Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Our 2015 Holiday Card

I haven't sent holiday cards in many years. When I used to send them, I would write personal messages on every one. Once I had children, I no longer had the time, energy, or interest in writing out a hundred personal messages. So I opted for writing a personal letter instead. I hope it doesn't feel too generic or impersonal. It's the best I could do!

I worked with this designer to create them. She was great to work with!

In terms of how we're displaying the cards we receive this year, I strung some twine from one end of our window to the other. We use little clothespins to hang them up. It's so fun to check the mail every day!

Join us for the upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course! We'll be reflecting on the kind of family we are and the kind of family we want to become. Learn more...Register now!

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Join Us Now!

Friends! Purposeful Parenthood is about to start! The first course will start on Monday, January 11, 2016. Do you want to join us? You can register here.

I'm so eager to wrestle with important topics related to family within a community of like-minded individuals.  

Over the course of four weeks, we will explore four different themes: 
  1. Vision: Starting with the End in Mind
  2. Environment: Preparing Our Space
  3. Time: Life Rhythms 
  4. Connection: Better Together
At the start of the week, you will receive instructions about the Purposeful Parenthood Challenge for that week. For example, the challenge for the first week is to create a Family Mission Statement. The second week we will be selecting an area of our home to update in a family-friendly way. The third week we will be thinking about our ideal schedules and the kinds of rituals we want to incorporate into our lives. Finally, we will be focusing on our partnerships and how to strengthen them in ways that build a strong foundation for our families.

Each day, a new lesson will be uploaded that relates to completing the challenge for the week. Daily lessons include experiences like reflection prompts, templates to help you tease out your thoughts, inspiration, etc. You can connect with others in the online community forum on a daily basis for support, to share ideas, or to ask questions. The following Monday, we will share the results of our challenges from the previous week via the online community. On Tuesday, we will begin the process again for the new week's challenge. 

I hope you'll join us! You can find out more information by reading the Course Overview or About the Author. And here's the link to the Registration Page.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Time to Hibernate

I'm laughing as I write the word "hibernate" because living in Central Texas requires anything but hibernating. This weekend I went running around the lake in shorts and a t-shirt!

But Winter Break is upon us, and it's time for me to hang up my blogging shoes until January. Even though we are working really hard to keep our holiday season low-key, we are still going to be busy spending time with family. 

I need to really think about what my intentions are going to be for next year. I want to shift my focus away from doing to being. As much as possible. I'll always be a doer. And what we do affects who we are. But you know what I mean. 

My word for 2015 was "balance." I didn't do too great of a job achieving that, but I'm on the right pathway for sure. 

For 2016, I'm really drawn toward focusing on my health and wellness. I feel like my body is desperately out of shape. My clothes don't fit. My muscles are weak. My back is still hurting me. 

I want to continue to be a positive and present parent. We've seen such a positively shift in Henry lately. I'm excited about my upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course and hope that you'll join us! 

I also want to self-publish five children's books with Matt. And I want to strengthen my graphic design skills to support that work. 

There I go with all that doing again. 

I honestly can't believe that we are nearly 20 years into this century. The year 2000 seems like yesterday. I want to cherish this time with my children. I know it's going to go fast. I'm looking forward to lots of vacations this year: at least three with my family, one with just Matt and me, and one by myself. 

I still have to formally fill out a reflection form and might even host the Third Annual Reflection & Rejuvenation Get Together.

Join us for the upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course! We'll be reflecting on the kind of family we are and the kind of family we want to become. Learn more...Register now!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Easy DIY Ornament

I am on our staff holiday party planning committee this year. As part of my work, I volunteered to plan an easy DIY ornament project. 

I purchased all the supplies at Hobby Lobby:
  1. Ornaments
  2. Ribbon
  3. Glitter
  4. Stickers
Putting the project together was a cinch. I used a piece of paper to create a funnel that enabled me to put glitter in the ornament. Then I stuck on the stickers to spell "joy" and tied the ribbon to the top. Voila!

I'm all about easy and fun this holiday season! 

Join us for the upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course! We'll be reflecting on the kind of family we are and the kind of family we want to become. Learn more...Register now!

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Video: Our Year in Review

Our yearly family recap video is complete (thanks to Matt!). This video captures what our life feels like about 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, parenting feels really hard and not much fun--just being honest!
Join us for the upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course! We'll be reflecting on the kind of family we are and the kind of family we want to become. Learn more...Register now!

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Holiday Card Update

So back in October I was way ahead with getting my holiday cards done. I wrote a yearly update about my life and sent 16 photos to a graphic designer on Etsy to make the card. 

I was still ahead when I got them printed through Costco. And even when I picked up some awesome stamps from the post office. 

I started to fall behind while I was waiting for my return address stamp to arrive from Etsy, and now that I need to get more than 100 people's addresses, I'm really far behind! 

I need to hurry up!

Holiday cards have been arriving at our house, so I strung up some twine and clip each card to it with a tiny clothespin. It's really sweet. 

The holidays are so fun!
Join us for the upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course! We'll be reflecting on the kind of family we are and the kind of family we want to become. Learn more...Register now!

