Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Looking back to look forward

What I learned in 2018 and what I’m looking forward to in 2019

In just a couple of days, 2018 will be history and we will be in 2019. I’m looking forward to the new year. 2018 was far from perfect and had its fair share of hurts and disappointments, but it also held some good times as well.

For our family our biggest good news of 2018 was moving into our new house after nearly a decade of selling our old house. For me personally, the biggest good news of 2018 has been my health. Near the end of 2017, I had surgery that could either have improved my pelvic pain, made it worse or kept it the same. By springtime of 2018, I knew that it had actually helped. I have been able to live most of this year like a “normal” person. I’ve been able to go grocery shopping and make dinner in the same day. I’ve been able to start doing some more work again. I’ve been able to clean my house and still take my kids to the park in the same day. These things I appreciate so very much because I can’t always do them.

While my pelvic pain and bladder issues have been better overall this year, I’ve struggled with my fibromyalgia pain. There have been times that my knees hurt so much I had trouble climbing the stairs. There have been times I unpacked too many boxes in one day and couldn’t use my arms for a day or two afterward without significant pain. But, those times were more an exception than a norm. And for that, I’m thankful.

I’ve appreciated the good parts of 2018, but I also am ready to embrace a new year. I have more hope for 2019 than I have for pretty much any other year. I have a loved one who’s been dealing with a situation for nearly five years that I think will be resolved in 2019. I have a milestone birthday coming in May when I turn 40. My daughter has a milestone birthday as well as she enters double digits when she turns 10 in October.

We are moving forward. I don’t tend to make resolutions as much as think about goals for the new year. Some years my goals have been just to get through them. In 2019, I want to thrive, not just survive. I want to get more settled into our home. I want to continue to feel well health-wise. (I also know that can change, but I am going to appreciate the good times while they are here.) I want to continue to grow my blog. I want to make sure I take time to enjoy my kiddos and play with them when I can before they are too old to want to spend time with me. I want to laugh more than I cry. I want to act in love and grace more than irritation and frustration.

As I look through the calendar pages of my planner, I know there are 365 days in 2019 and not all of them will be good. I think back over these past few years that have held various losses that have broken my heart. And I pray that 2019 will be a year of restoration and healing. If it isn’t, though, I also know that God will be there. No matter what this year holds, I’m not going into it alone — and neither are you.

While I have hopes, goals and prayers for the new year, I can’t guarantee any of them. God knows what 2019 will hold for each of us. Our job is just to hang on, enjoy the ride and focus on the One who holds us.

I hope your 2019 is full of love, blessings — and much grace!

In order to enjoy time with my family for New Year’s, I won’t be posting a new blog on Monday as usual. Blog posts will return on Wed., Jan. 3. Thanks for your understanding!

Getting spiritual in the bathroom!

Finding ways to connect with God in spite of a busy schedule

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

As a Christian, I have long known the importance of spending time talking to God and reading His Word. As a mom, I know how hard it can be to work in that time! It can be challenging to have a minute to even complete a thought or a sentence without interruption, let alone have quiet time for prayer and devotions. I’ve found a couple of ways the work for me. And they revolve around the bathroom.

I know that sounds weird, but bear with me because this has worked for me since way before I had children — even back in high school! One of the challenges for my prayer time is distractions. I have to work to keep my mind focused on praying, because it likes to wander. So if I hear people talking or something going on elsewhere, I can get distracted more so than when I’m doing other tasks. But when I’m in the shower, I don’t hear anything except the water. For years, my best prayer time has been in the shower. Half the time I’m in there, my eyes are closed anyway to avoid getting shampoo in them!

I’ve also found that when I’m getting ready for the day nowadays, I am usually alone. This wasn’t always been true when my kiddos were younger. But now I get ready either before I wake them up for school or after they leave for school. And most of the time when they are home on the weekend or school breaks, they still leave me alone when I’m putting in my contacts and putting on my makeup and such. They are now old enough to realize it’s boring. So I also use that time for prayer, even just for a quick rundown of my husband, my children and myself.

But prayer isn’t all that I need time for. I also need time to read my Bible. In our new house that happens in the bathroom. Previously it’s been either in my bedroom or, for a short time, at my kitchen table. Another time I can’t hear anything going on is when I’m drying my hair. It takes me a good 10 minutes to dry it on low with a diffuser (the joys of curly hair!), so I find somewhere to sit while I dry my hair. In our new house, we have a long vanity at which I have a stool to sit on for putting on makeup and drying my hair. During that time, I read my devotion book and related verses. In fact, I usually have enough time to go through two devotion books. I have one I get from my church and one I used (and loved!) in 2018 for women called “Daily Moments of Peace: Inspiration for Women.” In 2017, I read through and liked Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling.” For 2019, my daughter and I are reading Max Lucado’s “Grace for the Moment” and “Grace for the Moment for Kids” together.

This is my hair dryer bin that includes my hair dryer, Bible and devotion books.

So, I keep my Bible and devotion books in a bin along with my hair dryer and pull the whole bin out when it’s time to dry my hair. It’s all together. If I have extra prayer lists (like right now I have one from my Sunday School class), I put them in the bin, too. This is also when I utilize my favorite prayer app. I know it sounds so odd to use an app for prayer, but PrayerMate has been a great way for me to organize prayers and requests from friends and loved ones. I use it regularly to pray more in-depth for some things I pray for all the time and to remind me to pray for other requests I would forget otherwise.

