Trades of Hope

I love it when readers reach out to me, and I especially love it when they introduce me to new ways to help others.

So, when Beth–a mama of eight!!–contacted me, wondering if I’d heard of Trades of Hope, I hopped on over to check out their site and was excited to see the ways that they are empowering women in developing countries (and America too!) to escape poverty.

Beth asked me to pick out a few of my favorite pieces from their collections (they have everything from jewelry to stationery to bags to home decor and more), and these are just a few of the lovelies that caught my eye.

tohcollage

She was nice enough to send me the golden bombolulu earrings, which I thought looked nice on the screen but luuuuuuurve in person.

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They are an ideal size to make a statement, have a nice weight (without being so heavy that they actually pull on your ear), and are the absolutely perfect shade of muted gold to go with pretty much everything.

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Plus, if gold is not your thing, they also come in silver.

I wore them to church on Sunday…

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…and loved the touch of shimmer they added to a leather-heavy outfit.

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I also love how well they coordinate with my “M is for Mama” necklace.

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(It’s this one, in case you’re wondering: Tiny Gold Filled Custom Initial Necklace + Birth Month Charm – Personalized Dainty Disc)

But more than anything, I love that the mission of Trades of Hope is to bring hope and the love of Jesus to women who are mired in poverty and slavery.

“We work with the artisans themselves and organizations that are helping women in difficult circumstances. Some women have been rescued from sex slavery. Others are raising handicapped children alone. Some are in war torn countries and others have AIDS. These women have never had the chances we’ve had, yet they are just like us in so many ways. They love their families and hope and dream of a better life for them.”

I am excited that I can be part of something that is helping a mother just like me achieve even a few of the daily luxuries–clean water, healthy food, medical care and education for her kids–that I take for granted every day.

I’m also a fan of the fact that, in addition to providing employment to artisans around the world, Trades of Hope gives a portion of their profits to charities and organizations that provide practical necessities like chickens, goats, sewing machines, material, and more to families around the globe.

I watched this video and cried, so be warned that you might too. Not because it’s a tear-jerker–Ms. Florence is anything but melodramatic–but because of the simple gratitude in her words and the dignity with which she expresses her joy and pride in actually being paid for the work she does.

I encourage you to hop on over to the Trades of Hope website and take a look around to see if anything strikes your fancy.  (I just ordered this gorgeous bangle). I love pretty things, but pretty things with the potential to change lives? I adore that.

As Beth puts it:  “As young moms we are (in my case were) extremely busy but sometimes we need another concrete outlet for our desire to know our life matters–that we are affecting change in our culture. That’s how I feel about Trades of Hope. Through my purchases, hosting, and now joining, I know I am making a positive change and am still doing my first job at home.”

So cool!

You can learn more about the mission of Trades of Hope and Beth’s work with them on her Facebook page. If you have any questions about the products or the business side of thing, she would love to talk with you, and you can reach her at bushnellbunch{at}gmail{dot}com.

Mama Life Hacks {Tip 2}: Freezer Meal Baby Shower

I’ve been really blessed to have sweet friends who have thrown me showers for every single one of my babies except Simon (who was born only 18 months after Ezra and was another boy, so a shower wouldn’t have made much sense).

That’s more than any mama of six has any right to expect. Mandy, particularly, has gone the extra mile by hosting three showers for three (four, counting the twins!) consecutive babies. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I received the best gift ever at Theo’s shower back in December.

So, what was it–Diapers? Cute outfits? A Sophie?

Nope.

It was this:

cookies

{That, right there, is happiness on a plate}

Last week, I was thinking we could all do with a batch of warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies. It was on my to-do list that day, for crying out loud. If only circumstances would cooperate! But just when I had resigned myself to skipping the baking in favor of oh, you know, finishing school and getting out the door to teach BODYCOMBAT on time, I remembered a bag of homemade freezer cookies that my sweet sister-in-law, Hannah, had made me.

I popped those suckers in the oven, and 11 minutes later, my kids and I had a chocolatey moment of smiles and togetherness in the midst of a very hectic Wednesday.

potluckwatermark

Thing is, cookies weren’t the only deliciousness that Hannah whipped up. In fact, at my shower (which she helped host), she rolled out an entire cooler packed with freezer goodies–everything from breakfast burritos to calzone ingredients to French toast fingers to beef and veggie soup…and more!

Y’all.

You should have heard the gasps of delight and exclamations of approval from the women in that room–all of whom are mamas and all of whom are fully aware that freezer meals are worth their weight in gold to a mama who’s just had a baby.

shower

{These fantastic women were my shower hostesses. Hannah’s the one holding my cutie-pie niece, Halleli, there on my left}

The truth is that, between all of the extra batch cooking that I did before Theo’s birth, Hannah’s contributions, my mom’s help, and the generosity of our church, I haven’t had to cook since Theo was born. I have cooked. Several times. But only because something particular sounded good or–gasp!–I wanted to.

I still have a few freezer meals left, and I can’t even begin to express what an incredible relief it’s been to be able to pull something out to thaw on a particularly full day of homeschooling and piano practice and errands and gym classes, etc. Not to mention feeding a newborn every couple of hours.

Which got me to thinking: what woman wouldn’t love to be thrown a freezer meal baby shower?

Obviously, Hannah went above and beyond with her offerings, but if each guest were to bring one casserole or breakfast item or batch of cookie dough balls, then the mama-to-be could be set up for quite a while with a pretty incredible gift–free dinner without having to prepare it.

So, there’s my Mama Life Hack for you this week: if you’re up for hostess duty, consider hosting a freezer meal baby shower.

