Bullet Journaling 101

IMG_7685

Raise your hand if you have some combination of a planner, a phone with notes x10, a digital calendar, a grocery list app, a meal planning notepad, a family calendar on the wall, and post-its in various spots around your house?

That was me a year ago. Everything was silo’d and organized, but there was no central spot for it. I was drawn to my iphone resources (calendar, notes) because my phone is always with me, but also feeling a draw to be on my screen less (especially around my kids), and feeling like all the tools I was using were disparate. I never felt like I had what I needed when I needed it. I would be reading a magazine, and it would have a meal plan idea, a new book I want to read, and a Netflix line up for Fall — and I wanted to record all of that information in addition to the great quote I heard on NPR while driving.

It was around then that I learned about Bullet Journaling through an Atomic Moms podcast interview with Ryder Carroll. The minimalist in me loved the idea of using any blank journal — who doesn’t have a drawer of them? And the wanting-to-be-more-mindful mama in me loved the mindfulness aspect of Bullet Journaling.

I have wanted to write about this for a long time, but it took me a long time to find my own groove, and I want to encourage you to find your own groove if you feel a draw toward this type of planning.

Reasons why I have grown to love BuJo:

  • I can curl up with my journal and my pen anywhere, anytime, and everything I need is at my fingertips; this includes when I am with my kids at the park or the pool, where I don’t want to be on my phone, but I do have a few minutes (or planning thoughts that need to be recorded)
  • It allows me to be creative with pens and lettering, which is something I feel drawn toward but in a more private sense (don’t love my lettering enough to do it as a side-hustle)
  • I no longer have decision fatigue- when I want to record a gift idea, a future event date, a meal plan idea, I know exactly where to go; I make a new page, index it and move on
  • I have a record of my life – I can look back at how my weeks looked, at my notes from a particularly great speaker I attended, at which meals I have made and loved in October, and at my summer planner
  • I have recognized the mindfulness aspect of carrying forward tasks, re-writing them, re-committing to them
  • I have a perfect view of my week every week that serves me (I got here via trial and error)
  • I didn’t need to spend any money or do anything extra to do this habit so it fits in line with my minimalism journey

The basics of bullet journaling are:

  • Buy or find a blank notebook and a pen you really like
  • Start out with an index – number your pages as such, add to your index anytime (e.g. Christmas Lists, Future Blog Post ideas, shows to watch on Netflix)
  • Figure out your best page layout – I did this through trial and error – I’ll show you where I started below and where I have ended up
  • Don’t get too bogged down in the beautiful symbols and watercolors of others who do #bujo – I let that make me feel bad for a while, but now I’m back just reveling in the simplicity and productivity of this habit
  • Change it up when it doesn’t work for you (for example, I used to record when I was going to work out in every day; I later realized, my workout is daily, and the time changes, and there is no point in writing it on my schedule)
  • Resist the urge to use other tools, but instead think about how you can use your BuJo to fit that same need
  • Check out resources below for help

My Bullet Journal

IMG_7686

The format that I have found that works for me is a little different than what is initially recommended by Ryder. When I started, I was making a section for each day as the week went along – this is what Ryder suggests so you don’t take up too much space in the Journal – so the idea is that some days are short, and some days are long (with notes) so you shouldn’t draw it all out in advance. This worked for me for a bit, but I realized that I usually plan my whole week out on Sunday or Monday so I needed to see a full vision of the week to make it fit together – and I usually have enough space for notes since my life is not full of a lot of meetings (at this point).  In my original style, I used Ryder’s suggested bullets (circles for appointments, bullets for tasks and arrows for things you are carrying forward, an X to x through a completed task, and strike-through if it wasn’t being carried forward. My current style uses circles for appointments but allocates tasks broadly thoroughout the week. If you are using your BuJo for work and you have more notes, I could see why that style could work for you. We are all such unique creatures!

Original Style:

IMG_7722

IMG_7721

Current Style:

Every week I use an index card to draw these lines:

IMG_7679

Then I fill in the dates and section headers:

IMG_7681

In addition to drawing out the week in advance using a ruler, I also learned that I needed a spot for my “dinner plan” and a spot for overall to-dos. I am not at the point where I can assign my weekly to-dos to a certain day of the week, so when I did that, I was having to move my bullets forward a lot, vs. just having an overall vision of what I want to accomplish during the week which I look at throughout the week.

IMG_7683

Last, I found that I like to look ahead and know what is coming down the pike. I added a section for upcoming that helps me look ahead without having to flip the page. And, because I had room, I added a spot for my shoppping list which I later assign to each store on my OurGroceries App.

Overall, 9 months into this habit, and I continue to learn about myself, my habits, intentions and planning style. If you have been thinking about doing this, I would encourage you to use a notebook you have hanging around and just get started! It is freeing to have everything in one place and has streamlined life planning, meal planning and weekly planning.

Do you BuJo? Let me know in the comments what layout works for you!

