Where I’m Looking for Meaningful Gifts This Year

It’s a little hard for me to believe, but with Thanksgiving less than one week away, the holiday + Christmas season is upon us! I’ve already been slowly accumulating gifts to give to friends and family for the holidays and today I thought I’d share just a little bit about some of the sources and general places that I’m looking to when coming up with gifts. While I do my fair share of just buying something that someone asks for, I also like to put a little extra thought and try to find meaningful gifts to give when I can!

In previous years, I’ve shared non-toy gift ideas for kids, toys with a bonus greater purpose, and some small businesses that I like to shop for toys. I still love all those ideas and I look to all those businesses and sources for gifts to this day! For this post, I just wanted to include a few more ideas for ways to buy meaningful or unique gifts for both kids and adults. If you have places or ideas to add, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Books from Small, Locally-owned Bookstores

Personally, I think books are always a good idea! I have even been known to gift library books when my kids were little (which is a great gift hack if you have very young kids and not a lot of space: they get to enjoy new books for a couple weeks, then just when they start to lose interest, you can send the books back!) If I buy books, I really try to support a small, locally-owned store instead of Amazon or Barnes and Noble. This year I’m gifting each of my kids a couple books (and requesting a few on my own list!) all from a small bookstore I love.

Highlights for Kids

Last year, my mom gifted each of my kids a subscription to Highlights and it truly is the gift that keeps on giving. My kids get excited to receive their magazine in the mail each month! Vi’s is for younger kids and is made of a special type of paper that is hard to tear or destroy – perfect for early readers! LJ’s is more of a typical magazine and has fun stories to read and activities to do. I also love that the magazines show a lot of diversity (our magazines have included children with Down Syndrome, limb differences, and from various races and ethnicities and I love that they cover models are specifically diverse from month to month). They meet my kids with educational and fun material at their developmental levels and provide us with something to look forward to each month. For adults, maybe you can find a subscription box or magazine subscription catered to their personal interests that will be a fun gift to receive all year long!

Personalized Song

I adore the company Mama Sing My Song – they create custom songs for children that are so beautiful and magical. Just check out their Instagram to see videos of kids reacting to their songs and it will melt your heart! You fill out a detailed questionnaire about your child and choose a style of melody, then they write a personalized song for your child and send you the file. I had one made for LJ for Mother’s Day and I cried listening to it! The first time he heard it, he was grinning from ear to ear because he recognized the special parts that were just for him. It captures him so perfectly! I now sing it to him every night and it’s just the most special thing. You can also order a stuffed animal that comes with a recording of the song inside if you want or the music sheet or artwork – what an amazing and personal gift for the child in your life!

Gift an Experience

Concert tickets. Pottery Class. A day at a local spa. A mini session with a professional photographer. Sporting Events. There are so many experiences that you can gift to your loved one to make them feel special and seen. This year my parents are creating an Escape Room for all my siblings as part of our gift and the anticipation of fun and all the memories we’ll make is a gift that will keep on giving for years to come!

Custom Artwork

I think anytime you can put a little extra time and thought into a gift, the one receiving it feels extra special and loved. One way to do that is through custom artwork. Maybe there’s a special building (a childhood home, a beloved vacation spot, a family cabin, etc.) or a cherished pet (still living or perhaps one that has passed away) that you’d like to memorialize for your loved one. A custom piece of artwork can be such a special gift. And bonus, you’re supporting an artist with their livelihood! You can even gift your loved one with a certificate to commission a work of their choosing, which is an especially good option if you’re not 100% sure what they would want or if the artist you love is already booked through the holidays. I do just happen to have an extremely talented sister who does commissions (check out her work here) but there are also many talented people selling custom work on Etsy of their own websites. Or if you walk through an arts and crafts fair or farmers market and see an artist selling work in a style you love, don’t be afraid to ask if they take commissions.

Secondhand Treasures

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about giving a used gift just for the sake of being cheap, and I’m definitely not just talking about re-gifting or giving someone else’s junk. I’m talking about thoughtfully curating gifts that have been loved before and are still in amazing shape for another owner. The other day on Instagram, I say @shelbygoodman talk about how she found small, very inexpensive glass jars at a thrift store and planned to wash them, fill them with a homemade infused olive oil, cork them, and gift to friends. What an amazing, creative idea for gifting DIY + secondhand! If your loved one is a home decor lover, maybe it’s pairing thrifted vintage brass candlesticks + new tapered candles. If they’re a book nerd, maybe it’s a collection of classics and/or bestsellers from a secondhand store (books are always sold SO cheaply!) Maybe it’s a puzzle (make sure it has all the pieces!) or a vintage rug or a unique planter or container that you transplant a cute plant into. I just bought my niece a dress for her American Girl doll from Poshmark. It’s in good condition and I guarantee she will not care for one second that it’s used. Gifting secondhand is a great way to give a unique gift in a sustainable, often more budget-friendly way!

