How I am trying to love people well

20 February 2017

How are you all feeling about your 2017 goals, if you made some? (My company actually declared last week “Cultivate What Matters Week” because February 15th is statistically the day that the majority of people give up on their yearly goals!) I am feeling pretty good overall. I’m particularly excited about one practice I’ve implemented to help with my second and third focal areas: loving my loved ones well and cultivating a rich life for my family.

monthly-prep-day

If you’re curious about my planner, you can read more about it here!

It’s my monthly prep days! When I thought about what had stopped me in the past from doing kind and fun things for the people I love, it wasn’t a lack of money or time, it was a lack of preparation. This came up over and over again as I filled out my PowerSheets, and eventually led to my word of the year (preparation!).

Starting in January, I’ve designated one day a month my monthly prep day. They’re usually on the last Sunday of the month, and I’ve already put them on my calendar for the rest of the year. I’ve noticed a huge difference in just the two months I’ve tried them so far, and wanted to share! Here’s what I do:

— After June goes to bed, I sit down with a few supplies: my laptop, my planner, my perpetual birthday calendar, and my phone.

— First, I note any birthdays coming up in the next month. If I’m going to send a card, I write the card, address it, and put a stamp on it. If I’m going to get a gift, I decide what it’s going to be and order it (or make a plan to buy it). I also set individual reminders on my phone to call or send a text to each person on his or her birthday.

— Then, I look through my planner and note any upcoming holidays or events. Where appropriate, I decide how we’re going to celebrate, and then make a plan. For example, in February, we had the Super Bowl, the Walking Dead premiere (ha!), Valentine’s Day, the Oscars, my Favorite Things party, and my birthday. Right then and there, I decided what special game day food we were going to make for the Super Bowl, I made a note to buy a Valentine’s Day card for John, I decided what we were going to do for June’s teachers for Valentine’s Day, I made the invite for the Favorite Things party, and more. Not everything gets done that evening, but I try to at least make a plan for anything I can’t do right then.

— I run down some of our normal monthly happenings and consider whether we want to schedule anything for the month: dinner with friends? A date night? A trip to the Museum of Life & Science? Some other sort of adventure? If necessary, I reach out to friends, make a restaurant reservation, etc.

— If a babysitter is required for any event, I text our babysitter and try to get on her calendar.

— Finally, I try to think if there’s anyone that’s been on my heart — someone who’s been celebrating or hurting, or who I just haven’t connected with in a while. If applicable, I take some sort of action there!

All told, my monthly prep usually takes about two hours. I do NOT do it perfectly, it needs to be said. Even with all this forethought, I forget things, I leave things to the last minute, I say the wrong thing or don’t say anything at all when something should be said. But I’m trying! And instituting these prep days has helped me immensely.

The downside? Decision fatigue can set in big time, and John is not always on board to be peppered with questions about what we should do for this or that (which is fair enough, since I’m working on my timeline, not his!).

One final tip: If you see someone celebrating in a way you love and you want to try it yourself, write it down! I have a simple doc on my computer, split into months, where I write down cute or clever ideas I see. Just got a lot for Valentine’s Day 2018 from all the sweet things you guys posted last week :)

I’d love to hear: do you have any systems for thoughtfulness? Or are you just a naturally, spontaneously fun and celebratory person? :)

June’s first birthday

17 February 2017

June’s first birthday fell on a Saturday, a delightful gift from the universe! We spent the actual day just with our family of three, hunkered down for a snow storm that never really arrived and reminiscing throughout the day about what we’d been doing one year before. We surprised her with pancakes and blueberries for breakfast and a gold star balloon tied to her high chair (one per year – a tradition I lifted from my friend Emily!). I also hung a birthday banner that I’m hoping will make an appearance for years to come. (I bought this one, then re-threaded it with a pink ribbon instead of the neon orange one it came with.)

june-birthday-celebrations

She was super into the candle :) For dinner, John and I made our very favorite lasagna recipe, salad, garlic bread, and chocolate lava cakes for the grown-ups – after all, we were celebrating, too!

After June was tucked into her crib with lots of extra kisses, John and I sat down and each wrote her a letter. Then, for some unknown reason, we decided to read them to each other (???), which of course resulted in an ugly cry for both of us. We just feel really grateful to be her parents. We hope to add a letter each year, for her to open maybe on her 18th birthday!

kitty-birthday-party

The following Saturday, we invited a few family and friends over to celebrate again! Our parents made the trip down from Connecticut, Natalie, Joe, and Maisie came from Virginia, and some loved ones from church, our neighborhood, and just life joined us, too. It was not a particularly “Pinterest-y” party, though not for lack of trying, haha! We went with a loose kitty theme, and my favorite project was the pink party hats (though most of the kid guests refused to wear them!).