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

15 Minutes of TV a Week

We've always tried to be intentional about reducing Henry's screen time. A while back, we weren't letting him watch any on the weekdays but then we were letting him watch shows for about 45-60 minutes while Tate slept on the weekends. 

Then it started to feel like too much. I dreaded the thought of trying to pull back his screen time (I envisioned massive fits), but I reminded myself, "You're the parent. If you think it's not good for him to watch so much TV, then you should institute a new limit." And so we did. Now we do only one 15-minute show on Saturday or Sunday. And it feels so much better. 

However, there are still times when I'm craving something to occupy him without any of my attention (like if I'm having trouble getting Tate down for a nap) or if I want to just sit and knit. Henry and Tate don't have much trouble playing together without much attention, but Henry struggles when Tate is sleeping. 

Enter Sparkle Stories. I read about them on a blog years ago but just recently looked them up. And we love them! We get access to several of them for free, and we will listen to one or two a weekend. I simply use the podcast app on my phone. 

They engage Henry the same way TV does, and yet they demand more active brain involvement since he has to visualize what's happening. They are such sweet, realistic stories. I'm especially inspired by Martin & Sylvia. They give us a lot of ideas about what to do as a family!

Join us for the upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course! We'll be reflecting on the kind of family we are and the kind of family we want to become. Learn more...Register now!

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Monday, December 7, 2015

My Addiction to Technology


This article about how easy it can be to become addicted to technology these days really resonated with me. The irony was that I came across the article while I was scrolling through Facebook. 

There really is a lot of amazing stuff that comes into my life through Facebook. I don't want to cut it out altogether. The trick, for me, is about moderation. I literally pick up my phone to fill up every spare moment I have. I'm waiting for Matt to get out of the shower so we can go to bed? Let me check Facebook. I'm getting a pedicure? Let me scroll through Facebook. I'm going to the bathroom? Let me check Facebook. 

The four things that are missing from my life right now because I'm filling it up to the brim with Facebook are:
  1. Time for reading real books (or even listening to books)
  2. Time to just be still and to connect to my thoughts
  3. Time to talk with my husband
  4. Time to knit
That's the thing with things like Facebook and television. They aren't necessarily bad, but when we let them fill up our lives, they crowd out other things. Luckily I do make lots of time to pursue my dreams and big projects, but I don't make time for these littler things. 

If I want to make a change in my life, I have to identify specifically what I'm going to do and when I'm going to do it. 

In this case, I've already started my knitting project. I think it would help to store it in a basket by my bed. 

With the books, I need to go to the library to get my card updated. Once I have an updated card, I can get more books and even access their downloadable books. 

I'll do this today!

Join us for the upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course! We'll be reflecting on the kind of family we are and the kind of family we want to become. Learn more...Register now!

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Holiday Traditions (and Reducing Holiday Stress)

The Christmas spirit is alive and kicking at the Cotner-Bradford residence!

The Friday after Thanksgiving, we drove out to a Christmas tree farm in a small rural town to cut down our Christmas tree. The boys have been eagerly anticipating the experience for about a month. Tate was thrilled to ride on a tractor out into the field. We came home with a 9.5-foot tree (they always look smaller in the field than they do at home...).

We got the ornaments down from the storage area and started hanging them on the tree. As I had hoped, it was so fun to look at all the ornaments we had collected during our travels over the past two years: San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Lake Tahoe, Michigan, and Puerto Rico. My favorite part is that Henry is the one who reminds us to stop and purchase an ornament whenever we are traveling.

There were also a handful of ornaments that friends made for us or that the boys made at school. So fun! 

We only put up a few decorations, include a banner that says "Cherish," a table runner, a glass vase with ornaments, and a holiday countdown

We also pulled out all our Christmas books. Here are our favorites:
We're excited to start all the activities on our Holiday Countdown calendar. Here's what we have on our list: 
  • Drink eggnog
  • Drink hot chocolate
  • Visit the Zilker Tree
  • Visit 37th Street lights
  • Visit Christmas house at 1912 Crystal Shores 
  • Go ice-skating
  • Attend the Cherrywood Art Fair
  • Make bagged lunches and deliver them to homeless people on the street
  • Make a gingerbread house
  • Write a letter as a family to reminisce about the year
  • Make handmade holiday stamps
  • Make salt dough ornaments
  • Make gift-tags and cards
  • Cut down an evergreen tree (or buy a potted one and plant it after Christmas)
  • Decorate the tree
  • Make origami paper cranes
  • Wrap presents
  • Write little notes to colleagues and neighbors
  • Make baked goods for colleagues and neighbors
  • Deliver baked goods and notes
  • Decorate the house
  • Write cards to family
  • Make felt balls
  • Drink hot chocolate and play Scrabble
  • Watch a holiday movie
  • Have a pillow picnic under the tree
  • Ride bikes around the neighborhood to look at lights
  • Cut out snowflakes
  • Write a love letter
  • Collect branches and pine cones and spray paint them for decoration
  • Dance to holiday music
  • Read a book about Kwanzaa
  • Read a book about Hanukkah
  • Cover the house in candles
  • Hang mistletoe and kiss
  • Make a list of what we're thankful for
As I write all of this, I sort of want to delete it all. It sounds so sugary-sweet! It sounds like "Look at us! Look at how perfect our life is!" There's enough of that sentiment in the blogging and Pinterest world these days. I hate to contribute more to it. 