While the bathroom sounds like a weird place to get spiritual, it works for me. I’ve been praying in the shower and reading my Bible while drying my hair since high school. When I became a mom, it worked for me even more because my time became much more limited.

Do you have a tip for how to work in prayer and Bible reading time in spite of a busy schedule? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!

The heart of Christmas

Nine years ago, my thoughts on Christmas began to shift. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I love the story of the birth of Jesus. A pastor I had as a child always pointed out how Christmas was sort of pointless without the story of the cross. While that’s true enough, I think knowing the two stories together are what makes Christmas so incredibly special. I marvel at the thought of bringing a baby into the world knowing full well He was going to have to die a horrible death to save the very people who drove in the nails — both literally and figuratively. What a gift! What love! What a God!

This line of thinking has hit home to me more since becoming a mother. I’ve thought about how overwhelming it must have been for Mary as a mother. All new mothers are overwhelmed, especially with first children. If they tell you otherwise, they’re lying. I can’t imagine how much more Mary must have been overwhelmed knowing that the baby she was caring for was the Son of God. Talk about pressure! Add in that she had to give birth in a barn with only Joseph and animals around while she labored and delivered, and I can’t even begin to imagine how overwhelmed and terrified she must have been. 

I’ve also thought about more practical sort of things like whether Jesus cried. As a child, I was always told that He didn’t cry. As a mom, I think about that now and think how difficult that would be. How did Mary know when He was hungry? How did she know when He needed to be changed? How did He communicate with her before He could communicate with words? The logistics of it all seems so tricky. I’m not so sure that He wouldn’t have cried sometimes.  He was a baby.

And then I wonder what his toddlerhood was like as I remember my own kids’ toddler days and the joys of keeping them out of the trash and away from the scissors. Did Mary have to admonish little Jesus for getting into the trash or playing with Joseph’s tools? How does a perfect baby learn? How do you teach Him?

I don’t know the logistics. I don’t know whether Jesus explored and pushed boundaries and tried putting every single piece of lint he found into his mouth. I don’t know if Mary always maintained a patient composure when dealing with these trying phases or if she sometimes lost her cool. Or maybe those frustrating moments just didn’t happen. As the only perfect person to walk the earth, Jesus may have somehow innately knew not to do things like try and remove trash from the can or lick the dog.

What I do know for sure this Christmas season is that God sent His Son to save the world so that we might be free to love and live in Him. I know that I am more thankful for that gift than ever before because I want it for my children. I look at them and love them so completely and to the core of my very being and want them to know God’s love.

So many theological topics can trip people up. But, the one thing that remains and should always be the center is that God is love. He is the reason for the season. He is everything. And He is all that matters. The small details and the specifics don’t matter in the face of the great love of God.

Those are the things I’m thinking about this Christmas season. As you gather with your families to celebrate, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!

In order to enjoy time with my family for Christmas, I won’t be posting a new blog on Monday as usual. Blog posts will return on Wed., Dec. 26. Thanks for your understanding!

Pillowy soft yeast rolls

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

When I got my beloved KitchenAid stand mixer, who I’ve named Dorothy, for Christmas back in 2012, I was excited. Once I really got into using her, I realized that I could now attempt something I hadn’t tried much of before: yeast breads. Of course you can make yeast breads without a stand mixer. I just had been intimidated by yeast and had never done so. I decided to give it a try.

It went pretty well from the beginning, but as I kept at it, I got better and learned more of what to do. I learned that extra mixing with the dough hook is always better for yeast bread. I learned that a bit of kneading pretty much never hurts a yeast recipe. And I learned that yeast doesn’t like cold ingredients, but it does like sugar.

My all-time favorite yeast bread item is rolls. After trying at least 10 recipes that were OK, I turned to my friend Kayla, who is a baking genius. She works as a professional baker and makes things that put my efforts to shame. I know when she gives me a recipe it’s going to be a good one. She passed along this roll recipe to me, and it is sooooo good. The rolls are pillowy soft, airy and quite delectable. I could make a whole meal out of them. Seriously. So. Good! She uses the same dough to make cinnamon rolls, which I have yet to try but really need to. I double the recipe for family dinners and usually only have a couple of rolls left, if that!

Just look at this pillowy goodness!

Like most yeast recipes, you start with proofing the yeast. You combine the yeast, sugar and water. I used quick rise yeast, which says the best temperature is between 110- and 115-degrees. I really do get out my thermometer and check the temperature of the water before adding it into the yeast. Once you have the yeast, sugar and water in your mixing bowl, let it set until it is all bubbly and poofy, usually 6-9 minutes. (Mine took 8.) My doubled-recipe looked like this:

Once the yeast is proofed, add the egg, milk and butter. I heated my milk a bit to 88-degrees so I wasn’t putting it in cold. I also softened my butter to the point of being almost melted and tried to make sure my egg was pretty near room temperature.

