Sunday Intentions

Well, I took a week off from thinking about my intentions and I’ve ended that week feeling supremely frustrated and annoyed with myself and my inability to get anything done. Which isn’t exactly true because I’ve still been working on other things, but I’ve also wasted a lot of time doing nothing. I really need a clear cut plan for myself if I want to go to bed every night feeling like I’ve done enough. When I don’t have that plan in place, I usually end up riddled with anxiety and disappointment in myself. I really want to get away from attaching my worth to how much stuff I GOT DONE, but I’m not there yet.

This Week’s Focus: Sew More

Two weeks ago I was on a sewing roll. I put out 16 new dolls in a week’s time, which is really good for me. And I sold almost all of them immediately, which is a really great motivator to keep going! I was prioritizing it during my day, but also working on it more than I should have at night and on the weekend. But I’ve been so anxious to re-establish myself as a consistent creator. Which in turn led to a little bit of burn out, after only a week. It also meant that after five days of no new creations, I’ve had customers asking me what’s going on and if I’m making more. It’s really hard to keep everybody happy and still live the life I’m hoping to carve out for myself. I never expected working at home could be so challenging. Anyway, my plan for the week is to sew more than I did last week! I want to put in a solid couple of hours every day, which hopefully means maybe two batches of dolls to keep my customers happy and some money flowing in.

Also a Top Priority: Mental Health

I feel like I’ve been all over the place emotionally lately. I’ve been feeling very insecure, sad, stressed out, frustrated, and a little bit crazy. I’ve been hiding out from people and just trying to deal, all while feeling like a lunatic half the time – at least in the world that lives inside my head. I usually draw into myself when I feel like this, which leaves very little left to give my family and my friends. Silence and solitude are my best escape mechanisms.

Today I’ve felt myself on the brink of completely losing it all day long. I told Greg I was going to sew all weekend. He told me he was going to work in the basement all weekend. Neither of us were doing ANYTHING to make progress on those goals and I thought I was going to seriously explode if I didn’t sit down at my sewing machine immediately and get started. I hate feeling like this. But I’ve felt myself just sitting on the edge of explosion all week long, and I need to figure out how to move past it.

I think the best thing I can for myself is figuring out how to fit in daily exercise. When I was walking every day – even just to and from school in the mornings and afternoons – I felt so much healthier mentally. The cold weather and icy sidewalks have really put a halt to that habit. But I can’t give up completely. As much as I hate it, I need to find things I can do at home when the weather outside sucks. I also just need to be better in tune to what I can do in the moment to make myself happier and actually do it. Today that meant sitting at my sewing machine and getting to work. Earlier this week it meant going to the theater to see a movie to escape my reality for awhile. Oftentimes it means reading for half an hour or connecting with a friend. I need to be my own caretaker and realize what I need before I get to the point of explosion. I want my mental health to take be a higher priority in my daily life.

Meal Planning

Monday – Herb Crusted Pork Chops

Tuesday – Chicken Curry

Wednesday – Waffles and Bacon

Thursday – Leftovers

Friday – BBQ Pizza

Planners, Journals, Notebooks, etc.

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Today I thought I’d tell you a little bit about one of my favorite little nooks of the house. I start and end every day at this beautiful hand crafted writing desk I bought myself a couple years ago after a successful craft fair venture. My table is tucked in a corner of my sewing room and it’s my favorite space to sit down and get centered.

One of my goals for the year is to become more balanced, and all the books at this table have been awesome tools in getting me started. Granted I’ve only been using a lot of them successfully for the last ten days, but it’s been going so well I don’t think I’ll have a problem continuing throughout the year.

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Finding a perfect planner has always been a huge struggle. I’m a little bit obsessed with the hunt, though. Last summer I finally settled on one that felt like the perfect fit for what I needed it for: Bloom Daily Planners. All of the designs are really pretty and they come in various formats. I love the spiral binding so they’ll lay flat. My favorite feature is how it shows a week at a time. I’m much better at planning out my weeks when I can easily see what’s on the agenda for every day and space out my to do lists. I usually take a look on Sundays at what absolutely needs to be done and then add in smaller things each morning that I feel like I can accomplish. I use the empty spaces at the bottom of the page to plan out dinners. I’m not great at filling in the extra sections, but each week has a spot for goals and your main focus for the week. Sometimes I add those in, but most of the time I really use this planner as a spot for my to do’s.

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At the start of 2017 I really wanted an additional planner or guided journal that would help me stay focused on my aspiration to be more balanced this year. I stumbled across The Dailygreatness website and their awesome selection of yearly planners. It was really hard to decide which one to get because they all looked great. But I settled on the most all encompassing journal. I’ve only been using it since the start of the year, but I absolutely love it. Each morning you answer a couple of questions about your intentions for the day, a short gratitude list, or various other small journal prompts. You also fill in four “I AM” statements. One of mine every morning has been “I AM worth taking care of.” Writing it on a daily basis has helped me remember every day to make better eating choices and find time for exercise.

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At the end of the day you’re supposed to go back to the planner and answer the questions after reflecting on your day. It makes me think about what I did right and what I could do better with. All of the questions are very positive focused and it’s given me a better attitude about myself and how I spend my time. There’s also the obvious section for planning your days, though most of mine are left blank. I have very few actual commitments throughout the week besides school pick up and drop off! But it’s nice to have the space when needed. If I wasn’t using the other planner for to do lists, I’d probably add those in here. But I do really like the weekly format from Bloom. In addition to Dailygreatness’s daily pages, there are also quarterly goal worksheets, and more extensive journal pages. I haven’t had a lot of time to work through those yet. The only downside of this journal is that it goes on a six week format. The seventh day is for overall reflection and planning for the following week.

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I’ve enjoyed my Dailygreatness planner so much that I gave in and also ordered their Wellness journal. I haven’t started it yet because I just got it yesterday and want to start at the beginning of the week. But the obvious focus on this journal is taking care of your overall wellbeing. It has journal space for thoughts on your body and health. It has an area to record your daily workouts. And a big section on meal planning. I’m hoping to really use this to keep track of what I eat every day. Hopefully planning out my meals ahead of time, so I don’t succumb to binging on junk food when I feel most hungry. The snacks and meals will already be planned out for me in my journal.

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I’ve always been obsessed with pretty notebooks. Always. Last year I jumped on the bullet journal craze, but I just couldn’t get into finding a way to organize my entire life in a single plain looking notebook. So I’ve strayed from the idea a bit, but kind of consider this pile of flowery goodness my own version of the bullet journal. Each notebook has its own purpose and is ready and waiting for when I need to use it. I have blogging ideas in one, a list of happiness tips in another, and Annie ideas in another. The rest are blank and waiting for their purpose!

