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.
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? :)
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.)
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!
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 :)
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 :)
5 January 2017
I know I’ve already shared my 2017 goals and am looking ahead to the new year, but before it fades too far in the distance I wanted to share about June’s first Christmas! It was simple and very sweet. Here’s a little peek, if you’d like to see…
On Thursday, December 22, we fed June dinner, gave her her bath, put her in her jams, and then John loaded up the car while I fed her. After that, we popped her in her car seat and hit the road!! I drove north from 9pm to 4am (!), and June only woke up briefly on our one stop for gas. John took over driving for the last leg, from 4 until we arrived at his parents’ house in Connecticut at 6:30am (while I slept in the backseat).
You guys, this COULD NOT have worked out better – I would drive overnight a million times over, especially a baby June’s age. It was completely painless for her, and relatively painless for us — there was no traffic, and no stopping for meals or anything else, so we made fantastic time. The only downside was that because I drank a fair amount of coffee (maybe 8 ounces?) to help stay awake and LITERALLY never drink coffee – the most I had probably ever had before this was a single sip – I felt queasy the following day. Thankfully, by our second day in Connecticut, I was back to normal. Next time, I think I’ll plan to step up and down the caffeine intake a bit more gradually :)
We spent the first four days of our trip with the Thomas side at John’s parents’ house. Everyone was there, meaning eight adults and three kids (2.5, 1.5, and 1). Yes, it was a little crazy, but overall so much fun! John is representative of the whole Thomas clan in that they tend to be low-key and easygoing, so that helps :) We played lots of board games, did a 1000-piece puzzle, went for walks in the neighborhood, pretended we were tigers and seagulls with Wes, sang along with Johnny Guitar (John’s uncle-name!), and ate delicious food made by my mother-in-love.
On Christmas Eve, we went to the candlelight service at John’s childhood church and dressed the cousins in matching jams for bed, then spent Christmas morning opening presents and eating monkey bread. June got lots of clothes, a toy train, books, and some chunky puzzles! The grandparents also held down the fort one night so the siblings and spouses could go see Rogue One in theaters. (Loved it, but I really want to see La La Land!)
Midway through the week we packed up all of our stuff (LOTS of stuff)… then drove it ten minutes across town to my parents’ house and unpacked it all :) We spent the next four days at the Ayer casa. I got to see my parents’ new kitchen renovation (amazing!! Thinking of sharing photos here because it is so beautiful!), plus see extended family at a dinner we hosted and lots of childhood friends and my parents’ friends at a cocktail party one evening. In between, we went for walks, visited Sift in Mystic, ate peanut butter balls, followed June up and down the stairs, and played more board games. We also had a second “Christmas morning,” which my older sister Kate joined via Google Hangout – she and Cormac decided not to travel this year because my newest nephew was born at the very end of September!
On New Year’s Eve we again packed up our stuff and drove about 6.5 hours to Northern Virginia, where Natalie and Joe recently moved. This was the perfect stopover on our drive, and in addition to June getting to check out all of her cousin’s toys, we had a lovely low-key, pajama-clad, takeout-Chinese and Trader-Joe’s-raspberry-tart New Year’s Eve.
We made it home on Sunday with enough time to unpack a bit, go grocery shopping, and generally get ready for a new week. June was SUCH a traveling champ, for which we are so grateful! Time with our families is so precious, and this week did not disappoint.
Since Marget and Seth now live in California, there’s talk of a Cali Christmas in 2017… so June’s second celebration might look very different than her first! :)
Hoping you all had wonderful holidays, as well!!
22 December 2016
I know I made the voting difficult on y’all this year, since I presented the options without our final photos. But you voted valiantly regardless, though I have to feel that that switcheroo threw off the final numbers :) In the end, the buffalo check was the definite favorite, with the illustrated “hark the herald” option coming in a solid second. The one we went with? It got a measly five votes (!), but I think you’ll like it when you see it with the photo we chose…
This is the Bright New Life design by Shiny Penny Studio from the darlings at Minted. Our beautiful photo is by Nancy Ray. (Can’t wait to share more from our session soon!) He has brought us light and life in abundance this year, so this design couldn’t have been more perfect for 2016.
