6 small changes I’m glad I made

21 February 2024

Inspired by a recent Lazy Genius podcast episode, I thought we could chat today about a few small changes I’ve made recently that are bringing me outsize joy. To be clear, these are inexpensive, small, one-time changes, not necessarily steps on the way to a bigger change (though, of course, even small changes are always leading us somewhere!).

Not many of Kendra’s examples could be copy and pasted into my life, and I’m guessing mine wouldn’t fit exactly into your life, either — but hearing her changes immediately got my wheels turning, and I hope mine can do the same for you!

1. We bought a giant umbrella. As many of you know, we walk or ride bikes to elementary school each day. For the last few years, we’ve grabbed one of a handful of normal-sized umbrellas (each in various states of disrepair) on rainy days, then did our best to fit a grown-up, child, and backpack underneath.

Then! John bought this absolutely enormous golf umbrella a few months ago, and everyone can fit under with ease. Rainy days are positively luxurious now.

2. I leave ten minutes early for preschool pickup instead of five. I used to brag that it took three minutes to go door-to-door from our home to our two younger kids’ preschool, and while on the best of days that might be true, five minutes is a far more realistic average. Plus, they’ve changed a light pattern between here and there in the last year, and traffic has generally picked up on this particular stretch of road.

All this to say — I often made it in time leaving five minutes before pickup, but it was stressful. A few months ago, I committed to walking out the door with ten minutes on the clock, and it is the easiest-breeziest feeling to know I will arrive with time to spare.

(I wrote about this more generally a bit in my 2023 best-of recap!)

3. I set my alarm ten minutes earlier. I’m an avowed snoozer — I do not like to get out of bed at the first chime of my alarm. While I don’t think there’s a moral component to snoozing or not, it can put a kink in my morning routine.

Recently, I had the somewhat brilliant realization that while it would not matter to my body or brain if my alarm went off at 7:20 versus 7:30, I would have effectively moved my start time up by ten minutes as long as I committed to a single snooze. So I did, and it worked! Friends, you would not believe the difference ten extra minutes has made in my morning routine — I think I’m going to write a separate post about it, because this and a few other tiny changes have really added up.

4. I say yes every time John asks me to go on a midday walk. John and I both work from home three days a week. On those days, we’ll often go for a brisk 13-minute walk right after lunch. (Yes, we’ve got our normal loop down to a science!) Some days, though, I’d be in the middle of a task, or just feeling behind, and I’d beg off.

No more. Now, I always say yes. Nothing in my job is so urgent that it can’t wait 15 minutes, and my days are greatly improved by getting outside in the sunshine with the person I love most.

5. I listen to a podcast while making kids’ lunches in the evening. I have been known to grumble about how I don’t have enough time to keep up with the podcasts I subscribe to (especially now that I don’t commute to work). In an inspired application of the behavioral intervention temptation bundling (basically, combining something you have to do with something you want to do), I decided to take the extra minute to pair and pop in my earbuds before pulling out the lunchboxes each evening as I try to develop this habit. Catching up on Coffee and Crumbs, Risen Motherhood, or Honestly makes this somewhat-tedious 15 minutes something I look forward to.

6. I park far away. While I’ve been a default-stairs gal for awhile (my OB’s office was on the third floor and I took great pride in the fact that I never took the elevator through all three pregnancies, ha!), I’ve recently recommitted to parking in the back corner of the lot. Not always (not at night, not when I’m crunched for time, you know the drill), but when it’s at all reasonable, I do it. Every little bit of activity throughout the day helps! Plus, I kind of delight in making the “weird” and “slow living” choice :)

I tossed this question out to the Articles Club gals on our group chat and thought it could be fun to share a few of their answers, too! Here we go…

I have duplicate cleaning supplies on both levels of our house, which means our bathrooms stay much cleaner… though cleaning a bathroom still doesn’t make me happy. — Pressley

I plan out all my Peloton workouts on Monday and “schedule” them all, down to the exact class, so I don’t have to think about it the rest of the week. — Chelsey

We moved our socks to our dining room buffet. So much easier than walking back upstairs when we need to get out the door! — Ginna

