Mama Life Hacks {#24}: The Nightly Clean-up

I am not a clean freak. I prefer my house to be clean. But I can function just fine (for a while, at least) if it’s not. In fact, it doesn’t feel like my house is ever COMPLETELY clean, since if the kids and I have cleaned two of the bathrooms, the high likelihood is that the other three need a scrub (yes, that means we have 5 bathrooms…that might be part of the problem). I do not have a compulsive need to deep-clean every surface of my house on a weekly basis, as several of my friends do (which is both a blessing to my sanity–hello, 7 constantly-mess-producing children–and a curse–I know that if I were compulsive, my house would, indeed, be cleaner).

HOWEVER, I feel the most mentally at ease and–there’s no better way to put it–okay with myself as a human when my house is picked up and reasonably clean. And that is what today’s Mama Life Hack is supposed to help with.

And it’s so simple, so obvious, so ridiculously basic that I fully expect every comment on this post to be some iteration of “DUH, Abbie, or “Why didn’t I already think of that?”

But first a little back story. We clean every morning. After Bible reading and before we start school, the kids all do their “morning routines.” For the girls and Theo, this involves unloading the dishwashers, picking up the common area (living room/dining room/kitchen/stairway) and putting away any toys or books we’ve gotten out (even though this process generally happens between 8 and 9, there have been children up and playing since 6:30 usually, so, yes, there’s already at least some mess by the time the sun comes up).

The older boys alternate day-by-day with: 1) loading the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher/cleaning the sink and surrounding counter and 2) sweeping the kitchen/dining and wiping down the island, stove, counters.

(I include this detail because I get a lot of questions about what kind of chores my kids do at which ages). 

During this time, I flip laundry, feed the baby, answer emails, etc. I’m not cleaning alongside them, necessarily, but we’re all doing something productive.

This way, we start our school day with things in the spaces we use most under reasonable control.

Fast forward to the end of our day, and MOST (not all, but most) of this work has been completely undone. Pencils have been sharpened to nubs and dropped on the ground (thank you, Theo), papers have been shredded on the floor (ahem, Theo again), lunch has been made, snacks X 7 have been eaten…twice (goodness, that’s a lot of food), books have been hauled out of lockers, bathrooms have been strewn with toilet paper (among other things #ew). We try–oh how we try–to put things back as we go. The food gets put back at lunchtime. The paper mounds get picked up. The bathroom gets de-TP’d. But when the focus is on learning, not cleaning, and there are still more messes to be made, it’s inevitable that we miss a pencil or 6, and there’s a doll or 3 under the couch.

Oh, and then there’s dinner. I do simple food: Taco soup, chicken tortilla soup, chicken and squash grill, spaghetti, chicken pot pie (my most-well-loved-by-readers recipe). But there’s still some cooking debris that’s inevitable with the process of refereeing 7 kids while preparing food for them (although to be fair, it doesn’t feel like refereeing 90% of the time; they’re honestly usually playing happily, reading, helping me cook, or doing something outside).

My point? Despite our best efforts, our main living areas are still at least a little bit messy at the end of every day.

And I’m tired. And not the least bit interested in starting all over again with what feels like (no IS) a never-ending process.

One day, as I was expressing to Shaun my frustration with the amount of work yet to be done at the end of the day versus the amount of fortitude left with which to tackle it, he said, “We just need to set a timer for after dinner clean-up and get it done.”

At first, my emotions rebelled against the simplicity of the suggestion. It couldn’t possibly be THAT easy.

But then, I remembered an article I read once about a mother of many (also a homeschooler) who instituted a 5:00 PM clean-up train, in which each member of her household was required to fall in line as they snaked through the entire house picking up errant socks and books and general life detritus. It had sounded intimidating  (even though she said they enjoyed it) to me at the time, but I could see the appeal in ending each day with a picked up house.

And so, despite my temptation to sulk, rather than truly look for a solution, I said, “Okay, let’s try it.”

So, we did.

And it worked.

So, we still do.

Every night at 7 PM, our trustworthy Alexa  begins chirping to let us know that it’s time to clean. And we get to work. Everyone but Honor pitches in. (Still trying to figure out how to train an almost one-year-old who doesn’t walk to throw away his own diapers).

The smaller kids repeat a version of the picking up routine they do in the mornings, every now and then with the addition of a rug vacuum. And the older boys and I usually tag-team the dishes + large pan scrubbing + sweeping. Shaun helps with picking up, redirecting wandering attention (AHEM, Theo and Twins), trash duty, or whatever else needs doing.

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Gittin ‘ur dun. P.S. She’s standing on my fave kid stool of all time. 

We turn on music. We might even boogie down a little. But mostly, we work. It takes 20-30 minutes with all of us hustling at our respective tasks to take the main living area from cluttered-enough-to-be-stressful:

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The milk is out. Dishes are piled in the sink. The island is strewn with leftover…stuff. And I do believe there are containers of garlic powder and cayenne on the sofa table???

to this:

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Don’t be deceived. This is clean-from-a-distance. Some nights, I have time/energy to wipe down the cabinets or rearrange the fridge if the dishes are light. Most of the time, though, this is simply main surfaces wiped down, floors swept (not mopped), dishes done, and clutter put away.

It’s not deep-cleaned. But do you know what it is? Stress-free!!

Half an hour of corporate cleaning makes my brain go AAAAAAHHHH every single night, and it’s glorious.

Now, obviously, I have lots of helpers, and some of my kids are older. But that also means that I have more mess-makers. And I can tell you that, after years of training the little ones, they are finally starting to get it. (So, if you only have wee ones, there’s still hope). The olders were gone the other night, and Della (7), the twins (5), and Theo (3) managed to help with dishes, pick up and vacuum the living room, put away toys, and throw away trash quite proficiently.

MOST of the problem with everything feeling so overwhelming was my assumption that–even though I require my children to help throughout the day–once it hit evening time, I was completely responsible for setting everything right. (No clue why). And, given how tired I usually am, many nights, that just wasn’t happening. With the result, of course, being a more cluttered and stressful start to our mornings.

The oh-so-subtle shift from: this is MY responsibility to this is OUR responsibility and let’s see how quickly and joyfully we can knock it out has done wonders for my energy levels, motivation, and attitude.

The kids don’t mind a bit. In fact, because of the music and camaraderie, they actually–gasp–enjoy it.

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Another important part of our evening routine: the older kids’ reading the children’s Bible to the oh-so-attentive littles after we clean. 

So, there you have it. The little cleaning trick that has revolutionized our nighttime routine.

Notice that it’s similar to the other mom’s idea but not identical. Different time. No conga line. BUT. The elements of togetherness, fun, and work are still present. And I think those are the keys.

Let me know if you give this a shot or if you already do something similar. I can’t believe it took me so long to implement this (thanks, Shaun), but I’m so glad we did.

P.S. I’m working on a no-sock-left-behind system that my Instagram peeps helped me devise, and I can’t wait to share it soon.

R E S T (and a Happy New Year!)

I’ve had it in my head for a while to try to summarize this year for you guys. I know I haven’t blogged as much as usual, which has been both a relief and a sore spot because I love to write and enjoy communicating with you all but have also needed to hold it more loosely due to life’s demands.

I’ve never been more stretched–emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally…you get the idea–than I have over the last 12 months. And by the end of November, I was feeling every bit of it. Really by October, nothing felt normal. Not that normal had even been on the radar for a long time. But I’m the type of person to just keep doing the next thing. Plenty falls by the wayside (I don’t “do it all”), but the essentials will get done, generally speaking, with a minimum of meltdowns. It’s a strength but also a weakness, since I can tend to push stress deep down inside instead of addressing it.

By November, after a year-plus of upheaval, I found myself fighting off mini-anxiety attacks (shortness of breath, tight chest, panicky heart palpitations, wanting to cry etc.) and very much feeling like a break was in order. (Unless I wanted a mental breakdown).

Praise the Lord that’s exactly what we finally got around the beginning of December. In fact, even with the demands of the Christmas season, December has been a welcome season of (at least some) rest.

