Friday, January 31, 2014

{brave} A Review of January's Goals and Lessons Learned

1. Being brave creatively: cross-stitch something difficult and turn it into a wall hanging.  Did not complete.  The Mother Teresa cross-stitch kit that I chose from my stash has turned out to be much more time intensive than I thought!  I'm still working bit by bit, though, and I'm going to continue into February.  Hopefully I'll be able to share next month.

2. Being brave in the kitchen: make a warm breakfast at least three times a week.  Complete!  Some days were a stretch (Eggo waffles count as a warm breakfast, right?), but most of the time, I was able to easily accomplish this before school.  We had lots of eggs and bacon, quiche, and pancakes.  

3. Being brave in my giving: donate items to our church's Refugee Services.  While we did not actually donate our items to Refugee Services, I still consider this one complete.  We read in our church bulletin about a local organization that receives donations to give to community members in need.  Any extras go into their thrift store, where the proceeds also go to the community.  Win/win and all for a great cause.   

4. Read two books.  Done!  This month, I read Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption and Stepping Heavenward.  Both were very good.

5. Launch the Big White Farmhouse shop!  We launched on Monday the 13th and had such a positive response.  I am so humbled by the excitement and support I have received.    

6. Stay up to date in my Bible reading. I wasn't sure if I would be able to pull this off, but I squeezed in the last chapters right under the wire!  

7. Walk #40milesinjanuary.  Complete!  
Walking all month was a huge adjustment for me, but I ended up loving it!  Grand total of mileage: exactly 40 miles.  

8. Make my handwriting a font.  Didn't happen in January, but I'm hoping to download the app soon.  

9. Finally install the art wall in the master bedroom.  
Complete!  Projects like these make me wonder what took me so long.  I hung the frames on a rainy Saturday morning and knocked it out in no time.  I love how it turned out!  

10. Embrace the camera and get at least one picture with the entire family in it.  Partial success.  I took a few pictures of myself with the kids, but we didn't get one of the entire family.  We need to remedy that in February.

11. Catch up on all correspondence.  Close, but not complete.  I did write all of my thank yous, but didn't finish my penpal letters (seven to go!).  I also did not write to my Compassion kids this month, which is a habit I really want to change.       

12. Monthly challenge: No Sugar January.  I would consider this a partial success.  While I did splurge on a few occasions, the new habits I gained made the whole experiment worth it.  More lessons below.   

Honorable mention: I checked off eight items on my "100 Little Things" list.
Bonus: I wrote on the blog more than once a week all month and even popped over to write on the shop blog a few times.

Lessons from the No Sugar Challenge:
I needed this challenge to lose a few bad habits and get back on track to balanced eating.  I fell off the clean eating wagon a few times, but it served as a good reminder: when your diet is full of nutritious things, you just don't desire the other stuff as much.  That's not to say that I'll never indulge in a piece of cheesecake again, but I definitely have regained a better sense of moderation.  
Other Lessons from the Month:
While I love a challenge, most of the goals here required quite a bit of time to accomplish.  As a mamma to four, with a house to maintain and a new business to run, sometimes something just has to give.  And that's okay.  The monthly goals are a good way for me to stay intentional, but I don't feel like a failure if I don't complete everything.  I'm choosing to celebrate all I did do instead.

See you in February!

Monday, January 27, 2014

{BWF} Behind the Scenes: Our Packaging

Today is the beginning of a new series here on the blog, a peek behind the scenes of Big White Farmhouse!    I hope to pop in every so often to share about all the aspects of small business ownership, especially as I venture out into uncharted territory.  I know I have lots to learn along the way and maybe my experience will be helpful to someone too.  (Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas for the series!)

For the first installment, I thought I'd start with my favorite part of Big White Farmhouse: packaging up new orders!  

When you buy from Big White Farmhouse, we want you to feel like you've become a part of the family.  Each item purchased from us is wrapped in our signature kraft paper and red twine.  A handwritten thank you note is also included in every order.  Eventually, we may add a secret bonus in the envelope too...still thinking about that one!  The look is simple, but we hope it conveys to our customers that they are special.  Andrea and I think the little details are as important as the big ones.    

