Happiness Does Start at Home

Happy Tuesday!

It’s election day in the United States, and it’s the day millions of people will flock to the polls to cast their vote…and it’s a day that will go down in history. This is one of the most important presidential elections in history – and I mean all of history. It’s a big day, and I hope everyone with the ability to vote does just that before I get on with my story here.

Good advice is not hard to come by, but people who take good advice and recognize it for what it is does seem to be the problem. Perhaps the simple truth is that what’s good advice for one person simply doesn’t work the same way for another. For example, just last week I text my very sweet friend, Andre, who is a trainer. He isn’t my trainer, though sometimes I do workout with him because he trains my husband’s and my best friends. They’ve all been on me forever and always about how bad my squat form is. I hate squats. I do them, but I hate them. I can never get it right. It never feels right. Andre, Geremy, Corinna, all of them…they’ve spent forever trying to give me the best advice on how to do it right so it’s not a pain in my ass (I mean, squats are literally like a pain in the ass, but you know what I mean).

Last week, I was taking one of my OBE fitness classes (God, I love those classes) and the trainer mentioned that I need to keep my weight on my heels while doing squats.

Wait, what?

That was the first time I’d heard that. It changed the game. Here I am with a professional trainer, two exceptionally fit friends, and not one person told me to put my weight in my heels. But, they did give me a load of other excellent advice…it just didn’t resonate. I immediately text Andre to tell him this groundbreaking information (that he graciously thanked me for sharing when I thought I could help him with future clients even though he already knew this advice). The moral of my story is that sometimes great advice works for one person but doesn’t work for another. It takes a slightly different perspective to work for another (that would be me, guys).

So, back to good advice. It’s not hard to come by, but it seems hard to focus on anymore. I see so much anger and so much frustration and so much ugliness anymore. I’ve had to turn off social media more than once. I’ve had to stop watching the news and reading the news. I’ve had to stop reading the comments on things (which is usually my favorite part of any article). I’ve had to take myself away from the reality the world tells me to live by and live in my own reality.

You guys, my own personal little world is a lot better than the actual world. You know why? Because I fill my own little bubble world with people who have kind, generous, gracious hearts. People who will make you laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed. People who challenge you to be the best version of yourself. People who are unafraid to live big and live their best lives. People who fill you with joy and happiness and a full heart. People who think you are the most amazing person alive, but who will be the first to tell you (with love and a smartass attitude) when you’ve being ridiculous. People who inspire you and people who love hard. They are optimistic and fulfilled, they don’t compare or judge. They don’t blame anyone else for things. Best of all, though, I surround myself with people who might not always share my feelings and opinions, but who can sit down and listen to me when I want to talk about something and really hear what I’m trying to say. They don’t become defensive or make me feel stupid if my opinion differs from theirs. We can have differences, talk about them like mature adults, and still be best friends at the end of the day. I like my world.

It makes me want to share some advice with people who aren’t living in their best world. So many people are so filled with hate, envy, judgment, anger, and so many ugly emotions. It’s so disheartening to see people who will tear down another person because they don’t agree with them, and then turn around and praise another person for doing the exact same thing. It’s so disheartening to see people tell others that they are horrible people because of their beliefs simply because they are different than others.

As a proud republican, I don’t expect everyone else to vote the same way that I vote. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I don’t expect everyone to prioritize the things that I prioritize as important in my own life. However, that also doesn’t mean that I don’t support other issues – they may not be as important to me and my own life as certain issues, but I also don’t expect the things that I consider the most important issues to be the same things everyone else considers the most important issues. Unfortunately, we are living in a world where so many people have been raised to believe that their own opinion is the right opinion and anyone who disagrees is not a good person.

The truth of the matter is that opinions are just that. They are opinions. My opinion might differ from your opinion of what’s most important in life, but my life is also much different than the lives others are living. What is a reality for me might not be a reality for someone else, and that is all right.

I try to ignore the hatred and focus on those who get it. Those who know that you can think differently, live differently, and still respect one another. But, I do want to offer some advice. It’s not going to be the right advice for everyone, but it will – hopefully – be the best advice for some people. I just find that these reminders are so good for the soul and the heart.

Live Big

Don’t be afraid to live big. It’s a beautiful thing. If something makes you happy or proud or is important to you, celebrate it and be proud of it, and shout it from the rooftops. It’s your life, and you should live it as boldly and big and beautifully as you want. If you’re happy about it, I’m happy for you (and if anyone is not happy for you, then they probably need to work on their own hearts a little). The point is that you shouldn’t minimize your life just because other people might not care or might not get it or because other people aren’t living the same life.