I guarantee you your guest of honor will be thrilled!

Have you ever brought a freezer meal as a gift to a baby shower? Ever gotten one as a gift? I’m guessing if you were the bringer, then you were the hit of the party, and if you were the receiver, you were one happy camper!

Any Mama Life Hacks to share today? They don’t have to be baby-related. Just any simple tip that could make a mama’s life easier, better, or more manageable.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #mamalifehacks if you post a tip to social media. Who knows? I just might feature YOU!

 

Mama Life Hacks {Tip 1}: Using Garlic to Heal Infections

So, I’ve had this idea for a while of creating a series of tips for making life a little easier. Specifically easier for mamas. (And, let’s face it, easier for our families too, since the fewer cases of the crazies we get, the better off the people we live with).

It’s certainly nothing earth-shattering. There are entire sites dedicated to tips on motherhood. But I wasn’t looking for something that involved. I don’t need field tests or research projects. All I need is time-tested tricks, shortcuts, and why-didn’t-I-think-of that ideas from mamas (just like you) that I can post here, so the rest of us poor schmucks brilliant women can benefit too!

I’ve been jotting down ideas in my phone as they occurred to me or came to my attention for the last several months, but, with Christmas and Theo’s birth and starting back to school, the concept had just sort of slipped to the back of my mind…where it lay quietly biding its time until I got mastitis last weekend and decided to start swallowing raw garlic.

Naturally.

Say what?

Um, maybe I should back up a bit. So, Saturday night, I started feeling soreness in my left breast. I mentioned it to Shaun as we were going to bed but (stupidly) chalked it up to an especially enthusiastic toddler tackle.

By the next morning, I knew exactly what it was. I’d only had mastitis one other time (soon after the twins were born, right around the time I got shingles; if only I had a time machine to go back and repeat that month…I’d smash that hunk of junk to bits). And that episode had been relatively mild. But I still recognized the now-considerably-more-acute pain and–yup–sure enough, angry red streaks across my skin.

My other symptoms were mild, so we proceeded as usual with our Sunday morning. Shoot, we even managed to go grocery shopping before church! But I digress.

At church, I asked my friend, Shanna, who is an essential oils guru, what I might use to keep the infection from getting worse, and she recommended several things and then said, “But you know, I cured full-blown mastitis with nothing but raw garlic.”

I had definitely read about the medicinal qualities of raw garlic but had completely forgotten about them until Shanna mentioned them. Still, I figured I’d keep that idea in my back pocket as a “last resort.”

Not too surprisingly, that last resort came to fruition–at 3 AM, no less. Now granted, my first attempt at raw garlic consumption was less than pleasant. I chopped a very large clove up pretty fine and ended up having to take it in two rounds, which produced a fair amount of gagging (mostly from texture), a copious amount of water-gulping, and my personal best in the speed-eating of a banana to chase it all down.

Suffice it to say that I was less than eager for a repeat. But I couldn’t deny that my symptoms felt considerably less severe about an hour later.

Stubborn human that I am, I spent Monday morning suffering on the couch, until a new round of shakes and crumminess convinced me to give the garlic another go. This time, though, I chopped the clove into pill-sized pieces, downed them in one round, and chased them with a gulp of water and a Clementine. No gagging. No shuddering.

Within an hour, my worst symptoms had abated, and by evening, only the soreness and a lingering headache remained. (And this, after the mere thought of moving had been far from bueno for a solid 24 hours).

I posted this pic to Instagram and Facebook on Tuesday as proof of how much better I felt.

gym

I fully expected the chatter to be about Theo in his cute hat, but instead it was either, “Preach it, sister! Garlic works!” or, “Wait, HOW does this garlic thing work??”

Which brings me to this post, which is the first in a series that I’m calling…

Mama Life Hacks: Making Motherhood More Manageable One Simple Hack at a Time.

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So, how does this raw garlic thing work? Well, garlic has long been used for medicinal purposes, mostly due to the efficacy of the chemical allicin, which gives garlic its potency and its pungent odor. Garlic, in various forms, can be used to treat or alleviate a number of conditions from mastitis to yeast infections to the common cold and more.

garlic3

I encourage you to do your own research, of course, since my advice is purely anecdotal and I am no doctor, but, barring an allergic reaction or a complete and total inability to tolerate smelling like salami for a while, what have you got to lose?

For the raw garlic method, all you need to do is chop up a clove of garlic into pill-sized pieces, down it with water or juice, then follow it up with something yummy if you feel the need.

garlic4

You can do this up to 4-5 times a day, but I kid you not that each of the two times I took it, I could feel a difference in my symptoms within an hour.

A few people on our Facebook page suggested dousing the pieces of garlic in honey or maple syrup, which would be great if you just couldn’t stand the idea of raw garlic straight up.

garlic5

There are even more ways to get your dose of healing garlic (I’m especially interested to try my friend Gwen’s much more kid-friendly garlic press technique for sore throats, earaches, colds, etc.)

But for now, I’m submitting swallowing raw garlic as a super-cheap, effective, don’t-have-to-leave-the-house-or-get-a-prescription way of fighting off your next infection.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I kept breastfeeding Theo as usual, and he didn’t seem to mind his garlic milkshakes a bit.

So…here’s where YOU come in!

I searched Instagram and discovered that–miraculously–I am the only person who has ever used the hashtag #mamalifehacks.

So, for now, it’s all ours (muhahahaha…feeeeel the power…ahem).

I’d love it if, any time you guys post about something simple you do as a mama that makes your life easier/better/fuller on social media, you’d use that hashtag.

