Christmas Cookie Exchange Tips

Gallery

20161215_000536-e1513270227457.jpg

I am gearing up to start my 1st of 2 full days of baking over this next week to satisfy almost 20 dozen cookies for two different cookie exchange parties, one that I have attended for the last 8 years and the other a new tradition to my family that I started last year. As I get myself ready to begin the first batch tomorrow afternoon I decided to share a few of my tips & best practices for cookie exchanges! Hopefully it helps any newcomers  to a cookie exchange or any of you on the fence about starting this fun tradition!

The goal behind a Christmas Cookie Exchange is for each of guest to bake one kind of cookie each and then everyone comes together to celebrate the season and still manage to leave the party & go home with a variety of cookies without the extra effort! Plus it makes a fun and yummy excuse to get together during the holidays and helps you have a variety to fill those last minute cookies trays to take to all your Christmas festivities! The exchange cookie for the other one I attend is my family’s spritz recipe passed down from my great grandma, an absolute Christmas staple in our home and a recipe I will not share but most families have a version of it and if all else fails scope out Pinterest or Google for a suitable alternative! I will bake my Pecan Fingers, staple #2 for this exchange next week! You will find that recipe at the end of this post for your enjoyment. I enjoy these with my morning coffee in the days after the holidays to stretch the season out a little longer.

Here are my top 5 tips for pulling off a successful baking session SPECIFICALLY for a Cookie Exchange

1- Decide on a cookie you are comfortable with and feel capable of achieving without adding too much stress & chaos, the point is to join a cookie exchange to save you stress without sacrificing variety with your cookie baking during an already busy time of year! I like to choose a cookie with a pretty good # yield per batch to eliminate a bunch of ingredient multiplying or tons of batches needing to be separately prepped & baked. Less room for error and an easier process for you!

2- Plan to have a window of time within 2-5 days of the party to do your baking to ensure you are swapping the freshest cookies possible because freshest is bestest! 😍🍪😍🍪😍 depending on the cookie you choose, you may be able (or need to) prep a dough and let it rest, this may help break up the task (if need be) and allow you to have some work done ahead of the actual baking day!

3- Be sure to mark your calendar to attend because the main reason I began hosting one annually was to have a fun & functional holiday excuse to get together for fun & laughs with my girl friends & family! Attending is far more than half the fun I PROMISE! Games, food and a white elephant gift exchange that guarentees laughs!

4- Once you pick a cookie and decide on a safe and airtight way to seperate your cookie by the dozen for exchange (ziplock bags, plastic container, tin, or gift box ect.) Then you are ready to bake & bag! Preheat the oven, Gather ingredients, Wash hands, Don the apron to save your outfit, Turn the Christmas music on & bake away! Again try to pick a low mess & low fuss cookie to prep, bake & decorate!

5- Once cooled prep for bagging & set aside in a safe place away from all kids & husbands until it’s party time! 🎊🎈🎊 When party time arrives kiss the fam goodbye, don’t feel guilty & come have so much fun you never want to miss a year!

 

Pecan Fingers

*Preheat oven to 350*

  • 1/2 # Margarine (softened)
  • 6 Tablespoon Confectioners Sugar
  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Cups Finely Chopped Pecans

Cream together the softened margarine & sugar. Begin to add the flour gradually, once all flour is incorporated add the chopped nuts be sure to mix well. Once all ingredients are blended shape the dough into finger sized and shaped cookies and place on an un-greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 mins. Once the cookies are cooled entirely place them a few at a time in a shallow bowl of powdered sugar and coat each finger. Enjoy with coffee, tea or milk & store any remaining Pecan Fingers in an airtight container.

Pecan Fingers Printable Recipe Card

 

As a BONUS little added tradition, because I am all about traditions new and old  (especially this time of year!) last year just before Christmas and my 1st annual cookie exchange, I told my husband that I wanted to start a Christmas Cookie Jar collection so that I can have a variety to decorate my kitchen for the holidays and double purpose to store all my delicious Christmas cookies from this cookie exchange and other holiday traditions! Some day when my girls have homes I can pass one down to each for them to decorate the kitchen counter too!

Last year one of my gifts was a fun Santa Lumberjack Cookie Jar, this is one of my hopes for this year. But more than a new cookie jar this year, I want YOU to join in on this fun Cookie Exchange Tradition in your own bubble! Be sure to follow my blog page so you don’t miss any future recipe’s, tips, tricks or best practices to dazzling your way through the holiday season this year and for seasons to come!

 

HAPPY BAKING my DAZZLING friends! As always, thanks for reading and I hope it inspires you to start or join a Christmas Cookie Exchange so that you can be apart of a beautiful & fun tradition like this!

~Rebecca

 

Advertisements

Our Christmas Kindness Elves

Gallery

December 1st, 2017

It is December 1st and in our house this is a big day! It’s actually a big day for more than one reason but today’s blog topic is only about the MERRY one of those reasons. December 1st is the day my husband and I decided to make a go at a “committed relationship” after just one week of knowing each other and thus began our holiday season love story but that isn’t what this blog is about. Maybe I will write my own Hallmark Holiday Movie about our love story (that would be the MARRY reason lol) but today, I am here to introduce you to  the MERRY reason, Joy & Caleb, our Christmas Kindness Elves! They arrive with a little mini Christmas Kindness Brunch on December 1st and this is our 2nd year with them visiting for the month of December.

20161213_233848

Here’s a bit of the backstory…

The Kindness Elves just began visiting our family last Christmas, after I had spent about 4 years debating the idea of beginning some sort of Elf on a Shelf alternative. {*DISCLAIMER* I say alternative because I am not a big fan of the Elf on a Shelf, I was never a big fan of Elf on a Shelf in fact. WHY?!? Keep on reading…} First, the well known Elf on a Shelf fad didn’t begin to the over the Christmas season until after my first daughter was halfway through her Santa years so it would never have been something I could have pulled off introducing to her without having red flags go up in her mind about Santa all together. Being a bright kid and being raised by a few sceptics, we had barely managed to keep her on board with the Santa thing to begin with when she first began to question it. By the way, if your child hasn’t begun to question Santa, just wait for it, it will come (and if you are anything like me it will hurt when you hear it for the first time). For us it came almost immediately after our oldest began kindergarten and her peers began to become “unbelievers” so………………. I wasn’t trying to throw any other red flags her way when it came to the big guy.

Aside from that fact though, I don’t really love the idea of having an “elf” trick my kids into behaving through the holidays by telling them that this elf goes back to Santa, I mean that’s the whole reason we play the Santa card, I don’t want to double bride them to behave by giving myself another “job” to do during the holidays because let’s face it, I do all the rest of the holiday prep most of the time anyways! Then add to it that half of the appeal (if not in fact the ENTIRE appeal to the kids) is that the Elf on a Shelf gets into mischief and makes messes while we sleep! REALLY, my kids do enough of that during the day, now I have to let an elf make messes at night too? I just counted my blessings and laughed at the Facebook feeds of all the funny, creative and sometimes somewhat inappropriate Elf on a Shelf posed pictures that filled my newsfeed while silently enjoying the fact that I had escaped it…

I thought I had escaped the elf thing all together, until daughters #2 & #3 were both in school & preschool and then teachers started using them in the classrooms and soon my girls began to question why all their friends had an elf visit and we didn’t……..

