Category Archives: motherhood

To Kim, the Young Mom Who Inspired Me

It’s been a great summer. We’ve traveled to foreign lands, gathered for sweet reunions, and swum and swam the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans blue.

We’ve soaked up summer, swimming at the local lake every day, and eating too much ice-cream. It’s been glorious.

Among all the great and grand adventures, something very ordinary occurred in my home that had a tremendous impact on me. Kim, this one’s for you.

In July my dear sister-in-law, Kim, and her husband, Glenn, (my husband’s brother, and my awesome marathon buddy!) traveled all the way from Saudi Arabia with their four young children: Tate and Finn ages 6 and 4, and Kenna and Taryn, 6-month-old twin girls.


Ah, I’m obsessed with the twins.


Let me eat your foot.

What it’s like to live in Saudi Arabia deserves it’s own post. It’s been hard, especially for Kim who is not allowed to drive and has to dress as according to local custom, every time she leaves the Aramco compound. Fresh fruit and vegetables, flour, mascara – what’s that?

Coming back to the U.S. required all sorts of documentation, planning, and luggage (the baby formula alone could feed a small zoo). It was quite dizzying what they accomplished.

Kim, super mother to four delightful children, arrived at our front door very very sick with strep throat.

A few days later, (after rudely sleeping in whilst my guests had been up with babies throughout the night and had fixed their own breakfast,) I stumbled downstairs to say good morning. I found my kitchen entirely too clean, with warm, fluffy pancakes awaiting me (their marital teamwork is impressive!). Glenn was even sweeping the floor.

Kim was at the kitchen table with 6-year-old, Tate. He had a pencil and a workbook. He was writing his letters, carefully focusing on each swirl and twirl of the alphabet, while his mother balanced twins on her lap, patiently pointing at the paper, redirecting when Tate became distracted by a fly, and encouraging when necessary (often.)

I was so struck by this scene.

I could see myself, years earlier, at the kitchen table with my oldest child, Cope: when summer was long and hot, when we had endless hours stretched out before us, when we had a schedule that required no driving to activities. Back then I was stricter about things like bedtime and television (only Saturday mornings)!

Every morning in the summer we read, we wrote, we learned all the notes on the piano. And every day, desperate for entertainment, we took a very slow walk and had a very long bath.

After writing, Kim followed Tate, and I followed Kim, to the piano. I witnessed this mother, a younger (and idealized) version of myself, patiently teaching her child how to play. When he complained, she paused and said she would wait until he was ready. She didn’t yell or take away all his stuffed animals (ala Tiger Mother!) She just waited until he was ready.

I could practically see Tate’s brain and all his synapses connecting as he concentrated. He was so earnest. His little hands splayed out, connecting each finger to a note on the piano. He played his scales and then moved on to Old McDonald Had a Farm. When he nailed the song, his pleasure filled the whole house.

“Watch this, Auntie,” he said to me, grinning.

I felt a pang of…guilt…mixed with inspiration and resolve. I thought of my Paige, the youngest child. Was she was getting the same kind of mothering her older siblings received? Or have I gotten too busy?

It wasn’t that the early days of mothering were simpler or easier. In many ways it was harder, with younger children to look after, a house that always needed cleaning, 12 dorm boys to “mother,” and constant fatigue from not enough sleep. But the difference is we were less busy outside the home. And I admit it, I was more diligent about some things – like printing up all the American Red Cross swim guidelines so I could teach Cope and Nelson how to swim all the strokes and float with their clothes on for two minutes. Now? Ah geez, who can I hire???

Like most families, the youngest child has a very different life then her older siblings. This week, for instance, Paige happily came to preseason soccer practice everyday while I coached. She swung on swings, wandered the playground.

The life of younger siblings life most often means being dragged to this and that. It’s life in the car and waiting. I’m not saying it’s all bad. Life is good for her, but it’s just different. Maybe this is how youngest children get spoiled; parents feel guilty about not teaching them how to clean a bathroom so they reward them with iPads. Am I totally off base here?

As far as summer goes, I’m very anti-commitment. I resent camps, clubs, lessons, and anything that requires driving. We don’t participate in much. Summer is for us, because just wait. School will start and we will go, go, go.

And sometimes I worry that the little one is not getting the best of me.

Oh, we still have charts, a “zone” chore wheel, one on one time, but mustering up the discipline to sit down and be still and teach letters has waned. My older children  have moved on, and in many ways I’ve gone with them. It’s so exciting, to be busy with freshman orientation, ocean classroom, and gasp – dating! In addition, a mother has dreams of her own…writing, running, pursuing…it’s hard to know what to forego and for how long.

I’ve already done the Arthur puzzles a thousand times. I can’t get excited about High-Ho Cheerio. There’s also the  “been there, done that.” I’ve outgrown play dates and learning circles.

And yet, the littles need it. Does it really matter that I’m bored?

How easy it is not do that hard, mundane “stuff” of teaching the younger ones, as if they’ll just magically pick up “how to fold the laundry” on their own.  I now understand how “the baby” of the family often has a vastly different parent than the older ones had. Why the baby doesn’t have his or her own scrapbook. Was mom and dad just too tired to take the pictures?