Resources

Kids’ Thank You Notes

For as long as I can remember, I have had an encyclopedic version of Emily Post’s Etiquette on my book shelf. It, along with Strunk & White, and my falling apart copy of The World According to Garp, are some of my mainstays. The version I have of Post allows you to tab quickly through sections devoted to invitations, entertaining, condolences, and weddings.

So, it should come as no surprise to you dear readers that I’m a real devotee of the Thank You note. Friends know me as the person who will write a thank you note for a thank you note. “Now you really shouldn’t have, but I’m so glad you did!” lives on hard in the South, as does the simple act of an acknowledgement.

IMG_1531

How you will know that you and I have really made it as friends, is when we actually agree to stop sending each other Thank you notes. I reached that little moment with my friend Kaki in Alabama before we moved- when we had thank you’d each other’s thank yous about eleven times, and so we agreed we would put a thank you truce on things, save some trees. But we both still  know that in our minds’ eyes- thank yous are still flying.

Still, I am a woman of reason, and a woman of not infinite time and means (see: childcare, 9 scant hours per week). I recognize, and appreciate, the texted photo that says “we love this gift- we’re using it!” and I adore the Paperless Post thank you note because it tells me that you were able to write them and cross them off your list while watching the Bachelor. I have no judgement for the way and style in which you choose to acknowledge a gift or a kindness, I just ask so kindly that you do it eventually, and that you teach your children well.

IMG_1532

All that being said, it is has been tough for me to accept the fact that I am now responsible for the gratitude-giving for 3 out of the 4, or let’s be honest, 4 out of the 4 members of my family (not actually completely true: my husband has the most delicious stationary and he writes a mean thank you note). I have struggled for years with how to appropriately give thanks and gratitude on behalf of my children and myself.

Well, this year, I came up with a solution and I really wanted to share it with you in the hopes it makes you as happy as it makes me. In my constant pursuit of the hobbies-that-don’t-require-scrolling, I have taken up hand lettering and watercolor. For a few dollars at Michael’s, I bought a watercolor paper book and a set of paints. I enjoy listening to my 1970s folk americana at night before Zac gets home (give me all the Joni Mitchell) and watercoloring, and Marilyn has taken to it, too, sharing a water cup with me and asking me to draw her favorite things.

IMG_1534

Last month, she asked me to draw a unicorn, and then she painted it, and an idea was born. I would hand letter Thank You, and sign it from her, and commission some thank you notes with her original artwork. This was the first part of the aha moment. The second part came when I had done my research and selected Vistaprint as my vendor. They were simply the easiest by far, and most affordable, and allowed me the most options to customize my card type. I looked into others like Costco, Shutterfly, etc, but they didn’t fit the bill. Once I had selected Vistaprint, I realized I could also fill in the text. So, I sat down with Marilyn and asked her what she wanted to thank her adoring fans for- and she came forth with this little adorable novella of sorts that started out with, “turning four was the best day of my life.” I cleaned it up a bit, and clicked order.

IMG_1533.jpg

Readers, dear readers, these customized little works of art come time capsules were 30 cards for $18.98 ($6.99 of which was shipping and handling) including the envelopes, and they arrived at my doorstep 5 days later. The next part of the fun of a four year old was that she spent an entire “Quiet Time” (more coming on that later) writing her letter “M” on each one, and then stuffing the envelopes, sealing them, and adding the stamp.

The project took us a few days to finish, but I’m really proud of the results. So far, everyone loves them, and I think her spirit really shines through. She is really proud of having contributed to the entire project, and I feel like it was actually one of those projects that I had more of an Adam Smith hand in, instead of a heavy “I did your Science Fair Project” kind of hand in.

I hope she never loses her sense of gratitude. And I hope you enjoy this little mom hack!

xo

The Minimalist Birthday Party

When you first have a baby, you’re like omgggg I get to celebrate another human’s birthday. Along the way, you celebrate every single week, and month. They make stickers that you just slap on your kid to help with this task. It’s loads of fun. Then, when the first birthday of your firstborn arrives, it feels like a national holiday! You take the day off, you plan for months, there are photo shoots involved, Etsy printables, themes off the chain.

Then you have more kids, and you sleep a little less, and sticker a little less, and track a little less (what day is it?) and some seasons it starts to feel like every other month is someone else’s birthday. And it can get, well, fatiguing and let’s be honest, bank-breaking.  And man, not to mention the emotional labor, how about Birthday Party labor, mamas? Show me a man who has done anything to make his kid’s birthday magical and I’ll cook him dinner. (I’m sure they exist, but not in my house).

I love birthdays, I truly do. I am that mom who fills her kids room with balloons and makes ombre pancakes. But in light of life, and the fact that our birthdays will all keep trekking on for the 50 or so years, if we’re lucky, I needed a more sustainable, manageable solution that still feels magical.

