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Holiday Gift Guide #1 // Books + Paper Products

November 21, 2017

In the last year I’ve re-committed myself to reading books. I’ve always been an avid reader, but once Ainsley was born, reading got pushed to the back burner, something I felt sad and a little guilty about. So this year I’ve made a conscious effort to read, even if just a few pages of a book each day, and my life is undoubtedly richer because of it. Personal development, fiction, non-fiction, even books for kids. The list goes on and on.

I’ll be posting a series of holiday gift guides in the weeks to come for those of you who are doing your Christmas shopping in hopes that I can share with you items I genuinely love and products that have made my life richer, starting with books!

  1. A Simplified Life by Emily Ley (pictured above)
    I put this one first because my dear friend Emily’s second book launches TODAY. I’ll be honest and say that my pre-order hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s due to get here tomorrow and I already know I’m going to love it. Tactical tools for intentional living? Yes, please. Emily is a fellow business-owner, wife, mom and very busy woman and I have a feeling any mom in your life would be blessed by this book.
  2. Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
    Another good one for busy moms who are trying to sort out and prioritize what matters (do you sense a theme here?) this book has been such a wonderful read! It’s a beautifully designed book and Erin’s words always thoughtful and compelling. I’ve been reading it slowly, chapter by chapter, savoring and thinking about each section before moving on to the next.
  3. Write the Word Journals
    A dear friend gifted me one of these journals that has been on my wish list for quite some time. Each journal is topical (joy, gratefulness, etc.) with scripture prompts on each page, encouraging you to write out each prompted verse and other thoughts you may have in the process. They are beautiful little journals and the perfect stocking stuffer.
  4. Kids Legacy Prayer Journals by Val Marie Paper
    I just bought two of these – one for each of our girls – and they are beautifully designed and made. I’ve been wanting to be more intentional about praying for our girls and these journals leave a beautiful legacy for keeping those prayers in one place. I’m so excited to see how God answers the prayers written in these journals over time and imagine they will be special keepsakes for the girls as they get older.
  5. 2018 Power Sheets – Intentional Goal Planner
    I don’t personally own these but I have friends that do and RAVE about them as a way to goal set intentionally and mindfully in the new year. What a great gift to give someone to start 2018 off on a focused, thoughtful note.
  6. Emily Ley’s Baby Book 
    We have two of these and I can’t tell you how much I love them. As someone who isn’t very crafty and doesn’t really enjoy that aspect of motherhood, these books made me feel craftier than I actually am. There are plenty of prompts to help guide what you write down and spaces for you to put photos with suggestions on what type of photos to include. I also love that it’s a binder so you can 3-hole punch important documents and paperwork from each child.
  7. Chatbooks
    We love these little photo books to archive our family memories. I wish that I was even better about organizing and archiving things like this, but having our favorite photos at least printed and in our house makes me feel like I am taking a step forward. Bonus? They are currently offering 20% off photo books and prints and have some really cute gift-able covers and designs!

 

*Affiliate links used as appropriate. 

Family, Food & Recipes

Holiday Snack Mix & Travel with Kids

November 15, 2017

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img_6588This post is sponsored by SC Johnson. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make the content on Espresso and Cream possible. #ZiplockHolidayUAI

Back before I had kids, my visions of weekend baking projects were pretty idyllic and, I now realize, unrealistic. I imagined my child happily cutting out cookie dough and decorating cookies, mess-free. Of course now that I have two kids of my own I know better than to tackle elaborate or time-intensive baking projects. Because Ainsley is bound to lose patience and I’m bound to be picking up a giant mess long after the project has lost it’s novelty. So these days, we keep our holiday baking projects on the simple side and everyone in the family is a lot happier because of it.

We have a few holiday road trips coming up in the next few weeks, including some air travel to visit family in Florida, so I’ve been planning and strategizing on how I’m going to keep not one but TWO kids happy in the car and in the air. My solution: busy bags filled with all sorts of goodies, activities and fun new and inexpensive toys. Because we all know that an entertained child is a happy child.