Slowly add in the flour and mix on low so it won’t fly up and make a mess. For my doubled recipe, I ended up using 6 cups of flour. Depending on where you live and the humidity and all that jazz, you may not need as much. For a single recipe, use 2-1/2 to 3 cups. For doubled, used 5 to 6. After I got to 5 cups, I added in a 1/4 cup, a 1/2 cup and then another 1/4 cup, mixing well after each time to make sure that I wasn’t getting the dough too stiff or dry. You want it to be nice and soft but not liquid-y. This dough is a little sticky.

Once you have in all the ingredients, it’s time to mix with the dough hook on your mixer. Mix for about 5 minutes on speed 8 (basically medium-high speed). Add in the salt. Mix for another 2 minutes. (If you add in the salt sooner, it will kill the yeast.) Once the dough starts gathering around the hook and pulling away from the bowl, then it is finished. It looks like this:

Now it’s time to rise. Cover your bowl and let it sit somewhere warm. I use Glad Press ‘N Seal to cover mine. It works well for me. 

The dough in the bowl before being covered and rising.
The Glad Press ‘N Seal covers the bowl snugly to help it rise.

I let mine sit in my kitchen for about 40 minutes to rise. Here is what it looked like when I removed the cover:

I then spread out a sheet of wax paper on my kitchen counter and doused it with some flour. I dumped the dough out onto wax paper and covered sprinkled some flour on top as well, because this dough is a bit sticky. I kneaded it lightly for a couple of minutes. Next, cut and roll the dough into balls and place them in 9×13 pans sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Kayla says you can also use muffin tins by placing two small balls in the bottom of each muffin cup, but I haven’t done that.

Once the rolls are made, they need to rise again. You can do this on the counter, but I did it this time in the oven, because I was running low on time. I turned my oven on to 200-degrees. Once it was preheated, I turned it off. Then I put the rolls in for about 10-15 minutes. They had risen again and were ready to be baked when they looked like this:

I totally love this Rachael Ray 9×13 pan. It’s as awesome and non-stick as all of her other cookware. 

Bake the rolls for 12 to 18 minutes at 400-degrees. When the rolls were almost finished, I prepped butter to brush over their tops when they came out. For the doubled recipe, I used an entire stick, but for a single batch, a half a stick of butter or margarine would work fine. I like to mix some honey and cinnamon into mine for a touch of sweetness. I use about a tablespoon of honey and a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon for a whole stick of butter. Here is what mine looked like before I melted it on low power in the microwave:

When the rolls were golden on top, I pulled them out, brushed them with the honey and cinnamon butter then removed them from the pan. They travel well and reheat well. And they taste oh-so-delicious!

Pillowy Soft Yeast Rolls

Servings 16 rolls


  • 2-1/2 to 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine softened (almost melted)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package yeast 2-1/4 teaspoons
  • 1/2 cup warm water heat to temp according to yeast packet or jar
  • 1/2 cup milk warmed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 stick butter or margarine
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon


  • Put the yeast, sugar and warm water in your mixing bowl. (Make sure water is heated to the correct temperature for your yeast. For example, my quick-rise yeast says 110- to 115-degrees is best. Use a thermometer to be sure it's not too hot to kill the yeast but it hot enough to activate it.)
  • Let the yeast mixture set until it is all bubbly and poofy (usually around 6-9 minutes).
  • Add in the egg, warmed milk and softened butter.
  • Slowly add in the flour. If the dough is still wet or very sticky after adding 2-1/2 cups, then add in 1/4-cup at a time to equal 1/2-cup more total until the dough is soft and only a bit sticky but not wet.
  • Mix using a dough hook on your mixer at medium-high speed for about 5 minutes. (I used speed 8 on my stand mixer.)
  • Add in the salt and mix for about 2 minutes more until the dough is gathering around the hook and pulling away from the sides of the bowl.
  • Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes. (I usually cover mine with Glad Press n Seal.)
  • Once the dough is risen, dump it onto a floured surface and gently knead it for about 2 minutes. Cut it into pieces and roll it into balls. Place the dough balls in a 9x13 pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. (If you prefer, you can use a greased muffin tin and place two small dough balls in each muffin cup.)
  • Let the shaped dough rise again. You can leave it somewhere warm or use your oven by turning it to 200-degrees. Once it is preheated, then turn it off and put in the dough. In the oven, it takes 10-15 minutes to rise. On the counter, it takes a bit longer depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
  • Bake the rolls at 400-degrees for 12-18 minutes until light golden on top.
  • Optionally, just before the rolls are due out of the oven, put the 1/2 stick butter or margarine in a bowl. Add the honey and cinnamon on top. Melt in the microwave for 1 minute on 40 percent power. Brush over the top of the rolls when they come out of the oven.

The BEST toffee cookies

These toffee cookies are the perfect mix of chewy and crunchy!

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

A good 15 years ago, I first came across a recipe for toffee cookies. I tried making them. They were sticky and chewy, yet crunchy. While I felt like they were pretty good, a few of my family members fell in love. I’ve tweaked the original recipe a bit to make them even better.

The best toffee cookies recipe Pinterest image

Each Christmas these toffee cookies are on my baking list. They aren’t optional. In fact, I think if I showed up to my mother-in-law’s house on Christmas Day without them, I’d not be allowed in! (OK. I would totally be allowed in because my in-laws are really nice people, but they would definitely ask where the toffee cookies are!)

