Shedding That End-of-Summer Guilt

As a person who is aaaaaall about feeling life changes pretty deeply, the end of summertime is higher on my list of anxiety triggers than, say, the holidays. It’s pretty much tops. While I *generally* enjoy the change of the four actual seasons, the fact that there aren’t huge shifts in schedules, routines, moods, and overall stressors ties into those spring to summer to fall to winter changes is probably one of the biggest appeals. (That and the sensory stuff that accompany new seasons are delightful.)

The fact that I’m an educator is equal parts the joy and guilt of being able to be home with my kids during the summer, and still more joy, guilt, and, yes, anxiety about going back in the fall. Not only do we have the list of things to get in order for the start of school as far as my own work and the kids’ routines, but there’s a looming shadow that will take a mindset shift to slowly emerge from.

What is that unnecessarily stressful shadow?

That list of all the undone summer things.

Those promises that went unfulfilled (whether to oneself or a loved one). Those priorities that weren’t quite high enough on the priority list. Those projects that were unachievable. An overall admission that some (most) days, survival was simply good enough and it wasn’t a very eventful, memorable, or terribly special summer.

And it’s okay. It’s ALL okay. Every summer – and, for that matter, every holiday, birthday, special occasion, and…well, even those less-than-special occasions – doesn’t need to be tops.

I repeat: EVERY LITTLE THING DOES NOT NEED TO BE THE BEST THING EVER.

We are all held to insane standards today. In turn, this is one of the reasons, I feel, that kids’ complex problem solving skills and “think for yourselfness” have turned to mush. And, to an extent, as parents so have we. We’re all blobs walking around, not truly engaging in life, putting on airs and armors while making choices without fully knowing why or for whom we’re making them.

Sorry. I know that’s a lot to say and think about. And it TOTALLY doesn’t relate to all of us. I know we’re all trying our best in our own ways. Just observations to add.

And I’m not saying to change what you do or how you are. God, no. There still needs to be an occasional, pulled-out-of-nowhere moment of pure magic – it’s one of our rights as parents (oh, and allowing the grandparents or others who adore your kids to make their own magic ONCE IN AWHILE is a must, as well). And, honestly, it’s fun.

But perhaps we shouldn’t set the bar so high that inflated expectations are the norm. Kids get spoiled and dependent. Stacks of toys take over and become less important in their sheer mass. We adults get more and more stressed. And a vicious cycle continues.

Instead, let’s breathe and do what we can and want to do; not what we feel we should. And when it doesn’t happen, don’t stress. (I’m telling myself as much as doling out the advice, by the way!)

So, while you’re taking pictures of that amazing birthday cake for Instagram, ask yourself why you made it. Was it for the glimmer in your child’s eyes? Or was it to maintain an unrealistic standard (whether because your child has come to expect it…or you’ve come to expect it…or to impress your friends/followers)? Or, still, was it because you truly enjoyed putting the work in to help celebrate your special little person?

The same goes when you plan your next vacation. Or shop for Christmas. Or decorate a bedroom. Or take your back-to-school pictures. Or even when you make your next to-do list of projects.

My motto right now is that summer’s technically not over until September 20th, and weekends still exist, so if we can fit in a project or a quick trip to a lake to satiate that nagging “we didn’t do enough” feeling, we’ll grab the chance.

And, if not, I’m learning to be okay with the fact that every summer just won’t be a perfect one. There’s no such thing as perfection, and that’s a great thing to remember. Plus, the end of one time is the start of another.

Oh, and I’ll bet that if you ask your child what their favorite part (or parts) of the summer were, they’ll come up with something unexpected and totally sweet. Kids don’t look to criticize. And their memories are very much their own – usually seeing their parents as absolutely amazing despite our own worries that we’re not doing enough.

Do you ever suffer from the disappointment that you didn’t do enough (whether from self-criticism or feeling less than worthy by comparison)? Did you do all you had hoped to do this summer?

Daily Discomfort

Discomfort.

Not really a word that many would find pleasing, but it’s giving me all sorts of hope right now.

See, I suffer from anxiety. I honestly didn’t realize the diagnosis until about a year ago. It had remained buried under a lifetime of depression stemming from my father’s death. Since it’s less traumatic than depression (with its suicidal, overwhelming doom), it’s easy to miss.

When I was going through my usual back-to-school spiral of unknowns and changes last year, I had the epiphany. I shared my new realization with my mom and even a couple of siblings. The response was pretty similar: we thought you already knew (my siblings seem to have it, as well). And, honestly, I think that the norm these days for many people leans into the realm of anxiousness. Phones and social media and all that goes with it.

This coupled with the fact that I went to write down a list of issues I want to tackle only to lay my hand on a notebook which lists almost every single issue – untouched – from last year, brings me to my new beacon of exciting hope.

Discomfort.

I once saw a gif that essentially advised you to “do one thing everyday that makes you uncomfortable.” It was easy to ignore and even roll my eyes at. Who wants to do that?! Cheeseball.

But then I had an epiphany. Looking at my huge list of things I need to work on, the thought of each thing made me…uncomfortable. Changing habits tends to do that – put you in a place of discomfort, truly outside your comfort zone. Even the things that used to be enjoyable that have gotten challenging to do seem uncomfortable because they’re not part of my current norm and breaking the habit of NOT doing them would be tough.

Yet, the THOUGHT of getting on top of these things – of finally taking control over some things or putting myself out there more or finishing some projects or following through on some ideas – is invigorating. Initially, the list is daunting to look at and completely impossible without a direct how-to manual.

So, I’ve figured it out. As cliche as it sounds, I’m going to DO SOMETHING EVERYDAY THAT MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE.

Some days that already have built-in challenges (hello, first day of school) are non issues. I’m already beyond uncomfortable and padding myself with grace. Other days, it might mean perusing the list to remind myself to try something new.

Some days it may be simple – like avoiding a single use plastic item (hey, it adds up) or forcing myself to skip social media and work on laundry or do a workout. Other days, it’ll be more in-depth like getting a house project done, working on my website, or creating a new budget. Still others, it’ll fall somewhere in between, like decluttering a closet.

Whether tiny or large, it’ll chip away at not only the to-do lists but hopefully at my anxiety, as well. I realize that living in a cocoon of my own making may be comfy, but isn’t achieving a full, well-lived life. It’s also a crappy model for my kids. So, some of the activities may seem like a walk in the park to some people, but may be a huge feat for others (like me).

I hope to check in with my discomforts along the way, both to hold me even more accountable and also to grab hold of one of those discomforts – writing here more often! Ha. I also think I’ll actually USE my planner to jot down a word or two encompassing my daily discomfort for that day.

I’d LOVE to hear about things that YOU find to be filled to the brim with fear, anxiety, or discomfort? Anything in your daily life that you avoid regularly because of it? Seriously.

And if anyone wants to join, you are SO welcome! I may also hop onto Instagram (my favorite safe haven), so find me @megactsout to follow along. Share your own stories by using #dailydiscomfort.

Dairy-Free Me

About four months ago, we were struggling to figure out the cause of Hannah’s eczema flares. There were days that she almost seemed to try to tear her skin off, sometimes experiencing tummy bloat and painful grassiness (which, for a 4-month-old means fussing or downright screaming A LOT, and forget about sleep). There’s some amnesia on my part but looking back, it was miserable for the little thing and, in turn, for us and her daytime sitter, Grandma.