It’ll work for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…whatever.

And then, I can search that hashtag and discover all kinds of nifty tips from y’all and feature them here!

I’m excited to see what awesomeness y’all have to share!

Speaking of which, do you have a Mama Life Hack to brag about today? Do tell!

Have you ever used garlic to cure an ailment? Did you smell like an Italian restaurant for two straight days? My husband assured me that I was, um, fragrant from several feet away. At-trac-tive.

@mifmcloset

Welp. I’m sick.

I find it mildly hilarious that right after writing a post on sleep-training, I would come down with a case of mastitis, which is almost surely the result of Theo’s rather quickly bumping his longest nighttime stretch from 5 hours to 8 hours last week.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for the extra sleep. I could just do without the chills and the aches and the shooting pain.

Fortunately, a) I caught it quickly and am bumming it on the couch between answering math questions and downing raw garlic (shudder), and b) my fingers are still in working order, which means that I got a chance to post a bunch of Shop My Closet items last night. (while we watched Swiss Family Robinson for our family movie night, and my children almost had apoplectic episodes of ecstasy at how cool they thought it was. Seriously, if you have littles who love adventures–especially boys–do yourself a favor and rent that one. Even my husband kept exclaiming how much he remembered loving it as a child and how much he liked it still).

ANYhoo, I’m just hopping on here between cat naps (that are inevitably interrupted with a twin appearing thisclose to my face and intoning, “I hong-ey!”) to let you know that, if you want to head on over and get yourself some cute duds at a great price, I have created an Instagram account specifically for my closet items.

Items such as these:

closet collage

{Wrinkles included at no extra charge}

My user-name is @mifmcloset, and I have over a dozen things listed already and will be adding more as the weather/lighting/mastitis pain allows (in case, you’re wondering why the weather would have anything to do with it, we are currently experiencing a very dreary, light-deprived day that just produced–wait for it–the barest dusting of…S-N-O-W!!! Cue more apoplectic fits from my children. If you’re in Boston…I’m sorry).

The sale is auction style and ends at 9PM tomorrow evening.

Happy bidding!

 

 

A Six-Time Mama’s Best Tips for Sleep-Training Babies

Yesterday, I posted this bit of cuteness to my Instagram

theo sleeping

…with this caption:

Apparently, waking up to big sister shaking a stuffed bunny in your face is no big thang.
#sixthchild #overit

Y’all. Can I just take a moment to brag on God and say how grateful I am for His provision and grace in this whole six kid business?
I know by our society’s standards that six kids is a lot, and there are days when it feels that way to me too… But mostly, it’s just awesome. Which is not the same thing as easy but way better.
Praise the Lord that Theo is awesome AND easy. And smiley. And chill. And… Well, you get the idea. I am one blessed mama.
#boastintheLord #HEhasdonegreatthings

Here’s the thing: I think one of the greatest provisions that the Lord granted me, long before I ever had even one child, was a wise Mama of my own–one who had been given sound sleep-training advice for babies when she was a young mama and who was kind enough to pass that information along to her clueless daughter.

And then, by extension, an even greater grace has been children who, after being trained with this method, have slept long stretches from very early ages. Because there’s nothing quite like a decent night’s sleep to convince you that you can, indeed, face another day full of tantrums and diaper blowouts, gloppy-sloppy kisses (that deposit yogurt all over your favorite sweatshirt) and spilled bowls of cereal, math problems and questions like, “But HOW did the baby get in your belly?”

Flip that scenario to one of sleep-deprivation, and, suddenly, the tiniest whimper feels like an ice-pick to your brain, and that soggy mess of Raisin Bran on the floor feels like the “one more thing” that will tip you over the edge into insanity.

I’ve mentioned several times here that I have babies who sleep well, and as a result, I’ve gotten multiple comments/emails/questions about how I manage such a thing.

But here’s the thing: I may have 6 kids, but I don’t feel like a “kid expert.” I’m not “that mom” who has a binder full of activities for boredom-days and a perfectly organized medicine cabinet (but more power to you if you are; you are a-w-e-s-o-m-e). I do, however, feel like I have a really good handle on what works for our family, our kids. It just never really occurs to me to assume that it would be best for anyone else, though. Plus, I don’t ever want to sound like I’m telling hard-working Mamas how to do their thing.

But when a mama with 4 littles under 4-years-old (including a newborn) reached out to ask about my sleep-training routine when her #4 was throwing her for a loop, it occurred to me that, perhaps, my reticence to share might be more selfish than open minded.

Maybe I’m hesitant, not because I don’t have anything to offer, but because I’m afraid of getting yelled at or because I don’t want to appear “bossy,” even if my desire is genuinely to help.

After the mama I mentioned earlier and I talked on the phone, she sent me a text a couple of days later thanking me and saying how much better her baby was sleeping. I was thrilled! Not because of anything I’d done (because I hadn’t done anything but describe our routine; she had done all the work) but because this sweet mama, who had been waking up every hour to feed her baby, was getting some relief.

I asked her if she felt like anything I said had helped particularly, and she pointed out some specific things and said that my encouragement to stay the course had helped her carry through.

So, with great trepidation, knowing full well that sleep-training is kind of sacred Mama ground, and I may get crucified in the comments section, I decided to share what works for us.

But please hear me when I say that if you have something else that works for you, WONDERFUL. I couldn’t be happier for you. I am simply sharing our routine in the hope that, if there’s someone who hasn’t found anything that helps her baby sleep and is at her wit’s end, she might be able to use even one aspect of what we do to start getting more sleep and feeling a little more human again.