In all of my years of cookie making, these really are the most unique I’ve made. I don’t make another cookie at all like them. I have so many recipes that have different flavors, yet are similar or expected. These toffee cookies are unique, and they are a addictive. Listen, I don’t usually think desserts are worth eating if they don’t have chocolate in them, and even I can happily munch away on them. The good news is that they are not difficult to make!

Ingredients for the best toffee cookies recipe Pinterest image

It all starts with mixing the flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl then setting it aside. In your main mixing bowl (or the bowl of  your stand mixer, if you’re going to use it), mix up the butter or margarine with the sugars and vanilla. I’m going to stop right here and tell you the state of the butter or margarine is crucial in this recipe. If it is softened, the cookies won’t be as chewy. But, if it is slightly melted, then they are the perfect consistency — chewy, yet crunchy. I heat my stick margarine for 1 minute at 30 percent power in my microwave to get it to this state:

Butter consistency for the best toffee cookies recipe

After you mix together the butter or margarine, sugars and vanilla, add in the eggs. When it’s beaten together, the mixture will be thin and runny.

Creamed mixture for the best toffee cookies recipe

Gradually stir in the mix of flour, baking soda and salt. If you’re using your stand mixer like I do, make sure you mix it in slowly or else you’ll end up with flour all over everything, which is just plain annoying! Once it’s all mixed up, it will be thickened.

Plain dough for the best toffee cookies recipe

The final step is to stir in the toffee chips. I use 12 ounces, which is a bag and a half of Heath Bits O’ Brickle toffee bits. I totally estimate the half bag, but you could definitely measure it out. Also, be sure to look for the plain toffee bits and not the milk chocolate covered ones. The milk chocolate ones are good, but this recipe does best with the plain toffee bits.

Toffee chips mixed into the dough for the best toffee cookies recipe

All that’s left to do is freeze it or bake it. I store it in zip-top bags for freezing and lay them flat. This dough freezes and thaws well. For baking these sticky treats, though, be sure to either spray your cookie sheets with non-stick cooking spray or use parchment paper. I discovered the joy of parchment paper a few years ago, as I told you last week in my tips for Christmas crunch time, and I highly suggest it for these cookies, especially. 

Dough balls for the best toffee cookies recipe ready for the oven on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet

After baking at 350-degrees for 9 to 11 minutes, let the cookies cool for 1 to 2 minutes on the cookie sheet and then remove them to wire racks to finish cooling. The wire rack helps add the extra crunch to the cookie. You can just see the shine of the gooey, sticky toffee on the cookies as they’re cooling.

A finished toffee cookie cooling on a cooling rack so it gets crunchy

Arrange them on a cookie platter or put them in a zip-top bag and enjoy! The best thing about these cookies is that they are hearty. Of all the cookies I make, these have the longest shelf life and really do taste good for at least a week as long as they are stored covered. 

Finished toffee cookies

The BEST Toffee Cookies


  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 1 stick cup butter or margarine, mostly melted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 oz. Heath Bits O' Brickle toffee bits 1-1/2 bags


  • Heat oven to 350-degrees and lightly grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
  • Stir together flour, baking soda and salt.
  • In a large bowl, beat butter or margarine, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until well blended.
  • Add eggs and beat well.
  • Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well blended.
  • Stir in toffee chips.
  • Drop by rounded teaspoon onto prepared cookie sheet.
  • Bake 9 - 11 minutes until lightly browned. Cool for 1 to 2 minutes on the cookie sheet then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

7 Christmas hacks to make your life easier

Use these tips to save time so you can do more of what you enjoy this holiday season!

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

Christmas may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes. But it is also and often “the most busy time of the year!” Along the way, I’ve found a few simple Christmas hacks that make my life easier. And I’m all about easier!

These Christmas hacks help me stay sane during holiday crunch time. I figured I’d pass them along in case they help anyone else. And if you have anything you do, please share! We are in this together!

1. Use parchment paper

Christmas cookies are my jam. I enjoy making them. One of my family’s favorite cookie recipes is toffee crunch cookies. They are good but a bit sticky. Parchment paper makes baking them so, so, so much easier. I use it for all cookies because it also makes clean-up way easier.

Even if you only use it for holiday baking, parchment paper is one of my favorite Christmas hacks. I mean, who couldn’t use easier clean-up right now?! I didn’t discover the joys of parchment paper until about five years ago. I was only sad I didn’t discover it sooner!

2. Use small appliances to help

Cookie dough doesn’t have to be mixed in a stand mixer, but my life is a whole lot easier with my stand mixer. Not only can I do other things while ingredients are mixing (like tossing out eggshells or closing up brown sugar), but it also saves my arms. Honestly, that’s the biggest benefit. With fibromyalgia, I’m all for anything I can do to help save my hands, arms and shoulders. I couldn’t do half the baking I do without my stand mixer. I love Dorothy so much! (Read more about my stand mixer here!)

3. Shop online

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears mentioning again. I love shopping online! I save money (check out two easy ways to save money shopping online), and I can find good deals to cover all my Christmas gift needs (check out 15 gifts under $20 for everyone on your Christmas list — most of them are Amazon Prime eligible so you still have time!).

I also utilize online shopping for everyday items from makeup to paper products to nonperishable foods. It’s one of those Christmas hacks I love because it saves me time at the grocery store and helps me avoid crowds, which is pretty priceless!

