8 Free Photo Book Ideas

I love me a free photo book promo code! It seemed that as soon as I got pregnant with Bryan, free offers for photo books from Shutterfly & Snapfish started popping up in my inbox, on Catalina receipts, and in the mail. They still continue to roll in and if it’s free, it’s for me! I have probably let many expire over the years, but I try to use them up if I can. I’ve been pretty creative finding different ways to use them. Here are my 8 favorites:

If you would like a free photo book, here is my referral code which should be good for a free book: https://invite-shutterfly.com/x/cUQWIM

1. KEEPSAKE Books

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You can make a keepsake book for any special moment in your life. I have one to celebrate mine & my husband’s ‘courtship’, with photos taken before we were married. We also have one for each of our kids, to celebrate their first year of life. I used templates provided by the photo book company for these, so it was super easy to do and didn’t take much time at all. Bryan’s is pretty simple, but I found a couple quotes that I love to add to Annie’s.

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2. Illustrated Storybook

This is hands down my favorite way to use a free photo book promo code. Bryan & I sit down and I ask him to tell me a story. When I create the storybook, I leave the pages blank (no photos) except for a line of text at the bottom of each page. Most photo book companies provide templates for text only now. When the book comes in, Bryan sits down and illustrates the story. I try not to ‘edit’ the story, but type it as he says it. The way he talks and the words he chooses is a snapshot of who he is at this very moment of his childhood. One day, I won’t remember his stories as well as I wish I did, but I will have these books.

I love that this is a fun, creative activity we can do together, but also that we now have these adorable keepsakes from his childhood. I love planting seeds that allow my children to dream about what they could be & do with their life one day, such as becoming an author. This year, I am going to ask Bryan to write a children’s storybook for his little sister (the next time I get a free code).

Here are some pics from a few storybooks we have already made, including my personal favorite Rocket Crane Horsey:

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I wanted to use a free promo code for a special gift for my son to give his Pop (my dad) this Christmas. They are best friends! Rather than asking Bryan to write a story for one of the typical storybooks we made, I gave him some direction and we wrote ‘The Adventures of Bryan & Pop.’ It started like a typical adventure that the two of them would go on and became a rather magical adventure by the end. Their relationship is truly something special so I wanted to help Bryan make a gift just a special for his Pop.

3. My Mommy/Daddy/GRandparent is….

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We made my husband the most special book for Father’s Day last year; I honestly cannot think of a better gift a parent can receive! (Wink, wink, hint, hint… Mother’s Day will be here before you know it!!) I added some photos of my husband with the kids throughout the pages, but left quite a lot of blank space for fill-ins. Using text boxes , I added questions for Bryan to answer about his Daddy, such as what he does for work but also questions such as ‘I love my Daddy because…’. Bryan worked so hard on this book for his Daddy, coloring pictures and answering the narratives. Some of his responses were really funny, some were incredibly sweet and others made no sense at all- perfection for a 4 year old!

I have seen versions of this on Amazon, but with a free promo code it would be cheaper to make your own, even with shipping. Plus, you can customize it to fit your family/child. This would also be adorable as a grandparent gift.

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When I was a baby, my Daddy… protected me from scary monsters with too many arms.

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Mommy loves Daddy because… he goes to work in the rain.

4. Our Song/Story/Poem

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My mom wrote a special lullaby to sing to her grandbabies. For Christmas this year, I created a book for her with the words from her lullaby and photos of her with the kids. Annie loves to look at pictures of the people she knows, so I thought it would be a sweet book for them to sit and look at together. This could easily be done with lyrics to a favorite song or words from a special poem.

5. Recipe Book

I am blessed to have all of my mother-in-law’s recipe cards, in her own handwriting with special notes in the margins. For Christmas a few years ago, I scanned all of the recipes that she had marked as ‘most used’ and made them into a big recipe book for other members of the family. If you don’t have any special keepsake recipes from Mom or Grandma, an alternative would be to make a cookbook with all of your favorite collected recipes to gift for the holidays. Perhaps gift a cook of main dishes this year, side dishes next and desserts the following year. It can become a collection that everyone looks forward to adding to each Christmas.

