Macie & Scout: Our First Babies

LJ tends to steal the show around here, but today I thought I’d share a little bit about the two fur babies that complete our little family. Today is all about Macie & Scout!

Justin and I always knew that we wanted to have a dog at some point. While we didn’t expect to get one at the start of our marriage, when two of Justin’s good friends bred their two labs together and offered us one of the puppies as a wedding gift, we joyfully accepted. In July 2013, on our one-month anniversary we became parents to eight-week-old Macie.

Macie is a pure lab mix. Her dad was a huge yellow lab and her mom was a small, field bred black lab. She was a spunky whirl of energy from the beginning!

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Puppy Macie with her dad, a 90 lb yellow lab!

Macie is very smart and she picked up on her training really quickly. Honestly, she made puppy parenthood a breeze. She crate-trained easily, she learned new tricks, and while she kept her high-level puppy energy for a full two years, she was usually very obedient. We loved taking her with us everywhere and to this day her enthusiasm for everything (snow, swimming, fetch, hiking, etc) makes her such a fun dog to have around!

After about six months with Macie, we started to feel a little bad for her. She had SO much energy and we were both so busy (me with my full-time job 40 minutes away and Justin with his full-time schooling) that we started talking about getting a second dog at some point so she would have a little buddy and not be bored. Macie is so sweet and fun but she can be a little bit clingy – ha!

While a second dog was in the back of our minds as a “someday” possibility, we weren’t seriously looking into it. But in January 2014, my friend found two small puppies outside her home. She lives in a wooded area and it was clear that the two puppies had been dumped into the woods by their previous owners. Did you catch that it was January? These poor puppies had been dumped in the snow and left to fend for themselves.  My friend already had two dogs and couldn’t keep the puppies; another friend of hers had claimed one of them but the other was still in need of a safe, loving home. We drove out to Ohio “just to see” if this puppy would be the right fit for us but I think Justin and I both knew we were going to take this puppy in. One look at his sweet little brown eyes and we were all in!  Enter Scout.MS6.jpgAfter verifying that no one had called in to the shelter reporting missing puppies and that he didn’t have any collar, tracker, or identification, we took him home and he instantly became the missing piece to our little family.

Macie took to her little brother right away. I think it helped that she had only been with us for six months so she wasn’t too set in her only-dog ways. She and Scout also naturally fit the alpha and beta dog dynamics and fell into a brother-sister groove quickly. It made us so happy to see them bond from the start!

It was pretty apparent from the beginning that Scout had experienced trauma in his early life. The vet determined he was likely about 12 weeks old but it was difficult to tell exactly because he was malnourished. He had two types of worms in his belly and had frostbite on his belly and the tip of his tail. He was super skittish and fearful of new things. He resisted his crate and howled and cried when we tried to put him in it. It was heartbreaking! His training was completely different than Macie’s and our goal first and foremost was for him to be healthy and feel safe and loved.  Scout was never comfortable with crate-training and we decided not to force it for our own reasons. We eventually got to the point where both dogs could hold their bladders all day and not destroy things – since then we have let them roam the house when we’re not there. It was worked really well with very few mishaps.

Today, Scout is still skittish about loud noises (he always hides during thunderstorms) and he likes to perch on our staircase landing where he can see everything going on around him. For the most part though, he has really come out of his shell! He is a happy, lovable dog. He’s content to just snuggle and loves to have his belly rubbed. He warms up to people quickly and has the sweetest personality.

Our dogs were always our babies and we loved doing things with them. We took them on vacation, we went for long walks, we’d go swimming in a nearby river, we’d play frisbee in a park, we’d snuggle on the couch – whatever we could include them in, we did!

When I became pregnant, I worried about how the dynamic would change. Macie and Scout always did great with small children and we knew that they would be good siblings to a human baby, but I wondered if they would mind a baby that was now in their space all the time. I also worried because Scout is still naturally very skittish around new things so I worried he would be afraid of the new baby gear everywhere, the toys, the noise, the stroller, etc. We spent a lot of time letting them hang out in the nursery and sniffing LJ’s things so that when we finally brought him home, they weren’t stressed out by the new arrival.

I needn’t have worried. Macie and Scout LOVE LJ and have totally adjusted to his presence in our house. Scout was pretty quick to learn not to fear any of the baby gear and we’re able to go on family walks without him being afraid of the stroller. It has been so fun to see the three of them learn to love one another. LJ loves to watch the dogs and giggles when they do tricks. They tolerate his baby pats, they lay next to him on the floor, they love hanging out in his nursery. They always want to be near him! They are honestly just the sweetest with each other and it never fails to melt my mama heart!