On Sunday afternoons one of us now makes lunches for all four of us (two parents, two kids) for Monday and Tuesday. Not having to make a lunch on Monday evening delights me every single week! — Bethany

I keep a “gifts” note on my phone with gift ideas for… myself! My mind used to go blank when someone asked me but now I can just pull it up. — Chelsey

We bought giant containers of ranch and taco seasoning – no more worrying if we have a little packet in the pantry! — Libby

I taped a note by the front door of essentials we have to have when we leave the house on a weekday morning. (Me = phone, laptop, lunch; son = lunch, book bag with folder, water bottle; daughter = bottles, low supplies). Simple but effective! — Kelly

I’d love to hear: what small changes have you made recently that have made a difference? Please join in in the comments!

P.S. If you like this post, it reminded me of this one about my “decide once” list (also inspired by Kendra!), this one on low-screen living cues around our home, and this one on things I don’t do (written in 2018 – I think it’s time for an update!).


14 February 2024

The last of my grandparents passed away at the end of January, and on this day of love, I’d be honored to tell you a little bit about her.

Some of you, actually, may already be acquainted: I was lucky enough to feature her in my Marvelous Mama series at the age of 90, where she charmed many readers by recalling the August night she was ready to hand off her would-not-stop-crying baby to any random passerby :)

That interview also gave me one of the simplest and dearest nuggets that I have tucked close to my mothering heart for the last eight years. Best tip for a new parent? I asked. Enjoy being a mother, she said.

That’s it.

Enjoy being a mother.

Not sleep training advice or picky eater advice or how best to think about balancing independence and safety or how to help with homework while instilling responsibility or how to balance work and home duties.

Also, not the stinging, “cherish each moment, the years go by so fast!” admonishment, well-intentioned but with embedded heartbreak.

No — here and now, just enjoy what you have. Enjoy who you are and whose you are and the role you get to fill.

To me, the simplicity of this invitation stops the blustering parental advice machine in its tracks. It quiets to the truth: This is my life. (I am a mother.) These are my kids. (I am their mother.) These are the people I have been given to care for and teach and discipline and feed and listen to and read to and tuck in and… enjoy. In all of that and more, it’s my choice whether I will enjoy.

And since this interview, which came when June was in her first year of life, I have (imperfectly, but faithfully). I wrote about it on June’s first birthday; I’ve thought about it daily. I speak it over myself like a prayer.

And I have had a model in my grandmother, because from what I can tell, she did enjoy being a mother. In fact, she seemed to enjoy every aspect of her life.

This is not because it was easy.

Bang was born in 1926, a true Depression-era baby. After a wealthy childhood (her family had a maid!), she rolled up her sleeves and moved to a dairy farm in Connecticut, raising six children with her husband. She patched clothes and devised frugal meals to feed a crowd. Her career path, though winding, always involved helping those in need: she worked with the Red Cross, for the Department of Children and Families, as a teacher, and with special needs kids. She served on many boards and committees and stepped into countless volunteer roles. Most painfully, she lost her beloved 32-year-old daughter to a drunk driver.

My grandparents at their 50th anniversary party

But Bang would tell you she had a wonderful life. She was married for over fifty years. She continued the legacy of a beautiful and historic family farm (the oldest continuously-working family farm in Connecticut, in fact). Her six children gave her seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, all of whom adored her. Until she needed nursing care at the end, she never lived more than a mile from at least one of her children. She was surrounded by loving community at every stage of her life, from her church, to her farming extension, to regional choruses, her extended family, and her island community in Maine. She did work that mattered. She spent time in the sunshine every day.

Playing on the beach in Maine while pregnant with Shep

Her worst offense? Trying to insert herself into every conversation within earshot (simply to listen – she was not one to give unwelcome advice). She had a ready smile and a generous, head-thrown-back laugh. She delighted in the people around her and was content to simply be near her family, even if she couldn’t follow our conversations as closely in the last few years.

Her Depression-era upbringing made for some of her most memorable characteristics. She didn’t want anything to go to waste, obviously, so she indulged in all the usual practices like folding wrapping paper and picking turkey carcasses to the bone. Her home was a maze of books to be donated and stacks of china a grandchild might one day want to have.