4. Keep wrapping supplies handy

This is my wrapping “corner” right now.

This one happened on accident this year, but it’s worked so well for me. This is our first year living with two stories since our very first townhouse college apartment when we got married 19 years ago. I keep my wrapping supplies in the closet of our guest bedroom/game room upstairs. I do my wrapping at my kitchen table. (We have a counter height table this year, and I’m loving how easy it is to wrap on that thing without killing my back!)

I brought down some wrapping paper and supplies for a gift wrapping session and they’ve remained downstairs ever since. I put most of them in a box. Some gifts yet to be wrapped are hidden in there as well. Others are elsewhere. This has become one of the unexpected Christmas hacks I’ve discovered to make my life easier. Yesterday, for example, I picked up a gift for my husband, came home and had it wrapped and under the tree within a couple of minutes. Does it look super great between my living room and dining room? Maybe not. Do I care? Nope, because it really is making my life easier!

5. Wear an apron

This sounds a little crazy, maybe, but wearing an apron when I’m baking makes my life easier. A long time ago, I’d just wear old clothes for baking then have to change if I left the house. These days, I have to leave the house more regularly because the kids need to be picked up from school and such. I’ve learned that my grandma’s generation was really onto something with aprons. I have my favorite apron hanging in my pantry at all times ready to save my clothes from flour and powdered sugar messes. It’s another one of those simple things that makes a difference for me.

6. Set reminders

If you were to look at the calendar on my phone, you’d find all sorts of “appointments.” I set them for so many things beyond just appointments and meetings. Last night, for example, I had just snuggled under the covers to go to sleep when I remembered that I hadn’t put a spoon in my daughter’s lunchbox and was planning to send her soup. I sat up, grabbed my phone and set a reminder for 7 a.m. to put a spoon in her lunchbox.

The best part of setting reminders for such mundane things is that it lets me let them go. I don’t have to hang onto that thought and try to remember it or stress about it. I know my phone will ding with a reminder. I have appointment reminders set for things like my son’s PJ day for his school winter party next Friday or my making sure to put cookies in my daughter’s backpack for hers. While this is my go-to organizational tool year round, I consider it one of my Christmas hacks because it helps me so much this time of year when life gets even more hectic. 

7. Ask for help

My husband is really good to do things around here. But he isn’t a mind reader. I can’t expect him to always know when I need him to jump in, so I ask. Last night, for example, I was cleaning up from making cookie dough and asked him to get supper started. Later we divvied up tasks between kitchen clean-up from dinner and laundry duty. This coming week, we will work together to finish wrapping gifts.

When our kids were younger and home all day, we had times we’d ask our parents to watch them for a few hours so we could wrap gifts or I could bake without having to try and keep a toddler away from the oven door every time I opened it. It takes a village sometimes to make holiday magic happen!

What Christmas hacks do you use to make your holiday season a little less hectic?

Looking for more Christmas ideas? Check out these posts!

Finding the strength to get through hard times

Encouragement for hard times

For two nights in a row now, I’ve ended up sleeping on the couch half the night with my son who has been sick. The first night didn’t involve much sleeping because he was up sick every 20 or 30 minutes. Last night, he was no longer getting sick, but I couldn’t find a comfortable position and fall asleep until about 30 minutes before my alarm went off.

As I reclined last night, tossing and turning in my head (my body couldn’t move much because there was a little boy snuggled against it), I couldn’t help but think back to the same little guy’s first three months of life.

Remembering the past

For his first three months we spent every night on the couch. I had the recliner on my end to lean back in, but we were up most of the night. He had reflux and wasn’t a fan of sleeping. He’d nurse off and on. He’d cry. Then he’d eventually fall asleep on his Boppy beside me about two hours before his preschool-aged sister would wake up for the day.

They were long months. I remember once lying on the living room floor just to remember what it felt like to lie down. It sounds dramatic, but it was legitimate.

We’ve come a long way in almost six years. Those newborn days with my son were rough. Newborn days are exhausting in general. Some are more exhausting than others. My daughter, for example, settled into a routine after a couple of weeks and would at least let me sleep three hours or so at a time. 

Parenthood totally pushes you to your limits. It starts right off the bat in the newborn days and continues through each phase. Sometimes it’s easier and sometimes it’s incredibly difficult. We very much need encouragement for hard times.

That year with my newborn son, I ended up with shingles as a result of the strain. I also had numerous other sicknesses and major surgery when he was 8 months old. It was a difficult year, to say the least.

Applying it to life

The older I get, the more I realize life is like that. We encounter one event after another and wonder how we are ever going to survive it and have the strength to keep going. We think this will do us in.

I remember during those three months with my son that some nights, we would both just sit and cry together. He couldn’t be soothed, and I was beyond weary. I wasn’t sure I could keep going night after night, but I did because I had to. I had a little baby depending on me for his survival. And I made it. 

There have been many other situations I’ve faced that are just as wearisome, if not more so. Each time I’m left wondering if I’ll make it through. Each time, I do. I don’t, however, make it through on my own.

I’m not so strong by myself. Most of my closest encounters with God have come at times when I was at the very end of myself and unsure I could keep moving one foot in front of the other.