I headed to our local Walmart last week before music class to pick up a bunch of goodies for our trip, along with the supplies to make this Holiday Snack Mix recipe. Ainsley and I made the snack mix together, then portioned it into Ziploc® Brand Storage Snack bags for our travels. We also tied some of the bags with ribbon for gifting to friends and family.

I filled the Ziploc® Brand Storage Gallon bags with coloring books, crayons, stickers, inexpensive figurines (Ainsley’s favorite!), our homemade snack mix, a few new movies, and more. Hopefully these bags provide hours of entertainment and delight while we are doing our holiday travels!

Partnering with SC Johnson on this post was a total no-brainer for me, because as a mom of littles, I use Ziploc® Brand bags for pretty much everything. I always have at least a few Ziploc® Brand Storage Gallon bags in the car as makeshift trash cans on road trips to keep the car clean and organized and to keep figurines and toys grouped together and keep a bunch in my purse for air travel to contain trash and dirty diapers. Mom hacks all around!

Check out the full (easy!) recipe below. And if you’re a frequent Walmart shopper like me, there are also some great coupons available here.

Holiday Snack Mix
Author: 
Prep time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • 10 oz. white almond bark
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 6 cups square-shaped rice cereal
  • 2 cups pretzel sticks
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup red and white candy-coated chocolate pieces
  • Red and green sprinkles
Instructions
  1. In a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave the almond bark, peanut butter and butter on HIGH 30 seconds. Stir; continue to microwave in 15 second intervals, stirring between intervals, until almond bark, peanut butter and butter are melted. Continue to stir until mixture is well combined. Stir in the peppermint extract.
  2. Combine cereal and pretzel sticks in a large mixing bowl. Pour almond bark mixture over cereal and stir until well combined and cereal is evenly coated. Transfer mixture to a Ziploc® Brand Gallon Bag and add in powdered sugar. Seal back and gently shake to coat cereal with the powdered sugar.
  3. Transfer mixture to a flat surface covered with parchment, waxed paper or aluminum foil. Spread in an even layer and add in the candy-coated chocolate pieces. Sprinkle with the red and green sprinkles. Let cool completely.
  4. Divide the mixture into Ziploc® Brand Snack Bags. Tie with ribbon, as desired.

This post is not sponsored or affiliated with Walmart.

Family, Uncategorized

Cute & Crafty Christmas Gifts

November 13, 2017

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This post is sponsored by InComm s as part of the #SaveMoneyGiveBetter2017 campaign. All opinions are my own and I so appreciate you supporting the brands that make Espresso and Cream possible! 

Since it’s only November it may seem like I’m jumping the gun a little bit on Christmas, but for some reason this year I’ve felt especially festive. Maybe it’s the fact that my toddler is finally old enough to understand the concept of Christmas, or because it’s Collins’s first Christmas or a combination of both, but I’ve been humming Christmas carols since Halloween.

I fully believe the point of Christmas is not material things or gifts, but for me gift giving is such a joyful process. To me, the holidays are the perfect time to make sure that those in our lives are recognized and appreciated for what they do and how much they mean through gifts and words of affirmation. It’s probably because I’m such a words of affirmation and quality time person, but it’s always less about the gift and more about the fact that someone took the time to write a sweet note and purchase the gift that means the most.

Also, as someone who is a habitual procrastinator, I’m bound and determined to make this year the year I get my cards out on time, my gifts wrapped in a leisurely fashion and don’t forget a single person on my list – from music teachers to childcare providers to friends and family.

While grocery shopping at Walmart last week, Ainsley and I took a detour through the Christmas section. She got all excited about seeing “Olaf!” (aka a giant blow up snow man) and I got sucked into the giant gift card display. Since we live in a small town, our local shopping options are pretty limited and most of my Christmas shopping is done online, so I was excited to see how many different gift card options there were to choose from. Some may say gift cards are impersonal, but I LOVE receiving a gift card. It feels like forced shopping, in the best possible way.