This actually led to an unusual family tradition I remember quite fondly. For several years, Bang provided all of the gifts for our extended-family Yankee Swap — by way of my aunts: they selected random items from her house and wrapped them for the exchange, seeing it as a way to remove a few items from the house in a way that Bang would accept. Some years you got a brand-new set of steak knives, sometimes you got an oven mitt imprinted with a local realtor’s contact info.

Family photos on the steps at our cottage in Maine, decades apart (in the top photo, my Dad is in yellow and Bang is in pink)

If there’s one tradition that sums Bang up, though, it’s probably this: at every holiday, she set a very long table (even when the table wasn’t her own). Our family has its share of glue at the seams, but that didn’t phase her. For years, our Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter dinner table might include her children, their spouses, and her grandchildren, yes, but also her children’s ex-wives, their new husbands, and various step-children. Everyone was not only welcome, but personally invited and expected to show up. Most people wouldn’t even think to extend the invitation, or if they did, would worry about awkwardness ensuing. That was not a concern for Bang, and her guileless, sunny personality made everyone feel welcome. Her love for people was unconditional.

So — there is clearly much to love, and much to emulate, here. In 2016, I wrote that “I would be thrilled to be just like her when I turn 90,” and I still feel that way. So the important question for me, now, is this: how can my life, in my home and in my 2024 setting, look more like hers? How can I, with my own circumstances and personality and responsibilities, be more like her? Our contexts are different, yes, but the direction to move in is the same, I think:

Love God.

Love and honor my husband.

Work on things that matter. Aim to help the least of these, no matter my job description.

Value extended family. Gather with them. See each imperfect person as the image bearer they are, and show obvious delight in them.

Focus on tending my mind and heart more than my looks and wardrobe. Think less about what I wear and how I look. Do more crossword puzzles.

Cherish simplicity. Be easy to delight.

Commit, and then show up. Give my best to help my church, schools, and local circles thrive. Act as a “pillar of the community” would.

Remember and honor the past. Tell family stories, even the worn-out ones everyone knows by heart.

Be “everyday active.” Build a life that’s as outside and active as possible.

Give generously and relationally. Don’t be afraid to see people up close, to draw near to them in their messiness and suffering.

Sing loudly and often. Laugh loudly and often.

And just try to enjoy it all.

Dancing with my Dad at my wedding

Bang lived a wonderful life. She is with Jesus, my grandfather, and her beloved daughter, whom she has waited so long to be reunited with (truly, the only part of this post that makes me tear up as I write it). She is no longer suffering, and she can listen in on all of our conversations with perfect clarity :)

Thank you, Bang, for everything. And thank you, friends, for letting me share. xo

February 2024 goals

6 February 2024

Maybe due to my nature, or maybe due to my job, I love January — full stop. You can keep your memes about how it’s 1,000 days long; I’ll keep it rolling as long as possible. And this January seemed like an especially January January for me. John and I laid some foundations for the year ahead (a fresh budget, vacation plans), I dug in deep on a big project and saw some early fruit, and I introduced some tiny new habits that have already made a big difference. How can you not love January, friends?!

But all good things must come to an end – on to February!

On my calendar:
— I was asked to be a mentor in a freshmen women’s leadership program at my alma mater this semester and was matched with a gal who seems just lovely. We have our first monthly call this week!
— The Divine Consign kids consignment sale. I visited in the fall for the first time and – dare I say it – it *may* have had a better selection than my beloved Hayes Barton. Certainly for older kids!
— My birthday! It falls on a Wednesday this year, which is one of my weekdays off. After putting my nose to the grindstone on these days all January, I’m giving myself the gift of a purely fun day during the kids’ school hours. I’ll volunteer in June’s classroom to start things off (my usual weekly slot), then might take myself to a few thrift shops (I’ve been wanting to visit Pigfish Lane), eat lunch out (maybe with friends?!), and who knows what else? I’m excited.