There are two things I want to share related to our sugary-sweet Christmas:
  1. Despite how sugary-sweet our Christmas traditions are, there is lots of stuff that is not perfect about our life! 
  2. I have to implement specific strategies to help keep the stress level down during the holidays. 
With regard to Topic #1: There's lots that is not so sugary-sweet in our lives right now! My job continues to be hard, and I'm struggling to figure out how to balance it with the demands of my family and my relationship with Matt. We are also struggling to coach Henry through tantrums when he doesn't get his way and even hitting and kicking behavior. 

With regard to Topic #2: So many of our Christmas traditions are things we just repeat every year, so I'm not stressed about scouring the internet to look for new ideas. For example, when I hung up our Holiday Countdown, I flipped through the cards to see what supplies we would need on hand in order to execute all the projects. Then I placed, a single order on Amazon for everything all at once. I also keep a special "Christmas List" within our meal planning system, so that when Christmas rolls around I can add those things to our general shopping list. It helps that I'm not making any special trips or scrambling to get supplies. 

I better stop here before I ramble on for hundreds of more words!

Join us for the upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course! We'll be reflecting on the kind of family we are and the kind of family we want to become. Learn more...Register now!

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The 20-Degree Challenge

Matt and I have been trying to use our air-conditioning and heat less often in order to be better on the environment and our wallet. The thing about living in Central Texas is that you can literally go from AC to heat (and back again) in the span of a week. Oddly enough, it's not often the perfect temperature to have nothing on and the windows open. 

Matt and I have been trying to stretch what feels right in our home but undertaking the "20-Degree Challenge." We are trying not to turn on the air-conditioning until it gets hotter than 80-degrees in our house and trying not to turn on the heat until it gets lower than 60-degrees in the house. 

We've been doing this challenge for about a month, and so far it's working out well. The challenge has illuminated just how bad some of our habits used to be. For example, when it got hot in our home, we would immediately lower the thermostat, versus turning on a fan or removing extra clothing. For example, Matt has a habit of wearing long-sleeve shirts even in the summer (since so many commercial spaces are over-air-conditioned). When I get cold, it's easy for me to turn up the thermostat versus just putting on more layers, using a blanket, and sipping hot liquids. 

I honestly think the 60-degree low might be too difficult for me. So far, it's only dropped to 63 degrees during the day, and that felt like freezing. We might have to modify it to the 17-Degree Challenge. 

We'll see! 

At what temperatures do you typically turn on your AC or heat? 

Join us for the upcoming Purposeful Parenthood course! We'll be reflecting on the kind of family we are and the kind of family we want to become. Learn more...Register now!

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Enroll Now: My Online Parenting Class

Friends! I am ecstatic to announce that I have finally finished creating my online parenting class: Purposeful Parenthood! It's a little embarrassing that it took me three years to finish, but it's done! I am so eager to begin. The first course will start on Monday, January 11, 2016. Do you want to join us? You can register here.

I'm so thankful that I had a little extra time this Thanksgiving to finally finish it. So much of the course was already done, but it was difficult to remember what I had already said. It was much harder to finish a course over three years than it would have been to knock it out in one solid week. Oh well--lesson learned! 

Over the course of four weeks, we will explore four different themes: 
  1. Vision: Starting with the End in Mind
  2. Environment: Preparing Our Space
  3. Time: Life Rhythms 
  4. Connection: Better Together
At the start of the week, you will receive instructions about the Purposeful Parenthood Challenge for that week. For example, the challenge for the first week is to create a Family Mission Statement. The second week we will be selecting an area of our home to update in a family-friendly way. The third week we will be thinking about our ideal schedules and the kinds of rituals we want to incorporate into our lives. Finally, we will be focusing on our partnerships and how to strengthen them in ways that build a strong foundation for our families.

Each day, a new lesson will be uploaded that relates to completing the challenge for the week. Daily lessons include experiences like reflection prompts, templates to help you tease out your thoughts, inspiration, etc. You can connect with others in the online community forum on a daily basis for support, to share ideas, or to ask questions. The following Monday, we will share the results of our challenges from the previous week via the online community. On Tuesday, we will begin the process again for the new week's challenge. 

I've been itching to transform pieces of our home. Every time I think of something I want to do, I think, "If only Purposeful Parenthood were up and running and I could undertake this project within a community!" There's something so powerfully motivating about having an extra layer of accountability and support. I'm also eager to reflect on our family vision, continue to evolve our schedule and rituals, and generate next steps for strengthening my partnership and my support network. 