Okay, was that enough disclaimers to convince you that I don’t think I have everything figured out? Hope so. :)

So, without further ado, I give you…

  theo sleeping1

Just as a point of reference, here are the ages that my kids have slept through the night (6-8 hours) and continued doing so:

Ezra – 5 days (I know)

Simon – 2 weeks

Della – 5 weeks

Evy/Nola – 11 weeks

Which brings us to Theo, who, at 7 weeks, has been sleeping 7-8 hours all week and pulled a 9 hour stretch between feedings last night.

So, what do I do exactly?

Well, let’s start with what I don’t do. I am not a strictly scheduled person (although, I do believe that a basic routine is key to getting an early/good sleeper). And I don’t wake sleeping babies to feed them so that they will stay on a set schedule.

During the day, when they are very little, I let them set their own sleeping patterns for the most part. Generally, that means a longer sleep (3ish hours) in the morning and afternoon, with a steady regimen of feedings every 2-2 1/2 hours in between. Are there days that it doesn’t look like this? Sure. But I try to make them the exception rather than the rule.

In the evenings, though, I do my best to keep them awake, even from a very young age (about a week old and beyond) from 6 PM until they simply can’t keep their eyelids open any longer. Obviously, when they’re very little, this may only be a 1-2 hours.  By 3-4 weeks, though, they’re usually staying awake for 4-5 hours, starting around 4-5 PM. (Oh, and in case you’re wondering how I keep them awake, I try anything from bathing them to changing their diapers to rubbing their feet to taking all their clothes off and tickling them; whatever seems to stimulate and keep them alert for a while).

I’ve also found that almost all of my babies usually have a fussy period somewhere between 7-9 PM. By “fussy period,” I simply mean that, even though they are fed, changed, and have been held and played with, they simply can’t seem to get happy for a bit. From what I’ve heard from other moms/pediatricians, this is not just my kids and is a pretty sure sign your baby is gearing up for a longer sleep and needs to get his last bits of frustration/energy for the day out.

My response to this is to let them. I will lay them down on our guestroom bed, barricaded with pillows, or in their bassinet and let them kick and cry for a little while (no more than 10-15 minutes). I’m not talking about an all out screaming session either. Just a period where they exercise their lungs intermittently while they learn to self-soothe and calm themselves down a bit.

(I’m certainly no advocate of abandoning your baby or causing them intentional distress, but neither do I believe that you will scar your baby for life by letting her cry for a brief period).

After a round of this, I’ll go get them, change their diaper, put their p.j.s on, and swaddle them (we’re currently using these Aiden and Anaise swaddling blankets, which are fine but too big for my tastes; they do get the job done, though, and, as a bonus, make great nursing covers because the fabric is lightweight and a bit grippy, so it won’t slide off your shoulders like most blankies do).

The other thing I do in the evenings is cluster-feed. Once my babies have their nights and days straight, they tend to be hungrier during the evenings. So, even though I may end up feeding them three times between 7 and 11, I figure it’s worth it if it means that they then sleep from 11-4 instead of waking up 2 hours later.

With Ezra (my first), I was waaaaaaaaay stricter about feeding times, and I was adamant about not using a pacifier, but all that got me was a little boy who sucked his fingers until age four.

I’m considerably chiller about things now, mostly because I know that each kid is different, and every phase he goes through is just that–a tiny ripple in the vast ocean of my mothering years (how’s that for an analogy that backfires and makes you feel like they will never be potty-trained or learn to stop eating apple sauce with their hands?).

So, all that to say, that I’m totally fine with pacifiers now, if my kid seems to need one. (Ezra, the twins, and Theo have all been high-suck need kiddos. Simon and Della, not at all).

I use Theo’s paci to calm him down or to help him go back to sleep if he stirs in the night, but I don’t usually put him down to bed with it. It’s not a big deal. But I prefer for my kids to be able to go to sleep on their own without sucking on anything (if I have any say in it; Ezra and the twins are/were finger-suckers, so have fun with that, Mama!).

Once we’ve established a pattern of staying awake in the evenings and a routine for our last feeding before “bedtime,” I wake up with/feed my kids whenever they wake up until they establish some kind of strong pattern that shows their bodies can handle a longer stretch of time without eating.

For example, once they sleep 3-4 hours a night consistently for 4 days in a row, I will do everything in my power not to regress back to feeding them every two hours (unless it’s obvious that there’s a good reason for it, like a growth spurt). Same goes for 6 hours and 8 hours and so on. If I have to roll the bassinet into the closet and let them fuss for 10 minutes to make sure they really are hungry, so be it.

One thing I’ve discovered through all of this is that most babies would rather sleep than cry (and I don’t just have sedate little mewling babies; they are–ahem–lung-exercisers, for sure). And if they’re not truly hungry, chances are they’ll decide to go back to bed if they find out that they may not be fed the very mili-second that that stir or make a noise.

The last thing in my sleep-training arsenal is, perhaps, a bit strange, but it has worked SO well for us…for a number of reasons.

It’s this pillow from Ikea. The filling is down, which makes for the ideal level of give/squishiness. We lay it in our bassinet (where our babies sleep for the first several months until they get too big) and roll up a towel under one end to create an incline (with the baby’s head slightly higher than his feet). Then, we sort of “hollow out” the center of the pillow vertically (by smooshing it down with our hands; again, the down keeps its shape) and place our little swaddled burrito baby in that indention, so he’s nice and cozy.

theo sleeping

{Same pic from above, but now you know that he’s lying on “the magic pillow”}

There are tons of specialty foam incline inserts and such that we’ve tried, but they all tended to make flat spots on the back of our babies’ heads because they didn’t give enough. But this pillow? It’s like magic. Seriously, if you have a baby who needs to feel cocooned to sleep, give this a try. It just might be the best $15 you ever spend. (Just make sure to put a smooth pillow cover on it since the one it comes with is grippy and can easily wear bald spots…not that we learned this the hard way or anything :/).

