Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Messy, Beautiful Life


Two years and three months ago, I sat on a toilet seat at 6 in the morning and sobbed and sobbed.  In my hands I held a positive pregnancy test.  To say I was devastated would not begin to describe how I felt.

Just six months before this day, I had my mom and husband drag me through a grueling boot camp of resume & interview tweaking. I wanted my dream job at a high school closer to home, and as luck and a lot of arguing over strong verbs would have it, I snagged that job.

* I realize resume is spelled incorrectly. I'm Chromebook dumb. My apologies. And now it's misspelled twice. 

And so there I sat, only a couple months into my dream job... with a baby inside of me but so far from the plan, I cannot even tell you. I didn't know how to connect those dots between reality and "the plan".

Oh, but it wasn't one baby. It was two.  


:  :  :  :  :

Enjoy the myriad of clothing options at the Anderson home: a.) just bottoms  b.) outfit not actually snapped up & b.) just tops

Those of you reading this who know me well enough and can predict I'm going to spin this in some dreamy fluff cloud of life direction, well... I understand.

I hesitate to tell you the punch line. This one: I am so glad God has other plans for me.

I hesitate to tell you that because there are the cynics:  Ashley, don't act like your accidental babies and dropping out of the workforce is a positive thing! Your career is fading daily!   I get all of that. I really, really do.  I was that voice. In fact, I'm still that voice. My voice says things like "avoid risk!" , "stay in the lines", and "retreat, retreat, retreat!".

And really, three babies does not equal a stay-at-home-mom. Far from it. But that's for some other day...

I'm not throwing caution to the wind in saying simply that babies, well, they make a way.

What I am saying is that I desperately love how my little family has made such a mess of my life.

I mean, Paul alone. Let's go there.  He sees my ugliness. Oh, how he knows me.  He knows my faults and could probably make a list from a-z.  I know his too.  And we're different: he says go & I say pause; he says more & I say less; he says "party" & I say "read".  Our differences are good, but we always have to commit ourselves to balancing, respecting, listening.  Our love is not easy, breezy, walk on the beach love. I want to run from that intimacy sometimes.  Other times, I lay in bed and think that this love is my daily bread. It is the one thing I need the most: to be seen, to be contrasted, to be challenged, to be cared for.

And then my three wonderfully accidental babies. A literal mess to start with.  Just as an experiment, let me tell you what is within a three foot radius of my computer: counting bears, a plastic ring that says "HOT", a peanut butter jar Thomas helped himself to, a tiny sword, our reading lesson book, some Spongebob hat the twins were playing with... and you know what, we don't have all day for this.


Oh, Thomas.  The mess you've made out of me.  My pride. My anger. My need for control.  And so many damn tears.  Because you have your will and I have mine and I'm pretty sure that will pain me until I leave this earth.  But like a small plant of thorns in contrast to some vast ocean, there's my love for you.  That sting of seeing all my faults and selfishness either reflected, felt, or jutting out at you...I think it might all be worth it because just like that day they laid you in my arms... one more soul to love here on this earth.

And Alistair and Emerick.  It's true. In a way, you were part of really, um, switching up the plan.  But daily--Wow! The magic and joy I see in you two.  It is absolutely incredible. The companionship you two experience. The playfulness you enjoy with Thomas.  The learning that I see unfold every single day.  I would take all the messes in the world to have you as my own.  (Which is good since that's how it feels some days!)

I wish I could go back to that day I sobbed on the toilet and show that woman a video of you two laughing as you chase after each other.  Oh, how she would have laughed...before going right back to sobbing on the toilet because: white-knuckle lack of trust issues, I got a few.

See, if it was up to me, I don't think I would be here.  No, I know I would not be here.  I like quiet.  I like to be by myself.  I like things to be untarnished and accounted for and listed and neat and tidy.  My life with my family....is just the opposite.

A life with less would be easier, but it wouldn't be as good.

A life with less of these people and these messes would allow more freedom, but maybe not the fulfillment I have come to know. 

I'm glad that I've woken up to right here, right now and find myself with 1, 2, 3, 4! people that make noise in this home with me.  I'm not always comfortable with the interruptions, the sacrifices, the changes, and the mess, but I see now that comfort is not what my soul longs for.  It longs for being content and grateful with the mess: there are people and possessions and mountains of graces here and I'm so very happy about that!

There's a wild cacophony of color in my life, something opposite of my always pined-for blank slate. Hallelujah for that!

As I think about another new year, I look forward to more unexpected things: messy and beautiful, uncomfortable and challenging, and very good because they're ridiculously bigger than my tiny, tidied up ideas.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thomas Talks


Does this post even need an introduction? No.

Enjoy.

Happy Tuesday.

A very very happy, mega-happy Tuesday!

: : :

Asks me what he can buy for me. I mention make-up, books, and coffee.

T: “You should get a stuffed animal. You don’t have enough of those!”

Me: “Well, yeah, hmm.  Adults don’t usually have stuffed animals.”


T: [cheerfully] “You have 1 stuffed animal, your pink bear….[long pause]...nah, you don’t have any stuffed animals. I’ve taken over that bear.”

: : :

T: [yells] “Get inside my brain so you can know my skills for…. [with the flare of a magician] french toast and maaaaaaaath! [jazz hands]

: : :

After gazing longingly at Jesus's picture in the hallway...

