Saturday, October 31, 2015

{house to home} 31 Days of Contentment: What I've Learned

Day 31.

Technically, my final count will be 29 out of 31 days...not exactly perfect, but not too shabby either.  Writing everyday, and writing things with actual substance, is hard.  My brain was pretty fried about two weeks in, but I'm glad I persevered.

On October 1, I asked the questions: What does contentment mean?  Is it something that you can really achieve?  What role does contentment play in having a thriving life?  

For the past month, I have spent a lot of time in my head.  I wrestled through eight steps to greater contentment, thinking about what I was doing well and what I could improve on.  And after 31 days of studying myself and my life under a microscope, I still don't feel like I have an easy answer to those questions above.  

Here's what I do know: Contentment is a choice.  Every single day, I have the choice.  

Contentment requires practice and dedication.  It requires looking beyond myself, especially above and in front of me.  It requires a heart that is quiet and a heart that is grateful, even in the hard, messy parts of life.  

I don't think I've reached a content life yet, but I'd like to think I'm a few baby steps closer.


On a light-hearted note, another takeaway from this challenge is that some people enjoy hearing from me every single day...and some people don't!  I think I lost a few followers this month.  I'll be taking a little bit of a breather next week (and you can take a break from me too!), but I'll be back Friday with our weekly update.  I also have a fun announcement coming in November, so stay tuned for that too.

Thanks for hanging with me this month, listening to the ramblings of a conflicted, introverted thinker.  Thank you also for sharing your thoughts with me and making me feel less alone.

To catch up on all of my posts from the 31 Days of Contentment series, start here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

{around here} Week 43/52: Week of 10.26.15

A collection of our ordinary days, recorded every week.  At the end of the year, I'll publish them into a keepsake to treasure.

Around here, I have been:

watching the big kids play chess all day, everyday.  They are obsessed.  

preparing for our family pictures this weekend.  My friend Lucy is taking them for us and I've been scrambling trying to find coordinating clothes for all of us to wear.  Can't wait to finally have a picture of all seven of us together!

reading All the Light We Cannot See.

changing up our Halloween costume choices last minute.  We originally went the DIY ninja route, which ended up looking a little too similar to a certain terror group, so we scrapped those plans and started over.  The boys are now going as Zorro, Deathstroke, and Wolverine.  Mark surprised Sophia with a Cinderella dress (her very first!) and I wish I had taken a picture of the look on her face.  It was as if her Daddy had purchased for her the most expensive, exquisite ballgown she'd ever seen.   

"picking" (quite anticlimactically) pumpkins from a bin at Target.  Our schedule has been so crazy, we never made it to the farm and with time not on our side, we opted for convenience.  We were at Target to look for pieces for their costumes, so why not hit two birds with one stone?  The kids didn't seem to mind a bit and I loved the price - if you wait last minute, you get a nice-sized one for three bucks!

finding a stuffed monkey all around the house.  We recently watched Night at the Museum for movie night and Dexter the monkey was a huge hit.  Now we've got him at home too!

loving the joy on TJ's face when he sees his sister.  Sophia always greets him with a hug and says he is her best friend.  I can't wait to watch their relationship grow.

homeschool notes:
+ I'm changing things up again in an attempt to make our mornings more peaceful.  We started "Morning Basket" time on Wednesday and so far, so good.
+ In history, we learned about the monks who wrote beautiful, ornate books by hand.  We watched a youtube video and then tried our hand at detailed illustrations too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

{contentment} Step Eight: Show Gratitude

It seems fitting, with November on the horizon, to end this series with gratitude.  While I'm terribly inconsistent (why is that?!), I tend to be much more content in life when I take the time to count my blessings.

Don't get me wrong.  Sometimes giving thanks is hard. 

In a pinch, I can quickly list off the easy ones: gorgeous sunsets, that first cup of coffee in the morning, the smiles of my children.  I'm thankful for the food in my fridge, checking off tasks on my to-do list, my husband's laughter.  I praise God for the brilliant red leaves on our tree outside, a full night's sleep, a homily that convicts me deeply.  But life isn't all sunshine and roses, is it?  Life is hard.

