Life Update

Happy Wednesday, loves!

It’s been three long, lovely months since my last post, and it was a much-needed break for me and my creative mind. The truth is that sometimes I feel relatively uninspired, and I don’t have much to say. If you want to dig further down to the root of that truth – and you should – it’s really because I’ve been in a less-than-stellar mood for most of the past three months, and it doesn’t feel authentic to on my end to sit down and publish a blog post that I hope will help even one person with even one aspect of their day.

There. I said it. I have been in a shitty mood for like three months now. It’s my own fault, and I recognize that the reason I’ve been in a shitty mood for three months is not one that holds a lot of validity or even weight. I recognize it is absolutely a first world problem and I have very little to complain about. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not a problem.

I’m the problem.

I own that. I’m a very Type-A personality, and that means I like things done a certain way (mine), when I say, how I say, and to my standards. I’m not easy on myself, and I have high expectations because I know how I would handle a situation, and I tend to hold the same high expectations for everyone else…which I know is a recipe for instant disaster.

We are putting in a pool. And it’s been a journey.

I’ll spare you all the details, but it turns out I’m not a fan of contractors (something I’d not forgotten, but perhaps minimized in my mind in the 16 years since we built our first home), subcontractors, or people in general – though I never forget the latter.

It’s been a ride since day one. It began with needing approval from our HOA because we have some setback issues thanks to the way our house was situated on our property when it was built (corner lot, house sits in the back corner at an angle with the front of the house facing the front corner where our two streets meet. Our driveway is off to the side of our house along the garage on the secondary street, which is also our home address street).

Several years ago, we decided to add a pool to our yard. Our house sits on a small hill, the lower end of the hill in the back, and we have a wooden deck that was approximately 1,100-square feet with three different levels. Our lanai was screened in and opened to the deck, and we have two doors in the family room that opened onto the deck as well. We love the deck.

Okay, I love the deck. My husband loved it less. It’s a lot of maintenance. However, that’s not the point. The point is that we knew a pool in the backyard was not in the cards for us because the setbacks did not allow it. We need 25-feet from the structure (the pool screen) to the edge of our property line and because our house sits at a strange angle, the side of the house closest to the property line is only 35 feet. We can’t do anything with 10 feet (our deck was clearly constructed without any permission or HOA approval or whatever).

Anyway, we had pool companies come and tell us over and over we cannot fit a pool in the backyard due to setback issues, but that we could fit one on the side yard. We thought about it. We decided to pass. We didn’t want a pool sitting in the middle of the side yard with no easy accessibility to our kitchen or home, and that is sitting there in plain view of everyone who drives by our house on one of our streets. We decided to forgo a pool.

My long stories are never short, are they? Okay, I’ll try to wrap it up here. Long story shorter than it might be if I don’t wrap it up, my husband found a caveat in the HOA handbook back in May that stated that pools constructed in a side yard need only a 15-foot setback. We didn’t think much of it at the time because that’s not what he was looking through the handbook to find. But, a week or so later, he had an epiphany.

Our house sits at an angle. Our backyard, if you go by our address, is technically our side yard.

Hold. The. Phone.

So, we could angle our pool deck and have 20-feet on the small side and finagle a pool into the backyard and still have some gorgeous space to entertain? Cue the calling of all the pool companies in our county.

We met with four companies. Maybe five? I cannot even remember. We knew immediately upon meeting our pool guy he was the one for us. He had the best personality, the most amazing references, and he was good (and we maintain he’s been amazing). Of all the companies we’d called, we’d heard mixed reviews on all of them, but we heard not one negative comment about this guy and his company…and it is very easy to see why no one has anything negative to say. He does what he says, he gets the job done, his subs LOVE and adore him and speak so highly of him, and I cannot say enough nice things. He wasn’t the cheapest, but he had the best design and the best ideas, and he’s quick.

We spent weeks – and by weeks, I mean almost two months – nitpicking our design to ensure we maximized our space (and submitting designs to the HOA for approval while also fighting them to prove our backyard is actually our side yard and we can, in fact, fit a pool). We could fit a pool, but we still have setbacks that need to be met, which means we had to get creative in fitting it and still getting what we wanted. We also have a roofline that’s about 870384 different heights and angles because each side of the first floor is apparently it’s own entity roof-wise, and then there’s the second floor and the second floor terrace to think about when putting up a screen. There was also the issue of having a house that sits a good four-five feet above the ground in terms of door location, etc.

Basically, we didn’t get to do the easy thing and just add a pool to the back of the house. We needed 7 thousand loads of dirt, we needed to remove the screen to the lanai and incorporate the lanai into the new pool deck. That meant adding stairs there and adding a set of stairs to each of the family room doors off the entertaining side of the new pool deck. It meant needing stucco work and super gutters and all kinds of things.

Actually, our best friends had the beautiful idea that we have the lanai filled with concrete and pavered to match the pavers on the pool deck when we did the work (which was the best idea ever – a total game changer – but it also meant tweaking the plan and redoing the contract and ordering more pavers and adding to the total cost).

Long story short (you know I’m lying about my long story being short by now, right?), we finalized our plans, signed our final contract, and broke ground August 10 to construct our gorgeous backyard escape. It went by so fast and so well at first, but we did have a few hiccups along the way, including our first set of pavers being totally destroyed by a bad board during the creation of them. It added over two weeks to the timeframe because they had to make brand-new pavers and apparently both COVID and the fires and the hurricanes and all the things happening the world are putting a hold on a lot of construction supplies – and that meant we had to wait for the paver company to order good wood to press the pavers with. Before that we had a solid 10 days of nonstop rain. I mean nonstop rain. That was already an issue, but we lost a total of 25 days in that time because of the rain and the paver issues. Then the screen guy’s main man fell off a ladder and broke his back, and he ended up being behind on his work.

Anyway, long story short (I can’t stop saying it)…everything is going well and beautifully and I have nothing to complain about. However, Type-A Tiffany is a control freak, and she hates all the things messy and out of order. Add to the pool the fact that we were ripping up the first floor flooring and adding LVP flooring to the mix, and we had a LOT going on at one time. A lot.

It was a mess. Even when the floors were finished and it was just the pool, I’ve been living in a constant state of “OMG,” about everything. The yard was a mess. The grass was all torn up. The removal of the deck also meant the re-homing of every scorpion and wolf spider in the world that were apparently living under the deck all these years, and they’ve all come to our beautiful front porch – which was the only outdoor living space we had for a few weeks while the deck was gone and the lanai’s wood floors were ripped up – and gross. Just….gross. We have contractors using power tools outside our bedroom window at 6 am many mornings. There are always people in my yard, and I’ve been forced to wear pants around my own house for months now – y’all know I’m not a fan.

The mess. All the new furniture sitting in the garage taking up all the space and giving me anxiety. The lanai’s sectional cushions all lined up on top of the shelves and the cabinets in the laundry room to the ceiling made me feel gross about the mess. The piles of dirt in the back yard. The lack of cohesiveness. The mess. Did I mention the mess?

So, there you go. I’ve been living in a mess, even if it’s just the outdoors. I can’t handle it. I don’t like it, and it makes me feel all gross and anxious and lacking control of my own life. It’s put me in a bad mood even when I know I have no reason to have a bad mood. I don’t do disarray.

To summarize…I’ve been out of sorts. I definitely have more good days than bad, but I find myself obsessing over things being done and back in order and things not being as organized or tidy as I like them, and the yard not being super usable at the moment for the kids. It puts me in a funk. I don’t like the undone. I’m a do-er. I like a project started, completed, and cleaned up as quickly as possible…as in, I won’t stop a project to eat or sleep if I’m in charge of it until it’s done.