If I had to pick one thing that really sealed Macie and Scout’s love for their little bro, I think it would be the high chair. Meal times are now their favorite time of day and if LJ is in his high chair they are never far away. They’re always ready to catch dropped scraps. Haha!

It has actually become a liiiiiiiittle bit of a problem because LJ loves to feed them and will often intentionally throw food down to Macie or hold food out to Scout. We’re going to have to work on that one!

While things are a little different now that we have a human baby, our dogs have always been our babies. We love them so much and are so happy as a family of five. ❤

 

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The simplified cleaning routine that keeps me sane

Last Friday, I hosted a Favorite Things party for some girlfriends at my house. The party was scheduled to start at 7:00 pm and around 3:00, Justin walked in to the kitchen as I was catching up on a few things on my laptop. The kitchen table had papers, books, and other random things all over it. I was still unshowered and in sweatpants. I had spent exactly zero minutes of my day up to that point preparing our house for the party. Justin took in the scene and his exact words were “I can’t believe you’re not freaking out right now.”

Let’s back up quick. For the first few years of our marriage, I became a bit of a monster whenever people were coming to our house. Have you seen that video that periodically circulates with the guy pretending to be a crazy mom preparing for company in full-on panic mode: yelling at everyone and running around in a clean-up rage? Yeah, that was me. I would get snappy, I would rush around, I would be in a frenzied state of cleaning/straightening/putting away/perfecting every single room of our house (what if people ask for a tour!?) and I was honestly not a fun person to be around. It got to the point where Justin dreaded us hosting something because I became such a crazy person beforehand. Around two years ago, he finally said “why are we even doing this? This isn’t fun anymore.”

And you know what? He was right. It wasn’t fun.

At its core, I love hosting. I love having people over and want our home to be a cozy, comfortable space where people can gather together and have good fun, great conversations, and fulfilling fellowship. It is important to me to have meaningful relationships and be able to open up our home to others.

But the preparations were killing me.

It’s not fun to panic. It’s not fun to rush around. It’s not fun to yell at your husband to pleasedothisRIGHTNOWbecausepeoplearecomingoversoon! It’s not fun to spend the four hours before a party as a stressed-out hot mess who is frantically cleaning every surface of her house. Something had to give.

When I took a good look at each situation and where the primary stress was coming from, I realized I was mostly stressed about getting our house in order. Our home isn’t even very large but it seemed to take so much time to pick up and clean before guests come over. So about 18 months ago, I came up with a system to reduce stress in this area.

My system is simple: every day I have one cleaning task.

Y’all, I’ve seen all the Pinterest checklists and charts for cleaning and staying on top of your house. To be honest, even those can overwhelm me. Working full-time as a teacher left me with a limited amount of time to keep up with our house. Even now that I stay at home, I still don’t have a ton of time during the day to devote to cleaning. I needed to create a system where I could spend a maximum of 15-20 minutes each weekday cleaning. So I assigned ONE manageable task to each day and try my best to accomplish it. This system might not work for everyone, but it has worked absolute wonders for my sanity so I thought I would take you through what I do on an average day. I even timed how long it takes me to do each task so you can see exactly how much time I need to devote to maintaining a general sense of order (spoiler alert: it’s not much time!)

My Simplified Cleaning Routine

Monday: Dust every surface.

Let’s be honest. Who likes dusting? I’m guessing no one. I could probably get away with dusting less, but with two dogs in our house, I like knowing dog hair and other dust isn’t collecting on surfaces so I start my week off with this task. It also keeps me from cluttering up my shelves because I don’t want to have to dust a lot of knick-knacks. 🙂 I use this dusting mitt to quickly wipe down all surfaces. I live in a two-story house and it took me 7 minutes and 3 seconds to dust every surface downstairs and 4 minutes and 3 seconds to dust every surface upstairs (including the guest room, which took 45 seconds on it’s own but is often a room I can skip if it hasn’t been used). Total time: 11 minutes and 6 seconds

Tuesday: Clean the bathrooms.