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I love the idea of a five year journal. Which is why I’ve picked up three of them in the last few years! I’ve been really bad in the past with writing in them consistently, but now that it’s part of my nightly rituals, I’m hoping to stick with it. The Q&A a Day book is my favorite because it’s really fun to look back and see how I answered each prompt differently in years past. I use the One Line a Day book to try and write a brutally honest sentence about my day. I want to remember what made me the most happy that day, or what brought me down. I use The Happiness Project for Mothers journal to write something about one or both of my kids. Usually something funny one of them said, but occasionally I write about a struggle we had that day. Besides these short and fun journals that I write in each night, I also have a regular journal that ideally I’d fill up daily. My hand starts to hurt far too often, though, so it’s more of a once a week thing.

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And finally, I like to keep a few fun extra books at my desk to fill out when I’m feeling especially bored or contemplative. I really, really like journals, guys. πŸ™‚ These are new for this year because I wanted fresh inspiration at my fingertips. They both look like a lot of fun, though!

And besides all my various planners and journals, I also keep my Bible and a devotional book at my desk to read in the mornings. I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s really been such a better way to start my day than wasting time on my computer each morning. I feel so much more focused and ready to tackle anything, after 10-15 minutes of planning and intention each morning. It’s also really great spending those few minutes at the end of the day reflecting on how everything worked out.

I’d love to hear about any special journals or tools you use to keep on top of your life!

2017: New Year of Balance and Wellbeing

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Happy new year!

Well, it was another low key New Year’s celebration in our house. It used to bother me a little bit that we were so boring year after year, but now I’m totally okay with it. We had a nice taco dinner and piled on the couch to watch a movie together. Then we watched a plethora of Netflix countdown videos around 8:30 and put the boys to bed. Someday, verrrry far down the road, maybe they’ll actually be able to handle staying up until midnight. Right now that would turn them into total monsters for a week. So after they were settled, Greg and I watched another movie, shared some jalapeno popper dip, started a second movie, and then I declared myself desperate for sleep at 10:45. Normally I really do try to stay up until midnight (doesn’t always happen), but I’ve had a terrible cold the last few days and thought if I could actually fall asleep for once I needed to go do it. I think Greg spent the last hour of 2016 playing a video game. We’re super exciting people. πŸ™‚

Overall, the last week of the year, our Christmas vacation, was quiet and nice and a little disappointing. Greg and the boys had bad colds through Christmas and nobody was really their best selves. I was psycho stressed in the beginning of the week trying to deal with all the new toys and stuff that needed to be put away and organized. Then I was gearing up for some fun activities the second half of the week, but I caught the cold and didn’t want to do anything. I spent the majority of the week reading and resting. Caden played video games all week. Shepard built legos all week. Greg spent his week helping everybody else with their stuff and working. I regret not being able to do more fun things, like I saw all my friends doing on facebook. But I’m also kind of REALLY ready for my kids to get back to school and get back into a routine. I miss being home alone.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to think about the new year and how I’d like to improve my life in 2017. I sat down to write a list of aspirations for myself and realized everything I hope to change can fall into two main categories: Balance and Wellbeing. In the last few months I’ve found myself stressed over and over again by how imbalanced I feel. I really struggle with organizing my time throughout the day in a way that makes me feel fulfilled and content. I also just want to take better care of myself in general.

BALANCE

Time for Work

This has probably been my biggest struggle in the last four months. I want Heartstring Annie to basically be my full time job and I want it to be successful. I want it to be the priority of most of my days, but also be able to step away from it at 3:00 and not feel the need to keep working late into the night because I didn’t do enough during the day. I want to keep searching for new inspiration to try sewing new things, while continuing to work on dolls and bears that I know my customers will love. I’d like to actually keep my etsy store fully stocked at all times by putting out new creations week after week. In theory, this should be pretty easy. My problem is DISTRACTIONS. I waste so much time mindlessly trolling the internet every day. Facebook is the worst, but I also get trapped by pinterest and food blogs and amazon way too often. Maybe I need to turn my computer off every day. Turn off all notifications on my phone. Some sort of physical step I can take to keep myself away from the temptation of wasting my time. Once that’s eliminated, finding time to work should be easy.

Time for Writing

I’ve loved starting this blog up again. It’s something I’d like to continue working on a couple of times a week. It doesn’t feel like a job or something I have to tick off my to do list because I’ve been writing when I want to and when I need to. As long as it comes easy to me, I want to continue. But I’d also like to do more personal journaling and focus on the couple of daily planners I got myself for this year (more on that another day!). Writing has always been immensely therapeutic to me and I want it to be a higher priority, even if it’s just a few minutes here and there every day.

Time for Family

I’d like to work on this by breaking out of the parenting routine we’ve established in the last eight years. I’ve always been a stay at home mom so for many years it made sense that I “put in my time” during the day and Greg took over when he got home from work so I could have some much needed me time. This dynamic doesn’t really make sense now that the boys are in school all day and I’ve only been alone with them the hour before and the two hours after school every day. Though those after school hours are really rough!! πŸ™‚ I’d just like to try harder to bond with my kids in the evenings and weekends. Not obsessively try to spend every minute with them, but I’d like to be more open to setting aside my own agendas to sit down and play a game with them or take a walk with them or go sledding or cook something – anything that we can find to do together. I want to stop feeling like the odd (wo)man out in my own family.

I’d also like to focus more on my marriage. I want Greg and I to take better advantage of the times we do get to be alone together. I’d like to go on more actual dates because we always talk and connect so much better when we’re out of the house. And I’d like to try playing more board games together, the way we used to. I love our tv times every night because they’re comfortable and easy. But it’d be fun to switch things up every few days!

Time for Friends

Time for friends has gotten easier for me in recent years because my kids are getting older and they have a very capable Daddy that is totally supportive and encouraging of me going off and having fun in the evenings. The problem is that very few of my friends seem to have that same availability. I’ve kind of given up on even trying to go out anymore because it’s so frustrating trying to schedule an outing. So I want to try and find more creative ways to see my friends that will also fit their schedules. I don’t want to just give up, the way I usually do. It’s harder now because nobody will be inviting me out on playdates with no little kids at home! But that doesn’t mean I can’t invite somebody over to see me. Or out to lunch or something. I just want to try harder. I’d also like to continue having little get togethers one evening every couple of months, the way I did with my Favorite Things Party. It was really awesome providing a space for everyone to gather and just have fun without the kids for a few hours.

Time for the Mundane

This is going to sound really dramatic, but lately I feel like such a slave to everything that needs to get DONE around the house. Just the constant mundane tasks of making food, cleaning up after meals, tidying up clutter, and never ending laundry can just feel so all consuming and overwhelming. I realize that every person alive has to also go through all of this and it’s nothing special to me. But it still overwhelms me. Greg is helpful with a lot of household things, but the boys basically do nothing. I think this is the year they need to start being held accountable for regular household chores. I’m sick of feeling like the weight of so much everyday STUFF falls on me. Not only falls on me, but holds me down and wears me out so I have no time or energy left to give to the things I want – like sewing, reading, and FUN.

Time for Me

This moves on to the Wellbeing category, but yeah – I want to take better care of me. I want to prioritize the things I need and want to do with my time. Not ALL the time, but here and there on a daily basis. I’m important too.

