All posts by blogabbie

The Ultimate Amazon Gift Guide for MEN {2017}

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

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

Here we go with the Ultimate Amazon Gift Guide for MEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

amazon gift guide under 15

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

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

See? Pretty pens!!!

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

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

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

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

They’re just as cute in leather form.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again with the boho earrings. Love the tassels!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be back soon with round two!

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Hawaii 2.0 (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hawaii part 2 1

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

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

hawaii part 2 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eh. Worse things have happened to me.

Like the massage I got after surfing!!!

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

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

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

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

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

Or 70.

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

But Honor was having none of it.

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

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

hawaii part 2 3

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

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

You guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hawaii part 2 7

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

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


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Hawaii 2.0 (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

He bounced.

He giggled.

He shrieked.

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

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

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

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


The view from our hotel was not terrible

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

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

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

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

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




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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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The Twins are FIVE!

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

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

I’m the mother of 5-year-old twins. 

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

And joyful.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

They are–dare I say it?–FUN.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise God for that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Grocery Shopping for Our Large Family

I noodled around several different title options before picking one because I didn’t want it to be misleading. This post is not about THEE cheapest way to shop if you have lots of kids. Or about coupon clipping. Or about the best, most filling meals for the least amount of money.

Elements of most of those things are in here, but more than anything, I’m writing this post in response to several questions I’ve received about what the process of feeding a family of 9 looks like.

And they are:

1. How often a week do you shop?

I do one big haul a week–usually on Saturday mornings. And then, we supplement as needed with a quick stop or two throughout the week. The “big haul” day has rotated through the week throughout the years (we even went together as a family immediately after church for a while there), and historically, I’ve had ALL the kids when I go (many moons ago, when the kids were all smaller and much less helpful, I used to stop on Monday evenings…after teaching two hours of classes at the gym. Because, apparently, I’m a masochist??). Lately, I’ve been heading to town on Saturday mornings for a free Cross Fit community WOD (workout of the day) and then shopping immediately after. NO KIDS. Because the oldest ones are mature enough now to do basic younger sibling maintenance (Honor’s down for a nap) while Shaun does projects around the house.

Are there words to adequately describe the sheer joy of grocery shopping alone? I’m not sure there are. But “bliss” comes to mind.


Shaun’s been traveling a fair bit recently, so the kids were with me on a random Tuesday. We always have two baskets and take up a fair bit of space, but they are genuinely helpful (I don’t load the belt or bag groceries) and definitely know the drill after years and years of tagging along. My favorite thing about this picture is that, as I was looking at several that I took from my phone, the lady with the white hair in the back is staring at us with that same bemused expression in every single one. Ha!

2. How much do you spend?

This is the one everybody wants to know, right? I mean, we’re feeding 9 people. Surely, we must be spending a fortune. Of course, with 4 (almost FIVE!!!)-year-old twins, a 2-year-old, and a newborn, half of my people don’t actually consume that much in terms of volume yet. But the amount feels like it increases on a weekly basis, which makes me nervous.

Our typical bill for the “big haul,” including some non-food items (so, a package of toilet paper, or a box of diapers) is about $190. Obviously, there are some weeks that all of the extra stuff comes “due,” and the bill is considerably higher.

If we were to stick to that every week, that would be a pretty incredible budget for such a big family. But we always end up stopping at least one more time to grab a rotisserie chicken + fruit + milk, etc. Most weeks, we spend another $50 at least.


This particular load was about $135. I usually get more of most things (like bagels and yogurt), but we were still stocked on those from a previous trip. 

3. What do you eat every week?

I’m sure this is true of most folks, but we eat basically the same thing every week. Cereal, bagels, or eggs for breakfast, yogurt and fruit for snacks, sandwiches or leftovers for lunch, and an ever-repeating rotation of about 20 dinner options that use a lot of the same ingredients.

