I’m so glad you’re here! (Survey + giveaway!)

28 February 2020

It’s my birthday! And what a gift you all are to me. As an introvert who prefers a small, close-knit group of friends to a large party any day, it might seem strange that I enjoy sharing with the wide world of the internet. A small, close-knit group is exactly what Em for Marvelous feels like, though, and I’m so grateful!

Let’s be honest: I would write here even if no one was listening (I can’t help myself!!), but you gals make it MUCH more fun :) You chime in all the time in a way that is rare in the age of crickets in the comment section, and that does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I’m not sure what I did to deserve that, but I sincerely treasure each one of you who stops by, reads, and joins the conversation.

So if you have a moment, please consider taking the short survey below… I’m so curious, and would love to hear from you! Then, leave a comment below to be entered to win a $50 Airbnb gift card OR a $50 Amazon gift card – your choice. I’ll draw and email a winner next Friday, March 6!

Create your own user feedback survey

Finally, to make the commenting more interesting (and so I can get to know YOU a little better!), here are four questions I’d love for you to answer after you’ve taken the survey, if you’re so inclined:

A favorite birthday memory:
The best book you’ve read recently or the last movie you saw in theaters:
Something you love about where you live:
The nicest thing someone has done for you or that you’ve done for someone recently:

I will answer in the comments, too. Thank you in advance, friends! xo!

Help us plan our trip to Watercolor, Atlanta, and Greenville!

27 February 2020

And now, for something a little bit lighter :) Let’s do some dreaming about spring break and warmer weather! We’ve never taken an official spring break trip since having kiddos, but when the opportunity arose to head to Florida with the whole Thomas crew, we jumped on it. We’ll be staying in a big house in Watercolor (with the cutest bunk room!), and I can’t wait!

I’ve been to the 30A area once before – almost a decade ago, for a very early Southern Weddings photo shoot – and remember just being absolutely delighted by it. The communities (Seaside, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach) are picture-perfect in every way, and I think June and her cousins will have the best time (as will their parents and grandparents!).

A drawback to the Seaside area is that there’s no direct airport to fly into – Destin and Pensacola are both small and still an hour or more away from our final destination. So, we’re adding to the adventure and road tripping! Our Florida rental is from Monday through Saturday. On the front end, we’ll spend Saturday and Sunday night in Atlanta. On the way home, we’ll stop overnight in Greenville, SC.

Even for people who love travel planning, this is a lot to plan! So, we’d love your help. Have you been to any of our destinations? Have any recommendations for us? We’d love to hear from you in the comments! :)

Photo by Jami Ray

For my part, I’m focusing on something hard to define but important. It was born out of our trip to Nashville last spring, which was delightful because we got to visit my sister but also unsettling in some ways. We did our research on restaurants and activities as usual, but fell into two traps that I’m hoping to avoid for this trip.

First, I’d like to go deep instead of wide. In Nashville, it felt like we spent a lot of time driving from location to location to hit all of the spots we wanted to. In Atlanta, it would be easy to do the same, and find ourselves criss-crossing the city checking off “must visits.” Instead, I’d love to just pick a neighborhood, park ourselves there for the day, and leisurely walk from a breakfast spot to a park to an activity to lunch and back to our Airbnb. I’d like to feel more like a local, I guess! This is how our time in Paris felt, and we loved it.

Second, I would like to steer clear of “influencer hot spots,” if you will. I’m not opposed to popular spots, or ones with nice aesthetics, but what I want to avoid is places that look great but don’t actually serve good food (or do whatever it is they’re supposed to do well). We had this unfortunate experience with Five Daughters Bakery in Nashville, which appears to have been designed for Instagram (and is super cute!) but didn’t actually serve good donuts, in my opinion. Has this ever happened to you?