T: "If Jesus lived after dying on the cross, why didn't he become a zombie?"

Me: "Wow. We have a lot of work to do on your religious education."

T: "What?"

Me: "Good question."

: : :

T: "Mom, I GOTTA tell you something!

Me: "What's that?"

T: "You are mega-pretty."

Don't buy it. He had just watched some show with Megatron in it.

: : :

Thomas was running errands with Paul when he hurt his leg and yelled

“My fricken leg!”

Paul: “Woah, why did you yell that?”

Thomas: “That’s what you yell when you hurt something on your body. My fricken heaaaad. My fricken armmmm. My fricken legggggg.”

: : :

Thomas is moving my Rosary beads on my phone when he looks up and sees this picture & exclaims:

"Hey, this guy's checking out a magazine!"


I’m cleaning the kitchen & Thomas spots an ant

T: “Okay, stop what you’re doing and stand really really still.”

Me: “Why?”

T: “Ants think that humans are going to smush them & kill them. That’s their fear.”

Me: “Okay….”

T: “So we are going to stand very, very still so that he is not afraid.”

A minute later…

T: “Oh, I think he is looking for sweets for his ant children….His ant children live here. We just can’t see them right now.”

Five minutes later…

T: “Oh, I know what’s going on here. [Looking at the floor]. Someone must have left a trail for these ants to come to the kitchen. I think it goes to right over there by our cabinet, that cabinet we keep b
eers in, our beer cabinet. Yeah. They definitely live under that beer cabinet over there.”

Nope, not your pants. Definitely not your pants. 

: : :

I walk into the bathroom to find Thomas putting band-aids on his stuffed shark.

Me: "Woah. What's going on in here?"

Thomas: "Sharky was goofing off on top of a mountain and fell off and hurt himself."


: : : : : : : : :

xoxox,
Ash

p.s. send prayers



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Our Favorite New-To-Us Children's & Chapter Book Reads of 2014


Paul and I will be doing our mostly online & hassle-free Christmas shopping very soon.  We are more interested in putting quality items in the hands of our kids than in rushing out for sales. (Not that you can't do both--we just haven't quite harnessed that superpower yet.) Today, I want to share with you books that we've read and fallen in love with this year, so that if you are also wanting to do some easy shopping online, you could find a few guaranteed wins promoted here.

And you know I really care about these books because I'm not an Amazon affiliate & make no money whatsoever by directing you to these books. In fact, I will be losing the money I could be making by missing time for my indulgent online poker habit. Just kidding. I don't do that. Yet.

These are books that, had I known what treasures they were, I would have bought them much earlier in my fancy mom career. I'll give you a little insight into each book & maybe you can pop into a comment box and share one of your favorite children's or chapter book favorites to help us along in our Christmas shopping.

1. Extra Yarn

 The kids were given this book as a gift, and then we gifted copies to a couple other friends throughout the year.

This book has one of my favorite messages of any children's book I've ever read and I think the conclusion is just is the best. Oh, and the illustrations are reason enough to turn these pages over and over again.

2. Little Bear
I bought this book for Thomas because he has worked through the first 3 Bob book sets and a good chunk of his reading lessons. I thought it would be good to invest in a few of those typically boring beginning reader books, but this is not boring. It's sweet and it's timeless.

If a beginning reader book is well-written enough that Momma Bear doesn't mind reading it two days (or five days) in a row, it's a win in my book.

3. A Sick Day for Amos McGee
This book reminds me of Blueberries for Sal in that you read it once and wonder what the hype is about.  It's with multiple reads that the subtleties in the art and the story wrap you up and warm you like a big blanket and a warm cup of tea on...yep...a sick day.

A great book to show all of us what being a good friend looks like.

4. The One & Only Ivan

I'll admit that this book is a little heavy handed in its pull on your heart. However, it works as a game changer that has some grit and sometimes that's what we should be sharing with our kids.

Suited for kids a little bit older than Thomas, it does the trick in stirring up empathy & making us question the warped conditions we place upon animals in the name of cheap entertainment.  It ruined some things for me in that sense, but I'm okay with that.

5. Winnie-the-Pooh
I've put dozens and dozens of books on hold at the library, and I waited the longest for this jewel right here.

Winnie-the-Pooh is that reading gem so close under our nose, we don't see it.

Hands down, everyone should have this book in their house, and here's why. It is all the charm and wonder and imaginative characterization you already know to expect, but stuffed with nuances the adult reader can enjoy while the child beside is happy just smiling at Pooh's amusing adventures.

6. Paddle-to-the-Sea

Gah. I've been talking about this book all year.  Can I say OMG about a children's book? Because ohemgee. This book was written for my soul.  The concept---YES! The education---YES! The illustrations--YES! And my absolute favorite---the langauge.

Another reason I'm so crazy about this book is that it stretches beyond a particular age group, which is so wonderful when everything in your soul is telling you that one more reading of Go Dog Go would be absolute torture.

7. The Little House

Just like everyone should have a wonderful sleepy-time book (Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site!), I feel everyone should have a book that draws us into thinking about the seasons, time, changes and how we fit into all of that.

This is a simple, no-frills book that nudges us to think of what is good and beautiful.