Fix Your Heart

Remember when the pandemic started and people were being forced to stay home and inside for weeks – some people in some states and some countries have been inside their homes for months at a time without leaving – and the world was changing? I remember reading some arbitrary article that popped up on my timeline on Facebook about a celebrity or an influencer complaining about being stuck at home nonstop for weeks – they were talking about missing things, and places, and people, etc. I also remember reading the comments, and I was horrified.

The comments were overwhelmingly negative talking about how celebrities and ‘rich’ people don’t get to complain about quarantining in their big house with their big pool and their big yard because some people don’t have the luxury of quarantining in a big house, and they’re stuck in a small house or apartment. So. What. I’m not typically a fan of people who complain all the time, but let’s be real here. You can dislike being stuck at home in a cramped studio apartment just as much as you can dislike being stuck at home in a mansion on the beach in paradise.

The world was changing, lives were put on hold, people miss their families, kids are annoying sometimes, and staring at the same four walls – no matter how far apart they may be – sucks. So, let’s stop telling people their feelings are ‘wrong’ because they are have more than you do. Get over yourself. The simple fact of the matter is that you need to fix your heart. If you find yourself having thoughts and feelings like that, you need to fix your heart. What makes you feel like this? Fix it. Why are you bitter? Fix it. Is it because you don’t have what other people have? Fix it. You have every single opportunity in the world to fix your life and make it what you want, but only if you’re willing to fix your heart, do the work, and be patient while you work hard. End of discussion.

Be Nice

It’s not hard. I mean, sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, people make you angry. They drive slow in the left lane and you can’t get around them. It’s hard to be nice when people do that. I get it. But, it’s not that hard, as a rule, to just be a nice person. Smile. Be nice.

Don’t Shrink Yourself

Never, ever shrink to fit into someone else’s life. If you’re too big for them to fit into their life as you are, you aren’t meant to be there. Shine, my friend. Be you. Have your opinions, say what’s on your heart, and be yourself. Don’t make yourself smaller to fit in with someone you may have outgrown. If you ever feel the need to change your opinion or not be your bold, beautiful self so that you can be friendly or fit in with someone, that is not your someone, my friend. That is not your someone. Call me. I’ll be your someone. I like people who are big and bold and proud of it.

Make Priorities

I don’t think many people prioritize the way they should. I think the world has collectively told people that they should prioritize things a certain way, and that’s simply not true. Being busy is not a goal. Never being home is not a goal. Having plans every single weekend without a break to just relax is not a goal. Doing too much is not a goal. Always working is not a goal.

Making time for your loved ones is a goal. Making time to exercise is a goal. Making time to take care of you is a goal. Making time to be present and enjoy life is a goal. Making time to do the things that bring you joy is a goal. Working hard and playing harder is a goal. Your goals are your goals, whatever they are. Make priorities out of the things that matter the most, and don’t worry if they don’t fit the ‘norm’ or the ‘mold’ anymore. Who wants to be just like everyone else to the point of sheer exhaustion, anyway?

Laugh More than You Complain

If, at the end of the day, you have laughed more than you have complained, you are living a good life. Don’t forget that or take that for granted. If you aren’t laughing as much as you are complaining, it’s time to start figuring out where to make healthy changes in your life so you can live happy.

Own It

Whatever you are, whoever you are, whatever you believe, whatever you want, whatever makes you happy and smile and feel good – own it. If you don’t own who you are, you aren’t being your authentic self. Own it.

Do Good Things

The one surefire way to feel good in life is to be good in life. Give back. You don’t have to give money or items or anything grand. Giving your time is just as important and just as meaningful. When you give back to the world, you get what you put into it. Do good things. Be a good person. Respect others, agree to disagree, and learn to live and let live. The great thing about life is that we all get to be whomever we want to be, and we get to do this life on our own.

Don’t Worry About Anyone Else

Trust me when I tell you that no one else is worried about you. And, if they are worried about how you’re living your life, they’re not focused on living their own. It’s a vicious cycle. Worry about yourself, and you’ll see such a dramatic improvement in your life. Imagine making your life decisions based on what makes you feel good and not what looks good or what other people think looks good. Imagine how happy you’ll be living your life, your way, on your terms. Now, go do it.

The world is such a beautiful place if you stop focusing on all the things you don’t like. Try to make that a habit. Try to change your thoughts, and try to remember that bashing other people and being a negative complainer or a judgmental person is uncool. You can have your thoughts and opinions without worrying about what anyone else is doing in their lives, and you can live a very happy life.