I say all of this, not to garner pity (I mean, seriously, I got a new house and a trip to Hawaii out of the bargain), but to try to give you some perspective on what this year has been like for me…in case you’ve been wondering. In my usual loquacious manner, I had planned to write more about how it’s felt to do all of the things we’ve done this year, but after several weeks of a slower pace, the details no longer seem as important.

PLUS, I’d already written a great deal about it in the letter that I included with our first ever Christmas card (because while you’re winding up the busiest year of your life, you might as well add something else new).

So, I decided to share that with you instead.

Warning: it’s looooong, and much of it you already know, but if you’re so inclined, it’s yours to read.

When I look back at 2017, I am pretty in awe of what the Lord has wrought for our family. I’m also a little in awe of how much we packed into in one single revolution of this beautiful earth around the sun. 

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We began the year in eager anticipation of the birth of our seventh (!!!) baby, Honor Daniel. I say eager, but I might also add jaded, because, while “his royal cuteness”–as the rest of the kids have been known to call him–was due on January 2nd, my body has demonstrated time and again that it considers due dates more like mild suggestions than actual eviction notices and will blatantly ignore them for a good two weeks.

Which is pretty much exactly how long it ignored this particular due date as Honor finally made his grand entrance via water birth at home (with my amazing midwife attending) on January 16.

Praise God he was perfect and healthy and delightful and just remains the yummiest, chillest, most huggable bundle of baby squish (even though we’re approaching his 1st birthday already…HOW?!) that ever was.

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Of course, as if having a new baby (and a 7th one at that) wasn’t enough, we were also knee (chest? neck?) deep in the process of preparing our beloved first home (that we built from scratch over 9 years before) for sale WHILE finishing up the equally DIY construction of our new home in which we currently live.

In the midst of all of this, I kept teaching fitness classes like I have for the last decade, and we plugged away at homeschooling like we always do. For the past three years, my mom, Beth, has been an invaluable source of help and support as we have hired her to teach the kids two days a week. It is such a unique blessing for my children to be able to learn from their “Softa,” not to mention a great opportunity for me to get housework and projects done, do a little work on the art print business, Paint and Prose, that I share with my best friend, and even take shower once a week or so. (Kidding…or am I?).

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We also joined a once-a-week homeschool co-op, which offers a wide variety of curricular opportunities for all ages–includng science, art, music, physics, Spanish (which I teach there at a secondary level), advanced math, and more.

Ezra (11.5) is my youngest Spanish student and holds one of the highest grades in the class with VERY little help from Mom (I couldn’t be prouder of his diligence), and all of my kids enjoy the friends they’ve made and the things they learn at co-op.

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But back to that mad dash to sell our first home and finish our second so we could move into it.

In March, we worked steadily on our last few things on the house-sale prep list. I even stayed home from a trip to Hawaii with Shaun when he was called there for work so that the kids and I could get the house ready. I’m not even a little bit mad about it because we got SO much done. But I’m also not mad I got a second chance at the trip later in the year. More on that in a minute, though.

When our house was finally ready to sell (and my husband was back in the lower 48), we announced it for sale via my blog and social media channels, praying that we could generate enough interest that we would not have to engage a realtor.

The Lord said YES in a very big way when he brought us an interested party from that announcement. And that interested party proceeded to be the first and ONLY family who looked at the house before giving us a fantastic offer.

Not only that, but they ended up buying the house furnished, which saved so much time and trouble in packing up large items like beds and sofas and rugs (oh my!). Who does that?? We still shake our heads in disbelief at the favor God showered down on us in that easy, straightforward house sale (I had been dreading the thought of keeping the house “show-ready” for months with 7 kids living there).

Of course, the rapid sale of our house presented a new conundrum. Where would we live now?

We had listed our house for sale in the spring, since we knew it was the optimum buying time, but our new house was still lacking floors, some electrical and plumbing, paint, trim, countertops, and on and on.

After toying with the idea of moving temporarily into one of our rental properties (which Shaun manages in his “spare” time), we decided to GO FOR IT instead, feverishly working on each of the items from the list above as much as our daily obligations and Shaun’s day job allowed for the next 45 days as the sale finalized, and closing day rushed at us like a freight train.

When all was done and dusted (but stll very dirty: see below), we officially moved in on June 2nd, which just so happened to be our 12th wedding anniversary. We took our last load to the dump our anniversary morning (and then kicked ourselves for not commemorating such a momentously fragrant and romantic anniversary date with a selfie), and then Shaun hooked up one working shower head so that we could both rinse off enough grime to make us presentable to eat at a restaurant that night (because who wants to cook on your anniversary even if your stove is hooked up? Not that ours was).

To adequately describe the chaos that was our new home–with its concrete floors covered in powdery lakes of East Texas red dirt, vast expanses of more red dirt right outside every door, and the constant revolving door of painters and trim and floor guys that we hired with the profits of our first house sale to hurry the finishing process along–would require more grimacing and hand flapping on my part than a letter can properly convey.

We started out with kids sleeping in the living room and the school room on mattresses on the floor and Shaun and Honor and I bundled into Shaun’s office. Each time we made more progress on finishing up a house project (like tiling a bathroom or installing a countertop) and moved the kids closer to their own rooms was a little victory over the disorder and another step toward restoring my rather questionable sanity at that point.

After several weeks of house settling and Shaun’s work travel, we did get a much-appreciated break in the form of a family trip to Gulf Shoes, Alabama with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and their two cutie-pie daughters. Burning sand and sun + 9 children under 12 is not the most fool-proof formula for relaxation, but we still managed to enjoy ourselves immensely for a few days before heading back to the Dust Bowl, er, home.

The rest of the summer passed in a blur of house projects, part time homeschooling, and snatches of rest here and there. Then, we began the school year again in earnest with the re-commencement of the co-op I mentioned earlier. Routine felt good, but Shaun’s work trips were ramping up again, so Daddy’s absence throughout the weekdays was an unfortunate part of that routine.

In September, we celebrated a fun milestone as our precious twins, Evy and Nola, turned 5! Twins are hard, especially when they are very young, but I can’t say enough good things about how fun and joyous my twinsies are now. It is so entertaining to see both their individual personalities emerging even while their twin bond grows stronger.

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Speaking of joy, both they and Della (7) get buckets of it from imagining their futures as a trio of prima ballerinas–a profession that we took the first step toward making a possibility by enrolling them in beginning dance classes this fall. Although, if we’re being honest, the ballerina thing is more of Della’s dream with the twins just along for the ride. Della dances everywhere she goes, and while that makes getting through math and handwriting a bit of a challenge, it’s mostly just delightful to see her gentle, graceful, cheerful personality flow through her hands and feet.

In October, Shaun, Honor, and I all left on a jet plane to Hawaii (Shaun was called back for work, and this time I got to go) the week of my 35th birthday. My rock star mama did her rock star Softa thing with the other 6 kids while we were gone enjoying several glorious days of sun, ocean breezes, surfing, eating yummy food, and getting the most excruciating (okay, and only) Thai massages of our lives.

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We were only home for a week (and by we, I mean, the kids and I, since Shaun had yet another work trip the second we got home) before we turned around and headed for New England for a Fall Break/homeschooling vacation with Ezra, Simon (10), Della, and Honor (who goes where I go…the 3 middle youngest stayed with my mom again). We had the loveliest time enjoying the brilliantly colored fall leaves, touring Boston, flying kites on Martha’s Vineyard, visiting an apple orchard, and experiencing a locally famous Renaissance Faire.

At the end of October, we took our first Saturday off as a family in over 2 years and established what we hope will be a much-loved family tradition: a boys vs. girls Fall Family Bake-off.

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In case you’re wondering, while both entries were DE-licious, the girls won by a teaspoon (or so said the impartial judges–aka: longtime friends we convinced to come over and eat dessert) with our caramel pumpkin cheesecake bars. Yes, we gloated just a little.

October slid into November with more work travel for Shaun and a looooooong, self-imposed to do list for all of us as we challenged ourselves to finish up as many detailed projects as possible before hosting a double-birthday party for Simon and Della, who turned 10 and 7 respectively the 27th and 21st of November.

