What’s going in our kids’ Easter baskets this year

13 March 2024

Just a quick post to share what’s going in our kids’ Easter baskets this year! (This might be as much for me as you – I love having the record of what they’re loving and how they’re growing each year.)

I know Easter baskets are not for everyone, but I’ve really grown to love the opportunity they give me to celebrate an important holiday in our faith, support small businesses, replenish basics at the turn of the season, and create some magic for our kids. And personally, as a creative person, they’re just really fun for me to collect, curate, arrange, and fluff! I might enjoy them even more than the kids :)

This year, it turns out everyone is well-stocked with some of my usual suspects: bathing suits (I usually turn to Boden, Hanna Andersson, or a consignment sale), pajamas (consignment sale, always), swim goggles, water bottles, sunglasses, chalk, and Natives. I still came up with some sweet goodies, though :) Here’s what each of our kids will be getting in their Easter baskets this year (note that some items are still en route to me!):

June, age 8, will have a sketch pad (this brand is the best, and reasonably priced!), a spiral notebook bought from a favorite local shop, socks, stickers, a jump rope, a Brain Quest deck, a stopwatch (I predict this will be one of the most popular items), a few Yoto cards I’ve stored up from our Yoto Club membership, dark chocolate caramel bunnies, conditioner, and the CSB One Big Story Bible. (We were going back and forth between it and the Explorer Bible!)

Shep, age 5, will have a sketch pad, a stopwatch (it was a two-pack!), dive gems, a snack container for kindergarten, bath bombs, a paint-by-sticker book, a few Yoto cards, chocolate pocky sticks, and new sneakers. We’re going with Kiziks (the Athena) since he’s busted through the velcro on his last two pairs when the rest of the sneaker still looked brand new – argh! You can use this link for $20 off a pair, if you’d like.

Annie, age 2, will have a sketch pad (she’ll fill it with scribbles but will love being just like her big sibs), a Gabby’s Dollhouse magic coloring set, dot-a-dot markers, Bluey water squirters for the pool, Laura Wifler’s new book, a mini Squishmallow (weirdly, this pack was $20 less when I bought it in November?!), bath bombs, and a few Yoto cards.

If you’re shopping for different ages than we are this year, I’ve got you covered:
A 7-year-old girl, a 4-year-old boy, and a 1-year-old girl
A 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy
A 5-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy
A 4-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy

I’ve rounded up some of my favorite Easter basket books and picks here, too! Affiliate links are used in this post.

Happy celebrating, friends!

March 2024 goals

5 March 2024

When I shared earlier this year that posting frequency would slow down a bit here as I began posting weekly on The Connected Family, I worried that things would feel… slow at EFM. But thanks to your generous participation and maybe a little of the old quality v. quantity tradeoff, I was delighted by what we were able to talk about in February. You all are so good to me, and I’m excited for what I have planned for this month, too.

Writing here feels particularly like a gift right now as I work to find my TCF voice. It’s a new audience and brand (and purpose), and the trial and error feels a bit foreign! While I’ve got pretty much everything (voice, tone, perspective, format, length, angle, etc.) nailed down for EFM and CWM (since I’ve written for both for over a decade!), I’m still figuring all those things out with TCF. Thanks for coming along for the ride :)

The first of my fancy daffodils have bloomed!!

On my calendar:
— Easter basket shopping with all three kids. I’ll go on individual mini shopping trips to Target with each kiddo to choose items for baskets we donate through a local program. One of my favorite traditions!
— Primary voting. I would never miss a chance to add my voice, even if it sometimes seems inconsequential.
— Spring break. We are returning to Jekyll Island!

What I’m loving right now:
Ocean BINGO, an unexpected reading practice tool! Shep and I have been playing it together and, since he loves to be the caller, he finds himself sounding out things like “spotted eagle ray” and “wandering albatross.” I’ll take it :) These BINGO games are really beautiful and great quality – I want to collect all the versions (birds! cats! trees!) even though I have very little reason to.
— John and I try to have an at-home date night about once a month and usually watch a movie. Recently we chose Yesterday, and it was delightful! A feel-good pick with a just-intriguing-enough premise (and lots of Beatles songs). It’s currently included with Prime.
— I asked for and received Vuori joggers for Christmas, and I’m sorry to report back that they really are excellent. Good quality, great fit, and I love my color – iron heather.