One last note is that, if you watch closely, you’ll start to notice your baby’s “sleep-cues.” There are the obvious ones–like eye rubbing, yawning, and fussiness. Often, though, your own baby will have his/her own cues. Once you learn them, try to pay attention to when they happen. Chances are, if you’ve been sticking to a routine, you’ll find out that they happen just when they “should” and that if you ignore them, you may get a baby whose nerves are so worn that they’re “too tired to sleep.” Getting your baby on a schedule where you can lay them down to sleep before they ever get to the extreme cues can save you a lot of sleep-training headaches. It may be somewhat inconvenient, especially if you’re not a big “schedule” sort, but it’s worth it in the end.

Ha! One last LAST thing. Don’t give up. Seriously. When you’re tired and stressed, it feels like such a good idea to just do the “easy thing.” And that may have to happen one night when nothing is working and you know you’re going to be crazy tomorrow if you don’t just feed him already and get back to sleep. But try to get back into the routine the very next day. It’s hard at first, but it pays big time dividends in the end.

And…there you have it, folks!

All of my sleep-training “secrets” in one post.

I think the best thing is that, once you’ve got your baby trained, even though it may take weeks, chances are–outside of a hiccup here or there–they’ll keep right on doing what you’ve taught them to, even without all of the complicated keeping-them-awake techniques or “magic pillows.” We’ve never had any problem transitioning our kids into their cribs from their bassinets because, by that point, they have learned to love sleep and know when they’re supposed to be doing it. The whereof it doesn’t matter to them at all.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask (I know I’ve already gotten several concerns about sleep-regression and just from posting a teaser on Instagram/FB, so be sure to leave those here). And if you have something that’s worked great for you, I want to hear that too! I’d love for the comments on this post to be a kind of forum where desperate, sleep-deprived mamas can come for wisdom, and I know that you awesome mamas have plenty to offer!

**I’m sure it goes without saying that we should be kind, respectful, and understanding of any advice offered/questions posted here. Thanks! Y’all are the best!

This does not Bode(n) well…

Every now and then, something strikes my fancy in such a major way that I can’t get it out of my head.

That happened pretty much the second I spotted this shot from Emily’s Instagram feed.

boden

Pretty much my first two thoughts were:

A) Dang, I wish I could paint like that

and

B) Dang, that coat is dope (okay, so I probably didn’t actually think the word, “dope,” but that’s what came out of my fingers just now, so I’m going with it)

Of course, I knew it wouldn’t be cheap since it’s from Boden. In fact, knowing that, I avoided even trying to track it down for a solid week.

Finally, my curiosity got the better of me, and I found it on the site.

boden2

{Puuuuurdy}

It strikes me as a bit funny that both Emily and I liked it so much considering that she’s just as adamantly devoted to her beloved neutrals as I am to my colors (long live aqua!).

But it’s a pretty stinkin’ fantastic raincoat, so I’m not surprised even a neutral-lover would be drawn to it.

So, what was the price tag?

$151.30. (#random). On sale.

Bum-mer.

I started calculating just how many Shop My Closet Items I would have to sell to pay for it, guilt-free, and how much time it would take to snap all the pics, list all the items, ship all the stuff. Then I factored in how many years it would take off my life to take 6 kids to the post office. Multiple times.

And…

I closed my computer.

There’s only so much you can love a cute floral raincoat.

That said, be on the lookout for some Shop My Closet items coming up. I doubt I’ll get enough of them listed in time for my size of raincoat not to sell out, but I had planned on doing some closet purging anyway, so we’ll see how it goes.

Am I the only one who gets fixated on something specific? Somehow I doubt it, but feel free to enable validate me if you wish.

A V-day Photo-Dump Extraordinaire

Hey friends!

I hope you had a fabulous weekend whether you’re an all out hearts, flowers, and candy type of girl or a “what a ridiculous excuse to peddle more Hallmark cards!” kind of girl.

(I’m somewhere in between. I realize that Valentine’s Day is a completely manufactured holiday and therefore a bit silly, but I also love any excuse to eat yummy food, give thoughtful presents, and hang out with my man, so I look at it as a reminder to do more of that).

I had a post scheduled for this morning (which–I must point out–made me feel extremely organized and on-top-of-things given my current helter-skelter state of life with homeschooled kids, toddlers, and a newborn), but it just felt a little too glib to completely ignore the rather intense discussion that took place after Friday’s post.

I want to thank each of you for taking the time contribute to that discussion, whether we agreed or not. I read and considered each and every comment but chose to spend the weekend with my family rather than answer comments just yet. I will try to do that as soon as possible. I’m also mulling over a blog post that addresses several of the issues raised, so be on the lookout for that in the near future.

For today, I thought I’d recap our Valentine’s weekend because it was pretty fantastic and because I haven’t been doing too many, “This is life,” posts lately, and sometimes a good ol’ photo-dump is just the thing.

Just like this past Christmas was my favorite to date, I’m pretty sure this was the most enjoyable Valentine’s we’ve had yet too. And not because our others have been bad, mind you. We always enjoy good food and have a fun, relaxed time, but just overall, I feel like the fewer expectations we place on ourselves, the more fun we have. (Ain’t that always the way?).