8. The BFG
This year we read a good chunk of Dahl's work: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, the BFG, and Matilda.  Thomas's Uncle Stephen recommended the BFG to him, and I had low expectations.

However, this book made us think & therefore have some great conversation (which is awesome), but it had Thomas in stitches several times (which is even more awesome).  It was, by far, the funniest book (to him) that we read all year. He asked me to reread a passage 3 times, so he could keep laughing. I mean, how could I not put it on our list?

9. The Tale of Despereaux

This is just the kind of chapter book I've been searching for my 4 year old all year:

Some illustrations. Check.
Beautiful language. Check.
Meaningful themes. Check.
And still holds the attention & interest of the kiddo. Big check.

:  :  :  :  :


Wow. That was so much fun to type up because it brought back so many memories of snuggling up with Thomas or reading to all the boys in their room.  Right now they're ALL banging with wooden puzzles pieces on the fireplace while I finish this post, so pretty much the complete opposite of the sweet, soft memories I was bringing back up in my mind. :/

This year was good and difficult and a hurricane of all kinds of things.  In a lot of ways it was a big mess. I mean, twins. Do I need to say more? Walking twins! Climbing twins! Boy twins who bust their lips or bang their heads every other day! Twins who can't yet tell me all the things!

Anyway, there may be a lot of things from this year I didn't get checked off the master list or tackled like they should have been, but it was the first year that the boys and I read voraciously in all sorts of ways and for those sweet memories, I'm so grateful.

I would very, very much love it if you let me know a book or two that you feel is a must for the family library. We just started building up ours a bit more intentionally this year, and so chances are that we haven't yet bought it, and I would love your recommendations!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Walking Light & Carrying Little

The 30 Before 30 list is just not going to work.  [And if you don't know what it was, I wrote down some things that sounded fun to do before I turned 30.]

 A few of you were so kind as to ask the whereabouts on my progress. And honestly, I've been so busy with so many things, it has taken me until now to face that my life doesn't have space for most, if not all, of those items on that list and to act like or proceed forward with it like it does would just make me unhappy.

When I wrote that list (which is fun and lovely outside the realm of reality) about a year ago, I was in a very different place.

I didn't realize how taxing Paul's travel would be this year or that I would be watching adorable Misters Luke & Logan for a bit of time or that 3 kids (mine) would feel like a lot more once the twins were on the move.
Besides, a good chunk of the things on the list just don't matter at all to me right now (i.e. building a "real blog" or attending a cooking class or my goodness, Ashley completing a cross stitch piece).

I found this photo on my phone. A hundred dollars says I texted this to Paul with some kind of declaration that things were cray cray & I can say that because things are always crazy around here.

My 30 before 30 list should have had things on it like:

* go to the bathroom without interruption

* give self an at-home manicure & pedicure in the same day

* not yell for 1 whole day



I actually did a great deal of behind-the-blog stuff for the list that was going to eventually make it on the blog, but there were also several items I've never even begun to start. Can I blame it on the kids again? Good. It was totally the kids' fault.  They were much, MUCH more persistent in their needs than the list. Did you know kids eat three times a day?


I have only a few bittersweet days left with Luke & Logan.  And then we will turn the page to a new season again.  Last week I sat down on the couch and wrote at the top of a piece of paper POST DAY CARE REHAB.  There were some things I chose to put on hold while watching the boys. And also some things I chose to let slide because I know from almost this same thing last year (when I was transitioning to 3 kids & ouch, it hurt so good bad) that it is best to be flexible when life calls for it.   In the little time left in this year, I need all of it to focus on re-establishing healthy boundaries for my kids in terms of screen time & discipline & fill them up with lots of cuddle & reading time just like they deserve.


The last thing I want on my mind in this next season is any weight to do with things that I in all truth I just don't want to do.

I quit my job last year so I could just be mom and wife.  I wasn't like a lot of moms I saw breezing into work with things in their life pulled together just as beautifully as the scarf around their neck.  I quit because I knew I actually couldn't do all the things or not even all the things but the working things + home things and even with just one kid there were times when I was so blasted tired of feeling like if I just tried a little harder, I could pull it off one day. ] I wanted to give 100% to teaching and 100% to being a mom & wife. And I constantly felt this exhausting burden of feeling torn all the time.

But don't we all know so well that this is life.  Balance is always a struggle regardless of how easy or pulled together our role might appear to others.  We can always find ourselves in a mucky mess. And we can always, always make bold choices to go lightly, to yell Towanda at obtuse barriers that keep our hearts from resting in our priorities: time with our loved ones.

I have such a flaw/passion in me to do all the things all the time. I'm working on it. There was something much bigger I see now that was going on when I typed up that fun list.  Something ugly to share, something not easy to live with.

+ I [still] wanted to prove that I was a lot more than just mom and wife.  


Yeah, that's a bunch of crap, friends, but I won't get into that today. 

I severely judged moms at home before becoming one & I wanted everyone to know I was bigger than that. I was capable of doing way more than your average SAHM. I'm Ashley and the last thing I am is average.  Exclamation point. 

Sometimes my gut or Jesus or my littles tap me on the shoulder and whisper: just simply be because that's plenty. 


: : : : : 

In less than a couple months I'll celebrate the big 30.  I want to walk into it lightly. I want to carry little. When I sit down with my 30s I want to be that friend who is inclined to listen first and act second.