Like, l totally get why my younger brothers got everything they wanted (they’ll recall it differently, ha! :))

I remember someone telling me that we had to be careful as our children became older, that we didn’t neglect the younger ones. At the time I thought it a ridiculous statement. If anything, it was the babies that took my attention. The older ones became independent while I was nursing and changing diapers. But now I understand. It’s too easy to get lazy, to feel tired, to stop parenting.

Young, new mothers might not understand that their example is every bit important as more “veteran” mothers.  As new moms, we often think we have no idea what we’re doing. But we do know! It’s instinct. It’s maternal. It comes. We know what we need to do. How great it is, this two-way street of learning between mothers at all stages.

I called my other sister-in-law, Jill, to tell her about this revelation, of watching Kim work with Tate and how I needed to buckle down with Paige, to read and write and do more math. Jill, the mother of four girls said, “I KNOW! I THOUGHT THE SAME THING!”

Kim, we all want to be like you 🙂

So, as I look towards fall, I know that life isn’t going to stop. We still have to drive, deliver and pick up children from here and there. We’re not giving up soccer practice or going to school or parent-teacher conferences or the grocery store. But I’ve also concluded that there also has to be more “No” for the better “Yes.” There has to be those Nine Minutes. After that we can go back to benevolent neglect (kidding!).

And gee, wasn’t my “baby” Paige thrilled when I told her we were going to read and write everyday just like we talked about at the beginning of the summer and then didn’t do so well because we went to Europe (see, life is HARD :). We were going to make music together and she wasn’t going to love it every second, but like my mother always said, “like that has anything to do with it.” (Thanks, mom!) Also, we were going to do MATH!

Paige only THINKS she detests math. She whined and complained, but this newly inspired mother wasn’t giving in. And just this morning, after weeks of working hard together, Paige showed me her math score: 100%. She was beaming. That my friends, is called self-esteem: doing the hard things and the right things because they have to get done. It makes you feel mighty good about yourself.

This whole scenario reminded me of the expression, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That might be true. But you certainly can remind the old dog of the tricks she already knows. And I’m happy to report, it comes back pretty easily.

To all you tired, new mothers who don’t sleep much, who are a little wide-eyed from this great adventure called motherhood, who don’t think you know what you’re doing: you do know. keep inspiring us older dogs. We need you more than you know.

And dear Kimmy, thank you <3

I'm sorry, Tate, for burning your hot dog. I'm trying to pay better attention :)

I’m sorry, Tate, for burning your hot dog. I’m trying to pay better attention 🙂


Can Changing Your Vocabulary Make You Happier?

My friend Eric has ALS.  Just about everything about it is awful. But sometimes we talk about the upsides. For instance, he knows what his family means to him. Life is about experiences together, rather than things. It’s heartbreaking to watch Eric’s physical body slowly stop working, and yet he’s still able to be positive. How does he do it? It has everything to do with his mind.

I’m also a podcast geek.

You may see me out running, pulling weeds, or driving in the car talking to an invisible person, nodding vehemently, or shouting “YES!” I’m likely listening to a podcast; there are just so many people to learn from out there in the world.

A recent favorite was Michael Hyatt’s, Watch Your Mouth. Ka-zaam! It was right in line with everything I’m interested in: being proactive, making better habits, becoming happier. This episode was about changing our vocabulary…which of course comes right from the brain.

As a man thinketh, so is he.

Our words have power. We know they affect others, but do we also realize they affect us? Do we realize our words affect our behavior? Even if we don’t say them out loud?

The mind is a powerful thing. We see the things we want to see and the more we use certain words, the more they become engrained in our brain and actions.

Think Eeyore versus Tigger.

Imagine if we made the mindset shift from “I have to” to “I get to.” I’m convinced our marriages would soar. Our children would smile more. Our families would flourish. Change the family? Change the world.

Using Eric and Hyatt’s list as a guide, here are my personal pitfalls; can you relate?

1. Driving: Eric can’t drive anymore. And he really liked driving his truck. I, on the other hand, view driving back and forth to school, church activities, parties, soccer, etc. as a huge waste of time. However, a mother recently told me she didn’t mind driving her child to school 35-minutes one-way every single day. “I have her undivided attention and she has mine. We don’t have to even look at each other. We just talk – it’s the most quality time we have.” Hmmm. Mindset shift. Instead of, “I have to drive the kids to school,” we could say, “I get to be the last person who says I love you just before he plunges into the middle school wing.” We go from burden to opportunity. (Besides, no driving = no Target! and what kind of life would that be?)

2. Work and School: I recently heard on Gretchen Rubin’s fabulous podcast Happier that people see a huge dip in their happiness on Sunday morning around noon. That’s when we begin to think about the work week ahead. Oh man, I get it. But what if we said, “I get to go to work on Monday and impact kids?” or “I am so lucky I get to go to school. I’m so lucky to get an education.” Ask anyone who’s job hunting or unemployed. They’ll tell you: “You are so lucky to have a job!!!” As a mom working at home, I can say, “I get to get up early and start breakfast, pack lunches, and spend time with grumpy-pants.” I get to! And some moms don’t.