And, when you’re doing your Valentine’s date at home with three small children, it’s easy to keep your expectations super-low.

You already know what we were going to eat as well as what I was going to give Shaun. In case you’re wondering, his gift was a hit. As soon as he saw the Bingo set, he got a mischievous glint in his eye, so I went upstairs to my closet and “prepared.” (Apparently, he knew all about that “one little word” I mentioned in that gift basket post).

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Okay, so this was just a joke, considering that this took place at approximately 5 PM, all 3 littles we had at home were awake, it was 68 degrees outside, and I was melting. But it made for a good visual gag + photo op when he came downstairs and saw me standing there, camera in hand, snapping selfies.

Of course, before we ever got to the Friday afternoon festivities (which started after I met my mom to drop off the three older kids, just like I do every Friday afternoon; the woman’s a saint!), the kids and I got to experience the joy of car carts at the grocery store.

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If you want to know what I really think about car carts, get a load of Della’s face. They cause more fights than they fix (again: Della’s face), and they’re pure misery to navigate. But the kids think they’re ah-maze-balls (except when they don’t; Della’s face, anyone?), and our local fancy grocery store (that we hardly ever visit) is the only place that has them.

So the torture ecstasy of car carts was all ours.

I felt very much like Joe Fox buying books in Kathleen Kelly’s Shop Around the Corner–complete with his incredulous, “H-h-HOW much?”–when my measly pile of specialty items rang up to over $70 (I did buy a crepe pan, so there was that too), but I swiped my card just the same, and we proceeded to bump our car carts into every corner and “VALENTINE’S SPECIAL!!!” display all the way back across the store on our way out.

When I got home from that little adventure, I discovered these waiting for me.

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I love flowers. Especially these (um, tulips and sunflowers and Gerbera daisies?…oh MY!). But I love words even more. So when my adorably geeky husband took his adorably geeky Christmas present (a label-maker) and proceeded to attach a word describing me (or, at least, me through his eyes) to each flower…well, it could have been a measly bunch of wilting weeds, and it still would have been the best. bouquet. ever.

Oh, and in case you saw this view of our kitchen on Instagram after my hubby spiffed it up for me last week…

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{Glean what you will from the fact that I showed this pic to Shaun, and he said, “Wait, that’s OUR kitchen??!”}

…well, this is what it looked like the morning after an epic evening of crepe and eclair making (and this, after we did two {!!} loads of dishes).

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Come to think of it, that’s sort of how it still looks right now (I should do something about that).

I have zero pics of the crepes, since we didn’t get done with them until 9:30 PM, and a trashed kitchen, plus ugly nighttime lighting, plus extreme hunger do not an ideal photo-op make.

Suffice it to say that they were delicious, and I’ll share more soon.

The eclairs, on the other hand, which were entirely Shaun’s doing, were photo-worthy in an epic way.

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These White Chocolate Maple Eclairs are, I think, the most decadent, gorgeous, wonderful morsels of creamy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness I’ve ever eaten. They have multiple steps, and, granted, I’m not the one who made them, but based on Shaun’s eye-rolls of ecstasy, he seemed to think they were worth the effort.

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{I mean}

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The twins were fans as well, and Theo didn’t complain about his milk later, so I think I can  safely say that we all give them many enthusiastic thumbs up.

Speaking of Theo…

 

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Pardon the grainy photo, but I just couldn’t resist snapping a pic of his cuteness as he chilled in bed with me when we were both “supposed” to be taking a Sunday afternoon nap.

He is the sweetest of the sweethearts.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

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This is Evy, who has morphed from being our most mischievous into our most motherly and will sit absolutely still holding Theo for 15 minutes at a time when she usually can’t go 30 seconds without wiggling all over the place.

I snapped this shot yesterday during our Sunday movie night (Pollyanna, in case you were wondering; my kids couldn’t believe they didn’t tell us whether her legs got better!)…right before Nola proceeded to upchuck every last bite of her pizza all over Shaun.

Everything in me was screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I mean, really? A stomach bug to end our magical weekend of decadent food, fun, and family fellowship?? (I couldn’t ruin the alliteration, no matter how cheesy it sounds).

But, thank the Lord, it was just a fluke, apparently. She’s been happy as a lark and completely puke-free since “the incident,” and no one else has shown signs of stomach malcontent, so I think we’re in the clear for now.

Phew!
And there you have it, folks. One very yummy, very enjoyable, very repeat-worthy weekend.

How did you guys fare? Any fun tidbits to share? I’m all ears. (And growling tummy; those eclairs were so good).

Only One Shade of Black and White (Or: Why I Will Not Be Seeing Fifty Shades of Grey and Think You Should Skip It Too)

There are so many great articles–both Christian and secular–out there about why the “erotic” BDSM novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, is wrong (you might be surprised by how many of these objections are coming from the secular feminist camp) and why the equally pornographic movie (if you think I’m exaggerating, consider that the director admits to its having 20 solid minutes of sex scenes out of its 90 minute run time) is the last thing our society needs.

I feel a bit redundant even bringing the subject up. Not to mention I’d rather give as little attention as possible to the book/movie/smut.

And yet, I feel like I’ve been given a platform–no matter how small or seemingly insignificant–to share truth. And the truth is: this book/movie are junk.

(And not even chiefly because critics have universally panned both as clunky and poorly written/executed).

Lest you think I’m being too harsh, let’s break down that innocuous sounding acronym: BDSM.

It stands for -

Bondage

Domination

Sadism

Masochism

Ignoring all of the others for now, let’s just take a look-see at the definition of sadism, shall we?