Seriously…when we bought this house six years ago, I woke up early on Saturday morning and came to the new house while my husband and our friends and family packed all the already organized and finished boxes and furniture into the moving truck and I painted all four of the kids’ rooms the colors we wanted in the morning. Our beloved friends and family helped us move everything into the house and unpack things like the kitchen and the bathrooms and bedrooms and whatnot. Meanwhile, after everyone left the night, I hung every single piece of art, unpacked every last box, and organized every last closet, drawer, and room in this house so that we could wake up Sunday morning and pour a cup of coffee, sit on our deck, and have nothing to do on our first full day in our new house.

Yes, I know. I’m insane. I did the same thing the day we got back from our honeymoon and moved into the house we built. I’m crazy. I get it.

So, I took a break. I needed it.

This space is one I want to mean something to me and to anyone who takes the time to come here and read. I want it to be a space that has a little of everything. Maybe a little inspiration when you’re not feeling it, or a little advice where you need it, or some insight where it’s helpful. I want you to laugh, to really think, and I want everyone who visits to take a little something with you when you go. When I don’t feel like myself, I don’t feel it’s authentic to sit down and offer up anything that isn’t coming from my heart. I don’t force my writing. I never have, and I never will.

However, as we round out the last little bit of work on the pool, I find myself feeling a lot lighter and more myself. The grading company came and flattened all the dirt. They put our plant beds back together, re-organized our yard and got rid of all the empty paver boxes and pallets and dirt and debris. The pavers are done and all the new furniture is assembled and out of the garage. We can use our space again, and I’m happy. Electric was done yesterday, the screen is going up this week, and the finish will be done following that.

But, the point is that it’s all clean, and there is no more mess. I feel like myself again. I feel in control and good and happy, and it’s my favorite time of the year.

This space is important to me. I write every day, but this is the space I write what I want, how I want, when I want, and without boundaries, and that’s important to me. I want it to be a happy space that’s open and realistic, honest, and not a place filled with bad attitudes and complaints.

I could offer you some advice now about how I handled living through feelings like this or how I dealt with the chaos and the noise, but I didn’t handle it well. I was negative and eye-rolly, and annoyed, and I drank too much wine, and I complained a lot more than I am proud of. Ask my husband…he’ll tell you what a delight I was. Advice is inauthentic here because I have no honest advice for dealing with that. I suppose I could have figured out a way to get my head out of my tight ass, but I did not. I can, however, tell you which ABC has the best sangiovese. Otherwise, I’ve got nothing other than the honesty that sometimes, I’m not my best self…and that’s all right.

Our Kids Aren’t Going Back to School: And We Couldn’t Be Happier

Happy Wednesday!

How is everyone on day 38 of the social distancing situation (in Florida, anyway)? Honestly speaking, I have to say I am impressed with my own handling of this situation. I thought for certain that by now I’d be a mess. I figured my patience would have exited the building weeks ago, I’d be overwhelmed and uptight, and my attitude would suck.

It doesn’t. I’m thriving. And, I think that it’s because our kids are thriving. All the things that I thought they’d miss aren’t having nearly the effect on them that I thought they’d have. We spend so much time running them from this activity to that activity to this practice from that practice to this and that and everything in between, and our kids haven’t asked once about their extracurricular activities or mentioned missing them; but, they have repeatedly said how much they love being home in the evenings and playing games, and having family dinners, and taking walks.

You know what else they comment about missing? Their friends. They miss their friends in class. They miss their teachers. They miss their grandparents. The twins miss giving their teacher a hug in the morning when they get to her class (she’s one of the loveliest people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, so we get that). They all miss things like their art classes in school, and their media time, and their PE time. They miss connection. They don’t miss being busy. What a thing to process, right?

Governor DeSantis made the announcement Saturday afternoon that our schools would continue to remain closed the rest of the school year. What was initially a month-long closing turned into six weeks, and we were meant to go back at the beginning of May. Now we are out until August; and they will return to school going into seventh, fourth, and first grades. Some parents are really upset by this. I’ll be honest; there was a time when I would have been downright furious.

My husband and I both work from home – not because of COVID-19 but because I’ve worked for myself for 12 years and my husband has been working home for his company for almost four years now – and having the kids home on school breaks and summer is hard on our schedules. Mine a little less so since my schedule is my doing – not that I like it interrupted.

But, we’ve created a new schedule having them home, and we – sit down for this one – like it. The kids like it. We like it. We like having them home. They can be over-the-top and annoying at times – Monday was a rough day for us with the kids. But, I think they’ve been 95% pretty good about this (with the cute exception of the fact that Ava and Carter seem to butt heads more than ever right now). They’ve adapted well, and I’m glad they aren’t going back. Why? Well, for a few reasons.

The Transition Period

The worst thing about a schedule change is the transition period. When school was first closed, it wasn’t so bad because we were only a week away from spring break, and we were traveling the weekend it was announced, so we came home tired and exhausted and we had three little ones with birthdays. We welcomed the extra week. Then, it was spring break. That worked out for us, too. But, the week after was the first week of distance learning, and that’s a transition week. We had two free weeks and then we had to find a new schedule doing something we’ve never done before, and we all had to adapt. That was a stressful week. But, the following week was better. The third week was even better. Week four, which we are in now, is a seamless and organized machine.

The transition of going back to school at the beginning of May for all of three weeks would have been a mess, in my opinion. Transitioning back to a school schedule that involves a 6 am wakeup for our oldest, transitioning back to the classroom after more than six weeks away; I could see the mess from a mile away. Everyone would be tired and cranky, they’d have to learn to readjust – this wasn’t a week off for spring break, after all. They’d have to learn to readjust to a school schedule, and they’d all be cranky and tired for the week. For what? For three weeks? Then, we’d have to readjust to a new summer schedule? It’s a lot of change and adjustment in the span of two months, and kids – especially the Raiford kids – thrive on routine and structure. It’s too much to ask them to make so many confusing changes.

The Fear

Right now, our kids aren’t worried about the virus. Why should they be? They are safe at home with their mom and dad having fun. They are swimming every weekend, they are busy having fun, they are loving family walks and tending to their new little garden Craig helped them plant. They are having more takeout than ever from their favorite restaurants, they are getting so much time outside to play, and the weather is gorgeous. They have unlimited access to Amazon to order new games and toys and crafts, and they’ve been taking full advantage of that. They’re loving this, and they feel safe at home. But, imagine the fear of going back to school right now when part of the world is still shut down, and so many people have so many different opinions. Their friends would have things to say, they would be fearful, and it wouldn’t help. I’m glad they don’t have to face that fear and that they get to stay home with us and feel safe and comfortable.

We’d Miss Them

Who are we?! In all seriousness, the person who will have the hardest time when they go back to school in August is myself. I like having them here. I like being able to leave my phone in the master bedroom and not look at it all day long if I don’t want to – I can’t do that when they’re at school because what if they call and something has happened? I like knowing that they are safe all day long and never worrying when I see the school’s name scroll across my screen. There are so many horrible things in the world that might happen, but our kids aren’t there, and I’m not worried anymore. I love having them home where I know they are safe. That’s everything to me. And, I can tell you that I’ll have anxiety and panic a bit when I no longer have them in my protective custody again.

We like distance learning. I’d even go out on a limb and tell you that homeschool wouldn’t be out of the question for us if the kids would be willing to do it. I think Ava would, and would excel at doing it. But, I know Addison, Charlotte, and Carter would never go for it being the social butterflies and school-lovers that they are. Ava, on the other hand, is me. She doesn’t care for people she doesn’t hand pick, and she only wants to socialize with those she loves and respects. She’d be a hermit if we let her – which is exactly how I am.