For awhile I just assumed it was from the winter weather or that it would just eventually get better as it seemed to for her older brother. I read that eczema is hereditary (luckily her sister doesn’t have it – or at least only a teensy amount – but her 6-year-old brother gets bad rashes now and then), and that nothing really causes it beyond that. Heredity.

However, that’s only partly true. After putting several puzzle pieces together between hints from the doctor and my own research, we have determined that while she’s inclined to have it thanks to genetics, it is made far worse by certain factors. Call them allergens, call them triggers, but whatever they are, they CAN be cut out to avoid flare-ups.

So, we did our work. We switched her soap. We switched laundry detergent. We cleaned more frequently (hello, cat dander and dust). We bathed her with super gentle soap every other day (sometimes too much bathing is a trigger, sometimes too little. This seems to be her sweet spot). We tried to keep her skin close to breathable 100% cotton as much as possible. And, finally, we started cutting out two of the most common triggers from my diet (since she is nursing): peanuts and dairy.

Sure enough, within a week, she was looking and acting better. Within a few weeks, she was almost completely clear.

Over time and as we introduced regular foods to her diet in addition to breast milk, we have determined that there are other allergens at play. So far, specifically seafood on my end and apples in her baby food (seriously…the fruit they most frequently mix with others) are also bothersome, and even carbonated beverages for Mommy get her stomach roaring. So, while we’re not out of the woods completely, I thought I’d share the experience and see if anyone out there can relate or use our experiences to help guide your own decisions.

The struggle is very real. So, for the past four (almost five) months, I have been dairy-free. This pizza-, cheese-, yogurt-loving person has gone without.

But, it’s more than just that. It’s butter. So, it’s necessary to ensure that whatever I’ve ordered isn’t cooked in butter or that the burger bun wasn’t slathered first before grilling.

It’s almond milk (which doesn’t seem to bother her) in coffee, which simply doesn’t have the same depth and creaminess. It’s a first world problem and I still do the happy dance when I find ANY dairy alternative at a store, but it’s something that makes me feel human so it’s still better than black. (I just can’t bring myself to do it.)

It’s skipping the cake and ice cream, and very often everything else at a child’s birthday party. (Legit, I just made a pasta salad cheese-free so that I could have that, plus some of the side fruits and veggies I was sure to provide. When everyone else is downing pizza and dips and cheese puffs and chocolate…it’s a different type of celebration.)

It’s no more pizza night Fridays because the factor of not having to cook isn’t in the equation. Might as well make something for everyone.

It’s having to Google before going to a restaurant (chain only; local restaurants are usually ill-equipped) to see if there’s anything I can eat there.

And then there are those “wait, really?” moments. Really, I can’t have that thing you made with cheese just this once. Really, I can’t have one piece of cake because it takes days if not weeks to repair the damage to my little girl’s system. Really, I can’t have that because the breading has dairy, or the margarine because, yup, it has dairy, or that pepperoni because it was made with a milk products, or Lactaid because IT’S STILL DAIRY, or “non-dairy creamer” because IT’S STILL DAIRY (if it says dairy-free, it’s most likely free of dairy…but non-dairy doesn’t mean what you think it does). The list goes on.

And, unfortunately, if “MILK” isn’t listed as an allergen on the package, she’s still sensitive to the stuff that touched a machine that produced a dairy ingredient elsewhere. So, there’s that.

What I Miss. I miss not having to second guess everything I eat. I miss not putting my dear family members (who try SO HARD, even buying expensive dairy-free cupcakes from the store so that I can celebrate a birthday) out every time I come over for a meal.

Normalcy, I guess. I miss that most of all.

The Million Dollar Question. So, why don’t I just quit breastfeeding? It’s as simple as asking that question, right?

Our pediatrician is amazing. He trusts our parenting instincts and allows us the leeway we need to make our own educated decisions.

That said, when I last brought one of our kids in, he asked how the no-milk thing was going…then reworded it to ask how it’s going FOR ME. I loved him for that. He then offered that, if it gets to be too much for me, he can direct me to the couple of formulas that are on the market that she COULD have (a vast majority would still affect her negatively). I said that I’d take him up on that if necessary but that I’d most likely be sticking it out. He nodded, smiled, and said, “I figured you would.” At least he knows me by now. I appreciate that.

There are two things at play here. I feel that, for my family, the benefits of nursing outweigh these dietary challenges. I’ve done it for a total of 36 months for our other two kids and it’s not like I want to handle a learning curve of formula right now. What we do is easier in many ways and, most importantly, healthiest for Hannah. While I stand up for the rights of other moms to give their babies formula, I also stand up for my own right to nurse mine.

The other factor? I’m a Taurus and stubborn as a bull. Don’t test me or tell me that I can’t do something. My brother told me that playing oboe would be too hard; it was, but I pushed through and finished my senior year still playing.

My Saviors. There was a time that all librarians hated Google. I’m here to say that the times have changed and Google is my freaking BFF. It has brought me to find resources like fckdairy.com and godairyfree.org, among the other amazing articles that have taught me about what’s going on with my little girl’s body (to say nothing of the awesome vegan blogs that share a slew of recipes).

I also have some go-to’s that help get me through when I just want something yummy. I have discovered that I’m really into mild curry simmer sauce (tossed with rotisserie chicken or sautéed tofu, some whole wheat pasta, and ALWAYS with sautéed mushrooms, which the family otherwise hates). Organic Oreos get me through those tough “can’t have birthday cake” and “the kids want ice cream” days. Organic sun butter is my go-to on toast or whole wheat English muffins (a girl’s gotta get her protein somehow). The occasional almond milk yogurt doesn’t totally suck. Vitamin D and calcium-fortified orange juice is a must.

I also can’t stand dairy-free cheese, so far. Overly salty, weird texture, and smells and tastes suspiciously like feet. Just not worth the money. I’d rather have veggie pizza with no cheese at all, thanks.

What I’ve Learned – The Good, the Bad, and the Unexpected. When you have to live slightly more hungry, it gives you a bit of perspective beyond the surface obsession over what I’m putting in my mouth (although I’ve learned a lot about, literally, what I can eat).

I ate and snacked too much before. I was mindless. I had no discipline whatsoever. The baby has given me a gift; there is no way I would have changed for anyone other than my kids. I lack the willpower otherwise; simple, sad, true.

So while I haven’t done a huge diet overhaul (well, I have, and I’ve even gotten down below my pre-baby weight, but those organic Oreos still make me feel human from time to time), I’m on my way to a bigger revolution for myself as well as my family. I don’t want to cut out a HUGE section of anyone’s diet altogether (I tend to think that’s unnecessary and doing more harm), but cutting certain things out and maybe hitting reset with a Whole30 or something is way more in my realm of possibility than ever before. It’d just be a small hop to get there rather than a giant, scary leap.

My biggest take-away is that I’ve been so damn spoiled my whole life because, for lack of better word, I’ve been NORMAL. This has taught me what it’s like not to be in the mainstream. What it’s like not to have the world at my fingertips and to have to go without. I’ve been SO lucky up until this point.

In a broader sense, it has shown me how entitled we are as people and, to an extent, as a nation. There is rarely a time that I can get, say, appetizers that don’t contain a dairy breading or cheese option, so I just go without. Yet I now see how quickly people are to tack on an appetizer without a moment’s thought. I think of those in the world who go without, whether it’s for financial, religious, or cultural reasons, and I feel for them. This has opened my eyes to a lot more than I could have expected.

