Why we love participating in research studies

25 January 2021

Here’s a funny little post for you! Beginning when June was about 9 months old, we’ve participated in research studies at our local universities several times a year. When I mention this to friends, I’m often met with both interest and confusion, so I thought I’d share a bit about it today! Let’s do a little Q&A…

No photos of the studies, so here’s baby June at her first Duke game!

What do you mean by research studies? We happen to live by three major research universities (UNC, Duke, and NC State) and all have thriving research labs with ongoing studies that need an ongoing stream of participants. The studies we’ve participated in have focused on infant and child development – things like social and emotional development and language acquisition.

What is it like to participate? In our experience, it has involved a child and parent pair visiting a research lab and completing a cognitive or behavioral assessment. The labs are very family-friendly (waiting rooms with lots of toys!) and the students have also been very friendly (and grateful for our participation). The whole experience usually takes about half an hour.

We start by filling out some demographic paperwork before moving onto the study itself, which usually takes no longer than 15 minutes. As an example, the latest study June participated in was investigating how young children understand and use the word “we,” so she was shown various groups of kids on a screen and asked questions about them. In the COVID era, we’ve even participated in studies via Zoom!

What else do I need to know? Most labs are looking for kids ages 6 months to 18 years, though individual studies will have narrower required age ranges. In our experience, the scheduling has been very flexible – they usually have slots from 9-6 or so, including Saturdays. We’ve been paid either a small gas allowance or something like a $10 Amazon gift card as a thank you, and the kids have gotten a “junior scientist” certificate and their choice of a small prize. June has always found it to be fun!

How can I participate? Shortly after our kids were born, we received information in the mail about joining the research registries of UNC and Duke, which is how we first got connected. Most of our studies have been through the Duke Child Studies Lab, so if you’re in the Triangle, you can learn more and sign up here! Otherwise, I’d Google the name of your nearest university and “child studies” or “research studies” and see what you can find!

Why bother? Great question! Research studies first came on my radar years ago when a dear friend, working in a research lab as a Yale graduate student, connected with my mom (a preschool director), to recruit kiddos for her lab’s studies. I remember her saying how tough it was to find people to participate, and thought it was neat that they could work together. When I heard about similar studies in our area, I remembered that conversation and liked the idea of being able to help.

In a larger sense, y’all know I love my parenting books – and my favorite ones are chock full of anecdotes and findings from studies just like the ones we’ve participated in. Our individual 15-minute bit might seem small in the grand scheme of things, but it’s part of building a better understanding of behavior and development. Just like democracy, it turns out we all have a role to play in the scientific process! :)

Also, though my kids have only a limited understanding of what they’re doing at the moment, I think these visits will be a neat vehicle to talk to them about research, science, college, our brains, careers, etc. as they get older.

I’d love to hear: have you ever participated in a research study? As the researcher or participant, by yourself or with your child? Have I inspired you to look into options in your area? :)

Our Valentine’s Day mailbox

18 January 2021

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, friends! We’ll be celebrating, as has become our custom, with MLK’s favorite meal – an easy access point to talk about his legacy as a family. I’ve found for holidays like this, simply asking, “do you know why you have school off today?” is a helpful beginning to a conversation, too.

I’m much more likely to share about how we celebrated an occasion after the fact rather than in advance of it (because then I can report back with real photos and tips!), but thinking ahead to another holiday, I thought it might be fun to let you in on some of my Valentine’s Day preparations for this year. We’re trying something new!

After bringing home a sweet pink mailbox ($5!!) from a work photo shoot, it was begging to be the centerpiece of our love-day celebrations. Since our Advent calendar doesn’t involve little treats or prizes (just adorable sewn ornaments), and we don’t do Elf on the Shelf, I figured I should have the creative juice to make this happen, ha! The plan is to put the mailbox in a place of honor at the kitchen table, and tuck something inside for the kids to discover each morning. Here are the ideas I have so far (many free or very cheap!).

The absolute cutest Valentine’s Day charcuterie board, created by my friend Kayte!