My go-tos are:

  • Turkey spaghetti (my kids would eat my spaghetti–you can find the recipe for my sauce at the beginning of my lasagna recipe–every single day). For reals.
  • Turkey burgers + homemade sweet potato fries + homemade guac (one of my fave meals ever that I eat without a bun and with all the fixin’s on the side).
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Taco Soup
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • Turkey Burritos
  • (Chipotle-style) Chicken and Rice Bowls
  • Chicken Pesto Pasta
  • Steak + Scrambled Eggs + Roasted Seasoned Potatoes
  • Greek Chicken + Rice + Veggies
  • Turkey Meatloaf + Mashed Potatoes
  • Pot Roast
  • King Ranch Chicken
  • Quiche
  • Chicken + Veggie Stir Fry
  • Chicken + Veggie Pasta
  • Chicken or Steak Fajitas
  • Chicken + Squash Grill
  • Salsa chicken (in some form or another)
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Chicken Lettuce Wraps

We don’t do much in the way of prepacked foods, but neither do I make complicated meals.

4. What ingredients are you never without?

You’ll pretty much never find us out of: diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, limes, cilantro, avocados, OTB Corn Chips, cheddar cheese, black beans, onions, tortillas, raw chicken, and raw ground turkey (obviously those last two get cooked quickly, usually in batches for the entire week).  We are a Tex-Mex family, apparently, and I make homemade salsa (it takes 5 minutes and is SOOOO good) and guacamole on the daily. If I’m in a pinch for dinner, we’ll probably be eating burritos and black bean salsa or spaghetti that night.


Bonus points if you can a) spot Theo or b) figure out why Nola looks so distressed (probably, she just heard that we weren’t having “her favorite spaghetti” for dinner that night). 

5. How much do you eat out?

In the past, not very much. We still don’t do tons, but we’re a little “looser” than before. Shaun and I have a “date night at home” every Thursday night when my mom has Ezra, Simon, and Della at her house. We get the four littles in bed by 7:30 and settle down on the couch with takeout Thai food to watch an episode of Fixer Upper or Vera (British crime show).

Once a week (usually on Fridays after I teach Combat or a Tuesday night if Shaun’s out of town), the kids and I will have lunch or dinner at Chick-fil-a. And we usually eat out lunch on Sundays. Plus, we go pick up the big kids from my mom every Friday night, and she fixes dinner for us + my brother’s family. So, I typically cook (or at least prep some kind of food) 5 nights a week, with Thursdays and Fridays off.  If I moan even a little bit about cooking on Sundays, Shaun orders pizza. :)

5. Any brilliant money-saving tips?

I used to religiously scout out the sales in the local ad papers and then take them to Walmart for price matching. My mom just told me that Walmart isn’t honoring competitor ads anymore, but I haven’t done this for a couple of years anyway. I did save a fair bit sometimes, but I also found that–outside of a $0.99/lb sale on grapes or some other produce–most of the things we buy regularly at Walmart were pretty comparable to the sales I usually saw.

We also used to shop at Sam’s Club, but we’ve been in such a busy season of life for so long that the extra effort of driving out there (it’s a ways from our house) and spending at least an hour grocery shopping–usually on a Sunday–just wasn’t worth it to us. We may renew our membership in the future, but for now, we’re keeping it simple.

As to coupons, I just don’t. I know I could save a lot of money, and, of course, I use the ones they include on the yogurt packages, etc., but I don’t actively buy items based on whether they have coupons available.

I think my best way to keep our food bill decent is to buy inexpensive, simple food and do a fair bit of cooking. Cheaper AND better for you!

So, there you have it, folks! What grocery shopping for 9 looks like around here. I know this will continue to evolve as the kids get older/eat more. I’m seeing lots more beans (and flatulence…) in our future.

What does grocery shopping look like at YOUR house?

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Mama Life Hacks {#23}: Easy (YUMMY) Crock Pot Salsa Chicken

As I sit here typing this, my stomach is rumbling in the worst way–mostly due to the fact that it’s late, and I really should be in bed, which means it’s been a while since I ate. But also because I just made a batch of the most delicious, moist, flavorful chicken EV-AH. And it smells SO good. I just had to pop on and share the “recipe.”

