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A Cousin is a Ready Made Friend for Life (free printable)

I have so many photos to catch up on. My sister came to visit last week, which means Aiden was reunited with some of his best friends... his cousins. It is always darling to see how they carry on like they have never been apart. Sometimes I worry about Aiden growing up as an only child, but then I think about the amazing group of cousins he has and it eases my mind a bit.

I don't have a whole lot of cousins. My mom was adopted to be an only child, and my father had 2 brothers but only one had children. When I was a child, visiting them was always a blast. They lived next door to my grandma, so we saw them every summer when we visited. However, my father and his brother were not close, so we didn't have much contact after we grew up. I still remember them fondly as childhood playmates, but they aren't the lifelong friends I hope that Aiden's cousins will be.

Things are different for him, I hope, because I am much closer with my siblings and adore my nieces and nephews. We try to gather as often as possible, but it isn't always easy. I am thankful for the technology we can use to keep in touch while we are apart, though. I am especially thankful for this recently as he has been able to keep in touch much better with his cousins on my husband's side whom he has never met!

I do hope he will get to spend lots of time with his cousins while he is little. It was truly awesome when my older sister also came down for one day of the visit. Seeing these littles running around together was such a blessing! I think we all agree that we need to make it happen more. They are only little for a while, and these memories are too good to pass up!

Here is a little printable for you (click to download a copy without the watermark)... maybe you would like to make it into a card to send to your cousins... I know that random snail mail love makes everyone's day better! And hopefully there will be some more photos of these visits coming soon!

Linking up with Photo Friday

Wellness Wednesday - Goals for Week 2

This weekend was crazy! So I definitely was not thinking about blogging on Monday, but I think Wednesday is also a great day for setting goals! Monday already gets its due as the fresh start day, so a reminder mid-week of what I want to be doing is awesome.

First... a look at last week's goals...

1. Re-start the #fitin15 youtube challenge by completing Week 1 - well... I did re-start it, but didn't finish the week.
2. Do 1 DVD mile every morning after my Bible study time - I did this the first 3 days then life got crazy. I know, I know... no excuses. But 3 is a good start!
3. Get in a couple extra miles to hit 10 miles for the week. - Pfft... I didn't even wear my fitbit this weekend but I was running around like crazy with all the festivities so while this goal is pretty much a fail, I wasn't totally sedentary! 

As far as all those other goals... I had some successes, some failures, but overall I feel like it was a good week given the stuff I had going on.

So... for this week (and going forward) I am going to choose one goal for each area I want to work on: fitness, nutrition, parenting, marriage, faith, ministry, planning & organizing

1. Morning miles are a must! And hit my step goal every day. Keeping it simple til I have these two solid.
2. NO SODA! Going to have to crack down on this one because it keeps magically appearing in our home, ha!
3. Get outside for (at very least) 15 minutes a day with Aiden regardless of weather (no more rainy day excuses)
4. Quality time with Matt 2 nights this week
5. Journal each weekday
6. Keep on top of VBS
7. Design my homeschool planner (I can't find one I like so I am going to make my own)

And my motivation pic for this week's fitness goals? A photo with my siblings this weekend! My older sister is looking awesome, but more than looks I just want to be able to be active with my family and all my amazing nieces and nephews! 

There will be photos from Aiden's birthday coming soon (I hope) and there is plenty of other stuff bouncing around in my brain I could blog about... just have to make it fit with all that stuff I just said I want to accomplish, ha! Definitely looking forward to VBS being over. Is it bad to admit that? It is just a LOT of work. Praying it yields great fruit, though! 

Linking up with Goal Setting for Greatness and The List

Motivation Monday - Week 1

Okay, so... my fitbit bit the big one over a week ago. I am very thankful for the warranty replacement they are sending me, and their customer service was fine to work with... BUT I am having serious motivation issues without those happy little lights to flash on my wrist. I still don't really want to post workout stuff on instagram (except on my @bransongetsfit profile, but that is a pain so I don't really use it) so I am thinking maybe, just maybe, if I post my weekly goals here it will help me do better at keeping them? I do like keeping records and trying to hold myself accountable... so it is worth a shot!