— New pajamas. The biggest splurge! I got these heart construction ones for Shep and these adorable gingham ones for June.
— A heart-shaped waffle maker (the other splurge at $10!). I haven’t been tempted by any other shaped waffle maker, even as they’ve made the influencer rounds over the last few holidays, but the idea of heart waffles is just too sweet.
— A handwritten love note for each kiddo
— A special after-school or lunchbox snack, like frosted animal crackers
— The beginnings of a heart scavenger hunt. I’m picturing cutting out a bunch of pink and red hearts, taping them up around the house, and then letting Shep find the red ones and June the pink. I’ll put one of each heart in the mailbox to kick things off.
— A muffin box mix and fun cupcake liners (already own!)
— The Jesus Storybook Bible marked to a story about love
— The heart bowls I mentioned. After they open the mailbox, we’ll put their cereal in them that morning!
— Juice boxes. I never buy them, so this will be a fun accompaniment to an after-school snack!
— A new Valentine’s Day book from the library
— Printed off coloring pages from the internets (this one, these ones, this one, and these ones are cute!)
— A bath bomb. As mentioned before, I find the most cost-effective way to go is this set of 12, which I can parcel out for occasions as needed. They’ve never stained our tub and make great colors!
— Supplies to make heart garlands for their rooms (just craft supplies we already own!)
— A game. Literally any game we own (basically, an invitation to play together :))
— A fancy hot chocolate mix – we bought it from a new local food store in our downtown a few weeks ago, but haven’t tried it yet. We’ll do cups in front of the fire after school! Swiss Miss packets would be just as exciting, ha.
— A note to watch a show as an after-school treat. Lots of our favorites, like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Pete the Cat, have Valentine’s Day specials.
— Candy or chocolate, of course!

If you have a fun idea to share, either from an Advent calendar or other similar undertaking, I’d love to hear! Whether you try this idea or not, I hope it encourages you to get creative with what you have, and to remember what I’m preaching to myself: kids get SO excited about the simplest things, and what they want most is my (and John’s) time and attention. I’ve heard it said that love is spelled T-I-M-E to kids, and that’s what I’ve tried to capture with our February fun.

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January 2021 goals

13 January 2021

Whew! After finally posting my 2021 goals, my blog comments up and quit on the same day!! If you had somanythoughts you were bursting to share but couldn’t, feel free to head over there now to do so, ha! I always LOVE hearing from y’all.

As I said in that post, this is where it gets good – these monthly posts where I break down my goals, take little steps forward on the things that matter to me, and hold myself accountable (with your help!). Even though we’re about halfway through the month, there’s still plenty of time of time to take action :)

A few housekeeping reminders here at the beginning of the year: if you’d like to get an email every time there’s a new EFM post, you can sign up for that here. If you’re ever searching for something I’ve mentioned loving in a past goals post, you can find it here. And if you’re looking for my Amazon shop (mostly favorite books and kid stuff!), you can find that here! Now, onto the goals…

On my calendar:
— Celebrating our 16th dativersary! Hoping we can go out for dinner if we have a warm enough evening.
— A hike with friends!

What I’m loving right now:
— Received via the Coffee & Crumbs newsletter, this essay on “our shared unsharing” hit home for me. It reflects a lot of what I’ve felt in the last year about sharing (or not) on Instagram, and what I’ve noticed about trends on the platform. The author’s parallel experience of bringing her love for magazines and storytelling to IG also felt very familiar! Worth a read.
— I’ve followed NieNie off and on since her accident 12+ years ago, but resubscribed to her blog a few months ago when I realized she now lives in the next town over! I have really loved watching the intentional way she shapes her family culture (and celebrates all the things). It’s so rare to find blogs featuring families that are out of the preschool/elementary years!
— Gosh, Target has killed it with their Valentine’s Day collection yet again. This mailbox ($5!) will play a key role in our February plans, and I also picked up one of these pale pink melamine bowls for each member of our family. (And the heart plates!! So cute!) We’ll use them year-round. (Also, not Valentine’s Day related, but I snagged these seagull swim trunks for Shep in the same order. Again, so cute!)