Bathrooms are honestly my least favorite thing to clean so I choose products that make the task as simple and enjoyable as possible. I use this window cloth and a spray bottle with water to clean all mirrors. I’m a huge fan of the Better Life cleaning brand so I use their all-purpose cleaner and kitchen and bath scrubber for various surfaces. I keep all my bathroom cleaning essentials in a large bucket so I can carry it to whichever bathroom I’m cleaning and have exactly what I need:

Bathroom Cleaning Supplies

Simple as that! We have 2.5 bathrooms but I often don’t have to clean the guest bathroom because it’s only used if we have guests. It takes me 3 minutes and 4 seconds to clean the half bath,  8 minutes and 14 seconds to clean our master bath, and 4 minutes and 48 seconds to clean our guest bath. Total (minus guest bath): 11 minutes and 18 seconds. Total (all three): 16 minutes and 6 seconds.

Wednesday: Clean the kitchen area.

When I say I’m cleaning the kitchen, I don’t mean I’m scrubbing out the oven or wiping out the refrigerator. This is most definitely not a deep clean, but a surface level cleaning just to maintain order. I wipe down all counters (again with the cleaner I love) and the stovetop and spray down and clean out the sink and microwave. The total time varies based on the state of the kitchen to begin with, because we have a combined kitchen/dinig room. The table is often a dump zone for mail and other random papers and items. So I timed how long it took me to just clean every surface of the kitchen and also how long it took if I put the extra time into clearing off the table. It took 4 minutes and 9 seconds to clean the kitchen and another 4 minutes and 47 seconds to clear off the table. Total time: 8 minutes and 57 seconds.

Oh and just for the record, I did time how long it took me if I went next-level and wiped down the front of the fridge/dishwasher/stove and it took an average of 30 seconds per appliance. I use a special stainless steel spray for those and maybe wipe them down once a month or whenever they look extra gross. Definitely not every week!

Thursday: Floors.

This task varies the most from week to week because it depends how much time I have and how the floors look. We have two dogs so you can imagine the state of our floors if we don’t regularly keep up. Honestly, once we had a baby crawling around, our standards for how clean the floors should be got much higher. For my 30th birthday, all I asked for was money towards a Roomba (if that’s not a sign of adulthood, I don’t know what is) and we were able to get a good deal on one. It has been a game changer with keeping up with dog hair throughout the week!

Even with the Roomba, I still spend time each week on the floors. Sometimes I will take our Bona across the first floor but I often don’t have time for that extra step so I will just vacuum all the floors. It takes me 14 minutes and 8 seconds to vacuum the first floor and 8 minutes and 43 seconds to vacuum the stairs and second floor. Total time: 22 minutes and 51 seconds.

Friday: Flex day to catch up on a missed day.

Guys. Life happens. One day LJ might be feeling sick or we might have a lot going on outside the home. Maybe I only had time to clean one bathroom earlier in the week or only vacuumed one floor. Each week is different but by building in this flex day, I keep from feeling guilty or overextending myself earlier in the week by knowing I can catch up on Friday. If all the cleaning got done earlier in the week, Friday becomes a day to throw in a load of laundry or clean a little deeper or just relax!

Maybe it sounds overly simplified, but honestly, this system has changed SO much in my life. By spending a tiny amount of time maintaining each day, I don’t freak out when guests come over. I wasn’t panicking last Friday before my party because I had done a little bit each day and my house was mostly clean and just was going to need a small bit of tidying. Justin and I both agree it has made a huge difference with our stress levels!

Beyond making life easier for hosting, this system has other benefits. Even if I only spent 3 minutes cleaning the half bath, I feel like I’ve accomplished something each day. If someone pops by without warning, maybe my kitchen is a mess but the bathrooms are clean! My house rarely feels like a complete disaster because at least one portion of it was addressed that day. I want my home to be a haven for our family and that doesn’t happen if it looks like a tornado came through so a little each day goes a long way towards keeping it clean and calm.

I know this post is already super long, but I have a few other small things to add:

Stay flexibleSome days I can’t get to my task. Other days I have extra time and can double up on tasks. Sometimes I can clean during LJ’s naptime. Other times he’s in his high chair eating a snack while I wipe down the kitchen.  I honestly don’t stress out about an exact system. I just do what I can and I know things will eventually get done.

Tidy up before bed. I clean up LJ’s toys every night. I know he’ll just get them out again the next day but it helps me to start fresh each day. Plus, if you read my toy post, you know it only takes about 90 seconds to clean up the playroom.