What I’m loving right now (friend edition!):
— My friend Cherith’s incredibly-helpful small business planner, which is like a wise friend to hold your hand as you create a business plan step-by-step. I had the joy of editing it at several steps in the production process, and it’s comprehensive and delightful!
The Bear’s “Forks”. I was already planning to recommend this standalone episode (it’s the only one of the show I’ve seen!), and then my friend Pressley went and wrote this essay that perfectly encapsulates its perfection. You truly can watch it even if you know nothing about the show, and I recommend you do.
Bumble Brews Play Cafe in Raleigh. My friend Libby opened this darling space in December with her husband, and the Articles Club gals feel like we’ve been along for the small business ride – not for the faint of heart! Stop by for a delicious warm beverage and a cozy space to play with your little one (they recommend 0-6!).

Okay — one more! (And not exactly a BFF but a gal can dream.)

— The Rifle Paper Co capsule collection at Target! Beautiful! I snagged this set of boxes in Juniper Forest and a planter. Considering stocking several more of the mini planters in different patterns, as I think they’d be great for the base of teacher gifts in the future!

As a reminder, you can find allll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!

What you’re loving right now:

This is where I highlight a few items here that have been popular in the last month with fellow readers, based on my analytics. Here’s hoping this will help you find something you’ll love!

— Y’all! The Articles Club Guide was a favorite from January! Thank you for being excited alongside us for our little niche slice of joy :)
— The sticky mini easel pad we use for Team Thomas Tuesdays
— The pink mailbox we use for Valentine’s Day funthis one is very similar
Outlive, a book that’s playing a central role in one of my 2024 goals
The Anxious Generation, a book we’ve preordered x 3 (how happy am I that two of the top five are books?)

Last month on The Connected Family:

Adding a segment to round up the previous month’s posts on TCF! So many of you have subscribed (thank you!), but if you haven’t, and a conversation about kids, technology, and family culture sounds meaningful for you, I’d love for you to join us.

Welcome to The Connected Family! | Why me, and what I hope we can do together.
Grown-Up Tech Goals for a New Year | Small changes and an unfortunate truth.
The 2024 TCF Annual Screen Report | Stats, struggles, and wins for each member of the family.
All About Team Thomas Tuesday | What it is, why I love it, and all of our topics (and resources used) so far.

What I read in January:

This was an unusual month for reading! I’m stretching several books (The Great Dechurching, Outlive, and Made for People) over a longer span for various reasons, and so only have a few to report on in full. They are:

The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish | I continue to be wowed and delighted by how Karina Yan Glaser tackles harder topics for elementary kids with warmth, gentleness, and discernment. A favorite series for sure.
The Armor of Light | Another excellent installment of the epic Kingsbridge series! Made me want to go back and read the original – maybe this summer :)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | June received the illustrated second installment for her eighth birthday and we whizzed through it together.

My reading list for 2024, if you’d like to follow along!

Revisiting my January goals:
Kick off The Connected Family well with four weekly posts (Yes! Exceeded my expectations in every way and I’m super grateful. I was honored to earn a little orange check mark in the last week of the month, which marks a Substack bestselling publication. Thank you, thank you, thank you again!)
Write ahead to complete drafts of February’s TCF posts (I did not get quite as far as I was hoping, but I did complete drafts of three (out of five) posts for the month!)
Complete at least 85 hours of deep work (Whew, this one kicked my tail! A learning curve for sure. I chose 85 because it’s roughly 1000 / 12, but I fell decidedly short for various reasons and amassed 35. Adjusting for February!)
Send an inquiry to our top builder candidate (Inquiry sent and we also had an initial meeting. We are waiting to hear back from him on next steps but we have a lot to consider.)
Begin the Bible Recap reading plan (Yes, indeed! On track and it has been great so far! We listen together while we’re getting ready for bed.)
Read the first three chapters of Outlive (Done! This was greatly helped by a tip from Lara that the audiobook is available on Spotify Premium, which we already pay for.)
Take the Birds and Bees course (We set a date in February!)
Prep for our Valentines mailbox (Underway! It’s been fun to come up with a few new ideas this year, like making wax paper crayon suncatchers, trying out the pasta maker we were gifted and have never used (eep), and a Poppin kit from HMart.)

February goals:
— Reach out to an upholsterer and/or visit a showroom for goal no. 1
— Rehab and paint June’s new (old) desk, which my parents drove down from their home in Connecticut. She chose Purple Cream for the color :)
— Finalize the secrets + swag for the AC retreat
— Complete at least 60 hours of deep work (which works out to about 3 hours for every weekday in February, with a little grace built in)
— Write one module of the TCF course
— Read chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Outlive
— Take the Birds & Bees course with John

As a reminder, many of these are drawn from my 2024 goals!