Enter: the magical, minimal, at-home birthday party. Mamas, I’m here to take some stuff of your plate. There will be years when your kids don’t want a birthday party, don’t mention it,  and don’t care. This at home stash of stuff will fly for your husband, your mother-in-law and your 3 year old. You make it special and you make it yours, and you never have to spend money again. I have chosen a primary color scheme because it’s gender neutral, age neutral and works for everything and maximizes the use of these items. I keep everything in a birthday tub, so it’s easy to unpack the bday celebration and pack it righttttt backkkkk up.

The staples:

A birthday placemat: this is the one we have and we love it and it matches the color scheme.

img_1129

A hand-painted birthday plate (or buy one!): I did a whole post on this over here, but this has been a staple in our house and I love that it’s handmade. If you aren’t feeling it, you can buy one. Try to make it gender neutral.

img_1131

 

Birthday hats: the key here is that you buy them once, collect them, and reuse them. These hats have been worn 147 times. I’m only slightly exaggerating. I use them all the time for little kid things and adult things, I schlep them to restaurants, and parks, but you better believe I collect them back and re-use them. Yes, you can buy anything these days for $5, but should you?

img_1127

Banner: this banner has also been used so many times. I recycle it and spell whatever I need. It holds up well, and comes with waxed string to insert and I can attest to the fact that it will hold up for you and spell everything you need to spell from Byeeeeeee, Bandi (Like I did for my Sister-in-law’s going away party) to Happy Fortieth (for my husband) and Lovefest (for Valentines Day).

 

Cake bunting and candles: I collect candles that I find at the Dollar Store, Target, and occasionally at other birthday parties when people are just going to toss them. I have a little ziplock I keep of candle selections and some toppers for cakes like this one from Target. This one is similar and I love it. Resist the urge to over personalize this stuff- stay primary colors/golds! You can pick up a cake from the grocery store and personalize it quite easily.

Number balloons: this is not an item that I would normally buy, but I had the giant 4 leftover from when my husband turned 40. I am in support of getting these because they can be reused and repaired together to form different numbers. Just be sure to carefully deflate them so you can re-inflate them for the next birthday. So, now I have a 4 which I will use again in a few years for the next kiddo.

Other than the decor, the rest of the at home birthday party should fit your style – we always make our kids’ favorite meal or breakfast and play the Happy Birthday mix on Spotify.

I hope that this helps you build up your at-home birthday closet and keeps decision-fatigue low for you, mama, as you encounter many more happy birthdays with your family. What are your tried and true minimalist at-home birthday closet items?  xo

 

 

 

These Clothes Aren’t My Friends Anymore

A trail of milk runs from her heart-shaped mouth, over her cheek and down the folds of her neck. She still has the pinkish tint, curled up feet and hands of a newborn. Her half-dressed mama and I are sunk deep into the couch, coffees in hand, chatting easily, the way you can with a good friend who comes from the same place of the world that you do. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were knocking on the door, but we ignore them;  we’ve found our little bit of heaven inside.

“And, I need to start losing weight.”

We are passing a newborn baby back and forth; one who hasn’t been in the world long enough to see a new month on the calendar, and her words hang between us. “No, I really do. And really soon.”

Oh, mama. I don’t have the words to tell her that she will get there eventually, but not today, sweet girl, and not fast, and it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done aside from pushing that baby out. We pick up and carry the weight with such an effortless sense of purpose; shedding it is a whole different story.

***

It sucks and takes forever to feel like yourself physically, but at least you will know that this is totally normal.” I’ve received an email from a friend of a friend after having a sobbing breakdown during our monthly phone date. The email comes to try to rescue me from my self-hatred, and talk me back down from thoughts I’ve been having: maybe I’ll just starve myself; maybe I’ll only eat foods that start with the letter K; maybe I’ll start pumping more to burn more calories; maybe I’ll never be in a photograph again.  The breakdown comes on the heels of an incident in my closet. I am trying to find a green shirt to wear for St. Patrick’s Day. My daughter is 5 weeks old, and I end up stealing a Guinness t-shirt from my husband and trying to pawn it off as a tunic over white jeans. He comes into the closet and gives me a look that lets me know that my borrowed-giant-tee-come-tunic isn’t working, and I burst into fitful, hysterical tears because nothing, green-or-not, is working on my new body.

The email from the friend-of-a-friend convinces me that I should go shopping, ignore the sizes, and buy a few things that I feel great in so that I can leave the house. About a week later, I buy a “capsule” wardrobe at the Loft. This later becomes a hip new term for dressing yourself for a season in only 10-25 pieces of clothing. I live on my 10 items of clothing for an entire summer because my old clothes don’t just not-fit, they look like they belong to a different species.

During that summer, I live in my post-partum summer capsule wardrobe while we cross the country with our new baby. This is a season of life that I will later remember as the one where my thighs rubbed together nonstop under the punishing heat of Summer. At night, lying under scratchy bedspreads in hotels, I dream of burning the wardrobe when we get to our final destination. When we arrive in California, I’m reunited with our belongings after 3 months of travel. Standing in my new walk-in closet, hanging up my items of clothing on their hangers, I start to cry. There is no joy in being reunited with this wall of used-to-be. These clothes aren’t my friends anymore.

