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!

Managing Christmas Expectations: Broken, Fallen, and Redeemed

How is your Christmas season going?  If you haven’t guessed from my title, so far, it has been less than perfect.  This seems to happen every single year and I think I am just now beginning to learn how to better respond when our holiday season simply does not match the high expectations we have in our heads.  

toddler with santa hat smiling by Christmas tree
Don’t be fooled by his cuteness, he is an ornament breaking machine.

Broken Things

It is just the middle of December (as I am typing this) and so far Hudson has broken about 5 ornaments, 2 salt and pepper reindeer shakers, and one snow globe (yes, there was water and those little, fake flecks of snow everywhere).  This is to be expected. Last Christmas we still had a baby that mostly was in our arms. I don’t think he was even really crawling last year. This year, he is literally running. And oh man, it is so much fun, but it also means that things break more easily.  Next year, there will definitely be less glass and ceramic ornaments on our tree.  

Fallen Things

Along with a long list of things that have broken, our Christmas tree has fallen over TWICE. As I have already mentioned here on the blog, every year Lance and I fight about the straightness of our tree.  Every year I complain that it is crooked and every year he tells me it is not. Well, this year, it fell in the middle of the night.  This resulted in even more broken ornaments that Hudson, in fact, had no part in. The point here, is obvious: the tree will shed a million needles, the tree will falter and not stand perfectly straight, the tree will fail us every single time.  Do you see what I am saying? It is amazing how in this time of year, how easily our eyes are taken away from Jesus and moved toward imperfect and unimportant objects like the tree.  

toddler unhappy at santa photos with Mrs. Claus
Unsure about this whole Santa thing.

Imperfect Things

And finally there was the Santa photos.  Last year, we opted for the EXPENSIVE package at the Grove with the Santa that looks like he just fell out of the pages of The Night Before Christmas.  We were excited and eager first time parents willing to spend whatever on the perfect Santa photos.  And they were pretty good, Hudson was still so little, that he had no reason to even cry. He just looked directly at the camera with a sweet smile.  

This year, we went to the Santa at Bloomingdales.  There was even a Mrs. Claus and the photo was absolutely free, which is our very favorite price.  However, Hudson did not like Santa very much and the photo is less than perfect to say the least. Somehow, I ended up sitting on the Santa chair and Santa didn’t even make the picture! 

toddler crying in igloo in Minnesota
The reality of traveling with a toddler.

Painful Things

Since last typing this up, we took a little trip to Minnesota with Grammy & Auntie Kay. And in similar fashion to the theme above, Hudson and I both were not feeling 100% and I was hit with some especially bad body aches (so bad it brought me to tears!).  Traveling with an over-active and curious toddler is hard, but it becomes especially difficult when both of you are not feeling well. Thankfully my mom and sister were incredibly helpful!

toddler happy in igloo in Minnesota
The way I picture things in my head.

While my ideal for this trip would have been to feel a bit better, it still ended up being a great trip! We got to see a lot of family we don’t get to see often. Hudson got to touch snow for the first time. We visited the Mall of America. We slept in, ate lots of good food, and even sipped cider in plastic igloos. So overall, it was a special and memorable trip, minus my body being difficult.

toddler hugging santa claus
We changed our minds. We do like him.

And you can actually scratch the imperfect Santa photos. We ended up trying again and visited Santa at the Mall of America. Tip: if your toddler is anything like mine, try allowing them to walk up to Santa on their own, instead of placing them on Santa’s lap. This was my sister’s idea and it was really effective. Hudson was so much more confident and interested in Santa as he walked up to him on his own.  We got some really sweet photos. My personal favorite is Hudson hugging Santa and looking straight at the camera.  

Redeemed Things

Okay, so what is the point in all this? It is not to bring you down. Or get you to start complaining about all the little things that have not gone according to plan. No, it is to remind you to manage your Christmas expectations. If the gifts, the parties, the perfectly decorated home, the homemade cookies, the Christmas lights, and that perfect family Christmas card are the things at the forefront of your mind right now, you will likely be disappointed. You will likely feel like Christmas was just not quite right. However, if everything in you is focused on the baby, the baby in the manger: Jesus; then disappointment will not follow you. Because here is the thing: your cookies might burn, your cards might be late, the dog might eat the gingerbread house (true story); but he is already born. We know how that story goes. So no matter how many of your Christmas expectations seems to be falling around you, you can still rejoice, for there is good news!

“But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger'” -Luke 2:10-12

toddler smiling with gingerbread house
Before the big, bad Nala ate the whole thing!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! I hope this perspective can help you really embrace all the imperfect elements of your holiday that really don’t matter that much and can allow you to focus and rejoice on the baby that changes everything!

Christmas Books that Bring Family Together + Hearts Centered on Jesus

This mama is a fan of children’s books. I believe the books we read to our little ones are more than just books. They are teaching our children what we believe, value, and love. For this reason, I am pretty picky with the books I choose to read to Hudson.

Especially when it comes to Christmas books, there are soooo many options, but there also are a lot that tell more of our culture’s version of Christmas and fail to include Jesus and instead focus on Santa, reindeer, and gingerbread men. Nothing inherently wrong with these elements, but I love finding books that help show the fun in these things, but ultimately draw our attention to Jesus and family and love.

I spent a ton of time sifting through our own Christmas collection, scrolling through library catalogs, and researching through all the books on Amazon, to bring to you my 10 Favorite Christmas books. This is a good mix of secular and Christian books. There are some classics you should recognize, and there are likely a few you have never heard of.

If you are anything like me, and still in the midst of Christmas shopping, one or more of these books would make a great gift for the little ones in your life!

Top 10 Favorite Christmas Books

1. Santa’s Prayer by Tom Roberts

This season, I have been very much feeling the tension between how our culture celebrates Christmas and the true reason for this special season: Jesus.  As a new parent, I am trying to navigate the role Santa will have in our family. I do not necesarrily wish to steal away all the fun that comes with traditions of Santa and putting out cookies for him and carrots for his reindeer, but I certainly do not want my children to miss the point. 

This book is a beautiful answer to some of this tension I have been struggling with. There is a Santa in this book, but it is a Santa that is a humble servant of Christ. It is a Santa that kneels and prayers and asks for God’s wisdom to help guide the children to understand the true joy of Christmas.  This is the type of book that I know I will read over and over again to all of my kiddos.  

2. The Way to the Manger: A Family Advent Devotional

This book very much aligns with much of what I discussed last week.  This is the perfect book to help bring your family together around Christ this Christmas season.  This book is the perfect element to a family tradition around advent. It gives you and your family a devotion for each day of December before Christmas.  Not only can this be the perfect family evening routine together, it will feed the whole family with the Word of God and keep everyone centered during this very busy time of year.  

