Archived - My Reflection of Something
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2016... what a year! Let's review...


  • Celebrated the marriage of my sister, Ryann!
  • Started caring for a sweet baby girl 3 days each week.
  • Spent lots of time with our newborn great-nephew and loved watching him grow!
  • Moved across town in with my mom at the end of the summer. 
  • Traveled to Missouri a couple of times, and enjoyed every minute there!
  • Met our best friend Erin's sweet new baby girl and soaked up lots of snuggles.
  • Finished out our 4 years as Godparent Leaders at church, and watched our kids all graduate from High School, along with our nephew Brodie.
  • Had the best Thanksgiving ever!


  • Turned SIX!
  • Earned 500 points and a medal in the library summer reading challenge. He is quite the bookworm, and can almost always be found with a Geronimo Stilton book nearby.
  • Broke his first board at Tae Kwon Do and has earned additional belts to become a Camo Belt now.
  • Took up the game of chess, joined chess club at the library and continues to impress us with his skills. Soon we will be unable to beat him (he already has beat both his parents on occasion).
  • Continued his homeschooling, studying a wide variety of things from piano to nature studies to astronomy. He loves science and writing his own stories. He has a family-only blog where he loves to create posts.
  • Enjoyed learning more about college football with Grandma... he is quite a Huskers fan!
  • Got his first "grown-up" Bible, and loves to study the Word and journal about it!
  • Improved at riding his bike with training wheels, and enjoyed moving to a house with a sidewalk out front so he can ride his scooter.
  • Enjoyed lots of fun times with family, cousins and friends!

  • Cut off (and donated) 16 inches of hair! 
  • Continues to stay home with Aiden, serving as his primary homeschool teacher.
  • Helped plan an awesome VBS and worked on the Godparent program at church before beginning a sabbatical from church work. 
  • Enjoys finding time to study the Word and has been learning a lot about prayer.
  • Recently rediscovered the fun of fitbit challenges when the siblings all got one!
  • Has appreciated the opportunities to serve her friends and family this year during the tough times, as well as celebrating the good ones with them!

  • Continues to work at Tenneco, although he has changed departments here and there. He is a jack of all trades there and has made great friends.
  • Serves as communion assistant at church, and even manages to find robes long enough for him.
  • Enjoys connecting with his brothers via playstation, and spending time with his brother Sam who still lives here in town. 
And of course there are lots of great photos...

Faith, Fitbit and the Failures of Instagram Algorithms

I have been spending less time online lately... partly because I have been feeling the need to take extra time being present (which means taking way fewer photos) and partly because I have been so frustrated with Instagram lately that it just makes sharing less fun. I am a stay-at-home, homeschool mom... which means that often Instagram is my place to go for doses of adult interaction during the day!

In recent months, I have been trying to follow fewer and fewer people, because with the non-sequential feeds I feel like I miss a lot from my friends who aren't using the app to try to build a following or get massive likes and comments. Yet these are often the people I want to connect with during the day! There are definitely times when I want to be inspired and keep up with my blogging friends and those who curate their feeds and promote them. But I feel like those are often the only accounts I see!

I also want to be able to take my personal account private again. I have struggled with the question of public or private many times over the years. I blog, so clearly I have decided that for me it is worth sharing publicly about certain things. Yet there is still something more organic about instagram that makes me want to keep it more private. Or at least there used to be.

I mentioned that I have been feeling the need to be more present lately. I feel like it is often hard to find a balance (not that I have any love for the concept of balance, but that is another post entirely) between capturing the everyday and focusing on unplugging more. I go back and forth so often, but I listened to an episode of At Home the other day that reminded me why I like to document the little things. One of the gals (I am bad at keeping track of who says what on that podcast) talked about going through a dark season and how much it helped her to be able to look at her feed and see that there were still moments of joy amid the sorrow. I have often felt this way.

I regularly scroll through those photos when I struggle... because I do stay home and care for my little family and our home, it is easy to feel like I am not "doing enough" or "making a difference" in my chosen vocation. However when I see the beauty of our everyday, it keeps me going. I see growth and progress more readily when it comes in the form of a series of square little images, all neatly arranged and ready to provide a glimpse into the way this season is being used by God.

So, I treasure my personal feed and the snapshot of my journey it provides. And yet, I also love the way that instagram provides encouragement and accountability for my faith and fitness journey. This is why I tend to keep my account public. I love the connections that can be created through hashtags and groups. I appreciate the opportunity to share my studies, the books I love, fitbit accomplishments... I want to continue to share these things.

