The Best Homemade Taco Meat

Ingredients:

  • One yellow onion
  • 1 can diced green chilies
  • 1.5 lbs ground chuck (you can also use ground turkey or ground pork)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • Avocado oil

Instructions:

  • Heat about a tablespoon of avocado oil in a large pot with a lid (I love using my cast iron dutch oven for this).
  • Finely dice the yellow onion and add to the hot oil with the can of green chilies. Saute until onions are transparent.
  • Add in ground chuck. Use a wooden spoon to break up the beef as it browns.
  • Once beef is browned, add in all spices, chicken broth, and lime juice. Stir well.
  • Cover and simmer for 15-30 minutes to give flavors time to develop.
  • If you like a little more heat, you can stir in a tablespoon of diced jalapenos right before serving.

Christina Reads: Furious Hours

One of my goals every single year is to read more. I read a lot of books and short stories and student writing for work, and because of that, I have kind of fallen out of love with reading and rarely read for pleasure anymore. I figured quarantine would be a good time to work on my To Be Read pile, and I have finished two books in the last two weeks!

I have been a fan of Harper Lee ever since my 7th grade English teacher handed me a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. I actually signed up for the preorder of Go Set a Watchman when it came out, and went the day it was released to pick up my copy. But I never read it. I heard so many bad reviews and people saying that Atticus was not the hero we saw him as in Mockingbird, and I just didn’t want to ruin what was the perfect book and perfect character.

Last summer, I found the book Furious Hours, which is a nonfiction account of how Lee spent years working on a crime novel. She did all the research, took all the notes, and spent tons of time writing, but the manuscript was never finished. I was fascinated by Lee anyway, and knew she had helped Truman Capote research his book, In Cold Blood, so I was curious to learn more.

I’m almost ashamed to say that I started reading Furious Hours LAST summer on our trip to Arkansas. The book is fascinating, and I devoured pages as we drove during that trip, but I was about halfway through it when we got home and life got busy again and I never finished it. I finally picked it back up last weekend, reread a few sections to refresh my memory, and finished it. I came away with a new appreciation for one of my favorite authors and learned a lot about her writing process and the life that she worked so hard to keep private.

Reading this book gave me a new interest in Go Set a Watchman and In Cold Blood, which are the next two books on my list. I don’t think this book is for everyone – it is long, extremely detailed, and unless you are already interested in stories of the South or Lee, you probably won’t be as fascinated by it as I was. I was gripped from the very first page (which I know sounds crazy, since I put it down for so many months, but it was always waiting on my nightstand and I was always just too exhausted to dive back in – those final months of pregnancy and the newborn phase are rough).

I did have a moment when I realized the author, Casey Cep, is from up north. For some reason, it would seem more fitting for someone from the South to write about Lee, but Cep’s writing is great and you can tell she did her research on both the person and the place. In fact, it was probably good that a Southern writer didn’t pen this book, as we Southerners are prone to tall tales and exaggeration (something Lee notes and is frustrated by during her research), and as an outsider, Cep was able to write the facts without feeling the need to insert herself into the story.

The book looks closely at correspondences between Lee and her friends and family to fill in the gaps in her life after Mockingbird was published, and I loved getting to read snippets from her letters.

This book gave me two major realizations:

1. Letter writing is a lost art, and we need to bring it back.

2. Writing is a little about talent and a lot about hard work and dedication. Even someone as brilliant as Lee struggled with the latter.

This book gets 5 stars from me.

Next on my reading list:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Sunday Thoughts

For the last few weeks, I’ve been in a funk. My mood has been all over the place. I have days when I’m really productive followed by days when I can’t even get the simplest tasks like laundry and dishes done. I’ve snapped at my kids more than I’d like to admit. I’ve slacked off on completing my workouts. My eating habits have been crazy. Some days it’s a challenge to even get a shower and put on real clothes.

As a homebody, I really thought I was going to handle this quarantine thing just fine, but it turns out that I’m actually not handling it the best.

Now that social media is pretty much my only way to be social, I’ve spent way too much time scrolling and checking in to see what everyone else is doing, feeling, and thinking. I see other people doing home improvement projects and homeschooling their kids and working from home and killing it at their home workout programs and cooking gourmet meals and reading all the books and learning new hobbies and I feel so much self-imposed pressure to be doing all the things and doing them all well so that I have Instagram worthy pictures as proof of my hustling.

