Crushing the Clutter: The 3 Week, 50 Bag Challenge

I am not a hoarder. I’ll just say that up front because, one time, I made a joke about my “hoarding tendencies” on social media and got scolded for flippantly using a term that should be reserved for an actual disorder.

There are no piles up to the ceiling anywhere in my house. I do not have 12 potato peelers. Or four foot high stacks of newspapers.

HOWEVER, there is a tiny little hoarder voice in my brain that says, “But you might possibly, maybe need that some day” most times that I go to get rid of something.

And you know what? 9 times out of 10, when I have a very strong thought like this, I regret chunking that particular item all of a week later when I end up needing it and have to go buy a new one.

BUT.

There are still lots of areas in our house that could use a thorough, ruthless edit. I have 3 different storage areas full of decor that I haven’t used in at least a year. That’s not cool. My bathtub in our master is currently housing trash bags full of clothing that I need to sort through (good thing I like showers, huh?).

It’s time.

But it’s the kind of project that I will always push to the back burner because there’s always something more pressing (and fun) that could be done first.

So, I’m turning up the heat (I hope you are fully appreciating my stove-themed metaphors) on this particular project by issuing myself the following challenge:

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{Don’t you love the random happy/creepy stuffed toy leering at you from the bag on the right? Go haunt someone else’s nightmares delight another child, please}

I saw on The Money Saving Mom’s IG that she was doing a 500 item challenge. And I seem to remember a 40 bag challenge from forever ago. So, call it arbitrary and overly ambitious (it’s both), but I’m going with 50…in three weeks.

The bags can be any size you like, but I’m shooting for trash bags full.

And yes, I’m skeered. I feel like I’m probably going to do nothing but find things to throw away for the next three weeks.

But I like a challenge, and I feel like this one needs to happen to force me to get. this. done–not only for the sake of my home but for the sake of my sanity as well. (Because I know my brain is going to feel a little less cluttered with every bag I donate).

Also, have you heard of this book?

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I can’t seem to escape it. It pops up in my IG feed every other day, gets recommended by every blogger I read, and practically reaches out and snags my elbow as I walk through Barnes and Noble.

The premise seems to be that, rather than adhering to a strict organizational code, you simply assess your belongings and your need (or lack thereof) for them based primarily on the criterion of whether they bring you joy.

Or something like that. I’ll know better when it gets to my house because I just ordered it. Most books like this stress me out, but multiple people have mentioned that this one provides clarity without condemnation, so I’m hoping they didn’t just say that because they got the book for free or something.

ANYway, here’s to a more organized, less cluttered 2016!

Are you with me?!

The challenge officially starts Monday, Feb. 8th and ends Monday, Feb. 29th (the last day of the month…I would love to say that I planned that, but…I didn’t. I’m not mad about it, though).

Be sure to leave a comment below if you want to jump in on the challenge. (Remember, they don’t have to be trash bags. 50 Walmart bags is like 200 medium-sized things. I bet some of you feel like you got that many excess toys for your kids last Christmas alone).

I will, of course, be blogging about my progress and ultimate results. So, stay tuned for pictures of all the junk I’m getting rid of! (Can’t imagine how pumped you are about that).

P.S. In conjunction with this challenge, I’m also doing a closet clean-out and selling a lot of really cute stuff that I love…but just don’t wear enough over at my closet shop account @mifmcloset. Feel free to head on over and see if something catches your fancy. The prices on all of the items include shipping, and all you need to do is type sold and your Paypal email to claim them. If you don’t see something you need right away, be sure to check back because I’ll be adding more items (hopefully) daily.

A Hammock and Some Thoughts on Rest

I’m tired, y’all. I fell asleep on the couch in between doing my Bible reading/prayer time and starting this post this morning. And not because I meant to.

I guess it’s kind of inevitable, what with the half a dozen children and the housework and the homeschooling and the fitness classes and a new business.

There are even a few other things in the works that I’m not quite ready to share yet, but they’re definitely adding to an already full schedule.

All good things, but I don’t ever really feel like I’ve “finished” anything these days.

That’s a hard feeling for a closet perfectionist. (You’d understand the “closet” part if you saw my laundry room some days or my flowerbeds pretty much every day). In an ideal world, I wouldn’t start another task before the job I’m working on is done. But that’s just not practical in this particular season. Either I’ll get halfway through organizing the girls’ clothes and transferring them to their new dresser, and someone will break/spill something, or I’ll have to interrupt homeschooling to feed/hold a fussy baby or break up a toddler cat fight. Or everything will just take twice as long as I hoped it would, and we’ll have to rush out the door to the gym, leaving piles of laundry on the floor until we can come back and put them away.

I rarely finish my entire list for the day–partly because I always put more on it than I know is realistic to achieve, and partly because…life, man. It never goes like it looks like it should on a piece of paper.