There was much wallpapering and painting and cleaning (for me), outdoor work and light hanging (for Shaun and his dad, who has been a consistent and invaluable help both times that we have built) and very little sleep. But we managed to tackle most of our list in time to enjoy hosting 70 friends and family in our relatively (7 kids still live here) dirt free, more or less finished home that is an absolute gift from God.

(P.S. If you would like to see pictures, I have plenty up under the hashtag #mifmbuildsagain on my Instagram under the handle @m.is.for.mama).

As a side note: it has been fun to see all of our kids step up to the plate when it comes to helping out around the house (well, except Honor; he’s just around for moral support and sweet, sloppy kisses, which help more than he’ll ever know). Ezra and Simon, especially, have logged many weekend hours helping Shaun and their grandpa–hauling trash, nailing boards, sweeping, and many other odd jobs. I’m proud of how their work ethics have steadily improved over the last two years of house-building and am excited to see the young men that they’re becoming. Ezra wants to be a pastor one day (and would make an excellent one with his nurturing, truth-loving personality), and Simon can’t decide between hunter/farmer/fisherman/rancher, but it’s a pretty safe bet he’ll end up doing something outdoorsy. They are the best of friends, and I love how they watch each other’s backs (in between an occasional bickerfest or two, of course).

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Right before the party, we made an exciting update to our house in the form of a concrete driveway and turnaround. And let me tell you this: I never thought I’d pray, “Jesus, thank for you for concrete and no more red dirt,” but I absolutely have. Several times a day, in fact.
The first part of December has been spent recovering from an entire year of go-go-GOing. We have decorated for Christimas, enjoyed a piano recital featuring (among others) our 5 oldest kids, and baked treats to take to new neighbors. It has been a soul-filling period of rest and family time and NO work travel!

Even once Christmas is done, we will have plenty to celebrate, as our adorable and um, high-spirited, resident almost-threenager, Theo, turns 3 on December 30th. He is a source of extreme joy one moment and considerable frustration the next (which is true of pretty much every almost-3-year-old I’ve met, so we’re good with it), and we all love him tons and like him a lot (most of the time).

As 2017 winds down, and we look toward 2018, we are excited for the new chapter the Lord has in store for us. We hope it will be one of family ministry and growth, of new things and old traditions. But more than anything, we pray that we will do His will and that we will be good and faithful servants.

Please know that we are praying for y’all as you receive our letter and are pretty impressed with you for wading through the minutiae of our life over the past year (we totally understand if you took a cat nap somewhere in there).

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May the God of all peace bring you just that as you and yours begin 2018.

With love,

Shaun, Abbie, Ezra, Simon, Della, Evy, Nola, Theo, and Honor

The Ultimate (LAST MINUTE!) Amazon Gift Guide 2017

With only two actual days before Christmas, it’s a bit laughable that I’m posting my last gift guide. I almost didn’t, but then I had several people ask me about last-minute ideas and noticed how many items on Amazon are available for 1 day free shipping (if you hustle) and figured, well, why not? The post has been written, waiting to be finished up, for days.

So, here you go!

Pretty rose gold + leather watches are always a good idea!

Such a versatile gift–salad, fruit, decor, WHATEVER!

Ezra and Simon got one of these for me for my birthday (sweet boys), and I LOVE it! It has saved my bacon (somewhat literally) so many times, considering I can cook the chicken for soup AND the soup in under an hour. Tons of other uses.

Cute, high quality rainboots for less than $50? Yes, please! (Multiple styles in the $30 range). Click through the link for the warehouse deal prices, which are the ones I mentioned. Look for “buying options” or the blue text at the bottom of the description.

NOT under $50, but Shaun has bought me Hunter boots twice for Christmas over the last several years when they went on sale, and I can personally attest to their quality/comfort/cuteness. I wear mine often. A couple of colors and sizes are as low as $75.

Herschel is kind of the standard for hipster/cute bags, but they’re pretty over-priced imho. Good thing Amazon Warehouse Deals has got our backs. Click through the link and look for the blue text to the right under the “add to cart” column.

And then there’s this fun canvas/leather tote at $43 at the “like new” warehouse deal price. (Check out the blue text on the far right under the “add to cart” column where it says “used and new from”)

I’ve eyed up the Naked2 eye shadow palette by Urban Decay many times, but I just can’t pull the trigger on $60 eye shadow (y’all, my current shadow is from the dollar store, so…). $12 for two different palettes that have FANTASTIC review, though? Yeah, I already bought it.

Something else I’m not very savvy about but have been looking for is a good curling wand. My bestie has this one and used it on my hair the other day, with awesome results (it took 5 minutes, added some definition to my natural curls, and lasted all day). I wasn’t surprised when she told me it was the Babyliss brand because I have the straightener, and it’s awesome.

Another gift that Shaun has gotten me that I LOVE. This is actually a good price, since they don’t go on sale often. It looks like the earliest you could get it is Tuesday even with free One day Shipping, but still…maybe an option for someone you’re not doing Christmas with until next week or for a future gift?

http://amzn.to/2BzYIHJ

Got a reader who loves his/her Kindle in your life? You could give them the gift of unlimited reading for a YEAR (at 30% off the usual price).

http://amzn.to/2BPMxDm

Along the same lines…I love Audible! I always have a book in my ears while I’m doing projects. It makes for a great gift too.

I’ve done a review of our Amazon Alexa, and our love remains strong. We use her for all kinds of stuff all day long. Plus, we have two echo dots in separate rooms in the house that we use as intercoms (you can call between Echos). At $30, it’s a super affordable way to have a decent speaker for playing music or setting timers or any of the other myriad things Alexa is awesome for.

I know this is a super-eclectic list, but these were all hanging out as “extras” (or ones that I found since posting my other guides) that I intended to post, and then life got away from me.

Plus, my sister-in-law told me last night that she was sad her dad had missed out on the opportunity to buy her mom an instant pot, and I was happy to tell her that he could still squeeze it in!

The Ultimate Amazon Gift Guide for Kids {2017}

Kids are definitely the most fun to shop for (you get to imagine their delighted reactions), but it still can be a chore to wade through all of the kid STUFF to find a truly awesome gift. I’ve waded and waded and managed to come up with several options that I know my kids would love (if only they read my blog).

Hopefully, the kidlets you must buy for in your life will too.

Because what kid wouldn’t love to walk around lit up like a Christmas tree??

My boys would love this Perplexus maze ball. Only two left in stock of this one, but there are some options (for much cheaper) on Warehouse Deals.

If you’ve gotta have a night light, it might as well be shaped like a cat, yes? Of course, yes.

It’s a game! It’s math! It’s both, and it would make a great gift for a kid or two in your life!

I don’t know about yours, but my girls play with dolls. Like a lot. They don’t really care, but I like dolls of the cute variety. MOST of the ones I favor tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but this sweet little fox doll is pretty cute without breaking the bank.

I know this is kind of random, but of every dress up outfit we’ve ever bought or been given, our dino suit–with its swingy tail and horny head–has been a favorite among every single one of my children. This one is similar to the one we have and would hopefully provide its recipient with as much joy as it has my kids.

I’ve just about bought one of these teepees for my kids about 100 times over the last 5 years, but I keep telling myself, “Oh, you could make that…” See how well that’s been working for me?

Don’t be like me. Instead, buy this stripey version so your kids don’t periodically remind you about that heap of scraps you have in your closet that “you said you were going to make a teepee with that one time.” #truestory

This cute crocheted ballerina doll would be a favorite with my girls. Yours too?

This is my absolute favorite kids’ Bible. The illustrations are incredible, and the text stays very true to the details of the Biblical accounts it includes (which are MUCH more in depth than the usual “Noah/Abraham/Jonah” highlights) while still being easily understood by children.

My mom gave Simon one of these for his birthday, and we’ve all gotten a kick out of it. The price point + reviews on this one can’t be beat!

Bubbles. Every little kid loves them. Every mom very quickly gets tired (and lightheaded) from blowing them. Enter this ingenious device.

Here’s another version for suuuuuuper cheap! Not as good of reviews, but for the price, maybe worth the gamble?