Because just like I didn’t abandon my son when he was a newborn who needed me or a sick 5-year-old who needed me, so has God never abandoned me. He’s been right there through the thick of it all, carrying me, loving me and giving me strength. Day by day and sometimes minute by minute. 

He will do the same for you. In fact, He longs to. Just like when my kids are sick and I long to be with them and help them, so He longs to be with and help us when we are struggling. We just have to ask Him. If my kids hid away quietly in their rooms suffering, I’d not know they needed me. But they trust me to take are of them. They trust that when they call out for me in need, I will answer.

How much more we can trust God to do the same! He never gets weary or complains to himself about the hard work. God just shows up, loves us and takes care of us. He will provide us the encouragement for hard times that we need. All we have to do is call out and He’ll come running to wrap His arms around us. He is so, so good!

Mom brain overload

I’ve heard of pregnancy brain and how sometimes your brain fails while you’re pregnant. And it’s true. It happened to me a couple of times. I’ve also heard of mommy brain and how sometimes your brain fails while you have babies and are sleep-deprived (and on into, well, forever!). But, there’s also what I call mom brain overload. 

I have no idea if MBO has a real psychological term, but I know it most definitely exists and I’m guessing you’ve experienced it, too. I’m talking about all the stuff that moms keep in their heads and have to constantly be aware of. We can’t turn off our brains. We can’t lessen our overload. On top of all the other things we manage and deal with on a daily basis, like working, feeding our children, getting them to school on time or changing diapers, it’s the other thoughts that overload. It’s the constant processing of knowing when the kids had checkups and when they need them again. It’s remembering to call the school and report them sick. It’s knowing how many pairs of clean jeans are in your son’s drawer so you know when laundry HAS to be done again. It’s remembering to get out water bottles for gymnastics class or track down mittens on a cold morning. It’s remembering where you last saw their shoes on a hectic school morning. And let’s not even get started on clothes. Keeping track of who has outgrown what and needs replaced, cleaning out things that are too small, organizing what is there and keeping it all clean when needed is a constant struggle It. Is. All. Non-stop!

I’ve tried to explain this to my husband before. This MBO that is, quite frankly, exhausting. But, he doesn’t really understand it, and he is a hands-on dad. I can’t just turn it off. Right now I can tell you the level of trash in each trash can in our house, how much fresh fruit is in the kitchen, how much milk we have, what doctor’s appointments are coming up for the kids, how many more showers/baths we can take before I have to wash towels, how much children’s Tylenol we have in its two locations, which kid has school library day when, where we stand on lunchbox cleaning and prep, who has clothes for upcoming holiday performances, what spelling words need to be reviewed, what calls need to be made for appointments, who needs gifts for upcoming birthday parties or holidays and on the list goes. My husband and children don’t know these things. I don’t necessarily HAVE to know some of these things, but I do. I do, because I’m the one who deals with them. 

I’m the one who makes sure we have fresh fruit and milk for the kids, clean towels, the right clothes, gifts bought and wrapped in time and Tylenol at the ready. I’m the one who makes calls or sends emails to schedule meetings and appointments based on the calendar I have for our whole family. I’m the one who reminds us to go over spelling words. I know my husband would do these things I weren’t able. I know the children wouldn’t fall into ill health without fresh fruits or milk for a couple of days. But it’s in my head. And that’s just the kids’ stuff. It doesn’t count all the stuff that I also maintain for myself and my husband as well like prescriptions, doctors’ appointments, bills, work deadlines and more. (That’s even with having automated all the things that I can.)

And then there’s all the other stuff, too. The worries that contribute to MBO like whether my son will pay attention walking on the icy sidewalk or fall and hurt himself or whether my daughter’s strep throat germs are going to spread to everyone else or whether I’m being too easy or too hard on the kids or whether I spend enough quality time with them or whether I let them eat too many sweets or whether I’m making them do enough or too many chores. The list goes on and on. Yes, I deal with anxiety and OCD a bit, but I think most of this is just mom stuff. 

Our brains are constantly going and we are constantly thinking of pretty much everyone else. Our lives revolve around everyone else. I have lost track the number of times I’ve gotten interrupted just writing this one post! Along with MBO, we have to constantly multi-task. We have to be able to stop what we’re doing and brush someone’s hair or answer questions and then shift right back to what we’re doing then remember there’s a load of laundry that needs to go into the dryer and (oh, shoot!) it’s almost the end of the day and our to-do list has only gotten a third of the way completed. It’s constant, and it’s exhausting.

I wish I had some awesome advice on how to make it better and how to cope with it, but I don’t really. I’m in the midst of it. I have to think it will get better once I’m no longer responsible for so much for my children. One day they will be able to deal with their own clothes, food and laundry — both shopping and caring for them. But, I know there’s another part of my mom brain that will never turn off as long as I am breathing because you can’t just stop being someone’s mom when they turn into an adult. I know this from my own mom and mother-in-law!

I do think, though, that we need to acknowledge it. We need to realize the MBO is a thing; it’s hard and it’s contributing to our exhaustion level. We need to find ways to unplug when we get a chance whether it’s sneaking off to a movie alone, with your husband or with friends or taking one night each week after the kids go to bed and doing nothing else except reading or watching television or somehow relaxing. It’s being good to ourselves when we get a chance. It’s intentionally thinking of ourselves and what we need sometimes.