Add to this the fact that Shaun has had to work on weekends for the past month or so (and will for a while yet), which means even my beloved Sunday has been disrupted, and “rest” is a foreign concept at the moment.

I don’t say all of this to whine. In the midst of this especially hectic season, I’m reminded of things I need to work on. Like: I’m really, really hard on myself and am prone to mentally hiss: “You’re a failure!” if I don’t manage to “fit it all in.” (Which, as I just admitted above, I rarely do). Also, I can be a very anxious person. I don’t worry about the usual things, like whether someone will come and hurt us when we’re home alone while Shaun is traveling. But I can wake up feeling short of breath, like an elephant is sitting on my chest, if I am facing a too-full day of tasks I know I won’t be able to finish.

But I’m also learning, bit by bit, how to cast all of my cares on the Lord. I’m actually pretty awful at it, naturally. I will shoulder as many cares as I can find, then borrow a few that aren’t even mine, and lug them around, feeling my chest squeeze tighter and tighter under the load, until I wonder if my heart will explode.

But, thankfully, the Lord doesn’t leave me to wallow in my fretful tendencies. When I turn to Him, desperate for reprieve from the buzzing static in my brain (because all of this running does not lend itself to mental clarity, believe it or not), He is so faithful to remind me not to worry about tomorrow, since today has enough worries of its own (no kidding, Lord) and to cast all of my cares upon Him. He reminds me that he has shown me what is good and what the Lord requires of me–not more activity or more social media presence or more blog posts–but “to do justice to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God.” He gently whispers that there is now therefore NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (when I’m busy shoveling condemnation into my lap with both hands).

And then, sometimes, He gives me genius ideas like buying a hammock for my husband’s birthday.

Huh?

Shaun’s birthday was last Sunday, and I was completely stumped about what to buy him. I don’t usually feel like this. I’ve mentioned before that we love to give gifts, and we both keep running lists of things that the other needs or has mentioned in passing. But I bled my list dry at Christmas and wasn’t conjuring up any new ideas. Until the thought of a hammock popped into my mind. Pretty much out of the blue.

So, I did a little research on Amazon and came up with this little gem.

It has over 2,500 almost five star reviews (more like raves), and it comes with a stand, which made it ideal for the deck outside Shaun’s office (he works from home).

So, I bought it. I honestly didn’t know what Shaun would think.

Turns out, he loved it.

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{Please don’t hate me for our insanely gorgeous weather. I promise Theo was warm as could be in his skivvies}

Sunday (his birthday) was the most restful, relaxing day our family has enjoyed in months. We didn’t leave the house. We didn’t get dressed in real clothes. We ate and played and napped. In the hammock.

Seriously. Shaun and I took a nap outside, in the sunny, slightly breezy 75 degree weather, and it was glorious. (The hammock is super-easy to set up and adjust. And it’s crazy comfortable. That is my 5 star review in a nutshell).

And the entire family spent a significant portion of the rest of the day taking turns in the hammock.

We have yet to name it, but I think we all know that will change. (Harper? Hope? Hallie?)

After such a wonderful day, Monday morning felt like one of those Bugs Bunny slaps in the face with a glove full of bricks. The familiar vice around my chest started to tighten. There was no way I was going to get it all done.

And I didn’t.

But you know what? The Lord graciously reminded me of all the things I mentioned above, and I asked him to help me do the next thing and allow that to be enough.

And it was.

It was more than enough at around 4:30 when we had finished our afternoon chores but still had some school left, and I said, “Come on, kids, let’s go outside. Mama calls the hammock!”

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{I chose the Ciao color scheme in cotton, in case you’re wondering}

Yup. I homeschooled from a hammock, y’all. And it was ah-mazing.

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{It didn’t take long before everybody climbed in with me. You can’t see her, but Della was in there too on the other end. The hammock has a 400 lb. weight limit, but you can pile a whole lot of little bodies in there without too much discomfort. ;) }

I’m thinking I may have to prescribe myself some daily “hammock time.” It works wonders!

Do y’all struggle with feeling overwhelmed with your daily tasks too? I have a feeling I might not be the only one.

If you do, you can let me know in the comments, and I will add you to my prayer list. I’m already praying for my own rebelliously anxious heart. I might as well pray for yours too. :)

I like new print designs, and I cannot lie…

It really should be illegal to have as much fun as Lindsay and I do coming up with new print designs for Paint and Prose.

Especially when they say things like:

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Black and white stripes, a floral handle, and a cheeky quote? Yeeeesss ma’am!

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{In case you’re wondering: Forest Feast Calendar, Recipe Box, measuring cups}

I’m thinking you, or someone you know, might just need this one for Valentine’s, yes?

Speaking of…

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It’s hard to get much sweeter than swirly fonts and petit fours.

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Obviously, this would work great for a kitchen or a baking station, but I think it would be just–well–sweet in a little girl’s room!