Only a few more days to save 15% site-wide at our Grand Opening Sale!  
Ending Friday, January 31. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

{around here} Week of 1.20.14

We had such a good week!  Everyone was home on Monday because of the holiday.  We stayed in our pajamas, watched movies and relaxed after a weekend of entertaining.  Then Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were snow days!  I know M is ready to get back to school and his friends.  

Have you been over to Bonnie's blog to vote for the 2014 Sheenazing Blogger Awards yet?  I was so surprised to see that I have been nominated for Best Lifestyle blog!  I'm in the running with a lot of better blogs than mine, but the nomination made my whole week. (Thank you, whoever you are, for nominating me!)  

#40milesinjanuary update: I'm getting close!  As of this writing, I am at 37 miles.  This is the first time ever that I have met (and hopefully surpassed) one of these Instagram challenges.  I am so excited for next month.  

I am reading Stepping Heavenward, a gift from a penpal, and loving it!  Have you read it?  

As you can see from the picture above, I made the mistake of leaving my cross-stitch project on the table and J's little hands couldn't resist trying it out.  Fortunately, the destruction wasn't terrible and I'm actually a little impressed! :)

I wrote a little post on the shop blog about my Gram and her passion for education.  That little pocket dictionary is one of my most prized possessions.  And one more shop note: We have one more week for our Grand Opening Sale over at Big White Farmhouse!  15% off site-wide until January 31st.    
Have a wonderful weekend, friends!  Stay warm!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

{saving our pennies} Three Money Saving Apps We Use and Love

My husband and I have big goals in the financial realm for 2014.  As you may have seen in my 100 Little Things post, we are hoping to pay off our van, credit card and student loan.  It's daunting, but we can't wait to be debt-free and have that weight gone!

One of the easy ways to trim the budget a bit is through our groceries.  I am embarrassed to admit that we were previously so wasteful with our money: eating out way too much, throwing away too much expired and rotten was bad.  With the new year came a new commitment and so far, so good!  Getting rid of the bad habits is a good, good thing.

Today, I thought I'd share three apps I use on my phone that have helped me save some money in the grocery department.  At first, it doesn't seem like much, but every little bit helps and it does add up!    

1. Cartwheel: We have a Super Target nearby and I'm there at least once a week.  The Cartwheel App is so great!  There are tons of offers for 5-10% (sometimes more!) off different products and they update regularly.  

There are two features that I find especially helpful:
A. When I prepare beforehand: The search bar is so helpful when I am making a grocery list at home.  I type in the items I plan to buy and see if there are any corresponding offers to put in my Cartwheel "cart".  
B. At the store: If I don't have a chance to prepare before I get to the store, I use the UPC scanning option to check each item that goes in my cart.    

When you get to checkout, you simply show your cashier the barcode, they scan it and done!  So easy!  I've been using the app for a few months now and I've already saved about $70.  Every little bit adds up!

2. Ibotta: This is a fairly new one for me, but I like it!  Basically, it is an app where you can earn cash back for purchasing participating products.  This video from the Krazy Coupon Lady is really helpful and explains it better than I can.  I often don't purchase a lot of the items they offer, but I keep checking back just in case.  I also like that when you reach a certain amount ($5, I think?), you can cash out right to your Paypal account.    

3. emeals: Oh man, has this one changed my life!  Back in December, I purchased a year-long membership to emeals to help me with meal planning.  It has been worth every penny.  We have eaten delicious, healthy meals every night since!  The mobile app that accompanies the plan is amazing.  My favorite part is the grocery list.  I follow along as I run through the store and I love how you can check each item off as you put it in your cart.  Makes grocery shopping so easy!  I also like that it keeps me on track.  If it's not on the list, it doesn't go in my cart.  It's a great reminder to stick to the plan and avoid the impulse buys.

What tips do you use to save money on your groceries?  Do you coupon?  I'd love to know your secrets!