6. ‘All About Me’ Book/Birthday Book

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This is a fabulous annual tradition that I can’t wait to start when Bryan turns 5 this February. As with most of my special photo books, create a book using mostly text boxes with narratives for your child to illustrate/answer. Start with basics such as a space for them to write their name & age, have pages for them to write/draw their favorite toy, food, book, activities, a page to draw a picture of themselves and/or your family, and end with their hopes for the future (‘When I grow up I want to be…’).

For Bryan’s first birthday, I made a duplicate First Year book for his birthday party and asked everyone at the party to write a special message for him. I hope he treasures this keepsake forever! Be sure to leave plenty of blank text boxes and select layouts with open space for those messages.

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7. Quotes & Inspirational

Create a collection of special quotes, motivational/inspirational text or verses for someone special. What a great gift for someone who is going through a difficult time or moving into a new phase of life. Collect funny quotes or bits of advice on parenting for a baby shower gift, or marriage advice from friends & family for a wedding shower gift. The possibilities are endless!

8. Kids Photography Book

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Bryan likes to take photos with our cell phones. I have been saving them in a special folder on my computer and plan to make him a book of his photography. I’ve started it, but need to finish it. Perhaps today at nap time!

Now, some of his photos are just pictures of the wall or his thumb, but some of them are really, really great. My father and I both have degrees in Photography, though neither of us attempted a career as an artist. Perhaps Bryan will be the famous photographer in the family and it could be really cool to have a collection of his earlier work. If nothing else, it’s an exploration of a career he could choose when he grows up.

Have you created any unique photo books? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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New Year, New Facebook

Facebook… sigh. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more intense love-hate relationship than that I have with Facebook. Pregnancy comes in close. I wasn’t a very good pregnant person and it tried to kill me at least once. I don’t think Facebook has tried to kill me yet, but it’s definitely thinking about it.

I want to like Facebook. I don’t want it to cause me stress and annoy the piss out of me as often as it does. I believe, in theory, that Facebook can actually bring something positive to our lives. It can connect people, share stories, motivate, encourage, inspire, market and build community. But yet, so often, it does all of the opposite.

My husband works with computers and he always says that ‘computers only do what we tell them to do.’ (I disagree with him; my computer often doesn’t do what I want it to.) While I know it’s easy to do, I encourage you to stop thinking of Facebook as being the evil. The problem with Facebook is that we are doing it wrong.

I want to re-evaluate my Facebook life this year and see if I can figure out how to use it to actually add to my ‘real’ life, without accepting that there will be ways in which it will inherently also subtract. I am going to rethink what role is serves for me and see if I can make changes to allow it to fill more of my needs. Here is the plan:

Purge, Purge, Purge

I am a HUGE fan of purging. Quite frankly, I don’t think people purge enough. I bet if you think about it, a good 70-80% of your problems could be solved by purging, be it a thought, feeling, memory, thing or person. In the words of Johnny Mercer & The Pied Pipers, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”

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I mean, really… read those words. Who doesn’t love a cathartic release?! This step starts with purge in the noun form- ‘an abrupt or violent removal of a group of people from an organization or place’. You are going to have to make some serious cuts in 3 areas: ‘friends’, groups and pages. This is a time to be brutal.

I’m about to give you a gift. Listen carefully.

You do not have to be Facebook friends with everyone you have ever met.

Did I just blown your mind?? I’m going to go as far as to say that you don’t even have to be Facebook friends with everyone that you actually like. Unfriending someone on Facebook is not equivalent to breaking up with them. You can totally work harmoniously along side a person, or have a friendly conversation at weekly play dates with another person, without being their Facebook friend. You can also still be biologically related, enjoying holidays and birthdays together, without being Facebook friends.

  • Why do you use Facebook?
  • What purpose does it serve in your life?

Your answers to these questions may not be the same as everyone who is on your Facebook Friends list. If you don’t use it in the same way or for the same purpose, does it make sense to use it together? What I enjoy most about Facebook is seeing photos of family & friends and learning what is going on in their daily lives. I want Facebook to tell me the things that a friend or loved one would share if there were to write me a letter. You know, if people still wrote letters. On paper. With stamps.

There are people who I know in my real life that don’t use Facebook for this purpose. (They shall remain nameless to protect the not-so-innocent.) They may not enjoy sharing cute pictures of their kids or details about their lives on Facebook. Instead, Facebook may serve as an outlet for frequent political rantings discourse or solely as a forum for marketing their business(es).