WELLBEING

Okay, I’ll try to keep this portion a little shorter. πŸ™‚ Basically, I want to focus on being a healthier person, inside and out.

Walking Goal

I want to start up my 10,000 steps a day walking goal again. I got really off track in December, but that’s no excuse not to start up again. I felt a lot better after those daily walks and they need to be one of my highest priorities.

Weekly Exercise Class

I love my Drumfit class and plan to continue taking it as long as it’s offered. If for whatever reason it stops being offered, I want to find a different class to try. Maybe Zumba, or maybe something fun at the Y. I just want to do that one night a week boost of something cardio based, yet fun.

Yoga

I’d like to start doing yoga at home a couple of days a week. I’m always tense and sore and a ten or fifteen minute session of stretching always helps. I’m just too lazy to sit myself down and do it most of the time. Not anymore.

Healthy Breakfasts

Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, and I usually just have a piece of toast or bagel or whatever other carby thing I can find. I’d like to try harder to make myself protein rich healthy breakfasts that will fill me up until lunch, instead of leaving me starving an hour later.

Better Meal Planning

Life goes so much more smoothly when I know what’s for dinner every night! Shopping lists are a breeze with that tiny bit of extra planning. When I scramble for meals I get stressed out. I want to spend ten minutes a week actually looking at the food we already have and planning meals for the coming days.

Time for Fun

I don’t have a lot of fun in my life. I want to find ways to smile more, laugh more, relax and restore more. It’s as simple as taking ten minute reading breaks in between tasks during the day. I just want my happiness to stop being ruled by how much I can achieve during the day. That’s not what life should be about.

LOOKING AHEAD

As always, January 1st brings a lot of clarity and hope. I plan to come back to this list often to try and recenter my priorities and do what I need to have a most fulfilling life.

Unlike last year, this upcoming year has very little on the schedule. And I’m good with that! I don’t think we’ll be going on any vacations and there shouldn’t be any major life changes. We’ll just continue to settle into life with a house and focus on making the most of things!

There’s just one thing coming up in July that I can finally mention – I’m going to be an AUNT! My brother and his wife announced their pregnancy on Christmas Eve and it was about the greatest news ever. I’m so happy for them and really excited that my kids will have a cousin. πŸ™‚ That alone will make this year awesome. Congrats!

The Best and Worst of 2016

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2016 was a pretty big year for our family. A lot of awesome things happened that made this one of the most eventful years of our lives. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the ups and downs over the last couple of days and wanted to get it into words so I can remember all that we went through. Many of the actual events made this a fantastic year. But a lot of the more abstract struggles I went through made it a harder year.

THE BEST PARTS OF THE YEAR

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We bought a house!

It’s been six long years since we decided to leave our lives in Minnesota and move back to Wisconsin so our children could know their family. That first year back when we were living in Greg’s parents’ basement, and then subletting a friend’s house, and then going back to his parents’ when her house sold, all while our house was sitting in MN unsold (not to mention I was pregnant and then had a newborn (and toddler!) during it all) was a very, very hard year. Our experiences with finally letting that house go in a short sale so we could move on with our lives, left us very weary of owning again. We moved to our apartment in Columbus and spent five fairly happy years there. We loved not having to deal with all the things that come with home owning and we were mostly content. But as the boys got older and wilder and clearly needed more space, we were starting to feel like it was time to move on again. So in a whirlwind of house showings in a crazy market this spring, we found our new home! A little over a month later it was ours! Buying this house has been the greatest blessing for our family. We live in an awesome neighborhood with lots of kids that the boys play with all the time. We’re only a couple of blocks from school so we can walk there, to parks, basically anywhere in town. The boys have their own rooms. I have a sewing room to continue building Hearstring Annie. We all have plenty of space to breathe and grow and thrive in the new house. We plan on living here a very, very long time.

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Having neighbors and friends on the very same block has been incredible.

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We didn’t have a ton of time to work on and enjoy the yard this first summer, but I’m looking forward to making better use of it from now on!

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Greg and his dad did build an awesome sandbox!

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Of course six months after I took these pictures the house looks a lot more lived in. πŸ™‚ But it’s honestly so great.

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10 Year Anniversary

A couple days after buying the house, we celebrated our 10 year anniversary! It was fun to hit a milestone anniversary, though it also feels like we’ve been together so much longer than that. Well, we have – almost 17 years. But buying the house right before our anniversary made it feel extra special this year.

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10 Year Anniversary Vacation

Before we even talked about buying a house, we had planned out a cross country road trip to Charleston for our 10 year anniversary vacation. Most years we tend to just go away for a weekend, somewhere relatively close. This year we wanted it to be a bigger deal, so we had an eight day trip planned out with stops in Tennessee at the same cabin where we spent our honeymoon, a couple days in Charleston, and then a couple of alternate plans for how we might drive back home. When the trip rolled around, though, ONE WEEK after we bought our house, life was a little bit insane. We were both more tired than we’ve ever been in our lives, Greg had rolled his ankle during the move and was having a hard time walking, and we didn’t have a lot of money to spare. But we reveled in having time to ourselves after an overwhelming month and a half of packing, cleaning, moving, Mother’s Day, birthdays, school ending, etc. We spent a lot more time relaxing on the trip than going out and being adventurous in new cities. Charleston itself was quite a disappointment to us, but we had a great time in Tennessee on the way there and North Carolina on the way back. I’m so glad we decided to keep our plans and still go on this trip, despite everything else.

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More Opportunities to Entertain

Over the last few years, I’ve really been wanting more opportunities to invite people over. I love having parties, I love having friends come over here and there to hang out. But our apartment was not an ideal location, so it rarely happened. Since moving in we threw a big 4th of July bash, had family over a few times, threw birthday parties for Caden and my dad, and held my Favorite Things Party. I’m looking forward to a lot more chances to invite people over to celebrate the big and little things in life. I have the space, it can happen even when the boys are asleep, and it makes me happy!

I Found Podcasts

One of the most exciting things that happened this year was that I discovered podcasts! I talked a lot about this in my Favorite Podcasts post, but it really opened up this whole new world of entertainment and learning that changed so much for me. The best part about podcasts is that they can be listened to while doing other things. I rarely do household chores anymore without also listening to something entertaining. I love listening to creative and inspiring podcasts while I sew. Funny podcasts always accompany me while I’m walking. There are so many different things to listen to no matter what mood I’m in and I absolutely love it!

Exercising Became Fun

Okay, so I’m using the term “exercising” lightly. But in the middle of this summer after the house was mostly settled in and after I learned about podcasts – and Pokemon Go – I decided to start walking. In years past I always loved when Caden was in summer school because it gave me a built in time to walk around downtown and dream about my future. Now that future is my reality and it’s the greatest. Our apartment was about a mile away from the rest of the city, so walking was not part of my daily life. Now it is and I can’t be happier. I made a goal of 70,000 steps a week and for four months I exceeded that goal week after week. I was having fun, but also really proud of myself. Once December and snow and Christmas busyness came around, things have really started to slid. But I’m planning to get going again in the new year.