Hustle is something the world tells us we need to do. You need to hustle at your job. You need a side hustle. Your hobby isn’t important unless it makes you money. You need to be a Boss Babe.

There are some people who thrive on hustling all the time, but I am not one of them. In fact, I think one of the lessons I’m learning from this forced shut-down is that hustling is overrated. The days that work well for me and my family are the days where I’m not trying to hustle and get it all done. The days that I’ve enjoyed during this time are the days where I’ve truly slowed down and just enjoyed time with my boys and Jeff. The days where I’ve tried to force a struct schedule or push too hard to fulfill someone else’s idea of what I should be checking off my list to be considered productive are the days that have ended with me feeling like a crappy parent because I snapped at my kids (usually over something stupid that was my own fault because I was trying to force some kind of activity for Instagram’s sake and we all ended up frustrated).

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with being productive and there’s nothing wrong with schedules and activities. But hustling for the sake of hustling? Just so you can prove to other people that you can? I don’t see the point in that, and I definitely don’t feel like my spirit is fulfilled when I follow that mindset.

This week, I’m saying no to the self-imposed hustle. I’m saying no to comparing myself to other people on social media. I’m saying no to strict schedules and complicated activities. I’m saying no to ridiculous expectations.

This week, I’m saying yes to quality time playing with my boys. I’m saying yes to time spent in the porch swing. I’m saying yes to slow mornings, afternoon walks, and naps on the couch. I’m saying yes to embracing the slowness of this time and to see what God teaches me from slowing down and savoring the moment.

A Different Kind of Easter

Easter Sunday for us usually consists of opening Easter baskets and eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast before getting dressed up in our new matching outfits and going to church with my grandparents. After church, we usually join in with their church for a potluck lunch and egg hunt followed by spending the afternoon at my grandparents’ house and hunting eggs hidden by my grandfather, who is the best egg hider ever. (He once buried the prize egg in the yard and stood on it while we were hunting.)

Jack with my grandparents on Easter 2018.

This year has definitely been different. We woke up on Easter Sunday with nowhere to go, stayed in pajamas and cozy clothes all day, and ate cinnamon rolls out of a can instead of my mom’s homemade ones. We had bad weather and spent the afternoon hunkered down in the basement instead of hunting eggs.

It mag have been an Easter like we’ve never experienced before, but our reason to celebrate is the same. No matter what our circumstances on this Easter Sunday, Jesus is still alive and on the throne and that’s worthy of our celebration and praise.

Despite missing out on some of our favorite traditions, this has been a sweet Easter season. In fact, doing things in a totally different way has gotten me thinking about some of our traditions and some new things I’d like to implement in the future. I have loved seeing on my social media how other people have chosen to celebrate from home, and some of the ideas I’ve seen are just so cute that I want to try to add them to our celebration next year.

One tradition we love is our annual Easter Egg Hunt at church. On the Wednesday before Easter, our church has a special service just for the kids with a guest speaker, fun music, an egg hunt, and food and fellowship.

While our egg hunt had to be cancelled this year, we still had fun hunting eggs at home. One of Jack’s Sunday School teachers delivered a bag of Easter goodies for Jack and Henry, which Jack loved. He was totally surprised and excited to get his own mail (she put them in our mailbox, and he was so excited when I took him to get the mail and he found them).

We also took an egg hunt to our cousins’ house, which was really fun. We egged their house on Thursday, then they egged us back on Saturday. Jack loved hiding the eggs for them, and I think this might be a new yearly tradition for us.

I saw a post by Kate from The Small Things Blog on Instagram where she mentioned that the Easter Bunny came to visit her kids on Friday night and they got their baskets and did their egg hunt on Saturday. I actually really love the idea of getting the Easter bunny stuff over with on Saturday so that Sunday is reserved just for celebrating Jesus. I think I’m definitely going to start that with my kids next year. This year, we filled baskets for the kids to open on Sunday, and they loved their gifts (please excuse Jack’s lack of clothes – quarantine has really lowered our standards over here and he basically lives in just his Pull Up these days).

Another fun thing we did this year was complete a painting kit put together by Created Resources (a local business here in Tuscaloosa). Jack loved painting his canvas, and the final product is a great keepsake for me to keep.