This Time is Really Nice

I know that this is not a nice time for so many people in the world right now, and my heart aches for those who aren’t able to work, who are ill, who have lost a loved one, who are struggling financially and who aren’t sure what tomorrow brings. My heart hurts. I don’t want to look past that or make it seem that I am ambivalent in any capacity. However, I am thoroughly enjoying this time. I love the slow days, the new schedule, the time that we are getting to spend with our kids. We are finally NOT busy, and we needed it. We needed more movie nights and more Friday night date nights in the to-go parking spots at our favorite restaurants versus Fridays spent packing to travel every single weekend for a month, stay home for a weekend, and repeat (But, OMG do I miss travel and the places and trips we are no longer taking because we just don’t know when we even can anymore). We needed more sleep until 8 am weekdays, more time to make creative pancakes, go for a run, and focus on school work for only a few hours versus all day. We needed less nights where we are out until 8 pm, tired, hungry, and cranky when we get home. We needed more time with people we love rather than people who drain us.

We needed more game nights. We needed more family dinners around the tables. One night a week wasn’t enough for that. We need to slow down, and we needed to continue this a little longer. The days are getting longer, the nights are still cool and beautiful, and we are finally living our best life free of all the things that stress us out and make us rigid and inflexible and tired. Our kids are doing so well, and so are we with having them home.

It’s simple. Simple, as it turns out, is quite nice. Don’t take that for granted. I hope you are all enjoying your time as much as we are. We’ve had five uninterrupted weeks with our kids, and we get another 16 weeks. That is, even if you’re struggling, a gift. Use it wisely.

Mediterranean Couscous: Simple but Flavorful 30-minute Recipe

Happy Thursday!

Hands in the air if you’re doing a lot more cooking than usual?

You can’t see my hand, but it’s in the air. Typically, my husband cooks or we go out. I cook very rarely because I’m just not good in the kitchen unless I’m baking. I don’t know what it is, but I suspect it has everything to do with my innate in ability to multitask. I’m a goal-oriented person, but I cross things off my list one at a time. You will rarely find me doing more than one thing at a time, and that’s because I like to place all my focus in one area and give it my all rather than spread it around to too many things at once. You might say I don’t half-ass anything I enjoy doing.

That said, baking is my jam. Seriously. I bake very well. Sometimes, I even enjoy it.

Cooking? Too many things going on at one time. This ingredient needs this, and that one needs this, and this meat needs this and this vegetable needs that. I can’t handle all of that at one time. Cooking times, different readiness factors, and trying to coordinate too many things cooked and ready at the same time is beyond my level of comprehension.

To be honest, though, I do have a small handful of dishes at which I excel when I’m in the kitchen. They’re the simplest of simple dishes. Honestly, most of them don’t even require any meat or chicken or poultry. I’m not a vegetarian, but I also don’t need meat, chicken, or fish at every meal, either. I love all of them, but I’m not mad about a dinner that doesn’t include them, if that makes sense. And, if I’m cooking, the fewer ingredients and dishes, the better.

Today, I’m sharing our favorite ‘new’ dish. It’s a recipe we tried a few months ago and loved, and it’s one I can whip up in under half an hour, and everyone adores it. It has so much flavor, so many healthy ingredients, and it’s so simple.

couscous

Mediterranean Couscous

Ingredients:

  • Couscous
  • Zucchini
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Thyme
  • Scallions
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Lemon
  • Chicken stock
  • S&P
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Feta cheese

Prep

Before you do anything else, go ahead and prep what you need. This is so helpful to me because it allows me to free up my hands and my time while I’m working on other aspects of the dish.

  1. Slice your entire zucchini into thin slices or small chunks (I prefer to quarter mine and then chop it into small chunks, but my husband prefers his sliced).
  2. Cut cherry tomatoes in half (I probably use 12-15 tomatoes)
  3. Remove the root end from your scallions and discard. Slice scallions into small pieces, but do separate the white pieces from the green top pieces – keep them separate.
  4. Prep thyme by chopping it into tiny, tiny pieces (I’m sure there is a proper term for that, but I don’t know it, nor do I care to look it up).
  5. Cut lemon in half, and then half one of your halves. You should end up with three pieces. A half and two quarters.
  6. Chop a whole (large) clove of garlic into small pieces

Prep Your Veggies

The first thing you’ll do is start your veggies in the oven.

dinner

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Line baking pan with foil or parchment paper
  3. Place all zucchini and tomatoes on the pan
  4. Season veggies with half the thyme
  5. Drizzle EVOO over veggies
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste
  7. Place baking sheet in the oven for approximately 20 minutes

Couscous

Forgive me for not being big on measuring things, but I promise it will work out for you.

  1. Add a tablespoon of butter, your garlic, and your scallion WHITES to a pot and bring the heat to high. Mix occasionally while the butter melts, and wait for the garlic and onions to become fragrant. Add couscous – dry – along with the remaining thyme, to the mix. This helps you brown the couscous. Stir every minute or so while the couscous browns. This entire process should take fewer than five minutes.
  2. Add a splash of chicken stock.
  3. Cover the couscous with water. I don’t measure any couscous or water. I just add until it looks like enough, but you are always welcome to follow the instructions on the couscous package if you are more comfortable with that level of cooking.
  4. Wait for the couscous to come to a boil before you turn down the heat to medium and cover with a lid. Let it cook for 7-8 minutes. If there is excess liquid, drain it and return the mixture to your pot.

Final Steps

Just a few more minutes until you get to enjoy this decadence.

  1. Remove veggies from oven, and add half of them to the pot with the couscous that’s finished cooking.
  2. Add a generous helping of feta cheese to the couscous mixture, add more salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze juice from your lemon half into the mixture.
  3. Mix well until most of the cheese is melted.
  4. Divide couscous into bowls, garnish with the remainder of the roasted veggies, more feta cheese, and top with the green scallion slices. Add a slice of your remaining lemon to the side of your couscous for décor – or to squeeze more juice atop your final serving.

My husband and I prefer our Mediterranean couscous with a glass of our favorite Sangiovese to bring out the flavor, but I imagine any dry red or white would have the same delicious effect.

Enjoy! And, don’t forget to let me know if you try it!

Learning to Appreciate the Simple Life

Day 31 of social distancing.

It’s hard to believe it was only 32 days ago that our sweet twins turned 6 and we were waking up in one of our favorite hotels in Miami. We caught the sunrise over the ocean from our balcony before the babes woke up and made their way into our room. We played on the beach. We played in the pool. We drove home, bought a birthday cake, made them their favorite dinner, and we kissed them goodnight knowing that it was the last normal day any of us would have for a very long time.

It’s been four weeks, and travel is something we are all missing. I don’t think we’ve been home four weekends in years. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about being home. We love our home, and we are never sad to be here. But, we miss the adventure of travel. It makes us restless to be home all the time, and we are – quite frankly – saddened by the cancellation of every trip we have coming up. Our spring break trip. Our 15th wedding anniversary trip to St. Kitts and Nevis. A voyage on the Independence of the Seas with the kids the first week of June. Our annual Memorial Day weekend trip. Two weekends away with our best friends to cheer them on in their fitness competitions. A trip to Texas to see my grandmother, to name a few.

We miss travel.

But you know what we miss the most? Our parents.

We haven’t seen them since March 16; the day after social distancing began, our moms both came over to see the twins the day after their birthday and to see Ava the day before hers, and let me tell you how much these four babes miss their grandma and grandpa, their nana, and their far-away grandpa (because we can’t just book a flight and make our way to NC right now, either). They miss them SO MUCH, and it breaks my heart we cannot see them. This is the longest any of them has ever gone without seeing them in their lives, and that’s hard on them.