Monday, January 20, 2014

{link list} Monday Morning Link List

There is just so much goodness around the internet lately.  Here are a few links I've found for your Monday reading:
  • I love the idea of Thank You Thursdays (found over at Tabitha's blog, Team Studer).  I think I want to do a similar idea with handwritten letters to family, friends and even that blog/Instagram friend I've never met.  The wheels are turning!
  • I wished I lived closer to Atlanta so I could check out this amazing store that Anna found.  Looks so cool.
  • Love these baskets and I'm tempted to pick up a few for my closet office.
  • This post about self care was really great.  Winter seems to be the time of year when I tend to fall into a rut, so I'm making a simple list of things I'd like to work on.
  • These Raw Oatmeal Cookie Bites look easy and delicious.
  • Did you read this post: How to Keep the Toys from Taking Over?  WOW.  Just the inspiration I need as I work on revamping our playroom to work better for us.
Any great links that you've found lately?  Fill me in!

Friday, January 17, 2014

(around here) Week of 1.13.14

Monday was the Big White Farmhouse launch!  What an amazing day.  I got a lump in my throat on multiple occasions as I watched our Facebook numbers grow and the orders come in.  So excited to see where this adventure takes us!

Overheard J talking to Sophie: "Come over here, darlin'!"  
And then later talking to me: "J, where are you?" "Be right there, darlin'!"

I wrote a little post on the shop blog about an easy gift idea using our tea towels.  The banana bread recipe is delicious!

Still going strong on my #40milesinjanuary.  As of this morning, I'm at 25.3 miles!  

M brought home a Good Character Award from school for being caring and compassionate.  My heart is so full of pride for that boy.  I often question if I'm cut out for this parenting gig, so I took this as a sign that I must be doing something right.    

This weekend: a visit from the in-laws!

See you on Monday, friends!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

{2014 challenges} No Sugar January: the Halfway Point

{adorable sugar bowl made by Paulova Ceramics}

Hello.  My name is Ashley and I am addicted to sugar.  What is it about the holidays and falling completely off track?  The past few months have been especially bad.  When it comes to sweets, I tend to be an all or nothing kind of girl.  I can't just have a piece of chocolate and put the rest away.  Oh no!  That chocolate calls to me from the cupboard (in a secret spot away from little hands!) until I devour the rest!  

With the new year, I knew I needed a detox to lose a few bad habits and re-gain a bunch of good ones.  I wanted to cleanse my insides a bit and get rid of some of my belly bloat.  I also knew that a better diet would inspire me to consistently exercise again.  So No Sugar January, a 30 day challenge, was born!  

My rules:
+ No sweets: cookies, ice cream, cheesecake, brownies, etc. are all off limits.
+ Nothing with artificial sweeteners. 
+ Natural sugars (in the form of fresh and dried fruit) are allowed.
+ This is not Whole30.  Gluten is allowed, but try to limit how much I eat.
+ Traces of sugar seem to be in everything, so try to eat as raw and clean as possible.
I've been keeping a bit of a daily diary through the process.  Take a peek:
DAY 1 | Feeling positive.  This is going to be easy!  DAY 2 | I have a minor headache that has lingered all day.  DAY 3 | The headache is back...thank goodness this is the worst of the detoxing so far!  DAY 4 | I've re-discovered that I'm an emotional eater.  I had a hard day with the kids and I just want a bowl of ice cream!  DAY 5 | French onion meatballs and green beans for dinner...yum.  DAY 6 | Starting to crave smoothies as my something sweet.  Bringing the fruit & spinach smoothies back into regular rotation.  DAY 7 | Italian chicken with broccoli for dinner, which was gobbled up by everyone.  I had a double serving of the broccoli...who am I?  DAY 8 | Jumped on the scale today "just to see" and I'm down almost a pound and a half.  Good push to keep going!  DAY 9 | A couple of dried apricots seems to satisfy my sweet tooth.  DAY 10 | Dinner was pork stir-fry with lots of veggies.  Delicious.  DAY 11 | The boys asked for chocolate chip cookies.  I bought some (which I never do) because I don't trust myself to not lick the batter.  DAY 12 | While walking today, I happily discovered that I felt no lingering aching or pain in my ankle.  Maybe there's a connection to the change in diet?  DAY 13 | Today was the launch of Big White Farmhouse and I decided to break the "no sugar fast" to celebrate with an apple fritter.  Tasted good going down, but I had a belly ache later.  Worth it.  DAY 14 | Even with the taste of sugar yesterday, I feel ready to continue the challenge.  I think there's a lesson in moderation here.  