Our church has done such a great job with online services since this whole thing started, and we enjoyed watching our church service at home this morning. While I’m thankful that technology allows us to still hear a message from our pastor and praise team each week, I really miss going to church. I can’t wait to be able to go back to church and worship with our church family under one roof. You can watch our Easter Sunday service here.

This was Henry’s first Easter, and I am a little sad that he missed out on some of our normal traditions (especially time with family), but I was able to get a few good pictures of him in his Easter outfit (the same one Jack wore for his first Easter).

This may have been a very different Easter week, but it’s still been a special time with my boys. I hope that you’ve had a blessed Easter week as well.

Fun Toddler Activities for Quarantine Life

Is anybody else feeling a little overwhelmed with keeping kids entertained now that we’re all staying at home? I love being home and wish I could be a full-time stay-at-home mama, so even though the circumstances leading to us being cooped up in the house are not good, I’m thankful for the extra time with my boys. I’m already used to staying home during the summers, and I typically have some sort of loose schedule during those months, but so much of that schedule depends on going places. We visit family, go to the library, go to the playground…all things we can’t do right now under our current circumstances.

I’m going to be honest – during this time, we don’t have a schedule and more often than not we watch a few hours of Disney+ every day. That’s just how I’m making it through to be able to get the house semi-cleaned and cook dinner and keep my sanity with a toddler and an infant. I don’t see anything wrong with using TV as a tool or a distraction during this strange circumstance, but I also don’t want Jack to be a TV zombie, so I’ve been trying to do at least one activity each day and we try to get outside every afternoon.

Here are some of our favorite activities from the last few weeks:

Color Sorting

For this activity, you just need some construction paper, markers, and a box of any kind of toys (I like using blocks for this).

In a perfect world, I would have used colored sheets of construction paper for this, but I didn’t have any, so I used white cardstock and some markers to make place cards for each color. Jack has a pretty good grasp on the six colors of the rainbow, so I added black and white since he has blocks that are those colors, too.

Setup it simple – set out your color-coded cards, dump out the toys, and let your kid sort them by placing the toy on the correct colored card. I like to review the colors with Jack before we start and I’ll help him do the first few to model how to play. Once he gets started, I leave this set up all day. He typically does a lot of non-color sorting play as he goes through the toys and decides to build something or finds a toy car in the box of blocks and decides to race it, but as long as the cards are out, I can usually easily redirect him to sorting colors by asking him what color something is and that makes this activity last for quite a while. I don’t mind that he plays other things in between completing this activity as long as he’s playing independently and not glued to the TV – independent play is actually the whole point.

Shape Sorting

This activity is similar to color sorting. All you need for this one is some construction paper and markers. I just take sheets of construction paper and draw shapes on them (I did circle, square, triangle, and rectangle in the activity pictured). Once you have drawn the shapes, review them with your child – I like to have Jack tell me the name of the shape, try to draw the shape, and find something in the room that is that shape. Next, send your child on a scavenger hunt for items in those shapes. Each item he or she finds should be brought back to the cards and placed on the correct shape’s card.

I have a few rules for Jack when playing this game:

  1. No climbing to get items. Everything he finds on his hunt has to be within his reach.
  2. No opening doors or drawers to find items.

This is another activity that I set up in the morning and leave out all day. Jack will play with it on and off, and when Jeff gets home, he can’t wait to show Daddy what he found and tell him about all the shapes.

Dino Dig

This is one of Jack’s favorite activities, and you can do it with any kind of toy (not just dinosaurs). I actually used this for the first time during Jack’s dinosaur themed birthday party, and all the kids loved it. We have continued to do it over and over since then.

All you need is a sandbox, some digging tools (shovels or even plastic spoons work), and some kind of toy for kids to dig up (dinosaurs, in our case). Just cover the toys with sand, give the kids the digging tools, and let them have at it. This keeps Jack entertained for hours. He usually ends up getting all his trucks involved in digging up the dinosaurs, too. It is the perfect vehicle for imaginative play and he makes up stories as he goes along, which is so cute and so great for learning.