My sis-in-law actually turned me onto this idea when she brought multiple meals over for us during the craziness that was packing/getting the new house ready/moving…because she’s awesome like that.

So, is your pen poised yet?

Here’s what you’ll do:

Place a package or two of chicken (breast, thighs, whatever) in a crock pot and cover with enough jars of the salsa of your choice (I just use the mild picante style) to completely submerge the meat. I usually add a dash of chili powder, granulated garlic, and cumin, but the salsa adds plenty of flavor on its own.

Hit start on that bad boy and let it go until your kitchen is filled with the slightly torturous fragrance of melt-in-your-mouth, fall-apart chicken goodness.

That’s IT!

Once the chicken is cooked through (it could go all day on low, but I usually have mine on high for about 4 hours), shred it using a couple of forks, making sure to retain all of the juices and get them nice and mixed through the meat.

Trust me: you will LOVE this stuff. All of my kids do. Most of them prefer it in easy “chicken roll-up” form (flour tortilla, shredded chicken, grated cheese…heated…BOOM). In fact, everyone who’s had it in this form has gone nuts for it (I took it to a family potluck, and everybody was raving and asking me for the recipe, and I was almost embarrassed to admit how easy it was).

But Simon and I prefer it on top of THEE best nachos either of us has ever tasted.


Seriously. Just the chicken, cheese (we use sharp cheddar), and chips (On the Border, baby) are delish, but add you some tomatoes, purple onions, cilantro, and avocado, and it’s out-of-this-world good.

It would also make a great base for Chicken Tortilla Soup, enchiladas, or a taco salad. You really can’t go wrong.

Plus! If you’re like me and trying to eat clean (it’s a process, y’all; definitely not perfect), as long as you pick a salsa that doesn’t have any sugar, there’s literally nothing objectionable about the chicken itself.

Anybody else ever done this easy crock pot hack?

Got any more for me? I’ve been in a bit of a cooking slump lately, and, as much as this staple is saving my bacon, er, chicken, I’d welcome any other easy, healthy suggestions you have.

P.S. I have a “grocery shopping for large families” post in the hopper. Get excited!

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Fun Mom

I have been known to say things like: “I’m not a very fun mom.”

But that’s not strictly true. I love having fun with my children. We do fun things. But I tend to think of fun moms as the kind who fix their kids pancakes with chocolate chip smiles every morning, mix up homemade play-doh on the regular, and spend hours playing Legos on the rug.

When I actually think about the logistics of that kind of behavior, though, it strikes me that, while some moms have more of a gift for play than others, it’s just not super feasible to be a fun mom ALL the time, even if it comes naturally to you.

Sure, there are times I would RATHER play Uno with my kids than do laundry (um, always), but I (and the rest of the world) would also RATHER we wear clothes, so…

Plus, the Bible has a lot more to say about training and discipline than it does about “fun,” so there’s that.

Do I have a point?

Yup! I sure do.

My goal, as a mama, is to provide my kids with a childhood full of God’s truth, first and foremost, but, right behind it, an unswerving belief that they are loved (which, come to think of it, is kind of the ultimate God’s truth).

A lot of times, that means instruction and discipline (because I can’t think of anything more unloving than letting my child flail around, lost as a goose, or neglecting to turn him away from a destructive path).

And sometimes, that means taking an unexpected day off from school and packing a picnic to the park instead (one of the beauties of homeschooling).

There are many fun mom categories in which I fall short, including: crafting (it happens, but it’s rare), library trips (ditto), trips to the pool in the summer (thank the Lord that my mom has a pool, and my three oldest spend the night with her once a week), and any kind of play involving little characters that I dance around and provide high-pitched voices for.

bed school


One way to earn automatic fun mom status? Let them do school on your bed (my mom loves having her picture taken. Hi, Mom!) 