…….this went on for a few years until, in a moment of weakness I blurted out,

“We don’t have an elf because I told Santa not to send us an elf that is only going to make more messes and get into more mischief than you girls do already! My hands are full with four of you little mess makers, I don’t need anymore!”

….to which I received big shocked, doe eyes on both their faces, and then I felt bad. Really bad. It was that moment I knew we needed to have some “Kindness Elves” in our life, to encourage US ALL to remember to be kind through the stressful holiday season.

Introducing the Kindness Elves

Though I would love to take credit for the idea, because I absolutely am infatuated with the idea, I can’t. I stumbled into this idea about 4 years ago and fell in love with the concept.  You can check out where my rendition of it originated from here, at The Kindness Elves Home Website. Now even though I had known about this idea and this website for awhile I was only a fan of the idea in theory. For the first few years I was familiar with the concept I had no intention of introducing my family to it as another tradition, my girls were about 11, 6 & 3 at the time and it just didn’t seem necessary.  However things with kids have a way of changing and as I explained previously, my girls #2 & #3 became infatuated with the Elf on a Shelf and brought it up regularly for more than one Christmas season and then we added our little girl #4.

So last year in my moment of weakness when I had the revelation that we did all need a kindness reminder infused into our holiday I was in hurry up mode. Though the original idea has a ready made set you can purchase, I opted to find “elves” without ordering the original ones so I could still manage to execute it last year because I was deciding to jump on this idea last year just a few days before December 1st and I just plain and simple didn’t have time. Target to the rescue! They had some very cute fabric doll ornaments last year in their early Christmas inventory and when I saw them, I knew they would be perfect, and thus the idea was set in motion. I took them home and straightened out some paperclips to feed into their plush bodies to allow me some flexibility in the limbs & making them bendable and then I set off on creating our new Holiday tradition…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here’s a Peak at How Last Year’s Visits Went…

Last year when they arrived they left a trail of red confetti and a super SWEET Christmas inspired brunch. They continued to appear with confetti the first week, UNTIL the elves “got the hint” that it annoyed mom and then they started “to clean up after themselves” and the confetti stopped but the fun surprises and kind ideas they encouraged my kids to do didn’t stop. That kept on coming every morning until Christmas, and my girls loved it! They woke up and ran to find where our elves had moved to every morning and were eager to tackle the ideas and challenges the elves gave us every day amidst our existing chores, tasks and obligations. Joy & Caleb provided some great ideas about how to infuse our Christmas season with some Christmas Kindness with ideas like baking cookies for a friend, writing kind words for a sibling or peer, giving small gifts, hugs or compliments to people, and evaluating their own blessings by looking for ways to give back some of their blessings to those in need.

What I love the most about this idea is that it encourages positive behavior by getting the kids excited about their own positive behavior so I feel less like I am bribing them to behave for gifts until Christmas AND it is shifting the focus back to the real meaning of the season. I will be highlighting some of my favorite tips and tricks to executing the Christmas Kindness Elves as our season continues but here is a glimpse at our favorites from last season!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If this is an idea you are interested in there is still time to execute this year, pick any small childlike dolls or elf dolls and introduce them into your holiday whenever it makes sense to your family! Maybe they appear after school on Dec. 1st, maybe the arrive when Christmas Break begins, maybe they only count down the last “12 days of Christmas” or maybe you just plan and plot this season for some ideas and ways to implement it next year! If you decide to give it a try in your family I would love to see pictures of your elves or hear stories about your success in introducing them to your family!

 

P.S. No judgement on ANY Mommas out there who have chosen the Elf on a Shelf tradition, you are great moms going above and beyond for your kids Christmas memories and that makes you a ROCKSTAR!

P.S.S. No judgement on ANY Mommas who have chosen to not incorporate ANY Elf’s, Elves or other magical miniatures into their holiday season, to each their own and I salute your willingness to just tackle the Christmas shopping and wrapping!

As always, thanks for reading, have a Dazzling Holiday Season and a magical memory making Christmastime with your family!

~Rebecca

Fourth of July Family Camping Trip

Gallery

Fourth of July Family Camping Trip!!!

This weeks To Do List Tuesday topic is…

…Camping Meal Planning!

That’s what I am doing this week as the top item on my To Do List because Saturday we head out on a family camping trip with my brother and his family! I will be preparing our family’s “Camping Meal Plan” for our Fourth of July Camping Trip today so I can begin my prep work for the food on Friday. Camping is about having fun, making memories and being one with nature for a bit, therefore planning ahead and being prepared can save you valuable time and stress while preparing your meals. This is a trip I definitely want to save myself some time during and allow myself more room for memories!!!

Here is some of my camping background:

As a kid camping was the only summer vacation I knew until middle school. We would visit different campgrounds around various parts of Ohio as a family unit of 4, myself, my brother and my mom & dad. By the time I was eleven my parents had purchase a piece of land in southern Ohio for my dad and brother to use for hunting property and within that first year we had built a cabin on our land for us to use, allowing an alternative to tent camping. We had no running water, no gas heat and very minimal electricity available in our cabin but it got us off the ground inside of tents and into a large one room barn with a loft making week-long stays more comfortable, less wet when rain interfered and easier to achieve a few times a summer. We had a grill on a small deck platform on the front and my parents did most of our cooking on that or with the use of our fire pit.

When I met my husband and learned that his family had also instilled a love and appreciation of the outdoors in him, I knew camping would become a common practice in my life again. We were only together for a year or so before we purchased our very first tent as a couple and began building our Camping Kit! Many of those first purchases are still in our Camping Kit, one thing that is no longer included however, is a traditional camp stove…….

…..WHY? This may seem silly, a camp stove helps you eat right? Well in my experience one of these……..

…………… can help you eat when camping MUCH FASTER!

In our original Camping Kit as a couple we had purchased one of these ever so popular portable camp stoves and after our second camping trip the “convenient carrying case” was already broken and no more than a few uses later the handle to open the lid melted right off. I felt like I had wasted my money and the few times I had used it to cook it felt like I was preparing our meal with a stove version of an Easy Bake Oven. The food took forever to cook, it overcooked one side to a char but somehow the food was still cold, or worse I would fully prepare my hubby’s food and watch him eat it all before mine was even half done cooking! Frustrating to say the least, that was about 14 years ago and that was also the last time I prepared meals for a camping trip with the sole use of a portable camp stove. Now my meal planning takes a totally different approach. The bonfire is my primary source of food heating now and I plan to share some of my favorite Bon Fire Cooking Tips here, but first a look inside my Camp Kitchen!

Camp Kitchen

I plan to cover this in more detail in a future post about how I set my Camp Kitchen Up! Keep an eye out for it!

 

Here’s the deal with this specific 

Fourth of July Family Camping Trip!!!

My brother has two sons who live in Florida with their mother, while he resides here with his fiance & their combined 5 other children. It’s been years since my little family has seen them and they happen to be in town for a few weeks this summer! When their visit in Ohio with my brother was set on the calendar and it was scheduled to span over the Fourth of July, the idea of a family camping trip seemed natural.  My girls couldn’t be more excited to have some time to spend with their cousins and I am excited to have the opportunity to spark some memory making fun!