***

It’s 5:40 am. For two years, four months, and one week, I have been rising on my own terms to do the hard work of shedding. Shedding the pounds. Shedding the self-loathing. It’s unglamorous and painful. Sometimes, as I tiptoe through the house in the early hours, I can hear them stirring. My gift from the universe is when I come home and the house is still quiet. I should shower, make lunches, fold laundry, but instead, I pour myself a cup of hot coffee and drink it in peace, savoring the feeling of reclamation. Today my coffee cup says #iwokeuplikethis; no, I didn’t. This awakening was slow and steady and uncomfortable, and sometimes it moved so slowly, it was practically moving backwards, but move, it did.

I reclaimed my body, which had been heavily on loan to the two tiny humans, just sixteen months part, for the better part of my marriage. By reclaiming my body, I don’t mean that I woke up one day and realized that I had the body of my dreams. By reclaiming, I mean that I took back ownership and control, and in small ways, I saw change.

***

Last Saturday, I was on the circle of our street with the kids at dusk trying to kill time until dinner. We had tied a silver balloon from a birthday party to the back of my daughter’s tricycle. She flew around the circle faster and faster until it became untied – slipping away. We stood watching it fly away. First, it was close, and then very quickly it was high in the sky. We stood for what seemed like forever watching it get smaller and smaller in the sky. Every time we thought it was gone, we would squint and realize it was still there, even higher in the sky. Eventually, we stopped squinting.

That was how it went with my self-loathing. Even while my body changed, and I made new friends with mom jeans, fit and flare dresses and black v-necks, I could still hear my negative thoughts in my head. Over time, I would think they were totally gone, but I would realize that if I still squinted they were there, floating over my head, getting further and further away, but still out there.

***

“Let’s go on a walk, when you’re ready.” My urge is to hug her and say “you don’t need to worry about that for a long time, just worry about loving that sweet little baby.” But I see her. And I was her. And you’ve been her, or you’ve known her. Your kids will love you, no matter what. Your husband will want you, no matter what. Your friends have been there, so they understand, but you won’t love yourself again until you reclaim yourself. It would be easy to tell her to dismiss the thoughts, but instead, I say, make friends with them. They’ll be around for a while, so you may as well get comfortable. They’ll be over your shoulder, and later up in the sky, they’ll float far away, and the may ebb back toward you. They’ll sneak up on you when you least expect them. But, someday, in the not too distant future, on a beautiful day, you’ll look up in the sky, and all you’ll see are the clouds.

***

 

Party Planning: Rosebud Ice Cubes

The first name I had for this blog was “I’ll pour the champagne”….it was a play on celebrating the little wins in life, and the fact that I have a ridiculous number of photos of me pouring champagne, like it’s all I do. Basically, I chase toddlers, but when I’m not chasing toddlers, a high proportion of my #selfcare involves days spent with girlfriends, celebrating big and small things, and pouring champagne.

img_0655

So, when my dear friend Margie introduced me to this idea a few years ago, I bookmarked it in my brain as the kind of small perfect detail I would use over and over again to make events feel particularly special. Rosebud ice cubes are an almost effortless way to ice your champagne for your next event – whether it’s a girls night out, a baby shower, or a bridal shower or luncheon with your besties.

In an ode to minimalism, these silicon ice cube molds can be used for all kinds of things, including other kinds of ice (stay tuned for glitter ice!), and various crafts. I use ice cube molds for sorting with the kids, and as snack trays for picnics and travel (these have lids, which make snack-transport easy.)

img_0635

I made these ice cubes this weekend for a baby shower for one of my oldest and dearest friends. I love how the yellow pops with the gold foil of the champagne. Also, if you haven’t tried it yet, the Trader Joe’s Blanc de Blancs is my new jam for sparkling wine – perfect dry, bubbly and affordable. While choosing champagne last time at TJ’s, I watched five people in a row grab a bottle of this. Now, I buy it by the case, because when you have toddlers, you need to celebrate survival on the weekly.

Rose Ice Cubes

Materials needed: silicon ice cube trays (large enough to hold a flower); boiling water; 12-16 rose buds; 8 hours or overnight.

img_0633

  1. Boil water – we’re boiling the water because if it’s not boiled, the ice cubes don’t freeze clear – you don’t want foggy cubes
  2. Cut buds, and place them in the ice cube trays – in this case, I was a few short
  3. Pour over boiling water
  4. Freeze overnight
  5. Thaw for 10-15 minutes before popping them out
  6. Scatter at the top of a champagne bucket on top of your other ice.
  7. Note: these are not edible, and should not be placed in drinks!

img_0636

Enjoy!