Two weeks down, two to go!  

Monday, January 13, 2014

{dreams} Big White Farmhouse the Boutique is LIVE!

Words cannot describe how excited I am to write today's post!

It has been a long time since I last talked about my dream of Big White Farmhouse, the boutique.  The road was quite a bit longer than we expected, but perseverance pays off.  I am so excited to tell you that Big White Farmhouse is live and ready for business!

A little bit about the vision of our store: 
Big White Farmhouse is a family affair, created by my cousin Andrea and me.  The shop stems from the same roots as my blog - we hope to honor the life of our great-grandmother through our love for home decor.  Our Gram was such an amazing lady and has greatly influenced our lives.  We hope to share a bit of her with you!  We are passionate about supporting the small American artisan and all of our items are proudly made in the USA.  We carry a mix of new items and vintage finds, so you may just find a one-of-a-kind piece!

We plan on "opening" our farmhouse one room at time.  We decided to start with the kitchen because well, it's our favorite place in Grammie's farmhouse.  So many of our childhood memories stem from sitting around the big table, the room loud with conversation and laughter.  The kitchen truly was (and still is!) the heart of Gram's home.  

A few of my favorite products in the Kitchen Collection:

The "Stir" Tea Towel is graphic and simple and I love the look of it on the oven door.  It is one of three different designs we carry, the other two being "Whisk" and "Roll & Pat".  They make great gifts too! 

The Linen Half Apron is most definitely something I think could be become an heirloom piece!  No detail has gone unnoticed, from the stitching to the pleating.  It is beautiful and functional.  We also carry a full apron in a brown linen.

These candles smell delicious!  My personal favorite is the Grapefruit + Mangosteen.  The other scents we carry are Vanilla, Cucumber Sage + Lavender, and Basil + Herb.

The wooden Letterpress Recipe Box is another item I think could easily be passed down from generation to generation.  We have a bunch of Gram's old recipes and they are priceless to us!  We carry recipe cards in two different designs to fill up your box, Farm Fresh Eggs and Mason Jar.

One last item, although I'd love to share them all!  This white Ironstone Platter is part of the Vintage Finds collection.  It has a bit of wear and tear, but we love the look and can only imagine the story it could tell.

To celebrate, we've made every item in the store 15% off!  No coupon codes necessary!  
Sale will be available until January 31, 2014. 

You can connect with us over on Facebook and Pinterest.  One last thing: I'd love for you to sign up below to get on our mailing list!  Andrea and I are working to make sure our monthly e-mails are ones you will actually look forward to, including coupon codes, recipes, family stories and more!

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Friday, January 10, 2014

{around here} Week of 1.6.14

When he heard me complain that the kids rarely all liked my dinners, M said: "You always cook with love and I can taste it when I put my chompers in it."

Tuesday was bitterly cold for us in Virginia, so much so, that school was cancelled!  Temperatures reached as low as 5 degrees with the wind chill into negative digits.  

I'm on track for my #40milesinjanuary with a current total of about 12 miles.  Exclusively walking is an adjustment for me and a bit more of a time commitment, but I'm enjoying it.  I walked on the treadmill and found it the perfect opportunity to read!  I'm flying through Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  Excellent so far.

I loved the imagery from this verse in this week's Bible readings: "The valiant one whose steps are guided by the Lord, who will delight in his way, May stumble, but he will never fall, for the Lord holds his hand." -Psalm 37:23-24 (emphasis mine)

Plans for the weekend: a trip to Target for frames, prepping for a visit from the in-laws next weekend, and preparing for the Big White Farmhouse shop launch on Monday!  

See you next week, friends!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

{in the kitchen} A Month of Warm Breakfasts: Cheesy Hashbrown Crusted Quiche

Winter has hit us in Virginia in a big way.  Is it the same where you live?  We've had frigid temperatures and even snow!  It's the perfect time of year for warm, hearty breakfasts before heading out the door in the morning.  But if I'm being honest, lazy Mamma tends to show her face these days.  Too often, I just pour a bowl of cereal and call it done.  It's a habit I want to change.

