10 Favorite Valentine’s Day Books

It is no secret that I am a lover of children’s books.  I also love love, so it only makes sense that I share a few of my favorite Valentine’s Day books to read and give to your little ones this year!  

Over here in the Capel home, we are starting a new tradition of giving a new book for Valentine’s Day instead of the classic candy and stuffed animal option.  Our sugar-obsessed toddler definitely does not need anymore chocolate in his life and his room is already overflowing with lots of stuffed animal friends.

Candy is eaten, stuffed animals are played with and tossed in the basket, but books, those just keep giving.  Hudson’s book shelves can always use more company, we will never reach full-capacity when it comes to books, so it really is the perfect way to say “I love you…let’s read together.” 

10 favorite Valentine's Day books for toddlers, kids, preschoolers, babies

There are SO many cute books, specifically designed for Valentine’s Day, these are just my 10 favorite!  I put some classic ones that you probably have already seen on the shelves of Target in their Valentine’s Day book display, but I also put some that more intentionally share about God’s love.

  I have no problem with fun and cute books about the more cultural elements of giving cards and chocolates, but I always like balancing out the collection with more meaningful books that point little ones to larger truths, like the great care and love of God. This list is designed specifically for baby though preschool-aged little ones!

  1. Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! By Laura Numeroff 

For our fall collection of books, we checked out, It’s Pumpkin Day, Mouse! at the library and that quickly became Hudson’s favorite book.  “EEK! It’s a scary pumpkin!” became the line Lance and I would constantly say to get Hudson excited.  When I saw this Valentine’s Day version at Target, I quickly snatched it, knowing it would make the perfect gift for Hudson.  I love that it is a board book. I love the illustrations and how each page is dedicated to something lovely about each of Mouse’s friends.  This will definitely be a hit for Hudson, and I have a feeling this will become the new favorite that is read again and again and again.  

  1. The Biggest Valentine Ever 

This is another great classic Valentine’s Day book, also involving a mouse, actually involving mice!  I love this book because it feels like there is more of a substance to it as the story helps teach little ones the beauty in collaboration and working together to make something even bigger and better.

  1. Happy Love Day, Daniel Tiger!: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Becky Friedman 

This book is a win-win: Daniel Tiger + flaps.  Two things my toddler absolutely loves. I always love books that he can interact with. This book has flaps he can pull to reveal how the Daniel Tiger characters show their love for each other.  And like I said, it is Daniel Tiger, so it automatically is a hit.

  1. Love from the Very Hungry Catepillar by Eric Carle

We are big fans of Eric Carle, so this book needed to make the list!  Unlike most of his books, this one does not have much of a storyline. However, I like it for the beautiful images that are familiar in the eyes of my hungry caterpillar-obsessed toddler. The book contains tons of cute phrases, like “You are the cherry on my cake” and “The apple of my eye.” With these beautiful images and short lines, this is a great one for babies and toddlers.

  1. Llama, Llama, I Love You by Anna Dew

Hudson loves the Lllama, Llama books, so this one has also been a hit.  Again, not a super intriguing storyline as it is mostly about llama making Valentine’s Day cards and loving his mama llama. Hudson loves it and asks for it every night, so naturally it had to make the list!

  1. The Berenstain Bears Love One Another by Mike Berenstain

I have always loved the Berenstain Bear books, but especially love them now as a lot of them point little readers to the love of God.  Typically, the books are too wordy and long for my toddler, but this board book is short and sweet. It is the perfect Valentine book that teaches about true love (not chocolate and cards), but God’s love.

  1. God Gave Us Love by Lisa T. Bergren

I love the God Gave Us… series of books.  This is the perfect book choice to give for Valentine’s Day that will help point your little one to the bigger picture of this holiday all about love.  It shows different types of love and explains how we are ultimately showing His love everytime we show love to the people in our lives. This is a book that is great for the holiday, but also can stay on the shelf all year long!

  1. Let’s Play I Spy Valentine

This is a great interactive book with a Valentine’s Day theme that is also educational!  Amongst the hearts and red and pink hues, there are letters, counting, and colors. A perfect way to celebrate the day, while also working on early learning skills!

  1. Snuggle Puppy! by Sandra Boynton

Okay, so over the course of becoming a mom, I have grown to have a slight obsession for everything Sandra Boynton. Her books provide entertainment for both Hudson and myself. I am always blown away with the silliness, creativity, and thoughtfulness that is packed within just a few pages of a board book. One of these days, I am going to create a post with all of my very favorite Boynton books, but for now let’s talk about Snuggle Puppy! This is a sweet book for Valentine’s Day, but also a great one to keep in your night time story rotation all year long! It is a fun one to sing and the last page of course ends with a kiss!