3. Christmas Is Coming: An Advent Book

This is another great book that functions as an Advent calendar.  The illustrations are darling! This book would be the perfect coffee table book to have out during the holidays! It also very much connects to all my thoughts from last week’s post and gives a new recipe, activity, song, game or craft to try each day as a family.  There is something about books that can really bring a family together and I love how this book so intentionally gives fun, holiday ideas to help get your family to enjoy time together.  

4. Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht 

This is the perfect book to make part of your Christmas tree traditions. I just discovered it, but next year, we are definitely going to make reading this book apart of our Friday-after Thanksgiving tree tradition!  It is the perfect tradition-type of book as the book itself holds the traditions a family has around their own Christmas tree. I love how this book is so centered around family and the importance of tradition. Not to mention, it is a rhyming book so perfect for the little ears in your family!

5. God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren 

I am a fan of the God Gave Us series of books. This is another beautifully written and illustrated story that helps your little ones understand that Christmas is in fact about much more than the tree and the presents.  I love these books because the author so beautifully captures the curious, question-asking mind of a child. The answers from the mama bear, even minister to me as a parent, as I glean wisdom on how to discuss some of these bigger topics with kids as they begin to get older. 

6. Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell

There are so many wonderful books that beautifully depict the birth of Jesus that are geared for young children.  Of all that I sifted through and researched, Room for a Little One, stands out.  For one, I love that the story is told from the perspective of animals. Hudson is animal obsessed right now, so this retelling of the story is especially interesting to him. There is also something very charming about getting an animal’s perspective of the night of Jesus’s birth.  

7. Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle 

My mom got Hudson this book last Christmas and it is one of our favorites.  The whole Little Blue Truck series is so endearing and perfect for my little guy who is becoming more and more truck obsessed with each passing day.  I love this book in particular because it allows us to work on counting as we get to count the number of trees that are left in in Little Blue Truck. It is also fun because the last page has flashing lights on the final Christmas tree! 

8. Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares 

Hudson is currently loving birds.  We also just visited New York City this summer as a family.  For these two reasons, this book feels like the perfect addition to our Christmas library.  Again, this book’s illustrations are stunning. I love the beautiful images of NYC at Christmas time.  Red and Lulu are birds that get separated, but eventually are reunited by the story’s end. This heartwarming story combines some of our favorite things: birds, NYC, and love.  It is a bit wordy for Hudson’s attention span, but I look forward to enjoying this story with him next Christmas and for now, we will just enjoy the beautiful illustrations.

9. The Story of Christmas by Patricia A. Pingry 

This is another well-written book that helps young children understand the real point of Christmas and how things like gift giving is ultimately connected to showing love, like the love God showed us through Jesus.  I particularly enjoy the last two pages: “We give gifts at Christmas to show our love. And we say, ‘Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus’” (Pingry 19-22). The language in this book is super simple, the words are nice and big, making it again the perfect Christmas story for the little ones in your home.

10. The Night Before Christmas Recordable Book by Clement C. Moore 

Hudson got this as a gift last year from his nanny and poppy.  This makes such a great gift! Hudson loves opening this book and hearing the voices of his nanny and poppy.  This is such a classic book and we have multiple copies of The Night Before Christmas, but Hudson definitely prefers the version that is personalized with voices he can recognize! 

What are some of you family’s favorite Christmas books? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.

 

Routines to Keep You Centered This December

It has been a busy past few days.  From our trip to Yosemite to Thanksgiving to getting the house all ready for Christmas; my soul feels a bit tired and worn out.  The past week, I have definitely been out of my normal routine. I have been waking up later, working out less, and not sticking to my normal cleaning routine. Things feel a bit out of order. Our house is still scattered with Christmas things that are not fully in place. My mind has lots of words in it, but this typing thing already feels a bit foreign.  My legs are ready to increase mileage for marathon training, but I am not sure my head is there.

The thing with routines is that it is so easy to slip away.  My body fought me hard as I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 am this week. My mind also fought me as I more easily convinced myself to skip on my typical disciplines. To me, this is just further evidence as to why keeping routines, even in busy holiday seasons is SO important.  If you have yet to read my past post on all of this, you can read it here.

3 Things to Keep Routines Around this December

On a different note, I want to write about some of the routines and rhythms you can keep this December. These three simple concepts are designed to help keep you centered on Christ this Christmas season. You are likely being pulled in a million directions this month. It is so easy to lose focus if you don’t have specific routines in place to keep you centered and grounded.

toddler boy playing in Christmas tree lot

1. Keep a Routine Around the Tree

On our first Christmas together, we started the tradition of getting our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.  This was our fifth year of getting our tree the Friday after Thanksgiving. I know a lot of you will get your tree whenever and that often depends on each year, but we have found to really love this tradition/routine of getting our tree at the same time every year. It takes away the guessing and we expect and look forward to it every year.  It is also nice to get it in on the earlier side, so it can be enjoyed all Christmas season. This year, we chose to decorate it the same evening. We listened to Christmas music, put up ornaments, and drank sipping chocolate from Trader Joe’s, which I highly recommend.  It is way better than regular hot cocoa.  

I can so clearly remember our first Christmas as a married couple.  I have a specific memory walking down the aisles at Target and feeling mad at Lance.  We didn’t have much for our Christmas tree. And I wanted to buy all the things for it: a fancy tree topper, a pretty tree skirt, festive ornaments.  But my logical and conservative husband, did not want to spend the extra money. We already spent over $60 on a tree, more money on things like that felt over the top to him.  I was so upset about this. It seems super silly now, but at the time it was a whole lot of Christmas drama!  

family Christmas tree traditions

Anyways, we didn’t buy a fancy tree topper. Instead, I used leftover ribbon we had from our wedding and tied a bow on the top of our tree.  Five years later and that is our same tree topper. At this point, we could buy one of those fancy toppers, but there is something about that bow that I love.  It feels right. It feels like tradition.

Christmas ornaments that hold important milestones for a family

All these little traditions and routines around our Christmas tree are fun and special and even important; however, the tree to me is actually more of a metaphor. It is this very physical thing that sits in your living room for nearly a month of your year. The tree is pretty and shiny, but even more importantly it tells a story. It holds important milestones and moments. And not only does it tell a story of your family; it ultimately tells a story of God’s faithfulness, even in the years that might not have any shiny or memorable ornaments attached to it. So, create routines and traditions around the tree. However, don’t be distracted by the small details, like the tree topper or the fact that your tree is always a tad crooked. Remember, the tree is just a metaphor of something much, much more important.