Conversely, my “fun mom” strengths are:

1. Baking. I actually love whipping up something yummy with my kids in the kitchen. I don’t get uptight about their making messes (for most part), and I love to see their little faces light up when they take the first bite of whatever yummy treat “they made.”

2. Dance parties. I have been known to boogie down with my kids at least once a day. Okay, so there are stretches when that doesn’t happen for a week. But we almost always have some sort of music on during chores, and we take timeouts for a shimmy or two in between vacuuming and scrubbing toilets.

3. Reading. I’m pretty good about reading to my kids, which, to my delight, they consider fun. If I’m honest, I’m better about reading chapter books to the older kids, but I have read my fair share of Frog and Toad and Winnie the Pooh as well.

More specifically, these are two habits that elevate me to “Super Fun Mom” status in my kids’ eyes:

1. We have a constant rotation of who gets to “drive” down the driveway to our house, sitting on my lap (from Theo to Ezra, who is pushing 100 pounds). We’ve done it since the old house, and, while we don’t do it every single day, most days, whoever’s next in line clambers up to the front and gleefully “steers” us home. Good thing we have long driveways, eh?

2. Icees on Mondays. We established a tradition last year that, after we got out of home school co-op and before we hit the gym, we’d stop for Icees. What this means practically is that I buy a 32 oz. Icee and split it between all 6 older kids (Honor gets shafted), so they really only get it a taste, but they LOVE it and look forward to it every week.

And you know what? I’m guessing that these will be the little things that my kids remember about me. Not lavish birthday parties or flashy vacations but the simple, everyday pleasures we enjoyed most because we we did them together. Like when I let them listen to “In the Hall of the Mountain King” 7 times in a row (they would listen 100 times if allowed) while I prep dinner, and they race around the island shrieking with laughter, and then we all fall down in a heap of giggles at the end.


See what a fun mom I am? I keep a smile on my face even when my children are falling to pieces! Ha. Ahem. By the way, you really owe to yourself to see the rest of these photos (and read the story behind them) on my IG if you haven’t already. 

I know these will be the things that I carry in my heart for always.

So, whether you’re a natural “fun mom,” have to fight tooth and nail for it, or fall somewhere in the middle (but with a definite bent toward the training side) like me, I just want to encourage you to create little traditions for your children to remember you by.

And never measure yourself by the standards of whatever other moms are doing–even if it’s creating magical, glitter-dusted fairy wings out of nothing but Elmer’s and a scrap of tulle just because.

With that in mind, though, I’m always looking for ways to improve that fit within my wheelhouse of strengths (because the traditions that form organically stem from a shared love–both yours and your kids’–of the activity, and that’s going to vary wildly from family to family).

So, hit me with your best fun mom ideas! Who knows? I may just find a new tradition to steal!

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How ’bout that original title, yo? But seriously, you guys. I have no excuse for disappearing except that I have been doing more living than writing about it. And, while all of the memes would tell me that that means that I must be doing something right (and they would be correct), I can honestly say that I’ve missed “chatting” with you guys here in this little corner of the internet. I have a plethora of half-written blogs floating around in my brain:

  • Big family dynamics to consider when planning a house
  • A recap of our beach trip (from 6 weeks ago…hides face)
  • A tour of the updates so far on the house
  • A post about comparison in motherhood
  • A post about our homeschooling routine
  • A round-up of the best Amazon Warehouse Deals I’ve scored (I’ve gotten some goooood ones)
  • Insert random post title here

But I don’t really have the brain power right now, at 10:23 PM, to be terribly topical, so I’m just going with the ol’ fire hydrant approach.

So, what have we been up to? Well, some exciting house updates, for one.

**As a quick follow-up to my tile gaffe post, we did some scrubbing on it, which lightened the grout a bit it and made it less noticeable, and after talking to a friend who is also a tile expert, we’re just going to let it breathe for a while, try out some rugs, and then go from there. If we absolutely cannot take it, we’ll rip it up and start again. Or paint the entire floor. Or…something. But I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.