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!

— The Rifle Paper Co for Target collection was easily the most popular link I shared last month – and for good reason! I was truly blown away by the quality of the boxes I purchased. Wish there was more from the collection still in stock!!
— The pearl and gold studs I wear daily bounced up to the top, too. I’m not giving them up anytime soon but I did just try on these hearts in a store and they’re now on my wish list.
52 Modern Manners for Kids, a resource we use for Team Thomas Tuesdays
— My current sunhat
— Our favorite family conversation card deck

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.

Low-Screen Living Cues Around Our Home | 11+ examples (with photos!) of how we’ve shaped our environment to prioritize what’s important to us.
TV Fasts | A tiny rhythm that keeps our consumption in check and our lives on track.
7 Barriers to Community | On loneliness, pride, and, yes, social media
7 Ways to Grow in Community | On consistency, going first, and shared traditions
A Simple Playground Trick for Independence | Sometimes, the best option is… doing nothing

What I read in February:
The Red Tent | I plucked this re-read off our shelf as we worked our way through Genesis in our Bible-in-a-year plan. It’s a highly-imagined recreation of Dinah’s story, compelling and adding some interesting background to the ancient world Jesus’s lineage wound through, but it made me feel similar to The Book of Longings – vaguely scandalous?
To Say Nothing of the Dog | Whew. I added this to my 2024 reading list after Janssen put it on hers, so I didn’t know too much about it before requesting it from the library. It was… very different than your average bookstagram pick (!). It’s a “comedy of manners,” a stylized form I’d never read before, and packed with literary and historical allusions, many of which I was not familiar with. It was also published in 1998. All this to say, it was mostly a slog. I was still considering DNF-ing up until about 3/4 of the way through, but I’m glad I stuck it out. I think there’s value in reading something very different and a little more challenging than my usual fare every once in a while – even if it did back up my reading pipeline for a few weeks :) And I am proud to say I guessed the twist early!

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

Revisiting my February goals:
Reach out to an upholsterer and/or visit a showroom for goal no. 1 (Yes! Waiting on fabric swatches to arrive.)
Rehab and paint June’s new (old) desk (Yes! I just added the top coat yesterday and now it needs two weeks (!) to cure. I found a cutie chair to pair it with at Pigfish on my birthday.)
Finalize the secrets + swag for the AC retreat (Sadly, the AC retreat is the same weekend as my grandmother’s service, so I’m no longer able to attend. I’m very sad to miss, of course, but also feel total peace that I’ll be where I need to be that weekend. Because of this, I’ve stepped back from the planning, but can’t wait to see what the gals come up with!)
Complete at least 60 hours of deep work (I got to 39, beating my total for January by four hours! Still room to grow, but grateful for improvement!)
Write one lesson of the TCF course (It was the first one and by far the easiest, but still!)
Read chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Outlive (Just starting to get into the actionable section :))
Take the Birds & Bees course with John

March goals:
— Take the Birds & Bees course with John
— Read chapters 7, 8, and 9 of Outlive
— Choose fabric and send chairs off for reupholstering
— Complete at least 45 hours of deep work (about 3 for every week day, minus travel days!)
— Finish the leadership program slides + deliver my talk
— Write the second lesson of the TCF course
— Wholeheartedly enjoy my extended family and time in Connecticut, as my grandmother would have wanted

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

Happy March! Feel free to chime in on anything I’ve mentioned or anything else on your mind.

Affiliate links are used in this post!

On beauty, at age 37

29 February 2024

In somewhat surprising news, I’m happy with the way my face looks.

I say surprising, because, as of this week, I am 37, and drawing ever-closer (or perhaps I’m already there?) to the age where panic over the visible signs of aging often sets in. But I don’t feel panicked. In fact, I feel rather pleased. This seems worthy of exploration, and so I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately. Shall we explore together?

Here’s why I think I’m content so far with the aging process, and with my particular face — some reasons practical, and some more philosophical.