My motivation photo for this week... this was when I was doing Couch-to-5k and was actually running. Not a lot, and very slowly, lol... but running. Right now I feel like there is no possible way I could even do that. So step 1 is getting back to this place. (Not c25k, but the place where I could even attempt c25k!) Step 2 is not quitting this time!! 

So, lets make this a fresh start and set some brand new goals. What I really want is to start lifting heavy again. When I was doing The New Rules of Lifting for Women I loved it! However, last time I started Matt ended up having hernia surgery (not from lifting weights, but the timing was bad!) and this time he has an injured hip... again with the bad timing! So I am going to have to put a pin in that idea for now. Then our rainy weather lately puts a damper on walking outdoors, so it is back to dvds for me. So, my workout goals for this week are:

1. Re-start the #fitin15 youtube challenge by completing Week 1
2. Do 1 DVD mile every morning after my Bible study time
3. Get in a couple extra miles to hit 10 miles for the week.

That will be 30-60 minutes of exercise M-Sa which is totally doable. Maybe my fitbit replacement will get here this week as well!

Other goals for the week:
  • No soda (I have had some lapses in my resolve to be soda free lately...)
  • No fast food (this one should be easy since I just made freezer meals and tightened our budget) 
  • Follow my cleaning checklists to minimize stress and clutter
  • No social media from 10-2 on weekdays
  • Bed by 9:30 (with the goal being to fall asleep by 10:30 and be up by 6:30 daily)
  • Finish The Best Yes
  • Lesson plan month 1 (August?) of Aiden's kindergarten lessons (if I plan 1 month each week I will be ready to go by fall... I think)
  • Spend lots of time with my sister and her kids who are in from out of town!
I think I can definitely handle all of those goals this week. Hopefully having them to refer back to will help, and even if no one reads them or mentions them just having them semi-publicly declared means I have to do them... right?

And... because we live in a Pinterest world (ha!) I created a board for inspiration... what should I add? 

Follow Branson Merrill's board Get Moving! on Pinterest.

Dicing Onions and Trusting God

It is a Saturday afternoon, and the last thing I want to be doing today is cooking. It is a hot, humid Nebraska day, and it only gets hotter when I am working on freezer meals and lunches for the coming week. I would much rather be reading a book or sitting on my porch (where at least there is a nice breeze) or relaxing at the local coffee shop with my Bible and some good worship music. And yet... even as I would rather be anywhere but in this kitchen smelling the strange mix of cooking smells that comes from preparing lots of mismatched foods... this is also exactly where I want to be. Not because I want to cook, but because I want to spend my weekdays staying home with Aiden and this is one way I can ensure I get to do that.

Living on one income can be tough. Right now, thanks to some unexpected bills, it is even tougher than usual. Every time I start to take my focus off the fact that I completely believe that I am called to stay home with my child, I start to slip into a pattern of doubt. When those unexpected bills distracted me for even a second recently, I instantly jumped to the conclusion that I need to find a job. It wasn't too far to jump, because my mind wanders in that direction now and then. I think about how if I just worked part time we could plan a real vacation or buy a new mattress (oh, how I would love a new mattress!) or take more little day trips to Lincoln. So, when I found myself doubting our ability to make ends meet this week I found myself making plans to start working outside the home again.

If I am being completely honest, it isn't just those bills that had me tempted to give up my stay-at-home status. Aiden's birthday has also been pulling at my mind... making me think he will missing out on something big if I can't come up with the money to throw a great party or buy big gifts. Thankfully, all I have to do is listen to him to know that isn't true. When he talks about his birthday, he talk about cake and ice cream and balloons... but mostly he just talks about the people he wants to celebrate with. So, I take a deep breath, invite his little friends to a playdate with cupcakes, and remember that what Aiden wants more than anything is just to be loved and be with his people. That precious gift is one you can't put a price tag on.