An unintended effect for sure, but an overall awareness of those beyond my scope of experience is downright humbling. It ties into a greater mindfulness and is teaching me to appreciate what’s in front of me. In a strange way, it’s also forcing me to slow down and be more mindful in other areas: of what matters to me, like reducing our waste, eating generally cleaner, going outside and enjoying the sun on our faces, and more.

So, What’s Next? I have a follow-up appointment to see how she’s handling things and to discuss how to introduce certain foods to test the waters. I’m going to tell you right now that, while I’m not sure about peanuts, I’m almost positive that she’s still susceptible to dairy (an occasional rare restaurant that cross-contaminates tells me that she still gets symptoms) and her eczema is currently flaring, so I’m curious if there’s an ingredient we’re missing, like soy or wheat. So, who’s to say where we’ll be 6 months from now?

That said, if people are interested, I’d be happy to share some vegan and dairy-free recipes that work for my family (needless to say, I tend to keep it simple since I have a house with 5 very different tastes and needs). Heading into the fall and craziness of the school year, I’d like to get really intentional about make ahead meals and prepping for successful, healthy habits, as well. Oh, and finding replacements for those beloved comfort foods is a must.

So, let me know in the comments! Have you ever experienced a dietary restriction and how did you handle it (whether literally in your diet or mentally)?

Are you interested in hearing more on this topic, whether through recipes or by sharing more resources? Drop me a line here or find me on Instagram @megactsout.

Big Ideas

All I can think of is a line from some random 1930s mobster movie – “what’s the big idea??” Or the Three Stooges, I guess. Followed by a well-placed “why I oughta…”

Anyhoo, this post isn’t about that whatsoever. It’s actually about sharing some of the many, many ideas rolling around in my head for 2018.

My love/hate relationship with resolutions continues, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t take a new year as a great opportunity to look at what we’ve done and where we want to go.

So, while these aren’t resolutions, they’re, rather, ideas I’d like to try, either for myself or for the family as a whole. I thought I simply had too many to have one umbrella “word” or “concept” for the year but realized that just “try” works. A positive, forward-moving word that offers open-ended possibilities. Yes, 2018: the year of trying.

I’m doing a brain dump of the what and whys, then hoping to delve into each (and the specific who/when/where/hows) in individual posts.

HOME PROJECTS

We’ve officially been in our new house for a year now and while we see where progress has been made, there is still tons more to do.

Dave and I have actually come up with a way to get more projects actually accomplished while still making time for family fun and decompressing on weekends (yaaaayyy!!!), and I can’t WAIT to share it.

GET HEALTHY

This one’s big and broad. During this maternity leave, I’ve had a bit of a realization about myself: I suffer from lifelong anxiety.

I knew I’d struggled with some huge bouts of depression, but never picked up on this issue. I think that this is because it doesn’t show itself as severely and dramatically as depression does. But, regardless, it has made me more introverted, scared, easy to snap, and just generally less happy.

It’s not fair to my family (or myself) and I want to gain control of it. I’ll be sharing my ups and downs with it here but hope to try a method that helped me in high school. Fingers crossed (and I’ll of course share here)!

Tied into the above, I also think that I’ve become more sedentary, which doesn’t help. Once my C-section soreness is gone (I recently got sick and the all-night coughing/sneezing brought it back!), I want to try some yoga and use the stationary bike Dave got me awhile back.

It’s not about weight; it’s about energy, health, and an overall well-being.

GET OUTSIDE

I know that the kids thrive on the outdoors but don’t get nearly enough of it, and I’ve been too anxiety-ridden to do it more often. I’m hoping to create a list of places in our area to hike or simply explore, and for every road trip we take to find a stop to play or breathe in a natural spot.

CREATE MORE

I’m still writing for Thirsties, am ecstatic to be working with Green Child again, and have a ton of ideas bubbling for Meg Acts Out. I’ve also really gotten into watching inspirational YouTube channels (I’ll share my favorites soon), which makes me want to toy with the idea of diversifying with either my own videos or just sticking my toe into using InstaStories.

Either way, my goal is to keep up the writing and see where it takes me.

CONTINUE SIMPLIFYING

This involves a lot, including decluttering, trying a no-spend month (or more!), streamlining our mealtimes with a couple of meal plans, not over analyzing our parenting decisions (I’m asking myself certain questions before constantly barraging our son with “don’t do that!”), general organization, less social media (only that which I enjoy), and creating a capsule wardrobe. Whew.

SELF CARE

This concept has been super popular lately and I understand why. However, I read an article that has really stuck with me that pretty much says, sure, it’s about treating yourself once in awhile (I agree) but it’s also about doing the things that are good for you even if you’re dreading them (it took me awhile of grumbling before I was finally able to agree).

So, my self care involves finally taking care of setting up financial accounts and life insurance that I let slack, organizing and deleting my old emails, getting the blog in better working order…but also doing something for myself daily. It could be anything, like doing yoga, putting the phone down and playing with my kids, having a quiet cup of tea, listening to a podcast, reading more, actually watching a movie without checking on the rest of the world, or simply checking something off my list (ugh, like making an important phone call…I hate talking on the phone!) or making a healthy dinner we all actually enjoyed.

The list goes on. But those things should be savored and acknowledged like a happy accomplishment. Even checking social media shouldn’t be a guilt but a well-chosen perk of the day (I’m going to allow it at certain times and have already started trying to be more present the rest of the time), and only using the ones that spark joy…but more on that in a future post!

So, there we have it. All the “hope to try” big ideas for 2018 and beyond.

What are you trying in the new year? I’d love to hear in the comments!

…And Baby Makes Three


Nearly two months after we had our third bundle of joy and I’m finally getting around to posting about the whole thing. I’m nothing if not determined to let you all know how things went, who this amazing little person who’s joined our nuthouse is, and all the rest.

I’d like to introduce you to our baby girl, Hannah.

Yup, we finished strong with another “H” name. We hope that we’ve done her personality a service with a name that I see as being classic and sweet. It also seems to be the type of name that she can do whatever she pleases with, which I love.

Funny side note: there’s another similarity with her siblings’ names aside from starting with an H. Hadley, Harper, and Hannah? Six letters each. Unintentional serendipity.

So, on October 24th, we welcomed Hannah Clare into the family! She seems to be a relatively good-natured, observant (this time a “listener” whereas her sister was a “watcher”) little sweetheart who surprised us with plenty of adorable reddish-blonde hair.

She currently falls somewhere between Hadley and Harper on the “is she a good baby?” spectrum. I’d call her “normal” as far as that goes; she gets fussy and cluster feeds around dinnertime/bath time/bedtime for the big kids. She’s also a night owl who doesn’t like to go to sleep until after the 11 o’clock news (let’s just say if she went to bed at 9, I’d be right with her, ugh) but then sleeps with one feeding straight until 6, 7, or even later. This morning she slept through until 9:30 after a 5am feeding.

Along with her arrival, we also welcomed a new norm – being officially outnumbered with three kiddos. I thought I’d check in with some of the surprises (and non-surprises) now that we live in a World of Three.

SURPRISES!

It’s a Girl…Again! We didn’t find out the gender in advance for any of our children, so needless to say this is ALWAYS a big surprise. And no matter how many people may insist which gender they think you’ll have or how the needle/wedding ring tests BOTH tell you you’re having a girl, or how much you prep yourself for either result…it’s still always an exuberant shock.