My most well-planned party this was not. I wanted to try my hand at a naked cake, but didn’t have a clear plan going in and so ended up making way too many layers in all the wrong sizes, stayed up too late, and generally winged it. But, both the cutting cake and June’s little smash cake turned out okay in the end. June took approximately three adult-size bites over the course of twenty minutes, one crumb at a time :)

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My plan for the table was to write and draw with white chalk on a black roll of kraft paper, but I left the paper purchasing until the last minute and so was stuck with shiny wrapping paper that my chalk wouldn’t write on. (One party guest even asked if it was a trash bag, which I just had to laugh about. Generally not good when your decorations are mistaken for trash bags :))

One thing that did go right? All of the photos of June’s first year we strung up throughout our kitchen, dining, and living room. I was inspired by something Sam did for Perry’s first birthday party, and I loved the effect! In fact, we still have a few strands up even now.

Perfect party details or not, we had a lot of fun celebrating our sweet girl! There’s always year two for the smoothly frosted cake and chic details :)

2017 Survey Results: I’m still glad you’re here!

14 February 2017

178 of you took my recent survey, and I’m so grateful! I loved learning more about y’all, and especially hearing more about what you love about Em for Marvelous and why you read. In fact, I think you fired me up for at least another 8 years – so thank you, truly. Many of you asked about seeing survey results, and I agreed it would be fun to share a few. So here we go!

when-did-you-start-reading

Love my four friends from the earliest days! Pretty sure that number includes my Mom and two sisters. The biggest lump of you have been reading for at least a few years, which is neat.

relationship-status

I was a bit surprised by just how many of you are married. Always, always happy to have my non-married folk in the mix, though, too.

age

I’m no statistician, but I believe we’d call this a bell curve! But really, not a statistician – I didn’t realize I gave my 30 and 35 year olds two choices until I was making these graphs. Oh well, you get the idea :)

line-of-work

I sorted the 22 people who chose “other” into one of my categories – nurses, teachers, counselors, journalists, etc. went into traditional, and stay at home moms went into “not currently employed” (no shame in that!). I love that most of you have a “traditional” job, and am glad you are finding some of what you are looking for here.

I was limited to ten questions, but if I had had an eleventh, I would have asked how many of you have kids! Still curious about that…

types-of-posts

The favorite posts numbers roughly broke down into three categories. Personal finance, goals, travel, love and marriage, parenting, life updates, and deep thoughts were across-the-board popular. And the finance posts, wow! I was a bit surprised to see that they were the most beloved, but I suppose I shouldn’t be. It’s obviously something I’m passionate about, and I guess that’s a bit contagious. It’s also one of my more unique offerings. Regardless, I’m so glad you love them, and since you do, I’m going to do my best to make sure I write at least one a month going forward.

Bringing up the rear were spotlights, Triangle features, and wedding things. Not terribly surprising, and I’m also reminding myself that just because y’all didn’t mark them as favorites doesn’t mean you don’t like them – in fact, many people brought up the spotlights as being very helpful when answering my next question.

Which brings us to… open-ended feedback! To a number, every single person wrote something sweet here, and I truly treasured each comment. I was actually kind of like, where’s the constructive criticism?! But I’m not going to complain :) You guys are just the best. Here are a few selected quotes from what you love and don’t love to read:

— “We visited my aunt in Beaufort and rather than staying at a traditional hotel we stayed at the hotel you recommended. I would have never taken the chance if I didn’t read your review.” Some of my FAVORITE comments were when you told me you took action on something you learned through EFM, whether related to travel, finance, a wedding reading, or a purchase.

— “Your interviews with great moms were some of my favorites!!” Marvelous Mama came up over and over again! I do plan to continue this series off and on, and have a few more pending from the first batch that I’m hoping to get up soon.

— “I can’t wait to see those Triangle guides!” Bless this person’s heart. I just had to laugh when I came across this response. Whenever they get posted, the Triangle guides and our wills will go down as the most long-suffering posts in EFM history.

— “I think you have a real gift for simplifying complex topics like budgeting and marriage! I love your thoughtful posts on “why” or “how” you live your life – I think it elevates the idea of living by your values and helps me think about my own values.” I wanted to hug this person! At my best, I think my posts equip you and help you feel confident, and the best way I know how to do that is to walk you through my thought processes.

Next, a few things came up over and over again in response to “why do you read Em for Marvelous?” The most common:

— authentic, honest, and genuine
— real life and relatable
— cheerful and positive
— practical and helpful
— good writing and grammar (ha!)
— wide range of topics
— you care about me and like following my family’s story

And something SO many people said: “I feel like we would be friends in real life!” Yes, I wholeheartedly believe that we would. Probably because you’re all so nice!! Seriously.

Finally, y’all put me in some great blog company. Ladies that came up over and over: Call Me Callie, Cup of Jo, Emily Ley, Lara Casey, Nancy Ray, Something Pretty, Southern Weddings, and Victoria Strader. Also mentioned frequently: Mix and Match Mama, Love Taza, The Small Things, The College Prepster, Smidge of This, Sarah Tucker, Design Darling, Emily Henderson, and Sequins & Stripes.

And that’s a wrap! Thank you again for sharing your thoughts – it truly meant so much to me. I hope you found this interesting, and please always remember how glad I am you’re here!