Let me be clear… I’m not saying these people are using Facebook incorrectly. Facebook has been designed as a great forum for both discussion/debate and marketing. I’m not judging anyone’s social media life or decision to use it for these purposes. All I’m saying is that we don’t provide for each other what we each hope to get from social media. Their Facebook profile does not help facilitate the purpose for which I use Facebook; I am likely not going to help fulfill their needs with my posts either.

Don’t think about it as unfriending someone. You can still be their friend in real life. Instead, you are choosing to eliminate their Facebook profile from your Facebook feed because they do not share the type of posts that you would like to see.

Let me provide you with some motivation to make these difficult calls & to press that ‘Unfriend’ button.

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Now, there may be some people in your life who you feel you cannot unfriend but would rather not see their posts. I’ll tell you what to do with them shortly.

It’s time for a Come-To-Jesus talk with your Friends List

I advocate for a bi-annual review of your Friends List. About twice a year I have a ‘CTJ’ (Come to Jesus) talk with my Friends List. I have found that I am generally pretty happy with around 100 friends. That seems to be enough to include my family and close friends, but also people who I enjoy being connected with. I don’t hold myself to that number, but more than once I found that after purging people who didn’t meet my ‘criteria’, it left exactly 100 friends.

I am generally not a fan of UrbanDictionary.com, but this definition is on point.

I am generally not a fan of UrbanDictionary.com, but this definition is on point.

What is my ‘friend’s list’ criteria? I’m glad you asked. I like to be Facebook friends with:

  • Family (for the most part)
  • Friends who I see or talk to regularly
  • Friends who I miss and wish I could see/talk to more
  • People who regularly post things that interest me, make me smile or laugh or that motivate or inspire me
  • People who I became friends with when I had 400+ friends simply because we kinda-sorta know each other or they know someone who I know, but we really do have many things in common, like kids who are the same age, and therefore their posts are similar to mine or are relevant in my life
  • And (i’ll be honest here) people who don’t really bring posts to the table that interest me but who ‘like’ or comment regularly on my posts and therefore seem to be interested in me

That feels like a good list of guidelines for me. If you use Facebook for work/business, your criteria might be slightly different. If you consider that being a SAHM is my work, then you could say that I do include associates in the same industry who share relevant work-related posts, such as links to kids crafts and funny memes about coffee.

When doing a BIG purge, I do usually share a post beforehand that goes a little something like this:

I have decided to change how I use Facebook and will be pruning down my Friends List to include Family only. I hope that no one takes this personally; please do not be offended if I ‘unfriend’ you. I need a Facebook change!

Now, this isn’t exactly true… because I do have friends on my list, but I think that this helps to ease any offense that others may feel. I truly do not mean to offend anyone and I certainly don’t want to enter into any argument about what one should or shouldn’t post on Facebook, especially if it’s politically motivated. It honestly has little to do with everyone else. It’s totally a ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ thing.

LEAVE MOST OF YOUR GROUPS

Hey you… yes, I’m talking to you… you in 104 LLR groups… really?! You need to keep reading.

I am a member of 14 groups, 4 of which I created and manage for graphic design work I do, my Norwex business and one for local SAHMs. My rule of thumb for groups is if a group you are a member of actually met in person for a monthly meeting and you would not regularly attend, you need to leave the group. With that said, if I had a calendar that included 14 standing monthly meetings I would be writing a blog post about clearing ones’ calendar. I feel like 14 is a few too many, but I do regularly post in these groups and/or read their posts.

I asked my Facebook friends (all 100 of them) how many groups they were in The general response was ‘too many’. Everyone that shared an exact number had over 100. Facebook Groups are the place for small group communication and for people to share their common interests and express their opinion. Does this sound like your 147 groups?

These groups are clogging your feed, man. The goal is to recreate your Facebook so that you see what you want to see. I know that you can be part of a group but ‘unfollow’ it and turn off notifications, but unless you are going to visit the group at least a couple times a month, why stay in it at all?? In all likelihood you will probably be able to rejoin the group in the future if it suddenly becomes important to your daily life, but if it isn’t now, you don’t need it. Again, the word of the day is PURGE. If leaving all of those irrelevant groups doesn’t give you a cathartic release, then by all means, rejoin.

If a group you are a member of actually met in person for a monthly meeting and you would not regularly attend, you need to leave the group.