Oh! And for the piece de resistance…

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I know, I know. It’s not an actual quote from the book (it’s from the 2005 Keira Knightly movie), but it’s still a fantastic line. I may just need Shaun to brush up on his British accent so he can quote this one to me, Darcy style. :) (Although, if we’re talking about favorite interpretations, I’ll take Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy over Matthew Macfadyen any day).

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Also, if you love the quote as much as we do but aren’t into the flowers/color, you could always go with the black/white version.

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Do you have a favorite?

I would say mine is a toss-up between Big Cups and Bewitched in color. But then, I remember that I kept saying: “I reeeeeally like this one,” the second I saw a print of Sweet on You, so…it’s a toss-up.

I love them all (and hope your Valentines do too!)

Now through Monday night, order any of our Valentine’s releases (8X10 or larger), and get a FREE 5X7 of your choice with the order. Oh! And if you’re wanting to send a print as a gift, simply order with that person’s name + info in the address line and leave us a note letting us know that it’s a gift and customizing it with a gift message if you want.

Meet Nina Cleana {The Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van}

I’ve actually lost track of how many times we’ve been asked what we drive. Which, on the surface, probably sounds like a funny thing for people to wonder about. But, when you think about the fact that there are 8 of us who need to travel together at the same time, the question makes a little more sense.

I mean, there just aren’t THAT many options out there that can accommodate 8 bottoms in one ride.

Thankfully, our Honday Odyssey (“Ophelia”) had 8 seats.

Was it crowded? Yes.

Inconvenient to get into? Mmm hmmm.

Hard to keep clean? You betcha.

Rage-inducing when the big kids weren’t in it, and Mama had to contort herself into circus-worthy positions to  buckle 3 car seats? Amen and bless it.

But it was also paid for free and clear. It ran great. And–honestly–every single one of those “issues” I mentioned is a #firstworldproblem.

Do you know what is a completely legitimate problem? Having MORE bottoms than will actually fit inside a vehicle. Because, since we live in a first world country and stowing your children on the luggage rack is highly frowned upon (as opposed to, say, Central America where you might just see an entire FAMILY hanging off every surface of a motorcycle as they buzz through town), having MORE bottoms than will fit in seats just won’t work.

So, are we expecting more bottoms? Nope. At least not right now. But we also are open to the prospect of more kids in God’s timing, so we’ve been–shall we say–keeping an eye open for something a teeny bit bigger.

But the thing is that there really isn’t much in the “teeny bit bigger than a minivan” category. There are a couple of nine passenger options and then–BOOM!– you’re up to (gasp!) 15 in no time flat. Which is why we’d been eyeing the Nissan NV 3500 passenger van for a while (it’s a 12-seater). And by “a while,” I mean for the past 18 months or so.

But they’re hard to find used, y’all, and we’re not into paying full price at the car dealership. Each time a deal would pop up on Craigslist, we’d check it out and discover that either a) it really wasn’t that great of a deal or b) it was a moot point because it had already been snapped up.

Which…is what I figured had happened for sure when I stumbled upon a listing for a navy blue 2014 NV 3500 south of Waco, Texas with only 10,000 miles on it and all of the fancy bells and whistles for a really great price. It’s gone, for sure, I told myself. You probably shouldn’t even bother. But bother I did. And, as it turned out, it was still available–even after being on the market for over 2 weeks (which is kind of unheard of because these suckers go fast, y’all).

Honestly, I still have no idea why it didn’t sell…except maybe because she had accidentally left off the last digit of her phone number on the ad and had not yet relisted it? Or the Lord was having mercy on my poor bent-back-by-awkward-belt-buckling fingernails? (I kid).

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{We kept the van a secret until we drove up in my parents’ driveway with it; this is moments after the kids saw it for the first time}

I don’t know. But I do know this: we talked the lady down almost another $1,000, and then we drove down to check her out/bring her home (the van, not the lady). It was a 6ish hour round trip, but my mama was kind enough to keep all of our kids, so it felt more like a date than anything–especially when we managed to slip into Fixer Upper’s Magnolia Market in Waco for a few (read: 13) minutes before it closed.

So, how do I feel about driving a bus, er, large van?

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{Acres of seats…whaaaaat?}

I kind of love it. Seriously. It’s all kinds of awesome.

We took out the back row of seats to have extra room for groceries or other things we might need to haul (I’ve already picked up 6 chairs + a dresser, so it’s a bit of a dangerous ability to have), which means that there are still only 8 seats available. But the amount of room/access is markedly more generous. It’s just so much easier to get to everything/one, even if you do feel a bit like you’re mounting a horse every time you clamber inside.

Do you want to know my ABSOLUTE favorite part about it, though? (I think we all know I’m going to tell you, whether you do or not).