My first thoughts were that Hadley was going to be SO disappointed (he was, then he gathered himself together and made a picture of his new family – sisters and all – that made my heart burst when he gave it to me in the hospital the next day) and my concern about how our daughter would react to another little girl in the house. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Harper’s our go-with-the-flow, resilient kiddo.

“Red Hair? Is that right??” One of the medical staff present for the C-section uttered this and I found it HILARIOUS. My husband and I both have dark brown hair and, funny enough, our 5-year-old and almost 2-year-old are both blond. “Well, I had that color hair when I was born…and I’m Irish, so…” But, needless to say, the fact that she wasn’t a cue ball like the other two AND the strawberry blondness of it make me wonder what she’ll look like in a few more months as it continues to “shed” from the top.

The Pain…Again?! Okay, I know I had lots of sharp pain (most likely from overdoing it) last time following my C-section and while I didn’t forget about it this time around (I was actually expecting a possibility of more since I also had my tubes tied), I had an additional wrench thrown into the works.

Due to an oversight by my doctor, a script for my “heavier” pain medication wasn’t left the first night, so I had to make do with regular Motrin and ice packs. I dealt okay but was in tears by the morning. I’m by nature not one to make waves or complain so when I did complain and was overlooked SEVERAL times, it threw my hormonal self into a tailspin until I had a tear-filled meltdown that put an entire shift of workers on eggshells. (Y’know those moments when a ton of people are coming on shift and coming in to get info on completely irrelevant things – like, say, baby pictures in the nursery or filling out paperwork that can totally wait – but you’re in so much pain you can’t see straight?) So, the additional fact that I was hormonal, lacking sleep (particularly from the pain), and behind on meds (I’ve since read that C-section pain management is one of those things you can’t just take one med for and expect it to fix everything; once you’re “behind” it’s hard to “catch up” and, legit, it did take several days/weeks to get on top of) made for a not fun situation all around. Harumph.

Luckily, although I’m probably overdoing it still more than I did the second time, I’m finally feeling normal and trying to get past the guilt and negativity of the not-great hospital stay. I have a high pain threshold and consider myself tough, but that sucked.

Some Easier Transitions. This could be a surprise, or not. I went into this pregnancy overall expecting tough transitions for both of our older children but *hoping* for the best. Like I mentioned, our son was disappointed by the fact that she was, well, a she, but overall he has handled this transition phenomenally well. When our second was born, he had a VERY difficult time with it, but this time around he’s matured a lot and has a daily routine of school to focus on, so he’s done great.

And, surprisingly, our daughter has handled things well, although she’s not super verbal or able to tell us that she may not be cool with it. The only noticeable issue she’s had (aside from normal “terrible twos” stuff) is that she suddenly had a difficult time going to bed, calling out and crying more than she EVER had before. Otherwise, she refers to Hannah as “mine” and will randomly interrupt her playtime to come give her a kiss or pat her hand. So stinkin’ sweet!

A Tougher Maternity/Paternity Leave. I’m at a new district and position and my husband’s job has changed dramatically over the last couple of years, so while I won’t get into this aspect of things too much, there are ways that we’ve felt less supported by our jobs this time around. We’re, of course, super lucky to have certain work friends checking in on us and sending their love, but otherwise he received emails hoping he was “well rested” (paternity leave is NOT a vacation, folks) and I’ve had a web of financial/insurance inaccuracies that I’ve been anxious about. There’s a bit of a cloud hanging, but in general I still count myself super lucky to be able to take any time at all. And, man, are we looking forward to this holiday season together as a family of five!

NON-SURPRISES

It’s Equal Parts Surreal/Like Riding a Bike. How is it that there are moments that my husband and I will say, “doesn’t it feel strange to be holding such a tiny baby again?!” or “can you BELIEVE we have another girl??” and we’re clearly living in a surreal alternate reality. Then there are times that it feels like this is the way it’s always been and things fall into place just as they did before. Sleep deprivation doesn’t really help with those surreal moments, but the repetitive routine of nursing and changing diapers helps…as does, for some reason, late-night QVC viewing. (I literally buy nothing; it just calms me. Weird, I know!)

Advice Keeps Dwindling. It’s AWESOME to be at the hospital and have people say, “Oh, this is your THIRD? This is old hat for you, then.” Pretty much, thanks. Not that every child doesn’t pose their own unique set of rewards and challenges, but we’ve at least learned that everything’s a phase and we can handle things or find a way to.

I also think our respective parents may finally understand that we parent the best that we can and they leave us the breathing room now to do just that. Plus, this is our third to be nursed and I’m the only one in my family to successfully do this with one let alone (knock on wood) three, so my mother’s to the point where she seems simply fascinated by and almost proud of it. Pretty cool.

The Love Just Grows. I knew there’d be “enough love” to pass on to all three and as hard as it may be to give out the attention they may each crave at any given moment, my husband and I juggle and try to prioritize on a minute-to-minute basis. While there’s an awful lot of juggling going on, I find myself softening in some things I used to be ridiculously (and unnecessarily) strict about, finding time to tell each child how much we love them and why,  and just generally doling out the support and care more frequently. I’m also trying to do the same for my husband since our “team” status has only strengthened now that we have three littles (and three cats, BTW…a whole other nighttime issue) and I do truly find myself appreciating him a hundred times a day.

So, that’s our family at the moment! Challenging and fun and heart-warming and busy and…wonderful.

Grateful

It was a rough night with Miss Hannah. She’d nurse and fall asleep but the second her body hit the bassinet, she was instantly awake. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That’s been par for the course lately, though. So have aspects of the Terrible Twos, fighting the uphill battle of keeping a newborn from getting sick when your eldest has spiked a scary fever, cats seeming to punch into their night shifts for mayhem the second the whole house goes quiet at bedtime, and the proven fact that things will sometimes be simply out of our control in this household for awhile.

And I’ve never been more grateful in my life.

Between an overall perspective that has ripened with parenting experiences as we’ve aged, a near-constant barrage of bad, awful, and dreadful news in the world, the fact that there’s a sense of finality with this third baby, and a healthy dose of holiday season sentimentality, we’re holding on tightly to that which we find dear.

So bear with me as I share with you a list of all I’m thankful for this year, in no particular order, and in earnest. I’d love to hear what’s topping your list in the comments.

I am grateful for…

…the antique cradle, passed down from generation to generation, that my daughter refuses to sleep in for any lengthy duration of time, for at least we have options and a healthy, snuggly child who’d rather slumber warmly in my arms. This won’t always be the case.

…the constantly-full garbages. They mean we can afford newborn diapers as we mull what choice to make regarding cloth and disposables. I’m grateful, in all honesty, for less laundry as our little “eats and immediately disposes of said meal” cherub maintains a productive output. So. Many. Damn. Diapers.

…all that baby poop. On the same note, I’m actually totally fine changing what feels like 50 diapers a day. Scout’s honor. If we didn’t have these poops and pees, we wouldn’t have a healthy baby…and we know from watching friends, family, and even strangers cope with terrible infant illnesses and child loss how precious a healthy baby really is. So, by all means, bring on the poop and pee and spit-up and just anything that goes along with parenthood…because parenthood, to us, is absolutely everything.