The thing with MBO is that if it’s left unchecked too long, it can lead to burn-out, anger and resentment. It can lead us to saying things we don’t mean and hurting those we love most. It can steal our joy. It can distract us from our spiritual walk. MBO is going to exist. We can’t stop our mom brains from being overloaded with so much information all the time, but we can do our best to be intentional about taking breaks, even for a short time. I’ve had moments where I say to my husband, “I don’t care what you decide, but dinner is up to you. I cannot manage another decision right now.” I’ve had other moments when I’ve left him in charge and escaped behind a closed bedroom door for an hour (especially when our kiddos were smaller). 

Mom brain overload is just as real as pregnancy brain and mommy brain. While we may laugh and joke about it or complain about it with our mom friends, we need to also remember to take care of ourselves whenever we get a chance. Take a break soon, mama. I know you need it!

11 Parenting hacks to make your life easier

Being a parent is challenging to the core. It is simultaneously the best and hardest thing you’ll ever do. When I was a kid, I thought my parents had it together, knew what they were doing and knew everything. Now that I’m a mom to of two, I realize that none of us know what we’re doing and are making it up as we go!

Finding ways to make parenting easier is always a good thing. And easier parenting means happier parents which means we also can be better versions of ourselves. I find it a lot easier to speak and act with grace and love when things are running smoothly. With that in mind, I’ve gathered some parenting hacks for you. Some come from me and things I’ve learned through the years and some come from other mamas who were kind enough to give me tips.

Use the right cleaning products
A few years ago, my daughter fell on the playground at school and split her chin open. She was wearing a new shirt that day. I was ready to just toss it in the trash when a fellow mom told me to soak it in hydrogen peroxide. It was like a miracle. I’ve used that trick a few times since then. It works!

Another awesome thing I learned after the Easter Bunny brought silly putty a few years ago and some of it got lost, hidden and smushed into the carpet is that rubbing alcohol gets it out. It works crazy well. When my daughter recently got bright blue slime mixed into the fur of her new white leopard, rubbing alcohol saved the day yet again.

Jessica shared that CLR will get the urine build-up off the bottom of potty chairs for those times that urine gets left in them. She said to put water in the potty, add a cap of CLR and let sit overnight.

Smart dining out
Beth said her family has found a great and economical way to dine out at sit-down restaurants. Rather than getting a kid’s meal (which is almost always chicken nuggets, burgers or grilled cheese), talk to your child about what menu options sound good to her. Look at splitting a meal with your child, getting an additional side to make a meal more “shareable” or see if you can order something a la carte.

“At our local favorite Tex-Mex place, we will often add an appetizer or get a couple of a la carte items, then all share everything,” she said. “Your kid is getting a better meal and you are probably saving a few dollars.”

Another dining out tip is to bring along your own food sometimes. If you happen to have a particular eater like my youngest is, you know there are places where they just don’t find much they like to eat. Instead of avoiding these restaurants, I just bring things along for him. For example, he loves to go to Chick-Fil-A to play, but he will only eat the fruit cup. So I buy a fruit cup and bring along some peanut butter crackers or a large granola bar for him instead. 

Less food mess
When my kids were toddlers, I decided to serve them pancakes and waffles with applesauce instead of syrup. They loved it! Not only is applesauce not as sticky as syrup, but it’s also healthier, especially if you get the unsweetened kind. Even now at 9 and 5, they still eat pancakes and waffles dipped in applesauce more often than not.

For the times I was serving ranch dip with veggies, I opted for ranch chip dip instead, which isn’t runny and doesn’t drip as much as salad dressing.

Movie popcorn sharing
Our family loves to go to movies. We also love popcorn. But since we spend an arm and a leg on the tickets and snacks, I’m not a big fan of buying multiple containers of popcorn. So I buy the bucket and bring along paper lunch sacks to share the popcorn in. Usually I cut off the top third to half so they aren’t as tall and are easier to reach into and munch on.

Cut it up
Beth shared that cutting up food into pieces helps encourage her kids to eat better and more. “Everything is better when either bite-sized or cut in sticks,” she said. “Toast soldiers are better than full pieces of toast, mini pancakes are gobbled up faster than their full sized counterparts, etc.”

Manage towels
Becky said that having different colored bath towels for each person in her family has made her life easier. “My children never put a towel on the floor again!” she said.

Don’t waste diaper cream — or a tissue
When my daughter was a baby, my mom was helping me with her one day. I finished changing her diaper and grabbed a wipe to clean the residual diaper cream off my finger. My mom’s tip was to just wipe the extra ointment onto the new, clean diaper where it’s going to go anyway. My sleep-deprived, new mom brain had never thought of that.

Buy quiet time
This isn’t an everyday thing, but I’ve found my kids are most likely to entertain themselves when they have new activities or toys. So when we are preparing for a long car trip or even a more somber occasion like a funeral, I hit up the Dollar Tree. Usually for $10 or less I can get a couple of small toys, new coloring books, notebooks, stickers, crayons or whatever to keep my kids entertained. 