Time yourself! It wasn’t until I thought about doing this post that I timed how long it took me to do each task but honestly I was shocked by how little time each task took. I dislike cleaning bathrooms but if I know it’s only going to take 3 minutes to get the half bath done, the work seems so much easier. Now it’s even a little bit of a nerdy game for me where I try to see how fast I can get the task done (I did time a few tasks again just to see the results: dusting took 11 minutes and 26 seconds total, half+master bath took 10 minutes and 57 seconds, vacuuming upstairs took 8 minutes and 29 seconds). I even started timing other random tasks (only 2 minutes and 33 seconds to unload the dishwasher!) – it just seems so much more manageable to know I can get so much accomplished in less than 15 minutes.

Stick to one task. Unless I truly have a lot of time on a particular day, I do not stress about more than the one task. There are days when my bathrooms are sparkling but my table is still covered in random stuff. If I can get to more than one thing in one day, great! But if I can’t, I refuse to feel bad about it. We live in this house. It looks lived in, like it’s supposed to. I know I am doing what I can and I’ll get to the rest another day.

What works best for you when keeping your house clean? Do you prefer doing a little each day or having one big cleaning day each week?

A Simplified First Birthday

It doesn’t seem possible, but I now have a one-year-old.

I can’t believe LJ’s first birthday has come and gone. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that I had the sweetest little newborn snuggled up on my chest. At the same time, it’s so hard to remember what life was like before him. He has changed our whole world and we’re so grateful for this year of his life!

Justin and I decided a long time ago that we wanted to keep LJ’s birthday party very low-key and simple. We know some parents choose to go all out with themes, decorations, coordinating food items, etc. and if that’s your thing, that’s great and we totally support you!  For us, we decided we wanted to focus on finding a few small ways to have a special celebration without a ton of work or stress. Today I wanted to share what we did to keep things sweet, simple, and fun!

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LJ’s First Birthday Party

Our situation was a little unique in that LJ’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving this year and we were going to spend the day at my grandparents house with extended family on my dad’s side celebrating both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead of having a separate party on another day, we just decided to have a small celebration after the Thanksgiving meal but before the Christmas gifts. We called it ThanksBirthMas. 😉

After people were mostly finished with the meal, I set out a small dessert station on my grandma’s kitchen island.

BIrthday Cupcakes.jpegI had purchased cupcakes in three flavors from a local baker (chocolate with peanut butter frosting, vanilla with buttercream frosting, and blueberry with cream cheese frosting) and I set out a few toppings people could sprinkle on top if they wanted. I already had the cake stand and three dish serving set so I just brought those along to have a cute little way to arrange the items. I also set out my Letterfolk board to round out the display.

Our baker had also made a smash cake for LJ based off a picture I found of a cake I liked on Pinterest and I stuck a “1” candle on top. I also attached a gold “1” balloon to LJ’s high chair.

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I passed out party hats to everyone as a fun way to say “okay, it’s birthday time now!”

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We all sang Happy Birthday to LJ and ate cupcakes while he dug into his smash cake. His cake was vanilla with peanut butter filling and he loved it!

He was upset when we decided he had eaten enough and took it away. I think he takes after his mama’s sweet tooth!

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Justin and I had decided we wanted a “no gifts” party and had let our family know this desire a few months ago so everyone was on the same page. In lieu of gifts, we asked people to bring a donation to a local charity. We chose a local organization that distributes books to hospitalized children throughout our region. This organization is near and dear to our hearts because LJ had to spend a week in the NICU after birth and he received three books from them during his time there. We so appreciated this kindness during a very stressful time in our lives and wanted to pay it forward to other families.

Our families were totally on board with this and were more than happy to bring donations instead of gifts. Some people chose to wrap the books and LJ had fun tearing off the paper and opening his birthday cards. We were thrilled to get to make a donation to a great organization in LJ’s honor.

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Once we had collected the books and LJ had opened his cards, we thanked everyone and the birthday portion of the day was finished.

Justin and I were very happy with how the party turned out. It wasn’t perfect or Pinterest-worthy. It was simple but still felt very special and celebratory. Even if we wouldn’t have had a combo Thanksgiving/Christmas on the same day, I doubt we would have done much more with the party. The point for us was to hang out with family and celebrate and we have lots of wonderful memories of our time together!

And just for a little walk down memory lane…

Happy birthday my sweet little LJ! We love you SO much!

 

 

A Day in the Life

A few weeks ago, I noticed #onedayhh floating around my social media. The idea was to document your day hour by hour so you have a little photo record of an ordinary day. I wanted to participate, but that was the day I was in Philadelphia for work so it was anything but an ordinary day for me.