So, I am once again (I have tried this before for both my Bible study groups and my fitness efforts) going to try to keep 2 accounts on Insta... one for documenting life (@bransonmerrill) and one for sharing my faith and fitbit studies and steps (@faithandfitbit). Maybe this will help me to once again find that encouragement and fellowship that I used to treasure on this platform. I sure hope so! I know that just complaining about algorithms isn't going to do me any good. Time to try to make the system work for me!

Folded Paper Wreath Tutorial - with a fun twist!

Earlier this week I attended a holiday craft night at our local library. One of the projects we completed was a cute origami paper wreath ornament. I loved making the ornament out of book pages, but when I got home I realized they would also be a great use for the rather large collection of scrapbook paper that I have accumulated! I also got to thinking... wouldn't this be a creative way to send a little Christmas cheer to Grandma from Aiden? The ornaments do not need to be glued together... so they could also be easily taken apart by the recipient to reveal a little message inside each folded section! Then they can be reassembled and displayed as a cheerful holiday decoration.

Aiden was very excited to create this special wreath for his Grandma! I will share the step-by-step below, but he also wanted to make a video of the process! You can find that at the bottom of this post. This is such a simple little project! Little hands will need some help, but Aiden was able to do most of the work on his. I also want to point out that the folds do not have to be perfect. When working with kids, my inner perfectionist can get the best of me at times! You can see, though, that his folds were not super precise but you cannot tell in the finished product! (Of course the folds can also be tightened up by an adult if needed along the way.) 

Materials Needed: 
Paper cutter or scissors
Ribbon or string for hanging
(optional) items for decorating: glue, glitter, sequins, stickers, ribbon, etc. 

Step 1 - Choose your papers. While I prefer uniformity, Aiden clearly likes to be more creative in his choices. You can use any combination of papers. Just make sure the rectangles are equal in size and the ratio is 2:1. So these rectangles are 6"x3" but the ones I used for my ornaments were 3"x1.5" or even 2"x1". We chose the larger size for his project so that it would be easier for his little hands to work with and would leave plenty of room for writing the messages inside! 

Step 2 - With a single rectangle, place the paper with the back side up. Then fold the paper in half the long way, so that you have a long rectangle with the front of the paper visible on each side. 

Step 3 - With the folded side at the top of the rectangle, fold the corners up from the bottom to create triangular ends. When both corners are folded up, your paper should now look like a little boat. 

Step 4 - Fold the ends of the boat together, with the corner flaps facing in. Aiden says that the paper should now look like a little shoe!

Repeat steps 1-4 with the remaining rectangles until you have 8 little "shoe" pieces.

Step 5 - Take 2 pieces, and make sure that they are facing the same way. Turn one piece toward the other, and insert its points into the little pockets of the other piece. You want one point in each pocket. Slide the pieces together. 

Step 6 - Continue this process of assembling the wreath. Make sure with each piece that your pieces are sloping in the same direction before your turn one to insert the points into the pockets. 

Now, if you are just making ornaments, then at this point all you need to do is add a hanger and you are good to go! However, if you are making your wreath into a greeting this is where you will add your "secret messages" to each piece. Now technically I think I would actually write the messages before even folding the pieces... but because I wanted the tutorial for the wreaths themselves first we added our messages afterwards! Either way works!

Step 7 - Add a message inside each piece of the wreath, and then reassemble the wreath. Don't forget to include a note when you send it to the desired recipient, letting them know to look inside each piece for their message! 

Step 8 - If you want to decorate your wreath, now is the time! You can add gems, glitter, stickers, a bow... there are lots of possibilities!

Let the glue dry on any decorations you may have added, and you are ready to display or deliver your paper wreath! This was definitely a fun project, and I am sure there will be more wreaths being made between now and Christmas! 

Here is Aiden's video tutorial of the assembly steps for this project:

If you decide to do this project for the holidays I would love to see how it turns out! Feel free to post a photo and tag me on instagram! (@bransonmerrill)

And feel free to pin this post to save it for later! 

Folded Paper Wreath Ornament Craft Tutorial

Why I Refuse to "Start Over"

Yesterday I shared this photo on instagram as my current motivation for working harder on being active. I mentioned the fact that I am coming back from the very worst I have ever felt physically. It is hard to admit that without getting angry at myself. I look at this photo and remember how good I was feeling at that point in time. I know that there is no excuse for allowing myself to backslide to a place I never wanted to be again. I also know that dwelling on that fact is going to get me absolutely nowhere. So, instead I am focusing on where I am right now.

Just before Thanksgiving, my little sister got a fitbit. The night before that I had miraculously found mine. It was in a spot I know I had looked a million times. I love when things like that happen. Anyhow, over Thanksgiving while my other little sister was home, Kenna and I were doing our best to top each other's steps. This got Ryann interested, and suddenly it was black Friday and she was ordering her own! And then my little brother caught the bug and now here we are about 2 weeks later, all trying to out-step each other daily.