Besides walking so much more, I also joined a Drumfit class with my friend Laura. It was my first experience with an actual exercise class and I was really nervous about it. But with her moral support we started going and we both love it! It’s so much fun and the hour just flies by. I know that only going to a class once a week probably isn’t doing a whole lot for my overall health, but it’s better than not going at all! I definitely plan on continuing the class for as long as they keep offering it.

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Shepard Transitioned to Kindergarten Smoothly

This is something I was really worried about. He’s always been very difficult about going to school. I think he has some social anxiety when it comes to being in large groups of kids. He was in a summer school class in June to prepare him for kindergarten and drop off every day was HORRIBLE. Every day for three straight weeks he’d cry and scream and fight to follow me out the door while the teacher had to hold on to him. I was so sure that every day of kindergarten would be more of the same. But shockingly, amazingly, it’s gone really well. All thanks to Caden. Because there have been a couple of days when Caden was home sick and Shepard put up the biggest fights I’ve ever witnessed when trying to drop him off alone. But on days that they go together, he’s been fine! He spends a lot of time with Caden at lunch and recess, but as the months have rolled by I notice him talking about his own friends a lot more. He definitely seems like the most outgoing member of our family, so once the anxiety is behind him there’s no holding him back!

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Timmy and Brittany Moved Back

This was one of the most shocking developments of 2016. During a visit to WI in August, my brother dropped the bomb that they were moving back – in two weeks! They seemed to be living the dream out in California and none of us expected them to want to come home ever again. It was shocking, but really awesome! We’ve seen them a couple times a month since they moved, and even went on a really great double date in Milwaukee. I’m looking forward to developing our sibling friendship now that they live closer.

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Alex and Sarah Got Married

In October, Greg’s sister Sarah married her long time boyfriend Alex. Tons of family flew to San Francisco for the week to enjoy all the wedding festivities. It was the first time on an airplane for the boys and the biggest vacation we’ve ever taken them on. We also had some big triumphs on the trip when Caden got over his extreme fear of flying and Shepard used public bathrooms as necessary for the first time in his life – something we all had a severe amount of anxiety about in the months leading up to the trip.

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The wedding was beautiful and we gained a new brother! Greg was a groomsman and the boys were each ring bearers. Despite Shepard’s attitude during photos, they did a great job.

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There were a lot of ups and downs on that trip, as expected any time you gather that many people together for a giant event. But my absolute favorite memory was the morning before the wedding when I got to spend a couple of hours alone with Shepard. It was absolutely pouring, but it didn’t stop us from following through on our plans. We walked a couple of miles in the rain, ate a big breakfast at Boudin, and then went to my favorite pearl place to open up some oysters! Shepard opened an oyster for me and got twins! We were both really excited. πŸ™‚ My oyster had a single pearl which I made into a necklace for my friend Michelle who was cat-sitting for us while we were gone.

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It was a splurge, but we had my twin pearls made into this gorgeous necklace. I’ll treasure it forever and the memory attached to it. My relationship with Shepard is so easy and delightful, and this necklace will always remind me of that. I love sentimental jewelry.

More Time Alone

The older I get, the more I realize the need I have for time alone. It’s always been pretty obvious that I’m an introvert, but this year I’ve been reading a lot more about it and what I need to make myself a happier and better person. Now that both kids are in school full time, I get seven hours a day to be alone. I definitely don’t always use that time wisely, but I do appreciate the quiet. I’m a lot less desperate to get out of the house at night because I’ve had time during the day to restore myself and feel a lot more calm and content. It’s made the last few months easier on me emotionally. Though it also worries me how used to the alone time I’ve gotten. When summer comes around and kids are flocking my house day and night again, it’s going to be really hard to transition back to that loud and wild atmosphere. But it does make me appreciate these times by myself that much more!

THE WORST PARTS OF THE YEAR

There weren’t any specific events that made this year worse than any other. No significant memories I can pinpoint where things did not go my way. But it still felt like a hard year. A challenging year internally. I’ve had a lot of emotional struggles in this new season of my life that I’m still trying to figure out.

No Time for US

I think the hardest part of this year is that it’s felt like Greg and I have almost no time together. The boys are at an age where they want Daddy’s attention ALL THE TIME. And they need a lot more than their basic necessities met. They want constant interaction, every waking moment. I feel like I can’t even have a two minute conversation with Greg until the boys are in bed for the night because they are always interrupting. Greg is an awesome dad and I don’t want my kids to feel like they are a secondary priority. But I often feel that way myself and sometimes find myself envious of how they get the best parts of him every night and weekend. We occasionally try and do more full family activities, but I always feel a little left out. My interests are so different from theirs. I have a hard time fitting in with their easy father sons dynamic.

Besides attention demanding kids, we also have a demanding house now! We have a lot more square footage to clean and take care of every day. The lawn needs to be mowed, the gardens worked on, the gutters cleared, the driveway shoveled. It’s taken some getting used to. Our favorite part about apartment living was not having to deal with any of that stuff. It’s time consuming. But it also comes with the territory.

I just wish that Greg and I could find more opportunities to connect. After 8:00 at night when the boys are both asleep, we’re both completely drained and have very little left to give each other. I miss the fun and spontaneity that happened so much more often earlier in our relationship. I also miss feeling awake and energetic and excited about spending time together. Parenting is hard work. Kids make marriage harder. I’m sure many, many couples deal with these same feelings and it’s just a matter of changing our priorities. We do usually get a night a week alone when the boys go to Grandma’s house. And we try to go on dates about every other month. But we need to find a way for more of that.

Expensive Year

It’s been an expensive year! Buying a house costs a lot of money. Followed by a week long vacation and then a summer of new house related expenses. Followed a few months later by a huge trip to San Francisco that cost about four times more than any trip we’ve ever taken in the past ten years. Followed by Christmas. It was a lot and it was depressing. I’m looking forward to catching up again in the new year. Though currently we need/want a new toilet, new sewer pipe, new lawn mower, gutter guards, new garage door, and a snowblower. Owning a house is quite the expensive venture!

Weight Gain

Ah, the dreaded weight gain. When I went off of pills and switched to an IUD a year and a half ago, I gained 20 pounds in three months. I blamed it on the IUD and had it removed. The weight has continued to pile on in the year that followed. I know I only have myself to blame at this point. I went on Weight Watchers a few years ago and while I did lose some weight I was completely miserable. I want to enjoy food and be happy instead of hating the world and everybody in it because I’m so hungry all the time. So now I’m in this constant struggle with wanting to be happy with my body at any size and wanting to be healthier to lose weight. Every time I see a picture of myself it’s followed by days of self hatred. I never think I look that big in the mirror. I thought that walking so much more every day would have some sort of positive effect. But it hasn’t and it’s frustrating. On a positive note, in the last six months I’ve started finding styles of clothes that I feel like are more flattering. They at least make me feel better about myself. Lots of dresses, skirts, leggings and tunics. Despite being very unhappy with the number on the scale, I’ve had so many more compliments about my clothes and accessories that it makes me feel like maybe I’m okay.