Instead I decided I wanted to do a blog post documenting a normal day in my everyday life. I always enjoy reading these types of posts on other blogs and honestly, I love the idea of having a record of an ordinary day with LJ at this stage of life to look back on someday. I chose Friday, November 16 as a day to document.

A few disclaimers: this post will be long and contain a lot of pictures! They are not perfect pictures. Some pictures are dark or grainy. They reflect our true day (aka no make-up, the house not totally in order) but that’s our real life so I’m embracing it.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Lately, I have been trying to get up when Justin leaves the house for work around 6:30/6:45 to have some quiet time to eat breakfast and complete my morning devotions. On this particular morning, I listened to my body when it begged for a little more sleep and didn’t get up until I heard LJ around 7:15 am. I got up, made my bed (which really just involves pulling up the sheets but I feel like this small thing makes a big difference!) and headed into the nursery.

I’m still breastfeeding so LJ and I spent some time in the rocker so he could nurse. These quiet morning moments are so precious to me – I know we won’t always have this time so I’m cherishing it now.

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We headed downstairs around 7:30. I had made a big batch of pancakes earlier in the week so I put LJ in his high chair and reheated two small ones for him. While they were warming up I let the dogs out, put food in the dog bowls, got out some blueberries to cut up for LJ, and poured myself a bowl of cereal. We ate our breakfast together and I loaded up the dishwasher as LJ finished his last few bites.

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We headed into the playroom around 7:55 and played together for the next 45 minutes.

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I put LJ down for his morning nap at 8:40 and quickly brushed my teeth, changed into workout clothes, and headed downstairs. Normally I start working for my part-time job as soon as nap time begins but since I had slept in this morning, I first completed my daily bible study.

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By 9:00, I was at my desk working for my part-time administrative job. (If you’re curious to read more about what I do, I wrote a blog post about it here).

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I quit working when I heard LJ wake up around 9:40. He was in such a good mood after his nap!

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I changed his diaper and outfit and we headed downstairs to the playroom again. LJ played while I checked his diaper bag contents to make sure it was all set, got my tennis shoes on, and let the dogs out again.

I generally don’t worry about picking up the playroom during the day, but since I wanted to run the Roomba while we were gone, I quickly picked up the toys and put them away. I also quickly threw in a load of laundry. (My laundry style is: it all goes in one load. Makes life easier!)

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I grabbed the diaper bag and started the Roomba on our way out the door. (Side note: the Roomba was a purchase I made with money I received recently for my 30th birthday and it was so. worth. it. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a game changer this is with keeping dog hair under control!)

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We left the house around 10:05 and arrived at our local YMCA in plenty of time for me to drop off LJ in childcare and make it to my hour-long bootcamp class.

My Friday bootcamp class takes place in the gymnasium and is set up like an obstacle course involving a combination of cardio and weights. Here is an awkward selfie I took while the course was getting set up. Ha!

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After the class I headed back to childcare to pick up LJ. My friend who works in the childcare area snapped this pic of us before we left. LJ had a great time playing, which was awesome! He’s at the stage where he’s realizing when mommy is leaving him and sometimes he really struggles with being “left behind” so I’m glad today was a good, fun day for him!

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We arrived back home around 11:50. LJ went straight into his high chair for lunch. Since the laundry room is attached to the kitchen, I took a few minutes to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer and empty the Roomba filter.

For lunch, LJ had chicken salad and avocado slices. I had leftover grilled cheese and soup from the previous night, as well as the second half of the avocado.

LJ ate a banana for “dessert” and while he ate, I prepared ingredients to throw in the crockpot for a potato soup for dinner.

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By 12:30, LJ was done eating and ready to get out of the highchair so I cleaned him up, changed his diaper, and set him up in the playroom. I wasn’t quite done prepping the soup, but I was able to see him from my workspace in the kitchen so I finished up the soup while he played independently out of the corner of my eye.

By 12:45, the soup was ready to cook so I set the crockpot, piled dishes in the sink for later, and headed to the playroom to play and read some books with LJ.

Around 1:45, LJ was rubbing his eyes so we headed upstairs. I nursed him and put him down for a nap, then headed back to my desk to complete the rest of my work for my part-time job.

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By 2:50 I was finished for the day with my job and LJ was still sound asleep. I headed into my bathroom with the monitor to take a quick shower. (My monitor screen is sound-activated. It’s black when his nursery is quiet and the screen will automatically turn on if he’s making noise. So I can just have the shower curtain pushed back a little to see the monitor screen and keep track of his nap).