I hope you'll join us! You can find out more information by reading the Course Overview or About the Author. And here's the link to the Registration Page.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Spring Break Planning

As I've mentioned, I'm a huge fan of the podcast Matrimoney. It's all about how Kelsey and Chris (and their two young boys) structure their lives so that they can attain their lofty financial goals. I like it so much because I money is very interesting to me. I think it's easy to be unintentional with your money and to spend your entire paycheck every month. I also think it's possible to take that same paycheck and be intentional with it, such that you are able to set aside some of it for something bigger. And over time, a little bit each month can add up to a lot. 

Kelsey and Chris are busy saving up to pay off their mortgage in about five years, so that Kelsey can have more flexibility with her career. More flexibility will give her more time to pursue her interesting projects and give her more time to travel to Austin to be near her family. 

It's such a fascinating case study about what each of us should do to find the life that feels right to us. For Matt and me, we are fine keeping two full-time jobs, but we want to save up to travel frequently during the year. Since we started this plan, we've gone to San Diego, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and Portland and Seattle. It's so fun to think about the school year being punctuated by a Fall Break, Winter Break, Spring Break, and Summer Break. 

So it's time to plan Spring Break. The thing about traveling so much is it takes pressure off from feeling like we need to pick the perfect place. We just need to pick an interesting place. We were originally going to rent an RV and travel to Big Bend, but our three-hour drive from Seattle to Portland reiterated that we didn't want something with a super-long car ride. We thought about Steamboat, CO, but I didn't want something with just snow. 

So Flagstaff, Arizona, it is! Here are some of the things I hope we'll do in and around the area:
  • Lowell Observatory
  • Museum of Northern Arizona
  • Lava River Cave
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Railroad District
  • Grand Canyon
  • Pioneer Museum
  • Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting
  • Musical Instrument Museum
Because I love planning, vacations are double the fun. I get to have a ton of fun planning the trip in the months leading up to it, and then I actually get to go on it!

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Henry's Christmas Gift

The magic of Christmas is upon us. The excitement is palpable around these parts. Even little Tate can explain, "After Thanksgiving, we are going to get our Christmas tree!" 

We've pulled out our seasonal fall and Thanksgiving books (I forgot to take out the Halloween books this year!), and I'm eager to start our holiday countdown experiences this year. 

My hope for our family is that the entire month of December will feel magical, not just Christmas morning. That's part of why we don't go crazy on Christmas morning with presents. 

This year we are getting Henry one big present: a subscription to a Kiwi Crate. A box will arrive each month filled with science and art activities.  

He may be underwhelmed by opening the first box (alongside all the flashier gifts from other family members) but he will love that it arrives in the mail (address to him, no less!) every single month. He loves mail, and he loves doing new things. 

I'm excited to watch him open them every month!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Big Adventures

Matt was out of town this past weekend, and I decided that the boys and I needed to have a big adventure in order to make the time pass quickly. On a whim, I texted one of my friends in Dallas to see if we could come for a visit. She was game! So Saturday morning, we made bread for our school's potluck, hung out at the school for a little over an hour, and then hit the road for Dallas. We arrived around 4pm. 

Matt and I tend to be homebodies, so trekking to a distant city to stay with friends isn't something we normally do. But it was so much fun. We didn't even do anything adventurous! On Saturday afternoon and evening, we watched the children play together (they have a 2nd grader) and we ate a delicious homecooked meal. Sunday morning, we ate Swedish pancakes and walked to the park. The boys and I left around lunch time. 

As I type out the details, I realize how mundane it all sounds, but it was magical. The boys had a grand time. And it was so fun to reconnect with old friends in the comfort of their home. I need to do this kind of thing more often!

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Montessori Bread Recipe

I remember reading an article one time that was written by a mother who was committed to teaching her teenage son how to cook and do laundry before he went off to college. While I wholeheartedly agree that young adults should be prepared to take care of themselves, I believe that teaching independence, self care, and care of others should start much, much younger. In the Montessori tradition, these "Practice Life" activities start around 18 months of age. 

Children learn so much from engaging in Practical Life activities. They build their focus and concentration, strengthen their fine- and gross-motor skills, learn how to hold multi-step directions in their heads, and--most importantly--build a deep, internal sense of confidence that is attached to their own sense of competence.

Henry was so proud of making a loaf of bread from scratch. And it was delicious! We used Kylie's recipe from the book we co-authored called Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way. What a brilliant recipe, Kylie! It was so easy and delicious. Henry is learning how to follow the recipes by looking at the pictures. 

  • 1.5 c of warm water
  • 1.5 T dried yeast
  • 4 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1.5 t salt
  • Add yeast and honey to warm water
  • Mix to dissolve and set aside
  • Measure and add flour to bowl
  • Add salt to bowl
  • Mix
  • Make a well in the center of the bowl
  • Add oil
  • Add warm water, honey, and yeast mixture to bowl
  • Mix well until the dough forms a ball
  • Flour the counter (or work surface)
  • Place dough on floured surface and knead for approximately five minutes
  • Add dough to bowl
  • Cover bowl with a warm towel and leave in a warm place
  • Set timer for 20 minutes and check dough until it has doubled in size
  • Remove risen dough from bowl and briefly knead the dough
  • Shape the dough into a loaf
  • Place the dough on a baking tray
  • Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees
  • Allow to cool and serve

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How to Self-Publish a Book

I am a sucker for dreaming big and dwelling in possibility. Our lives are so short! I have pushed myself to dream big (and be plenty scared and insecure) many times while taking a year-long sabbatical to travel by myself, planning a $2,000 wedding when everyone thought it was tacky, publishing a book about our tacky wedding, self-publishing another book with some awesome gals, building a house, starting a school.   