Shop Small (when you can!)

I get it. Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, all the bigger stores are often cheap and convenient. I’ve used them in the past, I’ll use them again in the future, and I’m truly not judging if that is the route you take. But whenever you are able to shop small and support a small business (bonus if it’s local to you), I would really encourage you to try to do so. Small business owners are working SO hard, particularly in this pandemic. They are passionate and driven. They are often working to provide creative, unique, and high quality items. Yes, the shipping can be longer and the cost is sometimes higher. But more isn’t always more; sometimes one high quality item is much better than three gifts that will break, wear out fast, or quickly go out of style. Buy once, buy well and give a gift that lasts!

I bought myself some earrings from Kipepeo and I’m considering buying more as gifts this year. They’re handmade clay earrings made by a young girl working out of her home. She’s created her own business as a teenager! The earrings are beautiful and high-quality and unique. They’re also a little pricier than something I could find at Target and the shipping is often a little slow. It’s. Worth. It. It might mean I can only gift this one item instead of multiple items. It might mean I have to order now and wait a few weeks for them to arrive. It’s worth it to me! There are a lot of small business making and/or selling very cool things that you might feel are worth it to you too and I encourage you to consider it if you’re able. Even if most of your gifts are big box stores and you buy one thing from a small business, that made a difference to the small business!

What places do you like to turn to when shopping for meaningful gifts?

Friday Features: A look back at our October Activities

Every once in a while I like sharing a Friday Features post with some little snippets of our life lately. Today I thought I’d specifically share a look at all the special activities we’ve been doing lately. October is such a fun month full of fall festivities and it has been so great to get to watch my kids experience so many things this year!

Pumpkin Painting

This is the first time we’ve ever painted pumpkins but I know it won’t be the last – it was a huge hit with the kids! We did it early in October when the weather was still fairly warm and sunny and we spent a big portion of the afternoon outside enjoying the sun and working on pumpkins. Major mom win! We used this washable paint and it was very easy to clean up afterwards.

Fall Festivals

We spent back-to-back Saturdays at local fall festivals and had a great time at each one! There were so many awesome activities for kids at both – rides, tractors, animals, little shows, inflatables, a corn pit (which my kids both loved), and more. The first two weekends in October were gorgeous and fairly warm still so we enjoyed the heck out of each festival.

Pumpkin Treats

My kids both love to help in the kitchen so when I saw this Rice Krispie pumpkin treat kit in the Aldi Finds aisle, I knew it would be a perfect activity for them. We spent a really sticky, messy, (Vi is shirtless for a reason!) and fun afternoon making these – the kids had a blast and were both so proud of their little pumpkins.

LJ’s First Field Trip

LJ had his first ever little field trip to the pumpkin patch with his preschool class and I got to go along. It was so enjoyable for me to get to see him interact with his classmates, learn a little about pumpkins, and hunt through the patch for the perfect pumpkin to take home. It was also a great little bonding experience for us!

Zoo Trip

We go to the zoo so much in the summer, but we’ve never gone in October before. A friend of mine asked us to join her and her kids one Friday morning and so we bundled up and headed to the zoo. Even though it was cold, it was actually really enjoyable to spend a day at the zoo! They had gone all out with fall decorations – giant spider webs and pumpkins and hay bales galore – it wasn’t crowded, and the animals were super active and entertaining. We had a blast and will definitely go again in future Octobers!


I have always loved Halloween and the fun of dressing up (check out this post to see some costumes from past years) but it is even more fun to experience this holiday through the eyes of a child. My kids have been getting so excited for trick-or-treat and we went last night to my hometown so we could enjoy their trick or treat night with my parents, grandparents, and a few aunts and uncles. I won’t lie, wrangling two hyped up, sugar loaded kids through the streets with a light rain drizzling is wild and exhausting but it was 100% worth it. The magic of holidays is so much sweeter through a child’s eyes! We had such a great time and the kids loved their costumes since they’re currently pretty obsessed with the Minions movie.

Plus, it was extra sweet to get to trick-or-treat at my grandparents’ house. I am truly so very lucky that my kids and grandparents get to know one another and share in some of these precious memories together. We cherish our time together!

Have a great weekend and Happy Halloween!