From our Outer Banks trip last year

In exchange for your recommendations, I thought I’d pass along a few spring break picks I’ve been eyeing. I might pick up one or two of them, but more likely I’ll use them as inspiration as I’m cruising the aisles of my favorite consignment sale in a few weeks :)

For Shep:
— Chambray stripe slip-on sneaks
— Classic yellow rain slicker
— Classic striped tee
— Vintage sailboat tee
— Sky blue slim-fit pants
— Striped henley
— Seersucker sun hat
— Navy striped rash guard suit
— Color-blocked sunglasses
Salt Waters, always and forever

For June:
— Bright pink pointelle cardigan
— Sweetest fruit-print crop leggings
— Eyelet ruffle dress in pink or yellow
Stripes and chambray dress
Blue checked top with flutter sleeves
— Happy striped rash guard top (we have this!)
— Pink pom pom dress (matches mama’s!)
— Leopard print swing dress
— Button-front chambray dress
Salt Waters, always and forever

For Em:
— Pretty coral and white floral dress
— Pleated satin skirt (I have this in the pink and love, love, love it!)
— Seriously debating this swim suit for me and this matching number for June… much more than I’d usually spend for her but how many years do I have when she’ll want to match with me? :)
— This is also such a fun pattern for a swim suit
— Love the style of this suit but not sure which colorway I’d go for – I guess navy and white?)
Tennis dress
— Pink pom pom tunic (Boden’s tunics are the absolute best!) – or in a tee if that’s more your style
— Contrast piping t-shirt dress (I like the red/blue colorway)
— Chambray midi skirt

Thanks in advance for your insight, friends! Come back tomorrow for something fun :)

How to unhurry your life

20 February 2020

While I don’t plan to write about every book on my 2020 reading list, I just couldn’t not share my thoughts on this one – and invite yours! My copy of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry has been underlined, dog-eared, read aloud to John, discussed with friends, applied to my life, and recommended several times over just within my first month of reading it. Let’s dig in :)

First, a brief overview. John Mark Comer (we’ll call him JMC) sub-titled his book “how to stay emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world.” It’s divided into three sections — the problem, the solution, and four practices for unhurrying your life — with a bonus section defining spiritual disciplines. I found it to be a pretty quick read, except for the fact that I wanted to share something aloud with John every few pages.

In the first section, JMC outlines where we find ourselves today: “throwing our lives away” as we live spiritually-mediocre days, days spent in “irritation and fear and self-preoccupation and frenzy.” He traces the rise of many compounding factors, like the disappearance of Sabbath and the explosion of smart phones, that are resulting in “hurry sickness” (the symptoms include hypersensitivity, restlessness, nonstop activity, emotional numbness, out-of-order priorities, and isolation). A quote I underlined:

Even as I found myself nodding along with most of what JMC was writing (this is my jam!), not much of what he shared was new to me – I was already familiar with most of the trends, studies, and articles he was referencing. (And he referenced a LOT – this section almost read like a compilation of other people’s thoughts versus an original work, which felt a little cheap.) But, if the background on the “hurry era” is new to you, this section would probably be eye-popping.

Interestingly, the first section had many similarities to the infamous “millennial burnout” article, except for one glaring difference: where that article ended without positing a solution, this book does: Jesus and his easy yoke. In the second section, he writes, “the solution to an overbusy life is not more time. It’s to slow down and simplify our lives around what really matters.”

(He argues that if we all had 10 more hours in a day, we’d just fill them up with more “good” things, and then we would be “even more tired and burned out and emotionally frayed and spiritually at risk” than we are now. This rings true for me — if we don’t exercise restraint around our allotted 24 hours, why would we with 34 hours? It’s the same with our money – if we can’t manage a small amount well, why would we suddenly do better with a large amount?)

JMC’s solution to hurry is Jesus, and to organize our lives around three basic goals:

“We read the stories of Jesus,” JMC writes, “his joy, his resolute peace through uncertainty, his unanxious presence, his relaxed manner and how in the moment he was — and think, I want that life. We hear his open invite to ‘life… to the full’ and think, Sign me up. We hear about his easy yoke and soul-deep rest and think, Gosh, yes, heck yes. I need that. But we’re not willing to adopt his lifestyle.”