This January, I'm committing to making a warm breakfast for my family at least three times a week.  Today I thought I would share a recipe we made last weekend, a Cheesy Hashbrown Crusted Quiche.  

2 cups frozen hash browns, thawed
12 oz package cubed ham (I used about 3/4 of the package)
½ cup chopped green bell pepper (you could also do a cup of thinly sliced zucchini)
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
salt and pepper
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray. Press hash browns into bottom and up sides of pie plate. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Layer ham and bell pepper over hash brown crust. Whisk together eggs, milk, and seasoon with salt and pepper; pour over all in pie plate. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until center is set. Sprinkle with cheese; bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 6, 2014

{brave} January's Goals

January's goals are exciting and scary, but I suppose that's the point when you are trying to be brave, right?  The first three are specific to the areas I want to work on this year (creativity, food and giving), but I hope to complete all twelve.  Here's January's list:    

1. Being brave creatively: cross-stitch something difficult and turn it into a wall hanging.
2. Being brave in the kitchen: make a warm breakfast at least three times a week.
3. Being brave in my giving: donate items to our church's Refugee Services.
4. Read two books.  Let me know if you have any favorites!  I'm always open to recommendations.
5. Launch the Big White Farmhouse shop!  I am so excited (and nervous!) about this one.  Stay tuned for lots of exciting announcements!
6. Stay up to date in my Bible reading.  Back in November, I decided that I wanted to tackle an item on my life list: reading the Bible in one year.  This month, I am in Leviticus, Numbers and Psalms!
7. Walk #40milesinjanuary.  Due to an ankle injury, I haven't run in a little over a month.  I'm still not fully healed, so I am easing back into exercise by walking and following along with my fellow running ladies on Instagram. 
8. Make my handwriting a font.  One of my penpals introduced this idea and I'm excited to try it out.
9. Finally install the art wall in the master bedroom.  Those frames have been sitting on the floor for way too long.
10. Embrace the camera and get at least one picture with the entire family in it.
11. Catch up on all correspondence.  I'm looking at you, penpal letters, thank you notes and letters to my Compassion kids.
12. No sugar all month.  By far the hardest goal, but I need this detox ASAP.  Wish me luck.

What are your goals for January?  Share in the comments or leave a link to your post. I'd love to hear them!

Friday, January 3, 2014

{brave} 100 Little Things in 2014

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen the photo where I shared about the fun worksheets I found on Pinterest the other day.  Michelle created them as a less intimidating way to accomplish your goals.  I love how she says, "It's the little things in life that end up becoming the big things when you look back on your memories."

Goal-setting is one of my favorite activities and I really enjoyed the brainstorm process with these worksheets.  My list is a jumble of different things: paying off specific debt, craft projects to try, small home improvements, races to run, places nearby to see, activities and memories to make with the kids. I may not cross off every item this year, but it's always fun to dream and plan.

I've had a few requests to share the specifics, so here is my list.  I'll be back throughout the year to cross things off as I complete them. I hope it will inspire you to write out your own!