Anatomy of a Fabulous Guest Room

When you move every two years, and live 2,000 miles away from almost everyone you know, you have a lot of visitors. Our house, for the past 4 years, has been an open door to countless visits from friends and family. What greater gift is there than the gift of a visitor?

When visitors are coming to my home, it feels like Christmas morning does to other people. My Christmas morning is when someone is in an Uber on the way to my house, and I have their favorite drink chilling, a bunch of surprises set up in their room, and a house that rises up to meet them.

img_4859

Over the years, I have honed my hosting style and I thought today I would share a few of the ways you can indulge your guests and make a stay at your casa as transporting as a stay at a fancy boutique hotel.

Linens: linens are step one to having a fantastic guest room. I swear by Jennifer Adams sheets and we have them on all of our beds. We just bought a fresh set for our guest room. Many people use their old towels, but good, large, soft towels are a must for your guest room.

A fuzzy blanket: alone time is good for everyone, even during visits, and I want guests to feel like they can retreat to their room for a good cat nap or snuggle up with a book. I love the totally decadent blankets from HomeGoods like this one.

A robe: I remember reading that Martha Stewart gave her guests cashmere robes and scoffing. Now, I realize the value of one. Guests may want to sneak downstairs for a cup of coffee, or they may need to dart between rooms to borrow something, and a robe is a really lovely thing to hang in the closet since most people don’t travel with one. I’m obsessed with this Jennifer Adams one which cools in the summer and warms in the winter, and can be unisex.

Slippers and/or fuzzy socks: I either buy slippers for my guest, or give them a pair of fuzzy socks to wear when they’re here. Or if you’re really special, you get these.

IMG_0496

The gift of pajamas: I love giving people a set of pajamas when they arrive. After years of buying expensive Soma pajamas, my friend Gina turned me onto these from Target that are as soft, as lovely as anything I’ve owned, and I have bought them for tons of friends. They look expensive, and more importantly, they look great without a bra because they are black. When you’re a guest in someone’s home, sometimes some proper pajamas are just what you need to wear downstairs in the morning. They also come in a version with pants.

img_4861

Treat jar: I have had a treat jar in the guest room for as long as I can remember. I fill it about once a month with treats I pick up at HomeGoods. No chocolate craving will go unsatisfied in this house! I picked up the jar at HomeGoods, but this one is adorable from Target.

img_0498

A sign with things you need to know: I recently hand-lettered this one and did some watercolor. I like to include the wi-fi password, and any other applicable details. In this case, we installed a charging station on the nightstand, so guests wouldn’t have to dig around for an outlet, and we keep a tupperware of extra toiletries and towels in the closet.

Closet: I think it’s helpful to leave 5-10 empty hangers in the closet, as well as any extra linens, pillows and a fan if the room doesn’t have one. I also include a hair dryer in the closet.

Luggage rack: it took me a while to find one of these, but I think I wasn’t looking in the right place. I picked mine up at the Habitat for Humanity Restore for $10 or you can buy one here.

Welcome sign: I used to use a chalk board sign and write welcome and the weather for the week. Now, I use a felt letter board and usually put Welcome and a photo of the guest and us together.

Ear plugs: I leave a little tumbler of ear plugs in the guest room at all times.

Toiletries: I keep a lot of little toiletries around from hotels, and I also stock the shower and bathroom with Beautycounter faves.

Fresh flowers: always the perfect touch- sometimes I clip a few from my table arrangement and put them in a bud vase, and sometimes I make an arrangement especially for the room. This makes the room complete.

Personalized coffee mugs: all of the grandparents have personalized Shutterfly coffee mugs at our house- if you watch our kids, you get one and I bring them out just when they visit – each one includes photos of each grandparent with the kids. I set these out in the morning next to the coffee maker in the morning.

What are your ideas for hosting? What special things do you do for guests? 

Minimalist Gift Giving

The world is in a temporary Japanese tizzy over Marie Kondo, and 79.9%* of Americans spent their 3-day MLK weekends cleaning out their stuff. The process of going through your items, thanking each of them and purging them is both batshit crazy and cathartic. Taking bins of stuff to Goodwill and giving away all of your worldly possessions feels so good in the moment, and it is, but sticking with the KonMari style of living requires a constant vigilance about what you bring back into your house, and it pretty much means never going to HomeGoods or Target again, am I right?

img_5280

True story: After being a slave to it for years, I gave up my Amazon Prime membership a year ago. I took away my easy access to the goods. Despite the fact that I live in America where anything can be purchased at every moment, because I have two kids, I never get to stores to buy anything. The last time I took my kids they used their tiny devil fingers to drag every single SKU price tag in the grocery store to the end of the aisle so it looked like the stuff at the end cost $1.99.99.1.69.4.29.2.49×1000. And I had to run out and change my name and stop shopping there. But, I digress.

img_6752

Attempting to live a more minimal existence is about a thousand tiny little decisions you make every day, and with kids it is way more complex because you only get caught throwing away your kids’ crap oncetwice, ok three times before you realize you are guaranteeing they will be in therapy one day. I used to think it was crazy when I bought something used and the mom asked me to come under the cover of darkness to pick it up. Like, lady, just tell your kids you’re selling it, why don’t you? Now, I get it. I’m that lady who sells things under the cover of darkness and then collects my mat money the next day.