“That’s why Jesus doesn’t offer us an escape. He offers us something far better: ‘equipment.’ He offers his apprentices a whole new way to bear the weight of our humanity: with ease. At his side. Like two oxen in a field, tied shoulder to shoulder. With Jesus doing all the heavy lifting. At his pace. Slow, unhurried, present to the moment, full of love and joy and peace.”

If we’re willing to consider a new yoke – a fresh way to bear our responsibilities, not to escape from them – he has four suggestions in the final section. They are: silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. This section was by my favorite of the book – it was practical, challenging, and gave me lots of good ideas to try in my day-to-day. It also connected the dangers of our distracted age (of which I consider myself well aware) to my spiritual life, a connection I haven’t always made clearly:

“The noise of the modern world makes us deaf to the voice of God,” JMC writes, “drowning out the one input we most need. I mean, how do we have any kind of spiritual life at all if we can’t pay attention longer than a goldfish? How do you pray, read the Scriptures, sit under a teaching at church, or rest well on the Sabbath when every chance you get, you reach for the dopamine dispenser that is your phone?” This is why our relationships with our phones matter. It’s not only about our phones and how much we do or do not use them and what affect that has on us and the people around us. It matters because it degrades our ability to do things — really important things! — that have nothing at all to do with our phones.

Needless to say, I loved this book and will be grappling with it for quite some time. As I figure out what, exactly, it means for my own life, here is something that I’ve been turning over in my mind, and I wonder if you’ve been seeing the same.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been reading more and more about slowing and a “friction-full” (versus friction-less) life. About people choosing the analog, the stubbornly old-school, the path of most resistance. Washing your car in the driveway instead of taking it through the carwash. Walking the aisles of the grocery store instead of using InstaCart. Sitting in the cul-de-sac while your kids run around instead of running them to three different after-school activities. Shutting down Instagram for days or weeks at a time.

This mood seems a direct backlash to the rapid rise of convenience life, apps, and services that facilitate our hurry: businesses that will help us walk our dog or buy our groceries or deliver a new gadget from Amazon in 24 hours or watch something on-demand. JMC noticed it, too: “you will find more and more teachers of the way talking about the emerging practice of the spiritual discipline of ‘slowing’ as a protest against the new normal of hyperliving. Ortberg defined it as ‘cultivating patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in a position where we simply have to wait.'”

In the slowing chapter, JMC suggests 20 ideas for slowing down your overall pace of life, and takes some time to talk about each of them (they include driving the speed limit, getting into the literal slow lane, killing your TV, and setting times for email). I’m always game for a little social experiment and found this section thought-provoking and engaging. John, however, was generally not into it: for example, one of JMC’s suggestions is to deliberately choose the longest lane at the grocery store. He has what I think is a beautiful reason for it in the book, and it resonated with me. However, when I read it aloud to John, he thought it was kind of silly. His response: “why would I want to choose the slowest lane at the grocery store when it’s keeping me from getting home to my family/playing outside/relaxing at home/anything better than waiting in line?”

And that’s, I suppose, where I’ve landed. Modern conveniences aren’t bad or good. The slow lane is not bad or good. Inspired by JMC, the question I’ve been trying to ask myself, even in the seemingly-mundane, is “who am I becoming by making this choice?” Someone who has the space to hear from God? Someone who is more present and compassionate? Someone who indulges in curiosity and wonder? Someone who is able to sit quietly, still, and dig in the sandbox or read a book or have a conversation for an hour or two? The right choice could be ordering groceries so I can go on a walk with my kids, or it could be taking my kids to the grocery store and chatting our way through the aisles — but if I choose an answer that is as faithful as possible to what Jesus would do if he were me, then that’s the right question to be asking.

Anyway. That’s a lot of thoughts :) I acknowledge that this micro-trend of “slowing” and forgoing technological conveniences might just be an anomaly of my little social circle, but I’d love to hear what you think. Have you noticed this? Is it something you consider in your own life? Where do you fall on the convenience versus analog spectrum? As always, looking forward to hearing what you think!

Affiliate links are used in this post!

How I’m using Instagram right now

11 February 2020

As promised, I’m working on a longer post with my thoughts about The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a recent change in how I use Instagram – inspired by the book!