They ask every single day when they can see their grandparents again. And, every single day, we tell them we don’t know. They FaceTime, but it’s not the same. Carter is a big fan of his grandma and his nana, and all he wants is for grandma and nana to come over and give him a squeeze and stay the night because it’s more fun with them here than with us here (true story).

If there is one thing we’ve learned during social distancing, is that these kids are so fortunate to have grandparents who love them, and who they love so much in return. That’s been the hardest part.

Social distance learning is going well. The kids acclimated quickly to their new normal. Addison is amazing handling her own schedule and maintaining straight As. Ava is killing it with her work and her meetings. The twins are so excited about their zoom meeting every morning with their class, and they love their work. The hardest part was the first few days trying to teach them how to use zoom (what to touch, how to turn their camera and sound on when the meeting starts, how to avoid accidentally leaving the meeting). Now that they all know how to do this, they are on it every single day. We have no complaints there.

The kids have their moments. Charlotte and Addison are laid-back and happy all the time. Carter and Ava both have big opinions and big ideas, and they butt heads. They tend to get on one another’s nerves at least once a day, but we really can’t complain.

With their own work to do, it allows us to get our work done. I’m able to finish all my deadlines before lunch, and they’re able to have my attention in the afternoons. We are taking nightly family walks, swimming and playing all weekend, cooking fun meals, eating too many desserts (and going for VERY long runs to make up for those), jumping on the trampoline, playing cards, ordering a ton of Grubhub deliveries, watching movies, playing games, gardening, playing outside.

Ava’s teacher let her class know that their parents are probably struggling right now as they do their own jobs, take care of their kids, help their kids by becoming their new in-home teachers, and trying to keep everyone entertained, and asked that the kids help out a little more to make mom and dad’s lives easier, and I haven’t had to tell this kid to clean her dungeon since. She’s been doing dishes (I mean, we use the dishwasher, but this child is legit doing them by hand), helping make dinner, helping water flowers and keep things neat and orderly. She’s a dream come true.

The world shutting down has given us the chance to spend so much more time at home, and to spend so much more time together. It’s been sweet in that aspect. The world is filled with people who do too much, go too much, work themselves too hard, over-schedule themselves, and overcommit; and this has been an amazing way to get rid of the toxicity of ‘busy’ and of the things that don’t bring us joy, the people who drain us that we can’t avoid otherwise, and the things that simply aren’t enjoyable. I can’t speak for others, but I know that without all that ‘clutter’ in my own life, I feel so much more relaxed and so much happier. It’s good.

You don’t realize until you clear your schedule how much better life is without all the clutter that fills it. It’s easier to find the joy in life when the things that rob you of it are no longer part of your life. It’s easy to love life and to have it love you right back when time is standing almost still and there is no rush. “Busy” is no fun, and I sincerely hope that the world learns from this pandemic that a simple life is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to embrace.

There’s no rush. Where there wasn’t time before, now we can sit on the lanai or the front porch rockers or the couch on the deck and drink our morning coffee and watch the day begin. Where there wasn’t time before, now we can sit at the table outside and eat dinner and linger. Where there wasn’t time before, now we can stay up a little later with the kids rather than rushing them to bed so they aren’t exhausted the following day. Where there wasn’t time before, we now get to slow down and actually enjoy the little things in life – and it is good.

How are you all doing in the midst of this? There’s a lot of unknown, but my advice is to step away from the media and the news and focus on home. We are thankful each day we have a beautiful home with plenty of space for our large family, a big piece of property the kids can run around in, and that everyone in our neighborhood has large properties so that we can walk and run without worrying about being close to anyone else. Be thankful for those little things in your own life. It helps.

Distance Learning Week One: Helping Four Kids Relearn Learning

Happy Friday, and happy end of the first week of distance learning.

For most of us, anyway. We just began distance learning in Florida this week. This week marked the end of the kids’ 3rd week out of school since the state cancelled schools. It also marks the week that President Trump announced that the 15-day flatten the curve plan needed to be extended through at least April 30. Schools for our kids were initially closed through the 15th, but they are not closed through May 1. Honestly, I’m working on the assumption that schools will soon be cancelled for the rest of the school year.

This is a crushing blow for our kids for many reasons. Our oldest, Addison, is in 6th grade. She’s a new middle school student, and she enjoys her schedule and her friends and her teachers. Our 3rd-grader, Ava, has been waiting since Kindergarten to have her 3rd grade teacher this year. Mrs. S, as we will call her here, is the same teacher Addison had in 3rd grade – and she remains Addison’s favorite teacher of all time (which is HUGE because her fourth and fifth grade teachers were pretty amazing!). Ava has been looking forward every single year of her life (her words) to have Mrs. S., and she is crushed that she’s no longer going back to her class.

Carter and Charlotte are in kindergarten, and they have the most spectacular teacher imaginable. Mrs. B. is phenomenal, and we adore her. I cannot convey how highly we think of her, especially watching her work with the twins and their class via Zoom this week. She has the most confident, most powerful, yet sweetest voice when she teaches. She’s engaging and kind, and you cannot miss her love when she speaks to these kids. She’s using morning Zoom meetings each day to conduct her morning meetings, sight words, calendars, and so much more – and she’s killing it. The twins look forward to her ‘class’ every single morning. The fact that they don’t get to go back to her class is very difficult for them, and my heart hurts.

On that note, we are done with our first week of distance learning. I’m not a homeschool teacher. I’m not homeschooling. I’m moderating their distance learning – alongside my husband. Their teachers are doing the work – and they are doing a fabulous job of it. So far, it’s going really well. We’ve had our hiccups, but I thought I’d share how it’s going for us, what’s working, what’s not working, and how we’ve adjusted our schedules so that it works for our family in the hopes that our situation might help someone else.

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Four Kids Learning at Home is a Lot

I’ll start out by saying that the most challenging aspect of distance learning is simply doing it with four kids. It’s a lot. They all have somewhere to ‘be’ on their iPads, all at different times, and all on their own schedule. Factor in my schedule and my husband’s, and we are a little frantic a few times a day.

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Middle School Distance Learning – 6th grade

I’ll also point out that we are exceptionally thrilled our oldest, Addison, is so self-sufficient and good at what she does. She has an agenda she’s using to track her meetings, her due dates, work to be done, etc. She’s using her desk in her bedroom upstairs to do all of her work, and we honestly have no idea what’s up with her every day. She’s a straight A student, a self-starter, and she’s highly motivated. We don’t micromanage her. She tells us about her day over dinner, and she outlines her day at breakfast. She’s so organized and efficient – she is my child.

Addison’s schedule is time-consuming and difficult. She has six classes, and she zoom meets in each one almost every day. Some of them require a once a week zoom, some a daily zoom. Her 7th grade advanced math class meets daily on Zoom for an hour and 10 minutes (which, by the way, is longer than her actual math class when she’s at school) for a full lesson. She’s spending the bulk of her day at ‘school’ upstairs, and she’s handling it like a pro.

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Third Grade Distance Learning

Ava is able to do things on her own, which is great. She needs us for things on occasion when her iPad mutes or does something that she cannot figure out during a meeting, but she’s good otherwise. She’s not yet started the full distance learning curriculum. That’s next week. She’ll have daily assignments to turn into her teacher, and they have a morning Zoom meeting to connect with one another. This week, she’s only required to do iReady for 90 minutes each day. Forty-five minutes for reading and the other 45 is math. She’s doing an awesome job!

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Kindergarten Distance Learning

The twins’ schedule is similar to Ava’s. They have a morning zoom meeting every day that lasts approximately 45 minutes to an hour, and they love it. Their teacher is so, so good. They read sight words like they do in class, they talk about their day, they do so many things. Otherwise, their expectations this week are 90 minutes per day on iReady. Just like Ava, they’re doing 45 reading and 45 math each day. Their teacher is working on lessons that she can teach beginning soon, as well as additional work for them to complete soon. She’s also reading and posting stories for the kids.