We will be heading out Saturday morning to a campground a few hours from home, a place that has been the site of memory making for our family for years! That cabin my parents bought when I was a child has since sadly been sold, but it is right around the corner from the particular camp grounds we will be staying at. As kids, my brother and I grew up visiting those camp grounds to access the beach and shower houses with my parents during our long stays at the cabin. After the cabin sold and about 4-5 years ago, my brother, my husband and I stayed a fourth of July weekend there with the combined 5 kiddos that we had amongst us. The oldest of my brothers sons had a broken arm at the time, wrapped in a cast and unable to be doused with water at the beach and limiting his adventurous abilities.

We went knowing there was a beach, but when we were kids there was a cement platform in the lake for jumping off of and 2 aluminum playground slides in the water as well. When we arrived for that last trip as adults, we came to find a full floating inflatable playground in addition to our childhood options. We felt terrible and so we planned then to make sure to take another camping trip at a later date when the cast would be gone. Unfortunately we didn’t anticipate it taking so many years to pull off that camping trip, BONUS now we get my sister-in-law to be and her brood of kiddos too! Together we will be camping…….

the 4 adults and………….

children in the gender/age line-up as follows:

B16, G15, B15, B13, B12, B10, G9, G7, G5, G2

We will be missing one of my nephews but sadly he is unavailable due to a conflicting schedule. He will be missed for sure but with the combined 10 kiddos that will span 16 – 2 years old it is sure to be a great opportunity to create memories!

Here’s the line up of meals I have planned to feed my share of this bunch and then some:

Our 4th of July Camping Menu

Saturday, July 1st
Lunch:
Deli Meat Sandwiches
(sub rolls filled with a variety of deli meats & cheeses with a selection of condiments for sandwich dressing)
*Served with cut fruit & potato chips.
Dinner:
Foil Pack Dinner
(Pre cut chicken & beef cubes drizzled with oil & seasonings. Add veggies of choice of cherry tomatoes, potato chunks, mushrooms, onion & sweet peppers. Fun for each person to personally build to taste!)
*Served with condiments for dipping & rolls warmed over the fire with butter.
Sweet Treat:
Birthday Cupcakes!!!
(Cupcakes for Uncle Len’s Birthday!)
*Served with Sherbet!
Sunday, July 2nd
Breakfast:
Pancake & Bacon Sticks
(Precooked bacon warmed & covered with pancake batter allowing them to be dipped and eaten with fingers! Less waste!)
*Served with juice &/or milk boxes of choice & a piece of fruit
(apple, banana, bunch of grapes)
Lunch:
Deli Meat Sandwiches
(sub rolls filled with a variety of deli meats & cheeses with a selection of condiments)
*Served with veggies, dip & potato chips.
Dinner:
Choice of Walking Taco’s or Frito Chili Pie’s
(Pre cooked taco/chili meat to build your own)
*Served with mini bags of Dorito’s & Frito’s and a selection of taco toppings.
Sweet Treat:
Smore’s & Roasted Marshmallows!
Monday, July 3rd  
Breakfast:
Sausage Egg & Cheese Breakfast Burrito’s
(Precooked scrambled eggs & sausage stuffed with cheese & wrapped in foil to make burrito’s!)
*Served with juice &/or milk boxes of choice & a piece of fruit
(apple, banana, bunch of grapes)
Lunch:
Hot Dogs & Cheeseburgers
(Topped with cheeses & a selection of condiments)
*Served with watermelon & potato chips.
Dinner:
Overstuffed Fire-Side Baked Potatoes
(Fire roasted baked potatoes to be topped)
*Served with bacon crumbles, chili, cheeses, sour cream, scallions & other toppings.
Sweet Treat:
Dessert Hobo Pies
(Bread filled with pie filling, chocolate & Nutella)
Tuesday, July 4th   
Breakfast:
Hashbrown Breakfast Muffins & Cereal
(Precooked scrambled & cheese filled hashbrown muffins with cereal side)
*Served with juice &/or milk boxes of choice & a piece of fruit
(apple, banana, bunch of grapes)
Lunch:
Cheddar Bratwurst
(Fire roasted with a selection of condiments)
*Served with watermelon & pasta salad.
Dinner:
Barbeque Ribs @ Home
(Fire roasted baked potatoes to be topped)
*Served with baked beans, corn on the cob & left over camping sides.
Sweet Treat:
Strawberry Shortcake @ Fireworks!
(Shortbread circles topped with strawberries & whipped cream)

Before I get to the actual Prep Ahead Process, Here’s a few BONUS tips!

*When planning my menu for a camping trip I try to choose meals that will repeat ingredients but in a slightly new way and I try to set meals in a certain order across our trip based on the reuse of ingredients as well as the ease of cooler storage.

*Investing in a large and tight sealing cooler will make the entire trip easier! If you are using a collection of smaller or middle range coolers I encourage also packing your coolers based on meal time as well (ie. all your breakfast & lunch foods in one and dinner needs in another). I do always encourage keeping your beverages in a separate cooler no matter how many coolers you need to use to store your food. Drinks are the main reason people open coolers, if you keep them in one easy to identify cooler then your food and perishables won’t suffer the consequences of the cooler being opened every time someone is thirsty!

*I STRONGLY RECOMMEND you purchase a quality set of Plastic Food Storage Containers, it will pay off when your solid ice turns to arctic water. Having a water tight seal will benefit you greatly by allowing you to still use most of that arctic water without it seeping into your food storage containers, allowing you not to drain that water & waste extra money on a ton of new solid ice. My personal favorite are THESE by Rubbermaid.

2.5 Gal Easy Find Lids Container                                                                                                     EFL_44pc_Front5

Value Pack: 9 cup / 14 cup Easy Find Lids                                                                                            5.5 Cup Easy Find Lids Container Rectangle

Available in a wide variety of sizes you can purchase a variety that work best for you and your families go to dishes. Last, HERE’S a great resource for other camping hacks!

Now Let’s Get to the Prep Ahead Process!

*For this process I prep ahead not in order of when the actual meals will be served but rather in order of meal time (i.e. all breakfast prep before moving on to any of my lunch prep, dinner prep, ect.). This keeps things more sanitary first and foremost but it also allows me to keep my small kitchen less cluttered and more efficient, keeping only a small collection of my shopping list ingredients at hand on my counters. It also allows me to gauge the quantity of one ingredient that I use in one dish, in relation to the other meals that will also need the same ingredients.

I put together a PDF of my Grocery List for this menu (keep in mind the items on the list that specify quantity will feed a small army, so for the average family of 4-6 I would stick with half the quantities, but adjust as you see fit to the appetites you are feeding!). In addition, I typed up a PDF version of My Prep Ahead Process to walk you through my Prep Day. I plan to complete the bulk of my shopping Friday morning, with the exception of my produce because we have a local farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and I will get better produce for my money going there Saturday morning before we head out! The rest of the meals will each have some level of prep in order to obtain maximum ease at time of execution & preparation over the campfire. I did my best to walk you through my process for prep and my fireside instructions, but of course make whatever necessary changes you see fit to best suit your family!

Prep Ahead Process & Fireside Prep Steps

Pancake Bacon Dippers

Here I am finishing up the last of our pancake & bacon dippers at last years family 4th of July Camping trip in the mountains of Pennsylvania!