3. Exercise/Running: You might be surprised (or glad!) to hear that I too constantly struggle with motivation to run and/or workout. Even though it’s a habit, I still catch myself saying, “I have to go run.” My goodness, how lucky are we, that we have legs! Sometimes I practice being grateful while running. “I’m so lucky for these strong legs that can run miles and miles.” Because I run early, I’ve witnessed the sun rise. I’ve interacted with moose, snakes, chipmunks, snow falling, raindrops, a mother goose and her goslings, too many barking dogs 🙂 Change your vocabulary from “I have to” to “I get to run today!” and you’ve got a game-changer.

4. The To-Do List: How many times a day do we say, “I have so many things to do.” Well listen, that’s just never going to change. And To-Do’s are a matter of choice. We get to choose what we want to do and when we do it. We are in charge of our calendar. “I get to vacuum the floor at 8 a.m. today.” “I am choosing to bring dinner to my friend because I love her.” “I am choosing to drive to Lowe’s and buy lightbulbs.” Changing our vocabulary might not make us LOVE buying lightbulbs, but the vocabulary tweak is important. Life doesn’t just happen to us. We choose our what, where, and when. Any hey, no lightbulbs? No light.

5. Making Dinner: “I have to make dinner. AGAIN” could be changed to, “I get to go to the grocery store where there are literally tons of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and Goldfish crackers to choose from. I get to peruse cookbooks and blogs or cook my mother’s tuna fish casserole! Tweak “I have to” to “I get to have dinner tonight. I’m so lucky to that every time I open my cupboard there is FOOD, glorious food!”

6. Travel: Recently I found myself dreading, “I have to plan this trip” while picking up a European guide book. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But I realized I was dreading the planning because I don’t know how to plan a trip to Europe. I’ve never been there. No one is picking us up at the airport, holding my hand, walking me through customs. I believe fear and indecision is the crux of much of our “I have to” vocabulary. But once we make a decision, we can make the mind shift. Not everyone gets to go on vacation. We get to.

7. Medical/Dental Appointments: “I have to pay how much for braces??? Did you say $6000 per kid?” And then everytime the bill comes or everytime I hand over the HSA card I’m thinking, “I have to pay $1000 for that?” Guess what? No one makes us go to the doctor. No one makes us get braces for the kids. Change the vocabulary to “I’m so lucky to have access to healthcare while people around the world have no doctors, no access, no dentists, no nothing.” “I’m so lucky we have enough money to make monthly installments for my daughter’s very expensive mouth. Her smile is going to be so beautiful. I’m so glad I can help her.” (cut the sarcasm!)

8. Parenting in General: We’re tired. I know we are, but it’s too easy to get snarky, snappy, and annoyed. It’s too easy to eye-roll, to make habits that last the lifetime of a relationship. We do it with infants: “I have to change another diaper.” We do it with our toddlers: “I have to take him outside and walk really slowly and look down every single drain.” We do it with our teens: “I have to have another conversation about texting.” Imagine the change in our relationships if we said, “I’m so lucky I get to spend time with my baby today. (even if she’s a little stinky :)” “I’m so lucky I get to be here when he learns to walk and says ‘Dada’ for the first time.” “I’m so lucky that God entrusted me with such a powerful personality!” “I’m so lucky to be a mother!” Woah. Mind shift.

I’ve found that this small tweak in my vocabulary, from “I have to…” to “I get to…” leads to this magical word called Gratitude. It’s no wonder that happiness is directly tied to being grateful.

I remember the day my friend Eric could no longer lift my son’s bike out of his truck. I remember the day he could no longer take cereal down from the fridge to give to his daughters. He can no longer lift his arms to scratch his nose, swat a mosquito, or wipe away tears. I get to do all of those things.

We went for a walk the other day because he can still make very small movements with his hands to move the joystick of his wheelchair. We were going down the road, me walking, him rolling. I didn’t say it, but I sure thought it: “I’m get to walk. I’m so lucky.”

On the way back, Eric slowed to a stop. I looked down to see a snake slithering across the road and eeked out a small shriek. But Eric appreciated. His eyes zeroed in on the snake. Instead of screaming and running down the road I managed to stay still and watch, as the snake used it’s body to slither across the road, making a seamless “S.” Eric said, “It’s so cool how it can do that. So effortlessly.”

Every day, we get to see little miracles like this. But only if we recognize them.

Lucky me. Lucky you.


Real Quotes From Real Kids (II)

As the darlings grow older, it’s harder to write about them. For some odd reason, they do not like me playing paparazzi to their every move and then posting their stories online for the whole world to read (how weird.) If I post a picture, I now have to ask permission. Oh, the funny stories that have fallen to the wayside…

Family privacy thing has plunged me into frequent blog crisis. After many months of deliberation, I came up with three categories I most like to write about: Happiness, Habits, and Health. (not to worry, the cherubs will still make frequent appearance.)

Real Quotes from Real Kids goes provides a compromise. They say things. I write them down and post anonymously. Sometimes even they can’t remember who said what (I have it filed away for future reference.)

I believe this post belongs in the Happiness category. Although, sometimes these quotes are not always funny or sweet or happy at all. But that’s real life, right?