  1. The Valentine Bears by Eve Bunting 

To me, the sign of a really excellent children’s book is one where the adult can also connect and be moved by the story.  This book is one of those books. It is a beautiful picture of marriage and a wife that still desires to make this little holiday a special day for her husband Mr. Bear.  Nothing says I love you quite like your husband’s favorite bowl of honey mixed with only the best dried up beetles. Right? I also love this book because even in Mrs. Bear’s best efforts, things don’t go quite as planned, and for this reason, it really strikes a cord.  They might be bears, but this story sure paints a lovely and genuine depiction of marriage.  

There you go! 10 lovely books that would make a great Valentine’s Day  gift for your kiddos and would all be excellent additions to your at-home library.  If you don’t feel like buying more books, take a visit to your library and see if they have any of these books or other Valentine/love books.  I always check out a bunch of holiday books to keep at our house for a few weeks and then return them! Then I know the ones Hudson really enjoyed and can buy those for our permanent collection.  

Do you have a favorite Valentine’s Day Book in your family? Let me know below!

Marathon Monday: Miles to Boston Pt. 1

12 Mondays until Boston!

In college, of all the responsibilities that came with collegiate running, the thing I always dreaded most was keeping up a training log.  I hated the pressure of remembering to log my mileage, cross-training, and comments every single day. Some runners live for these training logs, but it is just not my thing.  

I am more of a weekly reflective person when it comes to running.  I like looking at the big picture from that week’s mileage and putting to words the common thread of that week’s training. Now that I have full control of my running and my husband now is my coach, I can do things differently.  Starting today, Monday January 27th, 13 Mondays out from Boston, I will be posting weekly with mileage updates, workouts, fueling, things I am listening to, goals, and overall reflection to how I am feeling leading up to the big race.

Honestly, this is mostly for myself.  It is my open training log; a way for me to look back and see progress.  It is a way to keep me accountable to actually record all the training that I am doing. While the motive is entirely selfish, I do hope it can provide some interest to you, whether you would like to run a marathon in the future or just generally curious what training looks like for a post-collegiate, postpartum gal that still has running goals she is chasing after.

Training Catch-Up

Since this is my first Monday post, I want to do  a quick catch up on training so far. Since Christmas it has been all about base training.  I am definitely starting this training cycle at a higher fitness level compared to last year.  That being said, since July (SF Marathon) my mileage has been very low and inconsistent. I love to run, but I have realized my motivation to run comes from having a goal and something to actually train for.  I don’t think I will ever be that person that runs just to run. There needs to be something on the calendar to prepare for. That is just how I operate. I am not going to run a tempo workout just for fun, it needs to be for a purpose.  

This Boston Marathon training cycle really began right after Christmas, Dec. 26th, just under 4-months from the race.  With lower mileage leading up to this point and only a few short tempos in preparation for the local turkey trot, I needed to first build my base back.  Lance is coaching me, and I trust him completely. Every Sunday before bed, we will fill in the calendar together and he gives me my daily mileage and workouts for the week.  

I am still pretty low in mileage.  Last week was 45 miles, week before that 40, week before that 40, and the week before that 33.  This whole month of January has been about building up a base and February and March will be all about getting to peak mileage and incorporating longer tempos and SPEED!  

Base Training + First Workout

The reality of base training is that it not very fun or exciting.  It is a lot of slow and painful miles. Like with a lot of life, it is the base phase that is essential for the more glorious and glamorous aspects.  The boring and hard and slow miles lead to the fast and thrilling miles. Like a marathon, this early stage of training requires a tremendous amount of patience.  These slow miles will lead to the fast ones. You just have to keep showing up. Keep logging those miles day in and day out. The exciting miles are on the horizon.  They are coming.  

Last week, I did my first workout. 

2 miles warm-up, 4 miles tempo-ish pace, 2 miles cool down. 

I say tempo-ish because for my goal marathon time, which I am just going to go ahead and put it out into words or I guess numbers…2:48, tempo pace would need to be around 6:04 pace.  I am not there yet, so I ran goal race pace. Those four miles I was anywhere from 6:24-6:30 pace. And the truth is, it did not feel easy or natural or very comfortable.  My normal logic of thinking is wow that is the pace I am expecting to hold for 26 miles?  But after the workout, I felt confident.  I know this is just the beginning. I have a confidence that in the next 3 months of training, I will get to the point where I can hold 6:24 for 26 miles.  It will come together.

What I am Listening To 

I have never been a fan of running with music.  I have always taken pride in my ability to go out on a solo run and not rely on the company of a playlist or audiobook.  This is all beginning to change now that I have AfterShokz headphones. I could literally go on on and on, but to keep it short: these headphones are seriously amazing.