With the food made simple there’s more time for memories!

I put the extra effort into prepping the day or so before the trip to allow us to eat well while not spending the entire time at the campsite preparing, cleaning up from, and waiting on meals. This leaves time for fun activities and excursions around the campgrounds! Here are a few of the campsite activities I have planned to keep the kids entertained while they are bound to the campsite, though I do anticipate more time at the beach and looking for adventure but in those in between moments and moments of downtime I like to have a trick or two up my sleeve to ward off melt downs.

The First Activity is: Painted Rocks, I don’t know if your neighborhood or home has caught up with the rock painting phenomenon or not, but we have a whole Facebook Group devoted to it in our county. I will be taking a collection of acrylic paints & paintbrushes for the kids to paint rocks they are bound to collect around the campsite.

Painted rock / rock painting / rock art / painted stones / adventure / up / balloons     99 DIY Ideas Of Painted Rocks With Inspirational Picture And Words (56)

Next is this cute UP Adventure Booklet that I found over at http://www.family.disney.com, where I found a few other great UP inspired activities that seem cute as well. For this campout we will just use the booklet though.

In addition, I searched Independence DayCamping Hiking while I was looking around http://www.family.disney.com and found these great coloring pages featuring Mickey & Minnie & their pals too.

I borrowed this idea for Outdoor Adventure Hunts from this brilliant mom, I printed mine on paper and taped/stapled them to lunch bag sized paper bags with handles so the kids can easily carry their hunt finds!!! Here is another previous solution I have used for this idea!

Scavenger Hunt Bags

This is a picture of some I made for a Labor Day Camping Trip we took our girls on the summer after #4 was born! I personalized the bags and also the Scavenger Hunt to the areas I knew we would be visiting and the activities I knew we would be doing!

 

To go with them on their “Adventure Hunt” we will assemble some Toilet Paper Roll Binoculars, like these from “Make Life Lovely”.

Well there you go! After a marathon of a To-Do List Tuesday, our meals are planned, activities are prepped and the steps and processes, tricks & tips that come so naturally to me have now been turned into a detailed document to be duplicated by anyone interested to try them. I hope I have inspired you in some way, to try something new for your next family camping trip and I also hope that something I shared will help you take less time working and more time making memories while you camp! Don’t forget that a little planned time to prepare ahead can make all the difference in the memories you make! Now go forth and Dazzle in the woods or wherever you plan to travel with your crew this summer, just remeber the point of trips and vacations with the ones you love is to make memories!!!

As always, thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

Romantic 10 Year Anniversary Road Trip

Gallery

This weeks To Do List Tuesday is to…

…pack my bags for a romantic 10 year wedding anniversary road trip with my main squeeze!

 

We married 10 years ago on June 15th 2007 and we covered the bulk of our wedding expense ourselves. Because of this we had plans to take a second Honeymoon when we reached the ten-year mark because after paying for the wedding we wanted with family & friends we couldn’t take the honeymoon we had originally hoped. Our plans originally included a vow renewal ceremony and a Caribbean vacation but our plans have very little to do with our real lives!

After the rough start to our year, and the realization that in the 10 years we have been married, we have only managed a handful of nights away together, but not more than one night at a time and really only a handful of times, my husband and I knew we had to still manage some sort of getaway to celebrate. Ten years is a big deal especially in today’s culture and generation of all time high divorce rate. And even if it wasn’t a big deal to the rest of the world, it’s a big deal for us. We have had our fair share of ups and downs in our 15 1/2 years together, the large majority of those in the 10 years since we have been married. Our lows at times coming so swiftly behind the last that we could barely keep our heads above it all, in those times it has been he that I have needed more than any other person in my life. I regularly tell him, in this crazy ride we call life, He is the only decision I’ve made that I am certain of day in and day out. He is my best friend, my partner in crime, the most amazing baby daddy, loving father to our 4 beautiful daughters and provider above all other than God for our family. Cliche it is but I love him so much more today than I did the day we got married.

A Getaway is needed…

          We need a break…

                    A chance to Refresh…

                            Time to Relax & be playful grown-ups again!

So off we are headed to satisfy this list! We head out in a little over a day thanks to my awesome mother who will be staying with our girls while we are gone, allowing their routine to stay as normal as possible because our absence is bound to be noticed! Our kiddo’s are already expressing their woes that we are leaving….

…This brings me to my 1st of 5 tips to a successful romantic road trip!

Tip #1 – ACTUALLY TAKE A ROMANTIC GETAWAY!

You are only going to continue being happily married and have a successful cohesive parent unit for your kiddo’s if you take time to just be the two of you again. This needs to be done regularly at a far more scaled down level by way of sneaking out for a date night or even setting up a date night in after the kids are in bed. However you do manage to do it, do it often, but occasionally you have to go big and give yourselves the chance to really get back in those places in your mind, memory and heart that will remind and rekindle the feelings you had when everything about your relationship was easy. We all have things that fight for our attention on a daily basis but we must remember to make our spouse a priority amidst all the chaos. Despite the crying children who just don’t want you to go, you must set a plan in action. Find a trusted, responsible caregiver to help you out, friends, family, who ever is in “your village” that you trust with your kids while you two sneak away and then you must actually sneak away, have fun and rekindle…

Tip #2 – TAKE A LITTLE TIME BEFORE YOU LEAVE TO GET YOUR CHILDREN’S CARE & ENTERTAINMENT HANDLED…

This may sound like just another series of things to put on your to-do list but I assure you it WILL pay off while you are gone. (A) If it is possible to get someone to watch your kids in your normal residence that will greatly help keep your kids from wanting to call a hundred times a day to tell you how much they miss you. Being in their personal comfort zone with a caregiver they trust is the first key, in my opinion, to keeping the kids in a calm head space while you and your Honey get away.

(B)You may want to consider either preparing ahead meals for your caregiver to just do basic prep, heating & serving for your kids while you are away but I urge you to at least do a good grocery shop before you leave to be sure to leave food and drinks that your kids will not fight  about with the substitute caregiver. If you chose a few recipes you know the kids will enjoy you could drastically improve the stress at mealtime for them by at least having the ingredients and snacks of choice on hand while you are gone.

(C)Also I recommend you do find a way to take the time to prepare some fun new ideas or activities for the caregiver to do with your kids. No one knows your kids better than you, so taking a little time to prepare ahead for some of their entertainment can be the key to the boredom buster and in my experience when kids get bored and restless they tend to push their luck more. Whether you pick up an inexpensive new toy to help them be excited and distracted by or a new movie they have been wanting to see, some steps of preparation in advance will be greatly appreciated by your caregiver and your spouse alike! It could be a simple as a new book or coloring book, just something fresh & new to them will be a helpful distraction.

(D)It almost goes without saying but, be sure to be ahead of the dirty laundry also because there needs to be a good selection of clean clothes for your kids while you are gone too, and you want the best selections from your closet available for you to pack  from also of course! With no kids to get ready while away, you can take  little extra time to make yourself look & feel fancy again. A good night dressed up and out with my man can do wonders for my self esteem!