Can you guess who said what? (I’m sorry, but I’m sworn to secrecy!)

The Top Ten:

1. “I’ve been nice for 5 days! I can’t be nice anymore – I’m OUT OF NICE!”

2. “I just want some processed American cheese. Is that so wrong?”

3. “Shoot high, hit low…that’s how I get exactly what I want!” (child negotiating bedtime. should I be concerned at the manipulation or impressed at the brilliance?)

4. “How would you like it if someone just wrecked your house because it was too close to his house? That is NOT OKAY!” (oh dear, the beaver indignance.)

5. “Why do you like running so much? Don’t you like, need to chase something? Like a ball???”

6. “Mama, this is nice toilet paper! I can’t wait to poop!”

7. “Well…your preference is wrong!” (we’re working on tolerating others’ opinions.)

8. “Mama, you’re my bestie.” (best quote on this page)

9. “There’s chocolate on my jeans! I didn’t even eat chocolate…double unfairness!”

10. “When I get married I want to come home and find my husband reading books to the our kids…and the best part is I can totally see all of my Uncles doing that.” (nice)

One of these quotes was actually said by dear husband. Can you guess which one?

Part I was back Here. I think this might become “a regular thing.” ’cause they just keep talking!

I hope you’re recording all the funny things you hear. At the very least, it serves as good blackmail and as a future record that you didn’t make this stuff up!

Have a marvelous weekend!



Best of May

A recap of life out here in the sticks…there should be more cow photos. Next time?

1. I don’t know why I think texting with darling daughter is so hilarious. A recent exchange when she went to Harvard with her dad for an “entrepreneurship field trip:”IMG_8992

2. I met Tita, of Lemonade International out of Guatemala. This woman is my hero, a humble, modern-day Mother Theresa, working in the slums, where children grow up in dumps. She didn’t mean to start a school or change the world…”I just walked hand in hand with Jesus and He made it happen.” IMG_9002_2

3. Summer soccer got kicked off with a night game. Ohhhh…I can’t stay away.IMG_9020_2

3a. I should stay away…can’t stay away…IMG_9146_2

4. Wait. Wasn’t this “Best of May”? Why is there an old diaper buried in my garden bed? (bad doggie!)IMG_9031

5. Anatomy & Physiology. We always think “studying outside” is a good idea until the wind blows  away our books and the weather is way too nice to focus. Nice try.IMG_9073

6. Bike to School Day! I’m cherishing these moments. Our friend Gail said, “Oh, I used to love biking with my children and now they are all grown up and moved away…”IMG_9080_2

7. We found a Snapper. Do you know they are meat eaters and carry a heavy fine for keeping?IMG_9085_2

8. Warning: 40-year-old women should think twice before attempting this acrobatic moveIMG_9142

9. 8th-grade NYC field trip fundraising breakfast. Aren’t they cute?IMG_9134

10. A girl and her dogDSC_0031

11. The tulips burst open, followed by the crab apple tree, poppies and rhododendrons. And just as quickly they are gone…IMG_9185

12. Forgive the Instagram repeats, but this was a best of May…IMG_9233

13. Mother’s DayIMG_9150_2

14. Best in-laws everIMG_9313


15. Right?IMG_9323_2

16. My good friend, Eric and wife, Heide, came to my class to talk about Eric’s diaphragm pacemaking system. ALS stinks. But medical advances are incredible.IMG_9186

17. A best of May: walks in the woods with EricIMG_9287_2

18. Tomatoes grown from seed are now in the ground!DSC_0047


19. Whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness never bought their child an iPod. Kidding, kidding! (kind of)IMG_9266

20. My boy went to the state track meet for the mile and ran a smokin’ fast 5:38! #braggingDSC_0058

21. We’re having some serious beaver troubles…this is the least of it. Advice? IMG_9339

22. I love this:IMG_9353

23. Cope in Fiddler on the Roof! Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match…is forever seared in my brain…it was an awesome production.CopeFiddler

24. And…we all ran in a 5k! amy5k

And we continue to run and run and run….right into summer! Tell me, how was your May?


All a Mother Needs: Remember Me

Every Mother’s Day, following the tradition of my own mother, we take a photo. This year we looked particularly photogenic. FullSizeRenderThis picture makes me laugh and pretty much sums up Mother’s Day: We tried.

Let’s walk down memory lane, shall we? And enjoy the Mother’s Days passed.

mothersday1 2014. Better?

mothersday2 2012. The lighting was really…uh, terrific. There’s a child missing and a child bawling. And her mother’s laughing at her. How mean am I? Anyway, this picture is a favorite. Little B was so sad because we took separate cars to church and she couldn’t go with me. Oh, when I was so adored! Btw, Cope is wearing my green cardigan and that white one has mysteriously gone missing from my closet. They claim innocence.