The reviews on this little cash register are mixed (main complaint: the drawer sticks), but for the current PRICE ???!!! I think I might chance it for Theo. It beeps/scans food with actual prices, adds them, has a microphone, makes noise when you insert the included debit card, and comes with money, coins, and food. Whuuuuttt?

The girls and I saw the Wonder movie for Della’s birthday and really liked it, and I’ve heard great things about the book as well. I think it may be our next family read aloud.

Breakfast for dinner is a huge hit at our house. Imagine how much more so that would be if our waffles were shaped like MICKEY’S HEAD??

Got any mermaid lovers in your house? Satisfy all of their “under the sea” yearnings while keeping their tootsies toasty with this fun mermaid tale blanket.

Foxes AND hedge hogs?? Are they trying to KILL us with cuteness??

I snagged some of these for Honor so that his blankies wouldn’t match Theo’s (territorial, much?), and I love the black and white and how soft they turn out after the wash.

Simon and Della both got gifted paint by sticker books for their birthdays, and they both love them. Chances are, your kids will too!

You better believe books are high on my lists of best gifts for kids, and this “atlas” is a super fun option (we have it, and it’s great!) with awesome graphics.

We love these adorable Hello, World board books at our house. Theo will read them with me all day long, and the twins love them too. If you scroll down to “similar items,” you’ll find the rest of the books listed.

Speaking of books we love, all of my kids are entertained by this one. AS AM I. Seriously. My favorite right now.

I just bought this boxed set after both of my boys DEVOURED the first one in the series. (Definitely a good vs. evil situation, but not explicitly Christian).

Anything by Donita K Paul is also a huge hit with my boys who love all things dragon and warriors. (The books do have Christian themes).

And this oldie but goodie for Della.

If you don’t mind your little ending up looking like a juvenile member of a motorcycle gang, you might consider this nail sticker + tattoo kit. My girls would FLIP for this!

And again with the llamas! But isn’t he cute??

Surely I can be allowed one more if it’s in hat form???

These cutie-pie bandanas would make a great gift for a new mama who wants a stylish alternative to traditional bibs.

It’s a toy AND a clock. I bought my boys one of these each years ago when they needed an alarm clock, and we still have/enjoy them.

Phew! Typing up all of these gift guides has worn. me. OUT. But I’m coming back with ONE MORE (Lord willing) for the true procrastinators among you! Hope you’re already done, but just in case not, stay tuned.

The Ultimate Amazon Gift Guide 2017 {$15 – $50}

Hopefully, you guys have most of your gifts under control already, but just in case you still need some inspiration, I’ve got lots more fun finds in the under $50 category.

Would it be one of my gift guides without gold + initials in some form of dainty jewelry? No, no it would not. Love this bar necklace version.

I know lots of people take their coffee seriously. The closest thing I can come to relating is in how seriously I dislike it. BUT. Even though the most obvious beverage to carry around in this NO spill wonder that keeps your drinks hot for hours might be a cuppa joe, it would obviously work just as well for my beloved ho-cho (hot chocolate) or for a cold drink as well. My friend, Chelsey (a coffee drinker), has one of these and loves hers for the unspillability (sure, why not?) of it if nothing else.

And now for a cup for those who prefer to take things stylishly. It may not be spill proof, but at least it’s cute!

This jewelry “box” is another one that falls in the Anthro-esque category. I love the combination of rustic with a little glimmer.

There is only one of these Fossil wristlets available for less than $40 (they’re usually $70) from Warehouse deals, but I absolutely love the super cute b + w + cognac leather combo. May the best woman (aka: the fastest with a keyboard) win! (Scroll down and look the for the blue text to find the Warehouse deal price).

I mean, I know we’re not 12, but still. These socks ARE pretty cute.

I have one of these and love it. (And how cute is it that you can label everything with chalk?)

It’s entirely possible that I’ve recommended this EXACT box set before. I know I’ve recommended the books separately, but I can’t remember about the set. Either way, it’s a great price for all four books. It would make a great gift for one, OR you could split up the books and give them to multiple people.

I don’t know why cute raincoats are so fun. But they are. And this navy and white floral option is surprisingly reasonably priced (because raincoats are expensive, yo) with good reviews.

I know fiddle leaf figs are pretty much the trendiest plants in the history of ever. Plus, they’re expensive. But if you (or someone on your gift list) has a green thumb (because, apparently, they’re also finicky) and some patience, this $30 version could be just the ticket!

Some people collect art. I’m more partial to garden stools. And poufs. But I’m happy to say that I rarely pay more than $50 for either and almost always considerably less. Amazon Warehouse Deals always has great deals like the one above. I love these to go beside a chair for a drink or a book. My kids like them as actual stools. We both win. (As with all Warehouse Deals, you have to click through the link then scroll down to the see the discounted price, which is over HALF off what it says in the pic above).

Gotta love a cute, mama-themed graphic tee.

And again. I don’t know why llamas are so popular (can you say OWL replacement??), but they make for some pretty cute graphics. Plus, I do love me a good long-sleeved gray tee.

Letter boards are all the rage these days, and I can personally attest (because Shaun got me two small ones for my birthday) that, while expensive, they are super-fun! This one’s actually a pretty sweet deal for this size board PLUS letters.

I LURVE this minty green cake stand plus glass dome. I find cake stands surprisingly versatile/useful in both decor and baking. And you can never go wrong with mint #imho. Sadly, this one has jumped in price $10 since I first jotted it down for the guide, but it’s still cheaper than it’s similar World Market counterpart.

Got a camera-lover in your life? What about gifting them this stylish bag for all their gear?

I just can’t help myself with pom poms. Keep in mind that these are pillow covers only. The better to stuff from your graveyard all those old pillow forms in your closet. Just me? Whoops.

It took me a long time (um, $30 years?), but I finally have what I would call a “signature fragrance” (Tocca’s Stella). But I love ALL of Tocca’s scents. They’re earthy and rich without being too, um, “mature” (catch my drift?). They can be expensive (but considering that my $70 bottle of Stella easily lasts me 2 years, I’m not mad about it). But this set includes a fair bit for a reasonable price and would make a great gift.

I mean, its sparkly slippers. Need I say more?

Okay, I told you I have a thing for stools. But did I mention I like faux fur too? Well, I do. So, put ‘em together for less than $40, and you have a winner in my book. Not to mention a fun gift for a decor-lover in your life.

AGAIN with the stools!!! I get asked where I get these stools (I have 6, but they come in packs of 2) ALL of the time on Instagram. The above link is your answer (scroll down for an Amazon Warehouse Price). I wait til they go on sale or I can catch them from the Warehouse, and they are SOOOOO worth it. Cute, sturdy. Practically unflippable. Small enough for even Theo to tote from one place to the next. I can’t say enough good things. They are fantastic for kids, but even I use them every now and then, and I love how sleek they are to look at.

Floral duffle. Meant to be…given to someone who loves cute bags! ;)

This poncho is a fun find…

As is this ruffly option, which has a VERY similar version at Anthropologie that costs almost 4 TIMES as much!!

Speaking yet again of Anthro, they have this very same milk bottle measuring cup situation for one dollar LESS (ironically enough) than Amazon. Free Prime shipping definitely evens the playing field, though.

Love this pretty camera strap, and so does pretty much everyone who reviewed it!

I have a mint desk lamp similar to this one I got from Target 2ish years ago that I got asked about all of the time from the old house. I think I might actually like this one even better because of the wood accents.

I love it when cooking utensils match. Double love it when they’re GOLD!

Something else “fun” (and by fun, I mean informative and potentially slightly depressing): this scale that not only weighs your food but will also spit out a caloric reading for you.

I love dough bowls. I don’t actually own one because they’re either a) expensive or b) really expensive. But this one is both affordable and interesting because of the unique live edge.

And that’s what I’ve got for our under $50 category. I’ll be back on Thursday with a kids’ guide, so if you have any last minute deals to snag, stay tuned!

The Ultimate Amazon Gift Guide for MEN {2017}

When I first started doing these gift guides, I only included items for us girls. But it didn’t take long to figure out that what y’all REALLY wanted were ideas for those hard-to-buy-for men in our lives.