It’s SOOOOOOOOOO much easier to keep clean. I hoped it would be, and I was totally right. We eat in our cars. We kind of have to. Living in the country, we drive at least an hour round-trip almost every single day, and we wouldn’t survive in as much peace and harmony as we do without in-car snacking.

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{Cars that actually fit in parking spots are sooooo last year}

But in the Odyssey, it was just too easy for something to get dropped, roll up under a seat, and then never get seen again (cueing multiple episodes of: “Um, what’s that smell?” Yeah, I know. GROSS). Especially with the need for at least one of the twins to be in the back row for all of our car seats to fit. (Why very small children have such a propensity for spilling/dropping/throwing food is a mystery to me, but I love it…clearly).

ANYhoo, because of the new seat configuration in Nina Cleana (Shaun suggested the second name as a motivation for keeping her “cleana” that the Odyssey) and the amount of space BENEATH the seats, I’m happy to report that we have been driving Nina for over two weeks, and she is still as spick and span as the day we bought her (well, except for the mud that we inevitably track inside because country living).

So, yeah. Pretty thrilled about that.

Not quite as thrilled with the gas mileage. I knew we were going to take a hit (we averaged 21 in our Odyssey). But, at an average of 15 mpg, it’s downright scary how many times I’ve had to fill up since we’ve gotten her. It’s not too bad with gas as affordable as it currently is, but I cringe to think of when it (inevitably) jumps back up to $4/gallon.

Oh! And, as you can imagine, I’m not the only one who thinks that driving an ark on wheels is just the coolest thing ever. (It really does have remarkably smooth handling and braking, though).

The kids LOVE Nina.

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They love the extra space, the feeling of being higher than everybody else on the road, the awesome sound system (seriously, it’s pretty decent), the fact that we have zero trouble finding our car in parking lots, and the fact that I let them pile into the (seatless) back for dance parties if we ever need to hang out in the car and wait for a bit.

They don’t even mind the loss of the DVD player that we employed on a semi-regular basis in the Odyssey to kill car naps and distract over-tired toddlers. And the funniest thing? Apparently, there is something irresistibly drowsy-making about that big purring van because, almost inevitably, when we come home from the gym in the evenings, all 6 of my children will have fallen asleep.

I haven’t decided whether this is a good or bad thing yet, but it wouldn’t matter if I had because it’s pretty much a done deal if it’s dark outside.

So, there you have it! A new answer to the frequent, “So, what do y’all drive?” question and one that will not change for a goooooood long while. If you see a blue NV 3500 around town, give me a wave and a slow, conspiratorial wink. Then, I’ll know you’ve read my post. Either that, or it’s someone hitting on a mother of 6 in a giant van.

And that would just be weird.

A Near Perfect Leather Tote (at 1/3 of the Price of the Madewell Transport Tote!)

First, have you taken advantage of the Paint and Prose Buy 2 Get 1 FREE flash sale? You still can through midnight today! Our prints make great gifts!

I’ve been ogling the Madewell Transport Tote for nigh on 3 years now. I just never could bring myself to pull the trigger to spend $180 on an unstructured leather bag (or…any bag, actually).

Don’t get me wrong. I love it. It’s beautiful, and it holds tons of stuff. I’ve lovingly fingered them in stores and admired them on the arms of friends. I just…couldn’t do it.

I’ve even stalked ebay for a bargain but  never found a better deal than $100 for a used one with oodles of stains and scratches (I guess there’s that to be said–they hold their value!).

I’d all but given up my search until I typed “Madewell Transport” into the search bar on Amazon, and the Damero Tote popped up. I was intrigued. It looks really similar to the Transport, and the reviews consistently praise the quality of the leather and durability of the construction.

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But it’s only 1/3 of the cost.

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Whaaaaat?

Now, I had some Amazon gift card moolah to spend, so the purchase was a no-brainer. But, now that I’ve had the chance to carry the purse in real life, I can happily say that I think it’s worth every penny of the $60 I spent, and I would buy it even if I didn’t have a gift card.

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And, no, this is not a sponsored ad (although, the post contains affiliate links that give me a teeeny percentage if you purchase). I just thought any fellow cognac leather simple bag lovers might want to know that there’s a beautiful, high-quality alternative to the name-brand popular versions out there.

I’m not going to do a full-blown, nitty gritty review of every feature, but I will do a quick run-down of the pros and cons in my experience so far.

PROS:

  • The leather is very much real. It’s a rich milk chocolate brown with a beautiful grain and a buttery soft finish. No stiffness or starchiness here. And it doesn’t scuff or stain easily (I should know; I’m hard on my bags).
  • It holds tons, without feeling ridiculously huge/bulky. After my “what’s really in my bag” post, you already know that I carry a little bit ‘o everything with me. Well, I am pleased to say that I have cleaned/organized up my act considerably (you won’t find a random belt or still-packaged Chick-fil-a toys in there anymore), but I am still toting around a planner, notebook, wallet, coupon pouch, makeup bag, BODYPUMP/COMBAT choreography notes, diapers, wipes, a water bottle, and various other sundries, and there’s still room for (a bit) more.