When I stop to ask God what HE thinks about me returning to work (you know... after I had already been planning my return to the workforce for a while), I don't get a loud definite answer. Instead I get whispers and nudges from unexpected sources. Like remembering Matt coming home from the store one day talking about the amazing price match lady in line before them (who happened to be a homeschool mama I know) that made me realize how lazy I have gotten about our grocery budget. Or I find myself drawn to places in His Word that remind me to treasure simplicity and trust God to provide. I read books that remind me to guard my time and talents so that I can give my best to the people God has given me to care for. Eventually, all of these little nudges and whispers calm my heart and remind me that I am where I am supposed to be, and if I am a good steward of the resources provided I can continue to count on God to help me figure things out.

So, instead of searching for a job, I am tightening our purse strings. I am reminding myself that Aiden loves to be at home or at local parks and I am not cheating him out of anything by not renewing our zoo membership or taking him on Lincoln adventures every week. I thank God that I can make our everyday life an adventure by just treasuring his imagination and providing attention and love. I also remind myself that the way we live now will set the tone for how Aiden expects to live as he grows. Teaching him now that the simple things in life are what we should treasure is a good thing to focus on.

I am also thanking God for the beauty of our outdoor space and the flowers that grow around us instead of buying cut flowers for inside our home each week. After all, I would rather be outside anyway! I am counting it a HUGE blessing that I thought ahead enough to get all of our homeschool curriculum for next year back in February so I can rest easy knowing that we have that covered. And I am spending my Saturday making freezer meals, and thanking God with every single onion that I have to cut that I can use my time and talents to care for my family in a way that allows me to stay home.  (Quick side note about how easy it is to get lazy with the food budget... a few weeks ago instead of the 99 cents I paid for 3 lbs of onions I would have paid 2 dollars for a container of cut onions with about 1/3 the amount of produce just because I hate cutting them... and I use onions in everything... so it really does add up!)

These choices we make haven't been easy, but I know that I am right where I need to be for this season of my life. That is worth much more than any extra income I could earn by going back to work. If at some point I determine it is my time to start earning an income again, I will be open to that reality. If nothing else, knowing that is always a possibility should make me treasure each day at home even more. Even the days spent dicing onions.

My little backyard explorer...

"Mama, will you go on an adventure with me? This is the jungle, and I will use my 'noculars to explore. Follow me." 

I am so thankful for our big yard and the little break in the rain tonight that allowed us to get out for a bit... it may have been a little soggy out, but the sunshine made up for that! I am definitely ready for a little more sun and a little less rain, but I guess at least it is good for the flowers! Can't wait until the peonies open!

Linking up with Photo Friday and Point+Shoot

Photo Friday - Scooting Along...

Last week my sister and I took Aiden and his cousin to Lincoln. Our primary objective was to rescue the stuffed turtle he had left at the Cancer Center the day before:

But we also took the kids' scooters and helmets along... just in case. While driving into Lincoln, I looked the the pedestrian bridges down in the Haymarket and thought they looked like a great place for scooting! Of course, I had never really been down there, and we weren't sure where to go. We drove around a bit and ended up paying to park in a lot near one end of one of them, but it was totally worth the $4... even if we ended up getting rained on!

Linking up with Photo Friday and Feature Fridays and Point + Shoot

Favorite Homeschool Online Resources

It has been rainy here quite a bit lately, so I thought I would share some of the things that we love to use on rainy days. We do plenty of playing and normal "school" stuff, but we are also big fans of using technology in our home classroom when we can't get outside. Here are some of our favorites:

Okay, seriously... if you have a little one at home and have not tried these FREE kids yoga videos you are missing out! We love them all, and they even have a Star Wars one! Each episode includes a cute story with a good lesson as kids move through different poses.

Over the past couple of years we have tried several online learning sites, both free and paid, and this one is by far our favorite! I am not going to say that it taught Aiden to read, because we have been doing different things with him for a while now, but I will say that it is a big hit with him and both Matt and I tend to be impressed with watching him use it. It is a paid site, but they often offer free trials.