Tip #3 – GIVE YOUR VEHICLE A GOOD DETAIL THE DAY BEFORE YOU LEAVE…

This tip may seem like a waste of time because you are heading off on a road trip and you are bound to get the new detail job messed up right? Well yeah you may, but do it anyways! (A)Realistically detailing your vehicle is allowing your contained date space for the road trip to be clean, comfortable and clear of all kid paraphernalia. This is the first step to making sure that you have a good atmosphere for your romantic road trip in your driving date space and let’s be honest you are not messier than your kids, it will likely stay that way the majority of your travels, excluding any crappy weather situations.

(B)While detailing and de-kid-cluttering your vehicle make sure any safety seats for your kids are removed and properly installed in your caregivers vehicle so you know they are installed correctly & safely giving you peace of mind over their travels while you are off on your romantic escape.

(C)Also take the kids music, movies, ecetera out of the player and make room for you and your boo’s  favorite music! No Wiggles, or Disney soundtracks, or Kids Bop cd’s need to be on hand for your romantic getaway. Instead pre-load your wedding songs and any other music sentimental for you two into your vehicle by way of cd’s or blue tooth connection with your phone. We actually have a CD from the DJ at our wedding with all of the key songs and an assortment of others music played during our reception and you can bet that will be going with us so we can musically stroll down memory lane!

Tip #4 – MAKE A LIST & BE DISCREET WITH YOUR PACKING UNTIL THE FINAL GOODBYE

I give this tip because my kids do not like when I or my husband, and especially both of us, are going to be gone. (A)If they watch me wander around packing at the last minute it just creates more unnecessay build up for the moment of the final goodbye. If I pack in stages across the week before leaving I can get the bulk of the work of packing finished completely under their radar before we even load up the vehicle.

(B.)I absolutely always have to write a list, and I start this list usually about 2 weeks out from the departure date. This let’s me tweak my list some on paper based on any changes in the weather or itinerary that may come up and still allows me to have a clear picture of what needs to be packed to work off of when I start pulling things aside. Taking time to actually go through a detailed list of items from, Toiletries to make-up, and clothing selections with shoes and accessories can prevent you from taking too much. Instead of packing a bunch of “in case” and “maybe” items you can focus clearly on the trip at hand, the itinerary & weather you will be anticipating and your actual preferances for outfits.

(C)Remember, the idea of a romantic getaway is to rekindle and reenergize the bond between you two. This means it’s not only ok to put a little extra effort into you “look” while vacationing together, it’s totally encouraged! Don’t try too hard, and be natural for you, but don’t be afraid to try to impress him again like you would have while you were still dating and getting to know each other. Just because you now have spent all these extra years of wedded bliss together doesn’t mean you have to give up trying on behalf of the other! Put the spark back into your confidence and your relationship by allowing yourself the ability to get dolled up for you while you can with no little hands grabbing or little bottoms trying to sit in your lap, and prepare for it.

Tip #5 – ONCE YOU HEAD OUT ON THE ROAD, TRY YOUR VERY BEST TO KEEP ELECTRONIC DISTRACTIONS AND DIFFICULT TOPICS AT BAY!

This tip should go without saying in my opinion but in this super über technological age we are living in, keeping electronic distractions at a minimum can seem almost impossible. (A)If you are partaking in the distractions together, simultaneously and focusing on the same exact distraction then I consider it occasionally ok, but the point of this trip is to get a mini retreat for just you two, so shutting down excess distractions is first and foremost a step you should take. no mindlessly scrolling in the passenger seat of across the table from each other during your meals. No being pulled away for one work trip, or a friend who really needs you, over and over again. With the exception of checking in on your kids via phone, facetime, skype, ect. I don’t really encourage outside phone calls. Be serious and intentional about spending this time together creating memories and talking about your future together. The only time you should be reaching for your cell phone is when you are getting ready to snap a picture of  a moment you want to capture, then if you feel led, QUICKLY share it with the world and move on to the next part of your adventure!

(B)This brings me to the last part of this tip, don’t discuss difficult topics if it can at all be avoided. There is a time and place for these to be discussed but likely on a romantic getaway is not the best time to get into the nitty gritty of life, focus your discussion in a positive, uplifting place as a couple as much as humanly possible. Now if there is a rift to begin with and this getaway is an attempt to correct & repair that rift, then I understand the need to take advantage of the quiet uninterrupted time with no kids to discuss, but remember to talk. Calming, not defensively, not overly offensively, not heated, not loudly and not too much. Be respectful of each other and look for activities and outings that can draw on the nostalgic beginnings to tap into that good old-fashioned puppy love again.

(C)Be mindful not to forget the ROMANTIC part. Now I am a bit of a verbal prude in the romance department so for this part of the tip I encourage you to tap into what works for you two and allow yourself to be vulnerable & excited about spending this time together. Naturally those sparks will ignite again in ways you may likely have forgotten if you are intentional with each other and in tune with the butterflies of renewed quality time.

Sneak in some new adventures and outside of your typical “box” of ideas!

I am super excited about our chance to sneak away and I look forward to getting to experience some fun first’s together again, explore new areas and enjoy a place of nostalgia for us with no kids in tow this time. I love my girls and I really would do just about anything for them, but I only got them by loving my man well and being open to God’s newest adventure’s for my life, because He knows well that my plans for myself didn’t include any of what I now have. In an effort to continue letting His Will be mine, I know that require’s some nurturing of my marital relationship in a very intentional way. My kids will only be under my roof for a season and though I want to soak in every last second of them being young, I also long to nourish my connection with the man I’ve chosen to spend my life with because when my girls are all grown and off on their own life adventure’s I still want this man to like and love me, and I still want to like and love him back! But maybe even more important to me is taking the time I have with him to create lasting loving memories of just us as well as our family because truth be told, I don’t know how many years God plans for our life here on earth to continue together and I want to be certain there is an overflowing well of memories should God’s Will include one of us needing to draw on them alone one day.

So now I must head back to my list of things to do for our trip and I will leave you with this last thought, before there was a little family tree, there was just the two of you, take the time to nurture just that part of your family tree intentionally, your children need that of you, to allow generations of love to continue to grow from the roots you two have planted together! Now go forth and Dazzle your way through this beautiful summer week and start thinking about the little and potentially BIG ways you can begin to pour back into your marriage roots, maybe you start with a little night out or maybe it’s a Romantic Road Trip! The important thing is that you take a step!

As always, Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

From Baby Nursery to Big Girl Room

Gallery

This past weeks To Do List Tuesday was to transition…

my 2 yr. old from a Baby Nursery to a Big Girl Room!

 

My youngest daughter turned TWO during this past Memorial Day weekend and it was then that she also successfully managed to climb out of her crib for the first time, while it was set at the lowest setting. It was in that moment that it occurred to me, like a ton of bricks, that my sweet little baby girl was a baby no more. In anticipation of getting to this point, we had purchased a toddler bed set with her pals Anna & Elsa on it. It was because my older 3 girls all transferred from crib to bed just after they turned two that we had planned to be prepared. She is the most petite of my girls so I was extra grateful to have a crib that converts easily to a toddler bed

 

We went from an over crowded space with a changing table crammed between a nightstand and a bookshelf and a crib and rocker with ottoman under a full size loft bed. You do what you must when it comes to fitting 4 daughters in across two bedrooms roughly 140 square feet each. Removing the side rail from the crib and turning it into a toddler bed made getting my little one into bed easier (keeping her there is a whole new process though). We took one of her bulky crawling toys out and decided the changing table and rocker with ottoman could go as well opening up more floor space to be used for play. The rocker found a new home in our living room and the changing table and crawling toy will be sold at a garage sale this summer.