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After the shower, I had a few things I wanted to get done while LJ was still napping but wasn’t sure I had enough time to do everything so I prioritized the things that are harder to do when he’s awake. I went downstairs and brought up the laundry from the dryer. I left it in the basket and just changed my own clothes.

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My days are too busy to devote a ton of time cleaning but I’ve found if I have one cleaning task each day, I can maintain a decently-clean state of my house more easily. Friday’s task was vacuuming the carpet, which is on the stairs and second floor (the Roomba stays on the first floor). I knew this had a chance of waking LJ up but hoped it would blend in with his sound machine.

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I swept the stairs, the hallway, and all bedrooms except the nursery, which took about 8 minutes. LJ was still asleep so I began to fold some of the laundry, although I didn’t get through much before he woke up.

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LJ woke up at 3:20. I got him up and held him while I quickly vacuumed his nursery. Then we headed into my bedroom where he played with the toys I keep in there while I finished up folding and putting away laundry.

We headed downstairs around 3:40. LJ had a snack of puffs and water while I quick put away the vacuum, watered my plants and returned the downstairs laundry. By 3:50 we were out the door to run a few errands.

Our first stop the Verizon store to pick up new screen protectors. Since it was such a quick stop, I took LJ inside in his car seat and he was not a fan. Ha!

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I stopped for a quick pick-me-up at Smoothie King and we headed to Costco.

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It is all decked out for Christmas and it was so fun to see LJ’s reactions to all the gigantic holiday items.

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By 5:30 we were done with errands and back at home. I grabbed the mail on the way in and sorted it in the playroom with LJ’s “help.”

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We headed back in to the kitchen and I finished up the last few steps of the crockpot soup while my sous chef looked on from his high chair.

By 5:55 we headed upstairs to my bedroom where LJ played with his toys while I did my hair and make-up.

The best part of our day happened at 6:30 – Justin came home from work! LJ is always SO excited to see daddy and today was no exception.

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We ate a quick supper together and I nursed LJ one more time before leaving my boys at home around 6:55 to head to a Favorite Things Party with a women’s small group I am part of.

I had never been to a Favorite Things party before but I compare it to a White Elephant gift exchange except every item is something you actually want. We each brought two items (a $ value is set so everyone’s gifts are about the same price) of the same thing and left with two different items. I took nail polish and nail buffers but there was a huge variety of items – candles, coffee, books, snacks, kitchen utensils, you name it! It was so so fun!

I left with a pair of cute earrings and nesting houses.

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I got home a little after 9:30 and immediately changed into pajamas. Justin was watching TV and I caught up on social media and settled in with The Book Thief. It was so cozy to snuggle up with a book and blanket in front of the Christmas tree we had put up earlier in the week on Justin’s day off.

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We headed up to bed around 11 but I was hooked in my book and nearly finished reading so I stayed up until 12:00 so I could finish. Thank goodness the next day was Saturday!

Looking back, I’m so glad I have an ordinary day documented. LJ is changing so much and our days already look so different than they did six months ago. I think I’ll have to do one of these posts every so often because I love that they serve as a kind of time capsule for our life!

Balancing Work at Home with a Baby

In Tuesday’s post, I shared a brief recap of last week’s trip to Pennsylvania and mentioned a bit about my work-from-home job. It made me realize I haven’t shared about my job in this space so I thought I’d take a minute to expand a little more on it.

I have a part-time job working remotely as an administrative assistant for a nutrition counseling company based in Philadelphia. I got connected with the position through a friend from college and started working in July 2017. (I previously spent 6 years teaching special education but took a step back from teaching after the 2016-2017 school year to become a stay at home mom). LJ was born in November 2017 and after a six week maternity leave, I’ve been juggling work- and stay-at-home mama life ever since.

The majority of my work tasks involve scheduling clients, contacting insurance companies, and keeping up with referrals, all of which I can do via email or phone. It is flexible and very organizationally-minded if that makes sense (lots of spreadsheets) and I love it! In looking at the past six months, I’ve averaged 1 – 1 1/2 hours of work each day (around 7 hours/week or 27-ish hours of work per month).

Every day looks different but I’ve come up with a pretty good little system that works for me. Today I thought I would share some of the things that help me to simplify the chaos of keeping up with work while still balancing life as a stay-at-home mama. Keep in mind, every mama and baby is different and there are so many factors with working from home. This is what works for me and might not work for everyone. I hope in sharing what has helped me, I can help just one work-from-home/stay-at-home mama who is feeling a little overwhelmed with trying to manage it all.

