Toddler favorites at two and a half years

27 August 2018

My most recent post sharing our family’s toddler favorites was last year, so I think it’s high time for an updated list! It has been amazing to watch June’s creativity and imagination explode over the last few months, and accordingly, this installment includes many more toys than any previous one. No terrible twos over here – I think this is such a sweet and fun age!!

toddler favorites two and a half years

— Our three-pack of Contigo water bottles was $12 at Costco, so definitely look there for a great price if you have a membership. (If you don’t, they’re on Amazon, too!)
— June is a big fan of her “big kid seat” (we have it in taupe) and finds many creative ways to sit in it :) Small enough to fold up and take on the road if needed!
— We put these training chopsticks in June’s stocking last Christmas thinking they would be a novelty item, but she loves to use them!
— John’s parents got June a subscription to Highlights High Five a few months ago, and it has been a HUGE hit. It is her requested bedtime reading almost every night, so much that she’s memorized most of the stories and poems in each issue!
— When I included this mini scooter in last year’s gift guide, I predicted that it would take her a few months to grow into it, but that she’d be scooting around like a pro this summer – and that has proved exactly true!
— As you will see in the forthcoming June in June Volume 3, watering plants is one of our girl’s favorite hobbies. This little elephant can makes the job even more fun!
— We’ve bought a pair of these water-friendly gold sandals each of the last two summers, and they are both mama and June’s shoe of choice. Tip: they run a little small, so size up.
— As June’s hair has gotten longer and surpassed my finger-combing ability, this wet brush has been a great help.
— I mentioned it briefly in a past post, but Netflix’s Puffin Rock is far and away June’s favorite show right now. It is incredibly sweet and gentle, and apparently funny, too, as she giggles her way through most episodes :)
— I got lots of questions when I showed our glider board on Instagram, so here’s the scoop. We opted to not get a double stroller because June much prefers to walk/sprint or ride her trike or scooter at this point. But, we thought this would be a good option for longer adventures, like a day at the zoo or museum, where her legs might want a break. So far, it’s been a hit!
— The toys in heavy rotation right now: her doll — or should I say bunny — house (we also have this and this furniture set); stuffed animals (this is the one Shep got her as a present at the hospital!); her horses and stable; floor puzzles; and play food (we do have this set, but most of the rest isn’t as fancy!). She could probably occupy herself for days with just those five things.
— Books, of course, are as popular as ever. This is a particularly neat and interactive one!

P.S. If you’re looking for most of my past kiddo picks in one easy place, I’ve organized them more neatly here!

Past family favorites:
The first six weeks
Five months
Eight months
One year
Fifteen months
Twenty one months

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Self-care for people who don’t like self-care

21 August 2018

I think the question feature that Instagram rolled out a few months ago is one of the more fun things they’ve ever done, both because I like seeing other’s answers, and because I’ve enjoyed answering questions myself! Much like my annual survey, it’s also helpful for EFM research purposes: given the chance to ask anything, what are y’all most curious about?

The topic that sparked the most interest in my last question-answering burst was on self-care. It’s not really a topic I’ve delved into here, but as usual, I have thoughts! :)

on a walk

The original question: What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate self-care?

Y’all already know I don’t go in for many of the “classic” self care practices: I think baths take too long, my nails chip immediately after I paint them, face masks don’t do anything for me, I don’t like massages… basically, I’m a beautifying curmudgeon. (Though if I had unlimited funds, I would totally get a weekly blow-out… just saying :))

I think self-care is so much broader than its current buzzword status might have us believe, though. For me, it’s less of a list of things to work into my days or weeks, and more a strategy of putting together a life I love, one that I don’t feel like I need a respite from. As much as possible, I build my life from things that energize me instead of drain me, which often means cutting things out more than adding things.

So, what do I consider self-care?