1. My skin looks objectively better than it did when I was younger. I had some acne in high school and despaired of bumpy, flaky skin on my forehead through much of my twenties. Over time, I’ve learned more about my skin and found products that work for me. (In case you’re wondering, I’d say only two have made an immediate, highly-noticeable difference: this charcoal soap, which evens out my oily/dry skin (I’ve been using it since 2017!), and this toner, which completely got rid of the forehead flakiness and smoothed out my skin overall (in the rotation since 2019).)

When you remember what things used to be like, it’s easy to be grateful for where you are now.

2. The signs of aging my skin does show are palatable to me. I have some serious laugh lines around my eyes. They truly don’t bother me at all – I see them as evidence of a joy-filled life with lots of reasons to smile. Other than that, I think my skin looks… kind of the same as it always has? I attribute this 100% to genetics, fanatical daily use of sunscreen since I was in college, and a penchant for wearing big hats when I’m spending time in the sun. Thank you, mid-aughts magazines, for drilling this into my head.

(I use this sunscreen now and LOVE IT but used regular old drugstore Neutrogena before I could afford it.)

3. I am frugal. John and I are highly-motivated savers and givers, and I don’t have a ton of extra spending money lying around. Because of my frugality, more invasive (a.k.a. expensive!) procedures have always felt off the table — and so I don’t spend time researching them or analyzing before and after photos or even considering what’s possible. I’ve also never met with a consultant who told me all the things that could be improved, so it’s easier to be content with what I have. Ignorance is bliss :)

4. The faces I look at most are aging naturally. And many of them are the people I admire most. That’s in part because they’re mostly faces in the real world with me, not faces on a screen. My friends and family and the women at school pick-up and soccer and church and in my neighborhood are who I have for companions and comparison, not the cream of the internet.

I also read a lot about how social media, with its filters and ring lights and editing apps, is not realistic. This has inoculated me against the idea that online perfection is something to strive for; instead, I assume it’s artificially enhanced and move on.

5. I’m largely protected from ageism. The world can be a cruel place. I’ve had the same job for 15 years, and for most of that I’ve had only women colleagues. I don’t have to routinely get up in front of a boardroom of men, I’m not in sales, and I don’t often find myself in professional settings where I’m judged on my looks. Ageism and prejudice based on beauty is a real thing, but it’s just not a thing I’ve had to deal with.

6. Beauty has never been my foremost characteristic. To be clear: I could name plenty of things I wish were different about my face. It used to sting when other people’s looks were complimented more than mine, but now I’m grateful for it. From my teenage years, it right-sized my expectations: if I wasn’t expected to be “the pretty one,” it was okay that my skin wasn’t perfect and my face was only “good enough.” And it hurts a lot less to see something degrade or be less valued over time if it’s not something you hold dear.

7. And yet, a good, good man finds me beautiful. And he tells me that often. What more could I want or need?

8. Still, I don’t believe my beauty is a measure of my worth or value. This is beautifully rooted in my Christian faith. What makes me worthy is that I am made in the image of God, as we all are — and that never changes or fades. No matter my age or how I feel about the body God gave me, my value is secure.*

9. I tend to recognize the good old days when they’re here. I won’t look back in twenty years and wish I had appreciated how I looked. I know I have it good right now, which makes the idea of fixing what I have… kind of silly.

10. I am so grateful to be alive. I am grateful to age alongside my husband and children. And aging has a physical component. In this world, that’s just how it is.

This feels like a risky post to write. It could easily be misunderstood or misconstrued, or maybe I’ll look in the mirror in 10, or 20, or 30 years and feel quite differently. But I have achieved a measure of peace in this area of my life that spills out into so many others, and if there’s something about how I’ve gotten here that might be helpful to someone else, I want to share it — because there’s not many other people who will. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracist, a message of contentment in imperfection is not one that many online voices are incentivized to share, since it doesn’t really sell anything (except maybe sunscreen!).

So! I hope you receive this with the heart with which it was intended, and please do chime in with any thoughts of your own. I look forward to reading them!

*Thank you to Laura Wifler for so beautifully articulating this truth!

Oliver. I am dying. Can you spot him in the photo above?

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!).