Which is the…“enjoyment that someone gets from being violent or cruel or from causing pain, especially sexual enjoyment from hurting or punishing someone…a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the infliction of physical or mental pain on others.”

Ugh.

Kind of blows that whole, “It’s just harmless fun” argument out of the water. (An argument that I’ve heard from many who identify themselves as Christians). The best I can tell, harm is kind of the point. And fun has nothing to do with it. Unless, of course, you’re the sadist. Any hands on that one? Anyone? I didn’t think so.

In case you’re wondering, I have not read the book, nor do I plan to. And I won’t be seeing the movie.

Mostly because of this:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

There are all kinds of warnings in the Bible against sexual perversion, against wrongdoing, against willfully choosing sin. (Right after I wrote this post, our morning Bible reading was 2 Peter 2, and I couldn’t help but cringe). They are enough.

But even if I were to attempt to justify sin by claiming that these standards are archaic or inapplicable to our modern times, or even that this particular offering is really “not that bad,” I would be hard-pressed to ignore the flip side, which is the encouragement to focus on true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy things.

Fifty Shades of Grey is none of those things.

It is, in fact, a mockery of them all and, outside of any Biblical argument, a source of serious concern for our society as a whole and the messages we are sending to our young men and women in particular.

This article is excellent and focuses on the far-reaching effects that normalizing violent behavior can/does have on the view our next generation has of sex in particular and relationships in general.

I love this question that the author of the article poses at the end of the piece:

“What does sadism and sexual torture (consensual or not) say to our culture about the value of girls? What does it say to boys about how they should treat girls? The youth of today are inundated with porn and sexually violent material—is nobody—nobody—at all worried about the impact this has on them? On the girls who are being abused by boys who think this is normal behavior—and think it is normal themselves?

Dr. Gail Dines relates that when speaking to groups of women who loved the book, they all grow deathly silent when she asks them two simple questions: Would you want your daughter to be in a relationship with Christian Grey? Would you want your son to turn into Christian Grey?

If the answer is yes to either of those, someone should call social services.”

Amen.

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir, and you’re nodding your heads as you read this. Maybe you think I’m completely overreacting and have already unfollowed me. Maybe you’re on the fence and were planning on tagging along with some girlfriends because it kind of sounded fun.

Whatever your current stance, can I just encourage you to prayerfully examine your heart for any possible justification for supporting this sort of “entertainment” that falls so far outside the bounds of anything honorable, excellent, or praiseworthy? If you can find none (obviously, I’m going to argue that you can’t), please don’t go see the movie.

I have no doubt that crowds will flock to see it, either because of the buzz or because they read the book and need their imaginations realized by seeing it all acted out or because they believe the misleading packaging as a “romance” (excuse me while I snort).

They don’t need your ticket too.

Fancy That {Valentine’s Food}

I had a reader ask me in response to Monday’s post for some suggestions for stay-home-and-cook fancy meals, so I thought it might be fun to scout out a few options and then share them with you guys.

I did a little poking around Pinterest (I may not be good at it, but–newsflash–it’s really useful! Who knew!) and this is what I came up with:

1.

Beef Stifado

stifado

{via}

Okay, truth be told, I didn’t need Pinterest for this (except to nab that gorgeous picture) because Shaun and I experienced the realdeal Greek version on our trip to Santorini last summer. This is one of those dishes that is so tender and flavorful that it’s universally appealing. Unless you’re a vegetarian. In which case, you have my sincerest condolences.

And truth be told (again), this dish isn’t really so very fancy or hard to make (although, you’ll want to start early since it needs to cook a while; in fact, if you want to cook ahead and only cook sides on the evening of, it tastes even better on the second day). But it’s still a little more involved and exotic than your average Tuesday night dinner (because who wants to make Turkey meatloaf–again–for Valentine’s Day?).

There are pretty much a bazillion different versions of this floating around the internets, so feel free to browse the ingredients and see which one sounds the most up your alley, but I would definitely go with one that has reviews rather than setting yourself up for the now ubiquitous #pinterestfail.

I made one I found when we were feeling a bit nostalgic after we got home from Greece, and it was delish, but I didn’t save it (told you I’m bad at Pinterest), so, apologies for being no help in the specific recipe department.

2.

Wildfire Crusted Filets

To make up for my lack of specific direction above, let me point you to two very detailed recipes for crusted filet–namely this one with a parmesan crust and this one with a kicky horseradish crust (my husband’s fave).

Parmesan-Crusted-Filet-Mignon-1

We’re kind of enamored with these steaks that are knock-offs of the filet medallions that a Chicago-area restaurant called Wildfire serves (that link goes to my Chi-town blog recap, not the restaurant website).  They’re our go-to special dinner choice, even though I’m not even a red meat kinda girl. (not that you would know it from my suggestions so far).

But–truth be told (man, I like that phrase today)–we love the buttery, crispy gorgeousness you put on top as much as the steaks, so we usually cut the meat in half horizontally, so that it’s only an inch thick or so (total money saver, too, since these bad boys are pricey). I realize this is practically sacrilege to a true steak-lover (believe me, the “&%$#??!” look I got from the bright-eyed, eager meat manager at Super 1 that one time he offered to custom cut my steaks, and I asked for thin ones, was enough to assure me that we.are.weird. As if I didn’t already know #sixkids #duh).

I’m pretty sure if you’re a thick (aka not-weird-like-us) steak lover, though, these would still turn out juuuuuuust fine.

3.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

And now, meandering back into the world I live in pretty much every day, let’s talk chicken.