Have a designated work space

Work from Home Office

We don’t have room in our house for a true office so I set up a little workspace on our upstairs hallway landing with everything I need for my workday. I used to work here every day, but since the desk is right outside LJ’s nursery I end up working downstairs at the kitchen table if I have to make phone calls. I still prefer the desk space though because it’s too easy for the kitchen space to become cluttered with my work things. I also think it mentally helps to have a designated work space because I know when I’m sitting at that desk, it’s work time and I don’t get distracted by anything else (because there’s nothing else there), whereas in the kitchen I can see other household things I could be doing.

Prioritize work during nap time

At this time, LJ is still taking a good morning and afternoon nap (I know this won’t last forever but let’s not focus on bursting that bubble right now). As soon as I put him down, I get to work. It’s hard to predict how long it’ll take me to get through my tasks, answer emails, etc and my time worked varies each day so I want to make sure I have time to get it all done. I will say it’s pretty rare to work less than 30 minutes or more than 3 hours, although it does happen. On the busy days, I need every minute of nap time for my job and everything else has to wait. On the light days, I can quickly finish up work and then move on to cleaning or laundry or whatever else I need to do. I always want to make sure my job tasks get finished, even if means laundry or cleaning has to wait another day, so I start with work and don’t let myself get distracted with other things until it’s done.

Improvised work from home

Obviously, it doesn’t always happen that I get 100% of my work done during nap time and I sometimes need to finish up with LJ awake. When he was little, I often had him sit in a booster seat and play with a few toys next to me, like pictured above, but now that he’s bigger I just take my laptop into the playroom and quick finish up while he’s playing nearby. I try to focus on my “must-do” tasks if he’s awake and any non-urgent work tasks I usually just save until his next nap or the following day.

Remove distractions

For me personally, I don’t work with the TV on or podcasts going or anything that might shift my attention. I will sometimes listen to a Pandora station for soft background music, and I will definitely have some Christmas music playing in a few weeks, but I often prefer silence when working. It just helps me stay focused and efficient to finish up quicker.

Set hours and keep them

One of the biggest pros of a flexible work from home job is that many of my tasks can be done at any time, from any location. This can also be a stumbling block though: I used to check emails or do work at all hours, which made me feel “on the clock” all the time. Now I make a conscious effort to honor my business hours and not work after 5:00 pm. If 5:00 hits and I’m still working, I finish up whatever I’m doing and then don’t check my email again until the next morning. There is still the occasional day where I’ll work on a project in the evening hours after LJ goes to bed; however, this is usually something I have planned in advance to do so I don’t take up more of my daytime hours working and is typically reserved for extra projects I’m assigned outside of my normal daily tasks or days when LJ just didn’t nap well and I couldn’t finish everything. Maybe you have a job from home that doesn’t need to be during regular business hours but I still highly recommend trying to set a designated time frame for work so that it doesn’t become something that takes over your day.

Find simple ways to make work a joy

A few simple little things that have helped create a pleasant little work day are:

  • “splurging” $5 on my favorite pens + cute paper
  • lighting a candle when working
  • keeping a blanket over my work chair to cozy up in the winter
  • working outside at my patio table in nice weather

These things are small but they create an enjoyable atmosphere for working!

Set realistic expectations

This is probably the biggest one for me. It is so important that I am realistic with what I can accomplish in a day and start each day with a flexible mindset. Babies are unpredictable! There are some days where LJ naps a long time and I have time to get all my work done, clean, and even read a book while he sleeps. Then there are days where he doesn’t nap well and I’m lucky to scrape by with just getting my work done. There are days where we have obligations outside the house that throw off our schedule. There are days where one or both of us feels sick and we just need lots of cuddles on the couch.

I also want to be clear that I do not do it all. I might get through the day with all my work done and a clean bathroom but there’s a pile of dishes still in the sink. Or the kitchen is sparkling but the laundry basket is overflowing. I can’t focus on everything or it becomes too overwhelming to do anything. So I focus on realistic expectations. My #1 goal each day: LJ and I are both fed, happy, healthy, and alive at the end of the day. If nothing else, that’s all I really have to accomplish each day. Then my goal is to finish my work tasks, or at the very least, get to all tasks that must be addressed that day. Then I’ll try to clean a room or empty the dishwasher or finish laundry. But if it all that doesn’t happen, I have to be willing to be okay with that. I start out each day with goals, but I have learned to give myself grace if the day ends and I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped.

If you have a work-from-home job, I’d love to hear what works for you!

