Our secret birthday anniversary trips

21 June 2017

2017 is a big year for our family! John and I both turn 30 (I already did), and we’ll celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in September. Usually, we mark our anniversaries with dinner out and cards, and birthdays get a special day of adventures and usually a smaller gift. For this banner year, though, we decided to roll all of the festivities together for one (well, actually two!) landmark celebrations!

To celebrate our birthdays and anniversary, we’re each planning a SECRET TRIP for the other! We set out a few parameters at the beginning of the year:

— The budget is $1,000 (for each trip – we supplemented our normal vacation budget with money from savings). Flying is allowed, but would likely be challenging given the budget.
— We can each use one day of vacation.
— June can come or not, as long as one set of parents is available to come stay with her.
— The point of the trip is to delight the other person, so every decision should be made with that in mind!
— Everything must stay SECRET!

mariposa grove

From our California trip

While we are both still excited about this idea we dreamed up, there have been a few unforeseen challenges:

1. John cannot keep a secret. Well, he can, but it’s very challenging for him. He desperately wants to tell me what he’s planning, and is always trying to trick me into telling him what I’m planning. The secret aspect is definitely more for me than for John, as I love being surprised but (for the aforementioned reasons), John surprising me is not a very common occurrence :)
2. We share an Airbnb account. John booked the accommodations for his trip a few months ago, and I’ve been effectively locked out of our account ever since, for fear that I’ll accidentally stumble upon the details of his trip. This makes booking accommodations for MY trip on Airbnb problematic, but it’s not very practical to open a new account since I wouldn’t have any guest reviews. A friend has offered to let me book through her account if I decide to go that route, but I’m also looking into hotel options! We’ll see.
3. We usually plan trips together. Before this year, I would definitely have said John was the trip planner in our family – and he is. But the truth is that we each bring something unique to the trip planning process, and we’ve both lamented the lack of the other person’s expertise at different times this year!

Despite those few challenges, it’s been good to shake things up and try something different :) Plus, I’ve appreciated the exercise of brainstorming the things John in particular enjoys – not just what he and I both enjoy – and to dream up little details that will let him know I put lots of thought and love into celebrating him.

John’s trip for me is scheduled for September, and mine for him for October (back to back just by accident!). He’s already booked his accommodations, and I am on the brink of doing the same, plus I’ve roughed out our itinerary. As of right now, June is coming on both trips. I can’t tell you much more now, but I will of course report back later this fall!!

Until then, I’d love to hear: have you ever planned a secret trip, or anything else big and secret? I’m a total newbie!

Wisdom from my Dad

16 June 2017

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I think my parents were and are really good at parenting. I haven’t figured out all of their secrets (yet), but one key seems to be consistency.

My Dad, in particular, had a number of phrases that were on repeat throughout my first 18 years — if I’ve heard them once, truly, I’ve heard them a thousand times. They have shaped the kind of person I am, and will undoubtedly be issuing from my lips a thousand times in the next 18 years as John and I do our best to raise our children. I wanted to share a few of them with you today, in honor of Father’s Day.

Kate and Kim, repeat along with me…

Meredith Perdue

If you’re going to give, give graciously. Let’s start with a particularly hard one to learn :) This meant that it wasn’t enough to simply shove a coloring book across the table at my sister if I begrudgingly agreed to relinquish it; no, I was supposed to politely place it in her hands, ideally with a smile. No bare minimum shortcuts at the Ayer household, much to our dismay while growing up. My Dad taught (and still teaches) me so much about going the extra mile AND doing it with your heart in the right place.

You might not have meant to, but you didn’t try hard enough not to. Again with the heart focus. This phrase would be employed when I’d, perhaps, knock my sister over as I ran past her, then whine, “but I didn’t meeeeeean to” when told to apologize. Again, we weren’t allowed to take the easy out.

Life isn’t fair and You can’t always get what you want. (The latter, usually sung to the tune of the Rolling Stones.) I was under no illusions growing up that everything was always going to go my way. Somehow, my parents were able to balance this blunt reality with a sense of possibility and hope, but I’m thankful I never had the opportunity to be crushed by the realization that the world wasn’t going to bend to my will, because I was reminded of it early and often.

Photo by Tanja Lippert

Steps are our friends. Way before FitBits and Apple Watches became commonplace, my Dad cheerfully expounded on the benefits of getting our bodies moving. He can often be found standing instead of sitting while reading, he’ll never miss a chance to accompany someone on a walk, and it was no surprise to any of us when he rigged himself a standing desk at work. With the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle becoming more and more clear, my Dad was definitely ahead of his time on this one.

Pleases and thank yous aren’t rationed. Simple enough. This was an extremely common catchall reminder that it’s hard to overdo it on politeness and kindness.

Don’t be overly fastidious. As the father of three girls, this was my Dad’s main offensive against raising a gaggle of “girly girls.” We were taught to be unafraid of mud, comfortable with sweat, capable of taking out the trash, and unlikely to leap to the top of a chair when a bug was spotted in the room.

Photo by Nancy Ray

Two wrongs don’t make a right. I bet this is a familiar one to many of you! My Dad always encouraged us to take the high road, to hold to our standards even when others weren’t holding to theirs. This was the basis of integrity in our family.

That’s the price you pay for an active childhood. This was my Dad’s favorite phrase when we came in sniffling from skinned knees. While we crawled up in his lap to be comforted, he was gently reminding us that a few bumps and bruises were a small price to pay for the glory of a childhood spent wild and free in the great outdoors.