2. Keep a Routine Around Advent 

Last Christmas, Hudson was just 6-months old, so we did not keep up with an Advent calendar for him.  This year we are! There are so many Advent calendar options that you can buy at the store. Those are good, but I am currently really into the Advent calendars that you fill on your own and use every single year.  My mother-in-law got us this beautiful Advent calendar from Pottery Barn.  It has great big pockets to fill with whatever you choose.  It is nice that Hudson is still at an age where he doesn’t really care what he is getting and the smallest things are still super exciting to him.  For this reason, I filled up his calendar this year with things like stickers, plastic dinosaurs, and protein bars. I know- not as exciting as chocolate, but I think he will still enjoy it.  

scripture and stickers inside an advent calendar for a toddler

The day before Advent, I focused more on finding little things in the dollar section of Target to put into his calendar that I missed the point a bit.  I forgot that the whole point of this Advent season is to reflect on the coming of Christ. So, I kept the random dinosaurs and snowman stickers stuffed in the pockets, but I also added something.  I found an amazing blog that had this adorable handwritten scripture geared towards little ones for each day. She specifically had the two-year olds in mind! I printed it out, cut out the squares and put one in each pocket.  I taped construction paper on the wall next to our advent calendar to stick the scripture on. This way we can visibly remember the greatest gift this season: Jesus.  

scripture from Luke for a toddler's advent calendar

Again, this is nothing revolutionary.  A small adjustment to a typical calendar filled with chocolate or even alcohol (have you seen the beer advent calendar from Costco?).  While there is nothing inherently wrong with calendars like this, I do believe it quickly turns our eyes away from the point of Advent.  It is to remember and await in eager anticipation for what is coming. The purpose of Advent is not in the chocolate or craft beer cans. The purpose is in Jesus.

  If you have little ones and wish to incorporate simple scripture into your Advent tradition, you can get that free printable on the Happy Home Fairy blog right here.  Just because we are already a few days into advent, it is never too late to start implementing more of Jesus into your Christmas traditions.

3. Keep a Routine Around Family Time

After dinner time, we are trying to do one thing as a family that feels Christmas-y.  On the first of December, we started by watching Lance’s all-time favorite Christmas movie, Home Alone.  We just watched about 20-minutes, but it was a fun way to start off the month of December.  A few other ideas we plan on doing as a family include: walking around to see Christmas lights in Sleepy Hollow (we do this every year with our good friends Hannah and Kyle), baking cookies together, reading Christmas-themed books (more on this in next week’s blog post), dancing to Christmas music, drinking that sipping chocolate I mentioned above, attending local Christmas events (especially ones surrounded around celebrating what this time of year is truly about). 

If you live in the South Bay area, our church is putting on a special event called “Campfire Christmas.”  It is the perfect evening activity with your family to spend some time celebrating and singing and preparing your hearts for the coming of Christ.  Do a little research and see some of the Christmas events local churches around you are putting on. These are often free and the perfect Christmas family outing centered around Christ.  

Side note: the truth of the matter is that we are not all curled up together doing some cute, Christmas-themed activity every single night of December. Applause to those families, but that is just not us. In fact, just tonight we had a nice dinner together, Hudson took a bath, and I flew out the door to yoga. The point of routines is intention. We could have gone out to a local holiday event being held in the community this evening, but Lance and I both sensed it was not right for us tonight. I am telling you this story because I want to be clear: we are definitely not perfect and life is busy, but on the nights that make sense, we really are intentionally trying to spend them together doing something centered around this season.

Give Something Up + Commit to Something

I recently listened to a new podcast episode on The Next Right Thing.  I have mentioned Emily’s podcast before on here and it is because she always drops such good wisdom in her short 15-20-minute episodes.  You really should take a listen if you haven’t. Her latest episode is all about how to avoid decision fatigue during the holidays. She suggests deciding ahead of time one thing to say no or remove from your schedule during the month of December.  For her, it was work-related travel. She also recommended planning ahead and saying yes to two things that will keep you centered on Christ during the holidays. It could be a devotional, a playlist, a book.

All this very much resonated with me as I wrote up this particular blog.  For me, I am saying no to late nights and consuming myself with tasks that simply are not that important. When it comes to the evenings, I want to be home with my family, I don’t want to busy myself with shopping and planning and doing. By setting this boundary, I am hoping to end this Christmas season in a place where I am more present and joyful. 

What Are You Prioritizing this December?

Okay, so I know this was a bit all over the place, but the heart of what I am trying to convey is that the things and routines we choose to do during December really, really matter.  Even if we don’t realize it, what we choose to say no and yes to are ultimately revealing what matters to us. When I choose to consume myself with shopping, I quickly lose sight of what this time of celebration is all about.  However, when I choose to put scripture in each pocket of Hudson’s Advent calendar and we stick it up on the wall together, I ground myself and the Word of God pulls me into the true joy of the season.  

I hope this makes you think about exactly how you are spending your time in the days and weeks to come.  What is your focus? What is spinning on in your head? Is it your shopping list and the parties you are attending?  Or is it your family? The candlelight Christmas-Eve service? That verse from Luke you just can’t shake from your mind?  

It sure is easy to be pulled away from the important things this time of year. My prayer is that this December can be different for you. You will likely still make some mistakes and fill your schedule a bit too full, but I hope that you can end the month with just a bit more peace, joy, and gentleness than last year!

Share a comment if you have a particular routine during December that keeps you focused and joyful this time of year! I would love to hear from you.

Keeping Routines During Holiday Busyness

Just last Sunday we went to the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at The Grove in Los Angeles.  This was the perfect reminder about what can easily happen during this time of year.  I witnessed people pushing and shoving each other through crowds. There were people yelling at waitresses for not keeping their reservation.  There were unkind words thrown at people that were standing and covering the screen that was projecting the show. To be honest, there was not a ton of holiday cheer.  There were a lot of security guards and chaos and crowds of unhappy people. Sure, there was a beautiful, big Christmas tree, which costs more than what many people make in a year (trust me, we looked up all the stats as we waited on the crowded lawn).  There were beautiful lights everywhere and the store windows glimmered with shiny things. But like I said, there seemed to be something missing.  

Stay Focused on What Matters

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE this time of year.  But, I also am quite aware that I have a tendency to not show up as my best self around this time.  I too can be like the crowds of angry people that push and shove their way to the front. I tend to be on edge, cranky, and stressed.  The truth is, I can easily let the distractions of gift giving, holiday parties, and all the decorations get in the way of staying focused and present on what this time of celebration is all about: the birth of Jesus!  

This year, I am committed to staying focused on what actually matters and not letting the holiday chaos get the best of me.  Are you with me? Let’s enjoy this time of year, but let’s also keep systems in place to stay centered and focused on what the celebration is truly all about.  It is likely that you are going to be a bit outside of your normal routine during this season and that is totally okay. You might be traveling. You might stay up later, sleep in longer, eat more cookies.  And to all of that, I say go for it. As much as I love routines and systems, I think it is also essential to let go of some of the structure during seasons like this; however, there are a few things that I believe are essential for you to keep up even during the holidays.  