Overall Disappointment in Myself

I had a lot of expectations for what my life would look like once the boys were in school all day. I would go on a brisk walk every morning after dropping them off at school and then happily sew away all day long. I’d take breakfast or lunch dates with a friend once a week. And I’d have spare time in the afternoons for reading or resting or whatever else I felt like doing. By the time I picked the boys up from school I’d be excited to see them and energetic about making a great dinner and taking time connect with them individually every single night. I’d help put them to bed, spend time with Greg, and wake up again the next morning to do it all again. Well, guys, that has NOT been my reality. Instead I feel like I’m constantly flailing around, never fully getting a grasp on anything. Household chores continue to overwhelm my to do list and sewing has been one of my lowest priorities. I’ve barely spent any time with my friends and by early afternoon I’m so exhausted that I still need to take a power nap to deal just surviving the rest of the day. I lose my patience after two seconds of an after school tantrum and have very little interest in making good dinners. I still let Greg handle most of the nightly entertaining with the boys while I work on my never ending list of things that need to be done. I sit down to watch tv with him at 9pm and I’m exhausted and emotional and disappointed. I never feel like I’m doing enough, and yet I’m always DOING. I’m struggling so hard to find a balance in my day to day and always seem to come up short. On paper it looks so easy. I’m home alone seven hours a day! How am I not getting everything done? How am I not even sewing 1-2 hours in that huge chunk of time! I’m frustrated with myself all the time. I don’t know how to change either.

OVERALL

So despite all the mess in my head, overall it’s been a really great year. So many positive things changed to make our family’s quality of life that much better. I’m hoping that 2017 will be just as great of a year, though it’s just fine if things are a little quieter! I’d like to settle into this new life and figure out how to be even happier.

A Very Merry Christmas

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Christmas was pretty great this year! The boys are at about the best possible age to truly enjoy the holiday season. They both still fully believe in Santa and are super excited about everything. Between their enthusiasm and having our first Christmas at the new house, it really felt like a magical time of celebration.

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On Christmas Eve morning we got ready as early as we could and headed over to Greg’s parents’ house for The Noe Christmas. We had a wonderful brunch and then gathered around for present opening.

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Caden got a basketball hoop from Grandma and Grandpa. I think it’s something that the boys and all the neighborhood kids will get a lot of use out of for many, many years to come!

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Shepard was really excited about his new telescope. He loves looking at the moon and stars and always has a great view out of his window at night.

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I got a new table for my sewing room!!! This is what I was hoping for the most, so it’s super exciting my in-law’s bought it for me! It’s going to be my work table (I was currently using a plastic folding table), but also double as a nicer and bigger seating area for when we have company or just want to have a fancier meal. My sewing room is technically the dining room of the house, so it’s a good spot for an awesome table!

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Obviously the best place to holster his crossbow!

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Caden was really excited about the upcoming hotel stay at Great Wolf Lodge gifted by Grandma and Grandpa.

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A heater so Greg can keep working in his basement “office/game room” during the winter. He actually got two of same heater, so everyone knows how cold we’ve been!

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Neko played with his new toys for literally ten seconds and then passed out from exhaustion. Getting old is tough.

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Lots of great gifts were had by all!

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After we opened we enjoyed our new toys! There was a whole lot of techy/coding/programming talk going on between Greg, Andrew, and Caden.

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A rousing game of Hungry Hungry Hippos.

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Around 1:00 we headed over to my parents’ house to spend time with that half of the family. They were just getting lunch on the table when we walked in the door. And not even half an hour later my dad came home! He works for FedEx and we’re usually waiting late into the night for him to get home so we can open presents. It was shocking to have him there so early! Definitely a record. It was awesome we got to do everything so much earlier, though it threw off the timeline of events we were all thinking would happen that day!

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Timmy and the boys went outside for awhile to run off some steam.

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Juno loves eating sticks. She was pretty excited to find such a tasty red swirly stick in the snow! πŸ™‚

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It wasn’t great sledding snow, but they made the most of it!

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A little later in the afternoon we gathered for presents. Shepard was sneaky and saw that the present bags on these gifts didn’t go all the way to the floor!

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Taking a quick break to make punch.

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The boys played with these sleds at Fleet Farm for at least half an hour about a month ago. I was really hoping to get them to a real sledding hill this week, but it’s been so rainy and warm I’m afraid we won’t have any snow left!

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The dogs were obviously so tired, but they couldn’t leave the action. They’re a lot like Shepard and need to be where the action is every second of the day!

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Timmy got a little obsessed with beating a Rubik’s cube in under a minute this year. Everyone caught on and bought him related gifts!

As a side note, I realized Brittany didn’t show up in a single picture. πŸ™ She was there…on the couch between Timmy and I. Sorry, Brittany.

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We got my dad a Costco membership because he’s always talking about all the Costco food his coworkers love. Hopefully he can make good use of it!

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Again, many good gifts had by everyone! Caden got Pokemon Sun, which is what he wanted the most. He’s had games taken away for a couple of months now, so he was taking full advantage of getting them back on Christmas.

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And that’s a wrap for Christmas Eve! We were back home with cookies set out and the boys in bed by 8:00. Earliest Christmas Eve ever!

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Santa was able to come around 9:00 this year! And took a picture before anything was messed up. πŸ™‚

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I’m a little obsessed with stockings. I took full advantage of the gigantic ones I ended up hanging this year. Despite their length, all the gifts still wouldn’t fit! I wish I had gotten a picture of the cookie plate before Santa ate it because Shepard made a reindeer out of carrots, for the reindeer. It was really cute how excited he was. Normally every year they fall asleep on the way home from Beaver Dam and I just set something out on my own.

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Christmas morning! It was the first night in probably a month and a half that Shepard slept the entire night without coughing. Which was fairly amazing considering he coughed almost nonstop all night every night up until the night before. I kept waking up and worrying about him! Surprisingly, Shepard slept until 6:00 and Caden 6:20. We were expecting a much earlier wake up call!

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Shepard was really excited about his new motorcycle bike!! It’s just a bike, fyi, but looks like a motorcycle. πŸ™‚

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Caden doesn’t do jokes. Not so amused with “reindeer poop.”

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We did stockings first and the guys each got three minifig bags. I was looking at the sheet of paper after Caden opened his and was really excited about the mom and baby set. So Shepard and I were THRILLED when he opened his and we got it!

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CUTEST LEGO EVER. I’m totally stealing it because he’ll forget it even exists after a day or two.

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Minifigs are awesome.

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I got a Steiff collector’s edition teddy bear in my stocking! I saw this bear about a year ago and totally fell in love with him. I’m always on a treasure hunt at antique stores for vintage Steiff bears, but occasionally check out their website for new ones. When I realized this bear was already sold out, I couldn’t resist an ebay search. I think a collector’s bear might have to be a new Christmas tradition! I loooove teddy bears.