When we discovered my son may have a learning disability, it was hard to give thanks.  
When my marriage was crumbling, it was hard to give thanks.
When I struggled with crushing anxiety and depression, it was hard to give thanks.
When people in my life let me down, when earnest prayers felt like they went unanswered, when I felt so alone, it was hard to give thanks.


It's in these moments, the moments that are so difficult and feel so impossible, that I must muscle my way toward gratitude.  Even when I can't see the finish line, I trust that He does.

My son may have trouble reading, but dyslexia also means that he is a creative, out-of-the box thinker.     
My marriage almost ended a few years ago, but that trial by fire has reignited our love and commitment in a whole new way.
My postpartum hormones have brought me down dark and scary places, but have also forced me to learn about myself and how I work.
My disappointment and loneliness have brought me closer to Christ in a way I never have before.

Everything is a gift.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

{100 little things} Making a Celebration Basket & a Giveaway for YOU!

Earlier this year, we launched a new section of Big White Farmhouse and called it "Celebrations".  While the obvious occasions are birthdays, we also hoped it would inspire our customers to seek out and celebrate even the smallest moments: a good report card, a raise at work, the start of winter break.  There is so much to be thankful for and celebrate if we look for it.

Since then, I've been thinking a lot about childhood wonder and how simple things can seem so magical.  A scoop of ice cream for dessert can be instantly transformed when you dim the lights and light a candle on top.  Sunday dinner can be turned into a fancy event when you add fun straws to the plastic cups.  A banner with the words "YAY" can let a child know that you notice and are proud of his hard work at school.  These things aren't expensive or even that impressive, but I think that itty bit of effort can create memories that could be remembered forever.

So I've started collecting little things in what I'm calling a Celebration Basket.  I peek at Target's clearance for patterned napkins or paper plates.  I browse Homegoods for colorful cupcake liners and funky candles.  Slowly, I'm creating a collection of things so when those little moments come, I'll be ready to party.     

I want you to celebrate with your family too, so I started a mini collection to give away to one of you!

The Celebration Basket Prize Pack includes:
+ 2 packs of Celebrate Plates
+ DIY Chalkboard Banner
+ Red Striped Straws
+ Assorted Colored Candles
+ DIY Confetti Balloons from Big White Farmhouse
+ Confetti Packet from Big White Farmhouse

The giveaway is open until Saturday, October 31 at 12AM.  If the widget doesn't load, click on the Rafflecopter link below to enter.  Good luck!

Monday, October 26, 2015

{currently} 20 Things I Love: A Gratitude Journal vol.5

timing dinner perfectly with Mark's arrival from work
unexpected surprises in the mail
when inspiration hits
full on belly laughs
a mini Milky Way (or four)
writing daily in my commonplace book
chilly soccer games
zipping a skirt I didn't think would fit
giving up some control
a trunk full of donations
stepping outside of my comfort zone, even when it's scary
chess games at the table
33 Days to Morning Glory (I'm on Day 8!)
a basket piled high with clean, folded laundry
matching coffee mugs, a frivolous but special memento from our date
open-mouthed, slobbery kisses from TJ
Sharpies in all different colors
when Mark cleans the kitchen for me
my health
the opportunity to try again and again and again

Sunday, October 25, 2015

{contentment} Step Seven: Prioritize People & Look Out

We Mamas are busy, giving and giving and giving.  We're caring for children, keeping a house, on the go and here and there and everywhere.  That unconditional, self-pouring love is good.  But sometimes I can get so focused on my to-do list and daily tasks that I forget to spend a little time looking out.

Discontentment seems to rear its ugly head when I start to get caught up in "me": my to-do list, my dreams, my future plans, etc.  But life is so much bigger than me!  We all want to be seen, we all want to feel like we're not alone.  I want to do my part to let the people in my life know that I really see them.  I want them to know that I'm thankful for their support, their example, their love.  Truly, I am so blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life and I want to share that love with others too.   

Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”  I'm starting with them and then working my way out, one person at a time.