Friday Features {9.24.21}

Good morning and Happy Friday! I’m feeling like I’m in a very transitional stage of life right now – the weather is changing, my kids are outgrowing clothes and needing the next sizes up, I’m mid-project on the guest room and waiting to help my sister with her next project at some point in the near future . . . it just feels like I’m “part way” in many things right now! Because of that, today felt like a good day to share some of the little snippets that have been going on around here lately – time for another round of Friday Features!

Fall has Begun!

I know a lot of people like to celebrate fall starting September 1, and you do you, but I love summer and the warm weather (and winter seems to last foreeeeeever in Indiana) so I cling to summer as long as possible. This past week, not only did the weather start to turn cooler, but the fall season officially began on a rainy September 22 so I’m finally feeling ready to embrace it. I am not a pumpkin spice fan and I haven’t set out any fall decor yet, but I did turn on a lamp and light a fall candle and that brought instant coziness! I’m also in my slippers as I write this blog post and I’m thinking about which soups to add to my list for next week’s dinners, so it’s safe to say I’m now all in.

LJ and Mommy Day

Yesterday, LJ had an eye doctor appointment. We see a specialist out of town, so since a bit of travel was involved, we decided to make a fun day out of it! After the appointment (where he did so great!), we headed to explore a fun new playground. Then LJ chose his favorite spot for lunch: Culver’s! We then headed into Target to grab a few things for the guest room and LJ enjoyed strolling the toy aisles and telling me some ideas for his birthday (in two months haha). He also saw these fake flowers and wanted to buy them for his grandma – isn’t that the sweetest!? We had such a great day together!

Guest Bedroom Bedding

Speaking of the Target trip, one thing I wanted to look at was some bedding options for our guest room. Now that I’m updating the walls with a stenciled “faux wallpaper,” I also want to upgrade the bedding a bit. My goal is to have several different layers so guests have options to use depending on their sleeping preferences. We have a down comforter from our previous queen bed and I’ve been looking into duvet covers, specifically linen options. I loved this one from West Elm but just could not justify the price for a bed that only gets used maybe once a month. Yesterday I saw this very similar one at Target for a fraction of the cost and snapped it right up! I also grabbed a yellow grid lumbar pillow and, combined with a textured throw and sheet set I already had, the bedding feels like it’s slowly coming together. I like the mix of large and small graphic patterns in the bedding and think it will provide a good contrast to the botanical pattern that will dominate the walls.

Toddler Mom Life

The other day I was doing some laundry and noticed this in the bathroom sink. Discoveries like this are just little daily reminders that yep, I’m firmly entrenched in the wild world of toddler motherhood. Haha!

Jenni’s Built In Cabinets

On Monday I shared all the work we did in my sister Jenni’s kitchen, and if you follow me on Instagram you probably also saw that we did some work on the built ins in the adjoining room too. Jenni chose Sherwin Williams Inkwell for these built ins and it’s such a great moody color that perfectly plays off the red brick fireplace. Such a great improvement already and we’re just getting started – she and her husband officially move in to the house tomorrow and I’m so excited to help them with some more projects!

Have a great weekend!

A Day in the Life {9.13.21}

Every so often, I like to do a Day in the Life post – it’s never a “special” day, just a regular old day in the life of my family. Vacations are fun and special events are good memories, but the every day normal is what really makes up our lives and I love having little snippets of our life at different stages documented. It’s been seven months since my last one so I documented last Monday, which just so happened to be the last day of “summer” before my kids started preschool on Tuesday.

Monday, September 13, 2021

I woke up around 6:00 and was downstairs in my office by 6:15 for some quiet time + morning devotions. On this particular morning I was prepping for a discussion I was leading on Thursday for a small group I’m part of.

LJ woke up around 6:55 and came downstairs. He often likes to snuggle on my lap a bit while he adjusts to being awake but on this morning, he was ready to hit the ground running!

I got him breakfast and while he was eating, I let the dogs out, fed the dogs, and emptied the dishwasher (we have the dishwasher run overnight so it’s ready to unload first thing).

I ran upstairs to brush my teeth and quickly made the bed. I’m really trying to make this a habit because I love how it makes the room feel!

I started a workout in our basement while LJ watched a little TV. I’ve been slacking with exercise over the past year but I’ve been getting back into my Expecting and Empowered postpartum workout guide – my days always feel better when I get in some movement!

Vi woke up around 9:00 while I was still in between my sets so I got her up and fed her breakfast in between rounds. She then joined LJ on the couch while I finished up!

After my workout, I dove right into work mode. I finished up and published a blog post and then completed my tasks for my work from home job (I’m a part-time virtual administrative assistant!) while the kids watched some TV and played around me.