While you are cleaning up your Groups, go ahead and set some Favorite Groups. This will help ensure that you see posts from groups that are most important to you. Your favorite groups should be ones that you are an administrator for, post in regularly or read daily.

REVIEW LIKED PAGES

Facebook has made this step pretty easy for us.

Disclaimer: These instructions are accurate as of the day I am writing this post. Facebook will likely move & change everything tomorrow. Sorry.

A Facebook page is a public profile specifically created for businesses, brands, celebrities, causes, and other organizations. They are sort of like commercials; they market to you. Unlike commercials, however, Facebook allows these brands to collect information about who sees their page posts such as your age, gender and city. If the ‘big brother’ thing bothers you, you should probably start unliking some pages… or better yet, deactivate your Facebook account. But even if that doesn’t bother you, I recommend taking a couple minutes to make sure that you actually like the products or brands that Facebook thinks you do.

When you open your Facebook account on a computer (not sure about phones), you can click on ‘Pages’ on the left side of the screen and then you will be given the option to ‘Review Liked Pages’.

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When I went through my review I noticed Pages ‘liked’ that were not only NOT relevant to my life (such as Michelin Tires… really?? Do I strike you as a tire buff?), but also companies/brands that I’m actually fundamentally in disagreement with, such as Johnson & Johnson and Bath & Body Works. We try our very hardest to never use products that contain phthalates on our bodies. Because of my concerns about ingredients that these two companies use in their products, we will not purchase them. I also believe that these ingredients/products should be banned in the US, but that’s a post for another day.

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In total, I removed 124 pages from my ‘Like’ list. This will help my Facebook clean-up in two ways: I should no longer see posts from Pages that I dislike, but I should also now have a better chance at seeing posts from Pages that I do actually like. I should probably do myself (and my health) a favor an Unlike Domino’s… but I do love those $5.99 pizza offers!

Prioritize Who You See First

Your next step is to set your news feed preferences with 4 easy steps. Click on the little drop down arrow on the top right of your homepage and select ‘News Feed Preferences’. This will walk you through prioritizing who you see first (friends & pages), unfollowing those who you do not wish to see on your feed (those friends/family who we talked about earlier that you feel you can’t unfriend), reconnecting with those who you have unfollowed in the past but now would like to see, and discovering pages that match your interests.

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I really appreciated the opportunity to select up to 30 friends & Pages to prioritize. You will have to decide who makes it to your Top 30 list and why. I selected most of my family members and a couple pages who I really, really like. My favorite pages on Facebook are:

  • Fun, Cheap or Free – Great tips on writing a solid budget and sticking to it! The author, Jordan Page, is my mom-crush. She has 5 kids (under 7 or 8, I believe) and she actually gets dressed and puts on make-up everyday. She truly inspires me to be a better SAHM.
  • Hip2Save– I find most of my shopping deals from Collin at Hip2Save.
  • 5-Minute Crafts– Awesome short videos of kids crafts, household tips and life hacks.
  • imomsohard– If you don’t want to be BFFs with Kristin & Jenn, then I don’t want to be friends with you. Their videos should be required viewing for all moms. You can credit all of my sanity to imomsohard.
  • Krokotak– Cute crafts for the kiddos.

ENJOY Your New Facebook life

Congratulations! Your new Facebook life is waiting for your enjoyment! Hopefully now you will see all the posts, photos and videos that are relevant to your life and important to you, and none of the other crap. Remember, “you’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”

I hope these steps help improve your social media life. I’m really crossing my fingers that it helps mine!

 

Word of the Year for 2017

Do you pick a ‘Word of the Year’? This is a New Years tradition where you select a word to focus on for the next 12 months. I’ve seen others do this in the past but haven’t given it a shot myself. I didn’t intend to do it this year either, but two words have been flashing in bright, neon lights in my head and laying heavily on my heart for the last month or so. I figure this must be a sign.

HeaLth & Gratitude

I decided on two words- one is really more for my husband & I to focus on (Health) and one is more for the kids (Gratitude). Of course, we will work on them together as I want the children to see gratitude demonstrated by the adults in their lives and I want to teach the children healthy behaviors. I have a feeling that Bryan & Annie will end up teaching us a thing or two along the way as well.

Why Health?