As you can see in this picture, our sandbox is nothing special. We just bought a small plastic kiddie pool from the dollar store and a bag of sand from the hardware store. I got a small pool to use as the sandbox and one a little larger to use as a cover when we’re not using it to keep bugs and animals out of it.We made a super cheap version with a plastic kiddie pool from the dollar store and a bag of sand from the hardware store. I just got a small pool to use as the sandbox and one a little larger to use as a cover when we’re not using it to keep bugs and animals out of it. It cost about $25 total and we used it all summer and fall and most of the winter. We did dump out the sand and get a new bag a few weeks ago, but that will last us a few months before we need to replace it.

Car Wash

If there’s one thing my toddler loves, it is water! I use the cover of our sandbox (the bigger plastic kiddie pool) for this activity and Jack loves it. I just fill the pool with water, squirt in some dish soap, dump in some toy cars, and give Jack a scrub brush. He loves this activity because it has water and bubbles (the epitome of a good time for a toddler).

As you can see in the picture, sometimes this turns into an actual car wash for his ride-on toys, but that’s just an easy way to get all the pollen washed off of them without me having to do it. This even led to us washing Jeff’s truck together one afternoon last week, which Jack absolutely loved. He’s practicing real-life skills with this activity, and it is his favorite thing to do when we go outside.

Sensory Bin

I first saw sensory bins on the Busy Toddler Instagram page (linked here – this is one of my favorite resources for fun activities for kids). I made Jack a bin using rice and keep it ready all the time for those moments when time is dragging or we need a quick distraction that doesn’t involve TV for me to get some work done.

There’s a whole post on the Busy Toddler website (linked here)about the benefits of sensory bins and there are tons of ideas for them there, too.

Robot Building

Jack’s collection of Mega Bloks is one of my favorite things to get out for him to play with. I love how creative he can get with such a simple toy. We love having robot building contests with his blocks, and you’d be amazed at what he can create at just 2.5 years old.

I usually help him get started and then once he has a few robots built, he will play with them for hours at a time. I know this doesn’t really seem like much of an activity, but he’s doing so much learning through play when he does this and it gives him a great opportunity to use his imagination.

Dance Party

This one is so easy and it really helps on those days when things start to go south and we need a quick way to get out some energy and reset. There are tons of apps you can use for this that have videos for kids to dance along with (Like GoNoodle, linked here, or you can search for videos on YouTube). The videos are fun, but my favorite way to do this is to just blast some fun music and be silly. Even Henry loves when we do this activity.

Henry’s face when his favorite song comes on…

Here are some of our favorite songs to use for a quick dance party:

  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake (Henry’s favorite)
  • “Can’t Touch This” by M.C. Hammer
  • “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
  • “Uptown Funk” (the clean version) by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars (Jack’s favorite)
  • “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger
  • “Rockin Robin” by Bobby Day

Corona Chronicles 2020

This is such a strange time.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually been afraid of a virus before, but I do have moments of fear when I let my mind go through the worst case scenarios of what would happen if one of us gets sick. The boys and I are home since the schools have closed, but Jeff is still working. He works at the hospital, so I’m worried that he’s going to catch the virus and bring it home and pass it to the boys. I’m trying my best to not let fear control me, and most of the time, I can push it aside and enjoy this rare gift of extra time with my family. However, as a mother, I can’t help but worry a little bit. That doesn’t mean I don’t have faith. It just means I’m normal and human.

I’m really not even sure how I feel a lot of the time. Sometimes, I’m afraid and worried about the health of my kids and husband and extended family. Other times, I feel at perfect peace being home (getting to live my dream of being a stay-at-home mom for a little while). My boys aren’t old enough to know or understand what’s going on in the world right now. They just know that they’re home with mom, and I’m trying my best to make these days with them count.

Here’s what we’ve been up to during the first week of our quarantine (including the good, the bad, and the ugly):

Day One: Sunday, March 15

Our church did meet today, but we stayed home because both boys had runny noses and a little cough (that first cold from daycare). We took Henry’s weekly picture, Jeff ventured out to the grocery store to get groceries for the week, and we had a pretty normal Sunday.

Day Two: Monday, March 16

I’m trying to limit TV during the day because Jack gets addicted to it so easily and I don’t want us to spend all our time in front of a screen, so we filled our day with lots of playtime on the back deck. We baked banana bread and took some over to our neighbors, took a family walk, and had chicken and broccoli casserole for dinner.