What I read in December:
The Handmaid and the Carpenter | A short little book bringing Mary and Joseph’s story to life. Elizabeth Berg is a favorite author of mine and it was a treat to hear her take on this famous story!
The Great Alone | One of my favorites from the year! Though there is tragedy and darkness woven throughout, it’s an epic, engrossing tale that ends on a bright note. Love, love, love.
Time to Parent | I’m going to file this one under “good for her, not for me.” I agreed with most of her ideas about organizing our time and actions as parents, and there were some gems tucked in, but I’d say this book was a 101 level, and time organization is probably one of the things I’m better at in life. If you’re struggling to find time for all of your priorities as a parent, I think this would be a great read!
HRH: So Many Thoughts About Royal Style | I found her writing a little chatty (Can you imagine? Don’t you think?) but it’s a fun read (and totally got us back into The Crown!).
Make Something Good Today | I had the joy of reading Erin’s daily blog that inspired this book long before HGTV found her and Ben. Her writing was something special back then, and it shines here, too. I don’t think you need to care at all about their show to enjoy this book, though, of course, if you do, you’ll probably like it even more!

My reading list for 2021, if you’d like to follow along!

January goals:
— Research all school options for June. We are pretty sure we know what we’re going with, but the Enneagram 5 in me needs to know everything has been considered, and there’s a registration deadline this month. EEK!
— Watch the Theolaby bonus materials with John. We bought the box set as part of the kids’ Christmas presents, and it came with some videos from Jennie and friends!
— Print our favorite Instagram photos from 2020
— Finish culling and sorting 2020 photos
— Write our sweet girl a note for her fifth birthday (continuing a tradition)
— Complete her birthday interview
— Prep for Valentine’s Day fun
— Focus on small tweaks and refreshes in our foyer, including a new light fixture

As a reminder, many of these are drawn from my 2021 goals!

I’d love to hear: how do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Any fun ideas to share? Did anything resonate with you from the shared unsharing piece? :)

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2021 Goals

11 January 2021

This is by far the latest I’ve ever published a yearly goals post.

It’s funny – a few years ago, I felt pressure to post my goals on January 1, on the dot, as if no one would be interested in them on the 2nd. Thankfully, I no longer feel that way (and I know that, wonderful people you are, you’re still interested in what I have to share, even a few days later than you expect!).

As always, I’ve been faithfully engaged in the process of reviewing, evaluating, and dreaming with the help of my PowerSheets. I feel quite clear about the year ahead, but when it came time to write my actual goals and share them with you, I stalled. They felt disjointed, and overly complicated.

That hit me hard, because I loved my 2020 goals. Though I certainly had to pivot on my execution as the year progressed, I was passionate about each one, loved how they moved me forward in the big picture, and pleased with how they turned out. It turns out 2020 goals are a tough act to follow, for me!

After stewing and complaining to John all last week (and then getting derailed again by my anger and sadness over Wednesday’s events), I sat down this weekend determined. I rewrote and laid things out as plainly as possible. And I remembered what we always tell people at Cultivate, which apparently I needed to be reminded of, too: you’re allowed to change course throughout the year. Your goals don’t have to be perfect. What matters is forward movement in the right direction.

I do believe these goals are moving me in the right direction, and I’m grateful to share them with you today – because sharing here is one of the key factors in the progress I’ve made on the things that matter so much to me, year after year. As always, thank you for being here, friends!

1. Make room for God’s presence by reading the Bible. I have a two-part faith goal this year, inspired by a sermon I listened to in December. In it, Darren outlined three ways to cultivate defiant joy as a Christian, inspired by Philippians 4:4-8 (because, as he said, the only people experiencing joy in this season are those cultivating defiant joy). They are: give thanks, because gratitude uncovers joy; make room for God’s presence through time in the Word, prayer, and worship; and set joy before you (by focusing on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy).

When I am regularly in the Word, I am abiding in Him and better able to exhibit the fruits of the spirit as a wife, mom, friend, family member, neighbor, writer, etc. For this goal, I’ve started with a simple commitment to “Word before words,” or reading my Bible each night before I pick up my current fiction or non-fiction read. Excited to dig into and apply Women of the Word in Q1, too!