…the endless supply of toys (since I’ll be cursing them in another month or so). The fact that our children have so many options for free play, expression, and imaginative downtime is something to embrace, for so many families around the world can’t even come close to saying the same.

…speech impediments. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned as parents, it’s that (almost) nothing is permanent, and once Hadley’s cute little w “r”s are worked out by the speech therapist at school, yet another trait to his “little boy” side will be gone. Some phases are good, some horrible, and some a bit of both, but either way, “this, too, shall pass.” Just hold on tightly while you can.

…strawberry blonde hair. We often compare our kids subconsciously. It’s not intentional; it’s kind of to just be aware of milestones, what they have in common, and what makes them unique. There are tons of differences (and a few similarities) between Hadley and Harper. Well, while I see much of Harper’s sweetness and some of Hadley’s facial features in Hannah, her light reddish hair upon birth (“Um, is this right?!” one nurse remarked…) has reminded us not to expect cookie-cutter kids from the get-go. This one’s got ideas of her own and I can’t wait to see them unfold.

…our three cats. As annoying as they may be (infuriating at nighttime, to be honest), life would simply be less bright and meaningful without them. They’re our first children, after all.

…just the right amount of digital entertainment. Basic cable, a slew of DVDs, the only occasional Netflix, and limited tablet time for our oldest (oh, and iPhones for Mom and Dad because #sanity + #interactionwithadults) is just enough to force us to get creative and teach our kids that limited choices can be an amazing life lesson. We’ll wait and see what they think when they’re 13. Until then, pop in another Monkees episode and crank up the Pandora Christmas channel!

…the time I have to spend tending to and managing this little zoo with only a brief occasional check of my school email to ease my mind about that zoo. I am truly lucky. Truly.

…sweatpants and maternity clothes. No explanation necessary. #doihavetogetdressedfortheholidays

…the fireplace. With the touch of a button I can overheat the whole family. It wasn’t always this easy to get a roaring fire, folks! But, really, there’s nothing like twinkling clear lights on a tree with a fire and hot cocoa.

…online shopping. Because sweatpants, a sore C-section wound, and crowds don’t mix. Merry Christmas, kids!

…the friends and family who get why I’ve dropped off the face of the planet the past month or so, and those who have offered genuine help (even if I turned it down). You guys mean the world to me. Can’t wait to hang out…in, like, 5 years.

…the unabashed joy of beloved traditions (and letting go of the guilt when we don’t uphold others). Dave and I are ecstatic about some traditions (cheery Christmas music and old Christmas movies!) and others (like getting a real tree) will just have to take a rest until things are less crazy in our lives. Not that we won’t miss them, but, again…phases.

…awareness (which brings me to tears at least twice daily) of just how lucky I am to have this life: a supportive husband-slash-teammate; three gorgeous, special, healthy little humans; three partially insane, partially overweight, but so animated felines; a house that’s juuust right for our brood; families that support and help us despite our weird, quirky standards and choices… Or maybe I should be thanking my hormones for all those grateful tears….

And, finally, I’m thankful for the pie this Thanksgiving. Because life’s not really worth living if there’s not the chance of pie.

You could also replace “pie” with “hope” if you felt so inclined.

Feel free to drop a few of your “grateful for”s down below. Let’s spread the appreciation!

An Honest Post: Return from Blog Burnout & Your Thoughts

I’m in my own existentialist, surreal mode thanks to the less-than-one-week-away arrival of our third baby. By nature, my husband and I lean analytical and a touch philosophical, so when it’s time to welcome a new human into the world, we feel about a hundred emotions at all times. Not a lot of room left for blogging.

Attempting to care for the other two kiddos, maintain a happy relationship with my husband (yay!), cook (relatively) healthy meals, and keep a (relatively) clean home? Not a lot of room for blogging.

Things are winding down, but I went through some major anxiety and depression in the past couple of months when dealing with some work transitions. Plus, prep and all the things floating in my head that I know I “should” do pre-baby. Again, not a lot of (mental) room for blogging.

Wasting my free time on social media to give myself the mental letdown I crave at the end of a tiring day. Leaves surprisingly little room, time, or inspiration for blogging.

Until…it did.

See, my guilty pleasures are Instagram and YouTube lately. They don’t drag me down like Twitter and Facebook. They let me know that there are other moms out there dealing with similar lives. They inspire me to continue dreaming and acting on certain passions. If it weren’t for the privacy thing, I’ve found myself even inspired to consider making a YouTube channel of my own.

But, what about my other creative outlets? What about the blog I’ve relied on and messed around with for 7+ years? What about the new blog I’m working on? What about my own side writing projects? What about my complete lack of talent and technological know-how?! 😉

Back to the inspiration thing. I follow a sweet, super down-to-earth go-getter of a U.K. mom who vlogs AND blogs. Her family is adorable and her accent and relatability give me all the feels.

Well, she recently poured her heart out about having a hard time figuring out what her next move would be – focus on the kids and family more, focus on her career and less on vlogging/blogging, or putting all her energy into the vlogs/blog. I totally got it.

As I pondered her issues, I strangely found inspiration (is that weird?!). I started to realize that 1) a lot of people (and, particularly, moms) who share their lives with the world don’t do so in a vacuum and 2) we don’t have to do everything 100% (just good luck retraining your brain to believe it).

Those are kind of vague. Let me explain.

See, my idea for a new website and blog involved essentially letting go everything I’ve already written here at Meg Acts Out and focusing my attention on solely one topic. I’d seen a couple of other sites/blogs do a similar thing and really appreciated what they were putting out there.

But, the more that I worked on it and brainstormed posts and tried to pull together visual inspiration for the site, the more that I felt stifled. This is the stuff I should’ve felt a spark about, but for the most part I felt like I was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. It didn’t seem sincere or “me” and I couldn’t figure out why.

Well, that’s where the “vacuum” idea comes in. In order to find your inspiration to live a more fulfilled life, overall, we tend not to rely on only one source to supply it. So, putting my attention into only one topic without the rest of life included (or only included under the umbrella I had put up) made it feel forced.

The second realization has to do with pretty much everything we do and how much we put into it. We find ourselves prioritizing #allthethings until we realize that the juggling is extremely stressful and sometimes harmful to our health. We just can’t do it all.

So, what about making smaller goals for ourselves? What about “chunking” life (much as we “chunk” words together when trying to read) into more manageable bites? What about prioritizing more honestly and simply? What about paring back on the stuff you tell yourself needs to be done that maaaaaybe doesn’t really?

In practice, this may look like cutting yourself slack on letting your child eat in the cafeteria once or twice a week. Unless our kids are super gross and sweaty, we bathe them every other day (and I only wash my hair every other day, as well). Not every dinner has to be like “Sunday dinner.” The list goes on, but there are ways to chill down the craziness. Try making “to-do” lists at work and prioritizing them by due dates, or learning to tell people that their issue may need to wait if you have more pressing matters (that’s a tough one!).

In addition to both of those realizations, though, I’ve faced several blogging issues lately. I’ve been burnt out elsewhere and haven’t been able to find the time to blog, my voice has fallen flat so my own self-criticism of “it sounds like my heart’s not in it” creeps in (and maybe my heart HASN’T been in it enough) and I abandon the post, and I’ve had a lack of inspiration as to WHAT to write.