For starters, 2016 wasn’t an especially healthy year for us in general and it all reached a peak of concern right before the end of the year. I was diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism over the summer, which was corrected with surgery the week of Christmas. Jon had an old ACL injury flare up right before New Years, which required a New Years Eve visit to Urgent Care. After a pretty solid virus-free period, we all came down with colds in December and continue to pass them back & forth. I guess we are a little better at sharing than I give us credit for.

I have struggled with being overweight pretty much all of my life, excluding a period of two years in Graduate School where I focused on my health, learned to enjoy exercise, managed my blood sugar with a reasonable diet and lost a considerable amount of weight. Can I go back to Grad School?!? Jon is very active, walking an average of about 5 miles a day at work, but he could certainly benefit from some healthy lifestyle tweaks. My kids… and this is tough for me to say… are following in my footsteps.

Both Bryan & Annie were born prematurely; Bryan weighed 5 pounds 1 ounce when we brought him home from the hospital and Annie weighed 4 pounds 11 ounces at birth. For months we struggled to gain ounces. Literally, every ounce gained was a victory that we celebrated. Now, Bryan is in the 96% for weight and Annie is in the 75%. Granted, they are both also very tall for their age but of course, I worry. I want better for them. I have discussed this with their Pediatrician and she is not in any hurry to place them on a ‘diet’ but did recommend that we cut out empty calories. So that is what we plan to do.

This is what a healthy lifestyle looks like to us:

  • less processed food & empty calories
  • more physical activity
  • closer to a plant-based diet (though we will probably never give up meat & eggs)

But being healthy to me means much more than just physical health; it encompasses pretty much every aspect of our lives including:

Financial Health

This is a BIG one. I wouldn’t say that we are financially unhealthy right now, but there is certainly room for improvement. In our household, my husband works to provide a living for us and I work to provide a life for us. Jon wants as little to do with our finances as I will let him get away with, besides, of course, earning our income.

I prepare and manage our budget and, being that I am totally a Type-A personality, it involves pretty elaborate Excel spreadsheets.  My husband makes a good salary and there is always the hope that each year will bring about an increase in income, but I can’t say that I feel I have been managing our budget well. I would give myself a solid C and I’m not very comfortable with being ‘average’. It doesn’t matter to me that we are doing okay, better than many, and keeping afloat; I’d like to feel that we are doing better than that, thriving even. I am great at writing budgets, not so great at sticking to them. So this year, I am going to work on that. I don’t want to stress myself out at the end of each month with another ‘I blew the budget… again’ dilemma. And I am a firm believer that more income doesn’t solve a budget problem; one can mismanage any amount of money.

I feel extremely fortunate that my husband & I are on the same page when it comes to… well, most things… but speaking specifically here about finances. There are some basic principles related to money and how we use/spend/save it that he & I are in total agreement on. A couple years ago, before we even had the kids, I was discussing Christmas plans with a relative and she said to me, ‘Don’t worry about getting our kids anything big for Christmas. I know you guys don’t have much.’ This definitely caught me off guard. I was working at the time and thought that we made a pretty good combined income. While I probably should have been offended, I didn’t feel that way at all which also surprised me. When I shared this with Jon he responded in a typical ‘Jon’ way… “I’d rather have it and have other people think we don’t than not have it but have them think we do.” That about sums up our financial strategy; live well, but well within our means.

I will say that we have a number in our mind that we feel is a safe amount for us to have in savings in case we were to suffer a financial set-back… and we are not at that figure yet. So this is what financial health looks like to us

  • more savings
  • better budget management

 Mental & Emotional Health

I’m not sure how to separate these two; they feel so integrated to me.  Again, I wouldn’t say that we are unhealthy mentally & emotionally, though catch me on the wrong day and I might disagree. My husband’s job can be stressful and I acknowledge that being the sole bread-winner in the family adds a level of pressure on him, though I know that he is grateful to be able to provide for our family and we feel very fortunate that he is so reliable and capable. Being a stay-at-home-mom is a much harder job than I anticipated when I left my career three years ago. I live at work and there are days weeks when I feel like I have been on the clock 24/7 and haven’t had a minute to myself. Though I know it’s just words, the times when Jon says ‘I don’t know how you do it all’ are HUGE in terms of allowing me to feel appreciated and helping me muster the strength to get through the rough minutes, hours and days.