2. Set joy before us. This is part two! There are so (SO) many things vying for our attention these days, and I want to thoughtfully direct my eyes, heart, and effort to what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I’m starting by printing out the above to post on our fridge as a reminder. Though this goal might look like removing some things from my life (The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry has some great thoughts on this), I am most excited to add lovely and excellent FUN in, possibly including hosting the meal planning potluck I dreamed up last year (sometime in 2021??), baking something with June every week from her new cookbook (we’re three weeks strong so far!), holiday fun (excited about my plan for Valentine’s Day), and adventures big and small.

3. Do those things we’ve always wanted to do for our home. After some ambivalence, we are at a place where we feel settled in this home for the next few years at least. If there are upgrades or changes we’d like to make, I’d like to do them now, when we can enjoy them, rather than in a rush before putting the house on the market for someone else to enjoy! Y’all know I am the world’s SLOWEST decision maker and shaker when it comes to our home, and in many cases, I’ve known for YEARS the changes I’d like to make. This year, I’d like to do those things. For most rooms, it’s not much!

4. Refresh our home. After 8 years of life with the Thomas family (including welcoming two kids!), our home is showing some wear and tear. There are lots of small, boring projects (paint touch-ups, Magic Eraser work, carpet cleaning, stain removal, caulk repairs, etc.) that would make our space sparkle like the day we bought it. In tandem with goal no. 3, we’ll go room-by-room to address any little refreshes that will help our home look and feel loved. This might be the most boring goal I’ve ever set in my life, buuuuuut… I hope it will be satisfying? Ha!

5. Build our family culture as we transition to an elementary-school family. Told you a version of this goal would be on most lists for the foreseeable future! :) This is my catch-all goal to remind myself to focus on small ways to love my family well, intentionally nurture the character traits that are important to us, and make our home the most joyful, loving place to be. This year, I expect to focus on rhythms and routines throughout the year as we adjust to having a kindergartner, including having fun with our kiddo and grown-up dates; connecting more regularly with faraway family; possibly implementing a family economy for June; and finding new ways to teach our kids about God.

6. Prioritize memory keeping. This is a bit of a carry-over goal from 2020, as I made great progress on our Advent calendar and family albums last year. Setting this goal will help me prioritize finishing the calendar, completing our second and third albums, and keeping up the rhythms of things like yearly videos and photo organization. We also plan to do a few family photo sessions this year, and we all know those take considerable effort to orchestrate!

7. Encourage each other to grow strong through cycling, strength workouts, and stretching. Something that became very clear last year is that in terms of exercise, John and I do best when we feed off each other’s energy (unlike our Bible reading goal, which is a better individual pursuit for us). The foundation of cycling, strength workouts, and stretching we set last year has been so fun to pursue together, and I’m excited to keep it up in 2021. Knowing it will look different at different points in the year, I’ll be setting monthly goals to follow through!

8. Make a book of the first 10 years of EFM. While I place tremendous value on sharing here with friends near and far (and LOVE hearing from you when a post touches you – truly, one of my favorite things!), I have long thought of this place as a repository of stories, memories, and wisdom for my children. I’d like to create a physical book for them of the best posts from the first ten years of my writing here (I’m in year 13 now!).

Whew!! With these out in the world, I feel like I can finally move into 2021 now, ha! As I struggled an unusual amount with my goals this year, talking with dear goal-setting friends and reading others’ thoughtful posts was so helpful and encouraging to me. If you are a goal setter, I can’t recommend surrounding yourself with a likeminded community enough, especially one that shares regular updates! A few of my favorites and their 2021 goals: Lisa, Rhi, Lara, Nancy, Val, Shay, Jen, and Janssen. (Have another goal setter whose blog you love to follow? I’d love to hear about her!)

I’ll be back with my January goals post tomorrow, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you have planned for 2021. Have you set goals yet? I’d truly love to hear, so please drop a note in the comments! I can’t wait to cheer you on.

P.S. Still working on my vision board for the year – stay tuned!