I ALMOST feel sheepish telling you guys about the things that we’re NOT doing on this house currently, considering what big DIYers we are and how much we have invested until just recently. Almost, but not quite. Because you know what’s better than bragging rights on doing it all yourself? Having it DONE. (We’re still doing all of the finish work on the exterior, the interior plumbing, the rest of the concrete counter tops, the lighting, the electrical, etc., so yeah…it’s still pretty busy around here)

And done is where we are (or at least close to it) with our floors.



{Hello, beautiful, happy craft room/girl cave/office/studio/Paint and Prose headquarters}

We found a crew to lay our laminate “wood” floors (brand: Mohawk, color: Rare Vintage Fawn Chestnut…because just calling it one of those words would have been way too vague #verbose), and they’ve aaaaaalmost finished TODAY…but we ended up a bit short on laminate. Sigh.

Even so, all we lack is the loft, which means that we can start actually cleaning things so that they stay clean (you know, relatively). And then moving furniture where it actually belongs…instead of its languishing in piles in the workshop and garage or being shuffled around from room to room.



Our master bedroom was the very first floor they laid, and we set up the furniture in it that very night! 

The piece of furniture I’m most excited about hauling out of storage?



This amazing couch I scored at Anthropologie (yes, I bought furniture from Anthro…wild). It’s 10 (!!!) feet long, the coolest shade of blue, and was a fabulous deal, since it was a floor sample. (Especially jazzed, since right after I bought it, they stopped selling floor samples altogether).

Mostly, I’m just excited about the concept of things being more finished than not because we’ve been in a state of flux in some state or form for a good 6 months now, which, while not a huge span of time in the grand scheme of life, is enough to make this creature of habit a bit antsy at times. (Ask Shaun about my meltdown about the ugly burn pile in our yard; or better yet, don’t).

What else? While we’ve been “doing school” all summer (I have the three oldest continue with their basics at a slower pace and diminished amount), we officially started back at our home school co-op last Monday, and I am loving the chance to dust off my teaching chops.(Weird metaphor…did I mention it’s late-ish?).

lifelately3 I did something I’ve never done and bought the oldest 5 BRAND NEW personalized backpacks from Land’s End. They were on sale (of course), but the thing I like most is that they have a lifetime guarantee, so if (when) they snap a strap or rip a hole in the bottom, I can get a brand new replacement for free (crazy but true…and no, I’m not being paid to say this). 

I was laughing with Shaun about the fact that, after hearing from my kids about how most of their teachers just spent the first day going over rules and having everyone introduce themselves, I felt like I was probably the only nutter who hosed my students down with tons of notes and grammar and 4 take-home assignments. I’m sure that’s not actually true, but it’s definitely my personality. I can’t seem to reign in the desire to stuff AS MUCH info as possible in their young brains for the 55 minutes a week that I have each of my classes.

It helps that I’m teaching eager-beaver homeschoolers, for sure.Including Ezra, whom I am requiring to take Spanish 1 with me, even though it’s usually an 8th grade + level class. He is the eagerest of all the beavers, though, and is a joy to have in class, so we’re both pretty thrilled with the arrangement.

In other news, I have officially drunk the Cross Fit Koolaid–or sipped it, at least–and…I liked it! There’s a Cross Fit gym that several of my friends go to that has a free community WOD (Workout of the Day) that I’ve gone to 3 times now, and I can’t really begin to describe how much I enjoy it. Even though it’s really, really hard, and I’m definitely the odd woman out with my newbie–”Um, what’s a wall ball?”–self. If you’re a Cross Fitter, feel free to speak up in the comments. I haven’t dived in and paid for a membership or anything, but I am more excited about Saturday mornings than I’ve been in a while, and I am determined to learn how to do a hand stand push up or at least seriously injure myself trying.

In other news, Honor is eating everything in sight and loving life… While Theo has definitely entered his “can’t handle any emotional distress without descending into temporary madness” phase. AKA: my faaaaaavorite!

lifelately lifelately1


He still has plenty of cheerful moments, but he has also developed quite the formidable stink eye.