5 Things To Keep Doing During Holiday Busyness

So, while you might be stuffing your face with gingerbread men and staying up past your bedtime, here are a few things you should keep up with to help avoid being a grinch this Christmas and to really be joyful and present and thankful.  

1. Wake Up Before the Kiddos 

I get it.  With less work + no school, you might easily be tempted to sleep in and wake up when the whole house wakes up.  This is easy to do when you might be staying up later than normal shopping or partying. However, if you are anything like me, even just 10-minutes of quiet time before the chaos of the day, is essential for me to be the best mama and wife I can be.  Normally, I wake up at 5:15 am to have at least an hour of time to journal, pray, work on blog. I will definitely have some days of waking up later, but I still plan on setting an alarm to ensure I have at least 10-minutes before Hudson wakes up. So, sleep in, but still allow for some early morning quiet time. This can really help set the tone for the rest of the day.

2. Take Your Vitamins

Even if you don’t take supplements as a daily routine, the idea behind this point, is keep up with one simple habit that is good for your health.  The reality is that I am going to be eating A LOT this holiday season and I will be eating a ton of things that might not be the healthiest options. That is part of this time of year!  However, my body and emotional state really gets affected if I am just consuming wine, sugar, and salt. And let’s be honest, that is a lot of what is going into my body around this time.  There must be balance. So, even if it is just keeping up with your vitamin routine or your protein shake every morning. Keep doing one healthy food habit that will help counter all that wine, sugar, and salt.  

3. Keep Moving 

Amidst all the busyness, it is easy to skip out on your typical workout routine.  I don’t think you need to keep up as intense of an exercise routine as you might normally, but continuing to have some type of movement in your days is still vital.  If you are traveling, it can be a real challenge to stay as active. As I wrote about in last week’s post on finding exercise routines, 10-minutes is always better than zero.  Use your small windows of time! Another option, is to try to incorporate movement or getting outdoors when you are visiting with friends or family.  Take a family walk Christmas Eve. Bring a friend that is home for the holidays to a yoga class. This is a fun way to visit, while still keeping active! 

4. Create Space for Evening Routine 

It is likely you are going to be out later on certain evenings than you typically would.  Our family is an early to bed type of family, so it can really affect us staying out past our bedtimes night after night during this time of year.  For that reason, I think it is important to talk within your family and set the maximum time you will be out. Aim to really get home by this time, so you can keep up with the elements of your evening routine.  Story time, cuddles, night cream. These are the things that might be easy to toss out the window when you are coming home past midnight and are exhausted. I really believe it is important to preserve your evening routine as much as possible by giving yourselves and your family some time before just falling asleep.  This might entail leaving the party slightly early or saying no to certain things, but trust me, you and your family will be much happier if you create these types of boundaries.

5. Plan Ahead

The week of Christmas, I always feel especially on edge because I am still trying to do all things on my holiday to-do list that I have not gotten to!  This Christmas season, I am really committing to getting all the shopping and holiday prep done by the first week of December. This is my goal. To make this happen, I am planning ahead.  I am scheduling all my shopping early. I am clearly marking our calendars with the different events we are going to, so it is very clear to the whole family what we have going on. Planning ahead really can save you from a lot of Christmas drama!  

In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to give you a little gift.  I created a pretty little “Christmas To-Do List” to help you organize everything you have to do this season! I put some scripture and reminders to help you stay rooted in what this time of year is all about.  Not the presents or Santa or the Christmas Tree Lighting or cookie exchanges. Jesus. It is about Him! I really believe working on incorporating these 5 things into this busy time of year will ultimately help keep you focused on what actually matters! 

All you need to do to be sent this special list is to enter your email below. If you are already subscribed, I’ll be sending you this PDF in next week’s newsletter.

Send Me My Gift! 

What are some things you do during this time of year to help keep you grounded?  I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.  

6 Steps to Make Exercise a Routine for the Busy Mom

Routines make the things happen that you don’t always feel like doing.  For me, a huge one is exercise. Running comes pretty naturally to me and something I have been doing for over ten years; however, the reality of being a busy mom, often is still a huge barrier for me.  While I definitely do not always feel like it, I still manage to exercise 6 days a week. This simply would not happen if I did not have a consistent routine. The miles and burpees are literally scheduled into my week. That might sound excessive, but here’s the truth: if I don’t pencil in my workouts like they are important work meetings, they simply WILL NOT HAPPEN!  Same with you?

I am coming from the perspective of someone who loves to run and loves staying active and healthy, so I can only imagine the real obstacle to actually get out there and workout when it might not come as naturally to you. This is just more of a reason that you need to make exercise into a weekly routine! 

Routines Make It Happen!

 As I have said a ton on here before, routines help us actually do the things that are good for us even when we do not FEEL LIKE IT. If I am being honest, there are very few days where I truly feel like pushing myself and running a hard workout. Even when the feeling or desire is not there, I still get it done because I know that I run hard every Wednesday morning. It is just what I do.

I have a LOT of thoughts when it comes to exercise routines for the busy mom.  Before I even really get started, I want to clearly acknowledge that I absolutely understand that some mamas have greater barriers to fitting in workouts based on either being a single mama, having no family nearby, dealing with a tight budget, and/or having multiple little ones still at home to care for.  With that said, I still firmly believe that 6 days of movement, even for the busy mom with limited help and resources, is not only possible, but absolutely necessary.  

Before you start listing out the excuses about why there is no possible way you can exercise 6 days a week.  I want you to stop. The excuses are likely valid, but if you truly are priortizing your health, you can and will make time for scheduling working out as a daily routine.  

6 Steps to Creating Your Own Exercise Routine

Below are some step-by-step suggestions to help you get on the track of incorporating movement into your daily routine.  Notice how I am saying MOVEMENT. We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves with that word “exercise” or “workout.” There is this underlying pressure that if we do not have a solid hour to workout, then forget it.  This way of thinking needs to stop. You have 10 minutes in your day. I don’t care how busy your days are. There are 10 minutes you can spare for intentional movement.  

I will send you this 4-paged printable that I created that will help you target the times in your schedule that are open + guide you as you set goals and actually schedule the exercise into your week. I have made this PDF editable so if you choose to keep it on your computer, you can easily edit the boxes! To get this sent straight to your inbox, just enter you email below. If you are already a subscriber, you will getting this lovely PDF in my Tuesday newsletter.

 



 

 

1. Examine Your Weeks + Identify Open Windows

Take the time to list out all your time obligations and responsibilities during the week.  Write it out as a schedule with time blocks. Once you have everything written out, identify the windows that are open.  It might be very small windows, but even if it is 10-minute windows, highlight these.

2. Set Clear Weekly Goals 

Be VERY specific.  Set the number of times you plan to do cardio (run, spin class, bike ride, swim, treadmill, HIIT training).  Set the number of times you plan to do strength training (core, weights, yoga, barre). For example, my typical weekly goals when I am not in full-on training mode is 4 runs per week + 2 classes (focused on legs, arms, and core).  