Day Three: Tuesday, March 17

Jack and I made some fun handprint art to review his letters while Henry napped. We watched Cars on Disney+ and deep cleaned the couch. The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the sunshine for a while this afternoon. We set up an obstacle course on the back deck and Jack loved running through it over and over. I made taco zucchini boats for dinner (recipe coming soon).

Day Four: Wednesday, March 18

We had originally planned to go see my mom, but Jack woke up with a fever, so we stayed put and spent the whole day snuggling on the couch, watching movies, and eating ice cream. I know I cooked, but can’t remember what. The stores were low on lots of our normal foods, so I’m already having to get creative with our meals.

Day Five: Thursday, March 19

Thankfully, Jack was feeling better today. We spent most of the day playing and drawing pictures to send to family members who we can’t visit right now. After a full day of TV, Jack spent a solid 30 minutes pouting and crying and hiding under the kitchen counter because I wouldn’t turn on his show. He ended up telling me that he couldn’t play with any of his toys because he didn’t like them and needed his TV. I ended up grabbing a trash bag and stuffing it full of every single toy from the den. When I carried the bag outside, and it sank in that I had just taken all of his toys, he changed his mind and stopped crying and is now earning his toys back one at a time with good behavior. I don’t know if that’s good parenting or if I’m just giving him a good story to talk about in therapy one day, but it stopped his tantrum and we all survived. It’s definitely not all rainbows and butterflies in quarantine with a toddler.

Henry also insisted on being held for most of the day and I was extra thankful to see Jeff when he got home from work. I’m not trying to complain – just sharing real life and that, despite being a homebody, this many days of staying home on lockdown have the walls closing in for all of us.

Day Six: Friday, March 20

We cleaned and organized the bedroom today. I have so many projects I want to get done (I notice so many things when I’m home for a while), but just started with simply cleaning out closets and doing all the laundry.

Jack and Henry were both in better moods. We’re starting to get a little stir crazy and all needed a change of scenery, so we piled in the car for a little drive and picked up dinner at a local restaurant on our way back home. We ended the day with a family dance party.

Day Seven: Saturday, March 21

We got Jack some new, clean sand for his sand box and Jeff let me take an epic nap this afternoon. Dinner options are starting to look like a bad episode of Chopped and we’ll have to do a grocery run soon. The boys are all off their normal schedules, but we’re still hanging in there and everything is fine.

As we continue this quarantine (schools are closed for at least two more weeks), I’m trying to set some personal goals for things like working out and developing some new recipes to share, but this week was all about adapting to our new normal and surviving.

How are you practicing social distancing and how’s it going for you so far? Let me know in the comments!

Boys’ Shared Bedroom Reveal

This post is a long time coming… You may remember my inspiration post from when I was pregnant, but it wasn’t until we had a photographer coming to take Henry’s newborn photos at our house that we actually finished this project (I was literally spray painting the dresser at 8:00 pm the night before pictures). Any other procrastinators out there who have to be pushed into finishing projects?

Despite the fact that I was spray painting furniture in the dark the night before pictures, the boys’ bedroom ended up looking great!

Jeff and I really wanted to focus on using what we already had with this room instead of buying new furniture. We had the iron bed frame that we used for Jack’s bed in our basement already and just cleaned it up and spray painted it a matte black. Since the dresser was painted white, it didn’t really fit with the rest of the room, so we painted it black as well. We decided to leave the crib it’s original wood color – I like the mix of the rich wood tones and black against the bright green wall (Sherwin Williams Talipot Palm) – and also left the chest of drawers and rocking chair just stained wood.

Most of our money in this room was spent on items we used to tie all the mismatched furniture together, like the rug, throw pillows, and bedding. I wanted pretty neutral bedding since we went with such a bright color on the walls, and the rug was a must so the boys would have a soft place to play on the floor. We switched the light to a ceiling fan that my parents had leftover from their house remodel a few years ago. It’s a lot more functional for the space and ties in the black and wood tones from the rest of the room.

We decided to use the dresser as a changing table again because that worked really well when Jack was a baby. I got the changing pad cover and the matching crib sheet from Spearmint Love.

I found the Smokey Bear poster on Etsy and used a frame we already had. I bought the letters from Hobby Lobby and my mom used her Cricut machine to make the “is for Jack” and “is for Henry” sayings, then we simply stuck those into the existing signs to personalize them. The trash can by the changing table is one of my favorite pieces in the room – it has a map of the United States on it and it belonged to my great aunt, who was a school teacher. She had it in her classroom, I think, and I always loved looking at it when I would go to get house when I was little.