Around 10:00, I finished up my work and got Vi dressed and the diaper bag packed for a trip to the zoo. We got there around 10:45 and were ready for a day of fun! I caught a spontaneous kiss on our way in – my kids absolutely fight and get on each others’ nerves but I love that they are also super affectionate and loving too.

A highlight was getting to feed the giraffes! I was actually really impressed with my kids and their patience today because they waited at least 15-20 minutes on the platform before a giraffe came close enough to feed – their patience paid off! Usually Vi loves this part but she got a little nervous today so LJ fed the giraffe both pieces of our lettuce.

We ate lunch at the zoo which allowed us to stay a little longer and we headed home around 1:30. Vi and I headed upstairs for her naptime while LJ wound down with a little TV. She insists on sleeping with SO many things these days, I’m surprised there is even room for her in the crib ha!

LJ and I enjoyed a bit of leftover birthday cake when I got back downstairs, then he played independently while I did a little more work for my job.

We had had some friends stay with us over the weekend, so after Vi woke up I spent some time getting the guest room back in order and cleaning the guest bathroom. The kids played in the shower with a spray bottle filled with water while I cleaned the rest of the bathroom which felt like a double win – entertained kids + clean bathroom!

The kids jumped in the bounce house while I read a little bit, but it didn’t last long because . . .

. . . we decided to relocate outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. Gotta soak up summer as long as we can! The kids love playing in the sand (and don’t worry, yes I had a book but I was always very alert with making sure they were only playing in the sand and not the water).

We stayed outside until Justin got home and he brought dinner home from a local BBQ joint – yum!

After dinner Justin hung out with the kids while I headed upstairs to fold some laundry (that had been in the dryer for several days haha).

We settled in for a little TV as a family before heading upstairs for bedtime – I love end of the day snuggles!

After the kids were down, I actually had to head out to grab a few things – we were totally out of milk (happens every now and then) and diapers (honestly never happened before haha) and I needed to print off a picture for LJ to take in to his first day of school the next day.

Once I got back home, Justin and I settled in for a cozy night on the couch – him watching Monday Night Football and me reading some more. A perfect way to end the day!

If you’re interested in reading some past Day in the Life posts, you can find them all here:

November 16, 2018

July 9, 2019

January 14, 2020

March 26, 2020

February 13, 2021


On Saturday, I turned 33 years old!

I posted this on my Instagram stories, but having a 9/11 birthday often feels heavy, particularly on milestone anniversaries of 2001. My heart will never not break for all the tragedy and pain that this day holds; I feel it deeply and it’s gut-wrenching. At the same time, I am so grateful for my own life and the opportunity to get to celebrate another year of it. I enjoy celebrating my birthday and I love to make it a happy, fun day. Over the years, I’ve learned to acknowledge the tension between those two extremes and accept that they can coexist. I think of and hold space in my heart for all those who lost their loved ones in the attacks and the aftermath. I also have deep gratitude for the friends and family who always make sure I still feel the love and celebration on my birthday.

Friday, we had some friends come into town to stay with us for the weekend. They live 5+ hours away and we’re not able to see each other nearly as much as we’d like, so it was so amazing to have them come in to celebrate! Our kids have met before, but it’s been so long that none of them remember it – within five minutes of them pulling in our driveway, all four kids were playing like besties!

Saturday we enjoyed a slow morning at home and spent the early afternoon out at our pond soaking up the sun. My friend baked a stunning birthday cake that was as delicious as it was beautiful!

Around mid-afternoon, we headed inside to get ready for the evening. Our city has multiple rivers that connect downtown and Justin rented a boat called a Rum Runner – it’s a party boat that has a bar in the middle with stools all around and space to walk around as well. It was so much fun – my only regret is that I wish it was bigger so we could have invited even more people! The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we enjoyed a couple hours floating on the river, then hung out downtown and enjoyed checking out different open-air spots for food, drinks, and even dancing. It felt like everything just came together to make for a heck of an evening out and I enjoyed every second.

I decided to not share group photos on this public platform, but it’s hard for me to overstate how much I appreciated my friends and their efforts to come out and celebrate with me. Seeing fifteen friends from different stages of my life come together was surreal and so awesome and we all had a blast together. I ended the night just feeling so so grateful and loved!

Sunday was even more gorgeous weather than Saturday and we enjoyed time fishing, floating on the pond, and watching our kids play in the water before our friends packed up and headed home. It was such a relaxing way to finish a great weekend!