Any crappy, awful time that I had in my 20s happened because I didn't give myself the freedom to fling some shit to the side of the road (because really, guys, I think we might only need 1 of these 4 cast iron skillets I packed) and get moving.  There are so many more things I want to shed than just a simple list of things I wanted to do this last year.  Shed isn't even the right word. Purge. Burn. Flush. Destroy. Things that are keeping me from my where my heart rests: time with my loved ones. 


: : : : :

Thanks for cheering me on, friends.  In my plans, my schemes, my writings, my hopes.  I know you know the me in me sometimes more than I see. I'm okay with that because it is what it is and the truth is a beautiful thing no matter how messy. Or so I really hope because wow! hot mess!

Oh shoot. Here it comes.  Just.

Let it go.

Not deleting that. 



Don't hold it back anymore.

Stopping myself.

xoxox,
Ash

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

29 things about Ashley

I just saw Grace's post about herself & had to jump in on the fun.  What's a blog for if not a loud, narcissistic streak now and then?

And because my brain is fried & my time limited, a list of selfie tid-bits seems a perfect way to rescue this day. [Alistair reopened his sliced frenum & if you don't know what that looks like or all that entails let me sum it up with one word: horrifying].  Well, on with it:

She loves me. 


1.  I love to dance.  Dancing on a stage or in a spotlight = even better. LIFE HIGH! I will not deny it. Nothing makes me feel more free, alive & happy!

2. But no, I've never taken a dance class. But I do have many fantasies that I've bought time in a room full of mirrors and good speakers & my kids are far away nestled at home & I choreograph my little heart/legs/arms out all day.

3. I'm a dreamer. INFP.

4. I've only wanted one job ever and that was to be a teacher. I asked Santa for a stapler and record keeping book when I was ten.

5. Halfway through college I strongly considered dropping out to become a nun. Chew on that one, kids.

6. I met Paul a long time after my friends did which is probably a good thing because it was love at first long talk & we were engaged just two months into dating and married a year after that.

7. I have space issues. Noise issues. Over-stimulation issues. It's a wonder how I have not run off to a cave yet.

8. But yes, I need time by myself. Time outside walking makes me feel like someone is quite literally filling me back up.

9. I'm Catholic (but easily turned off by self-righteous religious types. yeck.)

10.  Many pre-teens reach out to their crush celebrities. I wrote a letter to Richard Simmons telling him what an inspiration he was after I read his book.

11.  I used to think that when adults were having private conversations it was about the end of the world (which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever considering my background).

12. I didn't give my mom a head's up that my confirmation name was going to be Ursula...

13. Which is fine because my husband was just as out of it in the confirmation name game because he was so smitten with St. Paul he double-dipped... William Paul Paul....

14.  I can't drink or eat really hot things. It's as if my tongue doesn't register it. It's weird.

15. If I write on a piece of paper, I have to have another piece of paper under it. Every. Single. Time.

16. One quarter of one of my eyes is brown and I never can remember which is which after all these years.

17. I've never once in my entire life used lip liner. I've put on lipstick under ten times. Probably less.

18.  I cook a lot, and I have for years.  And yet I still have never made mashed potatoes by myself.

19.  My favorite treat of all time is chocolate covered salted caramel balls. Gah.

20.  I was a runner in high school (not sure that is even worth mentioning anymore).

21.  I try really, really hard but I'm not a great friend. I can be flaky. I'm working on it. Same goes for a lot of my other relationships because I don't like messy things & loving people is messy.

22. Rats ate my underwear at 4H camp.

23. As my mother-in-law so aptly suggested, I'm the tail to my husband's kite. We make a great team that way.

24. Criticism works like saffron with me. A little goes a very, very long way.

25. I'm the 2nd of 5 kids. My husband is 1st of 10.

26. I do not like confronting people.

27. Anger is my least experienced emotion.

28.  I've yet to meet anyone with a smaller wardrobe than mine. Or less shoes. And it's not because I'm a minimalist. It's just the way it is.

29. The thing I value most: to give fully of self

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Lazy Girl's Guide to Saving Money

Welcome to my simple guide for making money work for you without much work. I'm glad you're here.  Now, before we start, I have a couple disclaimers....

1st - In no way at all am I providing best practices. What I am offering are the things that realistically work for me & my family.  Every one of these tips truly integrate my description of being lazy. These tips offer a way to save money with the least amount of work in a way that is enjoyable & profitable.  I don't know how to triple up coupons at Dillons or buy ten pounds of meat for $5. I just don't.

2nd - In no way does this post mean that I think of myself as exceptionally good at saving money or being a superior steward of our finances.  Paul and I have made a lifetime of financial mistakes & will humbly and honestly admit that.  We try our best, work hard, and have found a great love of providing for our family with some peace in how we spend & save our money. I didn't write any of these words for any other reason than this: I love you guys. If there is even one simple tid-bit I can share with you that can help....well, that will just make me enormously, immensely happy. 

I meant it. I love you guys. Now please don't throw Internet stones at me if you read on and don't like some things that you see. It's okay to disagree & nice things are nice to hear. It takes all kinds... Okay, I'll stop and leave you to it...



