21 January 2015
Well, friends, Christmas has finally wrapped up in the Ayer family! Yes, you read that right. My whole family wasn’t able to gather in December due to work and school schedules, so we declared Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend our celebration. The older I get, the more I understand that it’s not so much about when you celebrate, but the people with whom you celebrate!
The highlight of our weekend, however — beating out opening presents, many rounds of Mexican Train, and chasing my 13-month-old niece — had to be the enormous bonfire we lit in my parents’ backyard. My Dad disassembled the playground he had built 25 years prior and that we had spent thousands of hours playing on, and we sent it off in style with 20+ foot tall flames. It was a sight to see. We even roasted marshmallows in the embers after it had been burning for 12 hours!
Thankfully no neighbors called the fire department. In other news, we are making progress on our foyer! You may remember it from our house tour, when it looked a little empty:
It was sporting our beloved nautical chart, but that was about it. Over time, we hope to add a multicolored vintage rug, replace the light fixture, and add some sort of storage or seating. Many moons ago I came across a particular beauty on esalerugs.com, and fell in love:
I would click over to it multiple times a week for several weeks, until the sad notice popped up that it was being shipped to a (lucky!) client. I continued to look over the options every so often, but never saw something I loved quite as much – until this one appeared!
From my time spent browsing the site, I knew it was the one, and at 50% off, it fit within our budget. I showed John, and miracle of miracles, he immediately agreed! He must have know it was the one, too :) Here’s a peek at it in our house!
It arrived within a few days, and we’ve been super happy with the quality so far! Highly recommended. (And tip: if you’re not buying it at 50% off on this site, you shouldn’t be buying it!)
Now that we have the floor layer in place, I’ve moved on to the next! We’ve been debating whether to add a dresser…
Unknown, Seventh House on the Left, Better Homes & Gardens
a console table…
Young House Love, BHG
or a bench:
House Tweaking, Recently, Design*Sponge
John is leading toward a bench, but I like the idea of having a surface. We’d likely combine either with hooks on the wall and a shoe tray. Here’s a bit of inspiration for either scenario!
Mirror, tufted bench, boot tray, console table, flushmount light, dresser
Which would you choose? Do you have one or the other set-up in your house, and do you like it?
16 January 2015
Despite being on a pretty tight budget, John and I have gone on some amazing trips together. From the first major vacation we took, a road trip to Cumberland Island in Georgia six years ago, to our most recent adventure, a week-long venture to California, we’ve never spent better money than on seeing new parts of the world together. However, we spend a lot of time making sure we’re putting that money to good use, and we’ve picked up some tips for travel planning along the way that I’d love to share!
Budget your vacation days
In 2013, 169 million vacation days were forfeited by American workers! Travesty! We are big (big, BIG!) believers in taking all of your allotted vacation days, but make sure you use them wisely! We’ve found that if we aren’t intentional about planning to take vacation days, and then planning what we’re going to do with those vacation days, vacation doesn’t happen… and we get grumpy.
At the beginning of the year, we parcel out any days we know need to be spent on non-discretionary vaca, like family holidays. Then, we brainstorm where we want to go, how many days each trip will be, and what month would be best for each with what’s left (we use Accuweather to check average temps and rainfall!). For us, it works to take one big week-long trip per year (we hope to alternate domestic and international) and then several weekend trips. Finally, we pull out our calendars and choose dates for each.
Budget your money
Know what’s important to you, and spend your money accordingly! Do you prioritize accommodations? Food? The remoteness of the location? You can go to Charleston and spend $500 or $5,000. You can camp or you can stay in a 5-star hotel. You can eat from a taco stand or from a fine dining establishment. You can charter a day sail or you can hike to the top of a beautiful hill. Some vacations we go all out, and sometimes we stay at Hampton Inns. We usually have an equally great time at both.
Within our vacation budget for the year we set a budget for our big trip, and then parcel out the rest to the weekend or day trips as needed.
Prioritize physical beauty
Even though we reminisce about delicious meals we’ve eaten and sumptuous hotel rooms we’ve stayed in, our most vivid memories are from the beautiful places we’ve visited. There are very few things as soul-expanding as breathtaking vistas, coves, trails, forests, and horizons, and the best part is, they’re usually free!
Do your research
We pound the pavement before we spend one dollar! A few of our favorite resources:
— If a blogger you admire lives in the area you’re visiting, search their blog to see if they’ve written about it, or email them if not! Some of my favorite folks who take lots of trips include Meredith, Joanna, Jamie, Jamie, and Jordan.
— We like national magazines, particularly Travel + Leisure, and also like to ferret out great regional magazines, like Sunset in the West, Our State in North Carolina, Garden & Gun, and Southern Living. The NY Times 36 Hours series and Design*Sponge’s City Guides are also great resources.