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  • There’s a removable insert, which helps keep the bag clean. It’s not quite as big as the rest of the bag, which creates pockets between the insert and the actual leather of the bag, but I like it because I put things like diapers and wipes and stuff in the in-between section, which makes it another (albeit unintentional) organizational compartment of its own.
  • The straps have a good drop-length. They don’t hike up under your arm in some sort of weird armpit choke hold, but neither are they so long that they’re continually slipping.
  • The insert has a zipper. For me this is a hypothetical pro because I never actually zip it, but if you’re one who likes to keep your purse contents really secure, this is a nice option (and one that you don’t get from the Madewell version)
  • The stitching is very, very sturdy (see above comments about my hardness on my bags and how much I stuff in there).

Okay! And now on to the CONS:

  • I really only have one, but it’s kind of a big one–the snaps that hold the lining onto the leather outer are too weak and tend to pull loose, thus causing the lining to sag down into the purse’s exterior when they come undone. It’s a little annoying, especially if you’re holding a baby and trying to stuff something in your purse, and you snag one of the snaps, and everything sort of collapses on you. But ultimately, the snaps are easy to refasten, and the openness of the purse’s design insures that you can still find things, even when one of them has pulled loose, so even though I wish they had made the snaps of sturdier stuff, it’s far from a deal breaker for me.

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  • The lining is smaller than the purse. I already mentioned this, and I already said that, for me, it’s actually more of a plus, since it creates more compartments, but someone else might not like this.
  • I’m grateful that there are 3 small pockets (one of them zippered) for my small items like keys/gum, etc., but I wish they were made of something more substantial than the silky synthetic material that the insert lining is made up of. It would make it easier to slide items inside without tugging on the snaps, thus resulting in Con #1. I still can use the pockets pretty easily, and I’m grateful to have them, so overall, it’s no big thing.

Aaaaand there you have it, folks.

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{By the way, Ezra took the pictures of me…didn’t he do great??}

My very honest opinion of a purse that I really love, despite its flaws (which, when I think about it, is how I feel about my three-year-olds at the moment–ha!). I do believe it will serve me well for a long, long time.

Easy, Delicious Sweet Potato Hash

Heads up, guys! We’re running a flash sale over at Paint and Prose.

Buy 2 Get 1 FREE (you receive a free item of up to the largest size you’ve already ordered, so if you order 1 5X7 and 1 8X10, you could receive up to another 8X10 for free). Simply leave a comment in the notes at checkout specifying WHICH print you want for free!

Valentine’s is only a little more than 3 weeks away, and here are 4 of our prints that would make great gifts–for the mamas in your life, the coffee-lovers, kiddos, or WHOEVER!

And don’t forget! Email subscribers get a never-expiring code for 10% off the top of every order!

valentines collage

Welp. I’m (mostly) back on the clean-eating wagon after puh-lenty of holiday indulgences over the last several months, and it feels so good (except when I get struck by a massive chocolate or carbonation craving; then it feels like the world is conspiring against my sanity #dramaqueen).

The only way I know how to be successful with clean-eating is to keep it very, very simple. If I don’t, I’ll throw it all out in a fit of hanger (yes, I meant to spell it like that) and devour a cupcake for breakfast instead of something decent.

Like what, you ask?

Like this.

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That would be what I eat with three fried eggs almost every single morning. And it’s HEAVENLY.

And I don’t even like sweet potatoes very much. Unless they’re done right. And this hash is juuuust right.

The “recipe” is crazy simple too.

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(Another great way to eat sweet potato hash? With a turkey burger, homemade salsa, and guac! So. Dang. Good)

To make a big batch that will last me most of the week, I peel and grate 2-3 LARGE sweet potatoes and chop one small-medium onion.

I preheat that BEAST of a cast iron skillet above (Shaun got it for me for Christmas the year before last, and I have used it at least 4 times a week since), drizzle in some olive oil, and then saute my onions until they’re translucent (don’t overcook; they’ll get bitter) over medium heat.

Then, I add in the grated sweet potato and sprinkle the whole mixture with:

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp seasoned salt

…and then continue browning and stirring until the sweet potato is cooked all the way through, with some nice crispy bits throughout.

I’ll usually fry up my eggs in the same skillet the morning that I make my first batch, which makes them EVEN tastier as they soak up the juices of the hash, but the rest of the week, I’ll fry the eggs separately and simply toast a plate of hash from my stash (ha!) either on broil in the oven or in a small toaster oven.

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The sweetness + crispiness of the potatoes, juxtaposed with the smokiness of the cumin, and the gooey egg yolk…MMM! It’s hard to beat.

