Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Gifts

I woke up today and realized I only have two days until Valentine’s Day to buy all the gifts for all my people.

Oops.

But that’s why God made Amazon Prime, right? Here are some options for love day, whether you celebrate with your significant other, your gal pals, or your kids.

At least I bought the essentials: candy.


Seventeen years ago, my husband visited Belgium and returned with the best chocolates I’ve eaten (before or since). If you can’t hop a flight to Brussels tonight, ordering online is the next best thing.

I can’t decide if I like these sunnies (why does everyone suddenly call them sunnies?) for myself or for my kids. Maybe I’ll need three pairs. And best of all, when I inevitably step on my pair and break them, I’m out less than $10!

If you’re a budding photog, start small and try out this little lens for, that’s right, your phone!

My husband has been asking me for a QALO ring since he wore out his last one. These silicone rings are perfect for the outdoorsman or sporty dudes who otherwise refuse to wear a ring, probably because they claim they’ll lose a finger or something.


These Essie Nail polishes are giving me all the spring feels and would be great gifts for my girl squad. That is, if we gave one another gifts. Maybe I’ll start next year, friends.

And those gel pens! I might need a set for my daughters…so they will share with me.

If you love board games and don’t own Ticket to Ride – Europe, you’re missing out. I promise.

My husband gave me a set of these sheet masks for Christmas, and I have been loving them. I’m not a fan of the thick jar masks, so these are perfectly refreshing.


We like tea in our house. Enough said.

My daughters received a Shopkins Happy Places Pony after Christmas (exchanged for a Christmas toy that didn’t live). That poor pony never gets any rest for all the Shopkins playing with it. It needs a friend.

I like Carter’s jammies, and I particularly like them when they aren’t so holiday specific, like this set. Because I don’t care if Valentine’s Day is over or not, we’re still going to be wearing them.

My son eats nothing but these food pouches. He will be thrilled with a new installment.


Here’s a few items for the more traditional gift giver, with some champagne gummies and a nod to This Is Us thrown in.

Happy shopping!

Super Bowl Sugar Cookies

Tomorrow is a holiday in my household.

My husband is a Pats fan, and so he has become quite spoiled when it comes to cheering for his team in the Super Bowl. But while he nervously roots for Brady and Co., the rest of us will eat.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law always kill it when it comes to the food setup and our contributions are minimal, but I will always bring my favorite party staple: iced sugar cookies.

Go Pats!
I’m probably not going to open a bakery any time soon, but even if they aren’t beautiful, they are addictively delicious.
The penalty flags in the football cups and the Edison lights are some of my favorite features of this setup.
Because you have to have more than sugar cookies, I guess. Aren’t the tomatoes cute?

I’m no pro baker, but these cookies are always delicious, even if not perfectly executed. My kids love to help in the kitchen, and this is one of their favorite baking projects. We make a simple buttercream frosting and add food coloring to decorate.

What is your must-have for the Super Bowl?

Here’s the link to the recipe (and I recommend rolling the dough out on parchment or waxed paper and not using flour).


 

Overstuffed

I’ve suddenly become painfully aware: I’ve missed a lot of life because of my stuff.

Snow days are for snow angels. And mismatched snow outfits, at least at our house.

This week has been one of snow days for my family. My teacher husband, Matt, and my school-aged girls have all been home, and it has been wonderful. I’ve caught up on laundry for the first time in literally years and the sink is empty, too, a phenomenon I don’t remember experiencing in a while (if ever). And today, we delved into organizing and purging toys and other household items.

Oy.

I told Matt I couldn’t deal with the toy situation any longer because I’m suffering from decision fatigue (which I had to convince him was a real thing). He started sorting and quickly filled two large totes with items to discard, then decided he’d had enough.

This is not my house, but the look is basically what I’m going for! I follow several accounts on Instagram featuring perfect home spaces, not so I can realize how I don’t measure up, but so I can remember my goals. Photo courtesy of pixabay.com.

And the basement, where all things go that I don’t want to deal with in our living and sleeping spots, is still overflowing with stuff.

This feels unbelievable sometimes, because this summer, I hosted or took part in three garage sales and sold boxes and boxes of items. I’ve sold a few dozen items on ebay recently and have donated even more. When my sister moved internationally this fall, I helped her sell her items and also delivered tons of my own to local buyers. So where did all the stuff I don’t even want come from?