HERE’S HOW I’M ATTACKING THOSE ISSUES

Time & burnout. Because I still write for Thirsties weekly on the side (and generally hit my deadlines AND come up with post ideas on the regular), a lot of my thought and energy goes into that goal each week. But, what if I had TWO goals a week; one for Thirsties and one for my own blog? Or a simple editorial calendar or simple list of post ideas (I used to maintain this but have stopped and find my old topics downright suck) that I actually use to pull a weekly topic from (the way I do for Thirsties). Why can’t I do it FOR MYSELF if I’m able to do it for a paid gig?

My voice is gone. Even in my side paid writing, I find that the writing is fine…but not what I’d like to be putting out there. Of the dozens of half-written blog posts for myself, they sound more like manuals than the writer I know I am. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn more to podcasts, Insta Stories and YouTube videos; the visual and audio appeals to me more than reading lately. (Says the librarian.)

So, maybe I do need to try out a new format. Or maybe I simply need to get a schedule going in order to get my routine back. My husband and I have been chatting back and forth about the importance of consistency with writing, of carving out time to actually sit and focus on writing something. Self-imposed deadlines may help. I’m going to try ‘em.

What do I write?? And, honestly, without something I’m passionate about to write (or podcast about, or vlog, or whatever), why do it? I need to truly brainstorm some ideas that get me excited, pick just one for one single post, and go from there.

This is where I have a couple of questions for you all. It’s as simple as this:

1) Do I keep up the Meg Acts Out platform or do I go forward with my new idea for a blog – a fresh, more organized space that’s easier to navigate (possibly with some old MAO posts that continue the feel of the space, possibly not)? I’ve asked this question before during times of identity crisis and obviously I’m there again.

2) What kinds of posts are you interested in? Here’s just a slew that I’ve written about in the past and some of the topics I’m drawn to mixed in:

A. Parenting
B. Decor/Design
C. Eco-Friendly Living
D. Decluttering/Organization
E. Simplifying
F. Recipes
G. Personal Stuff
H. Other

Please feel free to leave a comment on the blog to let me know what you need more of to help you live a happier life!

(And if you made it this far, thank you so much for reading!)

Five – A Hero’s Day

Now that it’s nearly August, I figured I should finally get Hadley’s birthday documented!

Another birthday has come and gone for our firstborn. We felt that this one – the big 5 – was a big one, for come fall he’ll be starting his academic journey, taking his first real steps towards independence, and truly be considered a little boy (no longer toddler, preschooler, our baby).

I’m not crying. You are.

So, we wanted to make it special. I mean, we want to make them all special for ALL the kiddos, but before too long the celebrations will simplify to just family or just a couple of friends for pizza or whatever. Hence, special was the order of the day – and, thank God, after an absurd amount of hours of work, we succeeded. I mean REALLY succeeded. A family + friends (preschool kids are THE BEST) + superheroes galore party.

Starting a week (or more, really) in advance, Dave’s parents helped us set up our new play set (and his mom helped me do way more weeding than my pregnant body could handle, woohoo!) so that *if* the “outside” part of the shindig worked, the kids could use it.

I had a list a mile long for readying the house (and food). Fixing a door I broke in the basement to contain the cats (ahem…I blame Winston, but that’s another story), cleaning, purging, making games and a photo backdrop, doling out food responsibilities, asking Dave for a million favors (which he excitedly executed – he wins MVP for this one!)…and keep the kids alive in the meantime.

On Hadley’s actual birthday, I tried to think of something fun but easy-ish to do. So, we hit up our closest library to get his first library card and I broke his heart that we couldn’t stay for the puppet show. He did stock up on books, though, so he was pretty jazzed.

Instead of the puppet show, he was introduced to his first Billy Beez experience. I played with Harper in the toddler area (where he also made some friends) before letting him explore independently. Here, we had lunch and played more, although Harper decided she wanted to do the bigger slides. Let’s just say it proved a challenge since I tried ONE toddler slide out that had me a bit concerned about the baby. No big slides for Mama, no big slides for Harper. Commence meltdown.

Hadley had a BLAST and still talks about it, though. He also still regales us with the story of how he got “lost” (I knew where he was but I don’t think he knew that I knew…?) and asked adults for help. The things they remember.

After a nap, he picked a restaurant to go to so that Daddy could celebrate with us, too (Uno’s, of course), then opened the rest of his gifts. It was pretty darn near perfect. Anything after that would be icing on the cake.

 

************

The day before the party, my mother came over to help me work in the garage to get it as orderly and emptied as possible for a possible Plan B in case of rain. My MIL graciously took the kids (plus her other grandson) for the day to let me prep, I brought my husband lunch (he had to unexpectedly work the whole day), and got back to the cooking.

On the morning of the party, we STILL didn’t know what the weather was up to. It’d rain a bit, then get sunny, then rain…all making us think of what a crappy job our yard does draining and drying out. Seriously, it’s been the summer of “A River Runs Through It” (although it’s also been an abnormally wet one). We finally decided on using mostly the garage and got setting up with the help of our parents and my sister.

Long story slightly shorter: It was exciting to see people show up since Hadley only had a slight idea of what family members (and MAYBE which school friends) would show up. Even a couple of the parents and I found ourselves tearing up when the kids were so ecstatic to see each other. We really couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids. So fun, so grateful, so sweet – and so fun!

We invited everyone to partake in the food. The main event – huge sheet pizzas and “batwings” (boneless chicken tenders with dipping sauces since we didn’t want real wings to be a choking disaster) was picked up at our local pizza joint (we’re officially locals) but we assembled and asked family to put together other foods.

Like “Poison Ivy’s Veggie Platter” and “Flash’s Fast Fruit”…

Or Thor’s hammers (pretzel sticks stuck into cheese rectangles), Captain America Shields (round pretzels with white chocolate and red, white and blue M&Ms), and Kryptonite Bars (Rice Krispy treats drizzled in white chocolate and sparkly green sprinkles).

Oh, and before lunch the kids crowded around a table to color some printouts of various superheroes that my husband picked up, then after eating we broke out some superhero masks and, since the sun was cooperating, we let them hit the backyard if they were brave about the slightly damp ground. The most entertaining part of the whole thing? A worm the kids found under the play set.

The things kids remember.

Then, we had cupcakes (my MIL graciously made those, and I made Hadman his requested fruit-covered Superman cake) and Hadley opened every present with a politeness and excitement only a 5-year-old can muster. His friends kept crowding around him, they were so happy to give their own gifts! So, so sweet.

We handed out goodie bags (with TONS of superhero paraphernalia – yeah, we went overboard, needed to cut it back by half…or more) and a big surprise for Hadley. Dave had made a Super Hadley comic book – like, he wrote, sketched, had his friend ink and color, then had it professionally printed as a gift to the kids and, most importantly, a surprise to Hadley. The kid’s mind was blown and Dave was ecstatic.


I pulled out some more crafts (I painted old toilet paper tubes they could decorate for superhero cuffs and there were make-your-own masks…among many other things I had prepped). Our “Gotham City backdrop” kept falling over in the breeze, but I think one or two kids used it, anyway, and I pulled out a toss game I had whipped up after many of the kids had left for the remaining few to try out.


Overall, the day was beyond delightful. Honestly, the grown-ups had fun, the kids had a blast, and Hadley said it was the best. Day. Ever.

He definitely wasn’t wrong.  