My parents got us a huge map of the United States that shows all the National Parks from a sweet woman who was working at the Ranger Station on the Natchez Trace when they were on a trip, and I still have to get it framed. I’m planning to hang it over Henry’s crib.

We also invested in these blinds from Lowe’s – I love that they don’t have a cord on them. It makes them a lot safer for our boys and it just has a cleaner look.

I hung the boys’ hospital door hangers on their closet doors. Our next project will be organizing the closet to make it function for both boys. Right now, we use the dresser/changing table for Henry’s things and the chest of drawers for Jack’s. It’s working pretty well, but I do need to get the closet set up so their hanging clothes are more organized and I need a better way to store shoes, extra diapers, and toys.

I still have a few little projects that I’ll add (like the National Parks banner that I talked about in this post), but for right now this space is finally functional for us and it’s done for the moment. Now we just need to get Jack to sleep in his bed instead of ours (which has been way harder than any DIY project we’ve done so far). Wish us luck.

Strong in 2020

Instead of creating the same old list of resolutions (lose weight, get organized, save money, etc.), this year I decided to choose a word to guide my year and apply that word to multiple areas of my life. That way, instead of a list of things to do or not do in the new year, I’m focused more on a specific idea of the kind of person I want to be when the year ends and can work toward that goal throughout the year.

The word I chose for this year is STRONG.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

Ephesians 6:10

There are four main areas of my life where I want to focus on being strong: spiritually, physically, financially, and socially.

In the last few months, I have really felt convicted about the lack of spiritual discipline in my life. We attend church, but there’s so much more to having a relationship with God than going to church a few times a week. In the busyness of life, I have sacrificed time spent with God for other things, and it’s left me completely spiritually drained.

I think a good way to do a self-check to see if you’re spending enough time in God’s presence and His Word is to look at your life and try to find evidence of the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Do I react to others in love, or do I let anger consume me? Am I patient with others or am I easily frustrated? Do I look for joy in the little things, or do I constantly complain? Am I kind to others? My answers to those questions tell me that I’m not spending time with God like I should. Just like with any relationship, I have to put the work in if I want my relationship with God to thrive and grow. I know that I need to make time with God and time studying His Word a priority, and that’s my first goal for the year.

I have never, ever been a morning person, but with little kids and a job that leaves me totally drained at the end of the day, I know that I need to set aside time early in my day for my quiet time or it most likely won’t happen. I don’t want to have to get up any earlier, but I know that’s what I need to do in order to make this happen. Nobody said making changes was easy, right? I’m really not looking forward to losing 30 minutes of sleep, but I’m going into this believing that it’s important and that God is going to bless that time. After all, no matter how much sleep we get, we’re not truly rested unless we are resting in God and spending time with Him (Matthew 11:28-29).

Another area of my life that needs LOTS of improvement is my health. After having two kids in two and a half years, my body needs to recover and I want to come back stronger than before. It is more important now than ever for me to get active so I can keep up with my boys and so I can be a healthy, happy mom for them.

Focusing on taking care of myself physically has always been a challenge for me because I feel like the time and money it takes to invest in my health could be better spent somewhere else, but I am finally beginning to realize that I can’t take care of others if I don’t take care of myself first. I’ve always kind of thought of self-care as being selfish, but I am learning that I can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking care of myself isn’t selfish – it’s necessary if I’m going to be a good wife, mom, and friend.

Just like I need time with God each day to strengthen my spirit, I need to spend time every day taking care of my body. I’m not going into this year with an extreme goal to lose a ton of weight to hit a specific number on the scale. Instead, I’m starting the year with a commitment to complete 100 workouts in the next six months (that’s 4 to 5 workouts per week). As a person who has failed at every fitness commitment I’ve ever made, I know this is going to be tough, but I’ve finally decided that I am worth it. This is going to be the year that I stick with it. I will be checking in on here and on my social media when I hit 20, 40, 60, 80, and 100 workouts to help me stay accountable. I know this journey is going to challenge me physically and mentally and I’m excited to see how much stronger I feel after completing this challenge.