3. Schedule It

Now that you have your goals, schedule the exact time + type of movement you will be doing on each day.  Similar to my meal planning tips, I suggest that you do similar types of movement on each day of the week.  For example, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays could be days you run. Tuesdays and Thursdays could be days focused on core strength. Saturdays could be either long run days (if you’re into that type of thing) or a morning class you attend to kick off the weekend on the right note.  When scheduling, try to frontload your week. Schedule the hard things early on in the week when you are more motivated. For example, Monday-Wedneday I have most of my mileage scheduled in + a run workout. Put the hard things first! 

4. Plan Ahead 

Once your weekly schedule is set, next you need to plan out the logistics.  As a busy mama, it is no longer as simple as just leaving the house for a run or the gym.  You need to figure out who is watching your kiddos. Plan ahead and ask if you can have help in the hour you plan on getting out to exercise.  If you don’t have help available to you, try to plan out with your spouse a time when they will be home. For us, this usually means waking up very early or using the evening time. 

If limited help is a major barrier, try to plan most of your daily movement time when the kids are either in school, still asleep, napping, or my personal fav (can join you).  The baby jogger is a great way to incorporate your little ones, while you get out the door and prioritize your own health. I wrote a whole post dedicated to tips on running with the jogger, which you can read here.  There are also gyms that offer childcare, so this is another great option if you can swing a gym membership!

5. Actually Do It 

This can sometimes be the hardest step.  Once you have done the extra work of planning ahead and creating plans, you must actually commit to it.  At first it might feel hard, especially if your only window of free time is in the evening, but once you make it a consistent routine, it will become easier and easier.  Tuesday and Thursday evenings are the nights I go to a core class at my local Yogaworks. It used to be hard to find motivation to drive to these classes at 6 pm after a long day chasing Hudson, but now that it is a routine, it is something I look forward to and expect.  

6. Be Flexible

Even with the routine set and things planned out, the reality is that certain days will simply not allow for your typical exercise routine to happen.  There will be days where finding an hour window will feel nearly impossible and that is okay. I am learning that on these types of days, I can still incorporate 10-minutes of intentional movement into my day and this will help me to not feel guilty for skipping out and will also boost mood and productivity. 

We often operate in this all or nothing mindset. We think if we don’t have a solid hour of time available, then we should just skip it. Not true! 10-minutes will always be better than none. Be willing to adjust and stay committed to the movement even if it will look slightly different than planned. Just getting out the door to run a couple miles and play at the park with your little one will always be a win over just choosing to skip it. 

The tabata method is another great way to get in a solid workout in a short amount of time. It is similar to HIIT training in the sense that it focuses on doing certain exercises at a high-intensity level for 20 seconds and then resting for 10 seconds. I really believe we can all do something really hard for 20 seconds. You repeat this cycle 8 times. This is just 4 minutes of work, but it will push you in ways that going out for a casual 2 mile jog will not. I really believe this type of training is key for us busy mamas. It gives a high-quality workout in a short amount of time, and if done consistently can have huge aerobic and anaerobic results!

You’ve Got This

Wherever you are, whether that be training for a marathon or just trying to walk around the block daily, remember that you’ve got this and that prioritizing intentional movement daily is an essential part of your routine.  If you do not have a consistent movement routine, I really hope this encourages you to do so.

Remember, it will likely not happen if you do not have a routine dedicated to staying active! You can always give up 10-minutes to move! Those intentional minutes put towards your health will ultimately make you a better human, mama, wife, and friend.  I know that I am a wayyy nicer human, a more loving wife, and a much more patient mother when I get out there and make my running and fitness routine a priority.

Let me know how you squeeze in working out! I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!

Rest as a Routine: 10 Ways to Help Keep Your Sabbath

It is early Monday morning and I am getting some writing in before Hudson wakes up.  I find myself working with a sense of peace, clarity, and focus. Probably not typical feelings on a Monday at 5:30 am, but I have a secret and I want to share it with you.  Keep the sabbath. Allow for 24-hours of your week to be untouched by work, hustle, hurry, schedule, and yes, even social media. This actually is no secret. It is a biblical command: 

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  You must not do any work…For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy” Exodus 20:8-11

It seems like even for Christians, this is a command that is easy to not take as seriously.  Our culture literally preaches the gospel of work and hustle and making a name for ourselves. The concept of rest often runs counter to everything our culture seems to stand for.  

While rest is something that definitely does not come naturally to me, I have been learning, especially recently in the past year, how essential the weekly routine of sabbath is for myself and for our family.  It has become the part of the week that I most look forward to. It is restorative and necessary. And the truth is, this stop in work, is the very thing that allows me to produce better quality work throughout the week.

We Work from Our Rest

I have had the concept of work and rest backwards for much of my life.  I used to think that I had to work really hard to deserve my rest.  And here’s the thing: I never felt like I fully deserved it.  There will always be things left on my to-do list.  There will always be things I simply did not get to.  If we only allow ourselves to rest when we feel like we deserve it, rest will likely not happen very often.  

It clicked in my mind a month or so ago when I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey.  Her guest that week, Dr. Saundra Dalton Smith, explained how we don’t earn rest, we work from our rest. When you think about rest in this way, it no longer is just some nice luxury that you will get to if you have time; it is absolutely necessary and is commanded of us by the Lord. 

Typically, when we think of routines, we probably don’t first think of rest.  However, we should start thinking of rest as a routine that is just as important as our cleaning routine.  One of the many reasons I love routines so much is because it makes things that do not come naturally to me, aka rest and cleaning the house, actually happen!

The thing that is different with sabbath is that this is a routine that I do not need to create or carve out on my own, it is a gift given by the Lord. It is not about us creating sabbath, it is about us keeping it. Thank you to Emily P. Freeman’s podcast episode on “Keep Your Rest” for reminding me of this truth. It is not about creating or carving out rest on our own power; it is about obeying and keeping the rest that is already ours.

10 Ways to Keep Rest as a Weekly Routine

Below you will find a list of 10 things to consider when thinking about how to better keep the sabbath in your own life. I say the word “consider” because there is no one size fits all sabbath. Based on your season, your sabbath will look different, but it does not mean you simply throw out the practice. You adjust and keep sabbath based on your current stage of life.

1. Choose a Day 

It does not necessarily need to be Saturday or Sunday.  Examine your week and choose the day that is most open for you and your family.  For us, it is on Sunday. We could also practice sabbath on Saturday, but Saturdays seem to always get full with birthday parties and events and time obligations.  Sundays work better for our family. We try to keep church the only planned thing of the day. After church, our day is fully open.  