1. Filter emails so that solicitations are hidden

+  Solicitation emails are annoying, but they are also a necessary evil that save me so much money. I sign up for sales emails for every store I shop at & then I filter them to be pre-read & dropped in a folder, so they’re out of sight, out of mind.

+  When there is time in my schedule for a shopping trip, particularly for clothes or household items, I open up my Solicitations folder in Gmail and I look through for the best deals & match those to any additional coupons or points I already have. I’ll even do this as I’m in a checkout lane if I’m in a situation that wasn’t planned. So, if a store doesn’t have anything significant to offer [I typically only shop there if I can match an in-store sale w/ an email coupon or discount], then I wait a couple weeks until my next chance to pick up a few things.

+  I reverse my reason to go buy. I’m not prompted by sales [there’s always a sale--I would be running out all the time]. Instead, I decide when I have a need & then I find the best bet for buying it.


2. Don’t stress too much about the coupons

+  Coupons are wonderful! They can be a great asset. I have fond memories of my mom putting coupons to work to stretch the dollar, and I am also proud when I see that final price get slashed by my stack of coupons. However, it’s important to remember that the discount for a box of cereal means you’re still buying a box of cereal…

+  Don’t cut coupons for things your family doesn't already buy. Most grocery store coupons from the newspaper are for items that are processed, boxed, or a flashy version of some new item. If you are in need of stocking up on those helpful quick solutions, by all means enjoy the savings. If, however, you already make those things advertised by means of homemade, from scratch, solutions, understand that you are already making great savings both in price & health.

+  With that said, here’s how I utilize coupons for Wal-mart for my best deal:
          I “clip” coupons from the free coupon app on my phone, email them to myself & print them out, keeping my items to beauty, hygiene, medicinal, & staple items. 
          I take those coupons to Wal-mart about once every month or every other month [that's how often I go to Walmart] and only buy the items that are already also on a sale. Whatever doesn’t make the cut is not urgent anyway and will its coupon will probably not expire before my next trip when I will check them again to see if they're on sale.  

3. Pay savings account first
[Just an example of how we do it--every person/couple should develop their own realistic & stress-reducing system]

+  We split our paycheck, so that 10% is automatically deposited into savings and never touched. We never have to discuss it, argue about it, or even think about it. No one touches it. That’s just how it is.

+  We keep an additional savings account for big purchases that we know are up ahead [ready downpayment for a car when our current car fails, inevitable large house repairs that occur each year, a couple upgrades to the house we’ve decided on] and build it up and use it accordingly, but we don’t play around with our standard savings account which is there for 2 reasons: 1. loss of job & 2. an epic emergency

+  I keep cash on hand for surprise expenses I wasn’t able to account for but don’t want to take from our savings account or put on a credit card. Cash is an interesting tool. I’m not on board with Ramsey’s advice to use rolling cash envelopes for several categories, but I do think cash can be a incisive tool in making us think twice about paying for things we don’t need or could do without.

4. Maintain an Amazon wish list

+  Setting up an Amazon wish list, scouring reviews, and coming back later to thin the list & add to is an exercise of enlightenment. No, really. You will realize how many things we first feel we need & want & just gotta have because so-and-so says is just so awesome only to find that two months later, it isn’t all that important

+  And yet, the reviews are incredibly helpful. Reviewers will tell you how to get the best deal, explain best uses for the item, what it the item is comparable to, and so forth. Amazon reviews are by far one of my very, very favorite things to read through when I have free time.

+  Don’t think of it as a list of things you are definitely going to buy on Amazon. It is just as much a tool to weed out things you now know not to buy as well as products that are so great you will know to snag them as a secondhand item at a thrift store or consignment sale or even borrow from someone or the library.

+  Last year we only bought Christmas presents for our kids on Amazon. We never shopped ads, checked out Black Friday sales, tried to double up sales at Toys R Us. We skipped all of that. Instead, we curated a list of things we discussed & debated & revisited during a two month span & then spent two minutes dropping into a cart & buying. That’s it. No stores or rushing or stress. Time is incredibly precious in our home. Paul travels a lot. And I find little to no joy in rushing in with the masses for a toy on mega sale that we probably wouldn't have bought anyway. We stuck to a small amount of items & felt very happy Christmas morning that the kids were getting thoughtful, quality items that were well-worth their bang.

+  BONUS: Lazy tip if you are also pressed for time & like avoiding stores: Sign up for Amazon’s subscribe & save and never run out for toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes & coffee ever again. ;)

5. Show leftovers a lot of love [they deserve it!]

+  Keep an eye on what leftovers get the cold shoulder and what leftovers people are happy to eat. In our house leftover spaghetti gets the death sentence the second I start boiling water. I know to never make big batches of it. Cut blackened chicken, skillet meal, and paninis are big wins & help stave off that urge to eat junk or eat out throughout the week.

+  Dedicate a section of your fridge to leftovers & boot out anything out of that area that is not clearly a leftover. Give them some space & place them at eye level if possible, so they would be very hard to miss. Keep food in clear containers & if you want to really rock it, label containers with the date it was made. Lost, forgotten, and uneaten leftovers are the difference between decent savings {by cooking at home rather than eating out} and huge savings.  

+  Dress up the leftovers into something new. Throw little bits of veggies & protein into mini burritos, tacos, or quesadillas (the kids are clueless to the things I’ve fed them in quesadillas), pair them with an egg, or find a creative way to put them in or next to a quick soup or salad.