There are a lot of jokes out there about birthdays and aging that make it seem like getting older is a bad thing or something to downplay or lie about (“I’m 29 again!”). I have always tried to keep the perspective that age is truly something to celebrate. I lost one of my best friends to a tragic four wheeling accident when I was in college. Amongst all the other extreme pain of losing her, it was heartbreaking to know she would never grow older than a teenager. And having a 9/11 birthday, I’m acutely aware of the tremendous pain and loss of precious life that is associated with this date. These two events serve as a reminder for me that growing old is truly a gift, one we can’t take for granted. I specifically want to honor my friend’s memory and all those who perished on 9/11 by living life to the fullest – I am so thankful for thirty-three years of living life! And quite frankly, I wouldn’t go back to 29 anyways. At that time, I still hadn’t met either of my children. I hadn’t moved to a new house and started the adventures of renovation. I hadn’t met a few of my now very close friends. Each passing year brings new people, more personal growth, more strength in my marriage, more traveling, more experiences, more memories made with my little family – I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Here’s to making 33 the best year yet!

Friday Features {8.27.21}

We are currently en route to Pennsylvania for the weekend for Justin’s grandma’s memorial service. We’ll be gone all weekend so I thought it was a good day for a small roundup of Friday Features – just the random little things that have happened around here lately!

Cozy Bedroom Corner

A few weeks ago, I shared how I brought this gorgeous rust colored chair into what was a somewhat awkward corner in our bedroom and this week, I finally got around to finishing off the space. I considered adding artwork above the chair, but since I’ve included so much in the gallery wall I decided to print off and frame one of our new family photos instead. I like that the asymmetrical mat makes it feel a little extra unique! I snagged a small black table from Target and topped it off with a dried floral arrangement from a local florist with a candle and book. I also tossed a soft textured striped throw blanket over the chair. Now the awkward corner that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with is such a cozy spot in the room – I love it!

Playing Chalk

On Wednesday, Justin had the kids for most of the day while I got lots of work done and ran multiple errands. When I got home from one, they were all playing outside. LJ saw me and asked in his sweet little voice “Mommy, will you come play chalk with me?” It was one of those perfectly ordinary moments that stopped me in my tracks. I love that he loves to involve me in his activities and genuinely wants to play with me. He has such a sweet, tender heart and it was so nice to put everything else on the back burner and spend some time drawing shapes and lines (LJ “taught” me how to draw an x haha) with my little boy.

Vintage Sale Finds

I love going to @carpendaughter‘s vintage sale and this year’s was another great one! I scored some really cool pieces that I’m excited to incorporate into our home. I shared this on Instagram: “There is something about being able to find little treasures that are unique and come with a story and some history. They have passed through different hands, been part of different homes, and now they’re going to be part of ours. It makes me so happy!”

Unlocked Memories

While putting together our gallery wall, I wanted to include some special mementos of ours. It was so fun to comb through our memory box and find ticket stubs from concerts, movies, and museums, a coaster from a Wisconsin bar, our honeymoon boarding passes, notes, cards, and letters we wrote, chips from a casino event we attended, the list goes on! I loved how each item unlocked a memory of trips we’ve taken, events we attended, things we’ve done together. It’s just a special little collection of our relationship and I really enjoyed picking out a few things to display on our wall, including this museum pass from our trip to Italy several years ago. Art doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be the most special and/or valuable things. Frame what makes you happy – and this memento definitely does!

National Dog Day

Apparently yesterday was National Dog Day? Thanks to social media for letting me know! I don’t share much about the dogs these days, but they are definitely a big part of our family life at home! Macie is spunky and playful and always up for swimming, playing fetch, or doing anything with people. She’s slowed down a bit over the last couple years but she’s still our energetic girl! Scout has always been our more reserved boy – he loves to curl up and cuddle for most of his days, but he perches up on our landing so he can see out the window and is so faithful with letting us know when someone is coming up our driveway. He’s our little guard dog! We love our fur babies so much.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Vi is TWO!

I can’t believe I’m typing these words, but my baby girl turns two years old today!

Vi is my totally fearless adventurer. She eats pretty much any new food that is placed in front of her and she is always up for trying new things. She always wants to be thrown high in the air or climb up on the big kids playground or jump around in the bounce house. I think she’s a bit of a thrill-seeker!

She absolutely loves anything to do with water. Whether it’s splashing in the bath tub or playing in the water table or participating in swimming lessons or jumping into the pond (with her floaties on!), she loves to be in and around water. She loves to run into the pond and swim and swim and swim. Her current favorite movie is Luca and I think it’s because of all the water!

She also loves animals – she is interested in everything from a dog at the park to a horse in a pasture to a bug crawling on our floor. She loves going to the zoo (a surprise zoo trip is her birthday present today!)

Vi is a mama’s girl through and through. She insists on mama putting her down for bedtimes and naptimes and she’s always reaching for me and wanting to be with mama. I’m trying to soak it up now, because I know being the preferred parent won’t last forever!

Vi wants to do anything and everything her big brother does. While they often bicker and struggle to share, they are also really great about looking out for one another and loving one another well. They color together, play together, hug one another in the morning and blow kisses good night. I love watching their sweet sibling bond develop!

Recently, she has become very into dressing up. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve found her in my bedroom, trying on all my bracelets and necklaces. She also loves getting her nails painted and has started requesting dresses to wear during the day. For her birthday I made her a clothing rack for dress up clothing and asked our family members to contribute something to a dress up collection. It was a HUGE hit!

Her party was simple and didn’t have a theme or much in the way of decorations, but we did order some Luca-themed cookies for our water-loving girl.

My sweet V, I love you more than words can say. You changed our lives two years ago and we are so so grateful for every day with you. โค

How We Minimize Gifts at Birthdays (+ Inspiration for Vi’s Birthday Gift!)

I cannot believe I am typing these words, but in one week from today, Vi will turn TWO. YEARS. OLD. What!?

We are having a small birthday party on Saturday with family to celebrate our sweet girl. I’ve shared this before, but until our kids turn three (in my opinion, the age they start to actually understand birthdays) we keep birthday celebrations very low key. Gatherings are small and family-only, food is simple, decorations are minimal, and we get a little creative with gift-giving.

To be clear, I’m throwing zero shade at people who like to go big on baby/toddler birthdays or shower their young children with gifts. Truly, you do you; we’re not judging anyone else’s choices. For me personally, planning an elaborate party feels like a lot of work and stress for low reward (my one year old is as happy with a single balloon as an entire balloon arch). And when it comes to gifts, which are generally toys, Justin and I just personally want to keep things at a level that is manageable for our family. Our house feels better when it’s not overrun with toys, our kids play with toys longer when they aren’t overwhelmed with choices, and at ages one and two, our kids don’t realize what they’re “missing out” on by not receiving toys anyways. Cards are always appreciated though and our kids love receiving them!

Today I thought I’d share what we do for their first and second birthdays (at age three, we ramp things up a bit – LJ had balloons and gifts and understood enough to be so excited to celebrate!) I’m also sharing our plans for Vi’s birthday gift this year, which also just happens to be my next DIY project.

First Birthdays: No gifts, but donations are appreciated!

A straight-up “no gifts” request can be awkward. Some people feel bad showing up with no gift, so they bring a little something anyways; unfortunately, this can then make those who listened to the request and didn’t bring a gift then feel bad because others brought gifts and they didn’t. It’s uncomfortable for everyone and can be frustrating for the hosts who truly didn’t want gifts. We have found that a solution that works for everyone is donations. No one feels uncomfortable arriving empty-handed, but no gifts are given and a great cause is supported. Win win win!

For their first birthdays, we asked that in lieu of gifts, anyone who wanted to could bring donations for a cause that was special to us. We are so thankful that our families were super supportive and happy to donate instead of buying gifts. For LJ’s first birthday, we collected books for a local organization that distributes them to hospitalized children and for Vi’s first birthday, we collected household items (paper towels, cleaning supplies, basic hygiene items, etc) for our church’s ministry supporting local families in need.


I especially like this because it works for many budgets. People could bring one small, inexpensive item or multiple items. We didn’t unwrap them, there wasn’t a big production – just a table set aside for people to put donations on when they arrived.

I think it helps people to honor your requests if they can hear your reasonings for it and understand the impact they can have with their donation, so we send an email with the party details ahead of time. I usually say something like “While we are requesting no gifts for [child], if you would still like to bring something, we ask that you consider bringing a donation to xyz. This organization is important to us because of ____ and we’re looking forward to making a donation in [child]’s honor.”

Second Birthdays: One “big” gift + family participation

For LJ’s second birthday, we decided to give him one big gift – a secondhand train table – and we asked everyone in our family to decorate a train to go with it. This was actually a really fun way to get our families involved without getting a ton of gifts, and we loved seeing everyone’s decorated train. We have some super creative family members and it’s a truly unique train set that is so special! LJ loves it and has gotten SO much use out of it – much more than he would’ve gotten out of 15 individual toys.


Which brings me to Vi’s birthday! We wanted to find a big gift that family could contribute items to in a way that fit her unique needs and interests. I came up with the idea to gift her with a small clothing rack (she is currently obsessed with trying on all my jewelry and shoes!) and ask family members to consider contributing something to a dress up collection.

As I said in my email to the family: “This can be a costume, play shoes, accessories, whatever! It can be new, it can be hand-me-down, it can be found secondhand, it can be an outfit, it can be a small item like a necklace or hat or something.” I didn’t want anyone to feel an obligation to spend lots of money or find something fancy because she will honestly love anything.

Trying on mama’s bracelets after church

My plan is to DIY the clothing rack so it fits the dimensions in our playroom perfectly. I don’t have much time (the party is in five days!) but it’s okay because I’m imagining a relatively simple design. I just want it to include a rod for hanging clothes and at least one shelf for storing a bin or two for shoes and accessories.

Here’s some of the inspiration I’ve gathered so far:

Credit: Target

Let Operation DIY Birthday Gift project begin!

Friday Features {08.06.21}

Happy Friday! I’m currently hanging out with Justin and two of our close friends at a lake house for the weekend and we’re loving some unplugged time reconnecting. I thought it’d be fun to just share another round of “Friday Features” – just some imperfect pictures of little moments that have been making up our life lately.

LJ’s Glasses

The big news around here lately has been LJ’s new glasses! Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect with convincing a three year old to wear glasses all day, and while we’ve had our challenging moments, overall it’s gone really well. I think he recognizes that they do help his vision so he’s overall pretty cooperative. I might be biased, but I think he’s also pretty dang cute in them!

New Chair for our Bedroom

I’ve talked before about how our primary bedroom is an awkward shape and too large, which has created some challenges with layout. There was one corner that was really giving me a run for my money, and after a friend suggested putting a reading chair there I started looking around to see if I could find the right fit. When I saw this rust-covered beauty in a local small business’s front window, everything snapped into place immediately in my mind! I still want to finish off the corner with a plug-in sconce of some kind and a little side table and throw blanket, but I’m already so much happier just having the chair there!

Lazy Pond Days

We have spent so much time swimming in our pond lately. The weather has been gorgeous and my kids are both obsessed with swimming. There was even a day where Justin offered to take them outside and swim so I could get work done . . . but then I decided work could wait because it looked too fun by the pond and I had to join. It’s so fun to watch my kids enjoy this childhood! I’m also glad that they’re both at the point where they’re happily content playing in the shallow end so I can occasionally just enjoy the warm sunshine and watch from the deck. Everyone wins ๐Ÿ™‚

Inclusive Playgrounds

On our road trip home from visiting family in Virginia, we stopped to play at a playground and I was thrilled to see communication boards installed around the edges! I taught special education for six years and simple additions like this make such a huge difference for children with communication needs – I’d love to see these pop up in playgrounds everywhere!

Our New Favorite Chicken Nuggets

Okay, I’ve posted some very random things here before but this might top the list of most random ever. I don’t even care though because these chicken nuggets are JUST THAT GOOD! We buy them at Costco and they taste just like Chik-fil-a; we also bought Chik-fil-a sauce to go with them and it was game over. They are a new family favorite and I’m now even more excited for chicken nugget dinners than my kids are.

That’s a little glimpse of life around here lately. Glasses, chairs, lots of outdoor time, and some chicken nuggets haha. I hope you have a great weekend!

21 for 2021 Mid-Year Update

After 2020 felt like it was 17 years long, it’s hard to believe but we’re now over halfway through 2021 (does anyone else feel like this year is going SO fast!?) I thought it would be a great time to check in with my 2021 goals to see how they’re going (or not going). This list is a mix of home goals, personal goals, family goals, and a few random others tossed in. I remind myself every year, it’s not about perfection but about progress! Here’s how everything is faring so far:

1– Get involved with our churchโ€™s foster care ministry. I’ve at least taken the first step here and have reached out to the person in charge of this ministry to let them know I want to be involved. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts haven’t allowed me to help out yet but I’m hoping to be able to help out very soon.

2- Sort through 2013 pictures and create 2013 family album. I haven’t even touched this goal yet ha! I honestly don’t know if it will happen or not, but I’m still going to try to make time for it.

3- Register for Be The Match registry. Done! This process was super simple. Be The Match sends you everything you need and it’s a very straightforward process to swab and send your samples back in. This is something I have wanted to do for a while now and I’m so glad to officially be in the registry now.

4- Take LJ to swimming lessons. I feel like I should give myself some bonus points because not only is LJ currently taking swim lessons but so is Vi and they both love it! I was really hoping to get them into ISR but both instructors in our area are currently booked, so they’re taking lessons at a local swim school while we’re on the ISR waitlist.

5- Invest in footwear with a purpose. I haven’t done this yet, but I have my eyes on a couple pairs that I think I might be ready to pull the trigger on!

6- Continue to โ€œlevel upโ€ small areas of our house. This is an ongoing goal and so far we’ve upgraded the playroom light fixture, the mattress in our guest room, the curtains in LJ’s bedroom, and a few of the pillow covers in our living room. We’ve also replaced the window trim in the playroom with a chunkier trim (we’re slowly doing this throughout every room in the house). Just some small changes here and there that have made a big difference in the way our house feels!

7- Exercise at least 3 times a week. I have been exercising a bit more frequently, but still not 3x a week. I’m re-committing to making this a top priority for the second half of the year!

8- Give our bedroom some TLC. YES – although I’m not done yet! I’ve spent the past two months working on updating our bedroom and while I still have some projects on my list, I’m so happy with the progress I’ve made so far.

9- Commit to less screen time. I have not done a good job with this. I think it might be time to start actually using a timer to limit the amount of screen time, particularly on social media, that I have each day.

10- Learn how to use at least two new tools. I have not used any new-to-me tools yet but I have become a lot more confident with the tools I previously used. I especially feel much more confident with the miter saw and nail gun after replacing all the primary bedroom window trim myself! I’m counting that as a great first step for this goal.

11- Paint the main floor of our house. I would say this goal is about 75% done. I’ve painted the kitchen, dining room, and bottom half of our two-story foyer and still need to address our living room and the top half of the foyer and staircase. We’re slowly getting there!

12-Invest in a good night cream and eye cream. I still need to find a good eye cream but I have switched up my night cream and so far I’m liking the new one, although I’ll wait to truly review it until the end of the year.

13- Explore three new-to-us places in our surrounding area. Justin and I had a day date exploring a small town about 20 minutes outside our city and it was so fun to spend the day doing whatever we wanted: shopping, enjoying a bourbon and wine bar, dinner out, and splurging at a candy store haha. We’re hoping to find two other new-to-us places to visit, and ideally we’d like for at least one of those places to be somewhere we enjoy with the kids!

14- Build planter boxes for our patio. Well, we’re already halfway through summer and haven’t even started this project so I’m not sure it’s going to happen this year. Who knows though, maybe we’ll get inspired for enjoying planter boxes in the second half of the summer?

15- Create/enjoy a new family tradition. Last year we poured some hot chocolate and drove around to look at lights โ€“ I can definitely see that becoming a yearly tradition! This year, LJ was in soccer and we started having a weekly ice cream treat afterwards. Justin and I also recently had a day date where he took LJ to golf and I took Vi to the zoo; it was so fun to have special one-on-one time to bond! We plan to try to do this once a month, switching who takes who each time. I love small things like this that continue to build a strong foundation for our family.

16- Organize our utility room. I have taken one batch of things from this room to the local ReStore, but honestly, I need to commit a full Saturday to completely clearing this room out and re-organizing. It needs some serious attention!

17- Replace the boob lights in our house. Playroom, check! Dining room, check! I only have three more to go (two in our laundry room, one in our guest room).

18- Wake up before kids to have quiet time to start the day. I haven’t been as consistent with this as I’d like, but every morning that I do this, my day seems to go (or at least start) much more smoothly! I’m continuing to try to make this a regular habit.

19-Swap out our living room throw pillow cases. Thanks to a spontaneous decision at Ikea, I’ve swapped out half of the pillow cases so far. To be honest, I’m not sure the new ones will be staying super long term but the old pillow cases were in such rough shape (they’ve had large holes in them since Macie was a puppy seven. years. ago.) that I snagged a couple cheap cases at Ikea and they make the couch look so much better!

20- Support small businesses as much as possible. On our day date to a local small town I purchased a maple cutting board, linen napkins, and books for the kids from different small businesses. For our bedroom upgrade, I bought two gorgeous sconces from a small business in Texas called Illuminate Vintage. I’ve bought greeting cards from a vendor at our farmer’s market, small decor from a fair-trade business in my parent’s hometown, birthday gifts from our local children’s boutique…this is an ongoing goal that I’m going to continue to prioritize as I make future purchases.

21-Set aside one date night each week.ย We have been pretty good with this, although sometimes “date” is very loosely defined haha. Sometimes we play a board game, other times we go out to dinner, other times we watch a show together (we love This is Us and we’ve also really gotten into an older show called The Killing). Wednesday nights have become our night to set aside for time together and we’ve been able to stick to it almost every week so far.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with all the progress I’ve made so far this year and I’m looking forward to the second half of the year!