Everything in moderation. Longtime readers will know that this is a life maxim of my Dad’s that I have latched onto hook, line, and sinker (mentioned here and here, for starters). In eating habits, in paying off debt, in establishing traditions — pretty much in everything besides my faith — I think it’s healthier, more sustainable, and more enjoyable to stick to a middle road than lurch to an extreme.

There’s nothing like a good Dad, and I’m so glad I have mine. I love you, Dad!!

Friends, I would LOVE to hear: what common phrases did your parents repeat throughout your childhood that have stuck with you?

Mid-year goals review

14 June 2017

Well this is something different! I’ve never written a post checking in on my yearly goals midway through the year, but I did an Instagram story yesterday sharing some of the progress I’ve made, and thought it might make a good blog post, too!

To recap, I set four focal areas for 2017 with the help of my PowerSheets. I’ve chipped away at them with specific, smaller goals each month, many of which I’ve shared with you in my monthly goal updates! Much of this should sound familiar to frequent visitors :)

Focal area no. 1: Become a woman of prayer
Progress I’ve made: The biggest and best change we’ve made is to offer impromptu prayer at dinner and other meals instead of a standard blessing. John and I switch off days. For two people who did not grow up praying out loud, this has been a great way to get more comfortable with the practice and warm up to teaching June more about prayer as she gets older. I’ve also read several books about prayer, bought a prayer journal (though I haven’t used it yet), and bought a new Bible that I love.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: I would really like to try out a new devotional (I have heard great things about Streams in the Desert), establish a morning rhythm of prayer, give Bill Hybels’ prayer journaling practice a try, fill out my prayer journal, and begin praying with June before bed.

Focal area no. 2: Love my loved ones well
Progress I’ve made: The best thing I’ve done for this goal is to institute monthly prep days. When I thought about what had stopped me in the past from doing kind and fun things for the people I love, it wasn’t a lack of money or time, it was a lack of preparation, and my prep days have been a game changer. I’ve also hosted a Favorite Things party, made several neighborhood friends, restocked my card supply, and put our surprise birthday trips in motion.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: I’ve got a lot more work to do on my surprise trip for John, to start!

Focal area no. 3: Cultivate a rich life for my family
Progress I’ve made: We completed our backyard renovation! It was a huge project and an expensive one, but we have relished having a beautiful space to be together outside. We’ve also finished our wills and had them notorized, we went camping, we picked strawberries three times, and I’ve read 16 books!
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: Everything on our summer fun list! I’m looking forward to building more community on our street, to our annual pumpkin carving party, to epic road trips to visit family this summer, to more Life & Science visits, and to more holidays with June!

Focal area no. 4: Live fit
Progress I’ve made: I am a student of ballet once again! I also wear a FitBit daily and challenge myself to get 10,000 steps. I’ve been experimenting with short at-home fitness videos, something I’ve never really tried before.
What I hope to accomplish in the next six months: I would love to spend more time stretching before bed. I’d like to hit 10k steps more days than not each week. And I would really love to get back into a rhythm of a neighborhood walk each night.

How about you, friends? Are your goals for the year still going strong, or have they changed?

P.S. If you’re looking for help with goal setting and achieving, the PowerSheets I use are on sale this week for $25. A little birdie told me there are only a few hundred left, and since they’re selling at a rate of a few hundred a day, that stock won’t last long!

How to make something a habit

8 June 2017

You know something I’m grateful for? John re-learning to play the guitar in 2015! I was pregnant, he hadn’t picked up a guitar since middle school, but of his own accord he decided that he wanted music to be a part of our family life and so he busted out some YouTube videos and was playing all of our favorite songs in weeks. (Side note: what?! It would have taken me YEARS to do the same!)

Fast forward a few months, and there was only one downside to our frequent family singalongs. A black, bulky guitar case had taken up permanent residence in our family room — which was not exactly my idea of a good time, interior decorating speaking.

I was itching to ditch it, but was wary of falling into a trap Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage:

Had the path of least resistance led me astray? I thought back to that initial experiment. I had kept my guitar tucked away in the closet, out of sight and out of reach. It wasn’t far out of the way, of course, but just those 20 seconds of extra effort it took to walk to the closet and pull out the guitar had proved to be a major deterrent. I had tried to overcome this barrier with willpower, but after only four days, my reserves were completely dried up. If I couldn’t use self-control to ingrain the habit, at least not for an extended period, I now wondered: What if I could eliminate the amount of activation energy (the time, choices, and mental and physical effort) it took to get started?

I took the guitar out of the closet, bought a $2 guitar stand, and set it up in the middle of my living room. Nothing had changed except that now instead of being 20 seconds away, the guitar was in immediate reach. Three weeks later, I looked up at a habit grid with 21 proud check marks.

What I had done here, essentially, was put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy and effort to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it. The strategy is universally applicable: Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid.

guitar hook

Obviously this applies to more than just guitar playing, ha! We had gotten into such a good rhythm of family singalongs, and I didn’t want to derail us by storing the guitar out of sight and out of mind. But I wanted it off my floor. So after some thought and Googling, I bought a guitar hook and we hung John’s beauty right behind our sofa. Problem solved! The guitar was still easily accessible, we no longer had a big case taking up floor space, and we gained some fun new wall decor, to boot.

Have y’all ever used this trick to form or break a habit? It’s a good one!