The thing about owning a DSLR is that it really is no better than a point-and-shoot camera unless you learn how to get off auto.  Do you want that beautiful background blur in your Christmas photos? Do you want to capture the Christmas lights twinkling in the dark? Do you just not want the flurry of present-opening to result in a bunch of blurred photos? Then you need to know how to use your DSLR camera.

I bought my DSLR already knowing it was going to take a lot of trial and error to figure out how to manipulate the settings to get the pictures I wanted, but I am really excited to share a resource with you that I really think will help you figure it out faster!

Erin from Digital Photography For Moms has launched a photography course called Guided365.  It is a monthly subscription course, and each day of the month you will get an email that explains a different photography concept and gives you a prompt to practice your skills. This isn't a list of photo ideas, these prompts focus on techniques that will help you to learn your camera, learn how to get the perfect focus, find the best light, and so many other things!  

Erin was sweet enough to let me try out the course, and I've worked through the first couple weeks so far.  It really is excellent.  She starts out slowly to help beginners get off "auto", but I think people with intermediate skills (like me) can also get a lot out of even the beginning lessons and really hone their technique.  Even with just the first couple weeks, which I thought would mostly be review, I was reminded of a couple of bad habits I had fallen into with my photography.  

I am so looking forward to working through more of the course, and I hope you check it out!  And Black Friday Deal Alert: If you sign up before December 2nd for the year 2017, you will get 50% off your first month subscription!  Use the code "Confidence" at checkout!  You any cancel or pause your subscription anytime you need to as well, but if you are wanting to learn more about how to use your DSLR, this is the most thorough resource I've found so far!

2. Be aware of the light and plan accordingly.

December is the month of the year with the least light, and low light situations are the trickiest when trying to get good photos.  This is when it is really important to know how to use your camera (see the first point), because that will help you know how to pick the right settings to get a good picture...but I'm not going to lie, that doesn't always guarantee those low-light pictures are going to turn out exactly right.  So my advice?  Plan your picture-taking around daylight hours.

What I mean by that is to try to do as many of those photo-op activities as you can during the day.  We usually set up our Christmas tree in the morning or early afternoon because I know we'll get good light from the windows (for you smarties out there - we decorated our tree in two stages this year, at night and in the morning, so I have both day and night pictures in this post! This was kind of an unusual year).  I don't try to take Christmas jammie pictures at night - I gather them up in the morning while the light is good.  You can't do this with everything you might want to photograph, but when you can, try to think about the light.

3. Think about the details.

Try to notice the little details you want to capture during the Christmas season.  Some of my favorite Christmas time pictures are of little things, like my son's little hands wrapped around a hot chocolate mug, my daughter's face when she is concentrating on decorating a Christmas cookie perfectly, my littlest baby on the floor surrounded by ornaments, or the way my two-year-old sticks out his tongue while hanging an ornament (see above).

Think about your favorite moments from Christmas last year, including all the little details that made it cozy, magical, or special.  Then I recommend mentally planning how you might be able to capture those details this year in photos - and that way, when the opportunity presents itself, you'll be ready!

On a similar note, don't just take the posed pictures - keep your camera nearby and take the spontaneous photos of those precious little details or moments in time.  Let your family interact as normal, but keep your photographer eye ready.

4. Fake It.

I'm about to tell you my dirty little secret of taking pictures of my family.  You don't have to take magical, perfect shots right when the action happens.  You can fake it.

Sometimes in the rush and hurry of Christmas festivities, I may miss my chance to get a picture that I really wanted to take of the kids.  So what do I do?  We stage a little reenactment.  The kids are used to me by now and think it's fun to see the pictures of themselves, so it's usually not too hard to get them to do something again later so I can take a picture.  We took a few tree-decorating pictures this way this year because I wasn't around to take them the first time.  I don't know about you, but my kids don't need any cajoling to put more ornaments on the tree.

Is this inauthentic?  I don't view it that way because we actually did do these activities in real life, and we enjoyed the activities.  Having pictures is wonderful, but sometimes it's important to be in-the-moment with my kids instead of worrying about getting a good picture.  This is how I accomplish that and still get whatever shot I wanted.  And that leads to my last tip...

5. Remember that it doesn't have to turn out exactly like you envisioned.

I almost always go into a Christmas activity thinking about which photos I want to get and when, but I rarely get the exact photo I was envisioning in my head - but sometimes the photo I end up with ends up being even better.  It may not be technically perfect, but it's my family, in that moment.  It's us.  Everything doesn't always go as planned, complications (or catastrophes) arise, and I think the mark of starting to become a good photographer for your own family is being able to roll with it.  

It doesn't have to look perfect.  The point is to be fully there, in these moments with your family, and learn how to capture the moments that you can while being flexible enough to let the rest go.  Enjoy your family. Enjoy this Christmas with them.  Don't make it all about the photo, make it about the memory.

If you are fairly new to your DSLR, or if you have yet to venture out of auto or program mode, don't forget to check out Guided365 and learn how to get the most out of your camera!  It will definitely be worth your time!

Do you have a DSLR?  Do you shoot in manual or auto?  For my fellow mom-photographers, what tips would you add?

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