Squeezing all of the good stuff from this past year into our newsletter was certainly a challenge, but one that I gladly accepted! So much sweetness packed into twelve months.
On the back, we found a spot for just a couple of newborn photos (you know I had to!), plus a favorite Christmas scripture and a little room for the traditional Thomas family note.
I hope you love them!!
With that, I’m signing off for a few days while we celebrate the holidays with our beloved family! I am sending you all lots of love and wishes for a cozy Christmas filled with delicious food, comfy pajamas, and laughing until your cheeks hurt with the ones you love. I will see you back here next week for my year in review – one of my favorite posts of the year!
P.S. Our cards from 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012!
20 December 2016
While I very much hope that June grows up thinking of Christmas as magical, happy, and glowing, I hope even more that she always knows WHY we are celebrating — that for our family, Christmas is when we remember that Jesus, God-With-Us, came to live among us as a tiny baby! That can be a hard thing to focus on with all of the trimmings and trappings of the season competing, so I know we will have to be intentional about it as she grows. Here are a few things we’re trying, and I would love to hear ideas from y’all in the comments!
— Interpreting the season. Even as we do things that our kids see others doing (buying presents, sending out cards), I want to invite conversation about why we do these things and why they are meaningful to us. For example, we send out a Christmas card to remind people in a personal way of our joy at the birth of our Savior, not JUST to share a cute family photo and update :) I think narratives and the stories we tell ourselves have a lot of power!
— Being generous. As many of you know, giving away an amount equal to what we spend on Christmas gifts has been a passion of our family for three years now. It started with one of Adam Hamilton’s sermons where he spoke about the shepherds, and it really stuck with me: “Christmas starts with the poor and the nobodies. I think part of the reason God sent the angels to the shepherds first is because they didn’t have anything to celebrate. Let’s start with them. Let’s invite them to Christmas. We can celebrate every day if we want, and we have lots of reasons to celebrate. But to celebrate Christmas the way God celebrates it, we must start with the poor and the nobodies.” Celebrating with the poor and the nobodies — I hope that’s something our kids always have a heart for. We have a long way to go in this arena, but I think there are some good starter ideas on my list here. We’ve also done Angel Tree gifts and Operation Christmas Child boxes in the past. Though we’ve traditionally given our Christmas gift fund to our church’s Christmas Eve offering, I think it would be fun to decide as a family where we want to give it as our kids get older.
— Decorating intentionally. Several of our Christmas decor pieces point directly to the Christmas story, like our Lindsay Letters canvas and our nativity scenes (we have two – one from Willow Tree and one hand-knit by my Aunt Nan!).
— Filling our ears with good stuff. In addition to services at our home church, we always love listening to Church of the Resurrection’s December sermons – after all, they’ve radically changed our lives in the past! (See above!). One of our many Christmas playlists on Spotify is reserved for just “sacred” Christmas tunes, too.
— Baking a birthday cake. This is an idea from Nancy that I’m excited to try as June gets older. Every year, her family would make a coconut cake on Christmas Eve, light candles, and sing happy birthday to Jesus. I love this, because it’s something that contextualizes Jesus’s birthday in a way kids understand (cake!) AND it’s something that’s undeniably fun (which not all “religious” things are to a kid, let’s be honest).
I also think that keeping Christmas about Christ is sometimes about what you don’t do as much as it’s about what you do, whether that means cutting out particularly commercial things or just paring activities/decorations/traditions/hubbub back in general to make way for quiet, service, and family time.
I would LOVE to hear: if you’re a Christian, how do you keep Christmas about Christ in your heart and home, whether or not you have kids? I’m always looking for ideas for me, too! :)