Here are a few ideas, in case you want to look out too: 

+ handwritten thank you notes
+ something to curb the nausea for a newly pregnant mama
+ cleaning supplies or a candle for a new homeowner
+ snack box for a college student's late night munchies
+ care package for someone who's mentioned on Facebook/blog post that they're struggling
+ drawings or paintings for grandmothers or those in assisted living/nursing home
+ flowers delivered to a friend going through a hard time
+ a remembrance gift for someone who lost a child or had a miscarriage

Links to check out:
Sincerely Monday: a gratitude project

Thank You Thursdays: a blog series at Team Studer

Friday, October 23, 2015

{around here} Week 42/52: Week of 10.19.15

A collection of our ordinary days, recorded every week.  At the end of the year, I'll publish them into a keepsake to treasure.

Around here, I have been:

refusing to turn on the heat yet.  We had a few cold mornings (like waking up to a 59 degree house) but that's what sweatshirts and blankets are for, right?

getting used to the idea of having a car payment again.  After his accident this summer (and the shoddy work done to fix it), Mark's car has been making some weird sounds, to the point where random people are commenting in concern.  I was hoping to have more time to save a significant down payment, but since he commutes so much, we thought it best to replace cars now instead of waiting and having him stranded on the interstate.  That debt though...grrr.  

enjoying the memories Mark and the boys are creating.  All of a sudden, the kids have been all about the idea of Zorro.  I find random Z's on their schoolwork, there are frequent sword fights and I've even gotten requests to sew black masks.  Mark surprised them and let them watch the old black and white version, his favorite as a kid, and they loved every minute.

reading Second Street Station and All the Light We Cannot See.

laughing at the exchange I heard between Sophie and J: 
S: Look at my pretty crown, J.  I marry you.
J: I'm not having a wife because you're just gonna boss me around.

making the time to be in the kitchen again and it feels good.  I made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, raspberry cornmeal crumble bars, and our go-to banana bread.  I also tried rice in the slow cooker for the first time.

trying a new app called GoodBudget and it's like an envelope system without carrying cash.  I love that Mark and I can both access the account from our phones.  At a single glance, we'll both know exactly how much money we have left in each category.  I'm hoping the visual reminder will help as we start learning how to save more than we spend.

watching our baby in awe.  TJ is so cute and yet such a stinker.  He waves bye to "dad" every morning, looks adorable in his fleece footie pajamas, and dances (his current favorite is Queen's "We Will Rock You").  He also likes to slam toys on the TV, head-butts instead of kisses and gets a lot of pleasure flinging his meals off of his tray.  We sure love this boy...even when he's naughty.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

{in the kitchen} Meal Planning: A Link List

Day 22 of my Write 31 Days Challenge and I'm trying hard not to fizzle out!  I had lofty plans to post about meal planning and how we're making it work in our house, but am quickly running out of time.  Instead, here are a handful of links I've found really helpful:

+ Bringing Back our Family Meals - Peanut Blossom
+ 8 Make-Ahead Recipes That Will Change Your Menu Planning - Clean Mama
A Year of Meal Planning - Team Studer
+ The $1 Per Person Meal Plan & Shopping List - Moms by Heart
+ 10 Tips for Better Meal Planning - Modern Parents Messy Kids

What works for you?  What are your go-to meals?  Do you plan weekly or monthly?  Let's talk meal planning!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

{contentment} Step Six: Eat Good Food

Today's subject is a hard one for me, so let's be real and honest, okay?  

Food is a tricky thing for me.  I understand how good, nutritious food is beneficial to our bodies.  Eating lots of vegetables and less processed food, going gluten-free or even Paleo - they're all good, good things.  I've seen the positive effects in myself as well as my family.


We're currently on a pretty tight budget and staying on track means letting go of some of those strict dietary rules.  With seven mouths to feed, there's just not enough money to always buy the freshest/grass-fed/organic/best ingredients.  Honestly, it causes me a lot of stress and guilt.

Feeding myself and my family isn't ending anytime soon and this obsession with optimal health can quickly turn into an idol.  It has in the past for me.  Maybe finding contentment with food means slowing down, eating realistic portions and just being thankful for what's set before you.  Maybe finding contentment with food means eating the best with what you've got.

Yet another pep talk:
+ Let food be a positive part of life, not something to stress, obsess or worry about.
+ Find the method of meal planning that works best and stick with that.
+ There's no shame in making a box of pasta for dinner sometimes (but try to add a vegetable for good measure too).    