WHAT WE’D DO IF WE HAD IT TO DO OVER AGAIN – I like to figure out what worked well and what we should pare back for other parties. Especially since, without telling this stuff to the world (and Future Meg – hey, Future Meg!), I’ll totally forget. It might also help you guys with any party planning you’re doing, of course!

Perfect timing. The party went from 12 noon – 2pm, just in time for the younger siblings’ naps and it left very little room for meltdowns. Not too long, not too short – juuuuuust right! (Parents even commented on it.)

Appreciate others’ help but take control. Definitely delegate some of the duties, especially if you have people who ASK to help (like our parents and my sister, who were integral to the day’s success). But, make sure to know exactly what you need done and when, and let them know. Tell everyone an exact time to come if you expect help with setup. Sometimes my husband and I have a hard time making up our minds, but there are times in life when you just have to decide and relay the decision, y’know?

Remember to leave time for independent play. We ended up being pretty go-with-the-flow and I’m glad I planned LOTS of activities but I ended up skipping most of them. And don’t forget that kids enjoy hanging out and playing independently (but having a set schedule, too, so things don’t get out-of-control).

– Think about what will be most stressful and skip it. While they were cute ideas, I could’ve skipped a couple of things and the party would’ve been just as fun for the kids (and less stressful for me). And never underestimate simple fun – like free coloring sheets!

– Take the reigns. In the future, we’ll do one cake or tons of cupcakes…Had doesn’t need his own. I asked him in advance what kind of cake he wanted, but I meant, like, chocolate or vanilla with blah-blah frosting. Instead, he went into a detailed description of the Superman logo. Ugh. So, yeah…I don’t need to ask and I’m pretty sure he’ll be happy with whatever’s made.

– Make those darn “Captain America Shields” again. My kids were in LOVE with the pretzels I had drizzled with melted white chocolate then topped with an M&M (I couldn’t find the white chocolate discs, which are supposed to melt if you put them in the oven at a low temp before placing the M&Ms). And they were apparently a hit with the other partygoers, too, so Future Meg? Dip pretzels in all sorts of chocolate, and maybe toss some candy on it. It’s a people pleaser!

Our now 5-year-old still has some inexplicable meltdowns and seems to still have these crazy phases that make us raise our eyebrows (or pull our hair out!), but overall he’s such a joy. A kind, thoughtful, super smart, highly verbal cutie who responds best to hugs and laughter. We’re so proud of the boy he is – and admittedly a bit frightened of whether school might dim his bright, energetic, trusting light.

My Minimalist Inspiration

If you were to walk into my house at this very moment, you’d find yourself awash in lots of clutter. Piles of our 4-year-old’s artwork and my to-be-filed mail. Two (yes two) rolled-up rugs that will find a place to live in our basement when we get it painted and cleaned for the kiddos as a playroom. Toys…toys…and more toys. Baskets full of clothes (and even piles of clothes near our kids’ overflowing rooms). Oh, and a wayward cat or two napping.

The cats are fine. The rest? Not s’much.

So, I currently consider myself far from a minimalist individual.

Does that mean that I don’t WANT to live a more minimal, simplified lifestyle? Well, no. Rather the opposite, actually.

When I originally wrote this post, all of my mental energy was being put towards packing up my library at school and finishing inventory. Well, and still wrapping my head around the curve ball change we’ll be facing come fall (I’m being moved to the high school library which means our son will be heading to a different elementary school), if I’m honest. As of this moment, though, I’m able to decompress and allow myself to finally looking forward to some relaxation and fun with the family this summer – as I think we ALL need it.

But, I’m still feeling this gentle pull towards minimalism. Maybe it’s an urge to rid myself and my family of its extra trappings. Maybe it’s an inclination to avoid so much consumerism. Maybe I’m just FED UP WITH THE CLUTTER. Whatever the reason, slowly but surely, I hope to start doing some meaningful purging this summer. And this isn’t out of a sudden nesting or burst of energy; I’m still lacking in motivation most of the time. That’s why I say “slowly but surely.”

Today I’m sharing a few of my favorite resources that help me find the mental energy (which is even more important than the physical sometimes, isn’t it??) I need to start this journey.

Pick Up Limes – A good intro to both minimalism and this YouTube channel would be to check out the Beginner’s Guide to Minimalism and 10 Questions to Ask Yourself. Between her positive, soothing persona and realistic tips, I could watch and rewatch her videos a zillion times. Not kidding!

One of my favorite things about Sadia’s tips and conversations is that they’re not negative. They don’t really touch upon the whole “Americans consume too much!” complaint. No, she addresses instead how you – not your family, your partner, your kids, but YOU – can make your own changes to better your own life in this way. So. Positive. My favorite.

Naturally Thrifty Mom – This is a YouTuber whom I find to be honest and inspirational – she’s endlessly patient as a mom and shares SO much of her life. I just don’t know how she does it sometimes, y’know?

While she’s trying to cut back on both her family’s clutter and reliance on packaging, she keeps it real and still buys “normal stuff” (if by normal you consider vegan and organic snacks normal – which I kind of do when they’re, like, alternatives to goldfish crackers and that sort of thing).

KonMarie – I’ve had this book for awhile and it’s honestly caused me both inspiration and some consternation. While the author believes that one must essentially surrender 100% to the suggestions in her books, I’ve learned to take the things that totally ring a bell in my brain and make me nod in agreement and kinda leave the rest. I dunno, maybe it’s why I haven’t been able to do a full-on decluttering; maybe she’s right.

But so far the main idea I’ve gleaned and brought with me is the idea that the only items we should hold onto are ones that serve a purpose or “spark joy.” Totally legit.

And I also remind myself that this is actually a book that has been translated, so the tone is one of an entirely different culture. Always good to recognize and acknowledge.

Exploring Alternatives – Seriously, with high-quality videos like this on YouTube, who needs a TV anymore? While my family and I don’t strive to give up 90% of our worldly possessions and travel, living a life of minimalism, the couple behind this channel (and the folks they meet) are truly inspirational.

That’s one of the things I love about inspiration. We can take what we want out of it. This channel provides just that.

Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home – I chatted about Bea’s lifestyle several years ago here on the blog, but find myself still completely in awe over what she’s done with her family. Again, while I’m not about the “extreme” side of this lifestyle, there’s tons of inspiration (and lessons) to gather from Johnson’s choices.

Becoming Minimalist – I’ve been following this site for awhile now and it always seems to offer just the right words of clarity when I’m at my most overwhelmed. I love that his weekly roundup newsletter offers a wide variety of thoughts from the internet in addition to their own writers’ best stuff – which even further “simplifies” my life. 😉

Becoming Minimalist really discusses all aspects of the minimalist movement, as it were, with everything from the grand concept of the thing (including an entire mindset shift) down to small tips to simplify your life and consume less. There’s quite literally something for everyone.

*****

So, here’s the thing. I hate to create a numbered to-do list for myself because when I force myself to clean something (and find myself lacking motivation), the job is 10x more of a chore. However, a bit of mental organization and a general guideline is good for accountability and I can pick and choose when motivation strikes in that certain area.

– Go through (and purge) the basement moving boxes. We moved in November. There are still tons of boxes in the basement we haven’t really found necessary…which tells us they may not be something we need to have, y’know?

– Cut back on toys. I’d like to determine a percentage of toys to get rid of (since the kids don’t use a huge amount of them). Not sure I could get rid of ALL of the toys like some parents, although the concept is admirable. But there’s clearly a couple of big issues bubbling with our toy situation, so beyond a purge, an entire mindset shift will be needed. Fingers crossed, folks!