Lucky for you, that’s exactly what today’s post is about. I consulted Shaun, dug around the depths of Amazon’s “manly” categories, and came up with some winners in variety of price ranges.

Here we go with the Ultimate Amazon Gift Guide for MEN

I know. Grill tools. How basic. But Shaun insisted that a simple, quality set of grill tools (as opposed to a package of every little gadget under the sun) was a thing every guy would want. I definitely could have hit a higher price range, but these are on a special (for now, anyway) for $20, and the reviews are pretty convincing.

In the same vein, we have this fire starter, which looks a little like a curling iron with holes in it but is basically the equivalent of a mini-blowtorch and great for lighting charcoal fires or just for impressing your guy friends. Shaun’s exact words when he saw it were: “OH. That’s cool.”

And while we’re all about fire, let’s talk fire pits. They’re more expensive than they should be (IMHO), but some of our favorite memories from our old house were of spending chilly evenings on the back patio huddled around our (rather junky, rusted, and now defunct) fire pit, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and telling silly stories. I’m already planning to replace our pit for Shaun’s birthday (shhhh…don’t tell; he’s been warned away from reading this post), and I may just go with this 30″ version, which, according to the reviews, is quite substantial and more durable than most in its price range (the “fancy” ones quickly jump to twice the price, and the cheaper ones are cheap in more than price alone).

Speaking of hot dogs, this little gadget seems like it would be a winner for the hot dog lovers in your life. It toasts the bun AND grills the weenie at the same time, then pops them up, just like a slice of toast, when they’re done. NEAT-O!

Another rec from Shaun: a lightweight sleeping bag that rolls up compactly so it’s easy to throw in a backpack for a hike but keeps you toasty at night. This one’s rated for cooooooold temps and supposed to be both durable and light.

If you’ve got a guy who’s a reader in your life, and he has somehow managed to miss out on this gem, you NEED to get it for him. Absolutely incredible story. I don’t usually gush about books, but consider this one a full on slobber-fest. It’s fantastic.

I’m less enthused about this book. Ahem. But the guys who have read it (because I never will) seem to think it’s awesome. So, there’s that.

Shaun insisted that the best kind of wallet is a slim one, and the many options/reviews seem to agree with him. This version won’t break the bank, has great reviews, and comes in a variety of colors/textures.

I have the hardest time finding tools to buy for the man who builds houses because, duh, he already has at least one of each and knows which one does what (me, not so much). But I take great pride in the fact that I found this little gadget all by my lonesome, and Shaun loves it (and recommended that every handy guy have one).

Shaun and I are both big fans of audio books, so a good pair of noise-canceling earbuds is high on both of our lists of “necessary” things in life.

This pair gets at least as good of reviews as ones 3 times its price.

And here’s a well-reviewed blue tooth version for not much moolah.

If you’re looking to spend a little MORE moolah, Shaun highly recommended this 12 volt drill kit from Milwaukee. Actually, come to speak of it, after using it to install kitchen hardware, I highly recommend it at as well. It’s way easier to handle with one hand than Shaun’s giant Dewalt beast of a drill.

Who doesn’t love a good hoodie? These Champion fleece versions come in tons of colors, and some are as low as $20. Great reviews too!

If you’re looking for a gift that says, “Why don’t you relax?” more than say, a drill or a socket wrench, how about this fantastic British series set in World War II? It’s DEFINITELY guy approved (Shaun loves it), but I’ve watched every episode of the 8 seasons as well and think it’s grand. Best part: very little objectionable material throughout. A war series that’s not rife with profanity and gore is hard to find, but this one does this trick.

I’m getting this shirt for Shaun…if for no other reason than as a visual reminder for me that, just because I didn’t get an immediate answer, does not mean that he’s ignoring me. Plus, it’s funny.

Speaking of funny AND entertaining, Killer Bunnies is a blast for guys and girls! But it does seem to me that males appreciate its off-kilter nature a little more than we girls do.

I kind of want this hat for myself. Buuuuuut I think it would make a great guy gift too.

Depending on your husband’s temperament, he might not consider this a kind gift at ALL. But I can see Shaun and I having a lot of fun (and good discussions) with a book like this.

Is there anything manlier than the words “camo survival bracelet?” Okay, so maybe not the “bracelet” part, but you gotta call it something.

Okay, so I’ve wanted one of these record players for ages, but they just don’t get great reviews for speaker performance, and they’re a bit much at full price. HOWEVER, Amazon Warehouse Deals always has one or two color options in the $30 range, and I am highly considering buying the girls a turquoise one for their room. There is currently a like new black one available, though, so if you’ve got a record-lover in your life who doesn’t care THAT much about an awesome bass beat, this makes for a stylish and functional gift he would love. Click through the link and then search below the listing for the blue text that says: “Used and new from ________”

And last but not least, we have this fun game, which is currently residing on our front porch, and of which Shaun is the current reigning champ. He loves it!

Annnnnd, there you have it! A BOATLOAD of suggestions for the guys in your life! Hope you find something he’ll love!

 

The Ultimate Amazon Gift Guide 2017 {$15 and Under}

EDIT: If you have ad-blockers installed, you will not be able to see links below.

Well, it’s that time of year again–yup, the one in which I scour the endless depths of the wilderness that is the Amazon search bar and emerge with dozens of fun finds for y’all.

I’m always amazed at what I still discover after years of doing this, even though I really suppose I shouldn’t be considering that a search for “llama sweatshirt” (more on that in another installment) produced over a 1,000 results all by itself.

Speaking of past years’ entries, you can find them here. There are lots of listings that are still active and at similar prices.

ANYHOO,without further ado, I give you the Under $15 edition of the Ultimate Amazon Gift Guide 2017.

amazon gift guide under 15

I’m a huge fan of a simple leather cuff bracelet, and this one is well-reviewed (as long as you’re okay with the blue one being more navy than royal…there are lots of other colors too) and so affordable.

Even in this digital age of smart phones and electronic planners, it’s hard to beat the practicality and prettiness of a cute notebook. Pair it with some glam pens like the ones below, and you’ve got the perfect package for a girl who loves to journal, plan, or doodle.

See? Pretty pens!!!

Is there anything better than a chunky knit hat with a fuzzy pom pom on top? Answer: yes, many things. But it’s still a winner in my book!

There is just something about a simple chevron necklace that can immediately take a plain tee to the next level. As in the one several levels beyond: I’ve been wearing this all day to scrub toilets and didn’t feel like changing. This is one cheap and well-reviewed. I might just snag
it for myself!

Another quick way to dress up an outfit without a ton of effort with a little rose gold + sparkle. I love this simple choker-style option.

It seems like all things “boho” are having a moment (or seven). I’m not a super-trendy person, but I’ve always been on board with a bit of bohemian flair, and these cute feather earrings are a great way to try out the trend without committing much money.

They’re just as cute in leather form.

We have several of these simple glass terrariums in our house, and I love how delicate and airy they are while still making a statement on a windowsill or on a shelf (or hanging, like they show in the pic). And considering that air plants are one of the few green things I’ve ever managed to keep alive on an extended basis, I’m just an all-around fan.

Aren’t these patio lights just so pretty and whimsical? I think they would look fabulous outside, but they would look just as great draped over headboard or hung in a little girls’ room.

I was JUST having a conversation with my mom (who is the natural supplement guru) about the benefits of hyaluronic acid for your skin. So between that, the benefits of charcoal, the gazillion positive reviews, and the good price…I already ordered me some o’ dis.

Considering the cracks in each corner of my screen even WITH a decent phone case, I’m thinking I may need to “invest” in one of these loop holders. Anything that results in my chucking my phone on the pavement less sounds good to me.

I’m guessing these are not going to be the most luxurious robes in the history of ever given the price and the fact that most people buy them as gifts for bridesmaids. But the reviews are mostly very positive, and it’s a fun gift for not much moolah.