Sometimes I’m really not sure, but I do know this: I like clean lines, neat and bright spaces, no clutter. I don’t like piles of magazines, laundry, dishes, toys, or paperwork. I particularly don’t like the management of items taking over my days.

And moreover, this week, while full of accomplishments, was not a relaxing play time with my kids or hanging out with my husband that it could have been thanks to the snow. No, I’ve mostly been frantically sorting all the things and trying to figure out what stays, where it goes, and what leaves.

I plan to update here on the status of my efforts. This purging and organizing what’s left is my biggest goal within my three 90-day goals for a reason: I’m trying to cultivate a more purposeful, simple life. I would like to control my stuff instead of it controlling me.

Leave me a comment and let me know how you manage all the stuff in your home!

 

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2018 Plots and Plans and Things

Last year, I shared my goals for 2017 here on the blog.

As I mentioned then, I like to ease into change as a new year begins, and so I’m just now gathering my thoughts for 2018. I like to read what others have planned and draw inspiration there, too. But I had an extensive list last year that I’d planned to accomplish, and I was pleased to check many items off the list, including these:

  • I successfully cut my soda addiction, replacing it with a hot tea obsession instead (English Breakfast with a splash of milk). I still go for an occasional Dr. Pepper, but I don’t keep soda in the house and I don’t crave it.
  • We went above and beyond on our outdoor living area we had planned to create, thanks to the vision and hard work of my husband.
  • I’ve rid of a ton of unwanted items in my home thanks to three garage sales, online sales, eBay, and donations (and I finally got rid of most of the baby gear)!
  • We took a last-minute summer beach trip (booking the night before we were to leave!) due to an incredible deal we couldn’t pass up.
Beach time is our favorite time.

There were also many failures on the list.  I tried to take on too much and was quickly overwhelmed.  But in the fall, I took a course that I spoke of previously here, and it helped me set actionable 90-day goals. I’ve been aiming to organize and declutter my home for a year now, and with as much progress as I’ve seen, there is much to be done, so it remains at the top of my list.

So here’s what I plan to be up to in 2018.

90-Day Goals

I have three 90-day goals (and I will only ever have a max of three, because that’s all I can handle at once):

  • Clear all the clutter in the basement and have a designated office space and play area.
  • Put in the work to launch (amateur) photography business.
  • Update my blog three times per week.
Admiring his newest creation.

When I read over last year’s list, I noted several smaller items I want to keep: making Chex Mix, continuing the tradition of “Cinnamon Roll Saturday,” fully emptying the garage, establishing more date nights with the husband and game nights with the kids, gathering with friends more often, saving more money and giving more money. I would like to finally organize my photos, spend more time reading, and embark on Operation Inbox Zero (I just removed tabs in gmail and suddenly realize how much email I get; no wonder it’s always full).

But for now, my main focus will be on my three goals from now until the end of March, and then I’ll reassess to see what’s most important. It’s easy to see my progress this way and I don’t lose sight of the finish line.

What do you have planned for 2018? What will keep you on track in your pursuit?


Like Your Life: A Review

I’ve been a fan of The Art of Simple, a website created by one of my favorite authors, Tsh Oxenreider, for many years. I had taken one of her courses previously, “The Essentials,”  which helped me begin to find order in my chaos. Last fall, she opened a new course called “Like Your Life.” It was billed as a class to help the user create a personalized blueprint for living their just-right, simplified life, with Tsh acting as a life coach.

I think I’ve known who I am since I was in high school, but not necessarily how I’ve wanted to spend my days. As my best friend’s favorite author Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days, is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And when I thought about it, I wasn’t sure I was spending my life as I had always intended.

So I looked into the course, and decided immediately that in my broke girl state, I could not afford it. But as I continued to receive emails about the course, I felt a nagging feeling I really should sign up. I went for it, even adding the coordinating Facebook group.

I did not regret it.

I had my journaling workbook printed and bound (but in black and white because I’m cheap), and I will keep that thing forever. It is my blueprint on how I want to live, and I don’t want to forget.

heckyes.me

The course work is in the form of self-paced modules, with five total parts and several small sections in each part. The Facebook group featured weekly office hours with the author herself in which we dialogued with fellow class participants and asked Tsh questions.