So when I got an e-mail from one of my internet friends with an opportunity to interview another woman who dreams big, I jumped at the chance. 

Everyone, meet Gena! Gena had the audacity to publish her own children's book, and I invited her here to share her story with us. Enjoy!

1. Gena, what was your inspiration when creating The Rainbow’s Journey?
  • I’ve been obsessed with rainbows since a very young age, so creating a rainbow themed book felt like a really natural concept to me. One of my earliest memories is being awoken from a preschool nap so that I could get up and see a rainbow outside. My parents printed my birth announcement on rainbow stationery, and don’t get me started on Rainbow Brite! 

2. When did you begin to assemble the images and poetry that make up the book? 
  • A few years ago I took a break from my job as an art teacher. My husband (then boyfriend), Brad, and I traveled throughout Asia for a year. About half-way through the trip we were on an ayurvedic retreat in India. I was sitting down sifting through my photographs when I realized they were almost all monochromatic. Seen as a collection, the images were a rainbow. We spent the rest of that day organizing images by color and Brad began writing the poetry to accompany them immediately. It’s been a lifelong dream to create a children’s book, but we definitely didn’t set out to do that while we were in Asia. Making this book wasn’t a conscious decision; it had momentum of its own. Inspiration hit and in under two weeks the rough draft was done! 
3. It’s quite a journey to leave your secure job and then create a children’s book. What inspired you? 
  • I decided to leave the stability of my job and my life in the Bay Area because I was craving challenge and the personal growth that comes from that. We had just lost a close family member at a very young age and we suddenly knew we needed to embrace our lives and live them to the fullest. Traveling in Asia definitely felt like a daring opportunity, and anyone who has traveled there for a year will tell you it’s not a vacation! There was food poisoning and language barriers and a lot of missing home. Facing the obstacles of getting the book published felt like a natural continuation of the journey we embarked on in Asia. Some people thought it was crazy to leave stable jobs to travel for a year, and the same people thought it was crazy to try to publish a book. Most people would say I’m a pretty normal person, but every once and awhile, I like to do crazy!

4. What were the most challenging aspects of completing The Rainbow’s Journey
  • The most challenging part of the creative process began when we returned to the U.S. and realized how difficult it is to get a children’s book published! Especially one that strays so far from the typical layout and content of most children’s books. Our story relies on photography, not illustration. The accompanying poems are complex and rich in detail and often incorporate the many languages we encountered on our trip. We talk about colors like chartreuse and saffron, and rhyme with words like the Indonesian “batik.” A book agent I spoke with told me “If Barnes and Noble doesn’t immediately know what shelf to stock it on, they won’t buy it.” Essentially the book was too niche to appeal to large publishers and no one would touch it. I considered taking the advice of many “experts” and re-working the entire layout and format to make it more marketable, but in the end, we decided to stay true to our vision and find a more authentic way to share it with the world. 

5. How did you publish the book? 
  • Ultimately, we chose to self-publish and raised the money through a crowd-funding campaign. Kickstarter had just established itself as a successful crowd-funding platform and it was serendipitous timing. The ability to self-publish The Rainbow’s Journey with this amazing resource was a game-changer. I am so grateful to all our friends and family who supported us through the process. 

6. What new skills did you learn completing this project? 
  • One important skill was learning to let go of some creative control to collaborate with other trusted artists. I had initially planned to do all the graphic design and typography on my own. I also had to figure out how to take this finished product and get it out in the world. 

7. What advice do you have for others with audacious goals?
  • If you don’t believe in your goal wholeheartedly, there will probably come a time when it’s not worth the effort and energy to continue trying to accomplish it. Find the people in your life who are bold risk-takers and lean on them. Embrace the discomfort of trying something new. At the time, publishing this book was the most bold and intimidating thing I’d ever done (second now to having a child). The strength and determination I cultivated to succeed in that effort have propelled me into many more adventures since!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Another Easy DIY Baby Quilt

I made another easy DIY baby quilt. I love breaking quilting rules in ways that make a project much quicker and easier.

For this project, I:
  • Decided on the ultimate size of the quilt (36" x 36").
  • I cut strips of fabric at various widths using a mat and a rotary cutter.
  • I ironed the strips.
  • I sewed the strips together (ironing down the seams between each addition).
  • Once the quilt top was ready, I placed it right side to right side with the fleece bottom and sewed it almost completely shut.
  • At the end I flipped it inside out and sewed the last bit closed. 
These quilts are so quick and satisfying!

Here's one I made for a friend and Tate.

And the one I made for baby Henry (when he was in utero and we were calling him "Coconut".