2011. I remember I hated my hair. I also wore running shoes to church due to plantar fasciitis. It was a lovely look. My Copey is wearing my old skirt. Brynne is wearing Cope’s baptism dress. They look so little…and so grown up!

mothersday2011 2010. Pre-braces. We liked the couch on this Mother’s Day. So many glorious naps on the red couch. I miss the couch. This was a fun age, when every time I entered the house, the children squealed with delight and Paige cried because she missed me every second.

mothersday2010 2009. Bonus points – Tenny boy was in the picture on Mother’s Day! I mean, he’s basically another child. We really liked the red couch.

mothersday20092008. Our new house. Cope is wearing the dress Brynne is wearing in 2011. And now Paige wears it. Paige says, “You look so young, mom.” Yeah.

I became a mom in 1999, but I wasn’t doing digital prints then. Be assured, there are pictures. I love those pictures. What may have once seemed “imperfect,” is a treasure.


Here’s my own mother, so many years ago when she basically had triplets. She would say, “look at my ratty hair,” but I adore it. I adore her familiar smile. And the way my father’s elbow rests on hers. We are wearing homemade matching dresses with matching home haircuts. I particularly like my twin’s homemade plaid pants.

Ah, Mother’s Day. I’d like to tip-toe into the subject and then I shall tip-toe right back out. I wish Mother’s Day was happier for more women. I wish we wouldn’t set ourselves up to be so disappointed. Too often, idealism robs rather than motivates. It’s mythical. Children (and spouses) need positive reinforcement; that’s motivating.

Are we setting the bar a bit too high? It’s as if our imperfect family will suddenly be our “ideal” and when those impossible expectations aren’t met, we’re crushed.

Like when Gregor threw up that one year. It was like he was throwing up at me.

I took the barf very personally.

This past Mother’s Day I decided I would not be disappointed by anything. Not even if my husband had to work all weekend (he did) or if the cherubs were crabby (never!)

I decided to appreciate the fact that I have a pretty awesome life. I have a mother here and a mother there. We GET to be mothers. So really, we may as well enjoy it. Every effort, no matter how small or imperfect is a sign that we are remembered, even if we have to ask someone to make dinner, set the table, and make a card (yes, I voice my needs 🙂

When I called my mom and visited my mother-in-law on Mother’s Day they were so grateful, so appreciative. “Thank you for remembering,” they said. I understand this. Mothers don’t need a lot on Mother’s Day, but we need a pause. We need to be remembered. Jewelry is just a bonus 🙂

I heard quite a few sentiments on Mother’s Day that ranged from, “It was a terrible day. My children were wretched. I feel like such a terrible mother” to “Just another day in paradise.” I like this one. Motherhood is much more enjoyable if we bring a sense of humor with us.

So when we’re given a dandelion bouquet, the imperfect drawing that makes us look like a herd of elephants and brought burnt toast for breakfast, say thank you. Don’t forget: Someone remembered you.

It’s the thought that counts.

Unless they’re throwing the burnt toast at you.

Mother’s Day was not created for mothers to feel more guilt. It’s just a day to be remembered. Which you are. Which I do. I’m sending you my wishes and kisses. I adore you women, each and every one.



Real Quotes From Real Kids

Occasionally I get nice notes :)

Occasionally I get nice notes 🙂

Yes, all of these statements recently came from the mouths of my dear sweet babes. And, well, if you think this household is all butterflies and sunshine…

The Top Ten:

1. “I don’t need a coat. My coat is in the car.” I go to car. The coat is still in the car. Child is at school. It’s 10 degrees outside. Fine. Child can freeze, but what must the teachers think of me? Image, people, image!

2. Let’s go exercise. “I’d rather be murdered with a rusty fork.”

3. “Ew! You’ve reached a new smoothie-disgustingness high.”

4. “You don’t listen to me! You just say ‘how was your day now go clean the bathroom.'” (I’ll admit, this one hurt. sniff.)

5. “How was I supposed to know your sweater would shrink? Actually, this is your fault; you never showed me how to wash sweaters!”

6. “We should totally get a donut. It’s totally overkill (after our Taco Bell lunch) but it’s the first day of vacation. I’ll work out later.”

7. “Mommy, I just swallowed a firecracker. It was good – kind of salty and kindof sweet.”

8. “I’m not arguing – I’m explaining why I’m right!”

9. “I ate all my snack so I went to the nurse and asked for one.” What did you say? “That I was soooo hungry and didn’t have a snack.” What about this sandwich and clementine? “I didn’t want to eat it. The nurse has pretzels.”

10. “You’re pretty. For a 38-year-old.” I’m actually 40 now. “Woah, really? Huh. I guess you’re really pretty then. For a 40-year-old – I’m kidding, mom, I’m kidding!”

I can not reveal which child said what because there would be a household revolt and they would ban me from blogging, but in my heart of hearts I know. And so do they.

And still, I love them. Imagine that.


Getting Organized: How to Get to Inbox Zero Every Day

Did you know we spend an average of 55 minutes a day looking for stuff we can’t find? On average, that’s about a year of our lifetime. What a waste.

Even though I get a lot of stuff done, I am seeking greater peace of mind. Meaning: getting my life organized. I’ve finally realized that the best way for me to do that is to ASK FOR HELP, to learn from a coach or a mentor.

I took the plunge and signed up for this FREE on-line course called “Mind Organization for Moms,” written by my organizational hero, April Perry. And no, you don’t have to be a mom to benefit from this course! The first lesson is getting your email to zero.