In part one, we began assessing what was important to us by writing about what our best day might look like and what we found beautiful, for example, culminating in crafting a personal statement. We then assessed our individual purposes, discussed living holistically, and learned how to say no to the wrong things and yes to the right things in our lives. One of my favorite sections is very pertinent for this time of year: setting good goals. (Look for an upcoming post soon with more about my upcoming goals, and about what I’ve accomplished goal-wise since Like Your Life). The questions in each section were thought-provoking, challenging, and immensely helpful in our journey.

My favorite part was actually the weekly office hours, which I did not expect. Tsh acted as a life coach, and as she spoke, I scribbled down pages of notes. My biggest lightbulb moment came when she spoke about the philosophy of living with less, something in which she is an expert, and she said, “I didn’t want to be a stuff manager.”

I don’t either, and yet, here I am. THAT is how I’ve been spending my days, going to bed exhausted but feeling I’ve only been spinning my wheels. Not spending quality time with my children, despite often being home with them, and schlepping their stuff around instead.


When I completed the course, I had a plan set in motion for how I wanted to tackle the problem areas currently holding me back (starting with eliminating the stuff). I felt as though I had been reminded of parts of me that I had let vanish when I took on the role of motherhood, parts I had missed but hadn’t really realized. I decided to embark on a new career path as soon as I accomplish my other goals, and perhaps most importantly, I realized how my self-doubt has derailed so many other projects I have attempted.

Another huge perk is the Facebook group I joined remained open, so I could continue conversations with my classmates as we went about our own journeys. The course also has lifetime access, so I have returned to some of the lectures for inspiration.

I also should note, the course isn’t cheesy. Although I feel a bit as though I embrace cheese more the older I grow (I’m thinking of that line from “The Holiday,” where Kate Winslet says, “I’m looking for corny in my life,”) I get that not a lot of people have my tolerance level. Fear not; you don’t have to tell anyone you’re good enough or smart enough or well-liked.

In short, I couldn’t recommend it more. If you’d like to sign up, check out my link here: https://heckyes.me/ref/ringojster/

But hurry! The deadline to sign up is coming fast: January 8th is you final chance.

Affiliate links have been used in this post, at no cost to the reader.

The Best Guy

I first remember getting in trouble with him at our baby sitter’s house when we were five. One of the other kids had been drawing pictures of butts, and since the entire group of kids of course giggled about it, we were all punished for the crime.

I knew I liked him in first grade but by fifth the feeling was mutual. We wrote letters back and forth, shared a few long, mostly silent phone calls, and avoided one another at school. When my best friend asked if I wanted to wear his jacket – which I think was a pretty sweet faux leather Jordan number – I asked, “Why? I already have a coat.” He moved on in the sixth grade, but I never really did.

We spent the next four years as friends, until he asked me to Winter Ball our sophomore year of high school. That was almost 18 years ago, and we’ve been inseparable since.

All that history considered, I’m a bit of an expert on my husband, Matt. Since today is his birthday, I thought I’d wax poetic for a moment.

Matt is witty and clever and fun. He likes to quietly observe but is adept at adding the well-timed smart comment. He has the best laugh and uses it often on reruns of The Office or his oldest daughter’s sassy remarks that sound much like his own.

During one of the hardest times we’ve endured together, we made 8-hour round-trips to a specialist several days per week while we both held full-time jobs and other responsibilities. It was exhausting and often hope-crushing, but that’s not really what I remember about that time. I remember Matt making me laugh until I cried, and then he would do the same. I remember him singing loudly to country songs, rapping horribly and belting out power ballads in his little pickup on the road trips. I remember that after we received bad news, we would drive to the all-you-can-eat Italian place and drown our sorrows in pounds of pasta and three lava cakes each.


We were on our first anniversary trip when he took a call from his former coach, who asked him to join the coaching staff at his alma mater. He did so, and officially launched a career in which he’s impacted numerous lives for the better. I can’t tell you how often I’m stopped by former students and asked to pass along news to him. I was in the post office last week when a friend told me he had heard through the grapevine how much the kids love Matt at his current school. A note received from a student on how he inspired her in her future career path brought me to tears (and I’m not a crier, except a laugh crier or an anger crier, thank you very much). He may be your stereotypical teacher/coach in a small, rural school, but that’s where the typecasting stops. He takes his job seriously and is excellent at what he does.