Lowering the Bar

This past Sunday evening, my friend hosted a little gathering at her house. It was a fall harvest party with chili and cornbread provided and everyone was asked to bring a side. I had the best laid plans to make a side from scratch – but life happened instead.

Justin worked long days last week so Friday night we laid low and enjoyed a slow evening at home with our little family. On Saturday, my parents came into town to spend time with LJ and watched him while Justin and I went to a friend’s 30th birthday dinner. Dinner and cake evolved into hanging out all evening with our friends and a spontaneous trip to play laser tag that had us coming back home at midnight, sweaty and exhausted (it was SO worth it though)! Then Sunday my parents joined us for church and lunch and after they left I spent the afternoon playing with LJ and ignoring my laundry during his nap time so I could cozy up with a book and recharge for the week ahead.

So instead of carving out time to prepare for and make a side from scratch, I spent my energy soaking up memories and restoring my body and mind. Instead of a homemade side, I took store-bought cookies, hummus and pretzels.

I showed up to the party with my tote full of Aldi purchases and made a self-deprecating joke about my abandoned “make something from scratch” plans. Everyone laughed because apparently, they all did the same thing! Every other person had also brought something from the store. We all had the intention to make something from scratch, and then we all ended up stopping by the store on the way to the party instead.

The point of this little story is that sometimes I think the best thing we can do for ourselves in simplifying life’s chaos is to lower the bar. We had a great time hanging out on Sunday night and no one thought twice about the fact that most of the food got picked up on the way to the party. It didn’t matter at all that the cookies were store-bought instead of homemade.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a huge fan of the “Happier” podcast and one phrase they often repeat is “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” This phrase has become a mantra for me ever since I first heard it. I only have so many hours in the day. I can spend them stressing about making everything perfect, or I can lower the bar. This doesn’t mean that I suddenly don’t have any standards and have stopped caring about things. It just means that I find ways to accept when something is good enough so I don’t spend further time and energy to make it 100% perfect.

I could have made a homemade side. I enjoy cooking and baking and often show up to a party with something I made from scratch. But a store-bought side serves the same purpose and is just as good of an option and in this instance, that was what I went with. I was so much happier and less stressed with choosing this option and no one cared that my contribution was store-bought.

If there is some area of your life where you find yourself stressed out over making perfect, I hope this encourages you to lower the bar. It is okay to want to do things well, but it’s also okay to loosen your expectations. It is okay to find satisfaction in the “good” option instead of the “perfect” one. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

Little Brother’s Wedding!

Over the weekend, my little brother got married! LJ was the ring bearer – since he is not walking yet, he was pulled in a wagon by the two-year-old flower girl. It was as adorable as it sounds.

LJ Ring Bearer

This post was originally intended to be a wedding weekend re-cap, but when I sat down to actually write it, I realized I had taken virtually NO pictures of the entire weekend. Aside from a few quick snaps of the wedding ceremony, a few grainy pictures of my little family at the reception, and 33 attempts to get LJ to smile in the above picture, I don’t have any pictures to show for the weekend. At first, I was a little dismayed.

Once I thought about it though, I decided that it is actually pretty cool that I hadn’t taken many pictures. It means that I was absorbed in the moment – so absorbed that I wasn’t even thinking about documenting it. My focus was on other things and I didn’t even have my phone on me most of the time. I was more or less unplugged during a weekend spent with family and I think that is really special.

I don’t have many pictures, but I do have memories. I have memories of helping my mom choose shoes for the rehearsal dinner. I have memories of giggling with my sister as we pampered ourselves with face masks and DIY pedicures on the bathroom floor the morning of the wedding. I have memories of wrangling my son into his wedding outfit (he was not feeling that cute little bowtie at first) and hearing the amused chuckles of the wedding guests when he looked so sweet getting pulled down the aisle. I have memories of crying discreetly at my brother’s beautiful wedding vows, then crying not so discreetly as he surprised his bride by singing to her at the reception. I have memories of tearing up the dance floor with siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins and having such a great time laughing, hugging, and celebrating.

Sometimes, I think I get too focused on making sure to take the “perfect” picture for Instagram or capture memories in a certain way. When my focus is on taking the perfect pictures, I miss out on making the actual memories. Don’t get me wrong, I think pictures can be a wonderful gift for looking back on different moments in life and I will continue to take them! But this weekend was a great reminder that sometimes it’s nice to not worry about getting a perfect picture and just absorb yourself in making memories of the moment.