Be a jungle gym and rest
This doesn’t work now that my kids are bigger at 5 and 9, but toddlers love climbing on their parents. There were a few times I’d been up most of the night with a cranky little one and was exhausted. So, I’d lay on the floor and let them climb on me. It’s not super restful, but it works when you’re desperate and doesn’t involve much physical or mental activity. 

Be prepared for messes & germs
Beth shared that carrying baby wipes is handy whether you have babies or not. “Never stop carrying baby wipes,” she said. “They will save your life weekly – washing off sticky faces and hands, wiping down tables at restaurants, cleaning your dashboard while waiting at a stoplight, etc.”

I also keep baby wipes in my kids’ bathroom so they can wipe toothpaste out of the sink in between bathroom cleanings. I’m a big fan of antibacterial hand wipes, as well, and keep a container in both of our cars at all times. When the kids get in after we are shopping or at school, they know the drill: Buckle up and clean your hands!

Simplify meal prep
Part of parenthood is making food all the time. My kids don’t always like the same things. My youngest is a particular eater. But, I maintain the same type of food. For example, for breakfast I serve up the same thing even if it’s different flavors. When I’m making lunches, I do the same thing even if it’s a variation. They both get a sandwich, fruit and chips or they both get a hot Thermos with soup or oatmeal with an applesauce pouch and granola bar. Keeping it mostly the same makes my life more sane. I know there are times everyone eats the same thing, but breakfasts and lunches don’t tend to work that way for my family.

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What I learned from not wearing lipstick for a week

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A few months ago, I noticed a small, dark spot on my bottom lip. I assumed I’d bitten my lip and it was bruised. I am always hurting myself, getting bruised and having no idea how it happened. But the spot never went away. So when I was at my checkup with my doctor, I mentioned it. He referred me to a dermatologist to have it checked.

So last Tuesday afternoon, I went to the dermatology office. The doctor couldn’t be positive that it wasn’t precancerous, so he wanted to remove it. I’m not about to argue with that and agreed. After the quick procedure was finished, the nurse was telling me what to do. I need to keep Vasoline or Aquaphor on it for 10-14 days. After then, it should be healed enough that I can resume using my usual lip stuff. BUT, that also means I can’t wear lipstick for 10-14 days. (And no worries; the biopsy results came back completely benign.)

I’ve had a love affair with makeup for as long as I can remember. I once got in trouble for finding some makeup samples in the drug store and applying them all over my face when I was maybe 6. When I was in third grade, a friend brought in some of her sister’s makeup on picture day. Again, I found myself in trouble when my parents got my photos that included blue eye shadow smeared up to my eyebrows. (It was the 1980s; makeup was far from subtle back then!) So, makeup and I are old friends. I put it on daily, even when I’m not leaving the house. My mom is the same way.

I don’t necessarily feel like I’m need makeup to impress anyone, but I feel better with it on. And I think lipstick more than anything makes me feel good. I love the lipstick I use because it really does stay on all day. (Shout out to CoverGirl Outlast lipstick!) I still tend to check it out and make sure it doesn’t need a touch-up before heading off to pick up the kids from school or take them to an evening class. It’s just habit. Heck, I even wear makeup going fishing with my dad.

I maybe didn’t realize how much it was going to bother me not wearing lipstick. I was paranoid when I made a quick stop by Walmart after my appointment. Of course, that was also because the corner of my bottom lip was bright white and a bit swollen then. The next day, I took my kids to school, feeling a bit embarrassed by not having on lipstick. For almost every activity this past week, not being able to wear lipstick has crossed my mind. First Sunday at church with no lipstick. Doctor’s appointment with no lipstick. Meeting our new neighbor with no lipstick. Going to my daughter’s gymnastic class with no lipstick. Making a vlog post with no lipstick (scroll down to see my first debut on video without lipstick).

I have a bit of an issue, don’t I? And I realized whether it’s literal makeup or figurative, we all have a face we put on for the outside world. For me, it usually includes Covergirl Wine-to-Five lipstick. I haven’t stopped wearing my other makeup, but having one chink in my face has made me feel more exposed. While I feel more exposed, I’m not sure that I actually am more exposed. Nobody seems to have noticed I’m not wearing lipstick. Only my parents and husband even know about me not being able to wear lipstick. But no one has said a word. No one has gasped in horror at my lips without color on them either!

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with makeup. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with the face we put on for the outside world. Not everyone needs to know the full us and all the details of what is going on in our lives. But, we do need to have people with whom we can take off our makeup and be our real selves. You know where I haven’t thought of not wearing lipstick? At home with my family. Hanging out with my husband and kids doesn’t have me feeling exposed. They see me without makeup. They look beyond the surface and see the real me. It also hasn’t crossed my mind when I’m spending time with God. He sees way more of me than anyone, even myself!

We need that. We need safe places to take off our faces and just relax into who we truly are with those we love and those who love us. Our families can be that safe place. God is always that safe place. What damage we can do to our relationships if we get so focused on having our faces on just right that we forget to actually connect with those who love us!

Will I go back to wearing lipstick when I’m able to? Absolutely. I enjoy it and feel better with it. Have I learned from this experience? Absolutely. Lipstick and makeup don’t define who I am. They don’t define my beauty or worth. But I will appreciate all the more the relationships I have that aren’t impacted by whether I’m wearing my makeup or have on my face for the world. I will relax and just be me — with and without lipstick.

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