I was so hoping we would skip this stage with him because he possessed just the sunniest of dispositions as a baby/toddler. And, if I’m honest, it’s nothing like the twins’ 18-month bout of insanity, since he doesn’t despise his car seat like they did. But there’s still a whole lot screeching and “No-ing” (on both our parts) and floor-wallowing (just his…although, I’m tempted sometimes), and disciplining going on. It helps that Honor is such a dreamboat, though. I mean. Seriously. I just want to eat him with a spoon.


He’s 7 months now, and everybody still fights over who gets to hold him. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what has my children’s attention so completely captured, they were building Sam and Pippin (our guinea pigs) a block maze to run through. 

Shaun is getting ready to tackle another big block of work trips (they always come in chunks, it seems), but the good news is that the kids and I will get to go with him on a couple (Honor will, of course, tag along by default). There’s one I’m especially excited about, but…more on that later.

In fact, more on all of it later, since I’ve jabbered on plenty for now and really need a shower before bed.

What have you guys been up to? Have your kids started school yet? Do any of you have your kids do schoolwork in the summer? Anyone else have a 2 1/2-year-old whose life-management skills have deteriorated drastically?

We can eat virtual ice cream together and chant “Hard is not the same thing as bad” while holding virtual hands. K? Cool. It’s a plan.

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A Clothing Confession + a Tile Tight Spot

Did you know that there’s not a “t” word that means: “predicament?” At least not one that I could think of or that Google could help me out with.

I know because I looked so I could achieve maximum alliteration in today’s post title (#wordnerd).

But that is entirely beside the point because this post is about two very different topics, which are only connected by the tenuous thread of one having been photographed on top of another.

First up, a confession:

I took the 4 youngest to Goodwill last Friday because, between the red dirt and the sheet rock dust and the concrete floors and sub-floors and plywood that my children are all pretty well constantly rolling around on, rubbing up against, and/or attempting, in some form or another, to embed into their persons…most of their clothes are trashed.

Which is fine because their play clothes were getting pretty worn out already, but, with our home school co-op starting in a week and 1/2 and cooler temperatures coming (ahem…in another 5 months), it was time to get a few “new” things for the chitlins.

But wait. That’s not the confession.

Here goes: I bought two things for me too.

**hangs head in shame

I had already determined that, given my self-imposed 6 month clothing fast, I wouldn’t even cast my eyes in the direction of the women’s department. And I didn’t. Pinky promise.

HOWEVER, as we were entering the clothing area, there was a rack set up with a bunch of miscellaneous items on it. And what did my eyes behold but a pair of neutral TOMS wedge booties–the likes of which I have eyed up every fall season for the past 5 years. No lie. I just haven’t ever managed to make myself bite the bullet to buy an $80 pair of shoes that should cost half that (in my not-so-humble opinion). They were in fantastic condition, minus a faint gray mark on one (which I was pretty sure I could get out), and I snatched them up, squinting at the tag–half-hoping/half-fearing they would be my size.

And you know what? They were! (Size 9–I have big feet), and, when I slipped them on, they fit like a dream. I put them in my cart and went on my merry way, not entirely sure I would buy them, but half giddy at the potential.

I spent the next hour alternating between combing through the children’s racks, feeding Honor while standing up and combing through the children’s racks, and–toward the end–breaking up squabbles between the twins and Theo while combing through the children’s racks (for the first 45 minutes, they were playing happily with the toys, which Goodwill had had the good sense to relocate next to the children’s section).

Halfway through all of this combing, I stumbled upon another item that I’ve had on my mental wish list for years: a black/white buffalo check puffer vest.

I love puffer vests. In East Texas, we don’t have much use for full on coats–even during the winter–so puffer vests are a great way to stay toasty on a chilly (but still not truly cold) day. I have several, all of which I wear regularly in the colder months, but I’ve had my eye out for this particular style for ages.