2. Keep a Timeframe 

Once you choose the day, it is important, that you set a clear signal for when your day of rest officially begins and when it ends.  Biblically, sabbath goes from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. So for some, this is a helpful way to indicate the beginning and end of sabbath. If you don’t have a clear indicator or signal, it is less likely you will fully get a 24-hour period of sabbath. Also, if you are in a place where 24 hours of sabbath feels not possible, that is okay. Create a time segment that you can weekly commit to. Maybe it is when you wake up on Saturday until lunch on Saturday.  Whenever it is, I have found that it is essential to commit to that time framework.  

3. Step Away From Social Media

This is one I recently added to my personal discipline of sabbath and I think it is essential.  I have a personal rule that I will not look at any form of social media, the entirety of my sabbath.  This rule prevents me from laying on my bed, scrolling through newsfeeds.  This is definitely a temptation of mine when it comes to my day of rest, but I have found (after many sabbaths filled with social media) that I do not receive as rejuvenating of a rest when I am on social platforms. 

We do not limit all screens, we tend to watch a show or maybe even a movie, but even this we need to be careful with. Sabbath simply is not about just vegging out and doing nothing.  There is a big difference from practicing sabbath versus being on the couch all day binge watching Netflix.

4. Limit Time Obligations 

This will likely mean that you will be saying “no” a lot when it comes to plans or events on your given sabbath day.  Occasionally, we will attend a scheduled event that falls on our sabbath if we feel it will be a time of good fellowship.  For example, sometimes our church will have fun outreach events on Sundays and we will mostly always still attend those.

When it comes to getting together with friends, we like to schedule things like this on Saturdays, but with really close friends (shout out to Hannah and Kyle) we enjoy spending time with them on our sabbaths.  It is all about determining what is restoring and what people ultimately bring you closer to the Lord. Spend time with those types of people on your sabbaths + whenever else you can. If we are meeting people or people are coming over to us, we like to have a looser time boundary on our sabbaths. It is incredibly refreshing to have one day that does not feel as scheduled or as pressured to be at places at a specific time.

5. Prioritize One Thing You Typically “Never Have Time For” 

I started a scrapbook for Hudson when he was born.  For the first 6 months of his life, I was invested in this scrapbook.  Every month, I would fill out the page and write all about what we did for his _ month birthday and list out major milestones and his likes/dislikes.  Now, he is almost 17-months and I have piles of photos and a half-empty scrapbook. Life has gotten more full now that he is older and scrapbooking just does not happen during our busy weeks. 

But here’s the thing, memory keeping through the act of scrapbooking is something that very much fills me up. I love it. When I create the time to actually work on it, I sense my whole body relaxing.  It is a really healthy and joyful practice for me; the perfect sabbath-keeping activity. It feels extra special because I know Sundays are the one day I get to work on my scrapbook. What is it for you?  List out the activities that your heart always longs to do. Maybe it is gardening, or baking a pie, or knitting a sweater, or learning calligraphy. Write out your list and use your sabbaths to start actually doing those things!

6. Connect with Your Family 

Sabbath is the perfect day to really spend quality, focused time with your family.  Of course we try to spend a good amount of family time throughout the week, but during our regular week, it feels like a to-do list is always running in the back of our heads.  It is refreshing to have one day set apart that I just sit on the couch and really watch Hudson play and create and imagine. I love this stillness that is created on our sabbath.  I am not frantic, I am just sitting and watching and connecting.

Last Sunday, during Hudson’s nap, Lance and I went out into the backyard, threw Nala tennis balls and went through our roses, buds, and thorns of the week.  It was simple and good, and it is so different from our normal pace during the week. Our best connection as a family absolutely happens on our sabbaths. So, turn off your phones, get outside, watch your children play as you simply sit, and slowly chat with your spouse.  

7. Don’t Touch Laundry, Dishes, or the Broom 

Our house is not pretty on our sabbath days.  And I am perfectly okay with this. There usually are dishes stacked in the sink, laundry sitting in the dryer, and crumbs scattered throughout the house.  And I do not touch it. I do this stuff all the time during the week. It is essential for me to have a day that I simply let the house go. This would typically bother me, but because this is the designated day of rest, I am perfectly fine leaving it for Monday or later that evening.  I also try to not get super legalistic with things like this. Of course, if there is a huge spill or mess, one of us will wipe it up, but as a whole, we will try to not worry about cleaning on our sabbaths.

8. Read 

Like scrapbooking, sabbaths are my days to actually curl up with a good book.  If you read all the time, maybe choose a special book you just read on your sabbath.  Something that will draw your nearer to God. Something that really fills you up. I am currently reading Run the Mile You’re In by Ryan Hall (thanks mom for giving this to me!).  It is the perfect sabbath book for me right now because it is a book about God and running. Two of my favorite things. Find a book if you are currently not reading, and save it for your sabbath days. 

Sabbaths are also great opportunities to collectively read the Bible as a family. We typically just do our personal Bible reading in the morning, but this is something I would like to start incorporating into our weekly day of rest, especially now as Hudson is getting older and loves listening to stories.

9. Dream

On our most recent sabbath, we all woke up extra early due to the time change.  I threw together a veggie scramble, we ate, watched the NYC Marathon, and since we had two hours to spare before church, we drove down to the beach for a walk.  On our walk, Lance and I dreamed. We rambled and casted vision for our future. When we both are undistracted by the hum of our to-dos and social media, we can really come up with amazing things.  I was reminded on our dream walk, how days of rest are the perfect days to dream and wander and talk to God about what He has in mind for the future.

10. Thank God 

This should be a daily practice, but sabbaths also create the perfect, quiet space to intentionally thank the Lord.  This could be done through prayer or creating a gratitude list. It is easy for our busy and full days to slip by without even noticing the amazing work the Lord is doing.  Take the time on sabbath to really notice.  

If you would like to read more of my thoughts on rest & sabbath, it is a topic that I have written on a lot in the past. You can find all other posts related to rest here, and here, and here.

I would love to hear from you. Do you practice sabbath as a weekly routine within your own life? If so, I would love to hear some of the ways you keep sabbath. Please leave a little comment below about sabbath, rest, time away from social media, or really anything this post made you start thinking about!

See you next Thursday. Find some rest, my friend. Actually, keep the rest. Remember, it has already been found by our kind, Father.

Simple, Weekly Meal Planning for Busy Moms

It is appropriate that I am typing this up on a Monday because Mondays are my meal planning and grocery shopping days.  Before you stop reading and tell yourself, “I don’t have time to plan out meals for an entire week. Heck, most days I don’t even know what I will eat for lunch.”  Think again! Meal planning is one of the things I do at the start of the week that allows for the next 6 days to be WAY less stressful.

I will admit, meal planning used to take me close to an hour every week in the beginning of our marriage.  However, like with most things, the more you do it, the quicker and more efficient you become. I am at the point where I can plan out all the meals for the week and produce the grocery list in under 15 minutes!  And here’s a little secret, you can too! It really is not as hard as you might be thinking and it will save you SO much stress and time throughout the week.  