I actually bought this fox sweatshirt as a “souvenir” on a family trip to New England this fall. And I really loved it. Until some of Ezra’s shorts bled all over it in the wash. Good thing Amazon has got my back with the very same sweatshirt for $10 less than I paid for it. #doh

I’m including it here as a PSA more than anything because it looks like it won’t arrive before Christmas. Just FYI: the sizing runs true.

Again with the boho earrings. Love the tassels!

And AGAIN!

I’m always excited when I find items with an Anthro vibe but without the
Anthro price tag. And this honeycomb vase fits the bill. So much more interesting than a plain glass bud vase. Cut a dozen white grocery store roses down short so they bunch up all pretty right in the mouth of the vase, and you’ve got yourself a great gift for anyone who loves slightly offbeat beauty.

I have a leather tassel keychain currently attached to my…well, to my keys, obviously. And I love it. It makes my keys easy to find without being bulky. Plus, it’s cute!

Who doesn’t love a good blanket scarf? Throw in a little plaid, et voila!
Instant gift perfection. Unless it’s for your Great-Uncle Merl. In which case, I’d suggest you keep looking.

I’ve never made it a secret that I love pretty books that are also good reading. You too? Or someone you know? Then you should totally order this copy of The Secret Garden for yourself or someone who is also a lover of pretty books. If you look at the “similar to” bar below the listing, you’ll see matching books in different titles.

A lot of times, the aprons I include have cute floral designs, but while I’m all about those too, I find myself really drawn to simpler designs lately. Like this striped option. I could even see giving this to my boys who love to help me cook.

Speaking of b+w stripes in the kitchen, these hand towels have great reviews for style and function.

Also, speaking of style and function, all three floral options of these fun bins are gorgeous. These types of storage are my favorite easy toy clean up that still looks good.

A makeup bag that’s stylish, witty, AND affordable? Yup. I’m a fan.

If you, like I, are a fan of multi-tasking and household items that do it too, then you’ll probably want to take a look at this pretty Rifle Paper Co. to-do list that doubles as a mouse pad. I have one, and it’s fantastic!

And there you have it for our under $15 installment!

I definitely could have burrowed even further down the rabbit hole of Amazon’s seemingly endless options, but my kids are making requests for food and other such unreasonable things, so I’d better sign off.

I’ll be back soon with round two!

Hawaii 2.0 (Part 2)

I almost didn’t post this. Because it’s been a…month (?) since I posted Part 1, and surely, no one cares anymore. Right? (Pretty sure right).

But I’ve had the text written for ages (the pictures are always what slow me down), and it seemed off-kilter to post a Part 1 but no Part 2, so here we gooooo…

So, where were we in the grand Hawaii birthday adventure? I think it was somewhere between yawn and ho-hum. I mean, we’d been in Hawaii for two whole days, and we had hardly done diddly-squat (but, oh, what a GLORIOUS diddly-squat it was).

Wednesday is when things started picking up considerably in the activity department, though.

Shaun worked half a day, and then we packed up the rental car and headed off to find a hike. What we found was a near brush with death. J/K. But only just. Because, while not deadly (for us), the Koko Crater Tramway hike is no joking matter. Basically, you start at the bottom of a rather dusty, barren-looking strip of old rails, and you keep climbing them, up, up, UP until you finally arrive at the top gasping and heaving, with burning legs and (if you’re like I am) a heavy dose of vertigo if you glance back down.

hawaii part 2 8 hawaii part 2 9

Those big smiles are on our faces in the first pic were because we didn’t know (well, Shaun had done it before but not with a baby on board). The second pic smiles are because we’re still alive.

Or, if you’re like the silver-haired dude who passed us coming up while we were on our way down, and THEN passed us going down as we were (still) on our way down, you eat that trail for a snack and then ask–as my children so often do–what’s for “real dinner?” (Thanks, silver-haired dude, for making me feel like a wimp).

But seriously. I am not in bad shape, y’all. And it still was a tough hike. And Shaun did it while WEARING Honor, so he took the whole Real Men Wear Babies trend to the next level.

After that (tortuous, yet strangely satisfying) experience, a shave ice was feeling pretty necessary, so we headed to Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha, where Uncle Clay himself regaled me with stories of how he used to frequent his own store when it was a sweet shop decades before and long for the day he would buy it and be in charge of handing out cups of sugary goodness. See? Dreams do come true! He was a sweet guy. Plus, he told me I looked like Elizabeth Taylor, and I’m all about a fancy sno-cone with a side of flattery.

The next day, our hiking trend continued as we tackled the (much easier but considerably windier) Makapu’u Point Lighthouse trail.

hawaii part 2 1

See? Gusty? I don’t recommend hiking in a bathing suit, by the way, unless you’re doing what I mention below. 

The views were spectacular, but even better was when we picked our way down to the tide pools halfway back down the trail and got sprayed by giant geysers of water from the blow-holes.

hawaii part 2 6

Daddy’s swimming in the tide pools while Honor and I got our selfie on.

Of course, then came the moment in the hotel parking garage when Shaun discovered that his wallet was missing. We couldn’t find it anywhere in the car, and he ended up hightailing it BACK to the hike, doing half of it in the now near-darkness and then the rather precarious goat path down to the tide pools in the then pitch blackness. Couple that with the fact that his phone wasn’t charged, and I was a rather concerned and uptight wife for a good two hours.

As you can imagine, when he came back without the wallet, we were both totally bummed.

AND THEN, we discovered it in a shopping bag…which he finally remembered shoving it into before we started the hike so the exact scenario of losing his wallet in a tide pool did not come to pass. Grrrr…all’s well that ends well?? Yes? Yes.

Friday was my actual birthday, and we started with a delicious breakfast at Sweet E’s Cafe. Honor and I had eaten there another morning when Shaun was working, and I told him we had to go back so he could try the blueberry cream cheese stuffed French toast. Holy exploding taste buds. I usually like the concept of French toast more than its execution, but this stuff was AH-mazing.

After that, we brought Honor back to the hotel where a sweet girl we had hired from an agency local to Honolulu babysat him while we took a surfing lesson. Shaun had taken one once before on his previous trip to Honolulu, but I never had. It was fun, and I did manage to stand up on the board several times, but the ABSOLUTE best wave that went on forever (and happened to be at the tale end of our time…so no chance for repeats) ended up coinciding with water smacking me straight in the eye and knocking my contact loose. So, I spent the entire wave crouching on my board trying to get the ornery thing back in my eye.

Eh. Worse things have happened to me.

Like the massage I got after surfing!!!

Okay, that’s being a bit dramatic. But I guess I should have known when my masseuse asked, “You ever have Thai massage before?” and then just grunted dubiously when I said, “No,” that I was in for an interesting experience.

Hilariously, Shaun came along for a couple’s massage (his first massage EVER), so he was even more bewildered than I was when we left.

So, basically Thai massage involves a WHOLE lot of having elbows dug into your back muscles, being walked on, and being pulled into some of the most unappealing positions ever. All by tiny Thai women who weigh maaaabye 90 pounds soaking wet.

Which makes you feel like EVEN more of a wimp when they say, “Pressure okay?” and you’re like, “Um, it’s a littlemuch” (and by that, I mean, the imprint of you fingers will never leave my collar bone), and they respond with, “Oh, okay. But this light. You need toughen up!”

I think maybe in the future I will avoid massages that get me thinking things like: “It’s like labor, Abbie. The pain can’t last forever. Just breathe, and the worst will be over in a minute.”

Or 70.

ANYhoo, we continued the festivities with lunch…somewhere…and a nap. And then we got all gussied up for our dinner reservation…

But Honor was having none of it.

He had been SO good this whole trip. Chill and cheerful and easygoing. But that night, he was H-Y-P-E-R.

We stuck him in the stroller and walked for a good long while, but he absolutely refused to fall asleep and kept emitting random, excited whoops and squeaks. Our reservation wasn’t for a fancy place, particularly, but neither was it a place where you would bring a vocalizing baby just for “fun.”

hawaii part 2 3

We aaaaalllmost won a few times, but the minute he got drowsy, he popped right back up. 

So, we gave up and headed to a nearby Vietnamese/Thai/African (random, yes?) place.

You guys.