1. Pay off credit card
2. Pay off student loan
3. Pay off minivan
4. Save $1400 using the 52 week plan
5. Hire someone to paint the foyer and kitchen -August 2014
6. Read the entire Bible
7. Run a half marathon
8. Run 3 races
9. Simplify in a big way!
10. No Sugar January -January 2014
11. Whole30
12. Read 15 books - (14/15)
13. Install art wall in the master bedroom -January 2014
14. Make silhouettes of the kids
15. Launch Big White Farmhouse, the Boutique -January 13, 2014!
16. Visit Chicago -April 2014
17. Get carpets cleaned
18. Blog consistently (at least once a week)
19. See a movie in theaters
20. Reduce body fat to 19%
21. Potty train J -April 2014
22. Picnic lunch as a family -July 2014
23. Beat Mark at Words with Friends -January 2014
24. Make my handwriting a font
25. Make jam
26. Join the library
27. Learn to knit or crochet
28. Sew a dress for Sophie
29. Grow succulents
30. Start the Cookie Project -March 2014
31. Give a big tip at a restaurant -February 2014
32. Do a blog post about Stitchfix and model the clothes
33. Wear red lipstick
34. Learn how to curl my hair
35. Make a quilt
36. Cook fish
37. Try a new vegetable
38. Make a gluten-free dessert -March 2014
39. Make a Blurb book for IG 2013 pictures -February 2014
40. Go antiquing -May 2014
41. Run/Walk at least a mile a day for 30 days -July & August 2014
42. Find and hang curtains in guest room
43. Spend a week in Maine
44. Write down all the kids' birth stories
45. Purchase a lamp for the living room -January 2014
46. Open a second part/room to the BWF Boutique -The Garden in May 2014
47. Help D prepare for Kindergarten -May & June 2014
48. Self portrait challenge for 30 days
49. Give away 30 things on my birthday
50. Repaint kitchen table
51. Get to the dentist -July 2014
52. Buy new oven mitts -October 2014
53. Hold second Pajama Drive -October 2014
54. Deep clean bathrooms -January 2014
55. Hang up bathroom art and jewelry rack -January 2014
56. Send 3 "just because" gifts -finished August 2014
57. Organize kitchen utensil drawer -February 2014
58. Make my own salsa
59. Go to the American History Museum
60. Put wreaths on Arlington Cemetery
61. Go apple picking
62. Begin learning about photography and shooting in manual -December 2014
63. Donate 100 things challenge -April & May 2014
64. Go to the Air and Space Museum
65. Make pasta from scratch
66. Plant a mini herb garden
67. Watch 10 documentaries -May 2014
68. Have a picture printed on canvas -July 2014
69. Pray a novena -May 2014
70. Find a way to organize all the Legos -summer 2014
71. Hang curtains in the kitchen -May 2014
72. Send a care package to a college student
73. "Real" date night 4x (out of the house, dressed up)
74. Write Mark love letters at least once a month
75. Find a vintage globe to start a collection
76. Host another Penpal Circle signup
77. Hang curtains in Sophie's room -December 2014
78. Buy a new dress -March 2014
79. Practice stretching on a regular basis
80. Make an office inside the guest room closet -February 2014
81. Bake a cake
82. Donate hair for Locks of Love
83. Take the boys to the movies -February 2014, the Lego Movie!
84. Paint the boys' room
85. Finish my first gratitude journal
86. Work on gallery wall in Sophie's room
87. Do a Bible study -June 2014
88. Invite someone over for dinner -Fr. V in January, "I" Family in May
89. Make a pie
90. Plant something in my hanging baskets
91. Attend a wedding -December 2014
92. Write a letter everyday for 30 days
93. Read a book about Mother Teresa -July 2014
94. Buy big girl pajamas
95. Make felt ornaments for the tree
96. Host a game night
97. Grow tomatoes
98. Use up a lot of my scrapbook stash
99. Make sorbet
100. Make a list for 2015!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Word for 2014: Brave

Happy New Year!  I hope you had a wonderful holiday and are feeling rejuvenated and excited for 2014.  I know I am!

Last year, I participated in the practice of choosing one little word to define my year.  Back then, I was an overwhelmed mamma who was tired of just coasting through life.  I felt like I was standing on the sidelines and I really wanted to fully experience all this precious life had to offer!  Knowing that this goal would take some effort, I chose the word "intention" and it has been amazing how much that one word has guided me. 

After a lot of thought and prayer, I've decided that 2014's word will be a further extension of the idea of intention. 

My word for this year is brave.

I want to get uncomfortable.  I want to push myself to do things I've never done before.  I want to try things that scare and intimidate me.  I want to fully allow myself to be molded and used by God.

Each month, I've decided to focus on three areas:
1. In the Kitchen: I want to try new recipes, learn new techniques, and embrace the joy of feeding my family instead of eating out.
2. Creatively: I want to branch out to new ideas and materials.  I want to create beautiful things with my own hands.
3. Giving: Giving back is such an important thing for me and I want to do even bigger things this year.

Of course, there will be so much more.  And as always, I plan to use this space to share my experience along the way.  I hope you'll follow along!
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