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Cheap Massages

I've been going to regular physical therapy appointments to overcome my lower back pain, and my physical therapist recommended that everyone get massages at least once a month. Love it! 

But then I remembered that we are tightening our belts and sticking to our budget so that we can continue to save money. 

So I did some searching on Yelp and found a massage school that offers $35 hour-long massages (and you are prohibited from tipping, so it really is only $35). 

I booked an appointment right away. 

I have to say that you kind of get what you pay for. It was good, but not great. And I hate the unpredictability of not knowing who it's going to be every month and whether or not it's going to be good. 

I might try out Massage Envy next month. Massages are $59.99, so I could pay about $70 with tip. That would be an extra $420 per year (more than the massage school). If I could see the same massage therapist every time, that might be worth it. 

Or there's an independent massage therapist who offers three massages for $201 ($67/each), which would be about $540 more than the cheap massage school per year. Reading the reviews is pretty compelling. 

Choices, choices!

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Monday, November 2, 2015

How to Resurrect Trick-or-Treating in Your Neighborhood

This Halloween we hosted our third annual neighborhood party. We buy inexpensive pizza, chop up some fruit, set out some water and Italian sodas, and bring some of the boys' toys outside. We gather for about an hour in the driveway and on the front porch to play and eat. Then we go trick-or-treating as a group. 

This year, we set out:
  • An easel with crayons and paper
  • Two bean bags with a hopscotch drawn on the sidewalk
  • A ring toss game
  • Trains and tracks to build with
  • Large legos to build with
Three Halloweens ago, we had just moved into our new house in a neighborhood that didn't have much trick-or-treating. I wrote this post wondering about how to revive trick-or-treating

This year, it was so fun to look at how many friends and neighbors we were able to gather together. Some folks we only see once a year, and it's great to see the additions to their families and the children growing bigger every year. It was fun to think back on our first party when Tate was only four months-old and dressed like a strongman to go along with our family circus theme. 

I remember how insecure I felt about hosting that first party. What if no one came? What if no one opened their doors when we came around to trick-or-treat? I'm so glad I pushed through the insecurity and just did it anyway.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The End of Toilet Paper?

Listening to Kelsey and Chris's podcast, Matrimoney, is introducing all sorts of new ideas and goals into my life around money. But it's also getting me interested in the idea of eliminating toilet paper from our master bathroom. 

Yes, seriously!

On the podcast, they talk about using the diaper sprayer attached to their toilet to clean their private areas before using a resusable baby wipe (the kind made out of fabric) to pat dry. Then they went on to get a bidet for their bathroom.

I am always looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact, and I'm interested in exploring this idea. Kelsey, what kind of bidet did you get? 

This article explains that bidets are actually gaining popularity in the U.S. So interesting!

I'm considering this $27 attachment. It sounds crazy--even to me--but it's worth exploring!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We Need to Save More Money

I know my topics keep repeating themselves:
  • We need to tighten up the reigns with our money.  
  • Motherhood is hard!
  • I need to recommit to healthier habits.
But that's the thing about life, right? It's always a work in progress. I find that in Western culture we tend to be very goal-oriented, and yet many of the most important things have nothing to do with achieving a goal and being done. 

Take muscle flexibility as an example. Being flexible is an important part of keeping our bodies in optimal health. And yet flexibility is not just something you can achieve and move on from. You have to maintain it. 

It's the same with money. 

I wrote this post about everything I needed to do (and I was really excited to do it!). And then I didn't do it. I made Halloween costumes. I made a baby blanket for my cousin's imminent baby. I went on vacation. 

And then we were barreling toward November and I was very far away from where I had hoped to be by the beginning of October. 

Luckily, I started listening to Podcasts. I'm not much of a Podcast person. My commute to work is 1.9 miles. When I'm cooking dinner, I am also usually playing with children or giving them instructions about how to help with dinner. When I do have time to relax in the evening, I would rather read something or watch something as opposed to just listen to it. 

Enter back pain. 

My physical therapy exercises now mean I have about 40 minutes a day of exercises that I need to do. I started listening to my friend's blog: Matrimoney. I talk a lot about Kelsey around these parts. Kelsey and I met because of this blog, and I am a regular reader of her blog. Now that I listen to her Podcast, I am convinced that I want to marry her (and her husband, Chris). They are hilarious and smart. And they inspire me to do more with our finances (as well as other things, like becoming a toilet paper-free household). 

So, I'm back on track! I took a couple hours to go back to our budget. I forced myself to go line by line to make adjustments. I checked our budget against our bank statement to make sure that we aren't projected to spend less than we actually spend on things that we have little control over. For example, the cost of our car insurance goes up every year, so I have to make sure to adjust it. 

I'm also horribly embarrassed to admit that I found a completely unnecessary recurring payment that was going to Care.com every month. Ugh! I canceled it right away.

Then I made sure that our income balanced out perfectly with our expenses + our savings goals. 

Then I went into Mint.com and readjusted some of our budget goals. 

Then I sat down with Matt to get on the same page about how we are hemorrhaging money and what we should do about it (more on that later). 