Who cares about email, you say? Well, who knew that having an “Inbox Zero” at the end of the day would take away so much stress – but it has. Boy howdy, it just makes me giddy.

This is how it happens: every email gets filed into an email folder.

This is based on using Gmail, which I highly recommend.

First, you’re going to make five folders by scrolling down to the very bottom on the left hand side of your Google email to where it says, “Create Label.” (you may need to click “more” and it will scroll further down.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.33.53 PM

After you click “Create new label,” this box pops up:Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.34.56 PM

Create five emails folders in the left hand column of your inbox (they will not “nest” under anything). Label them as follows:

@Action, @Immediate Action, @Someday, @Incubation, @Waiting.

@Action is for emails that require you to do something, but it’s not urgent.

@Immediate Action is what you work with all day. Everything in this folders means you need to take care of it within 1-3 days. You check it at the end of every day.

@Incubation is for things you are thinking about but don’t want to get rid of, like a coupon.

@Someday are emails that have ideas you really want to get to…someday. An example is an amazing bread recipe or a photography class.

@Waiting is for emails that require a response from another person. An example is emailing a query to a magazine and you’re waiting for a response. You’ve also emailed yourself so you have a copy of the email.

The reason you put the @ in front is because Google organizes the labels alphabetically and you want those to be the first options you see on the left hand side of your email.

It will look like this on the left hand side of your email now:

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Now, all the emails you get won’t fit exactly into those folders which is why you can create all the folders you want after these five! By the time you’re done with this you’ll feel like one snazzy organizational guru!

Now, every time you get an email, you PUT that email into the folder. Caveat: if you can take care of the email within two minutes, just take care of it quickly. Everything else? File!

How to move an email into a folder? Click on the email you want to read or have read, and then click on that little envelope at the top of your inbox. It looks like this (to the right of the trash can:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 5.35.33 PMOh, goody! Another manuscript rejection! I’m going to move that OUT of my inbox and into my “rejected manuscripts” folder. Or maybe I’ll just delete it 🙂

Here’s some examples of other folders I’ve created:

I get a lot of family emails so one of my folders is “Family.”

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I have a “School” label and put all of my children’s “Kid’s Activities” under that Parent “School” Label.

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Here is what the side of my email looks like with some of my folders (I make a lot!) I try to make general “big” labels and then add subcategories to those labels.

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The Password label sure is handy – I’ve saved a TON of time quickly looking up a password instead of guessing wrong ten times.

I like to make other labels to “nest” under big labels. For instance, “Schools” has sub-labels based on the schools we attend. School emails “nest” under “Better Teaching,” and “Employment” for contracts.

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Other labels include Church, Journal (which nests under “Family”), Great Quotes, and Receipts (very helpful.) I’m always tweaking.

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My “Writing” label has the most sub-labels as I try to keep helpful articles, contracts, manuscripts, and writing opportunities very organized. This fall I was in a huge panic as I could NOT find an important contract buried somewhere in the 3000 emails piled up. I had to write to the editor (embarrassing and unprofessional) for info. It shall never happen again!

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What I love most about this system is that it FORCES me to take action. I ended up unsubscribing to a lot of websites and newsletters  (like Rugs, USA – how did I get on that subscriber list???) because I had to deal with it instead of just ignoring it.

Filing everything somewhere forces me to make a decision about what I want to do with an email – will I really read it or will it just hang out in my inbox forever?

It makes me feel more in control of my whole life – which may sound a little dramatic – but it’s really how I feel.

Clearing your whole inbox takes time. When I started I had over 3000 emails! It’s taken many hours, but I’ve actually enjoyed the process. You can file in batches or make another label called @Sort and file in half hour batches. I bet you’ll end up deleting almost ALL of them.

Now, this system scared me at first because what if I put things in @Immediate Action and then didn’t look in that folder? Guess what? You have to look at the folder and look at it often! I try to do this every morning and every night. If I’m procrastinating doing something with the email, then it doesn’t belong in that folder.

I’m not a perfectionist and I’m not OCD, but I want to get better at managing my life so that I’m not so stressed out and overwhelmed. I believe it will help me be a better mother, writer, and give me more energy for the really important stuff.

I tell you, when I see this a couple times a day:

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I feel really, really good. It’s like a shot of adrenaline.

Questions? Let me know! And good luck!

As I go on this organizational journey (sorry for using that word), I’d like to take you along, filing each post under the tab that says “Habits” on the top of this website. (wait, am I getting organized?)

Next time: Using a digital calendar (love it!) and how to keep track of all those birthdays! Isn’t this fun?

P.S. Here’s the link again in case you’re interested in checking a free e-course Mind Organization course. It’s based on David Allen’s #1 best-selling book GETTING THINGS DONE. The Mind Organization course is a simplified, hand-holding course with eight lessons. I need hand-holding. Managing email is just the first step. Imagine what I’ll feel like after eight lessons…



The Start of it All


We said our good-byes to late night summer nights and jumped right into fall. What a leap! We are busy going from one thing to the next. Before school could start however, we had some shopping to do.

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Paige found some beautiful mushroom accoutrements and Brynne found this…she was not impressed. I can’t even write the word I detest it so much. Anyway, we did not purchase the lovely little undergarment for my fifth grader.