My husband and I both struggle with taking time for ourselves, independently and together. Jon works a lot so when he isn’t working he wants to give all his time to us. I spend all of my time with the children, so much so that I can forget that parenting is a privilege and not just work. When Jon comes home from work I feel badly leaving the house (on my own) because it can feel- to both of us- that I am clocking out and making Jon clock back into a ‘job’… even though he just got home from work… and kids aren’t suppose to be work, but let’s face it- they totally are! Is this making sense??

It’s clear to me what we need to work on this year for a healthier mentality and stronger emotional well-being:

  • Quality alone time
  • Quality together time

Parent-guilt (and let’s just start calling it that, because Dads do feel guilt too) needs to get kicked to the curb; it has no place in our home anymore. A couple times a year, Jon likes to go away for a weekend to fish. It’s his ‘me’ time and it’s HUGELY beneficial in terms of helping him unplug from a stressful life of being constantly connected to multiple computers and two cell phones… hell, even his watch is ‘smart’ and pings him all day long. It’s not a luxury for him anymore; it is getting moved this year to the essentials column and I am going to support him and help him make sure it happens, for his mental and emotional well-being.

Same goes for me. I need time away. I am going to leave the house without the kids more frequently and I will stop rushing home and apologizing when I get there for how long I was out. Someone please remind me of this every couple of months.

For goodness sake, we need to stop seeing our role as parents as being ‘work’. I know, even I rolled my eyes a little bit as I typed that. I know it’s work, but we need to start having more fun with our children on a regular basis. I don’t have a solid plan of attack for this yet, but I’m starting with a nightly game time with Bryan.

I am a morning person; come 7-8 pm you are not going to get the best of me. This is the time of day when I usually just want to be left alone. But, Annie goes to bed about 2 hours earlier than Bryan and I’ve noticed that he has been getting ‘bored’ every night, but neither Jon nor myself have been mustering up the energy to focus on him. It’s been too easy to put on a Disney movie or send him to bed with his tablet and play on our phones. Yuck. It makes me so sad to say that. So, we have started a new tradition. Bryan & I play a game every night after Annie goes to bed. Could be Go Fish, Candyland or Spot It. Last night we had a particularly thrilling game of Monopoly Jr. that lasted well over 30 minutes. But even if it’s just 10-15 minutes, it ends both of our days on a positive note and sends my son to bed feeling that Mommy enjoys playing with him.

HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

Every year at Christmas time I ask Jon if there is anyone new that we want to add to our Christmas card list and his response is always the same, ‘I hope not.’ No one has ever accused my husband of being a social butterfly. My attitude about it is that I don’t get to spend enough time with the friends I already have; if I have time to give to building new relationships, I’d rather invest it in reconnecting with my ‘old’ friends. When we have available time, we are more likely to spend it with family than anyone else, but I am definitely missing our friends now.

We have quite a few friends that do not live near us and it’s hard to connect with them, but we do have a handful of great local friends who we need to work harder at enjoying time with. This year, we need to stop using the kids as an excuse and rebuild those friendships that are important to us. I miss date nights out with friends so I hope that we can start doing more of those again. We need to invite friends over more… even if the house isn’t clean, even if it’s just for spaghetti or pizza… let the kids come too. It needs to happen.

And let’s not forget one of the most important relationships in my life: my marriage. I have no complaints when it comes to our marriage, but we would certainly love to spend more time alone together. Intentional time alone together. We are very lucky that my parents live nearby and are willing to keep BOTH kids overnight so frequently, but we usually just use that time to get stuff around the house done or veg out. A blogger I read, Jordan Page at FunCheaporFree.com, is a huge advocate for ‘dating’ your spouse and I’d love to do more of that in 2017.

Relationship goals:

  • Socialize with friends more
  • Date my spouse

A Healthy Household

We spend a lot of time at home. It’s not just a house to us. In order for our days to run smoothly, our home needs to be in tip-top working order. That means organized, functional, clutter-free and possibly even clean. If organization were a love language, it would be mine. I live in a constant state of evaluating, organizing, purging, rinse & repeat. There is almost always one ‘trouble zone’, be it a room, closet or cabinet, that just doesn’t function or serve the purpose I need it to.