And harder to believe that you’re eating something that’s completely good for you!

So, there you go. A healthy, easy, YUMMY breakfast to get you through your entire week.

And now my stomach is growling, and I want me some hash (that didn’t sound right).

Any great sweet potato recipes to share? I have discovered that I can eat sweet potatoes all day long as long as they have a bit of a spicy kick and some crispiness. Give me a baked sweet potato, all mushy and soft, and I gag a little. I do, however, have a killer sweet potato fry recipe to share. I’ll do that soon.

The $30 Dollhouse {Before}

I’ve mentioned before several times that I’ve scored some pretty amazing finds at the Gresham Barn Sale in East Texas (I even got to meet a reader there a few years back. Hi, Michelle!)

Well, I struck gold again this past fall when I stumbled upon this awesome (BIG) vintage dollhouse.

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It’s in great shape–just in need of some TLC and paint. I had grand plans of redoing it by Christmas, but all the hustle and the bustle (I typed that in an Inigo Montoya “accent,” if you must know) of the season and aaaaallll of that doll-making I did definitely threw off my dollhouse reno schedule.

I went ahead and gave her to the Della, Evy, and Nola, though, and here she sits, proudly perched in all of her mismatched glory in the girls’ shared room (which I hope to share with you in its finished state soon). Not that they mind.

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They happily bicker-play with her for whole 1′s of minutes before losing interest to devolve into full-blown cat fights (3-year-old twins, y’all. They are not for the faint of heart. Which might be why I get heart palpitations sometimes. Ha!).

No, but seriously. The girls are pleased as punch with her current look. But that’s just because they don’t know JUST how much dreamier she’ll be when I finish with her white + aqua + gold transformation. (Apparently, I’ve been spending too much time on Instagram because I had an almost overwhelming urge to insert a heart-eyes emoji just now).

An exterior makeover is all I have planned for the immediate future, but eventually I would love to go full-on crazy-decorator-mom on that unsuspecting little house. Think: wallpaper, tiny trendy light fixtures, chic fabric rugs.

You know. In all my spare time. (And again with the emoji urge–this time for the crying/laughing one).

Oh! And the best part of all for this little dollhouse is that I managed to talk the lady down from an already very reasonable $45 to $30, AND she threw in a whole shoe box full of dolls and cute furniture!

So, yeah. Consider this your sneak peek at the before of The Great Dollhouse Project of 2016 (I can only imagine I will regret naming it that, but it’s too late now).

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And consider it MY accountability for actually making progress on it.

Mama Life Hacks {#18}–$1 Pregnancy Tests

Okay, I know that every single one of your eyes brightened a bit when the word, “pregnancy,” popped up in the title of today’s post, so let’s get it out of the way in the first sentence that this is NOT a pregnancy announcement. Although…it would have been a cute one.

Nope. This is just a PSA for all of you who have ever paid $10 (or more for the fancy ones) for a 3-pack of pregnancy tests from the drugstore that you could be paying a fraction of that…for a product that works just as well.

My friend, Kelli, from Eat Pray Read Love first clued me in to this bit of money-saving magic, and I have since accurately ID’d two pregnancies (and–let’s be honest–ruled out several more false alarms) over the last 4 years.

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If that’s not one for #mamalifehacks, I don’t know what is.

So, where do you find these bad boys? Any “dollar store” where everything really is just $1. The Dollar Tree, and Everything’s a Dollar are two that pop to mind immediately, but there may be others that I’ve missed. (Dollar General, for example, does not qualify).

ANYhoo, other than how much they cost and the fact that they work, I’m honestly not sure what else to say (and it’s rare to find me at a loss for words).

I just don’t feel like an in-depth discussion of the ins and outs of a pregnancy test is anything a) I want to write about or b) you want to read.

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BUT!

We could talk about that, “Yes, they’re all mine,” tote, yes? I’ve posted about it several times on social media, and I had multiple questions about where to purchase it.

Here you go.

In fact, if you’re a mama of many, you might even say that this post is a #mamalifehacks two-fer since–if you’re anything like me–”Are they all yours” is pretty much a 4X per Target trip question, and having it answered for you just might save you some serious time!

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Did you know you could buy pregnancy tests at the Dollar Store? I can’t believe I overpaid for those little suckers for so long!

Bit of Whimsy Dolls–Lessons Learned

I’m not much of a seamstress. I’ve been able to sew a straight(ish) line since I was pretty young, but I’ve never really improved my skills too much beyond that. Nothing like my amazing friend, Alina, who has taught herself everything from upholstering to fancy dressmaking and has now moved onto making HER OWN JEANS (like, from start finish, and they look BETTER than professionally done…hashtag awe-inspiring).

Even so, I’ve managed to crank out window treatments–both short and long–pillow covers, a skirt or three, some easy tailoring fixes, some baby shoes, and other simple tasks.