 

With the new open floor space I was able to create 3 different vignette play spaces with her most favorite toy sets, ones that she and my 7 yr. old enjoy playing with together so it’s even better!

 

 

We made sure that we highlighted some of their favorite accessories and decor items while putting together this Enchanting Frozen Big Girl Bedroom. There are a few elements that still need completing, I have made a glass block Frozen nightlight that is not pictured because it has not been given to my girls yet. I also purchased a set of removable wall stickers that will replace the aged and peeling Winnie the Pooh ones left from the nursery (3 times re-used). Of course the new ones feature none other than Anna & Elsa and some of our other chilly pals !

20170606_193901

My littlest girl’s souvenir from our last trip to Walt Disney World in Aug/Sept 2016 and boy does she LOVE playing with these chunky plastic versions of her Frozen Friends

 

Both of my girls who share this room where very excited about the changes and the new look of their bedroom. In the week since the bedroom has been set up in its new arrangement and revealed to them, my girls have had plenty of playtime together and for the most part have been very effective at picking the room up before bed every evening allowing it to remain functional still! Yay for the small victories!

Getting my little one to stay in the bed for bedtime or naps has proven to be equally as difficult as it was with my other girls though. We have found her asleep on the floor more nights than in her bed because if she is able to get out of bed, she certainly will. Fortunately she is slowly warming up to laying in it for nap time (I do accredit this partially to the fact that when we find her on the floor after she has fallen to sleep I move her back into ger bed so she still wakes up in her new “Big Girl Bed”!) I know eventually she will catch on, and how could I expect any different when her big sisters would still prefer to sleep on a couch, the floor in a fort or in each others rooms over their own beds at 7, 9 & 15?

So there you have it, my 4th completed transition from Baby Nursery to Big Girl Bedroom! As exciting as this fun new transition is, I did sniff back some tears, and I was sure to rock her in that rocker one last time the night before the big transition so that I could savor it one more time. Savor the smell of her sweet freshly bathed & washed head, the tickle of her wispy hair on my chin & nose and the weight of her quickly growing body upon my chest, because I knew it would be the last time I would do that before laying my sweet girl into her crib for the very last time.

After 4 children, I have learned not only to cherish the 1st’s in our children’s lives, like their first words, first steps and first day of school, but also and maybe more importantly, to cherish every moment because we never know when they will be their last’s. When they will suddenly be too cool to come running to mommy to be swept up into our arms or God forbid not here at all to run to us. I consciously try to keep myself in the moments whenever possible when I am with my girls so that I don’t begin to take them for granted.

My girls are my reason for pushing myself to keep trying to be better than I was the day before. I don’t always succeed, if I’m entirely frank, I fail more days than I consider myself successful in this area, but I do still try to be better every day and I am guilty of getting distracted from time to time but thank the Good Lord for GRACE because He knows I ill fail and He loves me regardless because He knows my heart. Every time I am blessed to lift my head off the pillow again in the morning I try to be better in my spirit and better in my flesh. Better for my girls, better for myself, and most importantly better for God & His Will for my family and I encourage you to do the same! Check back again later today for this week’s To Do List Tuesday (…hint, hint….I will be giving you my favorite tips for packing & prepping for a road trip), because I am doubling up today due to my technical difficulties last week! Now go forth this week and DAZZLE through whatever transitions you may be facing and remember, if you are reading this, you are blessed with another day to live intentionally, so go DAZZLE while you do!

As always, thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

Mindset Mondays

Gallery

Mission: K.O.B.F.

Keep. Our. Brains. Fresh.

    We are about to begin our 3 month stretch of summer break from school and as happy as I am about that I also am well aware that I must be prepared to entertain them. If not then whether I like it or not their brains will begin to turn to sludge until school resumes.  20160907_172258.jpgMy oldest daughter is 2 years ahead in most of her classes and finishing up the 4th quarter of her freshman year with over a 4.0 gpa in addition to being in the Marching Band and the Spring Play among MANY other extra curricular items. She took 4 honors courses and next year she will be in 2 Honors courses and 2 Advanced Placement courses where we will pay to have her test at the end of the year to qualify them asCollege credits…….in the tenth grade!

 Untitled My second daughter is currently completing her third grade year and was awarded a certificate of accomplishment for earning straight A’s the entire school year. She has been taught in a gifted cluster of students in math since Kindergarten and she is reading at a middle year 5th grade level already.

UntitledMy third daughter Cadance is a very spirited and high-strung 1st grade student learning more and more about words & reading and math every day. She is pleased to be moving towards second grade and I want to nurture that excitement over the summer.

Last there’s my fourth daughter, she is about to be two and her vocabulary is growing by leaps & bounds, her interests are mainly in copying whatever her big sisters are doing and she already loves to sing, recite lines from her favorite musicals and flip through cardboard books identifying images she recognizes. She is likely to be the brightest one out of all my girls when she is older.

Untitled

How Did This Idea Become?

Now I didn’t go into their academic standings to brag about my genius kids, (well, maybe just a little bit!) I did do it to acknowledge that I am blessed with pretty intelligent kiddo’s and because I need to point out that for as long as I have been a mom I have faced the task of entertaining my children during the summer, and I have tried to take it seriously. I was not the most applied student once I hit the 9th grade. I was focused on friends, boys & my art in high school but not so much my lessons or classes. I lived for summer, and I loved the ideal American lazy summer. I loved one particular movie about summer when I was younger (and I still love it), “Now & Then” it was a coming of age story about 4 friends who reconnect as adults and remember back to one specific summer in their early teens in the seventies. They learned some life lessons but I bet that when they went back to school they barely remembered the last semester of the previous school year because the had lived the ideal lazy, sunsoaked summer.

This movie was the model for my summers as a child and I did lazy American summer well. So well that my oldest is smarter than me already by book smart standards. I guarantee I wasted half of each school year as a result of those “lazy” 3 months off each year. By the time you figure that I spent the first quarter back to school reminding myself of all the things I was supposed to remember from the previous school year and add that to the fact that once summer was in sight I would “check out” mentally and therefore not retain most of my last quarter studies, you get half a school years worth of education, wasted. Now you take that and put summer in the middle with zero productivity and it’s no wonder my kids are smarter than me! (Shhhhhhh, don’t tell them!) Check out this snippet from a New York Times article in 2011…

“THE American ideal of lazy summers filled with fun has an unintended consequence: If students are not engaged in learning over the summer, they lose skills in math and reading. Summers off are one of the most important, yet least acknowledged, causes of under achievement in our schools.

Decades of research confirm that summer learning loss is real. According to a report released last month by the RAND Corporation, the average summer learning loss in math and reading for American students amounts to one month per year. More troubling is that it disproportionately affects low-income students: they lose two months of reading skills, while their higher-income peers — whose parents can send them to enriching camps, take them on educational vacations and surround them with books during the summer — make slight gains. A study from Johns Hopkins University of students in Baltimore found that about two-thirds of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income ninth graders could be explained by summer learning loss during the elementary school years.