— While a lot of pins of beautiful places lead nowhere, searching the location you’re interested in on Pinterest can turn up great blog posts, articles, and sites to see. Same with Flickr.
— Look up the city you’re traveling to on Wikipedia. The climate section can be helpful, and you never know where the listing, photos, or tourism section will lead.
— Plug in your destination on Google Maps – you can see parks and attractions, and click through to find photos and more info.
— Our North Carolina hiking trails book is invaluable for local trips, and we look for similar sources when traveling farther afield.
— John uses TripAdvisor for hotel and activity recommendations and I prefer Yelp for restaurant reviews. It’s easy to get bogged down in crowd-sourced review sites, but we look for themes in the reviews, and then ask ourselves, is that something that would bother us? There will always be negative feedback, but it often isn’t that meaningful. Jetsetter is also a great place to find hotels, and we love Airbnb, too!
Even if we don’t have a trip on the books, I’m constantly adding potential travel ideas to various locations to one of my iPhone notes!
Use Google Docs
For big trips, we like to collect all of the information and ideas we’re gathering in a Google Doc, which we can access anywhere, easily share back and forth, and both add to. I go into a little more detail in my post on planning a point-to-point trip!
Even with all of these tips, I still maintain that some people just have a knack for turning up the most picturesque locations, the most delicious meals, and the most fun activities. Luckily for me, my husband is one of them – I think travel planning is truly his calling! He actually does custom planning for a few lucky clients each year, so if you’d like some help with your own trip or honeymoon, feel free to email me and I will put you in touch!
In case you’re looking for some inspiration, here are a few of our past trips:
Charleston (also here, here, here, and here)
Camping in NC
Nevis (here and here)
Asheville (also here, here, and here)
Beaufort, SC (also here)
Hiking in Boone, NC
Friends, I’d love to hear where you’re traveling this year, or any of your favorite travel resources!
13 January 2015
This year, instead of setting traditional goals, I am practicing a fruit of the spirit each month to move closer to the person I hope to be. I explain more here!
Friends, thanks for all of your kind thoughts and excitement over this project! I’m excited to walk through it with you all, and see where it takes us. I know you’ll have so many insightful things to share! Hopefully I’ll have a few, too :)
And where else to start but love? It’s the bedrock of who we want to be and what we want to have, and it’s the bedrock of what God is about, too. The greatest of these is love! Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind! Love your neighbor as yourself!
But where to begin with such an expansive topic? My mind naturally goes to my husband, but while I can always use improvement, loving him well is already at the forefront of my mind. Same with loving God. Loving my neighbor, though – that’s a different story.
For a long time, I didn’t dwell too much on the second part of the greatest commandment, because it didn’t seem like something I could really do anything about – I supposed I would just wait till I eventually become a better person, and then naturally I would love my neighbor more. And then I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and he rocked my world with this particular quote:
Side note: This was just one of the many lines from this book that significantly altered my thinking and behavior as a Christian. Whether you consider yourself one or not, I CANNOT recommend reading this book strongly enough!
Lightning bolt moment! Like most of Lewis’ wisdom, it was so simple and so clear, and so powerful. It’s not about trying to force yourself to feel something – 9 times out of 10 that will probably not work. (And on the reverse side, just try to hate someone while sincerely doing something nice for him!)
I don’t find myself hating many people, but there are a LOT of people I treat rather indifferently – certainly not as I would if I loved them. So this month, I’m trying two practices. First, I’ve been imagining my family and friends in the people around me. To give you just one example: at church, John and I tend to chat with each other before the service starts. This month, though, I’ve been taking the initiative to chat with the people around us, as if they were my mom and dad and I was delighted to see them. (One of my prayers is that our church community would be a warm and close-knit one, and this has been a good reminder that that starts with me!) It might sound small, but for this introvert, it really feels like stepping out.
Second, I’ve been following Adam Hamilton’s advice and making the famous 1 Corinthians scripture personal. In a sermon, he suggested that we substitute our own name for “love.” So, for example…
Emily is patient and kind; Emily does not envy or boast; Emily is not arrogant or rude. She does not insist on her own way; she is not irritable or resentful; she does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Well that’s challenging, isn’t it?? Emily is certainly not all of those things, all the time. Repeating those phrases every morning, however, has become something of a mantra I can aspire to. Try it! I love how energizing this little exercise is for a beloved but sometimes tired-sounding verse. It helps me remember this: If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
So, friends, I would love to hear: how do you live a loving life? Do you have any suggestions for the rest of us?
P.S. I love y’all!