— Evening walks with John. The combination of moving my body, clearing my head through conversation, and connecting with my favorite person will always be the ultimate in self-care for me.
— Hiking, a.k.a. walks in the woods
— Walking through a beautiful neighborhood (bonus points if it has historic homes and lovely gardens)
— Reading
— Writing, here on EFM or otherwise
— Connecting to the Lord, whether through prayer, worship, scripture, or Write the Word
— Seeing a fun project through from concept to completion (like my first day of fall scones – bonus points if I get the warm fuzzies from blessing other people!)
— Going out to eat at a favorite spot
— Date nights in and date nights out
— Watching a movie or show with John (the catch is that we have to both ONLY be watching, not multitasking!)

Many of these boil down to seeking adventure and beauty as often as possible, in as many ways as possible. To make room for those things, I circle back to the second half of the formula I mentioned above: cutting out things that drain me. When I’m caring for myself well, I don’t feel burdened by a to do list, I don’t feel like I’m wasting time on things that don’t matter to me, and there aren’t tasks I’m dreading looming over my head.

I don’t always succeed at this, but I do have a three-pronged strategy for lessening the burden of the more mundane parts of life:

— First, like I mentioned above, I cut out or batch as many undesirable tasks as possible. I grocery shop just once a week. I get by with the bare minimum in cleaning. I generally don’t binge watch shows, and I try very hard not to spend mindless time scrolling on social media. I make several day’s worth of lunches in one evening.
— Second, for anything that has to stay on my plate, I try to make it as enjoyable as possible. In the words of Mary Poppins, “in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun!” :) I turn on music while cleaning. I work in the yard side-by-side with John. I listen to podcasts while running errands.
— Third, if there’s just no way to make something “fun,” I do my best to think of it as part of my calling, something that can either be seen as a burden or a privilege — and that choice is mine.

My parents modeled for me that certain duties are just that – duties. There’s no point in railing against the unfairness of taking out the trash, because it’s just a part of life, and you’ll make yourself a lot more miserable if you gnash your teeth every time you have to do it instead of just doing it. (I feel like I’m literally quoting my Dad here, ha!) I do my fair share of griping, let’s be clear, but I’m much happier when I just dispense with the task at hand as quickly as possible.

And aren’t we lucky to have lives and families and chores to attend to? I have a daughter, so I GET to make lunches for her. I have a house, so I GET to clean the bathroom. With that mind shift, some of those undesirable tasks almost turn into a form of fulfilling, satisfying self-care! Almost :)

I’d love to know, what does self-care mean to you? How do you practically carry it out or make time for it? I would love to hear!

10 of our favorite quick and easy meals

13 August 2018

It seems kind of funny to follow up such a momentous post as sharing the meaning of our son’s name with dinner ideas, but that’s Em for Marvelous for you! :) If you think about it, a post about quick and easy meals actually makes perfect sense a few weeks after we welcomed a baby — quick and easy is the name of the game right now! With that, I wanted to share a few of our favorite meals in this genre to continue our mini “ten favorites” series

From Pinch of Yum

1. Grilled chicken caesar salad wraps. We grill chicken breasts on the grill, then chop and mix them with pre-washed lettuce (or lettuce from our garden in-season!), croutons, and store-bought caesar dressing. Everything gets stuffed in a flatbread or tortilla, depending on what we have on hand.

2. Lemon roasted chicken and vegetables. The recipe calls for salmon but we sub in chicken. You basically just toss everything onto a sheet pan and call it a day! We’ll sometimes pair with rice.

3. Buffalo chicken pizza. Pizza dough from Publix, jarred pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella, frozen buffalo chicken nuggets, a little chopped red onion, a drizzle of blue cheese dressing after it comes out of the oven… yum!

4. Grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, and a vegetable. The chicken goes on the grill with salt and pepper and we cook the sweet potatoes in the microwave and eat them plain. For a vegetable, we’ll most often saute broccoli or green beans with a squeeze of lemon or grill zucchini. This meal has the benefit of being quite healthy and cheap, too!

5. Chicken fajitas. Do you see a theme with grilled chicken? :) The grilled chicken gets chopped into strips, then everyone assembles their own fajitas with tortillas, shredded cheese, sauteed onions and green bell peppers, salsa, and Greek yogurt.

6. Bratwursts and cucumber tomato salad. The salad is an invention of John’s – it includes halved cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumber, balsamic or red wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, oregano, thyme, and a little bit of salt!