6. Live by this promise: “We won’t buy things the 1st time we see them.”

+ Formula to avoid superfluous grocery buys: 1. clean fridge 2. take stock of what’s on hand 3. check ads 4. meal plan 5. write list & add to it the running list of requests & empties 6. stick to it

+ Gently remind salesmen, spouse or self “Well, we don’t buy anything the first time we see it, so we’ll get back to this soon.” [Then walk away, keep the conversation going & research, research, research.]

+ When ads come in the mail ask yourself if it is for something that was already discussed as a need. If not, immediately rip it up.

7. Track bottom prices

+  Keep either a mental or physical list of grocery store prices for things you always have on hand: cheese, eggs, black beans, bread, tortillas, etc. Your grocery store will go in cycles of sales & eventually hit “bottom price”. You can stock up on staples when you see the 4 to 6 week cycle hit bottom price. [Yes, it takes a bit to memorize or keep track of these, but it can be fun & very rewarding]

+  Ask lots of questions at your favorite stores. Ask what kinds of coupons (1 or 2) you can put on top of sales. Ask if you can get a discount for damaged items or packaging. Ask about upcoming sales. Just don’t hesitate to ask questions.

+  Stalk big purchase store rhythms. Know when semi-annual sales occur & what highest percentage off you can get with a little patience, especially for things like cars, furniture, etc.

+  Also check out online shopping lists for best times to buy things due to sales [anything from bikes to patio furniture]. Pick up coats at end of season. Buy things when other people aren’t in the mood to buy those things. That’s when you’ll walk away amazed at the deal.

BONUS tip:  Get excited! 

Be mindful of that energy you feel when your finances are in check and everything is being directed where it should be. When things feel off or you’ve got the urge to run out and buy all the things, turn to one of my five fail-proof ways to get back in the game:

+  Start or update a goal tracker: Maybe it’s a goal you’ve set up on Mint.com or a faux-thermometer taped inside your closet door of how much debt you want to pay off this year. Have & update, corny as it might sound, some visual tracker to make you feel good about your progress, sacrifices, and hard work.

+  Do the laundry. You have more clothes than you think. 

+  Listen to Suze Orman’s podcast. Nothing gets you in the mood to tighten the financial belt like Suze’s decisive assessments. Plus, she’ll inevitably tell a caller to go walk in their truth & you’ll remember to walk in your own. [Not a fan of Orman? Fine go feast on Ramsey or a trusty financial book. Point is--free education!]

+  Pay for something you have to pay for. Go out and license the car, pay a bill, buy that non-negotiable item you need to for a house repair. Sometimes our desire to spend comes from wanting to escape that thing we need to do but is miraculously quenched when we take care of our seemingly mundane priorities

+  Clean & organize a neglected area of your home. Tidy up your make-up drawer and play around with a lipstick you haven’t tried out in a while. Organize your kitchen tools & uncover the waffle maker; set it up & make waffles for the kids tomorrow morning. Organize the tool shed & remember the hydrangea bush needs to be trimmed. My point is that the energy to shop or fill our homes with more things can often be cooled when we remember how many resources, obligations, and gifts we already have at our fingertips.


        :::::

Well, that's it. That's all the lazy girl wrote. Except for this one last thing that I'm even more nervous to write.  
There's one thing that I don't think it's okay to be lazy about and that's having heart-to-heart talks about money. 

I've heard finances is one of the things that people fight about most. That and in-laws and I can't remember what else. For me, I get that. I do. Financial decisions can be made on a whim or drag around for years or can just feel so not fun to make and commit to.  But I swear to you this.  Money is one of the sexiest things you can talk about. Saying no to your spouse & accepting their gentle no to your wants is sexy too.  It takes a great deal of intimacy & vulnerability to sit down, pour over a yearly budget or the retirement, savings, and investment numbers and ask tough questions. But I assure you 100%, and if I had some money-back guarantee I'd put that up for grabs too, that if you sit down to ask those tough, crummy, awful questions that you haven't asked but have been wondering about or sitting down to see if you and your spouse can come together to bump up the financial sacrifices up a notch .... you won't regret it. "Fun times" guaranteed. There. Now I can't write anything more awkward on my blog. :) 

Leave me a comment. Don't throw stones.

Love you guys! 

xoxox,
Ash

Friday, October 17, 2014

Anderson Academy & Twin Care Role Call

Yes, this IS the only thing I have to write about right now. My brain is so on kid mode, you don't even know. I'm going to start twitching to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle in no time. I know there will be a season when my brain sails away to other places beyond our island of teaching little people words, but today is not that day, my friend.

I'm watching Luke & Logan along with my three full time now unless you don't count the collective hours I tell Thomas to go play in the dirt outside, and then I'm on this almost full-time. Most of my mental, physical, and emotional energy is spent taking care of and loving on all these people, so I have a few notes to share about each boy with you. They are all amazing and bring so much joy to my day when I'm not furiously finishing dishes or gasping at choking hazards I've found in the boys' room.

          Luke: Generous with the smiles. Eats like a beast. Likes to poop and fart on me when I am holding him like a nice aunt should. Fascinated by hands. Amused by Thomas. Developing interest in that guy who looks *just* like him.