– Konmarie my clothes. While I may not use this process for every single item in the house, I do want to start with my own clothes. It’s tough being pregnant and wanting to keep things for post pregnancy (and “normal” me), but clothing is a glut of an issue in our house. And who knows? Maybe it’ll be the inspiration I need to Konmarie ALL our stuff!

Oh, and we’re planning on having a garage sale so anything we think folks will find a use for will go to that (or a local thrift store). So finding the balance between wastefulness (and hurting the earth!) and actually doing away with what we don’t need is a challenge, but there are a few ways to do just that.

How about you guys? Is anyone else looking to pare back and minimize a bit of their stuff (and life)? I’ve read so much that says that the less things we own, the more clarity we have, so I’m really hoping this is true! Drop me a line if you’ve had any success with decluttering/minimalism in general and how you’ve stuck to it!

With Kids Like These, How Can Summer NOT Be Fun?

It’s only May (albeit late May). We still have another month before summer officially hits our house. Recently, I found myself in the midst of a crazy schedule of house duties – Dave was mowing the lawn (which, at our new house after a week+ of non-stop rain, is a monumental task) so I was playing with the kids, cooking, and throwing them in the tub for a quick early bath so that Dave could rinse off after his chores. Even amid this chaotic scene, I found myself full of joy and appreciation, and truly looking forward to the time ahead this summer with them.

These are crazy ages.

Harper’s officially a year and a half. She’s still a little peanut, but her personality (when she pushes the “stranger danger” shyness aside) is beyond unforgettable. When she runs, she puts both her hands behind her back (either she’s a superhero or it cuts down on friction, whatev). She’s STUBBORNNESS personified – ahem, like her mom – but I’m learning that if you give her a task she’s *sometimes* easily diverted. Just until recently, she hadn’t taken to drinking regular milk yet but recently seemed to give up her bottle of pumped milk a day (woohoo, although I’m somehow nervous not lugging my pump in and out of work!) but she still nurses a couple times a night. She pets and snuggles her kitties with a relatively gentle touch. She thinks she’s older and demands to be treated as such. She’s part fashion plate, part Punky Brewster; possibly a tomboy. She adores me (for some strange reason), sometimes throws Dave a bone with a rare hug, and always dotes on her big brother.

Her brother.

Hadley’s going to be 5 in less than 2 months, guys. Let me get my bearings on that one. *sniff, sniff* Watching the passage of time through his demeanor and growth – still with the occasional behavior slip or meltdown, but noticeably fewer for the most part – is humbling. He’s as kind as they come with a huge heart that gets hurt when kids, well, are kids. He uses big (like, big…adult big) words. He’s inquisitive and precocious – but not overtly annoying. He has a hard time controlling himself at times but is, at heart, a people-pleaser. When he’s about to get hurt, he’s already apologizing before he hits the ground. Poor kid comes by it honestly from both parents.

After teaching hundreds of kids over the years (the perks of teaching library – you meet ALL THE KIDS), I had reached a disciplinary style that, I felt, saw the uniqueness in all the children but tried to accept the fact that they should all still be held accountable for their actions and choices. Strict, I would say, which is something often lacking in the home, but with a touch of trust and humor. So, I took this home to Hadley.

Now that preschool teachers and the teachers who have met him for kindergarten have stated and reiterated that, yup, there’s something different about him, my thinking’s shifting a bit. There are some areas that still drive me crazy (“pinch the pencil, bud” and God help you if you hand him an ice cream cone to eat solo), but I’m starting to accept that he deserves more from me, particularly nurturing. I won’t say “us” here because my husband has always been the most sweet, supportive father on the planet.

Let’s just say that I’ve seen what kindness does to him. It opens him up like a flower. He’s more attentive and eager to please when he’s not going to be struck down (figuratively!!!) for doing something wrong. It’s amazing, and I’m ashamed that I wasn’t able to find this willingness to pick only the important battles and give him more breathing room far sooner.

As far as he’s grown and developed, it’s clear that we ALL can find some growth and new awareness at any age. Even parents. (Okay, ESPECIALLY parents.)

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So, that’s where our kiddos are. Simply fun, simply goofballs, simply smart, simply amazing.

I’d like to be able to give them a summer that’s all those things: fun, goofy, brain-building, amazing…and, yes, simple (since, y’know, that whole “relaxation” thing sounds great to my pregnant mind). In the vein of simplicity, I’ve turned to general ideas that we can kind of “fill in the blanks” later to give us a guide of fun summer activities without the self-imposed “we have to do #allthethings” stress.

A science museum – Last year, we built our entire getaway on heading to a kid-friendly, interactive museum and while the museum itself was amazing, the rest of the trip kinda wasn’t. So, this year I’m eyeing a spot much more local to us and even got to scope it out on a recent field trip at school. I think Hadman will LOVE it and there are even some cool things for Harper to mess around with.

Zoos! – Any chance to fit in a trip to the zoo, whether it’s our favorite local spot or a larger one while traveling, is a great idea for our kiddos. They LOVE animals, so a day at a zoo is ideal, and now that Hadley’s much more into coloring and drawing, we can base some simple activities off of what he sees. We also want to start chatting with the kids (well, Hadman) about animal conservation and the environment more, so hopefully this will be a good jumping off point. Wild Kratts helps give a bit of a foundation, but seeing the animals brings it home.

Head outside – This could mean a bunch of things, from going on more walks to actually enjoying our backyard more to finding spots while vacationing that we can get some fresh air, going to the playground to eating in the backyard as a family. I like to keep things open – again, simple and less stress – so it all depends on schedule and weather.

Fresh, easy meals – Speaking of eating outside, our family has gotten into a rut. While we still don’t eat certain things (fast food comes to mind), we’ve been relying on restaurants and local pizza joints more than our fair share ever since the move (and if I’m honest, it’s been about for the past year or so). I’m hoping to push fruit and veggie snacks more this summer (on EVERYONE, not just the kiddos) and some real food meals. I’ve started this already, but with the summer farmers’ markets coming up, I’m excited to see what goodies they have to offer. * Our ultimate goal is to reach an 80/20 ratio of good, real-food choices to “real world/real life” options (ie a pizza or meal out from time to time).

Now, if only Harper wasn’t showing signs of a berry allergy. Grr.

Treats are OK! – Don’t get me wrong with my last point – we’ll still savor our ice cream and popsicles. I’m also hoping to avoid getting too hyped up about how messy they tend to be. 😉 We also have a new fire pit, so you KNOW s’mores are in the mix. (Now, if only we could find some organic marshmallows…)

Getting away. – This is a tough one to figure out for some reason. We were hoping to get away for a quiet, as-relaxing-as-possible-with-two-young-kids vacation but can’t settle on a where and when. We also make a trip to our “it’s tradition!” spots, like Western Mass and Old Forge, so I just don’t know. Gah. This may just be the year we fly by the seat of our pants.

So, there we are! I have a HUGE job to get inventory done and ALL of the books packed away for construction this summer, so I can’t wish the days away…but let’s just say I’ll be glad to have it all done and behind me to enjoy these munchkins (and my super cool husband, of course) this summer.

Anyone have some awesome plans they want to share? Or suggestions for a fun-yet-peaceful trip/vacation that won’t break the bank? I’d love to hear in the comments!