Since getting these headphones, I have really been enjoying listening to things on my runs. It is making running feel a bit less lonely since I do the majority of training solo.  So here is what I have been listening to during last week’s mileage: 

The Playlist of My Miles

  • Road to Olympic Trials- Jared Ward- Ep. 39  This one got me excited about my own goal and reminded me the power of goal-setting, especially for running.  He talks about creating exciting goals that get you out of bed training, but also do not produce anxiety. It is a balance of creating goals that feel like big reaches, but also at the same time feel obtainable.  He also talks about his mantra for Boston 2019, which was “Because I Can.” This inspired me to come up with a mantra I can use to pull me through the tough miles in the race. Still need to figure out what that is.  
  • Road to Olympic Trials- Ann Mazur- Ep. 36 As I listened to this and ran park loops at 6-something am, I felt so inspired.  She just qualified for the trials with a 2:44! The part that really inspired me was how her mileage is more similar to mine.  She does not run crazy high mileage and does a ton of yoga. You really should listen to this. It is a great reminder of the importance of being an overall well-balanced athlete and human.  It is not just about the miles.
  • Road to the Olympic Trials- Peter Bromka- Ep. 33 This episode was another powerful one for me in my training 2 weeks ago.  It reminded me of the beauty in chasing after dreams and it also reminded me of the heartbreak that can come when you fall literally 2 seconds short.  A beautiful episode that I will definitely carry with me to Boston.
  • Ali on the Run Show- Ep. 199 This is my other go-to podcast to listen to on the run.  She usually interviews runners, but this one was about looking ahead to 2020 and I can specifically remember running up a hill with half a mile left in my run and feeling inspired and thankful for her own intentions and goals that got my on wheels churning.  
  • And last, but most certainly not least, Taylor Swift’s Reputation album on shuffle for the segment of miles I ran a bit faster.  Literally, when “Ready for It” comes on, I start sprinting. 

Can you guess a goal I may or may not have for 2024 from what I am listening to?? Not quite ready to type it into words, but you might be able to connect the dots.

How I am Fueling

  • Coconut water every day. 
  • Kirkland protein bars.  
  • Coach’s Oats with brown sugar + banana pre-run. 
  • Toasted everything bagel with whipped cream cheese post-run (emphasis on whipped!).

When I am Running

  • 6:30 am park loops to get in soft surface and get a run in without the jogger.
  • Later morning runs with our NEW BLUE BOB jogger.  If you have run with me with our old orange 2008 BOB, you know why this is so exciting.  I have written about running with the jogger in the past, so you can find running with baby tips here. Now that I have an active toddler, those tips have changed slightly, so I plan on putting together a running with toddler guide soon!

Cross-Training

Goal is to make it into my local Yogaworks studio 3 times a week.  This past week I went to 2 TRX, core-based classes and Friday went to restorative yoga.  This is a perfect balance for me. It is the perfect blend of intense and relaxing. The restorative class with the essential oils and long-holding poses is my new favorite way to enter the long run.  It gets my body ready for the long, grueling miles less than 24-hours in my future.  I actually am attributing the restorative class to be a key factor in my 14 miler feeling so good.

What I Keep Telling Myself

Slow Miles Lead to Fast Miles. 

My biggest focus at this point in training in to stay patient.  I am getting a bit antsy with such slow and low mileage, but I know this is all part of the plan.  

High + Low

With any week, there is always the good and the bad.  Training is no different.  

High

  •  First workout back and the deep confidence it reminded me I have.
  • The long run.
  • NEW stroller!
  • Naps

Low

  • Falling on my run home and crying.  Hello, Buzz Lightyear bandaid! 

The Long Run

Last Saturday marked the first 14-miler of this training block and it actually felt really great.  I can distinctively remember how I felt after my first 14-miler for the SF marathon training block. And let’s just say, I was on the couch for most of the day and was whining to Lance about how terrible I felt.  This first-time 14-miler was a different story. I drank some coconut water, ate my bar, picked up our boy, and we were off to the Children’s Museum. These miles did not stick me on the couch, like last time! My body is definitely more used to the miles even at this earlier stage in training, so this is encouraging!

One of the great joys of the long run is getting to look over all the miles after the fact.  It is always amazing to me that I run significantly faster on these runs compared to my regular run in the week.  There is something about these long PV runs. It could be the extra company or those beautiful cliff views or the fact that the long run is ingrained as super important in my brain.  Whatever it is, I love it.

The Long Run in Numbers

1:48

14 miles 

7:46 average 

9:20 first mile, 7:00 last mile 

As I was looking over each mile, I noticed that the first mile was the slowest and the 14th mile was my fastest mile.  If you run in PV, you know this is partially because that first mile is an uphill trail and the last one is downhill and on the road, but still, I love how I am starting slow and finishing fast.  This is definitely going to be goal for all the long runs in this training block. Finish strong.  

Year 26 + 2020 Intentions

I am officially 26!  

One thing I love about this little blog of mine is that it holds all the important moments and thoughts of my heart.  It is so fun to go back, even a year ago and see what was going on in my head.  