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Still, when I purchased the Bit of Whimsy doll pattern–cough–three years ago, I knew that I would be using all of my meager skills. Not that it requires a great deal of seamstressing (made up words for the win). But–for me, at least–sewing feels a bit like the opposite of riding a bike. At least ’til I really get back into it. Every time it’s been a while since I’ve done it, I’m all: “Bobbin? What’s THAT? Oh, yeah.” And don’t even ask me to adjust the thread tension. Things start getting ugly fast.

ANYhoo, despite my various and sundry inadequacies, I decided that this (well, last…I decided it when it was still “this”) year was going to be the year that I finally whipped out those darn Whimsy dolls for my girls.

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Honestly, it’s a good thing I waited as long as I did. The twins would have been too little to fully appreciate them (they kind of still are), and, well, being 41 weeks pregnant like I was last year is not a good time to attempt to not put a sharp shiny metal object through your finger multiple times at high speeds.

Of course, in true Abbie fashion, I procrastinated a bit (in my defense, I got all of my supplies bought and in order the week BEFORE the week of Christmas and sat down multiple times to sew, but the distractions…I mean, the children…would have none of it).

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And, of course, in true Abbie fashion, I decided to sew not three but nine of those little buggers.

3 for us, 2 for my nieces, and 4 for friends’ daughters.

Did I finish all of them in time for Christmas?

Er, Nope.

Did I finish them all in time to give them to each little girl who needed them at that time? (Several of which were, mercifully, after Christmas?)

Yes. Barely.

How long did all of this doll-making business take?

I don’t honestly know, but I did a rough tally, and it was in the neighborhood of 30 hours, all told. A fast doll-maker, I am not. Although, I was feeling especially slow until I posted a pic on Instagram, and several people responded with, “Those take FORever!” (Lots of little steps).

So! Would I recommend making 9 handmade dolls on the week of Christmas? Not really. But I actually ended up enjoying it in some sort of perverse way, and the boys were able to help a bit one morning (with the arm and leg stuffing), so it was kind of a fun family project while we watched a marathon of Christmas movies + The Princess Bride (what??).

And the results?

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{In case you’re wondering, the girls’ shirts, and the twins’ skirts are from Old Navy–fairly recently}

Pretty adorable, if I do say so myself.

In case you’re wondering how I managed to keep all of this doll-making a complete secret from my girls, the answer is: I didn’t. I had planned to. But after staying up until 1 AM 3 nights in a row and feeling positively sick by day 4, I resorted to daytime sewing shenanigans, which definitely drew Della’s attention. She practically hovered over me asking questions that I refused to fully answer (I never actually told her they weren’t for her, but I never told her they were either).

But she’s no dummy.

The very first thing she did on Christmas morning was to hug me and say sleepily: “Merry Christmas, Mama. Thank you for making my doll for me. I love her.” Before she had ever even SEEN her doll, y’all. Or knew for sure she was getting one. Oh goodness. I just teared up. What a softie I’ve become. But it was pretty dang precious.

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{I feel like this is going to be one of those pics down the road where Nola–center– is like, “Really, mom? That one?” Sorry, girl. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad}

My biggest concern was that the girls would take one look at the dolls and then discard them for something “better” (after all, I could have bought them better dolls–in many ways–for $10 from Target), and the twins sort of fulfilled that. Which didn’t surprise or disappoint me too much. They’re only 3–too little still to really get how much love Mama poured into those dolls.

But Della? She has cherished her doll from the moment she opened her and christened her Elizabeth (Della’s and my middle name and what she names ALL her dolls). She sleeps with her, carries her around all day, and gets slightly panicked when she can’t find her (which is sweet, in a maddening sort of way).

And I’m not going to lie. I love it.

Now. Down to brass tacks. Or stitches and fabric, as the case may be.

After making 9 of these, I have a few tips for you, should you decide to tackle one (and only one, right?) yourself.

  • Use the right fabric. Part of the reason that I had all of my supplies in order “early” was that I mostly used what I had. Which…turned out to be a mistake. The muslin that I used for their bodies/faces turned out to be too thin, and I probably spent an unnecessary 4 hours, babying that fabric and restitching places where the seams pulled through the fabric on all of those little arms and legs. Even with all of that effort, I’ve had to repair Elizabeth multiple times already, and, while she’s been holding steady for a while now, with how much Della loves/handles her, I don’t know how long she will last. The twins play with theirs when they remember they exist or randomly find them in one of the toy bins, and they are fairing considerably better for wear.
  • Likewise for the felt for the hair. It calls for wool felt. I only had craft felt, but I did stop by Hancock Fabrics to get the wool…only to discover that they had none. What? Every fabric under the sun, and no wool felt??! So. I went with the synthetic, and it was a mistake. Their hair is pilling something fierce already, something that wouldn’t happen nearly as much with a natural fiber.
  • I don’t know WHAT measurements she’s using for the skirts that you make to go on the dolls, but it says to cut 21″ in length (if I remember correctly) to make them, and every single time, I only ended up needing about half of that.
  • It’s better to slightly under-stuff the arms/legs/torso. You don’t want them limp and saggy by any stretch, but if they have too much stuffing (as can happen with overzealous little boy help), then it puts a lot of undue strain on the seams and makes it that much harder to smoothly attach them to the body.