This learning loss is cumulative, summer after summer. It has a tremendous impact on students’ success, including high school completion, post-secondary education and work force preparedness.”

Excerpt from The New York Times article, “This Is Your Brain on Summer” By, Jeff Smink 2/27/11

     This is precisely the reason that as a mom I have always tried to infuse some fun learning opportunities into our summer so that my children don’t regress in their education. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED my lazy summers and I did keep my brain stimulated to some degree over the summer because I was always assigned a summer reading and I am a book-worm to begin with so there was always some casual recreational reading as well. Math, Science, anything that actual challenged my brain past purely fun reading though, that never happened and I want better for my girls academically than I set up for myself. Also I need to clarify here that I don’t ever want this to be summer school feeling and all-consuming of our summer, rather, be a fun way to incorporate learning into our summer entertainment & activities. Basically looking for  INTENTIONAL ways to learn while having fun so they don’t even realize they are learning the whole summer.( Take a look at my blog about Living Intentionally as a mother and woman here in Getting a Handle on the Summer Schedule)

 Being that I stay home out of necessity due to the nature of our family’s dynamic & make-up and having been so for the last 7 summers, I have done this in many ways over the years. I have become somewhat of a self proclaimed “Queen of Summer Fun” and I am always looking to one up myself, but it’s fun for me. Every year is still an enjoyable challenge to plan for though because our household dynamic keeps changing and the number of kids has changed more than once, and as their skills & interests change, so must my plans. These things in mind, I still love planning for and executing summer plans! This summer is no exception, this year we are doing weekly learning themes to “Keep Our Brains Fresh” until school resumes in the fall.

Our Plan As Follows

Every week of summer we will have a new weekly theme and we will be starting these themes next Monday as it is the first official full week of summer. The weekly themes my oldest daughter (she is helping me run & organize it this summer, just call her my “PA” personal assistant!) and I have decided to focus on are as follows:

  1. Outer Space
  2. Science
  3. Oceans
  4. Bugs & Butterflies
  5. American  History
  6. Colors & Shapes
  7. Caves
  8. Dinosaurs
  9. Super Spy School
  10. Rainforest
  11. Lego’s
  12. Water Fun

The idea we have regarding the weekly learning theme’s is to focus on a different theme each week that gives us a commonality to incorporate multiple different subjects under the same topic, much like daycare’s and preschools do. Each Monday I will be posting a new blog with our weekly theme and some of the lesson ideas and tools we will be using that week. I plan to focus about an hour an afternoon on a different subject each day but which days I execute which “assignments” will depend on the flow of each week . We will only be taking an hour out for assignments on typical school days, Mon- Fri. As I mentioned before, I don’t want their summer learning to ever feel like they are attending summer school for 3 months straight.

Each week I hope to cover these subject areas in our daily

Mission: KOBF hour

– Art project or craft, I don’t plan for this to be a big production every week. Most weeks will likely be coloring, painting or drawing, but again, depending on the theme for the week, I may change-up the difficulty level & intensity of the arts & crafts sometimes.

– Vocabulary Lesson, this may be as simple as providing a list of words to have my 7-year-old copy for practice neatly writing into a short sentence each and also for my older daughters to include in a creative writing assignment.

– Reading, storytime style taking turns from one week to the next depending on the difficulty of the book chosen each week. Some weeks my 7-year-old will read it out loud other weeks it may be one of my older two and on some occasions it will still be me (we have quite the expanse of books in our home so most of the books will likely come from our existing collection but I will share those titles when available in advance).

– Math, this will be a practice session with themed math worksheets whenever I am able to find or create them within our theme. On some occasions though they may be hands on activities, like baking or cooking, or measuring to create (i.e. helping to prepare a dish for a camping trip or family cookout=measuring lesson)

– Physical outing or activity, it may be as simple as a dance session to some kind of music that fits the theme or it may be a game or sport altered to fit the theme but whatever it is it will get our hearts pumping! ( because our family has a wide age range we may personally incorporate multiple variations of play to whatever activity we do. Take the liberty of personalizing our recommendations to fit your families dynamic & age span).

– Snacks, I have always been a food lover and as a creative person I find it fun to “play with food” in my family fun theme’s, learning experinces and celebrations. I’m a super cheesy person and love a good theme! I will use our weekly themes as an opportunity to look at our meals, snacks and treats through a different lense through the summer so look out for some fun snack/treat ideas inspired by our theme selections!

We’d Love You To Join Along!

As I can fit them into our theme I wil be looking for “field trip” opportunities and we always welcome friends along for those fun outing so watch out for those in our weekly plans if you are local to us! Also we welcome play dates in the summer schedule too. If you can’t join us in person we would still love to hear about your fun summer themes if you decide to put this plan in place to fit your kids and your family! Share pictures and stories in the comments!

Whether you plan to execute this identical to my plan and future blogs on the topic or whether you use is as a guide, or even not at all doesn’t really matter to me. What matters to me is that you are proactive about allowing your kids brains to properly be stimulated WITHOUT electronics and that you make it fun for your kids specifically because while you are doing this you aren’t just keeping their brains fresh, you are creating memories!  So go make memories this summer, but don’t forget to check back for more ideas on our themes and other summer fun memory making ideas!

As always, thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

 

 

Getting a Handle on the Summer Schedule

Gallery

When life hands you just the right tool at just the right time…

Summer is one week and one day away for our school district. Lazy days are upon us in just 8 days, sleeping in late, swimming like a fish, toes in the sand, cookouts, star-gazing, catching fire fly’s, bonfires and relaxing schedules right? Well at least in my dreams summer is filled with 12 weeks of pure relaxing summer bliss……………but then I wake up the first morning of summer break to the sounds of my little munchkins, pitter pattering through the house, bickering with each other (since my girls are 50/50 in the cheerful in the morning category) and trying to fix themselves breakfast. It is at this point every summer that reality comes crashing in and I realize that though we will fit those items into our summer it won’t be all fun & relaxation and we will have anything but a relaxing summer schedule.

With 4 kids that are all interested in many different activities (marching band, theater, basketball, gymnastics, youth group ect.), a husband working full-time and my own personal goals & career aspirations to fit into our summer schedule it can feel overwhelming to start with. Then factor in our on a whim summer adventure’s, family fun time, my small business (and “me-time” job with a mission that is Thirty-One), the never-ending list of “Honey do’s” as homeowners, my desire to incorporate devotion time & character building lessons into the rearing of my children and the hope that with a little planning I can keep their brains from turning into sludge over the summer and it may seem all together impossible……..BUT God has been using these last number of seasons for me as a mom to children in many different ages and stages at the same time to teach me the value of a plan, a schedule and a structure and to mold me into that style of parent in my own way.

Managing the chaos…

As a creative minded, strong right brain dominant thinker I tend to be a bit unplanned, spontaneous, and free-spirited of a person. So that means schedules, order, structure & numbers are not areas that comes natural to me at all. Did I mention I am a great procrastinator? I am, an amazing procrastinator actually. I have always said that I do my best work under pressure, as a high school fine art student all of my favorite work was finished at 3 am the morning it was due. Further proof that my brain as God designed it (in whatever damaged state it is at currently since it’s been mine to manage for over 3 decades) struggles to follow through, juggle thoughts & feelings and delegate tasks. God gave me the desire in my soul to do big things and the skills and personality to do so, however there’s been a battle in my head over that desire (for more years than I’d like to admit) between Satan & God.