Last year for my birthday, I wrote a reflective letter to my 15-year old self.  I just went back and read it and I was moved by these words I already had forgotten a year later.  You can go back and read it here.

25 felt like a big one to me and 26 just does not seem to have the same ring, but upon deeper reflection, I can see the great significance in 26.  Turning 26, in a lot of ways actually marks the official beginning of the 2nd quarter of my life (God willing, I live close to 100). Quarter 1 is done and lived. 26 brings on a whole new quarter and I am giddy to see what lies ahead.  

Quarter 1: Learning Everything

The first quarter of my life was all about learning.  Literally learning how to walk and how to talk. Learning about God and who I really am in Him.  Truth is, this is one of those lessons that I know will follow me with each season of my life, but quarter one established truth about who I really am.  I am not just a runner or a teacher or a mother; I am a Daughter of Christ. I look forward to see how this foundational truth will continue to develop in my heart in the years to come.

The first 25 years of my life have been so good.  From following my dreams to run at the D1 level in college to finding my husband to getting the opportunity to teach for a couple years  to becoming a mother. There have been so many firsts and major milestones, but if I am honest (which I love to be as honest as I can on here), I have found them to be a great challenge, especially recently.  

Quarter 2: Fighting Comparison

Contrary to some, I am finding the mid-twenties to be hard. This could be just because I am in a different season full of diapers and chasing trash trucks.  I am finding this mid-twenty season to be a time of uncertainty and comparison.  This is largely why I have greatly reduced my time on social media. My heart simply cannot handle it.  I have been in a battle of comparison as I look around at all my peers seemingly doing really big things.  Becoming lawyers and doctors and traveling the world.  

I don’t want this to come across as complaining because I am full of gratitude for the life I have.  I literally would not change it for the world, but these feelings have reminded me that even when you have all that you could ever want, comparison will steal your joy every single time.  

As I enter quarter 2 of my life, I am fighting this comparison syndrome hard with strict boundaries around social media.  I have limited myself to only 10 minutes per day with Sunday completely off. This reminds me of the 30 minute TV limit I had as a kid, but if there is one thing I have learned, it is that limits are needed in whatever stage of life you are in.  

2020: The Year of Care

As I am greatly reducing time spent on screens (except for writing on here to you), my hope is that I can better care for my soul.  I have been meaning to create a whole post dedicated to my intentions for 2020. Since this post is rather reflective, I thought I would share it here.  2020 is the year of care. Not self-care, which of course is part of it, but an overall better care for all things. Yes, I want to take better care of my body: a more consistent skin care routine (hello, eye cream), more baths, more books, more solo coffee dates.   I also want to take way better care of everything the Lord has entrusted me with: the grass, the car, our home, my marriage, my sweet boy, and my soul.  

As I enter this new quarter of my life and this new decade, I can sense how this intention is seeping through my ordinary days.  I water the grass on our side yard every morning like it my full-time job. I take pride in ensuring each inch is evenly soaked and nourished.  The miles I run are fueled with more care and gratitude and not out of obligation, but because I want to keep up with a skill I know the Lord has hand-picked for me.

I am more present. 

 I am reading more and clicking that Instagram icon way, way less.  Part of better caring for my people, is ensuring that I am actually present before them.  I have a new rule of simply not checking social media when Hudson is up. I was finding myself dug into my phone and missing the amazing little boy before me.  When I am stressed or tired or anxious, my go-to is absolutely to tune out and scroll. This does me no good and I am finally realizing I need some really clear boundaries.  

Lunch & afternoon read!

Make Yourself Lunch

A new thing I am doing is nothing revolutionary, but it really has been a game changer.  I am taking the time to make myself lunch. It is sad to admit, but when it comes to lunch time, I always make Hudson a balanced and colorful plate, while I  pick at cold leftovers or eat some scraps from Hudson’s lunch. Then, I wonder why at the end of the day I feel so cranky and drained. Especially as mileage is beginning to increase for Boston, taking the care and time to properly fuel my body is a necessity.  

For me, this has looked like taking out a pan, heating up oil and garlic, and sautéing veggies and putting them on hot mashed potatoes I made the night before.  It also has looked like making a whole packaged salad and putting shredded turkey on it, and slicing avocados on-top of it. I think how we make ourselves lunch is actually quite significant.  It shows our priorities, how we view our bodies. It is easy to just eat the scraps of our kid’s lunches or forget lunch all together, but I have learned recently how it makes me feel to eat a full and hot lunch that was carefully constructed.  This whole lunch thing is changing things for me.  

I have no idea what quarter 2 of my life will hold for me, but my hope is that it can be marked with me taking better care of all the beautiful things and people the Lord has placed before me.  I hope it is marked with more hot lunches at the table, more runs, more time doing things with my hands (knitting, gardening, scrapbooking), more time with my eyes wide open and present to my people, my family. 