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His official name is “Big Timmy” which I thought was pretty funny.

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Whereas Shepard got a bike, Caden’s big Santa present was a huge nine person tent. Now that we have a yard to set it up in, I figured it was worth the investment. Greg hates camping, but I think the boys are old enough now I can probably handle taking them on my own a couple times over the summer. It will be fun! And we have room for other people to join us if they wish!

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After presents, Shepard had to get his bike in action! The annoying thing is that the seat isn’t adjustable and he’s just a tiny bit too short for it. I think he’s starting to get the hang of it now, but he was having a tough time getting started on his own.

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It was a weird, rainy Christmas morning.

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After a couple hours of playing and relaxing at home we headed back to Noe’s for more family time. The boys love sitting on laps. I wonder when Caden will start feeling too old/big to do it anymore.

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Melissa and Shepard building the giant Star Wars set she gave him.

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I think this was the first year all ten of us were there for all three days of parties. The occasion needed a photo! Wish I had thought to bring my tripod!

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Sadly we had to say goodbye as everyone got ready to go their separate ways last night and this morning. I’m not sure when we’ll all be in the same place again.

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And finally, one last Christmas stop at my parents’ house. This is all the dog stuff my mom got! Plus three pairs of socks that didn’t make the picture.

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Oscar graced us with his presence this day.

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Caden spent all day playing Pokemon. I spent most of the day reading a book in the midst of everything, so I can’t really blame him.

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My mom and I both loved brie, so we basically had this for dinner. It’s a caramelized onion baked brie with onion, cranberry, and pistachios. It was delish.

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Shepard was too excited to sit still doing anything for more than a few minutes at a time. He loves being by people!

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And that’s about it! I had one of the best Christmases ever. I hope you did too!

Our Family Christmas

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We had our family Christmas tonight! We usually have it on the 23rd, so we can claim a little bit of nuclear family time before the 24th and 25th which are so packed with extended family. It’s nice to have a quieter celebration with just the four of us when the excitement is new and everyone is happy. We have a family party on the 23rd this year, though, so we had to push it back to the 22nd. It worked out well, though. Greg started his vacation today, so we spent the day together and had a nice lunch date. Then we picked the boys up from school and jumped right into present opening!

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Shepard and his I have a cold and for whatever weird reason I have to always be sucking on my top lip mustache. He’s been wanting this lego set for a really long time.

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For some reason I was actually in a store with just Shepard, so he picked out his gifts for Caden in person. He was so excited about this nerf gun.

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They played with this the rest of the night, so it was a hit!

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A couple of weeks ago I asked Shepard what kind of present he would get for me if he could. He said a really big shiny star for the tree. I guess he told Greg that idea and they got me one. It’s big! πŸ™‚

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Greg said that on his own Caden came up with the idea of getting me a yoga mat for Christmas. He knew I already have one, but he wanted to get me one in my favorite color and he’ll take my old one and we can do yoga together. I better find some videos for us to start!

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Shepard saw these pajamas in the Target catalog and REALLY wanted them. Despite the hilarious facial expressions in this picture, he was really excited about them, put them on immediately, wore them the rest of the night, plans on wearing them tomorrow for Pajama Day at school, and told me it was his favorite present of the night!

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I found this cake pan at a vintage barn sale. I told him it was a decoration, so he took one of my pictures off the wall and hung it up…

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Shepard’s gift for Daddy because they love building lego sets together so much.

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Caden’s gift for Shepard. He picked this out on his own too. Said that the only reason Shepard watched one of the Star Wars movies was because he wanted to watch these walker things, so he knew he’d like the lego set.

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Shepard also really wanted to get Caden Monopoly. A couple of months ago Caden mentioned wanting it out of the blue and when we were at Target Shepard remembered! I was pretty proud of their gift giving talents this year!

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Caden was REALLY excited. Greg is a Monopoly hater, but according to all the amazon reviews, this version of Monopoly has a much shorter game play! We shall see.

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Caden gave Greg a Stardew Valley map because they bond over video games.

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This was the hilarious present of the night! It’s from one of my favorite podcasts. I read the first couple of pages and was laughing so hard. Can’t wait to read the rest! I also got some house things – a wall lamp to go by my computer, an LED lamp for my writing desk, sheer curtains for our bedroom, a new snow globe, and some candles.

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I wanted to make our dinner tonight extra special, so we set up the table in my sewing room and tried to make it look fancy. I’m pretty terrible at cooking more than one dish at a time, so three at once was quite a feat for me! It’s not exactly a balanced meal, but it was good!

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Overall, it was a really special night together! Now I’m even more excited to see what the next couple of days bring!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

My favorite books of 2016

Nothing makes me more excited on the internet than to see lists of people’s favorite books. I love reading, I always have, and it’s the one thing I will never, ever skip doing a single day of my life. I’m always searching for new books to read, no matter how many I have queued up on my kindle. I love wandering bookstores for new ideas and inspirations. I savor all the Goodreads emails I get and I’ve started stalking Instagram feeds for companies like Book Riot and Book of the Month Club for more recommendations. I also listen to multiple podcasts that are all about books (What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel is my favorite). Books are a major part of my life and I’m really excited to share some of my favorites from the year as well.

Looking back over my year, I realized I read a lot of Young Adult fiction. A LOT. There’s something about the simplicity of a teenage love story that really pulls at me. Maybe because my own love story started at age 15 and I so strongly identify with them? I also think it has a lot to do with just needing to escape reality. I have almost no interest reading about the drudgery of parenting or failing relationships or novels steeped in grown up realism. I much prefer books that focus on growing relationships and have happy endings. I don’t, however, like total fluff. I’m not a fan of the actual Romance genre because I need to see a lot more substance in the characters before they progress. I also tend to avoid the books that I know are going to make me think a little too much. Bestsellers and award winners are great in moderation, but most of the time I’m reading purely for my own enjoyment and prefer to stick with what I love. And just to clarify, I do read almost all the books that get a lot of buzz (or at least they’re waiting for me on my kindle!), but they just don’t usually get my highest ratings.

Every year I keep a spreadsheet of what I’ve read, along with a rating between 1 and 5. My criteria for a five star rating is simple – it needs to make me cry at some point (happy or sad), and it needs to make me want to stay up too late or skip doing household chores because it’s just too good to put down. If I was completely immersed in the story line, I read it in just a day or two, and the characters stick with me, it was probably worthy of a five star rating. Anyway, my list is long, so I better get started!

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ALL THE BOOKS by Kasie West

This has been by far my favorite newly discovered author of the year. I rated ALL HER BOOKS 5 stars. My favorite was P.S. I Like You. I liked it so much I immediately wanted to read it all over again. That never happens! Kasie West is classified as Young Adult and I absolutely adored every single book. Beautifully written and engaging teenage love stories. My other favorites (I think every book she’s written) were The Fill-In Boyfriend, Pivot Point, Split Second, The Distance Between Us, and On the Fence. I found all of these books to be deliciously delightful to read.