          Logan: Tolerates my singing. Sleeps like a beast. Likes to spit up on me when I am holding him like a nice aunt should.  Fascinated by hands. Amused by Thomas. Developing interest in that guy who looks *just* like him and especially seeks contact when "those other people over there are acting crazy and I think we should find a way out right now".


          Alistair: Thinks props for hats are hilarious. Says wow & woo [look] about everything. And points at things like it is his ordained job. Oh the wonder of the world, my little friend. Finds dinosaurs and says roar in a funny, raspy, deep voice.  Sniffs out ninja turtle figurines like they're crack. Can you sniff out crack...like as a human? My knowledge of drugs is super limited. Thinks he knows how to read books. Shh, don't tell him he doesn't. Loves to dance. Signature move: the bend and bob.


I know this is the worst picture. I had no recent photos of him by himself. Mom fail. 
          Emerick: Gives hugs by coming close and bowing his head. Thinks any food he hasn't tasted or seen before has been delivered by Satan and should be eliminated without question.  Takes items and puts said item away or inside some other item. All day: book back on shelf, toy for momma, potato head inside these jeans. Peacekeeper: Alistair wants to fight--he walks away. Thinks momma's purpose in life is to read to him. Cuddliest kid that ever was. Loves to dance. Signature move: attempted gang sign and bob.


          Thomas: Fills up his days doing these main activities: 1. reading 2. "visiting his loves" (Luke & Logan) 3. playing with his brothers (aka escalating chaos until I tell everyone they need to separate before a vein explodes in my neck) 4. watching t.v. because mom said she is not in this to be a super hero and we will survive by watching more Barney. Current hobby: making "juice" in the backyard. Best friend: next door neighbor whom he visits for long conversations at the fence. Has grown one thousand inches in the past two months. Writes from right to left sometimes just because he can. Thinks the word "poop" is the best thing to happen to the face of comedy. Will dance if mom really wants him to. Signature move: something he calls "the brain" where he moves around methodically in a circle, and then when he gets back to the front acts as if someone has funneled a week's worth of mom's caffeine into his body and his limbs are reacting accordingly.



           And then there's me: And because I'm not suppose to whither up and die as an individual with nothing left of me but the smiling exterior of a mommy... what I've been up to lately: getting weird (counting calories) to lose weight, watching YouTube videos about organizing and beauty regimes and wondering where I've been all my life, drinking water like it's my job, trying my best to not text Paul dramatic things when he's away in D.C. (=all the time), marking days off the calendar toward the next time I can depart from the house by myself [hand clap emoticon x 1000], freelance work, drinking lots of coffee, watching Parenthood (much crying), and as of this week: reading Gone Girl and stocking my house for possible emergencies (what I told Thomas when we loaded his cart with 1000 gallons of water and bleach) but pretending like it's for me to emerge as a bad A for Walking Dead version 2.0 (and that is meant with 100% no offense at all--I literally mean I fantasize all the time about how I would fare and protect my family and be awesome in a zombie apocolypse). Wow. Longest role call write-up for myself. That's ok. I deserve it. But no, really. I deserve it. <Hard wink>. 


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Perpetual Pregnancy (Momma to Twins)


I want to make a note of something on this ye blog about being a twin mom.  I'll say it just in case another twin mom can assure me she feels it too or maybe so I can look back on things later and see that things were "challenging" enough that I felt compelled to say this.

For me, being a mom to twins feels like perpetual pregnancy.  Women will tell their pregnant friend about all the things up ahead: Just you wait. You think you're tired now? Hahaha....Oh my gosh, just wait. You are going to just be so crazy about your baby. You are going to fall in love.....You'll figure it out. It will all work itself out. Just wait.... 

In a lot of ways, pregnancy is a long exercise in patience. As much as a pregnant momma wants to be a mom to a baby in her arms, most of the time she is just focusing on getting through the day, not throwing up, and generally eating and drinking things that won't hurt baby.  Sometimes she doesn't want to think or read or talk of what's ahead because honestly pregnancy is enough and C'mon people, I'm doing a freaking amazing job just carrying this little person around, OKAY???!!!


Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel since I heard that I was carrying twins--that sense of being laser focused on the present so much that the future was far from my thoughts.  I prayed that I would carry one more week and then one more week and then one more week.  Then I eeked my way through the newborn phase, and I refused to think of crawling twins.  Then they crawled and I was okay with that, but I couldn't imagine walking. Then they were walking, but I couldn't imagine climbing..... You get the point.

Last night at the park, I walked past a pair of moms as Thomas pushed the twins' stroller up the hill.  She spilled out with enthusiasm that just a few years ago she had the exact same set up (welcoming twin boys with a 3 year old boy at home already) and encouraged and encouraged me that things would just get easier and easier. And that was without me saying one word about things being tough unless my eyes were doing the speaking for me--or the state of the stroller--or that it was taking us a month to walk up a hill I could jog up in 30 seconds--or....


As a mom of twins (or maybe it's because I have 3?), I'm so focused on what we're all doing right now, that I can't see ten feet in front of us (and in kid time translation, that's about 3 months).  It feels very intense to me a lot of the time. It's like this-- I feel immense joy watching my kids, like crazy, my heart is going to turn into sun beams and shoot out of my skin joy, but I rarely, rarely have fun thoughts about the twins at 3 or the twins at 5 or the twins at 10.  When I'm out in public and I see a set of twins (and especially identical boys), my brain short circuits and shuts down because it can't connect the dots from point A (which at this point is toddlers who I can sorta kinda take out in public if I strategically plan things) to point B (civil human beings).