I am feeling so good! 

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Monday, October 26, 2015

I Threaten My Children Too Much

I have to confess that I get nervous about parenting trends. I feel like every couple of decades the pendulum swings and a new way of raising children becomes popular. The problem is that we don't get any empirical data about the methods that are currently popular until decades later when children become adults. (Case in point: it was fascinating to read the background on Dr. Spock whose parenting philosophy was linked to the rebelliousness/permissiveness/activism of the sixties and seventies.)

We are now seeing that the helicopter parenting trend led to a generation of college students who hadn't developed the resilience they need to navigate the world in an optimal way. It's unclear what the long-term impact of attachment parenting will be.  

Despite my skepticism about parenting trends, I am constantly trying to figure out the right path for our family. I recently attended a parenting class at the Austin Children's Guidance Center about how to gain cooperation from our children. 

They started with an overview of parenting styles that really does resonate with me. It's about the spectrum from Authoritarian parenting on one side (demanding but not responsive) to Permissive Parenting on the other side (responsive but not demanding). Authoritative parenting is in the middle. It is both responsive and demanding. Here's how Wikipedia explains it:

Authoritative parenting is characterized by a child-centered approach that holds high expectations of maturity. Authoritative parents can understand how their children are feeling and teach them how to regulate their feelings. Even with high expectations of maturity, authoritative parents are usually forgiving of any possible shortcomings. [27] They often help their children to find appropriate outlets to solve problems. Authoritative parents encourage children to be independent but still place limits on their actions.[24] Extensive verbal give-and-take is not refused, and parents try to be warm and nurturing toward the child.[24] Authoritative parents are not usually as controlling as authoritarian parents, allowing the child to explore more freely, thus having them make their own decisions based upon their own reasoning. Often, authoritative parents produce children who are more independent and self-reliant.[28] An authoritative parenting style mainly results when there is high parental responsiveness and high parental demands.[29]

Authoritative parents will set clear standards for their children, monitor the limits that they set, and also allow children to develop autonomy. They also expect mature, independent, and age-appropriate behavior of children. Punishments for misbehavior are measured and consistent, not arbitrary or violent. Often behaviors are not punished but the natural consequences of the child's actions are explored and discussed -allowing the child to see that the behavior is inappropriate and not to be repeated, rather than not repeated to merely avoid adverse consequences.[24] Authoritative parents set limits and demand maturity. They also tend to give more positive encouragement at the right places. [30] However, when punishing a child, the parent will explain his or her motive for their punishment. Children are more likely to respond to authoritative parenting punishment because it is reasonable and fair[citation needed]. A child knows why they are being punished because an authoritative parent makes the reasons known. As a result, children of authoritative parents are more likely to be successful, well liked by those around them, generous and capable of self-determination.[31]

The struggle I have is how to uphold high expectations and limits without slipping over to the Authoritarian side. During the workshop, she listed all the ineffective strategies we use in order to obtain cooperation from children, such as threatening them. She then listed out strategies that are more effective in the long-term, such as giving more information about why something is not acceptable, offering choices, turning the situation into something more playful, etc.

I have to confess that the list of effective strategies felt really wishy-washy to me and it felt like I could easily work through the whole list of them without achieving cooperation and instead leave my children with the impression that I was pleading with them to make a good choice (which is something the presented said was bad). 

However, I gave the strategies a try this weekend. Tate was in his room banging on the window, and I approached it by giving him information: "Tate, if we bang on the windows, they could break and cut our hands. The glass could make our hands bleed." It stopped him for a second, but then he continued. Matt came in and clarified what was going on. Tate had dumped out all his legos and Matt had "threatened" him by saying, "If you don't pick up your legos, you aren't going to be able to eat pancakes with us." Then Matt tried to get cooperation in our typical way by saying, "Tate, you need to pick up your legos." Tate simply responded with "No!" I tried some of my new strategies: "Tate, we need to pick up the legos so that Danger [the pig] doesn't eat them. Do you need a little help to get started?" Matt and I then started picking up the legos. Tate still wasn't helping. Then I said, "Let's make it a game." I started singing, "Lego! Lego! Plop!" as I tossed it into the box. Tate then got excited and proceeded to sing the song and pick up all the legos. 

Afterwards, it felt like a win-win for our family. The task was completed (so the high expectation was upheld) and the mood was positive. 

As I write all of this out, there's still a part of me that thinks, "If I ask my child to do something that needs to be done, they should just do it." But then I think about how quickly that can turn into threats and a power struggle. It becomes me exerting my power over them, which essentially just teaches them that if they want to get someone else to do something in the world, they should exert power over them. 

So I'm going to give these new strategies a try. I'm going to ensure 100% cooperation (high-expectations) but try to get there through more positive, fun, and matter-of-fact ways. 

The other thing I want to do is sit down with Matt and clarify what our expectations are. I think we need to be 100% insistent about what kind of boundaries we set around the house. We try to set as few boundaries as possible, but when we do have them, we need to both be on the same page about enforcing them. I'm looking forward to it!