Ainsley is just getting to the age where she has a few more teachers, so we picked up a 3-pack of $20 Vanilla Mastercard Gift Cards to dress up and gift to people on our list. While there were a lot of options to choose from, I opted for a gift card that could be used for practically anything, since, like I said, we don’t live near a lot of stores and most of the people I know do plenty of online shopping.

To make our gift-giving a little more special, we also snagged some of the cutest gold glitter gift bags, gift tags, mini snowflake ornaments and some candy to fill the bags with in addition to the gift card. Seriously, I’m not a crafty person by nature but I think these little handmade gifts turned out pretty cute. Hopefully Ainsley’s teachers feel the same!

Madison

Family, Infertility and Miscarriage

Losing Them, Loving You

October 30, 2017

screen-shot-2017-10-29-at-6-21-15-amPhoto: Jessica Bonestroo Photography

I’ve been thinking all month about what (if anything) to write this month, seeing that it’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Sometimes, in the thick of parenting two little kids, our losses seem to fade into the background, a sad and heartbreaking circumstance that paved the way for both our girls. Sometimes, when cleaning up messes and disciplining toddlers and trying to grocery shop with both and maintain my sanity it’s hard to think about much else besides just getting through the day alive with everyone fed and unscathed.

But because of our losses, I’ve “met” so many of you I know your stories through emails, blog and Instagram comments and real-life coffee dates. Some of you have found my posts about miscarriage years later and are still writing me to share your stories – a fact that humbles me and makes me so very aware of the three babies we ourselves lost in the process of growing our family.

Sometimes I don’t think about our losses, until I do. When Ainsley puts together a puzzle in the blink of an eye or plays make believe with her Paw Patrol figurines. When Collins looks at me with her big, sparkly eyes and giggles the sweetest, softest giggle. When I notice that our girls both have the same set of amazing eyelashes or when Collins looks at her sister like she hung the moon, it hits me.

I wonder what their brother would have been like.

I wonder if their other siblings were boys or girls. I so wish I knew.

Like any (most?) types of loss, it never gets totally easy, life just continues on and time eases some of the raw edges. Losing three babies and now having two little ones makes me so aware of who they could or would have been. Joe is quick to remind me that the timing of our losses makes it such that we couldn’t have had the babies we lost AND our girls, and I wouldn’t trade our girls for the world. But when I look at Ainsley and Collins, a part of me will always wonder what our babies would have looked like. It shapes how you parent your earthly children, the thankfulness you have for the more mundane and challenging parts of parenting, the everyday moments that are somehow a little more special.

Madison

Family

The Things I Don’t Do

October 5, 2017

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Today I turned 30. Truthfully, I’m not one to get too worked up over a specific age or date on the calendar, but something about 30 – a new decade – makes me a little sentimental and reflective. Joe tells me I need to stop listening to sappy, serious podcasts because my deep-thinking, Enneagram 4 self is already prone to feeling all the feelings. It’s true. But today I’m affording myself a little time of self-reflection as I prepare to embark on a new decade. I’ve heard great things about 30 and I firmly believe that I would rather be 30 than 20 any and all days of the week.

I got a question from a blog reader/Instagram follower the other day asking if I would share how I “do it all” or, if I don’t do it all, what I don’t do. I mulled the question over for a week or so and thought about how I would (honestly) answer that question. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel like I’m just doing my best to juggle it all, but I’ve been surprised at how much I LOVE this stage of life with very little kids. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of days when I just want a nap and a solo vacation, but I have also never felt more alive, more challenged, more fulfilled than I do right now. My mom is a really high-energy individual, about twice as much as I am, so I think I do come by my energy honestly.

Let me also say that while I might seem like I’m “doing it all” sometimes, I have the advantage of the fact that my work is flexible and can be very accommodating to life with little kids. I have 16 hours of childcare each week and if I want to work at 5 am or early Sunday morning I can because I’m the boss. Working part-time affords me more time to do housework, spend quality time with the girls, dinner prep, etc. It’s a gift and opportunity that isn’t lost on me and my hat goes off to all the full-time working mommas trying to juggle it all.