If it takes having twins (or once again, maybe that mini-herd of kids) to be shocked and awed by simple things unfolding before my eyes, things I didn't have the time or energy to think much about happening because I am so intensely focused on the present, then I'll embrace it. Last week I was all like, "Holy cow, you guys are using forks, like really using them...you are actually using those forks...HOW DID YOU GUYS LEARN HOW TO USE FORKS?!"  And Alistair & Emerick were all, yeah, mom. C'mon, we're almost one and half. 

And then I probably went right back to wiping someone's butt or telling Thomas I liked his artwork.

Maybe things are getting a teensy, teensy, tiny bit easier here. Yes, I think that's what it is. Maybe. Whatever the cause, I can finally share something along the lines of twin mom guilt: I'm super excited in the moment, but not so much for the future.  I figure the future will take care of itself if I take care of today.  "Today" looks like disciplining not to bite & teaching how to talk & reading, reading, reading & feeding & diapering & so forth. "Today" is also watching & observing & noting little, simple things to consider maybe not for 3 months from now but for tonight or tomorrow or maybe next week.  That just has to be how things are right now for me & at almost a year and half into being a mom to twins/three kids, I'm finally okay with that truth.

Good times. Good times. :)

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Year Before / The Year Ahead


My sister, Amanda, babysat for us on Saturday, and later that day we had some time to visit and I loved it because life is busy and visiting doesn't happen as often as it should. 

With the sudden swath of cold this weekend along with the welcome arrival of fall treats, pumpkin beverages advertised and gourds on display, I felt sentimental about the way a year can sneak up on us and flash us memories of the springs, summers, falls, and winters of past.

Every once in a while I will take a moment to think about all my hopes, fears, struggles, plans, and joys that I was walking with in that season a year previous. I'm always truly amazed at how much time had in store for me that I couldn't have imagined no matter how much effort I put forth in planning or anticipation.

So, I asked Amanda, "Where were you a year ago?"

Amanda and I swapped our perspectives for where we were at last September: what we were feeling at the time, what lay ahead on our path we didn't know about, and maybe that "thing" at the time that felt heavy like it would always would be clinging, dragging. And of course, a year later we know better. As the story usually goes, all of us are stronger, smarter, and more adaptable than we give ourselves credit, and God showers us with enough grace to ruin so many heavy things in the most beautiful way.

Amanda took the question and added a bonus: "What advice would you give yourself a year ago?" 

I could think of very specific things for myself about not feeling pressure to meet up with moms for play dates or the importance of carving out time differently for myself and for time with Paul, but mostly I thought about one word: gentle.  I wish I would have been gentle with myself and others especially when things were difficult. When I felt lonely through Paul's absence or when I was really, really having a tough time with adjusting to life with 3 kids and being at home all the time. I see that I pushed myself & that was great and so helpful because through a lot of work, I've taught myself so many things this past year. However, I wish that in the process I would have been more kind to myself and others. Just a thought. Hopefully, that bent of being harsh wears down like a rock embedded in rushing water and I learn as I age to love lightly even when I'm doing hard things.

With the perspective of "one year since ___________", I can remember difficult things (like taking two babies without bucket seats and a four year old in this awful cold and snow on the ground and insane wind to Chic-Fil-A because Paul had been gone what felt like forever and I was desperate to do anything away from the house and how I cursed the crazy long winter and then Thomas got food poisoning and was losing things out both ends at 4 in the morning and wow, that was just a blast), but it's all the little daily joys that really shine and sparkle the most.


I feel like I've lived a whole life at home in just a year and a half of terribly unpredictable joys that I can't begin to describe or relay but I lived them. I lived them & that matters. I showed up & was present & I felt joy pierce my heaviness over and over and over again. Every naked toddler butt walking away from me. Every kooky question Thomas asks. Every little smile and bit of love these kids showered over me. Every single time Thomas and I snuggled under my covers and read. Especially that time he laughed so crazy over The BFG and asked me to reread parts over and over again and I thought he might just wet himself on the couch.  Those are the things that, if I had known them, I would have realized I was working toward and striving for much more than solving my problems, that I'm waking up to bust my butt, so I can make space for enjoying all the people I know and love and so we can dance in the margins.

This morning I woke to write a post about the twins being 15 months old. I was looking through my old posts and found this photo of Alistair & Emerick's baptism a little more than just a year ago:


And just how crazy is this for perspective? Here Andrea and Josh hold our boys but with their own narratives at the time, their own lives very much separate and foreign to being parents and now they hold their own boys in their arms and probably find themselves very much in tune with how much their lives have changed in the most unexpected and beautiful way in just one simple year.

Ah, just too much awesome for me to grasp.

All this is just to say, with September often referred to as the other new year and fall pressing itself on us, I'm ready and my heart is happy for another year of a lot more of all kinds of things-- a full, rich life where the surprises and the triumphs and the joys far outweigh and outshine and outstretch any measure of heavy we feel temporarily.

To another year!