***fun fact: Our elementary school’s SRO is doing fun videos on Facebook teaching them fun things like how to make and fly paper airplanes, and his wife -who teaches at a different elementary school – is reading stories on a daily basis on Facebook for the kids to listen to. It’s amazing.

Making it Work

To make this work in our household, we ended up buying the three little ones their own iPads. Addison has her own already, and they use their tablets for Zoom, but iReady does not support their Kindle Fire tablets. So, they each got a new iPad Pro (IMPORTANT: They got these iPads because iReady does not support the iPad minis because it only supports screens that are at least 9.7-inches diagonal, and the iPad 10.2 wasn’t available when we ordered, though it will work if you can find one that’s available soon enough).

***also important to note: If you do order an iPad pro, it must be the 11-inch. My 12.9-inch iPad Pro is not the brand-new model. It’s the one before this new 12.9 inch, and iReady works on it. However, iReady does NOT support the brand-new iPad Pro 12.9-inch. Be sure to order the 11-inch!

While we waited on new iPads to arrive, I had to adjust my schedule accordingly to let the kids use my iPad and my laptop – both items I need to work myself. I’ve worked from home for 12 years for myself, and I have a killer schedule, but giving up my electronics makes it impossible – especially when it’s for a total of 4.5 hours a day. That was a struggle, but we are much happier now!

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Our New Schedule

I’ll preface this by saying that I work for myself, so I have a much more flexible schedule than my husband. He works for a company that requires him to work 8-5 each day. He’s been working from home for four years, but he’s not always available during the day when and if we need his help.

So, our new schedule had to be made to easily accommodate both of our schedules, four kids, and the desire to keep evenings free so we can have family time. Walks, dinner, movie night, card games, etc. Here’s how we are doing things.

  • Craig and I set our alarm for 6 am (this is actually sleeping in for us, so it’s nice) and get up. He makes coffee and brings me my laptop in bed so I can work until 7. I move to the lanai at 7 so that I can sit out and watch the sunset while I work until 7:30 when I go for a run.
  • 7:00 is breakfast for the kids
  • 7:30 I run and my husband sets up the first round of iReady for the three little ones. They do 30 minutes at this time
  • 8:00 free time for the kids, shower for me, work for Craig
  • 8:30 – second half hour of iReady for the little kids while I blow dry my hair and get ready
  • 9:30 – 10:15/10:30 – Kindergarten zoom meeting
  • 10-10:30ish – 3rd grade zoom meeting

I set up the twins in the main living area of the house so they both have a quiet place to do their meetings without their iPads conflicting with one another on the same meeting, but also so I can keep an eye/ear on them from my office. One is in the dining room, one is in the kitchen at the bar. Ava works on her meetings in her bedroom across the house.

  • 10:30 – snack and free time
  • 11 – 3rd and final half hour of iReady for the little ones (this one is the last 15 minutes of their math and the last 15 of their reading combined)
  • 11:30 – recess outside (this is a requirement because I like them to get fresh air and sunshine)
  • 12 – lunch
  • 12:30 play time/art time (we usually set up a folding table and tablecloths on the lanai and let them paint canvases or whatever they want to do, or they can play outside)
  • 1:30 – 3:00 – quiet time. We don’t care what they do, but they have to do it in their own rooms. They can read, play on their tablets, play with one another in whomever’s bedroom they want as long as the pocket door that separates the 3 little ones’ bedrooms downstairs from the main area of the house is closed and stays closed.
  • 3 pm – snack and play time
  • 5 pm – we shut down our office, make dinner, go for a walk, whatever
  • 7 pm – bath and bedtime

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Little Helpful Things

Now that we are back in school, even if it is virtually, everyone has to get up and get dressed and ready for school in our house. It helps ALL of us to get up and get dressed and ready for the day. We had two weeks of sleeping late and wearing pajamas all day, but it was time to brush our hair and wear real clothes and makeup before noon (for me, anyway).

Craig works until 5 and helps when he can. He makes the kids breakfast every morning – they like his chocolate chip pancakes – and he also makes their lunch most days. Occasionally, he might be in the middle of a conference call and I do it, but he does it most days.

While the kids are doing their iReady and their conference calls, I make myself available to them, but I sit and work. I also work anytime I can during their play time, and their quiet time is my chance to finish things up so we can get a few things done around the house and spend the evenings together.

I’ve also made checklists. Each of the little kids has a folder with their daily schedule on it. They check off completed items as they go. It helps them see where they are and what they are doing, and it helps them feel more accomplished.

So far, so good. The kids’ teachers are making this as easy on us as possible. Attempting to accommodate a classroom filled with kids who have parents who have different careers and schedules is no easy task, but they are making it work. Now that we are all becoming  more familiar with zoom and everyone has their own new iPad, things are getting a bit easier around here. It’s been good.

How has distance learning been going for you?

10 Quotes and Verses to Help You When You Feel Out of Control

Day 12

Honestly, I have no idea what day we are on quarantine-wise. The official timeline for us was on March 16, so we are just sitting here 12 days in and really trying to make the most of a horrible situation. Family walks. Long runs. Lots of power yoga at home. Lots of FaceTime conversations and virtual happy hours. Happy hours on walks with the family. Lots of books, lots of work, lots of arts and crafts, lots of card games. Lots of take out. Lots of baking. Lots of swimming. Lots of playing outdoors. Lots of online shopping.

It’s day 12. This situation is one that’s still going to get worse before it gets better – and that’s just how it is. We are making the most of our time at home, but our new normal isn’t quite normal yet. Week one was all about being lazy and relaxing and embracing it because real life really does make us tired and we welcomed that ability to rest). Week two has all us rested and basically antsy. We are bored. We are such an active family that it’s hard for us not to have a trip to go on or a place to visit or the ability to go to the gym or have fun or do anything.

We are handling it all right, but we have our moments.

That said, I’m not here to share with you any hints or tips or sales or tricks or whatever (though Lilly Pulitzer is offering 30 percent of certain items through today – and that never happens outside of the APS twice a year…so get on that).

I just wanted to share a few of my favorite quotes and verses that might help. I know that I go back and forth appreciating this time with our babies and my handsome husband and worrying about every single thing. Our sweet Ava was diagnosed with asthma when she was 15 months. She hasn’t had an episode in which she’s needed her inhaler in so long that we almost forgot she had it until about six months ago when she had an asthma attack. I lay awake at night wondering if she’s immunocompromised and at risk. Same for Carter, our sweet little man with his one and done grand mal seizure 13 months ago. Does that make him immunocompromised? I don’t know, but I worry.

And when I worry, there are few things that make me feel calm. Number one, always, is my husband. He always knows when I’m stressed or upset, and he always knows how to make it right. The kiddos help, too. And so does reading a few of my favorite quotes and verses for strength and hard times. So, in case you need them.

  1. When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you are responding to what’s happening. That’s where the power is.
  2. God sometimes takes us into troubled waters not to drown us, but to cleanse us.
  3. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to control something that isn’t yours to control. Let go. Free yourself. Allow your mind and energy to focus on something positive…to build something beautiful. – Steve Maraboli
  4. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
  5. The pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming. – Romans 8:18
  6. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. – Isaiah 43:2
  7. Do not grieve. For the joy of the Lord is your strength. – Nehemiah 8:10
  8. May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. – Nelson Mandela
  9. Be still and know that I am with you. – Psalm 46:10
  10. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

This, too, shall pass. Let’s allow it to pass with grace.

Blessings in Disguise Amid A Global Pandemic: Find the Good

Day 5

Today marks the fifth day we’ve been in the midst of our social distancing operation. No school, no cheer practice, no gym.