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Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is another really great author. When I picked up her newest book Carry On, I was a little surprised by it. I wasn’t aware that it was Harry Potter fan fiction until about a third of the way through when I kept complaining to Greg about how I didn’t understand how one of my favorite authors could keep ripping off the story line of such a great series of books. He looked it up and set me straight. Obviously this is my first encounter with fan fiction! Once I understand what it was, I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s about the unexpected relationship that arises between the hero and supposed villain when they band together to fight evil. It surprised me how invested I was by the end.

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A Thousand Boy Kisses by Tillie Cole

This book was both heartbreaking and beautiful. It’s about the love between a boy and a girl that begins at age eight. The book follows the story of their lives and relationship until their late teenage years. It’s tender and sweet, but also incredibly sad. This book will stay with me for a long time.

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Roomies by Lindy Zart

I’m such a sucker for love stories that begin in unexpected places (though are totally predicable in books). This book is about roommates who are in love with each other, but too afraid to cross the divide between friendship and what could be more. I found this book to be refreshing because man in the story was truly the good guy. It seems that so often the heroine falls for the bad boy, the brooding type that needs to be won over. I really appreciated the character traits that made this guy the type you’d really fall for in real life.

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The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

I read a lot of dystopian fiction. It’s interesting to see what new realities authors create after the inevitable fall of life as we know it. Similar to Hunger Games I found this trilogy to be very intriguing. I liked the first book the best, but the whole series is definitely worth reading if you’re into that type of fiction.

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Adorkable by Cookie O’Gorman

This is another fairly predicable, but still completely juicy and beautiful teenage romance. I clearly had a book type I continued to seek out again and again this year. I love them, though. This book is about a girl whose mom and friend continue to set her up on horrible blind dates. She finally gets them off her back by begging her best male friend to pretend to be her boyfriend for awhile. The path they take from there is highly entertaining, but also emotional and sincere. Another great YA read!

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Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

This was a fascinating read about the intricate relationship between a boy who suffers from prosopagnosia (face blindness) and a girl who was at one point so fat she had to be rescued from her house by a crane. Full of emotion, this book will really tug at you as you see the characters struggling with their own doubts and ultimately coming together to make each other stronger.

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Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

You guys, I was so emotionally invested in this book. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more happy with an ending. It’s about a girl whose mom died and her dad soon after remarried and uprooted their midwestern life to big city LA. The story follows her as she struggles to fit in at a private school with a stepmother and brother she can’t stand, still still reeling in grief from losing her mother. On one of her first days of school she begins to receive anonymous emails from somebody at school that wants to help her out, but also isn’t emotionally ready to get involved with her in person. I think I’m greatly addicted to books where characters fall in love through letters (P.S. I Like You!), but this is seriously another awesome one.

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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

This is a somber, but enthralling story about a Lithuanian girl and her mother and little brother who are sent to a Soviet work camp during World War II. It’s definitely sad, but also beautifully written and surprisingly positive. This is a portion of history that I was completely unaware of before reading this book. Their story was harrowing and insightful.

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It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

Colleen Hoover is one of my favorite authors of books I literally cannot put down. This is her newest book and while it’s not my favorite of hers, I thoroughly enjoyed it. All of her books are deep and real, diving into the characters’ deepest pain, while still showing us a fantastic evolving relationship.

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Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

I mentioned this the other day in my Favorite Things post. This is definitely one of the best books I read all year. I’m kind of obsessed with finding new and intriguing nonfiction books to read, but really horrible at following through on them. I only have so much time a day to read and my fiction selections usually win out. But this is a nonfiction title I couldn’t put down. It really spoke to me about the kind of person I want to be when it comes to my family, my friends, and opening my home and heart to the people around me. It’s kind of a food memoir, but also a lot about faith and entertaining and life in general. I loved her writing style and am greatly looking forward to reading all of her other books in the coming months.

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A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

I picked up this book because Molly Wizenberg is one of my favorite podcasters on Spilled Milk.Β I was also a lot more interested in checking out other food memoirs after readingΒ Bread & Wine. I really enjoyed reading more about Molly’s life and how food impacted her story. The chapters are short and always followed by a recipe. It was a great book to pick up when I just needed a five minute break from something else.

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The Cookies & Cups Cookbook by Shelly Jaronsky

No book list of mine will be complete without a cookbook thrown in the mix. πŸ™‚ Once upon a time, my cookbook shelf was filled with dessert books. I wanted to be a baker and I found my greatest joy in making treats to share with people. In more recent years I realized that I really better learn more about cooking and actually making healthy and fulfilling meals. But occasionally I get wind of a new dessert cookbook that I just have to check out. This one was well worth the money! I think I got the book in November and I’ve used it at least ten times since then. Many delicious recipes to try and love!

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The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

I picked this book up because my mom talks about them a lot and there’s been a ton of buzz around the internet about it. I’ve never seen their show Fixer Upper and I barely knew a thing about this couple. But I loved the book! It was really interesting to learn about the love story of a real life couple. But I found it especially inspiring to read about the business side of their lives. These two people followed their passions again and again and carved out a professional life for themselves that is completely dream worthy. It was a little bit overwhelming to see how far they’ve come just by doing the things they love and never giving up. It’s given me more confidence to dream more about my own life, though, and where I want to go with my business and other passions in the coming years.

After going through my list, I’m thinking I might need to go back and write more posts on books I loved from other years. 2015 was a great year of books and I’d love to share some more recommendations for you. In the meantime, though, I would LOVE to hear some of your favorite books of the year!

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Sunday Intentions

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It’s Christmas week already! This month has really flown by. I think as a whole I’ve had the best and most enjoyable December I’ve had in a long time. Spending it in our own house has definitely been a huge plus. With the extra decorations, trees in almost every room, and space to spread out, it’s been easier to breathe and slow down and enjoy life. I had my priorities straight this year, knowing what would trigger my stress and avoiding it as much as possible. Though I’ve also found myself pretty crabby the last few days and feeling a bit resentful about what I set aside in order to get Christmas things done in a timely matter, throw a few parties, and feel totally prepared for this week ahead. Between moving, a major garage sale, and Christmas stuff, this is the fourth month this year I’ve taken almost entirely off from sewing. This is supposed to be my job now, where I put most of my daytime hours and energy. But I never feel like it’s allowed to be my priority. Other things ALWAYS come up. Other things always feel like they need to be more important, even though a lot of the time it’s not really what I want to do. It felt worth it at the time, but it also frustrates me that four months into calling Heartstring Annie my full time job, it’s really not even close to being my reality. But that’s something I need to figure out in the new year. I had my day of resentment yesterday, but I’m pretty much over it now. πŸ™‚ December has been really good so far. I needed the extra time to relax and I loved having more of myself to give my family and friends. I can buckle down and get to work in January.