So! Would I recommend making these dolls as gifts? Strangely, yes. Even after all of that fight with the fabric and late nights. They’re just so sweet and cute and squishy. And different. You have the ability to customize them in multiple ways, but what I really mean is that they’re not the norm that you would find in a box store.

And, if you’ve got a little girl who is old enough to understand that all of that time spent at the sewing machine must mean that her mama really loves her, then it’s hard to imagine a better gift.

Just don’t call me when you have trouble refilling your bobbin.

Theodorbs is One-Year-Old!

This year has taken that whole–fastest ever/WOW does that seem like ages ago–trick that time seems to play on us to the extreme.

It’s all a bit of a blur, and there are things that I’m convinced just happened, until I realize that–oh yeah–that was 6 months ago. Then again, Theo’s birth seems suddenly very far away. Like–there was a time when we didn’thave him?

It’s hard to imagine because his happy, cheerful, babbly self has become such an integral part of all of our everyday routines that it’s almost impossible to imagine what we did before we had his sweet baby chub to pinch.

We’re all kind of obsessed with him to be completely honest. Partly because the older kids all kind of “get” now how cool it is to have a little baby in the house. And partly because of this paragraph that I wrote on Instagram earlier this week:

The other day, I wondered aloud to my husband whether I had ever been as obsessed with any other of our babies as I am with Theo.
It’s not that I play favorites but simply that, the older I get, the more the Lord softens my heart toward motherhood.
I wasn’t the girl who dreamed of having lots of babies (although I knew I probably would have them since I always planned to leave the number up to God). But now, with half a dozen to call my own, I am so, so grateful for the way the Lord has expanded (and even amplified) my love for my children as the number grows.
It’s not that I don’t still get frustrated or burnt out or react wrongly (I do, for sure), and it’s definitely not who I naturally am. But I can see a positive change, and for that, I can do nothing but give God the glory for great things He has done.

A bunch of fellow mamas chimed in with agreement, so obviously, this soft spot for the youngest child thing is for real.

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(Twelve months of Theodorableness)

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Theo is a chubby, squishy, giggly, bright-eyed, great-sleeping ball of joy and sunshine.

This baby, y’all. He is such a blessing. And although that would be just as true if he were cranky and colicky and dour, I’m not complaining one single bit that he’s not.

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(The older three saw me taking pics of Theo after they got done with their baths and ran out to jump in on the fun; they kind of can’t stay away from him)

It’s like he knows he’s the 6th kid, or something. Or at least that’s what people like to say when he smiles and wiggles at every last stranger we pass in Target. (I like to think it’s more like God was very, very kind and gracious to me in this busy season). Thankfully, he reserves his best smiles for me and had the good sense to choose: “Mama,” as his first official word.

He has 9 teeth, toddles around in the cutest little stiff-legged drunken sailor gait, and loves power-climbing the stairs and dipping entire rolls of toilet paper in the potty the second Mama’s not looking.

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(And, yes, I’m aware that I have 6, not 4, children, but the twins were napping, and you do not wake two sleeping 3-year-olds before their naps are up unless there’s a gun to your head. Thankfully {for several reason} there wasn’t).

He eats just about everything under the sun (how could he not with all of those chompers?) and has the most infectious belly laugh that you ever did hear.

Also, He’s a “patter.” When I get him up each morning, he babbles and grins and gives me a vigorously arm/back pounding with the flat of his chubby little hand before laying his head down on my shoulder for a snuggle. Be still, my beating mama heart.

He adores his siblings. He’s got a pretty decent case of mama fixation (the feeling is mutual), but he will happily go to Ezra or Simon, even when he’s fussy or tired (within reason), and they will happily cart him all over the house. Ezra will even come to me and ask if he can, “bathe and change Theo and then watch him for you.” Gee, kid. Let me think about that for a second. YES.

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And, of course, he’s head-over-heels for his daddy. I’ve loved seeing  my husband’s bond with all of our babies, but just like my own heart has softened, I can see that his has as well, so it’s been especially fun to watch how much he’s enjoying Theo’s babyhood.

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Basically, Theo is a dream baby. I can’t even tell you how many times Shaun and I have looked at each other and said: “Could he BE any better?”

Answer: Um, nope.

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So happy 1 year, Theodorbs! (His birthday was actually last week, but…close enough). We are so, so grateful you are in our world.