7 January 2015
Like many of y’all, I use my iPhone for much more than just taking phone calls. Though I only have about ten apps, I get a lot of utility out of them – particularly the humble Notes app. This incredibly simple and incredibly handy widget helps me seem more together than I am and be a more thoughtful person than I would be otherwise. I use it to maintain tons of lists, and I thought it might be helpful to, well, list some of them – maybe it will help any of you out there who have a New Year’s resolution to be more organized? :)
Books to read | Instead of saving torn-out magazine recommendations and scraps of paper, I jot titles down on the go for later reference when I’m at the library or requesting books online. I also try to note the source of the recommendation (friend, Oprah, etc.) to help jog my memory.
Books read in 2015 | It’s fun to keep track, and also helps me balance across the different categories I try to read in – faith, finance, fun, etc.
Gift ideas for John | My husband does NOT make it easy to shop for him – but this way, if he lets something slip, I can jot it down before it slips my mind! I also have another list for gift ideas for everyone else.
Restaurants to try | It might take us months (or years!) to get to some of them, but this way, we’re never without a recommendation.
Travel | John does most of our travel research, but whenever I come across a specific hotel, site, restaurant, etc. I want to share with him, I jot it down. Right now I have ideas for Charleston, Asheville, Savannah, Nashville, Winston-Salem, and Atlanta within this list!
Wardrobe wishes | If, in the morning, I keep thinking of something I wish I had to put on, I add it to this list. Currently: a camel quilted down vest!
Things I’m looking for at the flea market | Or the consignment store, or Goodwill, or wherever else I and inexpensive furniture find ourselves. Currently: an old flag, a dresser for our guest bedroom, tin trays, and cake stands (always).
Home measurements | I note the relevant measurements of any area for which I’m actively looking for furniture or an accent piece. Currently: the height of our couch’s arm, for an end table.
Food preferences | This is my favorite! I use this note to record food likes/dislikes/allergies for our frequent dinner guests. I also write down the treat preferences of friends so that I can surprise them with goodies when the occasion calls for a celebration!
Any other ideas for things I can make lists about? Are you all laughing at my simplistic system because you have a much better one? :) (Spill, if so!)
5 January 2015
Hello, friends! We’ve had a few days to settle into 2015 – how does it feel? For me, I would say this year feels a bit more like a continuation than turning a truly new page. Instead of setting off on a new path, I’m excited to continue the good progress we made in 2014 – in our home, finances, eating habits, fitness routines, and most importantly, in my heart. (More about that in a moment!)
I’m a little less than a year into my 60 Before 30 goal project, and it’s still very much where my focus is. I think if I were to set goals for 2015, they would look a lot like a pared down version of that list. So instead, I’m going to be sticking to the systems I already have in place, using my daily and monthly goals (explained here) to take small steps toward big progress, and my 60 Before 30 list to check off exciting experiences and larger projects.
And I do hope to make some good 60 Before 30 progress this year! Here are a few I’d love to tackle:
— Order an heirloom-quality wedding album for our home
— Fully fund a savings account for our next car purchase
— Host a favorite things party
— Run the Chick-fil-a 5k
— Make a will
— Follow a year-long Bible reading plan with John
— Go to Europe (!)
Side note: Many of you have asked about the reading plan we’re following. We are using the Bible In One Year plan through the free Youversion app. I prefer to read in my actual Bible versus on the phone, but it’s a convenient way to have the day’s readings and devotional at hand!
Even though I am not setting traditional yearly goals, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals in general the past few weeks. My mind kept turning back to the reason why I (and I imagine most of you) set goals in the first place: to help me move closer to the person I want to be and the life I want to lead.
This year, I feel confident that the systems I’ve set up will continue to help me take small steps toward the things that people can see. My deepest desire, however, is to be a better person at the end of this year than I am now. It’s as simple and as difficult as that. There is a distance between the person I am and the person I am called to be, and I want to be more intentional about shortening that space this year.
Which sounds great! But as someone who thrives on check boxes and measurable progress, this sort of goal is a bit of a head-scratcher, and requires a different system. A well-loved verse from Phillippians came to mind as I was pondering what steps I could take:
Think on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things. I have seen and heard and know who I’m supposed to be, so now it’s time for me to practice. Each month, I’m choosing a fruit of the Spirit to think on and practice, and I’ll be sharing the journey here. I’m not exactly sure what this will look like yet, but I’m excited to explore!
Expect to see a post about love sometime this month! If I can claim a little more of each of those fruits at the end of 2015, it will have been a very, very good year.
How about y’all? What do you have planned for 2015? What goal are you most excited about? If you have posted your goals somewhere, please leave a link – I’d love to see!
P.S. Can’t forget about January goals! Here they are:
— Send out invitations for a special baby shower!
— Finish our wedding album design and place the order
— Get into a rhythm with John for our daily Bible reading – figure out the best time for it
— Finish the video for our niece’s first year
— Finish celebrating Christmas with my family in Connecticut!