Pretty much the antithesis of fancy, right?

Unless you stuff it. This is one of the few times when being full of it is a good thing.

But…full of what?

stuffed-chicken-breast-recipes-roundup

Um…whatever you can dream up pretty much. This is the internet at its finest, folks. I am sharing a compilation that someone else came up with to share yet more people’s ideas. It’s called meta-sharing, y’all. And it’s awesome.

I’m already planning on giving several of these versions a go, but not on Valentine’s Day.

Why?

Because this year, we’re going French and making…

4.

Crepes

????

Seriously, Abbie, you’re making breakfast for dinner on V-day? Tres lame, no?

NO.

crepe

That’s an actual picture of an actual crepe that I actually ate in an actual Parisian creperie. And it was actually as amazing as it looks. (Side note: there’s warm, gooey, fresh apple filling inside *drool*).

Call us optimistic fools, but we’re going to attempt to make authentic French crepes–both of the savory and the dessert variety–for Valentine’s.

And if you’re wondering why the big bad bolding of the word “authentic,” it’s because my experiences with crepes before Paris had heretofore been limited to sad, rubbery, limp, imitations of the real thing.

I didn’t think I liked crepes. And then Paris happened, and I discovered that I didn’t like crepes at all.

I adored them. Like… you-want-my-firstborn-okay-here-he-is-now-give-me-the-plate obsessed.

(There is probably more than one reason why I still have an, ahem, healthy chunk of baby-weight change to lose, but I’m going with that trip to Paris and crepes as being way up there at the top of the list).

I sincerely doubt our beginner attempts will even reach the same stratosphere as the ones we ate at that tiny creperie in Montmartre.

But I’m still looking forward to giving it the old college try. I haven’t landed on the perfect recipe yet, but if they actually turn out decent, I’ll be sure to share.

What about you guys? If you’re the cook-at-home types, do you have a go-to “fancy” meal for special occasions?

What about crepes? Ever had any that produced a chorus of angels singing?

 

Game of Love Basket {Valentine’s Day Gift Idea}

I promised last week that I’d have a few practical ways to get the kindness ball rolling in our marriages, so that’s what I had intended to do today.

And since I am far from the fountain of all marital wisdom, I had planned to share a few ideas from the book The Love Dare–which I had picked up at our local Christian bookstore when I was there about a month back, scouting out some homeschooling materials.

Problem was, it had disappeared. I finally found it in my husband’s office, but when I tried to take it downstairs, he snatched it back. I gave him “the look” and said, “Hey, Mister, I bought that for me.”

He started to hand it back to me, then hesitated and said with a sheepish expression: “But I’m in the middle of it.”

Well, as you can imagine, I dropped it like a hot poker. Sharing marriage tips with you guys is great and all, but ain’t no way I’m going to get in the way of my husband’s reading a book on the subject. I love y’all. But…ain’t no way.

ANYhoo, in lieu of tips from the experts, I thought I’d share what I’m getting Shaun for Valentine’s Day, just in case–like me–you sometimes struggle to come up with a meaningful and specific gift that you know your hubby will love.

This is basically a twist on the “Favorite Things” basket that I made him for Father’s Day a couple of years back.

This time, though, the theme is: Game Night.

Why? Because for the last several years, it just hasn’t been convenient or–let’s face it–worth the effort to go out for Valentine’s Day.

Sure, it’s fun to get all gussied up for a night on the town, but when you’ve got a newborn to feed, and every dress you try on is far from nursing-friendly, it feels a bit tedious. Even without a newborn, sometimes it’s just too much trouble to make reservations, find a babysitter, fight the traffic, pay the inflated prices for the “Valentine’s Specials,” and on and on.

So, we’ve had a lot of fun the last several years staying home and cooking a fancy meal together, love songs on repeat in the background. (This Ed Sheeran gem is, by far, our favorite right now).

This year, I thought it would be even more fun to jazz things up with a game night basket for Shaun. He loves board games, card games, word games–really any sort of competition. And so do I.

game of love

I was inspired by a trip to Marshall’s, where I scored that basket, the “Bulls and Cows” game, the wooden target game, and this (which wouldn’t come close to fitting in the basket)…

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…for $35.

They had all of their “guy-themed” Christmas items on major clearance. Otherwise, even at Marshall’s prices, the Bingo set alone would have cost $50.

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Of course, considering that it’s made of real wood and is really good-sized (hard to tell, but the metal ball tumbler is over a foot tall), I thought $20 was a steal!

All three of the games I bought were two-player-friendly, and I made sure to include lots of his favorite snacks from our local Whole Foods-esque grocery store.

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Pictured here: Virgil’s Black Cherry Cream Soda, Murray’s Ginger Snaps, Deep River Olive Oil and Rosemary Kettle Chips, Kettle Popcorn, and–to top it all off–Marish English Toffee Caramels (pretty much THE BEST chocolate/toffee/carame I’ve ever tasted).

Of course, these are all tailored to Shaun’s specific tastes, but I can picture all kinds of creative options like a poker-themed basket with lots of–ahem–chips. Or, if you want to get super-creative, a carnival-themed basket complete with water pistols, bean bags, targets, and cotton candy.

Even if your husband isn’t all that into games, I bet he can be persuaded for at least one night by adding the all important word “strip” to the description of any game (okay, maybe not Monopoly, unless he’s got the patience of a saint).

After all, it IS Valentine’s Day.

Just sayin’. ;)

What about you guys? Any big plans for V-day?

Do you struggle to come up with great Valentine’s gifts? Or do you guys skip the gift exchange?