If you have not seen these FREE online piano lessons, you need to check them out right away! I am simply amazed at how well Aiden is learning to play from these video lessons. He enjoys the creative and engaging teaching method, and is happy to practice throughout the week. They offer supplemental materials in their shop to accompany the videos, but we haven't tried those yet. They are very reasonably priced (think 20 lessons for less than what one in-person lesson would cost) but we just haven't gotten around to really checking them out yet. The videos are definitely awesome though! 

I loved Adventures is Odyssey as a child, and it is fun to be able to share it with Aiden. Sometimes we listen together, but it is also a great thing for when I need to get some work done. He is happy to listen to a podcast with headphones while he draws in his notebook. 

It is not uncommon for Aiden to just want to sit and listen to the audio Bible with me, but he also really enjoys "his Bible" on my kindle or his nabi. It is free, which is always good, but also high quality. They are regularly adding more content, and each Bible story is interactive and includes little quizzes that he enjoys. This is a great tool to have handy when I am focusing on my own Bible study and want some time to really dig in without turning Aiden away from the Word. I love that he loves to hear and learn about scripture and I never want to discourage that!

Aiden has his own profile on our computer, and pretty much all he can do on it is access PBSkids. He has to request time when he logs in with his own password, but once we grant it he is content to just hop onto this site. I love that I can trust the site to be both safe and appropriate (not all kids websites encourage the best manners and behavior... no obnoxious cartoons for us!) and he loves seeing some of his favorite characters. The funny part is that he almost never watches the actual shows, or any tv for that matter. He prefers to use his screen time allowance on this website, but he also gets to know many of the characters through books from the library. Having those connections to books can be great! I also love how much he can learn while playing. The Wild Kratts games have taught him a lot about habitats and animals, and it is fun to hear him share new facts. He loves Postcards from Buster, and this really inspired his year-long focus on geography that is only just now starting to drop off a bit. The Electric Company is his favorite for games right now, though. 

We love exploring nature. Aiden is definitely fascinated by all kinds of living things. While we regularly check out different field guides from our library, and enjoy using them, it is also nice to have quality resources online for when we find something new and don't have a book on hand! So I was super excited to find this FREE website that is overflowing with information. We have only just scratched the surface of what they have to offer! Any family who enjoys nature studies should definitely have this site bookmarked!

What online resources would you add to this list? 
Please share so we can check them out!

A Trip Down Memory Lane...

Would you look at this tiny guy? 

How is it possible that he is going to be turning five soon? 

My friend Stephanie shared a new app with me and it is bringing up all my old photos and I am all sorts of weepy looking through them, LOL! Well... except when I am laughing like crazy when I see things like this:

Anyhow, I anticipate you will be seeing plenty of old photos over the next few weeks as I get ready for Aiden's birthday. AND... you can go visit Stephanie's blog and enter to win the amazing 2 Terabyte photo storage thingy she is giving away. Wouldn't it make a lovely mama-versary gift for me? Ha! Okay, I made up the concept of mama-versary gifts, but I do really, really want one! ;) 

Just Keep Moving... {or maybe just stop}

When I checked the weather forecast this morning and saw that it is supposed to rain all week, my first instinct was to grumble. And yet... maybe this is my chance to stay in and just let the rainy days wash away some stress. Sometimes I just wish I could really hide away for a few days... I crave just 2 or 3 days of solitude and quiet. I just feel worn out and overwhelmed. Not by what I have to do, but by life in general. Of course solitude and quiet are not possible with a (very loquacious and active) child to care for and a husband who works hard outside the home. While I can't really hide away, maybe I can at least use the weather as an excuse to stay home and lay low this week.

I have been in a bit of a funk again lately, and I think a big part of it is that I am pressuring myself to do and be things that God has not planned for me. I find myself thinking that if I could just try harder or be better maybe I could shake this sense of unrest. Yet the more I try the more frustrated I become. Which has brought me to a place of wanting to just give up on all of it (talking about obligations here, not life... it sounds very dramatic to say "all of it", lol.) So now I am struggling to find that line that separates things I really should give up because they are truly not right from my crazy emotions. And let's face it... my crazy emotions tend to overwhelm things even when I am NOT facing big decisions.