There was a period of probably two weeks last year where I looked around our home and thought… ‘I don’t have any trouble zones right now!’ Every square inch of the house (garage and basement excluded) was working pretty well for us. And then we decided to rearrange furniture in our living room. These periods of rest are few and far between, but that’s okay. If it works for us for awhile, great. When it stops working, then it needs tweaked.

There are a few projects on the list for 2017 for our home. The exterior of the house is in desperate need of a power-wash. It usually happens annually but hasn’t for the last two summers, so that will get done this year. My husband has a partial bathroom in the basement for his ‘man cave.’ I call it the ‘urinal closet’, since it just has a urinal and a sink. (What else does a man cave need?) Except it isn’t a closet… it’s open to the laundry area. I have a urinal in my laundry room. He is going to close it up and make it a proper bathroom this year.

My tub needs recaulked and if money permits we are going to rip out my husbands awful, leaky shower in his bathroom and replace it with a nice tiled shower stall. These are just annoying to-do list kinda things,  but because our home is so important to us and because how well it is functioning makes such a difference in our daily lives, we are very intentional about planning out our annual projects. Usually our tax refund goes almost exclusively into our home. Sure there are definitely more exciting things that we could be doing with that cash, but we take pride in our home. We love it (almost all the time) and it truly is an investment. You have to invest in anything in your life that is important to you, be it your health, relationships, career or home.

Gratitude

Bryan will be 5 years old this February. I am in awe daily at how big, smart, creative and interesting he is. I’m also petrified. It’s becoming clear to me that this parenting business is starting to get ‘real’. I thought having newborns was hard; now the real work of shaping a good and responsible human being begins.

Bryan no longer exists within our bubble. Whether he is kind, respectful, caring… or not is starting to impact more and more people, besides just his father and myself. He has teachers, friends and coaches now. It’s one thing to overlook an attitude towards me at home, brushing it off as him being little and assume he will grow out of it. It’s a completely other thing to hear that he told his teacher that ‘he is going to do what he wants to do’ or watching him get called out for not listening to his coach on the soccer field.

My worse fear, besides a really traumatic event, is that my children will be unkind to others. If they become nothing else in life, I want to know that they are nice. I have absolutely no idea how to make sure that happens, but it’s on the forefront of my mind daily.

Christmas was an eye-opener this year. I won’t say that Bryan was ungrateful, necessarily, but he certainly didn’t demonstrate the level of gratitude that I would like to see from him. I try to be careful to not expect adult-like thoughts, behaviors or emotions from a child, but I don’t feel that I can put this off anymore. Bryan is a blessed child. He needs to know this and feel appreciation for the gifts he has received in life, physically and otherwise.

Again, I’m feeling a bit clueless and unprepared for this stage of parenting, but I’ve come up with a plan that feels pretty solid right now: A Year of Family Service. This isn’t new; I’m pretty sure I saw it at some point on a blog or Pinterest. Once a month, for the 12 months of 2017, I would like our family to work together on a project that serves others. I don’t have them all planned out, but I’ve got a few leads and ideas. Anything that takes into account how others feel or helps another human being (or living creature) with a need qualifies. We will be giving, be it of money, supplies or our time. Less focus on us, more focus on others.

It’s important to me that we do this together as a family. Sure, I could take the kids to Walmart once a month to buy food for a food bank or toys for Toys For Tots, but I’m not sure that is enough immersion for this to truly resonate with a young child. I don’t want to scare Bryan by introducing him to concepts that might burst his happy little bubble, like terminal illness, homelessness or poverty, but I would like him to know that there is always someone out there who could use our help or kindness and to learn that there are so many difference ways to give service to others.

I picked one project for April. It is a kids fun run at a local amusement park. Proceeds will benefit a local organization that provides assistance to families with children with terminal illnesses. Bryan is going to have a blast spending the day at the event and participating in the run, but leading up to it we will be going around to family and friends to ask for donation pledges. I’m not sure yet how he will do with this, as he is just now starting to understand the concept of money. He recently started receiving $2 allowance a week and after saving up $14 he said he was going to buy a truck like daddy. Hopefully, at the end of the year, I will be able to write a blog post about what a huge success this project was and all the life lessons we have learned. We will gladly accept all prayers for patience, open hearts and open minds!

For more information or to register for the Magical Miles for Magical Smiles Fun Run, visit http://www.magicalmemoriesforkids.com/page6 .