Choosing my Warby Parker sunglasses

10 February 2017

So y’all have been very kind in my survey, saying all sorts of nice things. A few of you even mentioned that you like my style and are hoping for more fashion and beauty-related posts. Well, you may reconsider after I let you in on this very embarrassing fact about myself: sometimes, when I’m alone in the car, I wear my sunglasses OVER my regular glasses. (OMGDIDIJUSTADMITTHAT.)

It’s true. A few years ago, after some cornea scarring, my eye doctor switched me to daily contacts, and they are VERY expensive. I usually only wear them on the weekends or for big events, which is totally fine – I like my glasses! But, without prescription sunglasses, I’m left to my own devices while driving.

When I saw that Warby Parker accepts HSA money for prescription sunglasses (through their sponsorship of someone’s newsletter, of all things), and I jumped on that like a hot potato! CLEARLY they’re needed, if only to prevent John dying from embarrassment over his wife’s fashion faux pas. (I’ve got a few more years before June realizes what’s up.)

I ordered five pairs for my home try-on. After ruling one out, I asked for feedback on Instagram yesterday (if you’re reading this post in the morning, the stories should still be available!) The two frontrunners are neck-and-neck, and they happen to be the two I like best, too: no. 2, Laurel, and no. 4, Raglan. Looking at these photos again, I think I know which one will be my final pick.

warby parker sunglasses try on

Any final opinions? I’m going to pop the box back in the mail today and place my order over the weekend!

UPDATE: Thank you so much for voting! I ordered the Raglan (no. 4) and am thrilled to have upgraded my eyewear! :)

A month of meals: winter edition

7 February 2017

Hi, friends! Thank you SO much to everyone who has taken my 2017 survey! I have loved hearing from more than 140 of you so far. The polls are open until Friday (when I’ll draw the $50 gift card winner!), so go leave your feedback here if you haven’t already. Looking forward to sharing some of the results, too!

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to share what we ate in January. It can be hard to get inspired to cook in the winter, when it’s cold and produce is a little lame, so I’m supplying you with 31 options :) A few notes:

— I’ve linked to recipes where I have them, which is most places – we are not the type of cooks who can just throw things together in the kitchen!!
— I’ve marked with an asterisk any recipe we were making for the first time.

Peppercorn-and-Garlic-Roasted-Pork-Tenderloin-8

Photo from Design Mom

Week 1:
Sunday, January 1: homemade ramen (John uses only the ramen noodles from the $.20 packets and adds frozen peas, soy sauce, an egg, cashews, etc.)
Monday, January 2: roasted butternut squash soup, salad, and baguette (Whole30 people, I’m pretty sure this is approved, and it is delicious and so easy!!)*
Tuesday, January 3: burrito bowls (we do quinoa rice, pinto and black beans, sauteed green bell peppers and onions, canned diced green chiles, salsa, and Greek yogurt)
Wednesday, January 4: kielbasa, crispy smashed potatoes with avocado aioli, and salad
Thursday, January 5: chana masala, rice, and naan
Friday, January 6: three pepper pizza and salad (we use Whole Foods dough (in the refrigerated/prepared foods section), jarred sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, and chopped up red bell pepper, poblano pepper, pepperoncinis, and red onion)
Saturday, January 7: lasagna, salad, and garlic bread (the absolute BEST lasagna, in my opinion!)

Week 2:
Sunday, January 8: easy chicken pot pie*
Monday, January 9: leftovers
Tuesday, January 10: leftovers
Wednesday, January 11: chili mac and cheese*
Thursday, January 12: BBQ takeout
Friday, January 13: three pepper pizza and salad
Saturday, January 14: kale sausage chick pea pasta (this is a recipe from our friends the Henrys that has become a staple in our house. I may share it in a separate post sometime because it is delicious!)

Week 3:
Sunday, January 15: sheet pan tenderloin and roasted veggies*
Monday, January 16: taco soup
Tuesday, January 17: Articles Club! Homemade ramen for John
Wednesday, January 18: leftovers
Thursday, January 19: butter chicken, rice, and naan
Friday, January 20: Chick-fil-a :)
Saturday, January 21: veggie burgers and frozen sweet potato fries

Week 4:
Sunday, January 22: zucchini meatballs, Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce, spaghetti, and salad
Monday, January 23: Chipotle (we had meetings at church)
Tuesday, January 24: quesadillas on the grill (we do pinto beans and sauteed peppers and onions)
Wednesday, January 25: pork lettuce wraps
Thursday, January 26: farfalle with pancetta and peas
Friday, January 27: buffalo chicken pizza (we do Whole Foods dough, frozen buffalo chicken, chopped red onion, shredded cheese, and Whole Foods 365 blue cheese sauce) and Asian charred broccoli
Saturday, January 28: Chinese takeout for Lunar New Year!

Week 5:
Sunday, January 29: chicken noodle soup
Monday, January 30: chickpea shawarma pitas
Tuesday, January 31: chicken and broccoli stir fry

If this was helpful, I’d love to do posts for other seasons, since our go-to meals change a lot with the weather! Let me know what you think, and I’d also love to hear if you have a favorite recipe for the winter!

P.S. I wrote a post a few years ago about how we meal plan – considering writing a follow-up since our process has changed a bit!