10 Simple Things to Fight Burn Out

If you too have recently been feeling burnt out, uninspired, and uncertain, here is a list of a few things I have been doing that might just help you too.  They all are simple and obvious, but sometimes it takes actually reading something to make it happen.

Ignore weird table, this was on my retreat. Bible, journal, and coffee are the elements of my morning rhythm.

1. Wake up + grab journal + Bible 

I used to wake up and go on my phone and scroll.  That is the worse way to wake up to the day. Get a routine that allows you to start your day with pen and paper.  Again, like the lunch making, this one is a game changer.

2. Water Something

Go out and water the grass in your yard or water plants in your home. It sounds crazy, but I have so much peace as I start my day with watering the grass.  I love the sound of the water, I love the smell of water-seaped soil, I love feeling like this small action is actually allowing for growth to occur.

3. Take a Bath

Let’s really quick talk about the Sunday Bath. I don’t know about you, but taking a bath feels like a real luxury. It is so much easier to take a quick shower. I am finding the only way I actually slow down and enjoy a bath is if it is part of a weekly rhythm.

Thus, the Sunday bath was born. It works well because Sunday is the one day I do not sweat in the morning, so it just makes sense to have a bath Sunday evening on our Sabbath. Find a time to make it a consistent part of your routine. Get some epsom salt (this is the lavender one I use) or use your son’s bubble bath and take a bath. I will literally spend 40-45 minutes taking a bath. This is one of my favorite times to get some reading in! Quick showers are so overrated, I am all about the slow and meticulous process of making a good bath.

4. Listen to a Podcast

The soundtrack of my days greatly affects my mood.  It is a different day if I intentionally choose podcasts that inspire me and worship music that brings my eyes up to Him.  If you are into running, my two fav running podcasts are the Ali on the Run Show and The Road to the Olympic Trials. For faith-based podcasts, favs are The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, The Next Right Thing, and The She podcast.  

5. Make Yourself Lunch

Take the time to crack eggs or heat up garlic or toss a great big salad just for you. You deserve more than cold leftovers and goldfish.

6. Stay off Social Media

It is possible.  Try it for a day.  See how you feel. 

We had no plans on New Year’s Day, so we just did something fun and spent an afternoon at Balboa Island.

7. Do Something Fun

Go to the park, bring sand toys down to the beach, go out to ice cream on a Wednesday night.  I am such a routine person that sometimes I forget to schedule in fun, random, spontaneous things.  I always feel better when we just do something fun.

8. Read a Book in the Middle of the Day

You might be saying, if only I had time for that.  Well, I bet you check social media at least 10-minutes during your day, replace that wasted time with slowing down and giving your brain and body some refreshment.  It does not take many words to put me in a better mindset. I just finished Here Now by Kate Merrick and it is so, so good.  It has a lot of similar themes to what I have been writing in this post. 

Hudson loves “creating” and test tasting with me in the kitchen.

9. Create Something 

Do something with your hands.  It could be as simple as writing a letter to a friend, planting a flower, whipping up some oatmeal chocolate cookies.  I am always amazed how I feel so much better when I tangibly make something with my hands. With the day-to-day demands of being a mom, sometimes a day goes by and I feel like I have no idea what I even did.  You too? Mothering can sometimes feel intangible. We don’t yet see the fruits of our labor. Sometimes, seeing that flower we planted or smelling the cookies in the oven can help.  

10. Connect 

Plan a playdate, text a friend to get coffee, set up a phone call.  We are made for connection. When I start to not feel great, a sure sign is that I am pulling away and isolating.  Get together with your people. Gather.  Open up your home even when it’s a mess. Connect.

Solo Retreat for the Soul

I am alone.  I can literally hear the waves crashing from my little hacienda my husband so kindly rented and gifted me for my Christmas gift this year.  In this place of solitude, you would think I would be rejoicing. You would think I would not have a care in the world and would just be drinking wine and ordering take out and watching all the romantic comedies I could squeeze in.  But here’s the thing: I already miss my family. I feel homesick. And if I am honest, I feel really anxious about being in a new little city all by myself.  

Isn’t it funny how the thing we keep saying we need and want is not actually what we need and want?

 Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to be alone with the Lord.  I 100% understand the privilege in being able to have the resources and life situation that allows me to run away for a little on my own.  I am grateful and I do not take this time away lightly at all. In an effort to really use the time well, I even created an hour-by-hour itinerary.

I understand the sacredness in time to be alone with the Lord, and I don’t want to waste a second of it, but again, if I am honest, I let about 45-minutes slip away. I felt nervous, a little scared, and quite frankly, like a fish out of water who has become so accustomed to depending on her family and the safety of her routine and familiar city that she has lived almost 26 years in.