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

{book club} The Inspired Readers Book Club: Book Four

The Inspired Readers Book Club, which I started with my blog friends Tabitha and Shelly, just wrapped up discussion on our third book, The Winter of our Diconnect.  It was a thought-provoking book and it greatly inspired me to make some changes in my life.  I really enjoyed talking it through with the book club too!   

For October into November, Shelly is taking the reins and we're reading another novel!  Shelly chose All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is a Pulitzer Prize winner and at over 500 pages, our biggest book yet!  I'm excited to get started.

Our reading schedule will be as follows:
Week 1 (October 26): Chapters Zero & One
Week 2 (November 2): Chapters Two & Three
Week 3 (November 9): Chapters Four & Five
Week 4 (November 16): Chapters Six, Seven & Eight
Week 5 (November 23): Chapters Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve & Thirteen

Like before, we'll have discussion questions posted on Monday, so feel free to jump into the conversation whenever you have time.  We are always open to new members and would love to see you in the Facebook group!

Monday, October 19, 2015

{contentment} Step Five: Create Traditions

Day 19.  Are you tired of hearing from me yet?  I'm a little tired of hearing from me.  

For the past three weeks, I have been wrestling with this idea of contentment on a pretty consistent basis.  I've tackled the idea of "being enough" and seen how our student loan debt unconsciously causes unhappiness.  I've taken a good look myself: the good, the bad and the ugly.  On Thursday, I started taking the first proactive steps by disconnecting from technology a bit.  Today, I'm looking at traditions.

Traditions, according to Webster, are "the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction."  Traditions are those things that make your people, your people, you know what I mean?  They are what makes your family special; they are the events that stay the same even as you grow and change.  

I totally see how traditions can be helpful as I seek contentment with my life.  Looking forward to those special events will ultimately make me excited for what's to come, not just for what I hope to come.  Instead of focusing all of my attention on the future outside my reach, I can simply enjoy those little pieces that we do every single year.  

Here are a few brainstorming ideas - some we already do and some I hope to incorporate more next year:
+ Celebrating the liturgical year
+ Trips to the farm to pick fruit: strawberry picking, apple picking, etc.
+ Friday family movie nights
+ Cookie decorating party or swap in December
+ An act of service that occurs around the same time every year
+ Sunday dinner

These are the things my children will remember.  These are the events that they'll eventually introduce their spouse to, that they'll mold and shape into their own with their own families someday.  What a beautiful thought.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

{shop small} Vol.07: The Pumpkin Patch

As the Creative Director for Big White Farmhouse, I am constantly searching for new products.  Our company is passionate about supporting the "little guys", the ones who are working tirelessly to create a life doing what they love.  I love that entrepreneurial spirit and I hope you do too!

Since I can't carry all of the cool products I find, I thought I'd pop in every so often to share some of my discoveries with you! Volume 07 is inspired by our family tradition of going to the pumpkin patch. Enjoy.

Screen Printed Pumpkin Tea Towel by Oh, Little Rabbit
Pumpkin Harvest Mason Jar Candle by Brooklyn Candle Studio
Happy Pumpkin Cookies by Whoo's Bakery
Wooden Happy Fall Sign by The Paper Walrus
Quilted Pumpkin Pillow by CityHouseStudio
Watercolor Pumpkin Mug by Elm St. Studio Prints

Saturday, October 17, 2015

{book report} The Winter of our Disconnect: A Review

When I chose this book to lead for the Inspired Readers Book Club, I really didn't know what I was getting myself into.  I love a good experiment-type memoir and the premise sounded interesting.  I had no idea that this one book would turn my world upside down (in a good way)!

The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale is the story of a family's six month experiment to live without technology.  Written much like Gretchen Rubin's Better than Before, Maushart weaves her personal experience with studies and observations.  I found the entire book fascinating and I have an underlined and written-in book to prove it!  