Next week’s post is a dear and personal one for me… looking forward to sharing it with you. Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts on January — or anything else you’d like to chat about!

Affiliate links are used in this post!

An Extended Family Trip to the Florida Keys

31 January 2024

You may recall that one of my informal “resolutions” for 2023 was chronicling our trips on EFM within a month of returning home. I’m happy to say that I stuck to it, including for the Articles Club retreat, our road trip to Serenbe and Watercolor, weekend trips to the Biltmore and Beaufort, our anniversary weekend in Charleston, and a long weekend in Boone. It’s a resolution I’m carrying into 2024, so expect more prompt travelogues coming your way in the months to come :)

But before we kick off 2024 travel, there’s one trip from 2023 I have yet to chronicle: Thanksgiving week in the Florida Keys with my extended family. I’d love to share a few photos and details, if you’d like to see!

Like last year’s trip to Watercolor, this Thanksgiving trip was in honor of a major wedding anniversary for one of our parents – in this case, my parents’ 40th (albeit two years delayed!). They graciously paid for most of the trip, and once we jointly decided on the Florida Keys as our destination, they handed over the reins to John to plan the details.

This was an honor and something he was happy to do (travel planning is one of his hobbies!), but it was also intimidating! Though my family travels a well-worn groove to Maine each year, we haven’t done much other group travel. Within our numbers we have different accommodation, budget, and activities preferences, and so it was nerve-wracking for John to feel he was making decisions for a varied group, for a destination we’d never been to, and for an expensive (!) and milestone trip like this.

But of course, he did an amazing job. My expectations for the trip as a whole were exceeded and I think it’s safe to say everyone had a great time.

Where We Stayed in the Florida Keys:

After researching the many (many!) towns that make up the Florida Keys, we settled on Marathon for our home base. We were looking for cottage-style accommodations (versus hotel rooms), which limited our options. We ultimately decided on two side-by-side beach houses at Tranquility Bay in Marathon and were very pleased with the decision.

The beach houses each had a full kitchen, a dining room table, a living room area, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and upper and lower porches. The upper porches had expansive views of the ocean and the lower porches had wide steps down to a grassy lawn that led to the beach and pool.

Getting to the Florida Keys:

Since we were joining up from various points in the country, getting to the Florida Keys was an adventure in itself. We opted to meet up in Fort Lauderdale on the Sunday before Thanksgiving before caravanning down to Marathon the next day. My sister and her family drove from Charlotte, and the rest of us flew into FLL from our respective home airports: Nashville, Raleigh, and Hartford.

We rented an SUV at the airport and got everyone to the Pelican Grand Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, where we were staying the night. We had plenty of time to eat lunch by the pool, wade in the waves on the wide beach, and have an outdoor dinner that night along the canal at Casa Sensei.

We chose the Pelican Grand because it had suites, which is always helpful for traveling with kids, and because it was right on the ocean with a pool and lazy river. We ate breakfast the next morning in their restaurant, which was convenient and yummy, but, you know, expensive :)

After breakfast we packed up and drove about an hour to Gator Park in the Florida Everglades – another National Park to check off our list!

We bought tickets (no reservations required) for an airboat tour of the Everglades and it was… perfect. And perfectly hilarious. Our boat captain was straight out of central casting – everything you could hope for in a gator guide. He had a deep, gravely voice, skin browned from years in the sun, and personal names for all the gators. He expertly guided us through the reedy channels and opened the throttle as we skimmed over the marsh grasses. We saw LOTS of gators, many swimming right next to the boat. Annie slept through the whole thing :)

Things to Do in the Florida Keys:

After the gator tour and a quick lunch, we drove the remaining 2.5 hours south to Marathon for our next four days in the Keys. We worked hard to create an itinerary that reflected everyone’s interests, and it paid off – we pretty much stuck to it!

After checking in on Monday around 5pm, we headed to dinner on-site at the Butterfly Cafe, Tranquility Bay’s nicer restaurant. We ate outside on the porch at a verrrrry long table, and it was delightful.