This morning I read this post by Faith of Sweet Violet Photography, and it had me thinking again. Maybe this missing piece of her puzzle is also one that fits well into mine. If I am honest, the desire to quit everything comes mostly from wanting to just create the space needed in my daily life to truly love and serve my husband and child in the best possible way, while leaving plenty of time to focus on my relationship with God. I want to be able to focus on the foot-washing kind of stuff. Every time I stop this think of what I feel I need to do more of, it is that seemingly-mundane stuff that jumps out at me. All the other "stuff" feels like it is huge (even though there is already WAY less on my plate than most people I know) and it leads to me feeling like I am barely treading water. Partly because other obligations come with deadlines and expectations, whereas things like laundry and scrubbing the kitchen and playing an extra game of candyland do not. So, I focus on the deadlines and expectations while the rest of it piles up in the background.

Even when I acknowledge these things, though, it is hard for me to then figure out the actions that should follow. It all boils down to the fact that I don't trust myself. I have spent so many years struggling with anxiety and depression that I am scared to make decisions that resemble the ones that those struggles lead to. Anxiety and depression lead me to isolate myself... so it is hard for me to let go of the things I have more-or-less forced myself to do in an attempt to de-isolate myself (is that a word?) even though some of those things I probably rushed into without seeking God's wisdom first. Ugh. Can I just start over? See... now I am back to wanting to quit everything! This is why I am so frustrated? Ha!

It brings me a bit of comfort to know that I am not the only one struggling with things like this, but at the same time it frustrates me because the loudest voice is always the one shouting to do more, and be more, and buy more. I feel like the few quiet voices admitting that they don't want to live that way are quickly drowned out and doubt then easily creeps in. When your desire is to live differently than most other people, there is a definite loneliness that makes it hard. I just want to find my tribe... those women who will support me in my desire to seek God first while serving the people around me. I want to join voices and declare loudly that it is not all about doing more and having more. I want to live simply and focus on relational ministry where I can share God's love in real ways with real people. I just don't want to do it alone.

So anyway... there is the random battle going on in my head right now. I definitely wouldn't mind having some of that washed away by some lazy, rainy days this week. Maybe this little time of writing-therapy was a good first step. I guess only time will tell...

Fabulous - Friend - Following Friday!

First the fabulous... Mom's test results came back clear! So she is still cancer free after two years! What a relief! Thank you all for your prayers!! 

Matt is off work today so I am working on catching up on photo organizing, editing and archiving. It has gotten out of control. I realized today that I don't have a single dslr photo from February. I also realized while looking back through some of last year's photos that I miss photography a bit again. Maybe (like this blog) it will make a comeback finally.

I have been out of the blogging world for so long that I have found I don't even really remember what blogs I used to read, ha! I know, of course, that I have some amazing bloggy friends... it just seems that many of my old community don't blog much anymore or have moved or changed their focus. I thought I would share a couple I have been enjoying lately, though:

My friend Stephanie at Behind the Camera and Dreaming is one of my first blog friends and definitely someone I will have in my life forever. I miss the old days of running the Edit Me challenge with her! I am glad she is still blogging away and sharing lots about her two adorable little boys! Check out this post and see why her ability to make things beautiful is also on my list of why I love her! Can't wait to see what she does with her new home!

My friend Addie at TriRunnerMom is a local friend who totally inspires me! Her running has always been amazing, but watching her overcome the great obstacles she has faced the past couple of years and keep pushing through is incredible. She is such a great example of running the race of life with hope and determination.

My favorite blog for scripture art right now is definitely Art by Erin Leigh. I just adore her style of making scripture come alive with color and beauty. She is so talented, and she offers some freebies (which is one of the ways to this frugal mama's heart, ha!) Her etsy shop is full of beautiful prints as well!

Who else should I be following?? Please share in the comments... feel free to self-promote, ha! I miss having a great blogging tribe to "hang out with" online!

FYI - I tried to switch my bloglovin link to this new (very old) blog so that people wouldn't have to re-follow, but it didn't work. So... if you are so inclined, here are the ways you can follow my blog: