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I'm Okay, You're Okay... the Word Curate Is not Okay

I recently read a book that a bunch of people have recommended over the past several months. It's called The Curated Closet and I found it to be helpful and practical. (I mean, I've been reading fashion blogs for about five years so it wasn't like it was all brand-new information but still.) I could even forgiven the use of the word curated in the title, since curated is on my list of Overused Internet Words and Phrases. ("Intentional," I'm looking at you.)

The book highly recommends ruthlessly purging your closet, getting rid of anything you don't (or shouldn't) wear, and, over time, carefully curating (there's that word again) a wardrobe full of clothes that are high quality, fit well, and that represent you and your personality all while seamlessly mixing and matching for a multitude of outfit options.

That's the basic concept for capsule wardrobes, which have been all the rage for the past couple of years. And I definitely am crawling out of a years-long habit of buying clothes just because they're on clearance, paying little attention to their quality or even how much I really like them. (So dumb. I know. I'm judging myself so you don't have to.) I've been giving this whole idea a lot of thought, so last week I went through my closet for what felt like the thousandth time (I tend to purge every few months, to the delight of my sisters) and pulled out all that I could justifiably get rid of. (Shameless plug for my closet sale on Facebook. =) I can honestly say that at this point I really do like just about everything in my closet. It's not all designer quality (ha!) and I'm not thrilled with the fit of every piece, but I'm getting there and being a lot more selective. I've even developed (loosely) a color palette based on what I already have and what I like and hope to shop more within those guidelines in the future.

Here's a picture of an outfit that actually really did feel like me. Not just teacher me, or mom me, but just Ashley. Not weirdly specific to any one stage of my life- minus the flats because these feet haven't seen heels in a while. (Dress is Target, cardigan is Loft, necklace is The Jones Market, and shoes are Belk.)


This can put a lot of pressure on me (some of it probably needed, but still) while I'm shopping or even looking at the clothes I already own. "Does this fit in my palette?' "Will I wear this in three years?" "Can I mix it with several other pieces?" "Does it represent WHO I AM?"

Good grief. Does every single piece of clothing have to tell the world that I'm a former teacher, a first-time mom, a Disney and musical fanatic, or a slightly obsessive bookworm? Do my clothes all need to portray that I grew up on the West coast but have now spent almost half my life on the East coast? Or that I'm a former tomboy who still loves baseball? That's, um, a little much to ask of a pair of workout pants or a button-down shirt.

Not to mention that there's a fairly big disconnect between my past life (teaching, working in a professional environment, getting dressed up every day) and my present life (stay at home mom, chasing a crazy child everywhere, trying to strike a balance between real clothes and comfortable, walk around the neighborhood with a stroller/lunge across the room to snatch something dangerous from Alice clothes.) So should I throw out my dressy clothes knowing I'll only wear them a few days a month? Or purchase only athleisure until Alice goes to kindergarten?

I was/am getting stressed out just thinking about this.

Then in the midst of my mental angst, I was listening to a podcast episode from The Lazy Genius (one of my favorites, go check her out immediately) and it was like they had been eavesdropping on my thoughts (disconcerting but also reassuring that I'm not crazy.) Kendra, the host, made the statement, "Everything doesn't have to mean something."

Well, yes! Exactly! Not every single piece of clothing has to reflect my personality just like every single item in my home doesn't have to flow in perfect cohesion with every other corner of the house (I'm no Joanna Gaines, although who wouldn't want to be if for no other reason than to have her gorgeous hair) and not every decision is a reflection of the indefinable This Is Me, Everybody that we're all struggling to present to the world. (I died when she mentioned that choosing- on purpose- to eat an apple instead of a sleeve of Oreos has prompted her to call herself a wannabe hippie and total fraud.) I know the feeling. "You're buying an Under Armor shirt? What are you now, some kind of gym rat?" Me, meekly, to myself: "Well, uh, it's a good deal and I need some dri-fit shirts for running, but yeah I guess that's kind of pretentious. My bad."

I know. Ridiculous.

Anyway, this has all been a roundabout way to say that while I'm working to make more thoughtful (and therefore fewer) clothing purchases and I really do want a cute, functional wardrobe, it's okay to have a few things that are outside the box. It's okay to own an Old Navy graphic tee that isn't exactly my "aesthetic." (Well, is loving coffee an aesthetic?) And it's okay if, after all the curating and purging and planning, to still sometimes stand in my closet and feel like I have nothing to wear. I think all that just makes me human, not a mindless consumer. (I mean, I can mindlessly consume with the best of them, but you get the idea.)

So maybe today if you want to make a decision that falls slightly outside what you think you should do or who you think you are, I promise it's okay. You can be a healthy person and have a Snickers (in fact, I encourage you to have one) or you can hate exercise and still go for a run (and even wear Under Armor, you pretentious thing you.) But the world will continue to turn and it will all be fine. Don't system yourself to death and then feel totally restricted by your own system. It's like building a robot to do your dishes who ultimately chokes you with its little iron claw hands.

This is one of my favorite things in my house because it's such a needed reminder. (You can find it here.) 

Wow, a bit dramatic. Apparently clothing is an emotionally charged subject- ask anyone who watched What not to Wear. (Moment of silence please for the one and only reality television show I have ever and will ever watch.)

You do you, friend- curated or not. You're okay. Now go listen to my two-year-old niece's favorite song on repeat. You won't be as cute as she is singing, but it's still great. =)

My Overdue and Super Cheap Laundry Closet Makeover

When we bought our house last year and I took on the task of decorating a space much bigger than any we'd had before, I felt pretty overwhelmed throughout the process but also found that I was really enjoying myself. I've come a loooong way from our embarrassingly bare first apartment or the "I don't love this look but it was on clearance so here we are" collection from about 2012-2015. I had a pretty clear picture of the direction I wanted to go with the house, but because I'm not a gazillionaire I couldn't just toss out all my old stuff and start from scratch (even though that was tempting.) I kept quite a bit but also sold a bunch of stuff online and started buying things here and there on sale as I found them. (I also was SUPER lucky that at the time, Target had amazing clearance prices on things I really liked and needed... stuff that's usually super expensive like curtains and bedding.) Anyway, there were areas that I arranged exactly how I wanted them, a few areas where things were okay but I was kind of just "making do," and then one place I neglected entirely.

That one place was my laundry closet. "Closet?" you might ask. Um, yes. I love my house but the placement of a laundry closet- not even a room- is oddly located in the dining area, meaning I can't have a cute laundry bin setup or anything because, well, that's where we eat and I prefer not to mix meal times with dirty clothes. #awkward. So while I was putting my other rooms together piece by piece, I (for the time being) just kind of washed (tee hee) my hands of the space and decided I would deal with it later, if at all.

Finally (as in 10 months later), and after the prompting of a couple of laundry room makeover posts I saw on Facebook, I took a good long look at the closet, got an idea of what I wanted, and put the whole thing together in pretty much one Saturday afternoon. (Minus the baskets, which we'll get to in a minute.)

I don't have a before picture, but there was nothing on the wall, and the shelves contained some white plastic Dollar Tree bins and a bunch of junk. So my first step was just to clear all the stuff off the shelves (a lot of it I just threw away- it had been sitting there untouched since we moved in) and wipe them all down. Then I hit up Hobby Lobby (and the rest of my house) for some pictures to hang.

I knew I wanted a laundry sign, but most of the ones I saw (no offense to anyone who has them) were super cheesy. Sorry, I don't want to advertise for lost socks or make jokes about how rarely I iron (although that's laughable to be sure.) I just wanted something simple. After a quick text to my two best friends/design gurus, I went with the white. Simple and neutral in case I ever want to switch the other colors out. I also fell in love with the "bless your heart" sign a few weeks ago; if I hadn't put it here I probably would have found a spot for it in my kitchen.

And the best sign of all is the hand-painted Beauty and the Beast picture that April made for me.

RIP Psych. Three years later and I'm still mourning. 

Belle is my favorite princess and Belle's Reprise is my favorite song in the movie, so... perfect. I've searched high and low for a place of honor in my house and this is it!

I guess this works as a pep talk while I'm surrounded by laundry. =) 

Now.... the baskets. I got the closet cleaned out and the pictures hung in an afternoon but left the baskets alone for a couple more weeks. I mentioned the other day that I searched high and low for baskets and that they're insanely expensive. I mean, why should a piece of wicker that only holds like three board books cost more than a new sweater from Old Navy? Anyway, there's a store close by called At Home (apparently they're all over the place but I had never heard of it until we moved here) and it is MASSIVE. Like, a Costco for home decor. (Not quite, but you get the idea.) It can be pretty overwhelming but I decided to look at the clearance and I finally found some baskets that didn't require the sale of any internal organs or my firstborn child. 

They actually had about seven different colors but I settled on the light blue (Jonathan says Carolina blue) and the kelly green, which I have a soft spot for since it was a main color in my wedding. (My sister recently told me that she couldn't see me doing my same wedding colors now and she was totally right, but I loved them at the time and they're still pretty. Raise your hand if you're the victim of a pre-Pinterest wedding. Ha!) 

The light is weird but the blue is slightly darker than it seems here. I had the wooden M languishing in a closet waiting to find its purpose in life and bought the little succulent at Walmart (which reminds me that a trip to IKEA for new greenery is in order.)

I had the plain wicker basket already and left it up there because I just wanted a little something different in that corner, and the "take it easy" sign was a dollar spot find that I bought for my classroom many moons ago. I still love it. =) 

Y'all, the lighting is awful here. Like, worse than it looks even on my phone. Part of the reason is that while there's plenty of natural light in the dining room, the overhang of the actual closet doorframe makes a weird shadow and I'm not a photographer and blah blah blah I know it's terrible. Anyway, here's what it looks like all together. (Underneath is just the washer and dryer. Not very interesting.) My shame may lead me to attempt a better picture and upload it later. 

So, that's it. I only spent about $30 on everything (obviously because I already had several of the pieces) but I like each and every part of it. The bright and cheerful colors (balanced by the white) and the fact that it's CLEAN (seriously, such an eyesore before) both make me super happy and now I don't have to cringe every time I open these doors. I mean, I'll still dread the laundry, because... laundry. But having a pretty space to do it helps... at least until Alice is old enough to start doing it. What are kids for?? (kidding. but not kidding.) 

Happy Monday... even if it includes laundry. 

Thank You Note Friday

This week has felt like an eternity. Between car trouble, a baby on a nap strike, and my feeling sick for several days in a row (#notpregant) I am more than happy to say goodbye to this train wreck of a week and hello to the weekend. (Also Jonathan had to work two Saturday in a row which never happens so the fact that he's off tomorrow has me raising allllll the praise hands.)

ANYWAY, now that you've read my first-world, minor complaints, here's a little show of gratitude to balance things out. =)

-Thank you, Emily P. Freeman and the hope*writers, for giving me the push I needed to get my blog redesigned. I realize that it's still not the coolest blog on the block or anything, but it's exponentially better than it was before. A couple weeks ago I listened to a hope*writers webinar that Emily (I think of her as Emily P., like Junie B. ha!) hosted, and among the dozens of tidbits of information I wrote down, the one thing that kept tugging at me was just that no one wants to visit or get information from a hideous website. I know that that's probably a reflection of our superficial society but so be it. ("A sad commentary on our disintegrating society... know what I mean?" Name that movie and I'll give you a million dollars.) Anyway, I'm still thrilled by how much better things look here and I have Emily (P.) and the webinar to thank for it. 

-Thank you, At Home, for having cute baskets that don't cost a million dollars. Good grief, baskets are expensive! I just finished a little makeover of our laundry closet (which was a total eyesore and added insult to injury given it's located in the dining room of all places) so I've had my eye out for baskets. Seriously... most of the ones I've found (you'd think) must have been hand-woven by artisan monks in a mountain village somewhere and contain threads of pure gold. Otherwise why would a tiny little basket cost twenty bucks? (Yes, I'm insanely cheap. Don't judge me.) After a long and fruitless search, I stopped into At Home (which I sometimes avoid given its vast inventory that can feel overwhelming) and decided to ONLY look in the clearance aisle. BOOM! Just what I wanted and they were $3.50 each. You can't beat that! (Well, Jonathan would prefer free but let's be realistic.) I'll post pictures of the whole thing soon! I just love them!

-Thank you, Alice, for refusing your nap 75% of the time this week. I really enjoy the mood swings that accompany your lack of sleep. (But seriously, get it together or I might go crazy. Please, darling. Why are you doing this to your mother?? Can we just trade? I'll nap if you won't? Deal?) 

Same, girl. Same.

-Thank you, person who invited George H.W. Bush to flip the coin for the Super Bowl, for making such a great call. Can we just talk about the fact that besides being an insanely smart and successful President and First Lady he and his wife are now the cutest couple on the planet? I seriously want to weep whenever I see them. (Fun fact: they were at the matinee of Mary Poppins the afternoon before we saw it that night last year and it's probably a good thing we missed them because I might have had a run-in with the Secret Service in my attempt to get a picture/bear hug. I just really love them. 

"The toughest guy in the stadium tonight." #sobbing

-Thank you, Marco Rubio, for this. It's just bipartisan common sense, people. Act like grownups and stop being so hateful. Maybe then I can download my Twitter app again. 

-Thank you, lady who sat behind us at story time, for reprimanding your 3-year-old approximately once every seven seconds the entire time. Your kid wasn't all that distracting but you definitely were. #takeachillpill #itsnotacollegelecture #shutuuuuup 

-Thank you, Old Navy, for using Super Cash to lure me in and force me to buy things I DON'T NEED. (Not really; it's stuff Alice doesn't need. =) I guess that's not fair to say since she kind of always needs the next size up, but seriously... Super Cash is like some kind of wizardry. "Ah, I'm trying to save money right now. No shopping." "Super Cash? HOW CAN I AFFORD NOT TO?" I know, it's clever and tricky. And let's be honest... as long as Old Navy is making matching outfits for me and Alice, they can shut up and take my money. 

-Thank you, kind strangers who smile and wave back at Alice, for making her little social butterfly day. I have never seen a child so thrilled to be acknowledged by random cashiers before. (It's adorable, obviously.) 


-Thank you, spaghetti squash, for being delicious and carb-free. GAME CHANGER. Y'all. If you haven't had spaghetti squash please go get one. It's cheap and enormous and will feed your whole family. Since there are only three of us we had like a week's worth of leftovers. Alice loved it, I loved it, and Jonathan would eat garbage so of course he loved it because it was a significant step up from garbage. (Cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and pulp (ugh), brush with olive oil, salt and pepper, put open side down on a baking sheet and bake at 450 until it feels tender when you poke it with a fork. Mine took about an hour and fifteen minutes.) 

-Thank you, Sam's employee, for treating me like a complete moron when I asked for help with my car, not as a customer, but just as, you know, a human being pushing around another human being in  a stroller and looking slightly stressed out. It's fine... maybe you like making young moms cry. Ugh. Seriously though... every now and then I'll find myself in a situation where I have to approach a stranger for help and when my go-to sense of terror starts to kick in, I give myself the same pep talk every time, "This is ridiculous. You're 27 years old. They won't bite your head off. Most people are nice. It's no big deal." And then I have an encounter with a jerk like this and think, "Aaaand that's why I hate asking strangers for anything." 

-Thank you (sincerely, not sarcastically like the last one) to our friends who have bailed us out this week with help with our car. You da bomb. 

-Thank you, whoever made athleisure a thing. Lazy/awesome moms everywhere thank you. "Did I just work out? Am I on my way to the gym? I guess we'll never know." What I really sincerely love about this look (trend?) is that while it can look gym-ish it doesn't have to; it can just look sporty. I've found the trick is footwear. If you're wearing actual chunky athletic shoes then yes, you're going to look like you're on your way to Zumba (which is fine if that's what you're going for.) But some thinner sneakers and a piece of "real" clothing (like a cardigan or simple necklace) make it less "why yes my spin class was awesome today. Notice I'm shuffling because I can't feel my legs." (Another great look if that's indeed what you want to portray to the world.) Mostly I just like stretchy pants that don't cut into me when I get up and down with Alice for the nine millionth time a day. Win-win.  

90s, y'all. Also, don't judge me for having dirty shoes. Judge the mall for its dirty mirrors. And I need a tan, desperately. #casper

There ya go, everyone. It's Fri-YAY! Enjoy the weekend and treat yo self to something good. I like to really live it up so I'm thinking Costco samples. #fancy

LifeSavers (but not the Gross Minty Ones)

Before we get started, I just want to say... YAY, YAY, YAY! I HAVE A NEW BLOG DESIGN! There's the new logo (designed by my BFF who is amazing... more on that in a minute) and new layout provided by Best For Blogger. They were insanely affordable and so easy to work with! Guys! I've been blogging for five years this month (whaaaat) and in all that time my blog has broken every rule of what a pretty, visually appealing site should be. (So embarrassing.) I finally took the plunge and did something about it and I'm loving the result. Simple, but just what I wanted. 

If you've ever eaten LifeSavers candy, you know that the white mint ones are gross (such a weird texture) but the fruity ones are delicious, and for some reason were my go-to "church candy" in junior high. If you didn't grow up in church then perhaps you aren't familiar with the concept of church candy but it's totally a thing. Basically, you have a candy to give you something to suck on for a long time that keeps you from starving to death in church. (Some people had a stockpile that would make Willy Wonka proud but I usually kept it simple with a roll of LifeSavers... or peppermints, which were my favorite but the wrappers were so noisy that I usually avoided them, as you do.)

That was a lot of information about church candy, a term I just coined. Also my current church candy is lemon drops from Cracker Barrel.

ANYWAY, LifeSavers are (obviously) little round candies that resemble (what else?) actual life savers, or as we fancy people call them, floaties. =) And THOSE life savers are meant to provide a support... they even have another name, "life preservers." Interesting!

So perhaps these things I'm about to share aren't quite saving my life, since that's a tad bit dramatic given the current uneventful state of the McNeese union, but they are preserving it. Sustaining, perhaps? Whatever. Let's just call them lifesavers and keep things simple.

-daily walks. I'm pretty obsessive about hitting my step count every day (and by that I mean I haven't missed it once in the two months I've had my FitBit.) I wish I could just not care about getting my steps in but it's like this tracker has a hold on my soul. Oh well, it's for the best. But considering my, ahem, mostly sedentary lifestyle, I'm not going to hit 10k steps in just my day-to-day routine, chasing a toddler and daily workout notwithstanding. (That should tell you something right there.) So every day for anywhere from 25-45 minutes, I load Al up in the stroller and away we go. It's fresh air and a distraction for Alice (our neighborhood has a serious problem with letting dogs run loose which drives me insane but brings her no end of delight) and I get my steps and a little more exercise in. Win-win. I'm not entirely sure how we'll work it out to continue these as the weather gets warmer (aka unbearably hot) all too soon but today it was about 50 degrees and glorious. I guess we'll have to head to the mall. Bummer. =)

-Barnes & Noble story time. I have been meaning to take Alice back to story time at the library for months, but both the baby and toddler times would mean she would totally miss her morning nap, which is hanging on by the slenderest of threads as it is. Cutting it out completely just isn't an option at this point, so I was thrilled to learn that B&N offers story time three days a week and at a time that won't interfere with anyone's nap. (Hey, I nap sometimes, okay?) Anyway, we went last Thursday and it was great. The lady who runs it is about 102 so next time I'll know to arrive late and get there just as she's shuffling up to actually start reading. (It's a long story. The lady really is adorable but my 15-month-old can only last so long. =) After it was over (meaning after we left amid a chorus of pterodactyl screams coming from SOMEONE'S baby, the nerve) we shared some Chick-fil-A so it really was a delightful morning.

SO into the story. Very deep plot.

-LAYERS. Texas weather is nothing if not bipolar. For example, yesterday morning when I ran it was 39 degrees. By the time I went on a walk with Alice it was SEVENTY (not that hot but the sun felt like a furnace.) On days like these it's so crucial to be wearing layers that I can peel off one by one in an attempt to avoid feeling like a boiling chicken. Fortunately we're not yet to the point that being modest while wearing as little clothing as possible (not a great visual, sorry) is the goal. Can you tell I'm a little hung up on the weather and that I make most of my plans around it? Sorry. Anyway, I already know my go-to piece for the coming spring (yes, it's January but yes, we're having spring weather) will be a tissue-thin cardigan like this one from J.Crew Factory. It's sitting in my shopping cart waiting for the next free shipping sale because I'm a cheapskate. The idea isn't really warmth at this point, just an extra layer for visual interest that can be removed to avoid sweating. (I work very hard to avoid sweating unless I'm exercising.)

Layers and an easy necklace. So fancy.

-easy necklaces. Given my embarrassingly large collection of statement necklaces I've accumulated over the years, it's a bit sad that I've shifted my focus to simpler, easier pieces, but such is life with a grabby baby and an aversion to wearing anything that feels "fussy" these days. I have a collection of about 5-6 different long necklaces that are simple but really pretty, go with almost everything, and most importantly that I really love. Several of them are from J.Crew Factory (they really do have the greatest flash sales ever) but my very favorites are from The Jones Market. They're perfect for anyone but are specifically designed for moms to wear because they're tuggable (aka Alice-proof) and the wooden beads are non-toxic so when they're inevitably stuffed in Alice's mouth they won't poison her. I got my first one last year for Mother's Day and wore it a TON (still do) and then I got another one for Christmas and I've worn it at least three times a week since. They're just the coolest addition to an outfit and I can throw it on and make even a plain sweatshirt or graphic t-shirt look more polished. (I've already requested one for Valentine's Day!) And these people have no idea who I am; I just really love their products so you're welcome for the free commercial.

-speaking of "you're welcome"- the Moana soundtrack! Disney music? Check! The genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda? Check! THE ROCK? Check! These songs are so sweet and happy and I just love them. Not to mention that Alice lights up as soon as she hears them. It's the cutest thing. I guess technically I should say that Apple Music is saving my life, but this is what I'm playing most often so there you go.

-a best friend who's a wizard at design. Okay, I know this isn't fair to the rest of you peasants, but basically I can have just about any "printable" I want custom-made for me by my very talented friend. Like I said, I've been working on a blog overhaul, and she designed a logo (based on very vague ideas of mine) and then patiently adjusted tiny detail by tiny detail at a time while I sent obnoxiously specific changes via email, feeling a freedom to be picky that I would never feel with an internet stranger. Maybe one day she'll quit her actual job and offer her wizard services to others but in the meantime I will happily be the recipient of her skills and pay her in Starbucks gift cards and gratitude (and excessive pictures of Alice, which let's be honest, she's gonna get anyway.)

-realizing my limits. I think there's a fine line to be found between pushing yourself and accepting that there are certain things you just can't do (at least not on your own natural talent.) I'm trying to recognize this in more than one area, but I'll give you an example. You know my design wizard BFF? Before she stepped in to help with a print I wanted, I spent the better part of two separate nap times (Alice's, of course) working on them. Here's the thing. I don't think I'm a total schlump when it comes to design. I think I have a fairly good eye for it, and there are creative aspects of it that I'd love to develop skills for in the future. But at this moment, those skills just aren't in my bag of tricks. Outsourcing, however, is definitely in that bag. I decide to stop working myself into a tizzy over something I'm just not that good at and hand it over to someone with the skills to execute it. I still contributed ideas, but the actual product was out of my hands, thank goodness, and I'm happier for it. (My friend might not be, but... Starbucks. Baby pictures. Gratitude.)

 -Kindle books. Clearly these aren't new or anything but I feel like I go through different seasons of reading. I just came through one where I only wanted to read physical books, but it was like when I finished that stack I only wanted digital books. I don't understand it but I just go with it. I think the main reason is that more often than not, I'm either holding Alice or prying her away from something that could potentially shorten her lifespan so holding an actual book in my hands doesn't really work. I can read off my phone (obviously with one hand) and do it even while I'm carrying her. It just works better for the majority of my day, plus I can whip open the app when I'm out and about and have a minute or two to kill. Don't get me wrong- physical books are the bomb. I just need the digital ones right now. (And if you aren't using Overdrive to access your local library's online collection you need to get on that ASAP. Game changer.)

-dry shampoo. I know, I'm like four years late to the game. BUT instead of being behind the times, I like to think of myself as being smart and letting trends work the kinks out of their systems before I jump on board. Instead of being stuck with early dry shampoos that left you looking like an old lady (aka white/gray power everywhere) now they're not nearly as chalky, from what I understand. Anyway, at Christmas Amy had some and let me use it and let me tell you, that stuff is the bomb. I'm a little ashamed of my zero-to-tepid interest in hair and beauty products, but I feel very strongly about how awesome this stuff is. It's Batiste (I got the cherry kind, at Amy's recommendation) and not only does it smell great, but it makes my hair so smooth. It exponentially improves the texture of my hair which is a minor miracle since most hair products seem to have the opposite effect of whatever is intended. My hair is too oily to skip more than one day but with my new exercise schedule (every day!) I wasn't really able to skip and that was too hard on my hair. This gives me a day off (I use it when I do lighter workouts) and it is awesome. They sell it at Walmart and Target BUT I just saw it at TJMaxx for like two dollars cheaper so definitely check there first. It's amazing.

-deleting my Twitter app. If you're like me, you get overwhelmed by the insane level of division, strife, and downright hatred in our country. Unfortunately, all of those things can be found in limitless quantity online, and while there are certain negative aspects of all social media, for some reason Twitter had become the black hole that made me feel like my head was going to explode. I didn't deactivate my account; I just deleted the app off my phone and it has made a big difference in my mental health. That sounds dramatic but it's true. In the four days since I deleted it I've only checked Twitter a handful of times and I was even more selective with the attention I gave to the articles and threads I saw. I definitely like being informed but as an HSP it was definitely time for a break from the overload.

There you go! If there's anything that saving your life-  or time, or money, or whatever- do tell. (For example, apparently my life would be much better if I had an Instant Pot? That's the word on the street, anyway.) Happy Thursday, guys!

I'm linking up with Anne, whose blog and podcast are regular lifesavers, at least for the life of my TBR list. =)

Thank You Note Friday

I realize that last week I didn't write a thank you note post (I knew calling it a weekly feature was ambitious!) but I'm back! It's been a bit of a week- Alice has decided to go on another (albeit less dramatic) nap strike. She was doing so well with her naps and this week she's cried every time I've laid her down and will only sleep for 30 minutes max at a time. It's as delightful as you can imagine. Poor baby wakes up so grumpy (because she's still tired!) and it's tearing up my nerves a *tiny* bit so... keep that in mind as you read this. In other words, I want your sympathy. And I wouldn't turn down chocolate either.

-Thank you, my beloved full-length $5 Walmart mirror, for your noble service to my personal grooming and self-esteem for the past nine years. You were faithful from my college dorm room to our first house and everything in between. Known among friends and family as "the skinny mirror," you gave me many a needed if misguided boost when regular (more truthful) mirrors just didn't cut it. I may never look as good as I did in your reflection again, but you were a true gem. (If you're wondering why I would be so crazy as to throw out a mirror that made me look about twenty pounds thinner, the answer is that it was falling apart and a pretty big risk to my ever-exploring toddler. I figured that even my own vanity shouldn't come at the cost of Alice's safety, however painful it might be to let go. =)

-Thank you, TCM Classics Series, for bringing the most beloved movies to theaters around the country so we can experience them on the big screen. A couple weekends ago, Jonathan and I went to see Singin' in the Rain (celebrating its 65th anniversary!) and it was amazing. There's something so cool about watching one of your favorite movies with a group of strangers and experiencing it with other people, and Singin' in the Rain was just MADE for the big screen. Plus we were surrounded by cute old people who probably saw it when it actually came out, so that was fun. =) Of course it made me love Debbie Reynolds even more. RIP Debbie. =(

-Thank you, Trader Joes, for many things, but mostly your beautiful and cheap flowers (which I've enjoyed for a long time) and your cookie butter (which I just recently, belatedly discovered.) Seriously, TJ's flowers are the absolute best (and best price!) and if you've never had their cookie butter, well... maybe you shouldn't try it. It might be best to have loved and lost out on the cookie butter than to have never loved it at all. Isn't that how the quote goes? (Also, what do you eat it on? I've just been doing graham crackers but I know there are a ton of stuff people use it for. Do tell!)

-Thank you, Chick-fil-A, for doing free breakfast every week this month. I don't even really need the motivation to make yet another visit to the delicious haven you provide me from cooking (oops) but you lured me in with your free minis and biscuits. It's a hard life but someone has to live it. (Later we can talk about my near-clinical addiction to Chick-fil-A sauce but for now I'm fine. It's fine. Everything's fine. *drinks sauce from tub.*) ALSO thanks for hosting the cutest Daddy Daughter Date Night that went great for Jonathan and Alice until she became terrified of the cow and wept. (I'm a mean mama so I laughed really hard at that story.)

Before the cow trauma.

-Thank you, Disney Store, for coming out with an Alice in Wonderland line that simultaneously makes me discontent with my life and leads me to google ways to sell internal organs so I can buy every piece for my baby. I've decided for my own wellbeing and the health of my finances and marriage that no future children can have any Disney/literary inspired names ever again. But seriously, I want every single one of these. All of them. They're just perfect. Especially this one. (Can I justify half-birthday presents?)

-Thank you, blog friend, for a super cute FREE print that, with a new picture from Target and an M stolen from elsewhere in my house, created my new favorite corner right by the kitchen door. =) Also, it's become pretty apparent that my decorating philosophy is "when in doubt, add a monogram" and I'm not even mad about it. Find what works, right?? 

The cutest Madeline quote! I love it!

-Thank you, Melinda, my down-the-hall college friend, for finally, FINALLY being the first and probably only person in the history of my child's life who says she looks like me. You're a gem. And here's the thing- clearly it's not an insult or anything for people to say that Alice looks just like her daddy. She definitely does, and I happen to think he's a good-looking guy. But the way some people say it... "She's BEAUTIFUL! She looks nothing like you, you hideous troll!" "Oh, thanks." *hangs head in shame* I just happen to think she does look a little like me and it's nice that finally someone agrees. 

You see it, right? RIGHT? Don't everybody chime in at once. It's fine. No one thinks that. 

-Last but not least, and on a more serious note, BIG FAT HEARTFELT THANK YOU to EVERYONE who prayed for Luke! My sweet nephew spent two weeks in Intensive Care in the children's hospital in Atlanta, hooked up to high-level oxygen almost the entire time and fighting RSV and pneumonia. His poor little body had such a hard time healing but praise the Lord he was all to go home yesterday! Hundreds of people commented and said they were praying and our family appreciates you all so much. Seriously... social media gets a bad reputation (not for no reason) but when it comes to stuff like this I feel like all the lame, petty stuff is worth it. There's no way we would have been able to reach all the people who prayed for Luke without Facebook. So I'm thankful to you for praying and to Mr. Zuckerberg for giving us the opportunity to connect. =)

Sweetest little man ever. I can't even handle that face! So good to see it without all those yucky tubes! 

There you go, folks! Happy Friday! (Redundant, I know.) 

Quotidian Mysteries (and What Quotidian Means, Since I Had No Idea)

Last summer, I read a short little book called The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. It was truly short- barely over 100 pages- but so full of wisdom that I still think about it months later. (Amazingly, it's completely relevant and applicable given that it was published almost 20 years ago, which seems like an eternity given our rapidly changing culture.) The subtitle, Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work," pretty much covers my life right now (ha!) and before we go on, let me tell you that quotidian sounds like a sci-fi word but it just means daily or occurring every day. So the book is all about the things that we, usually women and especially moms who stay home, have to do every day. 

If you're like me and stay home with your kids, you know the power (good or bad) of a routine. (This is true though of being at any stage- sometimes when I was a teacher I felt like I was on a treadmill that wouldn't turn off.) Kids thrive on schedules and I definitely have Alice on one (for my own sanity) but now and then (aka often) it can feel a little bit like the time we rode a tilt-a-whirl at the Cumming Fair and the guy running it (who was probably on one or more illegal substances) wouldn't stop the ride but instead just grinned at us all maniacally every time we passed by him. Am I comparing motherhood to a vomit-inducing carnival ride? Nooooo. (Yes.) 

Our days are structured but not quite as much as when I first read this book, when Alice was still nursing about six times a day and I literally spent what felt like all of my time either feeding her, pumping, or cleaning her bottles and pumping equipment. (It was also around the time of the Great Nap Strike of 2016 so part of my routine included dreading the hours of screaming that preceded a fitful sleep (and that was just me. =) But every stage of motherhood (all 15 months I've experienced so far) has been marked by those daily tasks, even though they change from month to month.

I've been in the nursing/wash bottles a million times a day stage to pureeing food every day to following her around the house keeping her from destroying all our possessions (current stage) but whatever age your kids are, you're doing the same thing all the time. Dishes, laundry, school drop off, school pick up, cooking (unless you're me and it's optional- my poor husband. Mostly kidding) and the worst part is these things have to be done EVERY DAY. You mean to tell me my child has to be fed and bathed every day? I have to tear up string cheese and get soaked by a thrashing toddler every day? (#brandnewinformation)

Seriously though- not only do these things have to be done every day (or almost every day because I don't actually do laundry for three people every day) and that in itself can be draining, but then I feel like I need to find some kind of meaning in all these boring, mundane, seemingly meaningless tasks? (I don't mean that raising my baby is meaningless- I'm obviously talking about stuff like cleaning the baseboards and organizing my linen closet- perhaps not the best examples since those aren't daily tasks either, which one glance at my baseboards would prove.) This is also hard for me because I used to be a teacher and actually felt like my work WAS meaningful- now my most productive task of the day is probably rounding up the pieces of Alice's play food set for the bazillionth time. It's fine. 

An everyday occurrence I don't mind at all- post-nap snuggle time with my squishy baby. (All the heart eyes.) Also note the laundry basket on the bed. Not nearly as endearing. 

The book, then, uncovers these "quotidian mysteries" by finding that meaning and purpose in the daily tasks that we all face. It also talks about how we are more than the menial jobs we do every day and don't necessarily have to find our identity in being the "chief cook and bottle washer" although that's basically my job description. Mysteriously enough, there IS meaning and purpose to be found, and it's by God's design. Intriguing, yes?

Here's my favorite quote:

"The Bible is full of evidence that God's attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us- loves us so much that his divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life. It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is 'renewed in the morning' (Psalm 90:5), or to put it in more personal and theological terms, 'our nature is being renewed every day.' (II Corinthians 4:16.) Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous attention to detail in the book of Leviticus, involving God in the minutiae of daily life- all the cooking and cleaning of a people's domestic life- might be revisioned as the very love of God. A God who cares so much as to desire to be present to us in everything we do."

Wow! So instead of just viewing my laundry mountain as something to check off my list, I can view it as a sign of God's love. That sounds a little over-the-top or maybe too spiritual but I actually like the ability to reframe a typically joyless task as something to be joyful about. God cares about the details of my life, even those that seem insignificant. In fact, he paid so much attention to detail that the Bible is full of incredibly detailed descriptions, rituals, etc. and He wants us to give that level of care and attention to our own work, whatever it may be. 

Instead of only viewing certain (Very Important) tasks as valuable and honorable, I can invite God's presence into every moment and task, no matter how menial it seems. When I view my work as God's plan for my life- remembering that where he wants me at this very moment is right HERE, chasing Al and wiping oatmeal off her bib and reheating my coffee countless times- I can see how worthy it is. Not only am I serving my family (mostly Chick-fil-A, but still) and taking care of them, but it's worth noting that I have a million things to be thankful for- a hard-working husband, a healthy, ADORABLE baby, a pretty house, my own health, and so many more blessings. There are people (like my sister and brother-in-law) whose daily lives at the moment involve hospital rooms and breathing machines and diagnoses and doctors and nurses and treatments... things that are even harder to find joy in and make my own lame problems seem even lamer. Perspective is a healthy thing. 

So, with that said- as you start your Monday and face another week of chores and diapers and cold coffee (not iced, just cold), or ball games and practices and piano lessons, or ministry or school or work (all the hats off to you working moms!) just know that there is beauty and value and worth in the mundane, the dull, the quotidian tasks that keep our lives rolling. God sees you. He wants to be invited into those quiet, sometimes mindless moments that feel like a burden. Use the time you're folding laundry to pray for your kids. Maybe take the time you are using to was the dishwasher to thank God you have money for food. 

If this all sounds a little woo-woo (especially for me) maybe it is, but it's something I've been convicted about. When you're home all day, particularly with young kids, it's easy to feel forgotten or even invisible, or like a housekeeper robot like Rosie from the Jetsons. (Wouldn't it be nice to have a Rosie?) Just ask Him to grant you the grace and peace to go about your tasks with joy. Ask that He join you in those quotidian moments. I think this will help us all be a little happier with our to-do lists and less dragon-lady when our kids empty the storage baskets AGAIN (not that this has happened at my house, silly rabbits.) 

One more reminder- it's really amazing to view daily occurrences as a reminder of the very love of God. And actively pursuing His presence, making Him part of every task, reminds us and our children of that love, which "makes all things new," even laundry. God truly is a God of miracles. =) 

Why I'm Glad I Was a Teenager in 2007, not 2017

What do you think of when you picture yourself in junior high or even high school? For me, it's braces, acne, total social anxiety, and basketball games (I was the statistician for all our school's teams. In case you were wondering if you were cooler than I was, the answer is yes.) Even though there were definitely girls at school and in my youth group who were pretty and less awkward than me (not saying much since I got called Mia Thermopolis a lot), for the most part it seemed like everyone my age was kind of going through the awkward Clearasil years together.

One thing that stands out to me (aside from the fact that I THOUGHT I WAS FAT AND I WAS SO NOT #younganddumb) is how even though I am just coming up on ten years since graduation (yikes!) it feels like my teen years were FAR different than the generation of teens today. Not to sound like I'm shaking my cane too much, but being around teenagers (especially day in and day out in the classroom for years) has made it abundantly clear that they are growing up in a world that would barely be recognizable to me when I was in, say, 9th grade. 

Some things are the same- crushes, insecurity, again- thinking you're fat when this is probably the best shape you'll be in in your whole life, sweetie, so enjoy it- "love" triangles, gossip, drama, etc. (Wait, did I just describe high school or adulthood? Am I adulting wrong?) But some things- namely the Big Bad Social Media- are totally different. 

Everyone gripes about how smartphones and social media and the Internet in general are ruining the minds and destroying the souls of children and young people everywhere, and maybe they are... but let's think about how good kids these days have it, shall we??

It seems like more and amore teenagers are suddenly able to skip their awkward, ugly stages and just go straight to looking like normal, functioning human beings, which everyone knows teenagers are not supposed to be. Looking slightly unattractive and out of place is practically a rite of passage and part of the deal of puberty. So where do these girls come from with their contoured faces and perfect yet effortless messy buns? Explain this sorcery!!

We didn't have YouTube (if we did, it was brand new.) There were no makeup channels, no tutorials for how to blend the perfect smoky eye. If you wanted information like that, you might possibly find it in Seventeen but it wasn't guaranteed and there definitely wasn't a video to go with it. (Perhaps this explains my overdosing on sparkly eye shadow or other girls' Jack Sparrow eyeliner phase. *Cough*April*Cough*) We didn't have hair tutorials either- we barely had hair TOOLS. I vividly remember the first girl at school getting a hair straightener and what a huge deal that was and how proud I was when my sister straightened my own bushy hair for the first time. (Straight hair, makeup, my Gap turtleneck- I really thought I was all that and a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos, y'all. It's embarrassing.) 

And what about social media?? If you liked a boy, you couldn't scroll through his Instagram to see what (or who) he was interested in. Our version of that was sneakily scanning whatever was pinned up in his locker and then casually working it into a conversation. "Oh you like... (squinting) Brandon Donovan?" "Um, Landon Donovan?" "Yes, that's what I said... so, soccer, huh? Cool." (Awkward silence.) 

If you were lucky enough to be online at the same time, there was a chance (at least) of talking through instant messenger, since even cell phones were still pretty rare. And maybe you could exchange emails? Maybe? (I found some emails from Jonathan written in 2006 and they were RICH. Rich, I tell you.) Or, of all things, you might even (gasp) talk on the phone. Like, into the little speaker that it was actually designed for. I think some kids today have never even heard their cell phones ring. It's madness! =) 

Even their clothes are better now- I mean, you couldn't pay me to wear a crop top or off-the-shoulder shirt (all the rage) but at least now they have skinny jeans and tunics... we had masculine polo shirts with popped collars (whyyyy) and long khaki skirts (ew) and massive clog-type shoes and Aeropostale graphic tees. Fashion has come a long way, girls. Be grateful. 

Of course... OF COURSE, I'm kind of kidding about all this (not entirely, because it would've been great to be able to plan an outfit by simply opening Pinterest or to keep tabs on a boy without being a creeper who asked his friends) but the honest truth is, I wouldn't DREAM of having had social media to document my life through junior high and high school. I had the most ridiculous crushes, the most pitiful personal drama (another thing to be grateful for, kids- bullying wasn't yet the huge issue it is today and so people got away with it a lot more), and yes, the braces and acne and clunky shoes and ugly clothes. (To be fair, they were cute for their time. Still.) What would my Facebook have looked like? 

"Ashley Baines.... is SO stoked to take stats for the Bulldogs game! Gotta get that W, boys!" (Groan.)
"Ashley Baines.... is wondering why he won't even notice me." (I'm seriously gagging right now.) 
"Ashley Baines.... is headed to Youth Hour. Has anyone seen my nylons?" (Hahahaha- a little humor for those in our youth group.) 
"Ashley Baines... is exhausted from volleyball practice!" (Yeah, maybe because I was terrible.) 

Seriously though, they would all be SO lame. And there would undoubtedly be pictures to go along with them, pictures that do exist but thankfully are limited to the prints from the rolls and rolls of film from disposable cameras we used. (I also vividly remember the first trip to camp when a few people had digital cameras and they were a HUGE deal. No smartphones, obviously.) 

I guess my point is that there are pros and cons to both generations (do I qualify as a different generation? I feel like I do) and while I'm jealous of the instant, endless stream of information that kids today can access, I also recognize how damaging and dangerous it can be and I'm thankful to have had to have actual conversations (or write notes and fold them into cool little shapes, something I never really learned to do, to slip into people's lockers) and do research in actual books and cut articles out of actual newspapers for current events. (Actually the last part was a lie. Current events were a huge pain and I never remembered to cut out my article. Online news for the win.) And while I mentioned bullying, which sadly happened to me, it's not like anyone could spread anything terrible about me in seconds... it would require planning and probably something hand-written. But the instant gratification and removal of a time period to process decisions is a slightly heavy topic that could fill a post of its own. =)

My 15th birthday- braces? Check. Awkward smile? Check. Polo shirt? Check. Bushy (probably used a cheap early-model straightener) hair? Check. (That's Amanda with the death grip on my shoulder. Ha!) 

So, kids, you can keep your messy buns and perfect makeup and leggings-as-pants (actually, please don't keep those; no one should!) and your #squad and #yaaassss and #perfection and whatever. Reading into passing comments was practically a hobby of mine- can you imagine if I had had to deal with SUBTWEETING? I was a nervous, neurotic, awkward, insecure mess as it was- I honestly think the pressure of social media would have been my ruin. Or maybe I would have leaned into it in all my three-point-shooting, stats-taking, glasses-wearing glory. Who can say? I just think that part of who I am (and who all we millennials are, good, bad, or ugly) is due to the fact that we had to struggle through life without the (constant, non-skeeeering AOL boot-up) use of the Internet. In some ways, that was hard. In other ways, it was amazing. I'll keep my memories of disposable cameras, hand-written notes, awkward phone calls, and even face-to-face conversations. Because a hand-made scrapbook page covered in slightly blurry, red-eyed pictures- those are the real #goals. *Always and forever.* Ha! 

Oh, and one last thing- teenagers today do have an amazing gift that we did not- and whatever I say  with nostalgia about a simpler time, I do not ever again want to live in a world without emojis. The horror! ( Insert crying laughing and heart eyes here. =)