It was SO good. I’ve racked my brain and can’t remember the name of the restaurant for the life of me, but the atmosphere was cozy and romantic and the food delicious. Plus–bonus!–the seating on one side was bench style, which gave Honor plenty of room to crawl out some of his excess energy.

We capped off the night with fireworks on the beach. I’d love to claim they did it just for my birthday, but the Hilton does a fireworks show every Friday night, so it was just really good planning on my part having my birthday fall on a Friday this year. Or…something like that.

Saturday was our last day there, and we squeezed in one more hike–to Diamond Head this time. Which was…overrated. Except for the parking experience, which was both slightly maddening–we ended up in the waiting line for quite a while because the lot was full…which should have been our first clue–and diverting. The guy in charge of the lot was wearing a yellow face mask with holes cut out for his eyes and mouth, a giant straw hat, and gloves. Plus he was SUPER zealous about his job of getting people into parking spots as they opened up and shutting down any attempts at line-cutting, which made for some pretty entertaining shouting and pointing showdowns.

ANYhoo, after idling in line for 25 minutes, The Man in the Mask finally gestured us into a spot, and we began the climb. Along with about 4,567 other geniuses who thought it would be a good idea to hike Diamond Head on a bright, sunny Saturday.

The views at the top were pretty, but hard to enjoy, since there were 14 people eagerly awaiting the chance to claim your spot at the railing. Eh. It wasn’t my favorite experience all around, but it was still an experience, and I don’t think I’ll soon forget weaving like mad through crowded paths in an attempt to keep the hike to a respectable time (we wanted to get up and back in under 45 minutes…just because).

The rest of the day was spent souvenir shopping (at, ahem, Walmart) for the kids, driving to a scenic view (which was completely obscured by fog) and trying some local poke (didn’t love it, didn’t hate it) and yet another shave ice before heading to the airport.

The flight home was the most daunting to me because it was an all-nighter, and Honor had been so full of nervous energy on the flight over, I figured he wouldn’t easily go to sleep. Plus, we didn’t have the extra space for his car seat this time.

Sure enough, he put up a valiant effort to stay awake for close to 3 hours, but he finally couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer and slept for a good two hours. Shaun and I dozed fitfully, but at least the flight back was a full hour shorter than the one there, and it went by somewhat quickly.

By the time we touched back down in Dallas, we were feeling pretty bleary-eyed but happy to be home and SO ready to see the rest of the kids.

Pretty much every aspect of the trip exceeded any expectations (they were few) that I had, and I came back feeling a strange mixture of exhaustion and rejuvenation.

Best of all, the kids thought their Hawaii Walmart shirts were A M A Z I N G. Well, those and the chocolate covered macadamias, of course.

hawaii part 2 7

Of course we proudly wore our shirts to homeschool co-op THE DAY AFTER we got back. 

Stay tuned for the first installment of my yearly Amazon Gift Guide on Tuesdays (pinky promise). 

 

Hawaii 2.0 (Part 1)

This past month has been one of the busiest and most exciting in a while. And that’s saying something coming from a woman who has spent the last year birthing her 7th baby, packing up and selling her beloved DIY home, then moving into her 2nd DIY home and living the last 5 months in a constantly evolving (code for: under construction) space.

But! None of that can quite trump the triple-threat that was traveling the first week in October, only to have Shaun leave on a work trip the very next morning after we got back, and then turning around and heading out on yet another trip just two days later. We’ve been home for a week now, but it doesn’t really feel like it. My days are all starting to blur together. Well, I don’t know about “starting.” That was a while ago. But continuing in an even more dizzying fashion. I’m ready for a dose of quiet and normal…says the girl who has 2 children with birthdays in November plus Thanksgiving, Christmas, and another 2 birthdays right around the corner. Yep. Quiet and normal should be exactly what it looks like around here. Heh.

ANYWAY, back to the travel. Do y’all remember back in the spring when everything was even more cray-cray than usual, and Shaun ended up with a work trip to Hawaii smack in the middle of our mad dash to get the house ready to sell? I remember.

He told me I was welcome to come with him, encouraged me to, even, but I just couldn’t wrap my brain around relaxing in Hawaii while there was so much work to be done at home. So, I passed. And I didn’t regret it…mostly.

So, imagine my delight when ANOTHER Hawaii work trip appeared on the radar. And my nice mama agreed to keep the oldest 6 kids. Shaun’s work trips are usually a bit up in the air for a pretty good period of time. Until they aren’t. Clients have been known to hem and haw about dates for a good four months and then suddenly need him out there in 2 weeks time. So, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go on this one either, depending on the timing.

Wouldn’t you know it, though, Honor and I not only got to go, but Shaun managed to schedule the trip for the week of my 35th birthday! I spent my birthday surfing and getting the most excruciating massage of my life. But more on that later.

I mentioned a while back that Hawaii isn’t really my jam, which, I realize, sounds nuts since it’s plenty of folks’ dream vacation. But Shaun, Della (at 2 months), and I went to Kauai years ago, and, while I enjoyed it, it didn’t blow me away.

Well, low expectations are a beautiful thing, let me tell you. I went into this trip thinking that it would be a welcome break from our construction zone of a home and looking forward to spending time with my husband not hashing out which stair railing to choose or whether or not we had actually ordered the knobs we couldn’t find for the upstairs doors but having pretty much zero other expectations. And you know what? I had an absolute blast.

First things first and what all the mamas want to know: how did Honor do on the flights? Pretty darn well. He’s a chill baby. His favorite pursuits are eating, smiling, and sleeping. So, I wasn’t too nervous, even though it was fully an 8 hour flight on the way there. I had my arsenal of tricks all ready and raring. And let me tell you: I used every one. The thing I had not anticipated is how HYPER my usually laidback baby would become upon entering a confined space full of strangers.

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Do not be fooled by his calm expression. This kid was FULL of energy.

He bounced.

He giggled.

He shrieked.

He fought sleep like it was a Nazgul intent on sucking the soul from his body.

But with Shaun’s and my tag-teaming it, we prevailed. Huzzah! And Hooray, God! Because, on the way there, we ended up getting an “extra” seat, which means they allowed us to bring Honor’s car seat on, which was awesome the two times we managed to wear him down enough to take a cat nap (him, not us…zzzzzzz). The lady checking for open seats was flabbergasted one was available, since it was supposed to be a packed flight with multiple standbys. She looked very confused as she told us that they had already settled everybody in the standby line, and the seat was ours but then responded to my, “Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!” with a big smile and an, “Amen.”

Once in Hawaii, we scouted out some grub pretty much the second we exited the airport. Newsflash: this will not be the post where I tell you all of the best Poke Bowl joints in Honolulu. As a general rule, I prefer to eat the authentic food of the place I’m visiting. But as another general rule, I do not care for raw fish. I did try it. But it did not wow me.

So, we settled on Thai food (it was pretty decent, especially for hungry folks fresh off a plane), then checked into our hotel, which was right across from Waikiki beach. Normally, we would have scouted out an Airbnb, but since Shaun’s work was paying for the nights when he was on the job, we decided to stick with a traditional hotel. And I’m glad we did. It just made things so much more relaxing to not have to worry about laundry and cleaning up after ourselves for once.

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The view from our hotel was not terrible

That night, we ventured for a quick walk on the beach and a longer stroll down the main thoroughfare where I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of ABC stores. If you’ve ever been to Honolulu, you’re nodding your head right now. ABC is a chain of convenience stores, and there is literally (and no, I’m not misusing that word right now) one every fifty feet. It’s bizarre to me that any population could sustain them all, but they were always buzzing with business whenever we ducked in for some necessary small thing.

We ended the night bringing a burger (which I highly recommend) from the Hideout at the Laylow back to the hotel and putting Honor down while we propped our eyelids open long enough to make it to a respectable bedtime. (Honolulu is five hours behind Texas).

Shaun didn’t have to be at work until Tuesday, so since we’d gotten in on Sunday afternoon, we had all of Monday to explore. We slept in yeah right…we were up and at ‘em by 6, thanks to Honor’s extremely confused body clock, but first dibs at our hotel’s custom omelet bar aaaaaalmost made up for it. Plus, Honor needed a nap like an hour later, so we got in a bit more shuteye after all.