Each year, I live for the holiday season, and a huge part is because Matt will be home and he will take over cooking. He can re-create any fantastic meal we’ve ever had, his homemade noodles and fish dishes being among my favorite. He even built his own homemade grill and smoker over the summer. We are a perfect team in the kitchen: he cooks, I bake. No one wants the dishes. 

Every night he doesn’t have a game, he plays with the kids after dinner, administers medicines, fetches snacks, helps them bathe and dress, brushes teeth, and reads stories to them before they fall asleep. Then he does whatever needs done in the house, preps for work, and hangs out with me. Sometimes I wonder what I’m even doing around here, because I certainly don’t have the laundry caught up.

Following the birth of our firstborn, I was in bad shape and taken into surgery. Matt scooped up our daughter, not certain I would be returning, and forged a bond with her. He gives equal attention to our two youngest as well, and makes it a point to plan special outings with the kids. He is patient and kind, unless you wake him at 4 in the morning. Just don’t do that.

His obsession with the Patriots is perhaps over-the-top (I mean, when our oldest came down with the flu this year on game day and we couldn’t go anywhere, I know he felt bad for her, but he wasn’t disappointed otherwise). He has followed Tom Brady’s career since he was a quarterback at Michigan. This kind of loyalty to what he loves is evident in every facet of his life.

Matt is athletic and also so competitive, and not just in sports. We keep records of who wins Ticket to Ride in the game box, and he likes to brag about his overall record.

In short, he’s the best guy, and I’m lucky I realized it 30 years ago and that he’s agreed to do life with me for the past 14. Happy birthday, husband. I’ll cue up the Frasier episode and have chocolate cake for you when you get home from your game.

Resources for a New Year (and Beyond)

I love reading goal lists from others this time of year while I’m just beginning to formulate my own thoughts and plans for 2018. I also adore good resources to help me be mindful of how I will spend my days, so I wanted to share with you a few things I’m excited to use.

I received this book for Christmas and am already in love.

Each week of the year has its own journaling prompt, such as listing goals and dreams during the first week of the new year and listing favorite places in week 22. There are also weeks that feature more difficult questions, such as naming the trying moments in the past that shaped the future positively.

This book also reminds me of some of the questions I went through during a course I took this fall called “Like Your Life” from one of my favorite writers, Tsh Oxenreider. I was connected to an online community of others working through the same course, and we had weekly office hours with the author herself. We answered several questions designed to help us figure out what matters to us so we could properly decide what we wanted to say yes to, and how to say no to those things that didn’t fit our purposes. And while that’s a simplistic boil-down of the course, each step was challenging and refreshing and helped me uncover lost loves, such as music, and helped me set attainable goals for myself. For me, it was a bit of self care I didn’t realize I needed until I dove in, and I highly recommend. (I’ll add an affiliate link here soon, since a new class is about to enroll!)

Anyway, here’s another book I received:

This one isn’t dated and includes pages to list the things you like about yourself as well as the things you would change, favorite fashion trends, best gifts you’ve received, favorite teachers, and much more.

Do you like journals like these? Share your favorites in the comments!

Affiliate links have been used, opinions always my own.

Christmas Traditions

We’ll watch White Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Elf, and Home Alone.

We’ll bake cookies for Santa, play Bingo for rewards like soap and toilet paper, and gobble up Chex Mix.

We’ll stay up too late, wrapping presents by the glow of the tree, singing along to carols in the background.

We’ll scribble out the Christmas cards and stick on the festive stamps.

We’ll make those last-minute trips to the stores to pick up the items we forgot on all the other trips.

We’ll take in the Christmas Eve candlelight service at our church, welcoming the chance to be still and to ponder the reason for the season.

Sometimes we do these things with great heart and other times, we go through the motions, doing all the things we think we should do to observe the holidays. I recall one particular Christmas Eve morning when we received the news yet another round of fertility treatments had failed. We were crushed. Later that day, we spent time with extended family, small children running everywhere, and it all felt so hollow. But as we continued to go through the motions that year, we slowly started to feel our burdens lighten. So many of the traditions we observed each year had been part of our experiences since childhood, and they brought back welcome memories that forced some of the clouds hanging overhead away.

We know too many people who have lost loved ones this year and they weigh heavy on our hearts during this season. Sometimes, those remembrances of days gone by will be too much for them to bear. Yet, there’s a magic to this time of year that seems to help many of us remember our blessings in spite of our sorrows, to help us remember all we’ve been given instead of all we’ve lost.