Mama managed to get one more soccer game in – in the pouring rain!

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To get pumped up for his last year in middle school, Nelson watched Rocky IV. My brother, Eric, waxed poetic about the great cinematic creation and ended the tribute with…”I’m not ashamed to admit I wiped a tear from my eye while writing that.” As you can see, we take our sports seriously.

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And then we really were off to school. Cope was inside eating bacon when I took the annual school photo. The tradition of four darlings in a row is totally ruined. On the first day, Nelson and Brynne scampered off to find friends, but at least there is one who still allows a photo with her mama. I’m including her shoes here because she wore these the first week. A little worn, but still perfectly good shoes, wouldn’t you agree?

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One of her friends though, deemed them unacceptable. “Ew,” she said. “Get some new shoes. Ew. Get some new clothes. You’re supposed to wear new clothes on the first day.” After school, Paige frowned while telling the story, but she later decided someone must have been having a bad day in second grade 🙁

Brynne, however, got her some fancy shmancy shoes.

And picture 3 is included because Mom is DETERMINED to pack snacks the night before school.

I’m already failing. I can’t do it. It’s a wretched late-night task. Can’t a girl just watch Jack Bauer without thinking about carrot sticks and applesauce?

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As the youngest, Paige does a lot of waiting around for siblings. Here she rolls around the floor waiting at Brynne’s eye appointment. I was wondering if it was socially acceptable to do the same. She got back at me by getting strep throat this week so I had to wait on her.

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Before school started for eldest child, we trotted to the big city so I could get those red Bean boots I’ve been drooling over. Now that I’m teaching a class on campus, I can justify such purchases, no? Red galoshes are probably not what you stylish urban dwellers wear, but come on, they’re red!

Well. Apparently, I am not allowed to simply TIE the shoelace. I have to do this thing curly-cue thing on the end and leave it untied. After my first effort, Cope shook her head sadly. “Oh, honey, no.” She really called me honey. And then a daughter tied her mother’s shoe. We have now come full circle. Sniff.


After school, these are my peeps. Oh my goodness, what a TEAM we have! I love them so much. Our skills are mad good, sure, but we are also KIND and SUPPORTIVE. Ah, the athletic field; one of the best classrooms in life.


Putting up the nets


I am now back to being the bag lady: snacks, Barbies, water, shoes, dolls, pencils, gum, soccer lesson plans, whistle, dog treats?


Cope has been playing some intense soccer as she tries out for the varsity team. Before school officially started she spent a week living at Hogwarts in the dormitory! Away from ME!

We had many text exchanges.


My children love my compassionate, nurturing, texting tone.

Now tell me, are you off and running, too???



A Mike’s Pastry Rival: Cream Puffs For Mumsie

My mother hates to cook. Oh sure, she’ll enjoy a good meal, but as she will tell you, eating is a perfectly good waste of time when you could be reading in bed. Or pruning a tree. So on this mother’s day eve, I applaud her kitchen sacrifice. To this day, I can see her sitting on the counter absently stirring a tomato sauce, completely absorbed in a book about English history. She may have disdained and detested the thankless task called dinner every single night, but she always made or delegated 🙂 There were few things more important to my mother than the family sitting down together every single night.

Breakfast was the same. We gathered. Every morning, she dragged herself out of bed to make sure something was on the table to eat. I even heard rumors that after the three oldest left home, she frequently cooked a hot breakfast for my brothers – bacon and eggs! This was her way of showing love. The value of food, was always about gathering the family. So she did it, because food brought us together.

There are a few recipes my mother passed down. she laughs at the very thought. Just last night we had the most favorite baked dish of all time: Tuna Fish Casserole. Delish!

Today I have the favorite dessert: The Cream Puff.puff2My mother also subscribes to the belief that food should be simple. She wouldn’t be caught dead with a Bon Appetit in the house. If, for one second, I could imagine her flipping through any sort of food magazine, she would roll her eyes boring and toss it aside. Which makes it all that more funny that I married a foodie, the son of a chef!

But this dessert is something my mother made frequently. It’s not hard, but has a simple complexity to it. It’s the dessert my children devour like wolves, and every single time, reminds me of my mom.

Here’s How. Remember: we are simple. this is simple.

The first step is to make chocolate pudding and put in the refrigerator the night before, or at least 5-6 hours before wanting to eat a cream puff. Now sure, you could use instant pudding, but the Cook to Serve Jello Pudding Mix is far superior. This too comes from directly from my mother, ick, I can’t abide instant chocolate pudding!

glopFirst you will make the batter, combining 1 cup of water, 1/8th teaspoon of salt, and a stick of butter in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add a cup of flour (whole wheat or white) all at once, stirring vigorously.

Cook and stir until mixture forms a ball that doesn’t separate. Remove from heat. Cool ten minutes. Add four eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition until smooth. It will resemble the above picture. This is where your muscles come in, missies!