One of the areas that has had an extra challenge in my life is gifts. Since I Marie Kondo’d over a year ago, a process that took over 6 months, I have become more conscious of the gifts we give and receive. So, when my wise friend Fontaine made a post this week about gift ideas she loves for people, it inspired me to post this list, many borrowed from her and crowd sourced, in an attempt to give you all some new ideas for gift giving all of the KonMariers in your lives. Really, these are just thoughtful ideas for people you love, who have everything, or who are hard to buy for or who you just plain want to make happy.

Your Partner

  1. Take the kids away for a weekend or longer and let them have the house to themselves for a bit. Moms- we never get to be in a quiet house- we always have to leave to get peace- amiright?
  2. Pre-arranged and paid for girls or guys night out or trip with friends. This is particularly good for husbands who have great friends but never make plans with them, but always want to. 
  3. Fly in a good friend for the weekend, or vice versa. This is the best. Import a bestie.
  4. A surprise golf/spa/shooting/wine tasting/pick your poison relaxation day.
  5. Pre-arranged date night – surprise them, book the sitter and get a reservation and an uber. I love to tell my husband at 5 pm when we’re both losing our minds to go get dressed, because we’re getting out of jail.
  6. Get their car detailed or install an autostarter for the winter (my #1 gift this year)
  7. A date jar – filled with ideas that they get to choose from for the year. Get creative.

For Friends/Family

  1. Subscriptions: there are so many now. A subscription to a great magazine (I’m looking at you Magnolia Home). A subscription to a clothing service for a friend who has lost weight or has a new job. A subscription to the meat of the month club (it exists!)
  2. A jar of soup! Double your recipes – give a jar away every week – I do this every single week, and I love to surprise people with a jar of homemade soup.
  3. A copy of a favorite book with a handwritten note as to why you thought they would enjoy it, why it made you think of them, etc. I am buying this book for everyone this year. I will routinely buy 4-5 copies of a book I love just to have something to give a friend when I need something. Girl, Wash Your Face is another great gift book, as is Michelle Obama’s book.
  4. A contribution to a charity that you know is meaningful to them. Write them a card telling them you donated on their behalf.
  5. Print out a photo from memorable time together and frame it. HomeGoods FTW. Most gorgeous frames.
  6. For a milestone – a Boombox is a curated box of memories and cards. Long gone are the days of scrapbooking- this makes collaboration so much easier.
  7. A class together: from cooking, to watercolor – classes are much more fun together, and you get to spend time together, too. I got my mom a gift certificate for her and 3 of her tennis friends to go drink wine and paint a canvas this year.
  8. A gift certificate for a few hair cuts- most men have to get their hair cut every 2-3 weeks, and if you know where a woman gets her haircut, you can treat her there

For kids:

  1. Consumables – art supplies, playdough, watercolors, stickers, and crayons or markers. Drawing pads, washi tape.
  2. Homemade playdough- you can make this with your kids with three ingredients and give it in ziplocks with a note added – the making can be a great activity for a rainy day.
  3. Experiential gifts- a day together, a museum or indoor play space membership, classes.

Friends In Need

  1. A cleaning service – this is a huge blessing for those who are struggling and may not need meals
  2. Offer to set up a MealTrain for them – it is free, takes five minutes and can be adjusted/set to their preferences.
  3. Offer to make a grocery run for them, get their list, do the leg work and treat them
  4. Deliver a freezer meal- sometimes when people are in need food pours in, and then it goes dry- a freezer meal with clear instructions can be really nice for people to have on hand for when they need a meal.
  5. A regular “walking” date  (love this one, Fontaine!) is the gift of your time with no obligation for either of you to spend money.
  6. A regular night of support – when a friend’s husband was away recently for a month around the holidays, I put myself on her calendar every Wednesday. It took away the need for communication, and made it easy for me to support her. I brought dinner, and fed our kids.

img_6687

For New Moms

  1. Offer to come and help with housework. Hold the baby while she showers, and do a few loads of laundry, unload the dishwasher. Don’t stay too long.
  2. Offer to watch the baby while the new parents take a walk or go to lunch for an hour. Often, it’s hard to find someone willing. Or, offer to take the baby on a walk while the parents take a nap.
  3. Offer to pick up groceries
  4. Frozen lactation cookie dough balls that can be baked anytime
  5. An appointment for a blow out at a blow dry bar while you walk the baby around in the stroller

img_3694

For a Hostess

  1. Everyone offers to bring something for the meal, but how many people think about the next morning? My friend Emily pioneered the idea of bringing delectable homemade or bakery muffins or croissants and fresh juice or coffee with a little note for “after the guests are gone!”. Your hosts will be thinking of you the next morning
  2. A mason jar of flowers; include the tops to the jars so they are functional once they are done as vessels; you can use old jars from spaghetti sauce and clean them up. One friend likes to give a set of 4 mason jars so they can put little pops of color around the house.
  3. A potted succulent that doesn’t need a lot of maintenance and can be displayed inside or outside.
  4. I love to bring a basket of fresh farmers berries (see above) and a vintage berry basket.