First though, can I just stop and say part of me dislikes even having this conversation? I am usually in the social media camp of “don’t make it into a big deal – just enjoy it for what it is and move on.” I can get frustrated with the sway it seems to hold over so many of us, and how we spend entirely too much time thinking about it. It’s not worth that much of our time and attention!!

On the other hand, social media is here to stay and I am certainly not perfect at keeping it in a healthy place, and so I wanted to share something that has really been helping me lately:

The first week of January, I switched to using Instagram once a day. During the work week, I sign into the app when I break for my lunch. I scroll through recent posts, I post anything to my feed or stories that I’d like to share, and I respond to any comments or messages that have come in. Depending on whether I’m posting anything that day or whether I’ve posted anything recently, this can take between 10-30 minutes. Once I’ve done everything I need to do, I sign out of my account – and that’s it until the next day!

At the beginning of the year, fresh off my PowerSheets prep work and fired up to tackle a pain point in a new way, I committed to trying this for one week. Like many of you, I was frustrated with myself for reaching for my phone too often during my work day. (And since there’s nothing that interesting on my phone except Instagram, this was definitely an Instagram problem!) For a long time, I’ve used the excuse of my work being online to check in multiple times a day, but no one was asking me to do that – at most, I’m being asked to maintain a nominal presence. That fresh 2020 feeling had me motivated to try something radical to shake me out of my bad habit.

Why just once a day? For me, a harder boundary is often easier than doing something “less.” By committing to a hard boundary of just once a day, I reduced the number of times I asked my brain to decide whether or not I was going to open the app. Decision fatigue is real, and I’d rather keep my willpower for other things!

The result of this one-week experiment: I loved it so much that I don’t ever foresee myself going back! Here are three positives I noticed after the first week:

No. 1: I was less distracted during my work day. I expected this one, and it delivered! At the beginning of the week, I’d find myself habitually reaching for my phone. Instead of spending a few seconds or minutes scrolling to see what was new each time (they add up!), I’d just put my phone back down once I remembered I was signed out and continue on with my work. (By the end of the week, I had broken that pick-up habit completely.)

Without these interruptions, I was able to sink deeper into work and felt more satisfaction with what I had accomplished each day. I don’t actually know if I was accomplishing any more, but my experience of my days felt better.

No. 2: I was much more likely to engage deeply with posts. Friends, I was putting the social back in social media! Whether leaving a comment or simply reading posts more deeply and gleaning what I could from them, my time on Instagram was suddenly more fun and meaningful. Just like a budget, I felt like I was directing my time and attention, and so I was free to enjoy the time I intentionally allocated to the app instead of guiltily scrolling as quickly as possible before getting back to what I was really supposed to be doing.

No. 3: I was using my “fringe hours” with more intention. The bookends at the beginning and end of my day (the 15-30 minutes before I pick my kiddos up or after I drop them off at preschool) were much more productive and joyful. Instead of chasing a rabbit trail on Instagram, I used that time to do something that made the rest of our day run smoother: starting dinner prep, running a quick errand, catching up on personal email. Knowing I used that time well instead of being frustrated with myself for wasting it put me in a great headspace to jump right into having fun once we were all back together.

Worth mentioning: even with only signing on once a day, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything! (I even caught most stories!) It’s also worth mentioning that I only follow about 50 people, so it’s reasonable for me to catch up on each and every post in just a few minutes.

Friends, all in all, this felt like an almost unfair trade: I gained several amazing benefits, and I gave up nothing in return. If you’re struggling with your experience with Instagram, I’d highly recommend giving this a try! What have you got to lose? :)

Now, I’d love to hear: are you tired of people talking about how they use social media (usually while on social media, ha), or do you crave resources and new ideas with how to engage in a healthy way? Have you found a way that works for you?

P.S. The approach I’ve described here refers to my public account. As many of you know, I also have a personal account for family. I still am on that account in the evening with no hard boundaries around my use, but since there are only 2-3 new posts a day from the people I follow, there’s no compulsion to check it often. Plus, at home in the evening it’s easy to keep my phone tucked away and out of arm’s reach. More here.