Those are the big changes during the week. Otherwise, not much has changed. My husband and I both work from home and always have, so we aren’t adjusting to any new schedules or interruptions. The kids being home is not an interruption. We do this every summer, thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, and long weekend. All six of us are familiar with that change.

In actuality, our kids are at good ages. They entertain themselves with books, playing outside, playing with one another, playing with their tablets, and snacking every 8 to 9 minutes so they don’t starve to death. They play well together without too many disagreements. They don’t make too much of a mess, and they don’t interrupt us during our ‘scheduled’ hours. My day is flexible since I work for me. Craig’s is not since he works for someone else. He’s in our office from 8 am to 5 pm.

I like to be in the office before anyone is awake, coffee in hand, creativity at full force. It’s actually a lot easier for me to work when the kids are home because they get to sleep in, our nephew isn’t here to go to school with us, and we don’ have to get dressed and get out of the house by a certain time. Rather than putting my morning on hold at 8 am, I’m able to get up at 5, work until 9 or 10, and pretty much call it a day after that. I work out, hang with the kids, manage the household, etc.

I’m still in my office working off and on throughout the day, but only when I have the time and only because I want to get ahead and not because I need to be in here. It’s a really laid-back, relaxed, chill sort of vibe. That’s what I like about it. So, not much has changed during the day in our house. This is what we do during summer, Christmas, etc. The only difference is that we aren’t going out to lunch. We aren’t running out for breakfast. We aren’t going to the gym. We aren’t gong out to dinner.

The big problem is going to show up tonight when it’s Friday night and the kids want to know where we are going for dinner. We will still order something out and enjoy it at home (because we are doing every single thing to support our community and local businesses) but we won’t be going out. It’ll be even crazier tomorrow morning when they wake up and want to know if we are going to a party, or if we are going shopping, or if we can go away for the weekend, or why we aren’t going on our spring break trip. That’s what will rock their world in the least positive manner.

They have no problem at all being home during the weekend because we keep jam-packed weekends, and they love the rest and the relaxation the week brings. But, when the weekends are just as relaxed and laid back and no one leaves the house except to go outside or take a family walk around our neighborhood, what is there? The kids are going to lose it. I know this. They know this. We know this.

But, even in light of all the craziness that is going on, I am a firm believer that all things are a gift. All things, as bad and heartbreaking and horrible and life shattering as they may be, bring a gift of some sort to our lives. Even the darkest days and the most horrible losses bring with them the most beautiful gifts. Maybe not right now. Maybe not in the foreseeable future. Maybe not this weekend. But, eventually. Eventually, we see the gift. The positive change. The better outlook. The lesson. It’s all going to make us stronger and better – eventually.

So, while it’s hard to see that the COVID-19 social distancing world shut down pandemic from hell is going to one day show so many of us the gifts it brings amongst the chaos, I dare you to look for the good in this.

If you need help, I’ve got you.

Rest

We are overworked, overscheduled, over committed, over everything. Literally, we are so over everything in our house that we’ve all been counting down the days until it’s all done and over with. Now, we aren’t. We are all getting good nights of sleep. We are all rested and relaxed beause we are unhurried and we aren’t rushed. It’s nice.

Time

The gift of time is perhaps the most beautiful of all. It’s something you can’t get easily, and you never get it back when you lose it. We have it now. We have the time to get into the kitchen and create a new recipe with the kids. To take a family walk. To sit down and eat family dinners together. To watch that movie. To sleep in a bit. To read that book. To start writing that book. To call that friend. To organize things. We have time. Time with our family and our kids and our spouses. Time is the most precious gift.

Say Goodbye to Toxicity

Unfortunately, we all have a toxic person or two in our lives, and now is the perfect time for us to bid adieu to that asshole. We have to stay home. We have to distance ourselves. We have to do our part, and that means avoiding people. The more time that negative Nancy is out of our lives, the more peaceful they become. And, guess what? The world is not going to be close to the same on the other side of this, and that might make you feel good about making that a permanent change.

Getting Back to Basics

We are five days in, y’all; we haven’t even touched the surface of back to basics yet but life is about to get really, really basic. If it’s not already, it’s about to be. You’re back to cooking for yourself. You’re back to sending the kids outside to play and make up games and use their imagination. You’re about to be your own parent.

Learning With and About Our Kids

Listen, we can all be very honest here and admit that being homeschool teachers is not for all of us. I don’t want to teach. If I wanted to teach, I’d be an educator. I’m not. It’s not my jam. It’s not how I want to live my life, though I do have the utmost respect for those who do make education their life. Educators are very special people with very special gifts that I simply don’t have (like patience and people skills and really strong immune systems and patience. Did I say patience?).

But, the thing here is that we are all about to learn more about (and with) our kids. We are all about to see how our kids learn. What works for them. What doesn’t. How they respond, what the teacher was talking about. What frustrates and confuses, what motivates and inspires, what bores them to tears, and just how very little of what we learned growing up actually stuck with us as adults, and just how absolutely unintelligent we actually are as adults. But, the good news is that we get to know our kids better, and guess what? That’s about to make us all better people. We will come out of this better able to help our kids and help our kids’ teachers. We are about to become educated, and I’m not just talking about our kids.

More Adult Time

Oh yes. So our lunch time bedroom dates might be a little more difficult to mange with four kids home, but now we aren’t out late every night, so we get to go to bed earlier and enjoy that time. The kids aren’t waking up early, so we get to enjoy that time. You guys, we are all going to have a much better attitude about all the things by the time this is said and done – and maybe some people who are struggling will find their groove again. This is good, good news.

Healthier Living

That’s largely hypocritical to point out as we all shove our social distancing snacks down our throats in rapid stress-eating force, but you know what I mean. We are now cooking most meals from home, so we are automatically healthier. We are taking more family walks, playing more games outside with the kids, getting more sun, benefiting from those walks and baseball games in the yard. We are all going to be healthier and more energized before much longer.

Appreciation

You know those small things we all take for granted every single day? Date night? A quick trip to Nordstrom? Birthday parties? Family vacations? Packing up and heading to a favorite resort for the weekend? Yeah, those things we can’t do anymore? Guess what? We are all about to learn to appreciate the little things. And the big things. And the things in between. We are all about to appreciate every single little thing in lives a lot more than we did before.

I have a long list of a million more ways that I’ve seen this social distancing/quarantine situation become a blessing in disguise, but not all of the things I’ve seen are my stories to tell. So, I’ll leave it at that. This is a tragedy, and it’s terrifying, and it’s just unknown and uncertain, and it’s fostering a lot of fear. But it doesn’t mean there is not good. Look for it. Be it.

Talking to Your Kids About COVID-19

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I won’t start with my typical Happy Tuesday because I’m aware this is not a happy time for most. In fact, it’s a terrifying time for many. For those who are susceptible to COVID-19 – or the Corona Virus – such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. For parents who fear the concept of homeschooling their kids (because the good Lord knows I’m not qualified at ALL to homeschool kids), small business owners unsure of the future, hourly employees who work for tips whose jobs are shut down, kids who don’t fully understand the fear and panic around them.

Especially kids.

I’m going to avoid discussing adults as a whole because we all already know how I feel about the general population, but I’m happy to talk kids. I have four of my own. I was once one. I have a bevy of kids in and out my front door on a regular basis. I know kids. I listen when they talk to me. I listen when they’re talking to one another or my husband. I observe their body language, and I hear the fears they might not have the bravery to speak out loud.