Looking at the week ahead, my to do list is pretty slim! Which is exactly how I was hoping this month would work out for me. I need to get some groceries – lots of food for quick, easy, last minute meals. I never know when we’re going to be eating at my parents’ or in-law’s with extra family in town, so it’s easier to keep things really simple around the holidays. No new recipes or elaborate dinner plans. I suppose I should also do some baking this week. I love baking, but can never find much enthusiasm for it around Christmas. I just feel like everybody is so overloaded with treats that it’s pointless to stress over making a lot. I’ll have to narrow it down two or three favorites to bring to the get togethers later in the week. Other than that? Just the usual laundry and housework! I wanted to view this week as my real vacation before the craziness of hyper kids and lots of family time, so I’m totally fine with not much on my lists the next few days.

Basically my only real intention for this week is to be present. I want to be fully available to enjoy every minute of Christmas this year. I’m really looking forward to our family Christmas on Thursday night. We have Greg’s huge extended family party on Friday night. Then Christmas celebrations and present openings with both of our families on Christmas Eve. And finally having Santa come to our new house for the first time on Christmas Day! It should all be very memorable and sweet.

I’m not going to bother with meal plans this week. Whatever happens, happens. If all else fails, we can just eat all the cheese and meat I have left over from my Favorite Things party. πŸ™‚

I hope everybody else has a wonderful Christmas week! Don’t stress over the little things!

Favorite Things Party

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Last night I threw my annual Favorite Things Party. I started this last year and quickly decided it’s my favorite Christmas tradition that I do solely for myself and my friends. It’s a really unique way to get people together and have a gift exchange that’s a little more exciting than your typical white elephant ordeal. It’d be fun for any time of the year, but especially festive around Christmas!

I did some research on favorite things parties and everybody does it a little differently. A common theme is to have a set number of participants and then everybody picks one favorite thing and brings enough of it for each person at the party to take one home. I love that idea, but I imagine it could get really expensive really quick. So I altered the rules a bit and asked everybody to bring three of their favorite things. It could all be the same thing, though variety is sometimes a lot more fun. At the party everybody writes their name on three slips of paper and then we take turns going around the room and drawing names for each of our gifts. It’s exciting to see what everybody brought and always fun to get three presents back for yourself!

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Last year I threw this party in the morning for my fellow stay at home moms. It was fun, but also a bit more chaotic with a bunch of little people running around. This year I wanted it to feel more special and celebratory, so I planned it at night and was able to invite some of my working friends as well.

My favorite party food these days is a well planned cheese board, so that was the focus of our “meal.” πŸ™‚

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I also bought a package of fancy Italian meats from Costco. I realized I most definitely do not like fancy meat, so if anybody wants all the leftovers…

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I also made a veggie pizza wreath.

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And a cranberry salsa that was so easy and so delicious!

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I wanted to keep all the party food relatively simple and stress free to make, so I bought some fancy chocolates, made my favorite cookies, and my new favorite salty caramel corn treat from my favorite cookbook of the year: The Cookies & Cups Cookbook.

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I had a hot chocolate bar.

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And wine! The pink moscato from Innocent Bystander is my all time favorite wine. (Seeing a theme, here? :))

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The gift pile. A lot of people asked me if they should wrap their presents or not and I suggested not since you usually say what and why you brought each thing. But I guess everybody preferred to wrap anyway! πŸ™‚ We had a really nice selection this year, with 14 people at the party. Some items included books, coloring books, wine, blanket, coffee, socks, notebooks, pens, movies, mugs, lotions, and a wide variety of sweet treats.

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Last year I knew exactly what I wanted to bring and this year I had a lot harder time narrowing it down. I wanted to give things that were truly my favorite, but would also make a nice gift for someone to take home. The book Bread & Wine is one of the best I’ve read this year. It was my first venture into the food memoir genre, which has quickly become of my favorite types of book to read. But it’s also about friendship, family, entertaining, faith, and simply finding joy in the people around you and the food that nourishes you. I adored this book.

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The second gift I brought was a Turkish towel. I discovered the awesomeness of these towels this past spring. I found it to be the absolute perfect little blanket to toss in my purse for park outings, baseball games, and even the pool. They’re bigger than your average towel, but extremely lightweight and fold up SO tiny. I have two of them and I’ve used them many times for a variety of purposes.

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I really struggled with my third gift. Most of my favorite things are more abstract or a bit too expensive for this kind of exchange. I really hesitated about giving a media item since everybody’s tastes are so different. But I loved this CD so much I had to do it. I’ve never even heard of JJ Heller before, but I randomly came across her new Christmas album on Spotify and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since. It has all of my favorite Christmas songs on it, but they sound so fresh and unique. I totally love it.

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Overall, I’d call the party a raging success! πŸ™‚ I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Sunday Intentions

Tonight’s post feels a little obsolete after last night’s musings on slowing down and not being so centered on my to do list. This weekend has shown me again how little control I have over basically anything. We had a plumbing issue come up where our basement drainage area is slowly flooding. Obviously the more water we use in the rest of the house, the worse the basement area becomes. But it also slowly drains away if we’re not using water for awhile. I’m hoping this is a relatively easy and inexpensive fix by a plumber. But being a new homeowner, every little thing that might go wrong fills me with dread and worry. I always imagine the worst. Tonight I am very stressed out, very tired after another mostly sleepless night listening to Shepard’s nonstop coughing, and not as excited about my week as I was before all these problems arose.

But life goes on. My intentions for the week are to just get through it! I was very excited about spending the first few days of this week wrapping presents and getting ready for my Favorite Things party on Wednesday. I need to do a little cleaning, a little shopping, and then the fun will begin. But presumably now I will be waiting on a plumber. Hopefully right away tomorrow so I won’t have to put off laundry and longer showers and dishes for more than another day. Besides dealing with that, wrapping presents, and having a party, I just need to get everyone through the week. The more I can accomplish in Christmas related prep the better. But if I can’t do it all…that’s okay. All of our schedules are really screwy this week so I think it’s going to be more than enough just keeping everybody happy.

Meal Plan – kind of a joke this week, but here goes:

Monday – Leftover tacos from today’s birthday party for my dad

Tuesday – Probably chicken nuggets or whatever else I can unearth from the freezer. Greg will be in Chicago for a work party.

Wednesday – Greg is taking the boys out while I have my Favorite Things party!

Thursday – Greg and Caden are seeing the new Star Wars movie and I’m not sure if they’re planning on eating there or not. Shepard gets to go to Drumfit with me, so we’ll eat something fast and easy.

Friday – Greg and I were planning to have a late Madison date night after he sees a movie with his dad (split date!) while the boys sleep over at my parents’ house. But…apparently we’re due for another giant snowstorm, so I’m not sure any of that will happen. In that case…pizza, as usual for Friday nights.

Hopefully this week will go much more smoothly than I’m anticipating! Home ownership is sure to come with many issues and I need to get used to it. The timing is just pretty terrible. But we’ll survive. πŸ™‚