It would be impossible to write about every section that stood out to me, but here are a few:

Boredom is a big issue for parents today. Not just listening to kids complain about boredom-but responding to those complaints. Taking responsibility for those complaints. And, perhaps above all, throwing technology at those complaints. Somewhere along the line, providing "stimulation" became a key aspect of our job description. The belief that a stimulated child is an advantaged child is so widely shared we rarely bother to articulate it. So too, of course, is its corollary: that a bored child is an at-risk child. In fact, the moral imperative to keep our kids occupied or suffer the consequences is one of those unexamined articles of faith that has helped to make modern parenting such a minefield of misplaced guilt and misdirected resources. (p.70)
The section on boredom was really encouraging to me.  It's easy to fall into the trap of feeling like I must be the "cruise director" of activities for my children.  One look at Pinterest and I know I'm not the only one.  But do we really have to?  I found it interesting that boredom is typically self-constructed, but can be the catalyst for imagination and creativity.  She also claims that "too much choice" can induce boredom and I've found that to be true.  Since reading this, we have decluttered our playroom significantly, only leaving the tried and true favorites.  I also made sure to restock our art supplies (they love to draw and create, so I've stocked our paper, colored pencils, watercolors, etc.) and have watched as their "boredom" turns into a masterpiece. 

Nick Thompson of Wired magazine observes, "There are a lot of people who have a problematic relationship with these devices, where the device becomes the master and they become the servant. (p.104)
While I think I'm doing an okay job at regulating the amount of screentime my children get each week, this book definitely showed the plank in my own eye, if you know what I mean.  I was quick to justify it as checking in on Big White Farmhouse or expecting an important e-mail, but let's be honest.  There was a whole lot of "checking in" going on during the day and most of it was unnecessary.  Since reading, I've been on a mission to change my habits.  I no longer carry my phone around the house and it's funny: out of sight, out of mind.  I also try to be conscious about why I'm on technology, reducing the mindless scrolling.   

The information paradox - that the more data we have, the stupider we become - has a social corollary, too: that the more frantically we connect, to one another, the more disconnected our friendships become. (p.185)
This part made me so sad for us as a society and I became aware of my own shortcomings in this area too.  How many times have I had a friend come to mind and instead of calling or writing a letter, I just peek at her Facebook page and call it good?  Since reading, I'm more inspired than ever to seek community and really invest in my family and friends.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much to consider and think about, both in my own life and the lives of my kids.  If you ever read it, let me know!  I could talk about it for hours! 

A few other links to check out:
What Happens When There's No Internet
From the New York Times: Stop Googling.  Let's Talk.
Connected, but Alone?
From CNN: #Being13: Teens and Social Media
An interview with the author about this book: Susan Maushart, the author of The Winter of our Disconnect

Friday, October 16, 2015

{around here} Week 41/52: Week of 10.12.15

A collection of our ordinary days, recorded every week.  At the end of the year, I'll publish them into a keepsake to treasure.

Around here, I have been:

writing on the blog everyday and starting to feel the fatigue.  I'm at the halfway point, though, so I'm hoping to push through and finish strong!  And exciting news: I was the random winner of a weekly giveaway for Write 31 Days!  

taking the kids to see Mark's office on Columbus Day.  Then we took him out to lunch, which is a huge deal because we rarely go anywhere that requires us to sit down and wait for food.  The kids were excited to see where Daddy goes all day and probably more excited to eat at "real" restaurant!

reading Second Street Station.

starting from scratch on a fall wardrobe.  I purged about three-quarters of my closet and am slowly purchasing the pieces I need.  It's been fun to discover my own style again.  I got another successful Stitch Fix box this week and added a few more things, including a sweater and leggings.  Now I'm just waiting for the cool weather to stay so I can wear them!

celebrating D's birthday.  For his special meal, he asked for Burger King (third year in a row!) and an ice cream cake.  He's easy to please.

accepting help (humbly!) as my friend offered to vacuum out my car when we came for a playdate.  As we pulled up her drive, she was just finishing hers and jumped at the chance to clean mine.  I tried to decline, but she insisted.  Honestly, it's a task that has been on my to-do list for weeks now and I haven't had a spare moment.  Her love language is definitely serving others and I am so grateful to have received that gift - a clean car!  

facing my dental fears as I went to get my fillings done twice this week.  I wish I could tell my younger self, "Self!  Don't drink all of that soda and destroy your enamel!  Self!  When they say it's important to floss, they really mean it!"  Live and learn.

creating a Facebook page for this blog.  I'm SO behind the times, but better late than never, right?
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