Kids don’t know what’s going on. Sure, right now, they’re all happy that they have an extra bit of time off school, but we all know that this little bit of time might become months. It might become distance learning and virtual schooling and homeschooling. Soon, they’ll be bored of being home. They’ll want to know why vacation was cancelled. They’ll want to know why we can’t go to their favorite resort for the weekend, or their favorite restaurants for dinners and lunches, or why we can’t go to Hobby Lobby on Tuesday for art supplies, or why we can’t go to the movies or Hammer & Stain, or why we can’t go to church anymore.

If they’re not already asking questions, they will. The excitement of cancelled school and events and extracurriculars that result in late nights doing homework and early mornings and long weekends of travel to places they have no desire to visit and finally having some free time will lessen, and they’ll want to know what’s up. I won’t lie and pretend I’m not excited for all the free time right now. I won’t act like I’m upset that things have been cancelled and we have the opportunity to get back our time and control of our schedules, and that I no longer have to stress about how I’m going to accomplish my work with so many interruptions on any given day. I won’t pretend I’m sad that I actually had the time to sit down and write a blog post for the first time in months because my work day isn’t chopped up by getting kids ready, taking them to school, going to practices, traveling for events, picking them up from school, working on homework, etc.

Social distancing isn’t something I’m unhappy about. The reason behind it, well, that’s less than ideal. But, it’s reality right now. We are fresh off a weekend trip to Miami to celebrate the twins’ sixth birthday and Ava’s 9th birthday – and it was exactly what we needed. Of course, we were a day into our trip when we got word of school closings and Disney closings, two days before social distancing was introduced and cruises were cancelled, and home before cities and towns began shutting down their restaurants and bars and clubs and movie theaters.

We had the best weekend on the beach and by the pool. There were plenty of people out and about, but the sunshine and fresh ocean air and al fresco dining all weekend was exactly what we needed before heading home to a completely different reality. Instead of spending the evening of our return passed out .2 seconds after our heads hit the pillow at bedtime, we spent that time talking about how we will answer our kids’ questions and how we will handle things as they change and as we approach the unknown.

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How will we answer the kids’ questions?

Honestly, but without inciting panic or fear. There’s no reason to hoard toilet paper or eggs, and we refuse to teach our children to approach life with a panicked mindset. We will be honest and open, but hopeful and concise. We will also answer them on a case by case basis. The twins’ questions will not be answered in the same manner as we’d answer them if it were Addison who asked. We will use common sense, but we will also maintain a level of honesty.

  • Talk honestly
  • Make sure they know the facts and the dangers
  • Remind them – again – of the importance of good hygiene
  • Encourage them to ask questions if they’re confused
  • Don’t let them watch media reports

How will we explain how life is changing?

Thankfully, there’s not much changing in the lives of the Raiford kids. I’ve worked from home their entire lives, so they don’t know any different there. Craig is approaching four years of working from home, so it’s their everyday life. Our everyday routine Monday-Friday will not change because of this, because I have my business to run and my husband has his job to do.

Weekends and evenings will be where the change is most noticeable. There won’t be any dinners out or any trips while we social distance for however long this is necessary. But, we will make life as sweet and comforting and familiar as possible by sticking to bedtime routines and everyday schedules. Kids love structure and routine – the Raiford kids LOVE structure and routine.

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How will we make life less scary for the kids?

Easy – we will have fun. These are uncertain times, but we will certainly spend a lot more time outdoors playing games. Baseball and football in the yard. Bike rides. Family walks. Dinner on the deck. Sunsets on the front porch rocking chairs. Breakfast on the lanai. Roasting marshmallows around the fire pit. Playing on the kids’ playground equipment. Ava asked if we could pick some summer nights to lie on a blanket on the deck and watch the stars, so we’ll do that. Family movie nights. Family game nights. Family dinners around the table outside. Setting up their art station on the deck. Playing card games. Read books. Write stories. Write great-grandma letters and draw her pictures. Laugh a lot.

We may not be able to travel – and that might be hard on our kids who are accustomed to it and love it on a regular basis – but we can have our regularly scheduled fun. We’ve got this.

How will we get through this?

For one, we pray. Second, we stay home. Honestly, we don’t get nearly enough time home, and our kids often ask us if we can plan time to stay home and be lazy. Well, now we can. We can sleep later. Nap if we want. Relax a bit. Go unhurried. We can get creative in the kitchen trying new recipes for once since we usually don’t even have time to cook the ones we already know. We just spend quality time together, and we keep our attitudes in check.

What can I teach my kids during this time?

I’m not worried about math or science or ELA or whatever. I’m worried about the important life lessons our kids will get out of this. Such as learning to stay calm and cool in a scary situation. Learning to spread kindness instead of ugliness. Learning to give back. Want to teach your kids something important? Teach them to give to others.

  • Buy a gift card for the grocery store in which you’re shopping and give it to the person in line behind you
  • Buy gas for someone at the gas station
  • Send flowers so that someone’s day is brightened and so that a small business owner gets some revenue
  • Buy some gift cards to use late
  • Wipe down your shopping cart before you use it and again after you use it
  • Share your resources if you have them (I’m talking to you TP hoarders)
  • Buy dinner for another family who is picking up their to-go meal at your favorite restaurant
  • Way over-tip (I’m a fan of 50% or more)
  • Be kind
  • Keep your opinions to yourself
  • Be quiet if you can’t be helpful or nice – this also applies to pre-and-post social distancing, y’all.
  • Ask an elderly friend or neighbor if you can pick up their groceries and deliver them safely to their doorstep
  • Do what you can, even when you think you can’t

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What if I’m scared?

Anyone who is not a little scared right now is a liar. It’s all right to be afraid. This is nothing we have ever encountered in our lives. It’s terrifying, and it’s uncertain, and many people are left fearful and desperate and feeling as if nothing will be okay.

It’s okay to be afraid. Look – approximately a week ago, we were planning our March Madness brackets and shopping for our spring break trips. A lot changed in that week. A lot can change this week. Keep that in mind. Anything can happen on any day – and that means there is always, always, always hope. It’s all right to be afraid, but don’t let that talk you out of also being hopeful.

I am SO happy to finally have the time to sit down and blog again, and I’m going to share a few posts a week. I’d like to keep them helpful and informative, but without being your news source. I just want to share what I know, what I’m familiar with a what applies. So, here’s to social distancing (or as I call it, my life because I like a handful of people and find the rest absolutely ridiculous) for the coming weeks, doing our best to help when possible, and staying safe.

 

Monday Motivation: Five Ways to Get Motivated Any Day of the Week

Happy Monday, loves!

It’s so hard to find motivation sometimes, right? I go through off and on periods where I’m super motivated to do all the things, and then there are days that I don’t want to do any of the things. But, there are a few things that I’ve come to notice about my own personal motivation. Let me back that up just a minute and explain.

I am hyper-aware of my feelings. As an adult, I’ve become very mindful about how I’m feeling, what’s making me feel that way, and how I can channel those feelings into something more productive. I am very in tune with my body and my mind, and I’ve learned when to walk away, when to get busy, and when to shut it down and take a break. Trust me, it’s not always convenient, but there are a few things I know I can do to help me feel more motivated. And there are a few things I can do when I’m not feeling motivated to get out of that situation and fix the issues.

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Start on Sunday

The single most important thing I can do for myself is get started with a motivated week on Sunday. Church always motivates me and helps me feel invigorated, happy, and motivated. I feel so good when I leave there, and I feel so ready to tackle the week. I also like to get my calendar in order on Sundays. I prep the things I need to do workwise, and sometimes I get a little bit of a head start if everyone else is busy doing their own thing.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that if I go into Monday with things to do that I didn’t do on Sunday, I’m in for a stressful day. I will let that stress get to me and bring me down for the week, too, on occasion. So, I can almost guarantee that if my Sunday allows for me to go into Monday with nothing left on my checklist, I can have a productive, awesome week.