Yet, those 45-minutes have come and gone, and I can feel my heart beginning to settle.  And oh, did I mention I can hear the waves crashing from my window? 

Reminiscing of New York City Days

The funny thing in all this is that 7 years ago, I would have been in my element.  7 years ago, I did most things on my own. I would go to cafés and work for hours on end all by myself.  I would go to sushi and sit at the bar and just eat and watch the sushi chefs chop and roll with such precision. 

When I was 20-years old and was living in NYC for the summer, I spent a lot of time alone. I ran late at night (okay, like 8pm) in Central Park without a fear. Most meals, I ate alone. I rode the subway back and forth with a confidence I didn’t even know I had.

My mind goes back to New York because I can remember how I responded to the type of freedom I had back then. Now, as I have a small taste of that freedom, I can’t help but crave the limitations and the noise and the mess of my actual life.  When you’re in the chaos of early motherhood, it is easy to reminisce about those New York City days. Of late night runs, of solo meals, of endless quiet time.

My Life Right Here, Right Now Is Better

Trust me, it is easy to drift off to this place, but again, here’s the thing, I have been given this lovely day retreat where there is endless quiet time and I can actually have a peaceful restaurant experience and there is no one constantly tugging at my legs, saying “more, more, mommy”.  It is just me.  The crashing waves.  A beautiful little hacienda.  And these words. Yet, my heart is already missing my crazy little boy and my handsome husband that loves me so well.

Oh my life is so full and beautiful.  It is messy, loud, dusty, busy, chaotic, but it is beautiful.  

Part of the reason, I am on this retreat is because Lance knows my heart so well and I have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve.  Since the summer, my soul has been struggling. I have been weary and tired and drained. I have felt unimportant and small. My joy has been low.  I have snapped at Hudson, at Lance. I have not been my best self. This time away came out of a clear need and the kindness of my husband. Thanks, Lance!

5 Things My Time Away Taught Me

My soul needed this solo retreat. It reminded me of a few things I have forgotten. It also taught me some new lessons. Whether you yourself are planning a solo retreat or you are in the grind of ordinary life, these takeaways are things that I hope can help you wherever you are.

1. Time Away is Essential 

Whatever our job is, whether we are stay-at-home moms or working moms or work-at-home moms or married without kids, we need time away. This does not make you a bad mom or a selfish wife, it simply makes you human.

It is not always going to look like staying in a hacienda on the ocean by myself, but this time away reminded me that I need to intentionally schedule time away.  This time away could be for just an hour, but I need to do this on a regular basis. It can’t be an hour away of running errands or even of working out.  It needs to be time away intentionally with the Lord. In quiet, in peace.

I realized that I often deem my down time when I escape to Costco by myself or I attend that evening workout class.  Contrary to some, Costco and core class are not life-giving to me. They are good and necessary, but when I am talking about time away, I mean time to really hear the Lord. It is going to be different for every person, but for me I am finding it involves sitting down in a new setting, reading a good book and writing down prayers. 

2. Embrace the  Uncomfortable 

This part was most surprising to me.  I was caught off guard when the initial hours of my retreat felt uncomfortable and fearful.  Like with anything that is outside of your norm, it is likely that initially it will feel weird.  The new job, the new marriage, the new baby, the new home, the new city. Maybe it is just me, but it takes me a while to warm-up to things I am not used to. 

This time away was no different. It felt weird and uncomfortable and I immediately called Lance the moment I entered the doors of the hacienda. I was very, very close to calling off the whole thing and having him and Hudson crash the retreat.  That felt right and familiar and comfortable. And here’s the thing, if I did give in to those feelings, I would have missed out on a really lovely time alone. It would have been great to have them with me, but it would not have been the same.  

Instead of giving in to the uncomfortable, I chose to embrace it.  And I am so glad I did. I heard God clearly for the first time in a while.  I read more than I have in months. For the first time in a long time, I was not worried about someone else.  I had no time constraints: I went on an evening run and I literally just stopped in the middle, went down to a little cove, sat on a rock and watched the sun go down. 

I must admit it felt good to just be. To not worry about getting back at a certain time and starting dinner right at 4pm. This time alone was needed. It allowed me to process and write things down that have been stirring in my heart.  For all those reasons, I am glad I sat in the uncomfortable; I am glad I did not give in to my longings to call off the whole solo aspect and make it just a family thing. 

3. Life with Your People is Always Better 

With all that said about how lovely it was to be alone, my biggest takeaway from my solo retreat was how life is so much better with my people.  It is messier and way louder, and quite frankly, all my sins are much more apparent, but it is my life, my family, and I love it with my whole heart. 