It’s almost like the two are literally playing tug ‘o war with my thoughts, keeping me from believing that desire could ever turn into more and therefore keeping me from acknowledging the tools God has been equipping me with to be successful in Him. You see God designed me, so it goes without saying, He knows what makes me tick, He knows what ticks me off, He knows all the little things and all the big things and He knows the desires of my heart, because He placed them there.

So knowing this, it’s no wonder Satan would try to create uncertainty, doubt and difficult thoughts in our truth, because if we listen to him we would then deny our God-given gifts, and His will for us.

An uprising was beginning in me…

For many years I was stuck in that cycle, somewhere bouncing between knowing what my heart whispered and hearing what my head and the world screamed. I would let doubt, “practicality”, and fear hold me back. It was about the time I was becoming a “Mother of 3”  that God began an uprising in my spirit and my heart. I was plugged into a church that was just the right tool, at just the right time to begin arming me with the armor to fight back against Satan’s doubts. He plopped me ever so perfectly into an incredible community of believers with more spiritual teachers & Mentors than I could count brushing shoulders with me on Sundays and many of the days in between as well. It was a season of great personal growth in me as a mother, as an individual and as a daughter of Christ. It was also a time of great spiritual growth in my family. This season will come to inspire many more stories for future writings aside from this one, I assure you.

For this topic currently, this season for me between “Mother of 3” and “Mother of 4” are anything but pretty on a personal level. The fight was real and Satan won more times than I like in my head, but with each personal failure, with each low point God equipped me with a new lesson and a new tool. Some spiritual, some personal, some social (because mentally this is an area of great strain for me) and some very tangibly. This is one of those TANGIBLE TOOLS that I am certain God plopped right in my path to finish His molding of me in that season. To put a bookend on the “Volumes of Testimonies” from that season and seamlessly transition me into wholeheartedly embracing the next season He has for my family and “The Volumes of Testimonies” still to come for us…

The Tool…

The absolute most perfectly perfect planner for me! The best part is it really can be the most perfect planner for ANY of you because it puts the designing, creativity, need for clean lines and structure if that’s you, need for freedom and bold colors and visual stimulation if your like me. It lets you incorporate specific goals, hobbies and life tools, all into your planner however you see fit. Now I am getting ZERO kick back or benefit for writing this, it is simply my desire to share a tool God plopped in my lap with others to give you the opportunity to take control of your schedule back!

Now I found these on sale at Pat Catan’s yesterday when I went in to pick up a few last-minute items for my oldest daughters Pinterest themed 15th birthday party that is this upcoming Saturday. The display immediately caught my eye because I always feel the pressure to get ahead of the inevitable chaos that will fill our summer stealing away days if I am not careful. I have learned in this past season from “Mother of 3” to “Mother of 4” to get ahead of a problem in most cases and one way I do so in the case of our summer sanity is by planning, thinking ahead and spending just a little “Me Time” working on a plan and schedule ahead of time.  This is why as soon as I saw the sale sign and the selection of products available of the Create 365 THE HAPPY PLANNER I knew this was a God Wink as I call them and to top it off the items were 40% off! Now I am not certain how long this sale is for but the selection was quite vast.

Among the selection was a variety of choices of the base planner itself (which I did not purchase because I have one that God already plopped in my lap previously and will discuss further in a moment). What I did get were two of the multi sticker themed packs, Mom and Faith, a tube of 7 rolls of decorative washi tape and a small set of magnetic mini bookmarks. Also there were available, sticker packs that are Fitness Minded, Goal Minded, Teacher geared, vacation/travel geared, and over all just different style or design. There really was something for everyone I thought. There were plenty of accessory type add on’s as well from clips, pens, pouches & cases depending  of the planner and size you choose.

My Planner…

Now as I mentioned before, I only purchased the sticker packs & a few accessories to get down to creating and designing my existing planner, well two planners. I purchased a new calendar/basic planner a few weeks back with anticipation of getting ahead of the summer chaos and I immediately began implementing it for our bills and other important scheduling but I was disappointed that it lacked room to be able to include a devotion area, or goal setting pages that I had come to appreciate on the planner I was replacing. Typically I am replacing my planners in the summer but I do try to get 18 month calendar books so that can swap to January occasionally. It all depends on what planner I am coming off of really. If I’m  honest to I have gone weeks or months at a time without looking at it (and if I’m entirely honest that coordinates with my weakest mental state, most unorganized and frequently late weeks & months too). I function better when I let my Left Brain in on the action a little bit, especially now that I am managing schedules for 6 people! But it has always been a challenge for me to do so without putting my Right Brain to sleep. That is why I knew it was God when just 2 days after purchasing my new planner that I had IMMEDIATELY begun implementing (eliminating the ability to return it…) I came across this BEAUTY in a CLEARANCE bin at Jo Ann Fabrics (again picking up a few things for the Pinterest party I am planning). I can never resist the urge to dig through those big clearance bins when I am in any store but especially a craft store. My best deals and most favorite finds ALWAYS come from there!

So Here are a few page inserts from the new planner that I purchased for less than $10 on clearance. The only Bummer is that I have to wait to use it until January because it runs January-December but it can be completely customized as well and has blank dates on the calendar pages. I spent just a little time last night setting up my devotion pages with some of the stickers from my faith pack and I customized each Monthly cover with a quote sticker from one of the two different sticker packs. I said a little prayer  for God to guide my hands through choosing the sticker for each month with anticipation of them all being fresh reminders when I begin implementing that calendar in January.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I will continue working on setting this one up, dating the months, filling in birthdays and important dates for just a few minutes at the end of each planner session with the planner that I AM USING this summer through December. So here is a sneak peek of that too!

Now like I said before I am not getting any kind of reimbursement from the planner company or Pat Catan’s but I wanted to share the info so you could maybe utilize the sale to get a hold of your summer before it’s wasted away!  I did check Amazon too, they carry a wide selection also with some available through PRIME! I found this great 24 Month Planner Starter Kit so you should check it out On AMAZON too and find the right solution for you!

Whether you get this starter kit or a different one, whether you just buy accessories to jazz up the function & style for the planner that you currently have and/or use, or whether you stick with a routine that you have established and works for you it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we live INTENTIONALLY as moms, friends, wives, co-workers and daughters of Christ, because not living intentionally is a giant waste of the time and potential that your God Almighty has blessed you with and I for one know that when I am not careful and intentional it opens me up to the enemies lies. I don’t want to live in the enemies lies and I hope you won’t either. I pray you can discern the little God Winks the are placed in your life as ways to better you as a servant for Him, like I did with the finding of my planner, instead of looking at these whispers from God as something else to fail at or crowd our life & schedule.

Remember we are His children, created for His purpose so we can tell HIStory through our lives and He only wants The BEST for US…….He just may see that a little differently than we do, so look, listen and anticipate God Wink Opportunities, they are all around you when you try to find them!

Now I encourage you to find a system that works for you, if you need help feel free to ask me or ask a current Mentor in your life for their best tips to staying intentional with your time. Time wasted is music to the enemies ears, so go forth and be productive & most importantly INTENTIONAL with your time!

As always, thanks for reading!

~Rebecca