Work Out

I don’t have a lot of free time because of my business, kids, marriage, house, life, you name it. So, I tend to find myself sometimes looking for a way to give myself a little more time, and that often makes me feel unmotivated. I might assume I need to skip the gym to find the time to get things done, but that never works out for me.

I never regret time spent at the gym. I always regret skipping the gym. I find myself so much more motivated and energized when I leave the gym. So, I find time to work out. Even if I don’t have much time on a crazy day, I won’t spend my usual hour working out. I might give myself 30 minutes to run or do something that gets my blood going, and it’s always worthwhile.

Stop and Do Something Fun

You can’t force creativity. You just can’t. Sometimes, I have to stop and do something fun. I have to call a friend and tell her she’s got to get dressed and go get coffee or lunch with me. I might leave and go shopping. I might read a book or lay out in the sun or just do something that I’ve been thinking of doing. I always find that I’m more motivated after giving myself a much-needed break.

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Cry it Out

I’m emotional. I feel things really hard; especially when I’m unmotivated and feeling as if I can’t get things together. Overwhelmed is a good description. And, you guys, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when nothing seems to be going my way. Sometimes, the best thing I can do for myself is give in and take some time to cry it out. It’s like a refreshing way to clear out all the junk in my mind and on my heart, and it’s a good time to pray and to feel cleansed and renewed. It might be messy – hello mascara and makeup – but I always feel so much better after I cry. Always. There is no sometimes in that one. So, don’t be ashamed to cry. I’m not.

Go With the Flow

I like things routine. Scheduled. On my terms. My way or the highway, we might say. But, sometimes, I’m most motivated after I’ve just gone with the flow. After I’ve made an impromptu decision to do something not on my radar. Going with the flow sometimes reminds me that life is not all about getting things done and it’s more about enjoying the things I’m doing. So, if you need some motivation; stop. Go with the flow. Don’t force anything. It’s better that way.

What do you do on a Monday morning to motivate yourself for the day and the week ahead?

Finding Quality Time With Your Family In Busy Seasons

Happy Thursday, loves!

Anyone else have kids struggling to acclimate to the new routine of back-to-school? Hitting the kids with school schedules, sports schedules, activity schedules, and the rest of our lives schedules is hard on them this time of year, and it’s showing in the Raiford house. The twins are the most emotional little people on the planet right now. Even our oldest, who is a dream, is a little whiny sometimes. Our 8-year-old is the only child in this house who is not tired, whiny, or emotional (except for a few minor instances).

Honestly, I think the problem is they’re starving. It’s a hard knock life when you go from summer snacking every 5.6 seconds to breakfast at 8, lunch at 11:20, home at 4:30 (thanks pick-up line). After all the snack begging we deal with all summer, we are shocked – shocked – they haven’t wasted away yet.

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In all seriousness, though, the hardest part of this time of year is losing the unhurried life we grow so accustomed to all summer. It makes it difficult to find quality time together when everyone is on the go all the time. Don’t get me wrong – my husband and I are fortunate enough to have plenty of time with our family both working from home and being present every day, but let’s be honest. Quality time is not found around the bar over frozen waffles, tired eyes, and taking requests such as “My strawberries are only cut in half. I’d like them cut in quarters,” or “Carter STOP TALKING TO ME before my eyes are awake!” and “Can I bring toys to school today?”

So, in an effort to make sure we are getting at least a little quality time with the kids during the week, we’ve been implementing a few new things into our routine, and the kids are loving it. Quality time with your family isn’t going to happen every moment of the day. It’s not even going to happen every day if you have kids, sports, homework, and the like. But, there are ways you can make sure you’re family is still a priority even when you’re all focused on other things.

*Just being there with your family on a daily basis is amazing. Your kids are going to grow up remembering that their parents were there to help with homework, that they were there to take them to the movies on the weekends, that they were there to play cards or board games or play outside or go get ice cream. It’s truly the little things that make the biggest difference.

Family Dinner

Weeknights are difficult in our house. Two nights a week, we are at cheer practice, and three of us miss dinner with the other three. One night a week, we have dinner with our best friends and their kids, which is such an amazing time for all, but it’s not like the kids want anything to do with the adults on those nights. They shovel their food in their mouths, pause for dessert, and quickly jump back in the pool or head outside to play. Dance parties are also big.

Monday night is our only at-home night during the week where no one has any activities, so we make it a family dinner night. We cook together; kids included. We sit down in the formal dining room together. We eat together. The kids tell us about their days, they ask us about our days, and we’ve found that we linger for a while after everyone’s plates are cleared. After dinner, we take a family walk around our neighborhood (every child gets to take turns choosing the route we take….walk by the Loud House this night. By the Fish Mailbox one night. By the Rooster mailbox another night…).

Our kids live for Monday nights right now, and we are loving every second of it. No electronics on Monday nights. Just good old-fashioned family fun, and we all need that. And, if life is running busy for you, don’t discount those nights you sit around a table in a restaurant with your family on the go. That counts. A dinner table is a dinner table if you’re all focused on one another.

Family Movie Night

There is nothing we love more than a family movie night. Ideally, it’s on a rainy evening where we want to curl up and watch movies from the couch. The kids love family movie night. We try to do it as often as possible on Friday nights, but it’s not always a weekly occurrence. However, when we do have a free Friday evening, that’s the plan. We take the kids to dinner somewhere (usually somewhere with really good pizza, plain pasta, and wine) and then we come home, take showers and baths, put on our favorite pajamas, and curl up. The kids love old-school comedies like “Beethoven” and “Cheaper by the Dozen,” which makes it more fun for us as adults, too. It’s simple, but it’s so effective.

The kids get to pick their treat for the night (ice cream, cookies, whatever) and popcorn, and they look forward to it almost as much as we do. They think they’re just having fun, but they have no idea they’re actually making memories. One day, though, we know they’ll look back and say to their own spouse, “I want to do family movie night like our parents did for us when we were kids.”

Game Night

Not my favorite way to spend quality time as a family, but the kids love it. We are all competitive, and some of us (Carter and Ava) are learning how not to be sore losers. Family game night takes some serious patience, but it’s fun. Cards. Board games. Trampoline games. Whatever they want to do. Our favorite, though, is the basketball game we bought and put on the lanai. I’m sure it has a real name, but I don’t know it. I’ll link it here for you, though. The kids love it, and we have so much fun with it. Our friends have fun with it. Our families have fun with it. It’s all the things, and it’s good.

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A Bonus…

I don’t want to discount quality time spent without the entire family. My husband and I are both home all day since we both work from home, so we don’t miss anything in their lives. Our kids will always remember us being here for them even when our time wasn’t necessarily spent with them. They’ll always remember having two parents home together for dinner and to help them with their homework, and to run errands, and to do the everyday things that must get done.

But, we need our alone time, which is where date nights are the best. Lunch dates are also great. Even grocery shopping dates are so much fun when the kids are not present. Additionally, one-on-one time with the kids is also amazing. We try to schedule time as often as we can to spend quality time with just the big girls while the twins are with the grandparents and vice versa. Those are things they also remember, because they’re getting more individual time with us where they can talk and no one interrupts us or distracts them. It’s really, really important to spend time with your kids on an individual basis.

Trust me. When our kids are grown, they’re going to remember the family movie nights. The dinners around the table talking about our days. The fact that mommy and daddy were at all their games, competitions, school events, etc. They’re already past caring about the trips to Disney and the vacations and the toys and the stuff they have. It’s those little moments that fill their buckets with love, attention, and the knowledge that they are loved by people who think they’re cool and want to spend time listening to them.

As a very wise man once said, “At the end of the day, all you have is family,” and he’s not wrong.