I’d love to keep adding to this list as you think of more ideas – so post in the comments or in the comments on the Facebook page and I’ll add!

*completely made up statistic

Clove Oranges (Toddler Style)

Minimalism at the holidays is a tough one. It’s one thing to say you are going to buy less, store less, decorate less, but its challenging to achieve that during a time of year when the world seems to be calling: spenddddd moneyyyyy on meeeee. One way I combat the buying/storing problem and the overwhelmingness of boxes of decor is by using natural materials for indoor decor. This year, Trader Joe’s delivered with evergreen garlands and wreaths, and we incorporated berries from our holly bushes inside. Still, I was jonesing for a centerpiece for this weekend and loathe to bring another item into the house. Then I remembered the retro simplicity of clove orange pomanders.

IMG_9241

I’m not crafty. I’m not saying I don’t have vision or creativity, but I seriously lack the patience to follow through on crafts, and every time I try to do them with my kids, I end up regretting it, re-upping our memberships to places that are not-home and getting out of the house no matter what the temps or the inertia.

Still, every once in a while I need an activity that isn’t messy to fill an hour of time, and I have a certain nostalgia for these clove oranges that I grew up making. Pomanders apparently date back to medieval times, but the modern iterations like these have been popular since I was growing up in the 80s (and maybe before? Chime in if you know, my googling is coming up short).

IMG_9251

I started to wonder if I could adapt clove oranges to toddlers, so first I thought- Halos! What toddler doesn’t love a halo and they are perfect for small hands. Next, I realized that if I left the clove placement to chance, I would end up with one orange with 87 cloves in a bunch, and one with 2 cloves spaced out randomly.  I figured that if I could make the holes for the cloves with skewers, that my kids could practice their hand-eye coordination and put the cloves in the holes. Keeping in mind that my 2.5 year old still won’t put his own socks on and wants to be fed airplane style, I didn’t have high hopes.

IMG_9248

Turns out that this was a wonderful way to spend an hour before dinner. Both kids enjoyed having the holes pre-pierced – I forgot how hard you have to press to pierce the skin of the orange, and they both loved this activity (at ages 2.5 and 3.5).

IMG_9253

So, if you’re looking for a non-messy, relatively cheap and easy project with the kiddos that results in a totally delectable smelling house, pick up some halos and a jar of whole cloves. You can also glue gun ribbons on if you want to hang these on the tree, and I’m told you can dry them and save them for future years. I probably won’t be doing that, but they’ll be on my table until after the New Year.

IMG_9288

 

 

How I do: Teacher Gifts

IMG_9006

When you become a mom, you get indoctrinated into this whole underbelly of extras. Things you never knew you never knew. Cognitive leaps – what? Sleep regressions (had to look this one up). Hands free pumping bras. Taking turns vs. sharing. Baby led weaning. Playdates. And, eventually, when you are one of the lucky ones among us who gets to hand our absolutely delightful children over to qualified, loving teachers with seemingly infinite wells of patience, teacher gifts.

They sneak up on you the first year; some other mom casually asks at drop off- what are you doing for teacher gifts? That launches you into a paralysis of sorts. I’m here to help.

IMG_9003

In my extensive market research which is by no means supported by any statistical methods, 100% of teachers want cash money. But that seems a bit tacky, no? So, I’ll soften that to say that 100% of teachers want gift cards. Still, it just doesn’t scream “I need you in my life. You are the reason I can [insert thing you love doing alone here] alone. You are the reason I can visit the gynecologist or get a root canal without getting a babysitter. I love you.”

So, enter the homemade gift. Last year, I made mini marzipan dark chocolate scone loaves for the teachers, and wrapped them with parchment. The year before, I made homemade bolognese sauce for the teachers (Instant Pot!), and attached a package of organic spaghetti. This year, I’m looking to two of the most bad-ass Southern mamas I know, and poaching their recipe and sharing it with all of you.

In my profesh opinion as a mom for less than the length of a Presidential adminstration, teachers love the gift card + homemade item combo. And a card professing your love – don’t forget that part.

My little sweethearts delivered these to their teachers this morning and I already got this text: “you realize you’re one of those put together moms that everyone *wants* to hate but can’t because it’s adorable and you’re so nice, right? (I mean this as an utter compliment, by the way).” Life goals achieved.

Don’t skimp on your teachers. I made 18 mini loaves of this bread by doubling the recipe. That means everybody including the post man is going to feel loved this holiday season. And remember, a little red and white twine works for everrrrryyyyyyy holiday! Minimalist wrapping at its best.