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My Health & Wellness Plan

After giving birth to my last child two years ago, I am ready to get my body back on track to support a lifetime of health. I've been doing well with my green smoothies for breakfast, salads for dinner, and finally scheduling appointments with a physical therapist to get my back on track. 

My next goal is to figure out healthier dinners. As a vegetarian, it's really easy to default to unhealthy foods: pasta, cheese, bread--oh, my! If I were a meat-eater, I would cook grilled chicken and a vegetable almost every night. As a vegetarian, I eat way too many carbs.

A quick search led to the concept of "clean" eating. It's a 21-day cleanse with a smoothie for breakfast, a gluten- and dairy-free meal for lunch, and a soup for dinner. I decided to see if the women in my family (my mom, my aunt, and my two cousins) would be interested in taking on this challenge with me. They all agreed! 

Right after Christmas (December 26, to be exact), we are going to start the cleanse together. We are also going to work through a series of exercises to uncover and address the roots of emotional eating from the book called: Stop Eating Your Heart Out

I'm really excited!

In the meantime, I am going to slowly start replacing our 30-or-so go-to meals with 30 clean recipes. This week, we are going to try:
  1. Budda bowls
  2. Sushi bowls
  3. Mexican salad
  4. Cauliflower and chickpeas
As a reminder, here's how I do my meal planning. If I can identify (slowly, over time) 30 new recipes that can be my go-to meals, my family and I will be on a pathway toward better health.

Looking forward to it! 

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Letter to My Body

Dearest Body,

I have much to apologize for, and I hope that you will find it in your heart to forgive me.

I have taken so much from you in the past 4.5 years without giving much in return. Now that I am finally doing some strengthening exercises, I feel that this is exactly what you have needed all along. You needed me to rebuild my core after Henry and then again after Tate. I skipped straight to running (sporadically) instead. The most I did to strengthen my core was get a really good deal on Momma Strong and then proceed to get overwhelmed by the length of the postpartum sessions.

You helped me birth two healthy babies and you keep up with my demanding schedule. You have so few complaints.

I am so grateful for you and want to work hard not to take advantage of you again. Your capacity is limited, and I want to do my part to support and extend that capacity.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Why Having Children (and a Full-Time Job) Ruins Your Life

I'm being cheeky, but it's kind of true. Going from one child to two (28 months apart) and going from part-time work to full-time work has been so, so hard. I get nostalgic for the person I used to be. I know lots of people who say, "Having kids doesn't have to change you!" For me, it's been easier said than done. 

I've been under so much stress that I've retreated into self-preservation mode. I'm less generous, less nurturing, less giving, less creative, less fun. 

Oy, it's painful to write all of that out! 

Of course I'm generous and nurturing and giving toward my children. That's part of why I'm in self-preservation mode. But even that isn't enough. I'm giving them my oxygen mask, but they see me suffocating. 

But it's not all doomsday around here! I'm on the upswing, which is why all of this feels so much clearer to me. 

Our Fall Break was really good for me. I had so much fun making our Halloween costumes and getting into crafting again. I used to make interesting things much more frequently, and it energizes me. I also found an awesome online parenting class that is giving me good insight into how to be more present for my children in order to help them feel more connected. I started physical therapy for my back, and I found a book focused on healthy eating that I want to try out in the next couple months.

I absolutely don't regret having two children, and I don't regret having them so close together. I just have to name out loud how hard it has been. I have absolute forgiveness for not being the best version of my self these past two years, and I'm grateful that I have a clear path for getting back on track!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Plan for Holiday Cards

During our recent vacation, I watched the movie About Alex. It ignited in me a fierce commitment to stay better connected to the people who have formed the patchwork of my existence.

When I was in my twenties (and a much cooler person than I am now), I used to send out monthly Friends & Family updates via e-mail. I would share the highs and lows of what was going on in my life. They were a great way to stay connected with folks from all over the world.

Over time, I fell out of the habit of sending them. I was writing a lot about my life via this blog, and I was also using Facebook to update people. However, social media isn't the same. Sending out pithy updates (that may or may not show up in someone's news feed) doesn't really help me maintain a truly strong connection.

Although I'm not interested in returning to monthly updates, I do think a yearly update makes sense. Since it's going to be a yearly thing, I think it makes sense to send it out as a holiday card. I searched Etsy and found a variety of options:
The idea is that we would use instagram photos on the front and my letter would be on the back (those would be for my friends--Matt could send his own version to his friends). I'm going to have them printed via Costco in order to reduce the costs. I was compelled by reading this review of their service.

I'm not sure which one I'm going to choose yet (we'll definitely customize it to say Happy Holidays or Happy New Year rather than Merry Christmas out of respect for different people). As soon as our Halloween costumes are made, I'm going to start working on these cards. The last thing I want is more stress around the holidays!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

DIY Easy Knit Kid's Winter Hat

I can't believe I'm finally feeling the urge to craft again! Hooray!

I really want to make the boys some hats and scarves for winter. I searched Pinterest and was lured by many amazing options (like the one featured below), but in the end, I decided to go with the easiest pattern available: this one

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