In those 2 weeks I have definitely more than double my activity level. I may grumble about sore muscles and wanting a nap, but I definitely feel SO much better already. My energy level had bottomed out before all this started, and now I am actually sleeping at night and ready to move in the mornings. I am getting way more done in a typical day, and I am more focused (to a degree... I am still a mess... just a slightly more focused mess, ha!). I am loving the banter back and forth with my siblings and a good friend in our challenge group. I feel more connected to them even if we can't be together in person.

I found myself thinking this morning how unusual it is to have this kind of vigor during December. Usually this is a month of less activity. Maybe that will be an added boost for us as we end that initial 30 days that can often be the turning point right when the rest of the world gets all health crazy for that month or so after New Year's! Not to mention the fact that Christmas break means no babysitting for me so I will need a push to keep moving during that time with no baby to chase during the day!

I know it is so easy to get excited when things are new and then let them slide. However, I also know from experience that sometimes things just kind of "click" and a lasting change is possible! I just wish I could pinpoint exactly what derailed me last time (or the time before that) so I could be aware of the traps that lie in wait. It is my hope that having it be a family thing will provide a level of support that wasn't there before. I am just excited to embrace this season of physical progress, and make the most of it.

I used to be motivated by the quote that says "If you are tired of starting over, stop giving up." It is a valid point, but it is also such an all-or-nothing absolute. I am not good with absolutes. Instead I am focusing on this day... this moment... this next step. I am not "starting over" - that holds the baggage of a past failure. I am just starting now.

From Fitbit Friends to Snapchat Silliness {10 things that made me happy this week}

Last week was such an adventure with my family in town that this week has been rough. I have been in a bit of a funk, and I just can't seem to find a rhythm. Blogging more lately has been good for me, and every time I jump back in I realize how much I need the time to sit and just think and write and focus on something that is my own. I used to love doing the 10 things that made me happy this week posts, so I thought I would jump back into that this week! When I am in a funk it always helps to stop and think about the good stuff in my life! So, let's see here...

1. My siblings joining fitbit! There was a point in time when fitbit really worked for me, but between lost devices and life's changing seasons I had lost any drive to be active. This week I have been killing it because I now have a super fun and competitive challenge group again! I am hoping this new energy last for a long, long time because I am already feeling better!

2. Mornings with Matt - We are continuing to make time (almost) every morning to pray together before the day begins and it has been so, so good. It is even getting easier for me to get up super early. I used to be lucky to be ready by 7 when my daycare baby arrived, and now I am up before 5:30 and more or less coherent enough to have quality time by then. Ha!

3. Speaking of daycare, I didn't have my daycare cutie last week, and I missed her! She brings so many smiles to our days, and an extra dose of snuggles too. She definitely made me happy this week. 

4. New books to read always makes me happy!! I got some great ones from the CPH Thanksgiving sale, and I can't wait to dive in to them. Of course the fitbitting is cutting in to the reading... I wish I liked audio books more because that would be a great solution! But if I am going to read I need to be able to highlight and write and reflect... so I am just going to work on making more time to read daily!

5. Last night Aiden took a stack of paper and set up his "office" where he said his job was to give people money from his piggy bank and write reports. He then brought me a paper of his contact information with a web address and twitter handle for his office, along with a warning sign that said "Do Not Send Joke Emails." I thought I would die laughing on the inside. Of course I was all business on the outside... you gotta take him seriously when he gets into these characters! This kid always makes me happy!

6. Hiland Dairy Mocha Iced Coffee most definitely makes me happy. I am working with them on a sponsored campaign right now, and I am totally hooked on this stuff. I used it to create a recipe (which I posted here) but I have also been drinking it every day. I have been mixing 1/3 coffee, 1/3 Hiland mocha iced coffee & 1/3 Hiland vanilla almond milk. Perfection!

7. I joined a instagram Bible study group for Advent, and it is such a blessing to be studying again with some of my favorite people! I have been flying solo for quite a while now, and I had forgotten how much I love having a group of sisters in Christ as part of my morning time! 

8. My sisters convinced me to download snapchat again, and I have laughed so much this week. They are such nuts, and I have to admit that it is a fun way to keep in tough. So much silliness! 

9. Bob Ross on Netflix and how much Aiden loves it... his sense of wonder is contagious!

10. Being given opportunities to be God's hands and feet for people He has placed in our life. As I continue to struggle with loneliness and isolation, I am being taught that it is still important to reach out in love and look for opportunities to connect and serve. 

What made YOU happy this week? I would love to hear about it!