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Monday, June 29, 2015

Seven Ideas to Steal When Trying to Use Your Phone Less (even when you know you can't live without it)

I really like my iphone.  I use it to keep in touch with the people I love.  I enjoy browsing through social feeds and watching for bargains.  I love having a small camera handy almost everywhere that I wander.  I need it for the map app.  For so many reasons, life is easier and simpler for having so much mobile access and information at my fingertips.  The iphone is my friend.

I see many others relying on their phones, too.  With a salesman husband, two teenage step daughters and elementary aged children already plugging their "need" for a phone, I see the vortex into which we can be sucked by our devices.

But these days, I'm valuing being a little less available, less plugged into the constant stream of information.  I'm finding great freedom in limitation as I seek to be a bit less tethered to an electronic device.
source: infographic

Seven Ideas to Steal When Trying to Use Your Phone Less:

  1. Leave it charging in another room during mealtime.  Or movie time.  Or game time.  Or just to remember what it feels like to not have it within arms' reach.
  2. Use the Do Not Disturb feature during certain hours. For me this is 10 pm - 7 am.  
  3. Turn off alerts so that you have to look for information instead of having push messages sent.
  4. Prioritize people.  When I am with a person, the phone remains in my purse (or pocket, or bag or car).
  5. Practice some time with out it.  Seriously, leave the phone at home while you go to the pool with your children.  Leave it in the car while you grocery shop.  You will find that it feels terribly uncomfortable, but the world keeps turning and you are more free.
  6. Practice delayed responses.  Train those in your life to know that you will respond, like, comment or notice when you are able.  If it is your child or spouse, I say respond, but if it's your sister's best friend with a PTA notice - this may not require urgent action. 
  7. Visit locales where there is no cell service or wifi.  Shocking - but they do exist! 

We are so often pressed into responding or being available that it limits our ability to be fully present in our actual lives.  Sometimes we feel stresses that aren't ours to take on, simply because they are handed to use through photos, articles, alerts.  Daydreaming can turn into a comparison trap.

I think it is so fun to know what my college roommates are doing in other states.  I love seeing the happenings in my parents' lives and it's a treat to see posts from my nieces who are rapidly entering the teen years.  But I want to choose when to engage.  I want to embrace the life in front of me and when I turn to my phone, it's intentional.

Start small, but with purpose, by choosing not to check messages while driving.  If there is an emergency, someone will call.  But you can wait till you arrive to see the little notes that others send.   Please know, I use my phone a lot, and I find it so valuable that I am ready to upgrade!  But I don't want it to be the boss of me and I notice the slide toward being engrossed in the gadget constantly.  There are no rules, except what you choose to enforce.

Will you try any of these ideas?  Are you happy with the amount of time you spend on devices?

I love how Kate left her laptop at home when she went on vacation!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Back to Life

Our family enjoyed a much-needed and wonderful vacation.  I loved spending last week with my Sweetheart!

I made special memories with my children.  I spent extra time with my stepdaughters and one of their dear friends (Hi, Elisabeth!).  I appreciate my in-laws and the chance to deepen our relationships.  I'm grateful to them for opening their island home to our large crew and giving us a place to unwind and indulge.

Togetherness as a blended family doesn't happen all that often, and we enjoyed the sense of family and memories made last week.  Much of our remaining summer includes children going to various destinations, camps, family trips and we treasure the times we get to celebrate our bond. 

We had a week where no one was coming or going, no transitions between houses, no tight schedules and it was glorious.  Intact original families do not ever have to consider the comings and goings of children between houses. It's something I never considered before divorce was part of my story.  When my original marriage disintegrated, this was the aspect that I dreaded the most, and it remains one of the greatest challenges.  Sadly, the children are the ones who bear the brunt of the stress.  So, we treasured this time even more.

We had lots of seafood, watched movies at home and at the theater, enjoyed so many fun bike rides, participated in an impromptu talent show, the girls did our nails, the boys played video games, shopped and enjoyed a farmers market, and enjoyed hanging around the house.  It was just fun for so many reasons.  It was relaxing and restful.  We have returned as a closer knit group and will rehearse the memories until we get to return next again.

We are back to life and the children are once again scattered.  Work beckons and the routines of grocery shopping, house chores, yard work and more have already demanded our attention.  I love my life, and that makes returning from vacation just a little easier.  But I so treasure the uninterrupted days together without as many stresses and schedule requirements.  

Will you have a family get-away this summer?  How can we savor that bond, even in our 'regular' life?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sometimes, I Plan for the Less in "Flawless"

The Fifth Grader took a trip to DC.
Do you ever plan to fail?  Okay, perhaps "failure" is too strong a word for the situation I am describing, but there are times when I know I will fall short of my idea of success.  Basically, I prepare for the "less" in Flawless.

Recently, we experienced a unique convergence of expected busy schedules and stretched resources compounded by some 'bonus' experiences that were earned and not planned.  Both added financial and logistical complications to our family dynamic and both were high honors for well-deserving children.  So, things got very hectic for a while around our place!

Each of us have expectations and sometimes I set mine way too idealistically.  I want to have high standards, not impossible requirements.  So, when I review the calendar I take notice if our week is busier than usual, our family going in more directions that typical, and whether there is margin for the ups and downs and bumps of normal family life.  When there is no margin, that's when I plan for the "less."

This is what it looks like in my home:

  • I incorporate a simpler meal that is not made from scratch and use paper plates.
  • We skip a scheduled, weekly activity (like gymnastics) and allow that to be time well spent on relationship-building with a friend.
  • I accept that laundry will pile up, and ask for help with the folding when it is finally washed.
  • I recruit help in advance for when guests are coming to visit our home.
  • Instead of packing lunches (during the school year), I just have the children plan to get the cafeteria meal.
  • I shop at the grocery store that is closest and where they load my groceries FOR me. 
  • I build "rest" days into my exercise routine (in other words, I SKIP it!).
  • I let the blog sit idle for a couple of weeks and hope my readers will understand.
  • I might miss Field Day, but I'll be there for awards day.  I don't have to be at every event or prove to my children how much I adore them.
  • I lower my standards for house chores and if I had the money, I would hire help for dusting, floors and bathrooms.  The world will continue to spin with dust on my mantle.
  • I am careful to continue self care, even in simple ways.  I feel strong when I take care of myself emotionally, physically and spiritually.  
  • I focus on the people in my life and let go of the lists.  My default is to be task-oriented, but I want to be relationship-focused, so I remind myself of this value.  I make the most of those tuck-in moments and be sure to communicate with Mr. Wonderful as we settle for the night.
We face overwhelming schedules, work pressure, relationship demands and just the normal requirements of life.  Some weeks everything seems to converge at once.  Mostly, I hang on for the ride and make sure there is a date when things will settle down.  When I know that this isn't the way I choose to live consistently, I can make it through a hectic season.  It reminds me that I prize a slower pace over constant excitement.  My core values are reinforced and I am able to make even more insightful decisions for myself.


Our crazy-month wrapped up with a delightful escape for just Mr. Wonderful and me.  We celebrated his birthday, we attended a concert and met up with both family and friends from different seasons of life.  We tried new restaurants and enjoyed each other tremendously!  Thank heaven!

Ice Cream at the Park - it doesn't get more relaxed than that!
Once home, we've enjoyed summer's slower pace and even a family night out including bowling and Chinese food.  My mother was able to come for a visit this week and we get to go for family vacation soon.  We are all enjoying the deep exhale.

How do you give yourself a break during especially busy seasons or weeks? When the schedules and/or the finances tighten up, do you give yourself some grace or do you sacrifice sanity and sleep to maintain your standards.  

I wrote about other calming habits some time ago - gosh, look at that hairstyle!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Changing Names - Complicated Considerations for Remarriage

Any woman who marries faces the decision about which name she will take as she moves forward in life.  Her decision reflects the age at which she marries, the notoriety she has with her current name, the feelings around family names and perhaps her own professional reputation.  I do not believe there is a right or a wrong and have friends who have made various choices: keeping original name, hyphenating last names, taking the spouse's last name and/or moving maiden name to a middle name.  Marrying again, brings more factors to consider.

I am proud of my maiden name and in my small circle, it was recognizable.  My father was prominent in our community and I had a sister.  We were well known and I liked belonging to my tribe.  I enjoyed being connected to my people.  I was comfortable with my history and proud of my heritage.  But, I never seriously considered keeping my maiden name when I married for the first time.

I anticipated the further combining of my identity with my spouse and it seemed like a tangible way to solidify our new family unit.  I was within a year of entering my career field and had just begun establishing a "name" for myself.  I remember even ordering new business cards prior to the wedding and already being introduced with that new last name.  

When that marriage ended in divorce, I contemplated returning to my maiden name but ultimately decided it wasn't worth the confusion.  For me, it was reflective of the person I had become as a wife and mother, even if one of those roles no longer applied.  Having consistency as a mother with the same last name as my children was also part of the decision making process.

As I anticipated marriage a second time, I thought about once again changing my name.  It's such a personal thing, so very much part of my identity.  I felt very strange to imagine being someone other than who I was at the time.  I wondered how my children would view me having a name different from theirs.  I talked with Mr. Wonderful about his thoughts.  I revisited my own assumptions from earlier days when I changed my name without hesitation.

First, I no longer wanted to carry name of my first husband.  From that name I felt betrayed, deceived, disrespected and I just did not want the connection.  I was no longer proud to be connected to his name.