THINGS I DON’T DO (in no particular order)

  1. Workouts longer than 30 minutes. It’s just not worth it to me. I want to be fit and fit into my jeans, and that can be done in 30 minutes, 5 to 6 days per week. Anything more feels, for me, like a vanity project and asking my kids to tolerate more than 30 minutes tends to result in more stress than benefit.
  2. Fancy Dinners. I DO make dinner for my family most nights of the week, but let me tell you that if you learn how to cook meat well, roast veggies and cook some type of grain you really are set.
  3. Over-Commitment. Life is crazy enough without me adding too many things to our plate as a family. I’m an introvert at heart, so when our family runs ragged I start to get snappy. I don’t parent well, I’m not a good spouse or friend. We have a few standing commitments right now (Wednesday night youth group, Sunday night church life group, and Joe helps with the high school football team on Friday nights) so I’ve intentionally avoided adding any other standing commitments to our calendar for the time being.
  4. Deep Cleaning My House. Before Collins arrived, one of my good mom friends suggested that I hire someone to clean my house to take something off my plate. We now have someone come for two hours every other week. It’s not enough help that I can completely abandon cleaning on a daily basis, but I don’t have to worry about keeping the water spots off our fixtures or scrubbing our tub and shower, etc.
  5. Spending more than 10 minutes getting ready. I DO get ready almost every day, but it doesn’t take much time. I intentionally keep my hair long because of this reason. It’s easier for me to get ready for my day and look/feel put together when my hair is long. It takes me about 10 minutes to do something with my hair and swipe on a little minimalist makeup. Shameless plug: When your skin and hair feels great using high-quality products, you don’t really need much makeup.
  6. Playing the social media comparison game. This isn’t a particular sticking point for me, but I do try to keep in mind that I’m the owner of my social media feed. I decide who shows up in my feed and who doesn’t. If there is someone who is rubbing me the wrong way or making me feel less than, it’s probably my own heart issue more than anything, but it’s my responsibility to follow judiciously. If someone or something makes you feel less than? Unfollow.
  7. Allow my mornings to be frazzled. I’m fully aware that my work at home schedule puts me at a distinct advantage because I don’t have to hustle to get the girls dropped off at daycare or be at the office at a certain time. But I do wake up at the crack of dawn each day to get some time to myself and set our family up for a smooth morning. Most mornings I’m awake at 5. I have coffee, read my Bible, do a little personal development or pleasure reading, and answer emails. Then I get Joe’s lunch packed, unload the dishwasher, run a load of laundry and fold a load if I’m on my game. Before the girls get up, I wash my face, get dressed and put on a little makeup and we start our mornings sometime between 6:30 and 7. Ainsley usually watches and episode of Curious George when she wakes up because she is slow to get going in the morning and if Collins is still sleeping I’ll do a little work on my computer sitting next to her.

Things I’m Learning to Do (key word, learning)

  1. Embracing the Chaos. I grew up in an only-child family most of my life where my house was quiet and I had plenty of time to myself. Admittedly, the transition to two kids was a little jarring to me because it’s just so loud and crazy all the time. But I’m learning to embrace the chaos, laugh about it, and even, dare I say, love it?
  2. Putting my phone down. This is an area I could still use some significant improvement on, but I’m working on being more conscious about my phone use around the girls. I don’t mind them seeing me work – I think it’s good they know what mom does and that I work hard – but I don’t want mindless scrolling of social media to distract me from what really matters.
  3. Being more organized. I’m about as far from Type-A as can be in many ways, so schedules and organization are a big area of improvement. I’m realizing that with two kids, my memory and head space just isn’t what it used to be, so writing all the things down is not just a nicety but a necessity.

Here’s to 30 being the best decade yet!
Madison