And there it was, wedged between a 3T tutu and a size 8 pair of jeans. Because that’s just how Goodwill rolls.

It, too, had a small mark I was pretty sure I could get out but was otherwise perfect, and it fit!

So, into my basket it went.

master tile

I debated all the way to the front whether I would buy them and almost took them out of my basket several times, but in the end, buy them I did.

Because, ultimately, the purpose of my fast is to eliminate impulse (“but it’s so cute and CHEAP!”) purchases of things that only ever get worn once and then spend the rest of their dejected lives stuffed in a closet corner–NOT to pass up good quality staples at great prices that I’ve had in mind for a long time.

Anyhoo, I promised to keep you updated, and now I have, so there you go! Back to fasting!

(P.S. Both of the marks came out like a dream)

Moving on, can we talk about that pretty tile from the picture above?

I love it!

Except…and it’s a really big except.

But first a little background…

After the frenzy of getting moved in, things have slowed down considerably in the DIY department–partially because they finally could, partially because of summer, and partially because Shaun has been utterly slammed with his day job.

That last reason has been the biggest deciding factor in choosing to hire out a few of the finishing things, and tile was pretty high on his list of, “I’d rather nots/don’t have times.”

We found someone able to start the day we left for Gulf Shores, Alabama (3 weeks ago) and came home to a lovely tiled kitchen…

tiled kitchen

and downstairs bath…

downstairs bath tile

That was fun!

Not as fun?


master tile1

(See all of the dark areas? They’re not an optical illusion. There really is more grout in those spaces)

That would be the master bathroom tiled with all of that lovely black and white penny tile. I chose gray grout to hide stains, but, unfortunately, the area in front of the sink ended up showing the grid patterns of the mosaic tiles (they come in approximately 1 sq. foot sections).

master tile2

{See the lines?}

Honestly, we’re not sure what happened. The area to the right where the tub will be does NOT show the grid lines. At least not nearly as noticeably. And the same person did the work almost entirely at the same time. So, why the application is so much better on the first 8 feet is beyond me.

master tile3

(This whole area in front of the window is considerably more even. Almost no areas of concentrated grout}

Another problem?

We ran out of tile.


I mean, measure twice and install once, right, Abbie?

You guys. I measure a GAJILLION times. And I ordered 10% extra for waste.

But then, we decided to use the same tile on the shower floor. But even then, we did the math, and we should have been fine.

Except that it turned out that a lot of the tiles had issues. Irregularities. Missing pieces, broken tiles. Etcetera.

So, we ended up one row short.

I ordered more from Overstock, thinking it would be no big deal. I mean, it was the same manufacturer, and I had only ordered the first batch last fall.

Double doh.

The tiles were DIFFERENT. Not to the naked eye, really. Same design. But they’re slightly more off-white, slightly thicker (in height), and more beveled…all subtle differences that look anything but subtle once the gray grout is in.

master tile2

{See the super white strip on the far left? Yeah. Triple Doh}

So, here we are, with half a beautifully tiled master bath, 45% a streaky, segmented mess of a master bath, and one ridiculous-looking strip of non-matching tile.

It kind of makes me sick to my stomach because it’s so permanent.

We haven’t really had any big uh-ohs during this build, for which I’m grateful. But I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty disappointed about this one.

Which is where you come in. Has anyone else ever installed mosaic tile squares, only to have the squares themselves show up super obviously when grouted? I have a feeling I wouldn’t have even noticed the lines if we’d used white grout, but I also know the grout wouldn’t have stayed white-looking for long.

If you have experienced this, did you find a way to fix or diminish the effect? We’re going to give the extra-thick grout lines a good scrubbing in hopes of minimizing the impression of segmentation, but I know that won’t completely fix it.

And when it comes to the non-matching tiles, there’s literally nothing I can think of but adding a rug runner directly in front of the sink to hide it.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal. I mean, it’s a floor. In a house. Which is a blessing. We are grateful.

In the small picture, though, I’d really love to find a way to “fix” it as much as possible.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you might have!

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