7. Cobb salad. Our version includes pre-washed lettuce, bacon, hardboiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and our favorite dressing – olive oil, red wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard.

8. Dumplings and a vegetable. This is as simple as it sounds – frozen dumplings from an Asian grocery store (we love H Mart, if you have one near you!) and a vegetable like broccoli, green beans, carrots, or zucchini. We’ll also make a dipping sauce of rice vinegar, soy sauce, a little bit of sesame oil, and sambal oelek.

9. Whole Foods chicken pot pie. I am a fiend for chicken pot pie, and though I’ll sometimes make it from scratch, honestly, the WF refrigerated version is at least as good as a homemade version and less expensive in the end. This actually does take awhile to heat (about 35-45 minutes), but there’s zero prep, so it still counts as a quick meal in my book :)

10. Chicken tinga tacos. If you pick the rotisserie chicken in advance, this recipe comes together in a snap. The avocado-lime-garlic powder mash is a must-do! Bonus: it makes a lot of leftovers.

I would love to hear: what are some of your favorite quick meals? Y’all had so many good suggestions on the first post!

The meaning of Shepherd’s name

10 August 2018

Choosing a name for another person has to be one of the most thrilling and also nerve-wracking parts of parenting. Because of this, I love hearing about how others chose their kiddos’ names, and I’m happy to share more about our son’s name today!

As cliche as it sounds, John and I set out to give both of our littles names with roots and wings. By that I mean we hope their names will anchor them to things of value, and aim them toward things worthy of aspiration. For June, we hope her name will remind her of her family story, as well as the beautiful story of America. Shep’s name is also a reminder of his family story, and of our faith.

Before we found out the gender of our first baby, we decided we’d name her June if she was a girl, and John if he was a boy. We stuck to that once we found out about baby number two. To me, naming our son John is a reminder of the story from which he comes – one that’s far from perfect, but filled with people who try, who have integrity, who are kind and smart and humble and face challenges and pick themselves back up again and again. As crystallized for me in this essay, I strongly believe (and research backs up!) that one of the best things we can do for our children is develop a strong family narrative.

From the essay:

“The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness… Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”

You all know how I feel about confidence! :) Naming our son John gives us a ready opening to tell him about the rich history of our family, starting with a contingent of Johns:

His grandfather (John’s Dad), who grew up on a farm in Ohio, earned his Ph.D., traveled the world testifying against counterfeit drugs, and writes the sweetest notes in birthday cards.

His great-grandfather (my grandfather), who served in the Army, milked a farm full of cows at the crack of dawn every morning, raised six children, was married to my grandmother for more than 50 years before his passing, and sang in his church’s choir every Sunday.

His many, many greats-grandfather John Ayer, who in 1665 founded my family’s farm in Connecticut, which is recognized as one of the oldest continuously-working family farms in the state.

And of course, there’s my most beloved John. What gave me great comfort when I thought about having a boy was all of the remarkable men I know and love, the most important being my husband. If our son shares even a few characteristics with him, he’ll be well-poised to take hold of the life that is truly life.

As much as we were settled on naming our son John, we also knew we didn’t want to call him John in daily life. For his middle name, we wanted something that pointed to our faith, and quickly settled on Shepherd. Though we considered many individual figures from the Bible (John’s favorite being Stephen, for his remarkable testimony), none were as compelling as Shepherd, which for us points to some of the most beautiful characteristics of God and his Son. Jesus as the good shepherd is gentle, humble, honored for his obedience, a diligent and hard worker, and a protector.

There are so many stories in the Bible using the imagery or figures of shepherds, but I’ll just touch on one more: the shepherds in the story of Jesus’s birth. How amazing is it that God chose a group of no-stature shepherds to first share the news of his son’s birth, and how beautiful that they responded with great urgency, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” What a powerful prayer for our Shep!

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that both John and Shepherd are classic choices — simple to say and familiar to the tongue — and in the case of Shepherd, not terribly common. Plus, I think June and Shep go together nicely :) Plus plus, I love that I can keep wearing my J necklace in good conscience!

Friends, I’d love to hear: does your name have a story behind it?