The romanticized, idyllic version of Christmas I hold in my head rarely comes to pass, but I will enjoy every moment I can. I’ll sing along with Rosemary and Bing and drink the good coffee and eat pastry while I watch my kids open presents. I’ll pull my favorite board games from the closet and hope someone will join in, and I’ll leave my tree and lights up past December 26, at least until Epiphany. And most of all, I’ll drink in the wonder of the season.

Sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown, who said, “I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess…isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

So I’m grateful for the Linuses, who remind me. “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” said Linus Van Pelt. “’For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” (Luke 2:8-14, KJV)

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” said Linus.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Black Friday

I hosted Thanksgiving for my family this year, and so I failed to update my blog as intended. I have a tried-and-true pie crust technique, holiday ideas and recipes, and more I had planned to share, but it didn’t happen and it isn’t happening today.

This is what we’re doing today. And that outlet by the baby doesn’t look covered, but it is. Full disclosure.

But I do have a few Black Friday deals to share for those of us who don’t brave the crowds but like a deal, complete with affiliate links. And I’m all about Small Business Saturday, by the way, but I also live in the middle of nowhere, so Amazon is a godsend. Without further ado, here we go.

Oh, but first: if you plan to shop online and you don’t have this app, you need it. Ebates is the easiest thing to use. Download, find the store you want, purchase as usual, receive cash back. Get $10 just for getting started! Here’s my referral link:
https://www.ebates.com/r/RINGOJ8?eeid=28187

Perhaps I’m the last human on earth who doesn’t have an Instant Pot, but it is on my Wish List. I’ve alerted my family members to this particular deal on Amazon, especially since I’ve noticed it is sold out on several other sites.

I recently bought Fairy Lights at Big Lots, thinking I had found a good deal. This is way better.

If you have a Kitchen Aid but don’t have one of these, you should. They are amazing. Freeze the bowl, throw in a simple mix of ingredients, and boom, ice cream. No rock salt or anything like that.

Everyone is mad about the Pioneer Woman, so here’s a pretty little bowl set from her line. I’m still crushing on all things Ina Garten, so I’ll be over here dreaming of East Hampton.

We like “Little Lit” books for the kids, and Little Women is one of my faves. Don’t forget the discount code at checkout!

Magna-Tiles are the coolest.

And in case his beard isn’t just for No-Shave November, here ya go.

Vitamix Blenders are apparently the stuff dreams are made of, and they are on sale! Woohoo!

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m on Ebates now, looking at Harry & David, Kohl’s, Toys R Us, and Macy’s. Happy shopping!

When Can I Decorate For Christmas?

Everyone I know shares the same meme in the tenth month of the year: a beautiful scene of fall leaves with the Anne of Green Gables quote, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Courtesy of Pixabay.com

And as much as I agree with the sentiment and think October is beautiful, at least in my neck of the woods where we do experience a true change of seasons, I otherwise hate October. (Don’t gasp, I’ll elaborate in a moment).

So today, on the first day of November, I’m facing a bit of a conundrum.

Christmas is my favorite. Twinkly lights are my favorite. But it is not yet Thanksgiving. And decorating for Christmas and removing all the orange and brown accents from my home feels wrong this early.

But I think I’ve found the answer.

I’m going to put up my Christmas tree and add Thanksgiving décor.

Since I typically have no less than four trees decorated for Christmas, as well as wreaths and tchotchkes all over the house, this isn’t an extreme solution, and just thinking about it has me excited for the coming holidays.

Technically, it doesn’t fit into my current goals of buying only what I need, ridding of what I already own that is no longer useful, and moving toward minimalism.

But look at this pumpkin pie ornament and tell me this isn’t a good idea.

We’ve always waited until the day after Thanksgiving to decorate for Christmas. If you celebrate, when do you decorate?


*Why do I hate October? This one in particular has been filled with illness and loss, but I just generally dislike the month. My husband is a football coach and I am a sports writer, and by October, we are worn out. I pick up both kids every day until football is over, and the trip to get just one child kills an hour of my day. My household projects, which had been progressing in late summer, are once again chaos. My kids love Halloween but it always coincides with either games or deadlines and as a homebody, trick-or-treating stresses me out. I guess I feel about October as most feel about February; it’s when I most notice the loss of summer and freedom and the thrill of a new school year has worn off.