Secondly, I did want to fully embrace my new husband.  I loved feeling connected to him, to his family and his reputation.  I am honored to wear that name and embrace the role I get to have as his wife.  I wanted others to know I was with him.

However, I would then no longer share a family name with my children?  When I asked them, it did bother them, and they were a bit confused.  One child then assumed that he would also get the last name.  Another child asked if I would still be his mother if I took a different name?  Another child didn't seem phased in the least and acted like the whole thing was no big deal anyway.

Ultimately, I decided to take a new name when I married Mr. Wonderful (Mr. Robinson).  After two years, I feel good about my decision still.  Yet, I have remained flexible and the name has been fluid in many ways.  When my friends of my children speak to me, they often call me Mrs - (the last name of my children).  I don't correct them, I just accept the association.  Sometimes teachers make the same mistake - no biggie.  Sometimes greater clarity is needed, but most often it has all worked out for us.

What would you choose?  Have you needed to make this decision?  Do you have a different last name from anyone in your family?  What does a name mean to you?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Moody Monday - Quick Update & Continuous Purging

 I had a delightful weekend, albeit a busy one.  I had lunch with the almost-middle-schooler and a hoard of his friends to celebrate his birthday.  Saturday was busy with the normal errands of life, grocery shopping, household chores and some gardening fun.  Birthday Boy had a laser tag party and we ended the night with friends, chatting way later than expected.

Mother's Day was delightful.  My stepdaughters surprised me with flowers and my favorite cupcake.  Our older girl works at a fabulous cupcake shop, so I've sampled many!  We were all able to attend church together and it was a sweet service.  I even helped the younger mamas by holding lots of babies in the nursery.  Mr. Wonderful made sure I was well-cared for with lunch and gift cards (Starbucks, Lowe's, hello, garden center!) and I was able to spend the day in the mountains with my children - always a special place for us.  Even the children's father honored the day by preparing them with a hydrangea to give me on this special day.

Last year, I decided to rid myself (my closet, my drawers, my kitchen, my garage, etc.) of at least one thing each day in the month of April.  It was so refreshing that I decided to do it again this year and I feel like even more was cleared away.  I tried to keep track, but I know I've missed things.  Daily I gathered items we didn't use and stored them either in my trunk or in boxes in the toy room.  Each weekend, I would take the boxes for donation or trash.  A few items I sold and added to my "Living Room Makeover" envelope stash.

My step daughters each sorted their drawers and donated.  My children were bribed into getting rid of a precious few items.  My husband said he would, but had a busy month.  All in all, we really cleared out unused stuff.  This week, I'll take my last load to the donation center.

I try to keep a loose hand on my material possessions and love order more than clutter.  This exercise helps us all focus on valuing what we have instead of just hoarding.  Do you systematically purge?  Is it easy to let go of old items?  Do you donate?  Sell?  Trash?  What is your strategy?

Here is some of what we eliminated:

3 Night Gowns
3 Girls Dresses
2 Hoodies
Ceramic Heart Box
Complete Boy Wardrobe, Size 6
Boy's Coat
Set of Gymboree Size 6 Summer (ebay)
Pottery Barn Kitchen Set & Play Food (Craigslist)
Keurig (Trashed and replaced with a Craigslist purchase)
Fondue stand
Snow Boots
Stacks of Womens Clothing, sweaters, t-shirts, sweatshirts
Trash Bag of Tween Clothing
Men's Sweaters
Girls Summer Play Clothes
Boys Winter Play Clothes
Knick Nack Souvenirs
Shoes & Shoe Boxes
Bathrobe - old & worn, trashed
Jewelry - multiple sets of earrings, bracelets, 1 neckace
Socks - mismatched onsies
Undies - trashed some that are done.
Girls Bike - 16 inch
Mens T-shirts
Velour Track Suit
more books
More Size 6 boys clothing
8 pair of earrings
Women's Coat
Men's Jacket
Random Spatulas & Spoons
Baking Sheets
Children's Melame Divided Plates
Plastic Sports Cups
Old Party Supplies
Old Paint Cans
2 Throw Rugs
Place Mats, Table Runner, Tablecloths
Craft Supplies, boxes, glitter, stickers
Race Cars and Tracks - lot of them!
2 Skillets
Random plates &  utensils
Stuffed Animals

Thursday, May 7, 2015

My Greatest Accomplishment (PS - I'm still working on it) + Printables!

Source & Printable
If you ask me to name my greatest accomplishment, I won't have to think very hard.  The most challenging and the most rewarding thing I've done is mothering my children.  There is nothing like it.  It's the "job" that I will have longer than any other.  It has required more of me and demanded that I grow way beyond myself.  The worries are many, but the wages are greater.  The hours are long and yet I've never had more fun.