Quick side note: if you have babies in your family and would like tips on preparing meals for the littlest mouths in your family, check out these 5 tips for making meals for babies. Using some of these tips have actually helped me not drastically increase our grocery bills because Hudson eats a lot of similar foods to us.

5 Reasons You Should Be Meal Planning

If you still are not convinced, below are some very clear reasons and benefits on why you should start planning out your family’s meals for the week.

1. Saves Time

People often think they need to be super organized and have a lot of initial time available to properly plan meals.  I am here to tell you that is simply not true! As you get used to the weekly discipline of planning meals out every week, you will become more efficient. Even if it takes you a bit more time at the beginning, it is is worth it because it will save you so much time later in the week. dft67t6tcv yjbv

2. Saves Money

I literally used to spend MORE money on food  when I was in college just feeding myself then what I currently spend to feed a family of three (and not just any family of three, a family that eats A LOT).  When it was just me in college, I never planned out my meals. I would go to Trader Joe’s and literally just let my stomach guide my purchases. This is no way to grocery shop!  I would buy lots of the frozen pre-planned meals because I thought it would save me time and money. NOT true! Plus, a lot of the frozen meals are pretty high in sodium. 

I would buy really just whatever looked and sounded good and figured I would make things work for meals. This method resulted in HIGH grocery bills that I could barely afford. By planning out your meals, you are creating a grocery list only with the items that you actually need. 

3. Wastes Less Food

Since you only are getting produce and proteins that you will actually use for meals throughout the week, you will notice that you end up throwing away much less food.  I rarely need to throw away produce because it is all used by the end of the week. Really one of the only times I need to throw things away is on weeks that plans change and we don’t end up using all the meals I had planned out.  In terms of proteins, I NEVER throw these away because I put all meats in the freezer, except what I am using that night and the next night. 

4. Removes Stress 

Our weeks are busy and after full days of work and chasing after littles, we should not be stressing about what our family will eat.  Taking the time to plan ahead, will allow your weeks to run so much more smoothly around dinner time. It is now something I don’t even think about.  I just know what we are eating and I start making it. There are enough stressors in our lives, don’t let dinner time be another one of those.

5. Allows for Healthier Choices

If meals are not planned, it is more likely that you will resort to going out or picking up something quick.  While of course you can find healthy options out, it is more likely that you will consistently be eating healthier meals the more you plan things out.  When you plan out your meals, you have the control to make sure you are getting lean proteins, greens, and healthy carbs.   

So now you might be thinking, “Okay I get it, meal planning has some clear benefits, but planning ahead is just not my personality.  I don’t even know where to start!”  

That is where I want to help you out. 

Remember how I mentioned it used to take me an hour to plan our meals for the week?  Part of the reason it took me so long was because I didn’t have any plan to help guide me.  I was doing all the hard front work myself. Now that I have been planning out meals for the past 4 years of our marriage, I have developed a weekly system that allows me to write out 7 meals + a grocery list in under 15-minutes.  I actually timed myself and I planned out the meals in 12-minutes yesterday, while throwing tennis balls to our dog Nala and chasing around a toddler. This is something you can even do quickly in the middle of your chaotic days! 

4 Simple Steps to Start Meal Planning TODAY

Below are four tangible steps you can start taking today to help with meal planning and make your life so much simpler.

1. Choose a Day to Plan and Shop (stay consistent!)

Pick the day that is open enough for you to plan out your meals and shop in the same day.  If you are working, a weekend will probably work best. For me personally, I do it all on Mondays.  Start by thinking about your week as a whole and intentionally choosing a day that you can do all the planning and shopping.  Try not to split it up over 2 days. I used to do this and it made the process feel longer. Get it all done in ONE day, so the rest of the 6 you don’t even need to think about meals or the grocery store. 

Grocery shopping on the same day every week is one of my favorite weekly rhythms. It saves a ton of time because you are just making one big grocery trip for the whole week. It is something that you expect to happen on that particular day so it does not hold as much dread. And it actually helps build a sense of community. I love the fact that I have come to know a lot of the people that work at our local Trader Joe’s. This type of community would likely not be as felt if we went grocery shopping at random days, times, and tons of different stores.

2. Write Down Ingredients Currently in Refrigerator + Pantry 

To be honest, I don’t do this every week because by the end of the week, we are basically empty!  However, at the beginning of your meal planning journey, you probably have a lot of food sitting in the fridge and pantry that are left unused.  I got this idea from Jordan Page, a blogger and You-tuber on how to be frugal as a family.   She suggests writing out a list of everything you have and then use this list to generate meal ideas.  This will ensure that you are using ingredients you already have.  

This is a much better strategy than first looking up recipes. I used to look up a recipe for nearly every day of the week, and I spent way more money on groceries because I was buying ingredients that I do not typically cook with. Don’t do this! Start with the ingredients you already have and generate meal ideas from there.

3. Create Meal Types for Each Day of the Week

Part of the reason I can so quickly plan out 7 meals in under 15-minutes is because I have created a system in which we have similar types of meals for each specific day of the week.  This is REALLY helpful. It takes out a lot of the decisions when it comes to meal planning and it can actually be a really fun thing for your family to look forward to and expect. This is something you can get the entire family on-board with.  To clarify, this does not mean we are eating the same meal every Monday or every Thursday, but we are eating the same “type” of meal.

For example our weekly menu includes “Meatless Mondays” and “Taco Tuesdays.” So on Mondays, I will either plan a veggie stir-fry, or veggie quinoa bowls, or a veggie pasta, or maybe even veggie burgers + sweet potato cubes.  On Tuesdays, we might have turkey tacos, or shrimp taco salad, or even beef taco soup. See? There can be variety even though each day of the week is assigned a specific type. I put together a sample week in the graphic above. As you can see, I keep it REAL simple!

Isn’t this menu pretty? I made it just for you! Well, and for myself too, but mostly you. I’ll send it to you for FREE! Just enter your email right below here. Along with the menu, I will also send you the organized grocery shopping list. Say goodbye to your frantic and wandering days of grocery shopping. This list will get you in and out of the store with CONFIDENCE.

Yes! Send me the Menu!

4. Use My Weekly Menu Chart + Grocery List 

There are tons of Meal Planning templates that you can purchase, but why spend the money?  I typically just grab printer paper and quickly write everything out, but I wanted something that looked a bit nicer, so I created this really simple menu chart + grocery list.  They are on two separate documents so you don’t need to cut the list off from the menu! I would highly recommend putting the menu up on your fridge or somewhere super visible in the kitchen so the whole family can see it.  Make sure you enter your email above, so I can send you this FREE gift.