Then you will drop batter by heaping tablespoons onto a baking sheet. No need to grease.

puffsWhen they come out of the oven you will have most adorable puffs! Look at those glorious puff puffies. Sadly, those sweet puffs will deflate a bit as they cool.cream puffAnd then you will fill them with the pudding. And whipped cream if you so desire. The possibilities are quite endless, but I never deviate from my fillings. It’s a formed habit that I don’t deviate from. It’s a childhood thing.

Cream Puffs for Mumsie

1 Cup Water

1/2 Cup or 1 Stick Real Butter

1 Cup Flour (whole wheat or white)

4 Eggs



1. In a medium saucepan combine water, butter and salt. Bring to boiling. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook and stir until mixture forms a ball that doesn’t separate. Remove from heat.

2. Cool ten minutes

3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition. Muscles!

4. Drop batter by heaping tablespoons (I do a bit more and come out to about 12), 3 inches apart, onto an ungreased baking sheet.

5. Bake at 400 for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool. Split puffs in half and fill with your hearts desire. Lightly sift powdered sugar (optional…we rarely make it this far)

Did you notice? There is no sugar in the pastry puff. There are so many eggs I eat these for breakfast.

We also  eat these cream puffs without the top so they last longer. And wouldn’t you know, the last time I had a cream puff from Mike’s Pastries, I liked Mumsie’s better! This dessert mimics my favorite pastry of all time: the eclair from Mike’s Pastries. It’s ever so easy but feels a little more decadent, a little more fancy pants than cookies.

I recall a time my mother made these for my sixth grade birthday party and my uninformed classmates used the pastries to throw at each other. She was not amused. And now, dear friends, enjoy the Cream Puffs for Mumsie. She’s not English, but sometimes I think it’s fun to call her names like Mumsie.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mumsie. I love you so. Thank you for doing the highest, holiest service assumed by mankind. Even when you hated to cook. #itwasmom Tweet that! 🙂


Mama Didn’t Raise No Martyr: Love Takes Teamwork

When school started this past fall, we were so busy that I got lazy with our chore zones. Suddenly the house was one colossal disaster. House asked, “Amy dear, what have you done to me?”

Realizing my blunder, I quickly put the chore pinwheel right back up on the wall:DSC_0371Whew. Much better. This is for Monday-Thursday.  Friday is FREEDOM. Saturday is something more fun – like a bathroom. And while I’m still picking up socks, wet gloves, and a million pieces of paper, the kids are pitchin’ in. They are just a tad bit tidier too. It warms my heart to hear a child holler, “I just cleaned the bathroom! Who got water all over the mirror???!” It takes such a lot of time and energy to keep a house even semi-clean.

Brynne says that when she is a mom she will have a spotless home with white curtains and white carpet in every room. “My children will pick up after themselves and my house will be perfectly clean!” I thought this strange as I eyed her backpack on the floor, papers and pencils and knick knacks strewn everywhere.

I suggested we start practicing her role as model mother. choresWhat I learned from my mama? She often told us she loved us so much she was going to teach us how to scrub the kitchen floor, weed, do toilets, and play the piano and answer the phone with more than a grunt. We rolled our eyes, but my mother was the anti-martyr and I love her everyday for it.

No, the keeping of a home belongs to the whole family. Lisa reminded me: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second-best time is now.”

Love Takes Teamwork.

Many lament that they just can’t seem to get their children to do anything. Well, that’s hard to believe since there is always something children want.  The best thing about them having kindles, ipads, televisions and computers? Chores get done.carrotsThis picture. It just makes me so happy. When they want something badly enough, kids find a way, don’t they?


We’ve had so much snow that it poses a huge challenge as we try to get down to feed the chickens. Love takes teamwork!


I sometimes fear that the girls will get lost in the blizzards and not be able to find their way back. But they always come back.


This girl has the job of shoveling the front walk. We’ve had so much snow that she’s lived out there for a few months now. It’s a bad picture because I was taking it from inside the house. Behind a thick glass door. She’s a good girl. Loves her Mama. Loves Jesus too.


Forced to feed the chickens all by myself. Boy howdy is it fun to sink up to my knees in snow all the way there and back. It’s so cold, the Downton Flock aren’t laying quite as many eggs. And the snow is so high it actually covers the top of the electric fence that encircles their coop. I pray the fox and weasel are hibernating in some other neighborhood.


Forcing self to run outside. Sometimes its nicer than expected. And sometimes every nostril hair freezes and I feel as if my hands are frostbitten and have already fallen off. I dream of warm. Does this picture make me look like I have hobbit legs? I like hobbits.


Speaking of work. One of our favorite boys EVER came to visit us for the weekend. Christian Yemga from Camaroon, graduated from Brandeis with a Master’s in Finance and NEEDS a sponsor and job within 30 days or he has to go back to Camaroon. Please help???! We love him so. Being from Camaroon, he’s digging this cold. It’s -20 tonight.


And even though it froze my fingers nearly off, I had to take the picture. Paige says “the sky guy has been really busy.”

waterlogueThe cold made me buy my first app – Waterlogue. So now I can turn all the snow pictures into a painting. Frozen in my mind forever.


It’s cold, but trying to find the beautiful in all this teamwork and love goin’ on. Luckily we don’t have to shovel this hill. Our town works mighty hard for us. Maybe they made a pinwheel chore chart too?