When Jeff and I got married, I had a couple store credit cards and one regular credit card that was maxed out (thankfully, it maxed out at a pretty low amount, but still, I was paying LOTS of interest on that debt). We made it our first priority as a married couple to cut up those cards and pay those off. We are both bad at budgeting and we both like to spend money, so we have avoided getting any other credit cards because we know that we’d end up racking up debt and we don’t want to do that. Since we paid those credit cards off and closed those accounts, our next priority has been working towards paying off our student loans. According to Proverbs 22:7, “the borrower is the slave to the lender.” When it comes to student loans, we definitely feel the truth of this verse. It’s so draining to make that payment every single month and never really see a dent in the amount of debt you’re paying.

One of our goals this year is to pay off as much of that debt as possible so that we can finally be debt-free.

We also want to focus on being intentional with our spending. It’s so easy to just toss stuff in the cart at Target or run through the drive-thru for lunch and not think about those little expenses, but they do add up. We’re going to do our best to cut down on unnecessary spending and save as much as possible.

Another area of my life where I want to be stronger in 2020 is in my relationships. Obviously, I want to continue to pour into my marriage and my relationships with family, but my main priority for this year is to strengthen my friendships. I’ve always had lots of acquaintances, but I’ve never really had many super close friendships. This year, I want to work on strengthening the friendships I already have by being a better friend. I tend to be a homebody and keep to myself, and I need to step out of my comfort zone and really be there for my friends.

I also want this to be the year that Jeff and I really get involved in our church through Sunday School and small groups. I think it’s super important to surround yourself with people who are supportive. This year, I want to strengthen our friendships with the people at or church and really get to know them. This is something I’ve felt God leading me to do for a while now, and I’m excited to follow His calling and see what kinds of great friendships He has in store for us.

Reflecting on 2019

I feel like every year since I met Jeff, I’ve been saying “this was the best year ever.” We’ve packed a ton into the few years we’ve known each other – marriage, buying our first house, having two beautiful baby boys – and it seems like things just keep getting better and better as we get older and our family grows. 2019 had its struggles, but for the most part, it has been a good year for us and we are extremely blessed.

This year, we found out we were pregnant after months of trying, became members of our church, celebrated our third wedding anniversary, took two great family vacations (one to Fairhope and one to Arkansas), celebrated Jack’s second birthday, and welcomed Henry to our family. We also started taking our health and nutrition more seriously, and despite me being pregnant for most of this calendar year, Jeff and I are both ending the year lighter and feeling better than we have in quite a while.

Here are some highlights from 2019:

Looking back at the picture from January 2018 makes me realize just how much Jack has grown this year. This toddler stage is so fun – we love how much his little personality has developed over the past year. This little guy is so smart and funny. He constantly makes us laugh and keeps us on our toes because he’s constantly getting into something.
Jeff and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary this year.
This is one of many pictures of Jeff and Jack having fun together this year. I’ve loved seeing them get closer this past year. Jack has definitely become Daddy’s boy and can’t wait for Jeff to get home at the end of the day.
We went to A Day Out with Thomas at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in April. Jack absolutely loved riding the train.
Jack got tubes in April. This was us waiting for them to take him back into surgery. It was stressful for Jeff and me, but having the tubes put in has made such a huge difference in how often Jack has gotten sick this year.
Jack absolutely loved hunting for Easter eggs this year. I think we hid eggs in our living room and yard at least 20 times for him because he was constantly asking to go look for them.
Jack with my grandparents, shopping for a lawnmower. He loves Mamaw and Papaw and I’m so glad that he’s getting to spend time with them.
One of Jack’s favorite things at this age is playing with cars and trains. He loves the train set at my parents’ house and can’t wait to get it out as soon as he gets there.
We celebrated the beginning of summer with a weekend trip to Fairhope in May.
Jack and I made a Summer Bucket List so we could make the most of our time at home this summer while school was out. We also refinished our deck and did a quick makeover on it to make it a more enjoyable space to use for the summer.
We went to Lake Fort Smith in Arkansas with my parents in June and stopped in Hot Springs on our way there. Jeff and I loved exploring the city and want to go back when we can actually have time to go to one of the bath houses.
While we were in Arkansas, we took a day trip to Pawhuska, Oklahoma (the home of Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman). We visited her store and restaurant and took a lodge tour of the space where she films her cooking show. It was really cool to see it in person after watching her show for so many years.
In July, we found out that baby #2 was a boy!
We celebrated Jack’s second birthday with a dinosaur themed party.
When we had Jack’s 2 year photo shoot, we finally shared our little secret with friends and family. Everyone was excited to help us welcome Henry to our family in a few months.
Jack’s first day of the Terrific Twos class at daycare. He is starting to get harder and harder to photograph because he won’t be still!
Jack’s daycare teacher sent me this picture a few weeks after school started. We were all struggling (especially in the mornings because I had morning sickness for the whole 9 months that I was pregnant) and Jack was having a little separation anxiety when I would leave him at school. This is how he woke up from his nap that day (check out that hair) and his expression just summed up our whole month of trying to adjust back to work and school after having the summer off.
Jack wants to be just like Jeff – and that includes doing push-ups every night. 😍 I love watching them play together and it just melts my heart to see what a great daddy Jeff is.
We took Jack to the Tuscaloosa Barnyard and Pumpkin Patch in October. He loved feeding all the different animals.
Jack is finally old enough to go to All Fired Up and loves painting there. We made this pumpkin for Halloween this year and he had a blast painting it.
My mom and Jack carved a pumpkin together for Halloween.
Jack and I made this turkey to record some of the things he was thankful for during the month of November. When we were finished, his list included Mickey Mouse, Mamaw Tina, Pop Pop, Joe Joe (my brother), and baby dragon (his imaginary pet dragon that lives on our back deck).
Jack loves helping me decorate for Christmas this year – he especially loved helping me make our Christmas Bucket List banner of fun Christmas activities to complete as a way to count down to Christmas.
Henry was born on Sunday, November 24 at 2:16 p.m. He weighed 8 pounds and was 19.5 inches long.
Jack wasn’t to sure about Henry at first. We got him a book about being a big brother to try to ease the transition from being the only child to sharing our attention. He’s adjusted pretty well
My brother, Uncle “Joe Joe,” met Henry for the first time on Thanksgiving. We had a small celebration at home with my parents and brother since Henry was just a week old and we didn’t want to get him out or be around lots of people.
This view is my favorite. We enjoyed soaking up all the baby snuggles and I loved getting to get home with Jack and Henry for the entire Christmas season.
Jack got his very own train table for Christmas (along with about 100 other presents from family and friends). He loved Christmas this year and it was so fun.
My boys – I can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store for us!

Last year, Jack was about a year and a half old at Christmas and the one thing he wanted most was to play with my Nativity set. I didn’t want any pieces of my set to get broken (it’s a Precious Moments set that my mom got for me on eBay because it’s just like the one she has that I always loved when I was little, and it would probably be hard to find replacement pieces), so I bought this plastic Peanuts Nativity that Jack could play with. We actually made it through the whole season last year without losing any pieces, and I packed it away with the rest of the decorations.

This year, I set it up again and after just a few days of it being out, we lost Baby Jesus. I know – of all the things to lose, right? Baby Jesus is a pretty important part of the set, you know? I’ve kept the rest of the set out, hoping that one day when I’m cleaning up toys I’ll come across Baby Jesus in a random toy box, but so far he’s nowhere to be found.

Unlike the Baby Jesus in our Nativity set, the real Jesus isn’t hard to find. He’s always there, easily accessible whenever we call on Him. But it seems that many times, we’ve filled our holidays with so much stuff that we’ve “lost” Jesus. Somehow, the One who is the reason we celebrate gets pushed aside for parties and presents and to-do lists.

There are so many fun traditions that go along with Christmas, and I enjoy lots of them. I want my kids to remember looking at Christmas lights and making cookies for Santa and watching fun Christmas movies about Rudolph and Frosty; but in the midst of all those fun traditions, I don’t want them to miss out on the most important story of the season – the story of the birth of Jesus.

Losing Baby Jesus from the Nativity set definitely felt like a mom fail moment for me, but it’s just a piece of plastic. The real failure will be if I allow the busyness of this season to cause me to lose sight of the reason we celebrate in the first place. The ultimate failure would be raising children who don’t know about Jesus.

So, despite our incomplete Nativity set, I’m taking some time today to pull out our Bibles and read the Christmas story with my boys and teach them about Jesus.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!