For the grocery list, I have created it with three columns: Produce, Proteins, and Pantry. I used to just list everything out, but this method made grocery shopping more difficult. Now, as I make a list I organize it into these three categories and it makes the actual shopping experience a lot simpler.  So when creating your list, just think of the 3 P’s. Also, I started adding a fourth category: Freezer. I tend to not really get anything from the frozen section, except frozen berries and a couple dessert options. However, I included it on the list, just in case you tend to stock up on more frozen items.

I really hope this is helpful for you.  If you are already a meal planning type of gal, I would LOVE to hear some of your tips.  Leave a comment below! If you are still very new to meal planning, and have any specific questions, please leave them below as well.

See you next Thursday! Happy Meal Planning!

Happy Birthday to Us & Hello Routines!

this mama needs grace blog is one

 Happy Birthday to us!  It has officially been one year since our very first post on This Mama Needs Grace.  On October 19th, 2018, I wrote our very first blog post: “This Mama Needs…”.  Go back and check it out.  Or not, because let’s be honest, it is not the best, but the messaging is solid.  And it still is very much the driving force behind this blog: 

“My prayer is through this blog of grappling through my own ever-present need for Jesus’ abundant grace, that you too can remember that even when it feels like you have nothing together, that God loves you with a crazy love and He showers you with grace in all of your imperfections.”

A year later, and this is still my prayer.  

blogger with toddler son celebrating first year of her mom blog
I came up with a cute idea to get a cupcake at my fav spot, Susie Cakes in celebration of year 1 of tmng! But then life happens & it got smeared in the car, but hey, I tried!

The Beginning

TMNG (this mama needs grace) initially was born because I was drowning.  I was drowning in my tears, drowning in unreasonable pressures I had set around motherhood, drowning in feeling like I was simply not enough.  The transition from working to fully staying at home was a much more difficult than I would have imagined. Since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a mom.  I have dreamed about snack making, playdates, arts and crafts. But then reality hit, and the vision I had of being a stay at home mom was not quite as peachy.  

I quickly realized I needed an outlet.  I needed a place to spill my guts. A place to be fully honest about some of my raw and difficult days as a new mama.  I needed a place to write and remember who I am. I am not just a mom, a wife, a runner. No, I am much more than that…I am His beloved daughter.  I needed to remember this.  

Year 1 Reflection

To be honest, I did not have a ton of goals when TMNG began.  I really just needed a creative project that was for myself. A year ago, I was not in the healthiest place because I was fully consumed in being a “perfect” mom. I barely took time to go on a run or to yoga and I had nothing that made me want to get up early in the morning. My days were consumed with nursing, cleaning, and making dinner. Those things just were not filling me up. I desperately needed a reason to get out of the house to pursue something I was passionate about.  I needed a fill-up and in many ways TMNG was that place for me.

So while this began as very much a personal thing, below is a quick look at what has happened in a year.

Year 1 Stats

  • 70 posts published
  • 98,621 words written
  • 264 post likes
  • 22 comments
  • 124 subscribers

I am not a numbers girl.  I am all about the words, but I also think it is important to occasionally check in with the number side of things.  Those stats in some ways impress me. I am shocked I have written those many words in a year of very much working on this thing part-time.  I am also shocked I have actually stayed with it and have been for the most part pretty consistent. This I am proud of!

In terms of comments and followers, well, we are small, but after a year of writing, creating, posting, and dreaming; I firmly believe this is just the beginning.  TMNG might be small right now, but I have this beautiful vision of what it can become so I will not stop. I feel God in this, so I will keep writing. When He tells me to stop, I will, but now is not the time.  

5 lessons learned from first year blogging

A Year of Growth

Within this year, I have written on all types of things.  From losing my grandmother to returning to running to mom routines to traveling to lessons in motherhood.  TMNG has been a place for me to ramble about the current state of my heart. It really has come to hold a lot of the hard things that have happened this year (saying good-bye to my grandma and dealing with anxiety as a new mother) to a lot of the really exciting moments (running a sub-3 marathon, celebrating 4 years of marriage, celebrating Hudson’s first birthday).  TMNG is more than just another mom blog.  It is the home place of all my crazy ideas and emotions wandering in my head and heart.  It is my open-diary for myself; my open-letter to you.  

This past year, TMNG has been a bit all over the place, trying to really figure out who we are.  We took on different subjects, styles, and formats. From super short posts to extremely long 2,500 word posts; from no pictures to pictures embedded everywhere. We have had a lot of different looks and held all types of content: lists, tips, reflections, letters. Through this year, we have grown a lot and it feels like we are finally beginning to understand our voice and purpose.

Looking Ahead

After a year of figuring out exactly who we are, we think we know.  Kind of. TMNG is changing and evolving. TMNG is still going to be the home base for my emotions and ideas to wander freely, we are just taming it up a bit. 

For year 2, TMNG will become your destination spot for all things…ROUTINES. Yes. Routines, schedules, healthy habits. And not just any routines. Simple ones.  Not overwhelming or more complicated than your life before routines. Simple and accessible ones you can start adding to your life TODAY.  The focus will be on routines revolved around the morning, quick cleaning, fitness, devotional time, meal prep, and toddlers (because that is currently where we are at over here at the Capel home).

These routines are specifically curated for not just anyone, but for the busy mama on-the-go. 

this mama needs grace blog is for the busy mom on the go

Busy mama, we see you, and this one’s for you.  

Starting next week, join us every Thursday for new content that will be geared towards providing you with specific ideas and tips on how to make different aspects of your life into a routine.  We will be talking about ALL sorts of things (working out, marriage, cleaning, dinner time), but it will all be through the lens of how to make that thing into a routine. A pattern. A thing you don’t even think about, you just do it.  

We Love Routines, You Too?

If you can’t tell, we are big fans of routines, and believe routines are the key to happier, healthier, and more productive mamas.  Mom life, especially new mom life is EXHAUSTING.  Without systems in place, it is easy to feel like you are drowning in all the responsibilities on your plate.  The thing we love about routines is that it not only is something that allows for you to be more productive, it ultimately frees up chunks of time for you to do the things that fill you up.  It allows for you to start taking the time to go to that Tuesday workout class every week, or consistently work on that side hustle you have been dreaming up for years.  It allows you to finally step into your calling and ultimately, to find CONFIDENCE in your new life as a mama. 

Not to mention, routines benefit not just us as mamas, it benefits the entire family, specifically the little humans we are raising. Check out this really interesting article that presents research that draws a link between family routines with children that are more socially and emotionally healthy. Once you start diving into the research and numbers, routines become more than a nice option for those people that are well-organized and enjoy planning. No, routines, are necessary for all of us! And as the article points out so well, routines do not mean your days are always super strict and rigid. There is flexibility, which we talk about in future posts.

So are you in, mama?  Click the button below to instantly join our community, get email reminders when a new post drops, and as a special gift to say thanks, we will send you one of our fav weekly checklists to make sure you are getting all the important things DONE! See you next week!