The rest of the day was spent driving around the north end of the island…while it rained. Which sounds like a bummer. But it really wasn’t. We didn’t have a single thing we HAD to do, so instead, we wandered, taking breaks when we felt like it, trying out Korean barbecue (I’m a fan!), and doing a lot of talking and breathing. I can’t remember for the life of me what we had for dinner, but, since this isn’t strictly a guide to things to do and places to eat in Honolulu (and by “isn’t strictly,” I mean really not at all), I’m not going to stress about it.

Tuesday, Shaun had to work, so after our early morning omelets (yes, again), Honor and I headed back to the hotel room where we both napped (ah, the blissful, guiltless sleep of really, truly having nothing else you should be doing) and then headed out to explore. We spent the afternoon walking and eating and browsing the Anthropologie sale racks (confession: I bought a bathing suit on major clearance and don’t feel one bit of shame, since I immediately wore it multiple times throughout the rest of trip). At one point, Honor was a bit out of his mind with tiredness, so I plunked him in the stroller, plugged in my Audible book, and proceeded to walk for the next hour.

 

 

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The views on our walk were not awful either. Come to think of it, there weren’t too many bad views. ;)

The weather was perfection, with a bright smiling sun, breezy blue skies, and the tang of saltwater in the air. I could feel some of the tension that I’ve been carrying with me constantly for months starting to uncoil from my spine. Honor and I ended the afternoon chilling (literally) in the hotel pool until Shaun came home. I’m not really a pool girl, but that baby needed something that wasn’t sitting in a stroller to do once he woke up. And he is a w a t e r b u g.

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This shot is from our balcony patio, not the pool. But yay for clearance Anthro bathing suits and cute little pool mates.

Again with the dinner amnesia. I had intended to be more, um, intentional about cataloging our watering holes so that I could be a font of info for anyone planning to take a trip. But I had also intended to type this post up about 57 times over the last 2 weeks, so intentions clearly have little bearing on this situation. ANYhoo. We ate. It was probably pretty good. And then we went to bed.

It may sound kind of lame given the location, but one of the best parts of the trip was the complete and total lack of agenda. We are not obsessive schedulers, but we do tend to plan ahead a fair bit. This time, although we did have specific activities in mind, we put zero pressure on ourselves to accomplish them. And some of my favorite parts of the first part of the trip were spending evenings in the hotel snuggled up in bed in the dark with Shaun (because Honor was in a pack ‘n play in the same room), talking or watching episodes of Shark Tank or Chopped.

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I couldn’t resist with Honor’s beach outfit. He couldn’t resist the salt shaker. Hey, whatever distracts a tired baby

By Wednesday, though, we were rested and raring for something more active…but you’ll have to wait for just what that was until next time because I’ve recently switched to teaching early morning Body Pump classes, and my body has not adjusted yet, and I’m getting very sleevnb,mns

 

The Twins are FIVE!

(…and have been for a little while [see title]. Their birthday was September 24th. I’m a slacker).

If I can just indulge in one of the ultimate motherhood cliches, may I just take a moment to say that it is both IMPOSSIBLE to me to imagine life without “the twins” (yup, each one of us in this house is guilty of taking that little verbal shortcut on a daily basis, and Evy and Nola answer to it readily) and equally as impossible to think that they been with us for FIVE whole years?

I’m the mother of 5-year-old twins. 

Those are not words I ever thought I would write. And yet, there they are in black and white, as stark and real as you please.

And joyful.

Because, as I’ve said many times here before, as much as I did NOT care for the idea of multiples, the Lord knew that I needed them. And, of course, I wouldn’t trade them for a centillion (my kids’ favorite number) dollars plus a planet or two.

I wouldn’t have traded them for anything back when they were losing their ever-loving minds every time I buckled them in their car seats (or woke them up from naps or looked at them cross-eyed) either, but I feel like I have to take a moment to stop and declare what the Lord has done in Evy’s and Nola’s lives over the past year.

Remember my post about my stronghold of mothering pride and how the twins had managed to defy practically everything I thought I knew about training and child-rearing? At the point when I wrote that, I was already seeing glimmers of progress in between the shrieking and the fits of prostrate, abject misery, but it was only flashes. Certainly nothing I was willing to trust. And, boy, was it inconsistent. One day, they seemed capable of responding somewhat rationally, and the next, it was back to floods of tears over a button being too tight or one twin’s getting the last pink cereal bowl and thus forcing her sister into the horrors eating out of a red (or worse, YELLOW) bowl.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I can’t emphasize enough how genuinely distraught those cute little blue-eyed girls could get over the tiniest hiccup (sometimes, literally…oy vey).

And yet, here they are, at 5-years-old, and we’re all still alive and well. Not only that, but Evy and Nola have become two of the most delightful little creatures I know.

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(Such sweet little grannies…this is actually a screenshot of a GIF from my IG if you want a little more cuteness in your life)

As much as I hoped and prayed for it, I don’t know that I ever genuinely believed, in the middle of the “lost months” (dramatic much?) that I would ever think, much less write, those words.

But it’s true. Our little twinsies are kind and considerate. They’re full of spunk and energy without that energy needing to devolve in bouts of manic distress. They are helpful and bright-eyed and clever and endearing.

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They are now capable of riding in the car without subjecting the rest of us to episodes of hearing loss.

They are–dare I say it?–FUN.

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And while a large part of me isn’t surprised (I’d already been through toddlerdom and the recovery process thereof three times, after all), the twins’, ahem, “challenging phase” (which lasted almost 2 years) felt a bit like that moment when you’re 42 weeks pregnant, and you’re convinced that the baby has made your uterus his/her permanent home and will never, ever leave. It just seems surreal that anything other than your current reality could ever be true.  (Can you tell I’m speaking from personal experience on both counts?).

And yet, life with the twins is very different than it was a mere 6 months ago. And then 6 months before that. It’s been such a gradual process of perseverance and prayer and training and repentance (me, usually)…rinse wash, repeat…that I can’t even point to a moment when the changes really began to be obvious.

Instead, it’s the little things–Nola’s wearing jeans instead of leggings without dissolving into tears (because buttons and zippers and restrictive fabric…come to think of it, jeans kind of make me want to cry too), Evy’s being able to push through having her hair rinsed at bath time without panicking, both of them playing happily together for an hour without one single hair-pulling, shriek-filled fracas.

Because, as it turned out, all of that praying and teaching and training (both of them and me) was having an effect, just like James 1:4 says:

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Not that we’re anywhere near perfect. But we are (all of us) better at dealing with adversity than we were before.

Praise God for that!

I want to encourage any of you fellow mamas who are deep in the trenches of tyrannical toddlerhood, I’ve been there. Shoot, I’m still there (Theo has taken to hurling himself off The Cliffs of Insanity at least 4 times a day recently). Wishing the hard away is never where the breakthroughs happen. Instead, the maturity comes from “counting it all joy” (yes, even when they pee on the floor mere inches away from the toilet or go into volcanic meltdown mode because of the line of their socks not being straight across their toes) that we are privileged to be counted worthy of these “trials of various kinds.”

I am privileged to have twins. Not everybody gets that chance, you know. ;)

The mother with a disabled child is privileged to have him.

The mother of one who longs for more is privileged to have her one.

The mother of many who wonders what she was thinking is privileged to have her multitude of opportunities for sanctification.

My challenge my not be your challenge may not be her challenge over there, but we are all privileged to have them, whatever they are. We are being shaped and molded and renewed and loved by a Father who will absolutely, yes, give us more than we can handle so that we get over our silly, prideful, I-can-handle-this-thanks selves and fall at his feet in recognition of our lack. It was always there. He’s just been gracious enough to give us something that makes it painfully obvious.

Praise God that, even when the “payoff” doesn’t come for 2 years, or 5, or ever in this lifetime, hard is not the same thing as bad. And we are more than overcomers in Christ.

Oh, and praise God for the unexpected blessing of twins. We sure do love you girls!

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