Source & Printable
For me, There is no greater honor or privilege than being a mother.  This is the task for which I will save my greatest effort and it will be worth every resource demanded.  Technically speaking, this year marks the halfway point in my biological motherhood journey, although I'm fully aware that I will spend the rest of my life as a mother and stepmom.  Still, my middle child is nine - halfway to 18, and the boys are each two years in the other directions (ages 7 and 11).  My hands-on, flat-out, marathon-mothering days are at the halfway point.  Whew.

Source & Printable
I am aware that I am shaping future lives today.  Each dinner cooked, every behavior corrected, the countless tuck-ins, scrubbed hands, beds made and remade are fresh in my mind.  I'm still in the trenches of homework check-ins, sibling rivalry, video-game-monitoring madness and I'm on a first name basis with our pediatrician.

It's worth it.  They are worth it.  Each little soul is still stretching and exploring.  Opinions and world views are being formed.  Manners are being cultivated, like and dislikes are in the process of being refined.  These are the things that matter each day, not the mounting laundry or exploding dishwasher.  The beautiful things is that these mundane happenings are the grounds in which character is formed, relationships bloom.  The daily rhythms of life are where the most important work of my life is done.  My character, my attitude, my example will shape theirs.  May the Lord grant me the strength for the task.

A recent bloggers' personal thoughts, the calendar holiday and the graduation on my step daughter have reminded me recently of this most important of my responsibilities.  It's so easy to be blinded by the messes but I want to embrace the mystery of building people, my children.  How do you remember your own mother?  What is the role she played in shaping who you have become?  Does she know how you view your childhood?

PS - Be sure to click the links below each image for a Mother's Day Printable!

Note: I well-remember the years before I became a mother (when I desperately wanted to be one!) and the ache that Mother's Day brought.  I was lucky to have a great mother on whom I could focus my attention, but I will never forget the longing to join the club myself.  If this is you, hang on and hang in there.  Your purpose is just as important as mine, even if your role is different.  

If you are a mother without your child (through disease, choice or estrangement), you matter.  You are not alone.  

If you were not motthered well, I'm sorry.  You are not defined by her choices or her words.

The ones who call me mother/stemom.

Three Things Stepmothers Want

The Day I Became a Mother

Being Me is Best for Them

Mother's Day Thoughts (Stepmom)

Stepping Through Mothers Day

Mothering in the Storm

Source & Printable

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Stepping Through Mothers Day

The best word that I can use to describe blended family dynamics is "complicated."  Because motherhood is such an emotionally charged role, the event of Mothers Day has the potential to trigger feelings that range from disappointment, joy, despair, longing and bitterness.  Being a stepmother is a gift, but this kind of motherhood must be embraced with the right perspective and with wisdom.

One thing I have to remember, my stepdaughters were raised with a different attitude toward holidays than me.  In my family of origin, we took every opportunity to celebrate ... including those notorious "Hallmark Holidays."  So, we always made a big deal out of our mother on her special day.  My steps don't do cards and such, but they like to make memories.  We are more likely to enjoy a special meal or a hike together.  Expecting cards or gushy words would be a setup for disappointment.

In addition, it is realistic for me to remember that these girls have a mother who is involved in their lives.  One of the best ways I can support them is to encourage a healthy relationship with their mother.  I don't want them to feel torn in any way and loving her does not diminish our own unique relationship.  Honoring her is the right and healthy thing to do.  So as I made plans for this Sunday, I mentioned to Mr. Wonderful that I assumed his girls were having lunch with their mother?  Yes, indeed.

If you are a stepmom, keep in mind:
  • Don't force or expect step children to do something special on this day.  For me, it helped to break any tension and speak out by saying something like, "I'm glad to be your stepmom and I know your mother feels so lucky to be your mama!"  Silence and unspoken expectations only lead to insecurity for all people involved.
  • Children may feel torn or that acknowledging you somehow lessens the day for their own mother.  Mother-loyalty will trump stepmom affection.  This depends entirely on how their mother regards your role in their life, which is out of your control.
  • One sibling may want to honor you, while another feels awkward or disloyal.  That's okay!  We know we have unique relationships with each of our family members.
  • It's okay to let your husband know you would like to go to lunch or spend the day with him.  He might take this opportunity to honor the role you have in helping with his children.  After all, you get a great deal of the responsibility without much of the glory.  If no one else honors your role, enact some serious self care and honor yourself with a day of relaxation or whatever else makes you smile!  Remember, this one day does not define you or the important role you play in your home.
  • Some people celebrate Stepmother's Day or Step Family Day - would this work for you?
Are you a stepmom?  How do you feel on this day?  What things make you feel treasured at home?  Did you have a stepmother?  Did the way you acknowledge her change through the years.  Are you married to a stepmom?  How will you show your appreciation?  

My First STEP Mothers Day

Stepmom Magazine

Sisterhood of Stepmoms

Stepmom Blog