Six Flavor Pound Cake

Heather and Cindy (mother-daughter duo) can bake. Just take my word for it. All of their recipes are to-die-for and last year when they delivered a cookie plate to my house, I levitated a little when I tasted this pound cake. Regular pound cake, while a favorite of my husband’s, has always been just a little too basic for me. I took platters of this to a cookie exchange last night and it rocked the room. It is aromatic, unexpected, and it has butter flavored Crisco for goodness sake. Let’s leave the trans-fats convo for another day. Your teachers need the crumb that this Crisco provides.

IMG_8966

3 cups sugar

1/2 lb butter (unsalted)

1/2 cup shortening (I used butter flavored because I do what Cindy says)

5 eggs

3 c. flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 cup milk

2 tsp each  (divided- half goes in the glaze) vanilla, almond, lemon, coconut, rum and butter extracts

1/2 cup water

1.5 cups confectioners sugar

you will need a tube pan – I used the 16 cup Nordic Tube Pan with excellent results. I’m really glad I bought this pan. If you’re giving these away, this will make 9 mini loaf pans each recipe. I used these which are fantastic quality. 

IMG_8970

Cream together in a stand mixer: room temperature butter, shortening and sugars.

Add eggs, beat until lemon colored.

In a small bowl, mix milk with extracts. In another bowl, mix flour and salt and baking powder. Starting and ending with milk, add them to the mixer alternating milk and flour until it’s gone. Beat, scraping down sides.

Bake large tube pan at 350 for 1.5 hours. Bake mini loaves on a sheet pan for 1 hour at 350, turning once if you remember.

IMG_8972

Cool on rack. Mix 1/2 cup water with 1.5 cups of confectioners sugar and 1 tsp each of extracts. Poke holes in the top of the pound cake, and pour on glaze or brush it on liberally.

How We Do: Family Photos

Brittany Maynard Photography-11 (1)

You’ll remember my tirade on Christmas cards, but I’m a true sucker for the family photo shoot. Still, because I can’t not have a controversial opinion on anything these days, between you and me, I’ve been feeling they’re a bit….overdone?

I grew up in a time of high-key photography. My mother is a professional photographer, and she owned her own photography studio for most of my life. She was a master of the portrait, and her studio was filled with props and backgrounds. Back then, we sat on bright white backgrounds held or sat on props.

Brittany Maynard Photography-23

Now, we drag our props into the middle of fields. We sit on velvet armchairs in fields of wheat, curl up our newborns on tufted stools on the beach and casually pose on perfectly antique trucks on Christmas Tree farms.

Brittany Maynard Photography-32

When one friend was looking for a newborn photographer last year, she was told there was an extra cost for siblings, an extra cost if the baby was more than 10 days old and an extra cost for coming to her home. Kind of reminds me of when I stay at a luxury hotel I’m spending way more, but everyone seems to cost extra.

Brittany Maynard Photography-27

Photo shoots have become so stressful that I’m relatively sure there isn’t a husband in America who doesn’t die a little inside when he sees the shared Google calendar invite. True story, I once fed my kids over 300 tic tacs to get through a Christmas Card shoot.

Brittany Maynard Photography-18

So, when I serendipitously met a fellow mama at ballet class for Marilyn, and she happened to be a documentary style family photographer, I jumped at the chance to spend a morning with my family, and her from a safe distance away, doing the things we love to do – exploring, walking, playing hide and go seek in the heart of our new town.  We scheduled the shoot, hastily chose outfits, and spent an incredible morning together. The images from that Fall morning perfectly capture the blessed imperfection of our lives right now.

Brittany Maynard Photography-44

Last Friday, I saw a grown woman in an adult sized floor length tiered pink tutu pull up her minivan, unload a gaggle of tutu-clad little girls, and a sad man dressed in a pink bow tie and head to her family photos. Now, maybe she loves tutus, lives in them, and they’re her happy place. If so, I expect she had a great morning, but I have a sinking suspicion she was on her way to the middle of a field to perch on top of a pink velvet couch.  I’m here to say: it’s ok for your family photos to be a reflection of who you actually are, instead of who you think you want to look like. There isn’t a single photo that you see in a magazine or on social media that isn’t edited. There are untold costs to the perfectly posed images we receive every year from across the country.

Brittany Maynard Photography-29

I urge you to look beyond the annual Christmas Card, and forward to when you won’t always remember exactly how it looked or felt to be in your family. You’ll forget the sassy expressions of your toddler, or the delicate eye raises of your husband. You’ll forget the way you looked at each other when you were trying not to crack up, or pointing out something to your kids. Capturing your family annually should be more than just capturing a still moment in time, it should be about freezing time so you can remember these days as they were.

If you’re looking for a new way to capture your family, I urge you to seek out a documentary photographer in your town. If you happen to live in mine,  Brittany Maynard is offering readers $50 off a family session if you book by March 1st. You can find her and book here. You’ll be so glad you did.