When you are in it, it is easy to daydream to retreats like the one I just had. It is easy to long for hours spent in a café, sipping a latte and reading.  It is easy to wish for just one quiet meal that does not result in food flying everywhere. And it is easy to desire freedom to run and write and watch P.S. I Love You whenever you would like.  It sure is easy, but I am here to tell you that right when I got this freedom, it was not quite as amazing as I pictured. Within the first couple hours I was already missing my family. 

Sure, I got a lot of reading in, wrote down some interesting thoughts, enjoyed a glass of wine as I voraciously flipped the pages, fell asleep to those lovely crashing waves; yet it still does not come close to my actual life.  Life with your people is always better!

4. Some Things are Better Left Unplanned

It should be no surprise that I created an hour-by-hour schedule for my retreat.  This is just how my mind operates. I want to know the plan, even if it is just me and the intention is to relax and get some writing in.  In a lot of ways I am glad I created a schedule, it allowed me to find a really great lunch spot that I likely would not have gone to if I did not plan ahead.  It also allowed me to really use the time wisely.

With my schedule, I got a lot out of my 24 hours away. I made it to a hatha yoga class at 7:30 am, got my eyebrows threaded (which always seems so hard to find the time to do in my ordinary days), listened to so many good podcasts (my favorite one I listened to was about reading the Bible chronologically), had an amazing lunch at Ellie’s Table (if you’re in San Juan Capistrano area, you should go), wrote about my feelings, ran at sunset, ate dinner with my book as company at Pierside, wrote a letter to my husband, talked a whole lot to God, started P.S. I Love You on Netflix and fell asleep to those crashing waves. 

The schedule helped me really use the time wisely, but all those things I listed, only some of them were on the schedule.  Pierside I just wandered into after my run without taking a shower. Weirdly, I scheduled a shower after my run and before dinner, which is so not me, so I just went to dinner with running shoes on and book in hand. The prayer walk on the beach I had scheduled for 1 pm, never happened because I lingered at Ellie’s Table much longer than expected.  But, prayer was scattered all throughout my time it just did not look as neat as a “prayer walk on beach.” Point in all this, is that spending time away intentionally is super important, but be okay with having some gaps and unknowns in your schedule. 
 

5. Things Might Feel the Same

When you do intentional things like this, it is easy to have this hope and even expectation that when you return, things will feel different.  That upon returning, you suddenly will be that patient mom, extra loving wife, and all-together better human being that is much more holy than before she took a solo retreat.  And here’s the thing, I felt the same. I quickly became anxious again as all my responsibilities quickly hit me with one step back into our home. I lost my patience soon after as I said “no” a million times and had to clean throw up off the floor.  But this all goes back to #3. Life is easier when you are away, you are likely going to be appear to be a much more loving and patient person than you actually are, but life is always better with your people.

This retreat did not instantly change me, but God absolutely used the time.  Through the podcasts I listened to, the words I read, the words I wrote, the miles I ran, the prayers, the yoga teacher, the lady that threaded my eyebrows, and those crashing waves, God reminded me of his nearness, he reminded me of how loved I really am, and he reminded me of the great gift and privilege it is to have the beautiful life the Lord has entrusted me with. So while I still struggle with a lot of the same things I did pre-retreat, my vision does feel clearer, my heart feels lighter, and I feel so much gratitude.  

Reflecting on 2019 + Looking Ahead Optimistically to 2020

I am not exactly sure why, but I love these in-between days after Christmas and before the New Year.  In some ways it feels kind of awkward. One big celebration is over, but another one is just a week away, so you don’t really know if you should get back to your normal routine or just wait a few more days.  I love these in-between days partially for these last few savoring days of waiting to fully get into the swing of things. This week is feeling slow and simple and I am quite frankly, loving every second.  

The days before Christmas, even with my intentionality of staying more present and focused, still felt like a scramble this year.  I think this is part of the reason why these slower days after Christmas feel so good and are so necessary.  

Recently, I have been writing a lot about routines.  But today, I want to write about living in a space where those routines are let go of almost entirely.  Routines are necessary, but I am learning this week, that a non-routine week or so is also very necessary.   

This past month I have really been struggling with low energy, low motivation, low everything.  I finally in the past day have felt better, a bit more alive and have a bit more energy to give.  This largely is from these past few days where I have fully let go of my normal routine.  

Since Christmas, I have woken up when I woke up.  I have only gone on runs when I have really felt like it, which has been only a couple times.  I have finally finished my book I started in the fall. I have done a whole lot of sitting on the couch with no agenda.  I have spent time just sitting there and watching Hudson play and my goodness, it has refreshed me. This might sound crazy to you, but I simply do not do things like that.  I have a lot of goals and hopes for 2020, but probably on the top of my list is to have more moments like this; more moments of just sitting and noticing the beautiful, little things of my life.