The next day (Tuesday) we spent the morning moving between the pool and the beach, where there was cornhole, a giant chessboard, and a volleyball net. We ate lunch on the beach, too, at TJ’s, the resort’s other (more casual) on-property restaurant.

This was a very relaxed day — Annie napped at the house in the afternoon, and the rest of us read, played games, visited the beach, chatted, and swam in the pool. Kim, John, and I even made it to Tranquility Bay’s gym, which was actually really fun to do together :)

For dinner we headed to Burdine’s Waterfront, a casual bar and grill at a marina where we had hush puppies, cheeseburgers, shrimp burgers, key lime pie, and delicious fries — and a gorgeous sunset! We finished the evening with a round of mini golf and games back at the house.

The next day (Wednesday) was our day trip to Key West! I was a little unsure of what to expect because, you know, Key West is known for being kooky, but it was a great day. We started by touring the West Martello Gardens and Fort. The botanical garden is on the site of a former Civil War fort; admission is free and it’s beautiful.

We then drove a short distance to the Truman Waterfront Park, home to the US Coast Guard cutter Ingham, now a floating maritime museum.

As many of you know, my Dad was an officer in the Coast Guard for most of my life, and even served on the Ingham briefly during the Mariel boatlift. It was incredibly cool and meaningful to get to tour it with my kids and to share this important part of our family’s life, and I can only imagine how special it was for my Dad to get to do it with all his grandkids.

After about an hour and a half on the ship, we walked over to Kaya Island Eats for a late lunch. Fish tacos under a shade canopy hit the spot.

While we considered taking a photo with the famous Southernmost Point Buoy, the line was insane – so we hopped back in the car for the hourlong drive back to Marathon, which all of the kids took as an opportunity to nap. Once home, some of us went in the pool and we made tacos for dinner at the house.

The next day was Thursday – Thanksgiving! And what an unusual Thanksgiving it was :) We watched a bit of the parade in the morning, then set off for a kayak adventure through the mangroves of Boot Key (we booked our rentals through Key Kayak).

It was incredible! We saw dolphins, leaping manta rays, and manatees so close we could touch them (!!!) while on our two-hour tour. (For those wondering, I had Annie and June in one tandem kayak and John and Shep were in the other, while the rest of the fam took either tandems or singles.)

We headed back to the house to rinse off or hop in the pool while some of the grown-ups got Thanksgiving dinner ready. We had opted to order a meal from Publix catering, and while we were all pleasantly surprised at the quality and tastiness, it was more challenging than we expected to get everything warm and on the table at once. (Little things like not having tin foil tripped us up!) But we did it, and we were more than thankful to get to celebrate together :)

We closed out the day by catching the sunset from Seven-Mile Bridge, a Florida Keys classic if there ever was one, and with a performance by the kids of their original song about my parents – set to the tune of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, which was their wedding song. John’s credited on the liner notes as a co-lyricist :)

On our last full day in the Keys we had yet another very special adventure: a dolphin encounter at the Dolphin Research Center! Needless to say, the kids were incredibly excited about this and I don’t blame them: this was something I desperately wanted to do when I was their age. (As an aside, granting my kids a wish that went unfulfilled in my child is an interesting experience: there’s joy and delight in doing it, yes, but it can also bring up worries about “spoiling” them or whether they’ll truly appreciate what they’re being given. But I DIGRESS.)

For both our kids and the kids inside us, this was a delightful excursion. We got to get in the water with the dolphins, touch them, lead them in skills, hold hoops for them to swim to, watch them leap out of the water, and learn more about the center and the research and rehabilitation they do. Very, very cool. We had lunch at Island Fish Co (good, but not my favorite), then headed back to Tranquility Bay for naps and more dips in the pool. Our last meal was a spaghetti dinner in the cottage – easy!

We packed up on Saturday morning and went our separate ways – some flying and some driving.

Though I wouldn’t want to spend Thanksgiving in the Keys, or even at a destination, every year, it was a fun adventure to do it this year. We squeezed in many memorable moments in celebration of a very wonderful anniversary, and I’m grateful we could be together. (And grateful to my parents for making it happen, in more ways than one!)

If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them in the comments! Thanks for letting me share, friends!