These past few days, we have gone on lots of walks.  We have picked up doughnuts because it felt like a good idea.  We picked up take out food on our way home from one of these walks (this might sound normal, but we rarely do things like this).  We did not have much on our agenda. I made minestrone soup that filled 2 large containers and this has been the main food in our refrigerator (I have eaten minestrone soup for lunch three days in a row). 

We also put away most of the Christmas decorations and took out our very dry tree. This may sound weird, but I LOVE putting away all the Christmas things. I love Christmas, but I think all the stuff and the decor and needles scattered on our floor start to really weigh on me by the end of the month.  I felt lighter almost instantly after everything was put away. Our house looked so simple and clean and blank. I loved it. My eyes felt like they could rest.  

This may sound all very strange, but these in-between Christmas and New Year’s days have convinced me the power/importance/necessity of living outside of your routine.  Of turning off that 5:30 am alarm and just waking up when you wake up. Of only working out if you really sense that is what your body needs. Of sitting on the couch.  Of minestrone soup that lasts for days. Of doughnuts. Of take-out food. Of leisurely walks.  

These in-between days have been life-giving.  I have gotten more clarity and peace and joy in these days of no routine.  In fact it has been these few non-routine days that are making me want to be back in my normal routine of waking up early and running consistently and actually taking Hudson out to do something.  I am almost ready to get back into the swing of things, but I am still savoring these final 2 days of 2019 to not fully be in it yet. 

I plan on using these last couple days to be a bit more structured, I am actually up early this morning writing and have a run over 6 miles at 8 am.  So clearly some of the strucuture is back, but besides time to write and run, the plan in these next two days is to still keep things quiet and simple and reflective.  

2019 Reflections

In these final days of 2019 (when this publishes it will already be 2020), it is hard to not reflect back on the year as a whole.  It makes it especially helpful if you had something written out at that start of the year.  This is a tangible way to help you reflect on how the year actually went. If you don’t do this already, I highly recommend that you take some time TODAY, and jot down some hopes, some prayers, some goals for 2020.  You can read my thoughts at the start of 2019 here.  

I must warn you that if you take the time to write down your heart for the year to come, you might read it at the end of year with some disappointments.  If you are ambitious at all, it is quite likely that some of your goals for the year did not happen. When I read back on my post from January 2019, I feel a tinge of disappointment when I look at my specific goals.  I laid out 5 specific goals:

  1. Get Up Early
  2. Write Daily
  3. Read Daily
  4. Invest in Friendships
  5. Take Sabbath More Seriously

And here’s the thing.  I feel like I did #1 and #5 very well.  #2-#4 I definitely did, but maybe not as consistently as I would have liked.  Especially #3. Anytime you use the word daily in your goal, you are making it really difficult to follow through.  No, I did not write every single day, nor did I read every single day, but as a whole my year was absolutely marked with more consistent disciplines of rising early, writing, reading, gathering, and resting. And for that I feel like I lived my year well.

Word for the Year

I love to choose a word for the year.  I get it, it is cliche, but there is something really powerful about not just choosing a word but actively and intentionally coming back to it as the months go on.  For that word to be on the forefront of your mind, heart, and prayers. It gets tricky and disappointing when we focus on the minute details of our goals, but it becomes much more encouraging when we focus on the heart and intention of our year as a whole.  

2019 was the year of open for us.

When I reflect back on 2019, I see how my heart has opened up this year and for that I am really thankful. 

The thing with your word being open, is that you might end the year feeling a bit drained and exhausted.  I know that is how I currently feel. This year, I said yes much more than I said no.  

Run a marathon? Yes.

Spontaneously get together with friends? Yes.

Host dinner? Yes. 

Occasionally lead bible study? Yes.

Sign-up for the toddler class? Yes.

Road trip to Arizona? Yes.

New York? Yes.

Hawaii? Of course.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Lessons the Lord Taught Me in 2019

I am thankful for this openness.  I am thankful for this season to say yes more than I said no.  I am thankful for how much we got to travel and do this year. So different from last year with a newborn. And I am mostly thankful for the way the Lord has helped me to better see who He is shaping me to be this year.  

The thing with 2019 was that there was no big ah-ha moment. There was no big day of delivering a baby or getting married or starting a new job. However, 2019 held a lot of small choices, small decisions, ultimately of saying yes. I will join that. I will do that. I will help out with that. There were lot of miles done in secret. Lots of early mornings of pouring out my heart onto a blog that only a few very kind people read. Lots of talking with God and quite a lot of waiting. These types of years can be hard but they also can be wonderful. It is a time of preparing and pruning and getting ready for what is to come.

2019, you were good, solid, consistent. Lord, you were faithful. You protected, blessed, provided, answered prayers. And I firmly believe that you will continue to reveal your faithfulness in this new year.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year’s Day! I so appreciate all of you that keep coming back here to This Mama Needs Grace. I look forward to everything that is in store for this little blog of mine in the year and hopefully years to come!