Today is a day that will go down in history. Whatever happens, remember that you can be the difference you want to see in the world. When you make a difference in even one life, that person will then go on to make a difference in the life of another. And that person will do the same. Imagine what one small act of kindness or grace can do, and then go do it.

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.

Bye, Negativity

Happy Wednesday, loves!

How many negative thoughts have you had this morning? Hazard a guess. I’ve probably had dozens already, and it’s first thing in the morning. Honestly, it’s so hard not to find negative thoughts creeping in these days. Any day, really, but these days it’s almost impossible not to feel negative more often than you’re accustomed to.

Let’s face it; the world is an ugly place. No matter your personal beliefs, your political affiliation, your stance on current events in the world, it’s an ugly place right now. Most people are in a mood…and it’s not a good one. You already know I’m not that much of a people person, but I’m so much less of a people person these days. It seems everywhere I go, more and more of the people I encounter are in a bad mood.

The news is filled with negativity. Newsfeeds are filled with negativity. I’ve taken to using social media to post my photos to share with my grandmother and other family members, and then I’m out. I haven’t scrolled my own Facebook feed since the beginning of July. I can’t. It’s so negative. People can’t have their political beliefs without shoving them down the throats of everyone else. People who don’t speak up about current events are suddenly the problem. People who don’t speak up soon enough about current events are the problem. People who speak up about current events but not in a timely fashion are the problem. People who speak up about current events but disagree with your opinions about current events are the problem.

April Stock Photo

You guys…we have enough problems. What’s with all the negativity? Everything is so negative anymore, and you know that this kind of negative consumption is feeding our brains and our hearts nothing but garbage. I’m done with it. I am so careful in so many areas of my life to choose positive people, positive influences, things and people that bright me joy and happiness, and I’m not about to let the fake, fear-mongering news and social media and everyone else’s opinions ruin all that hard work I put into leading a happy life.

To quote that one woman that one time (can someone remind me of the exact event, please?), “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

So, how do we stop these negative thoughts from sinking in and becoming our prevalent thoughts? It’s not easy. We are hardwired to have negative thoughts simply because we are more sensitive to negativity. But, it’s possible to (I’m sure I’m quoting my mother, here) ‘turn that frown upside down,’ and have positive thoughts.

2

Get Rid of the Phone

Social media, the news, our emails, all of it. It’s killing us a moment at a time. How many times a day do you dread checking your email because you know that you’re going to get an email or a text from a client, a coworker, a friend, a family member, a company, someone who needs a favor, wants to add something else to your plate? How many times do you check social media and find yourself annoyed by the posts you’re reading?

Get off the phone. Stop checking. Turn off your notifications. Set aside a few minutes a day to check the important stuff, and stay off social media and the news sites you’re so accustomed to inhaling and absorbing each and every day. This is especially important in the morning when you wake up. Don’t start your day with that nonsense.

1

Write Down Your Feelings of Gratitude

You already know that this is helpful, but let’s start actually doing it, okay? Pick up a notebook today while you’re out. Write down three to five things first thing in the morning that you are grateful for and that are good in your life. They can be big, small, whatever. Just write them down, then read the list. Then add a few more things to that list at the end of the day that are specific to that day. Keep this up. You’ll be amazed how quickly you are able to turn your negative thoughts into less frequent visitors. For example, this morning I am grateful for these things:

  • Watching the sunrise over our backyard from my spot on the lanai while it’s still quiet at home
  • Being able to be home with my kids to make memories and be present in their lives
  • Listening to my sweet twins read books to me out loud
  • Family dinners and game nights
  • A whole cup of coffee consumed in absolute silence while the sun rises
  • Front porch rocking
  • Being married to a man who kisses me every single time he walks by me

4

Shut Down Your Thoughts

When negative thoughts come to mind, make it a habit to literally tell them to stop. Literally, say it aloud. Say, “Stop, right now. Stop this train of thought, right now,” and keep that going. Every single time a negative thought comes to mind, tell yourself to stop. Out loud. Where you can hear it. It’ll help.

1

Write Down Your Negative Thoughts

Okay, Tiffany, tell us again how we are writing down things we are happy for and then telling ourselves to physically stop thinking negative thoughts, yet you have us writing down our negative feelings and thoughts on a piece of paper?

I realize it seems counterproductive, but it’s not. Now that you are working on getting rid of negative thoughts, take a moment to write down what bring you these thoughts. Your negative beliefs. Your negative feelings, etc. For example, if I were writing down my own negative beliefs right now, my list would look like this:

  • People are so negative
  • No one bothers to use their common sense anymore
  • The world is so divided
  • Kindness suddenly seems gone from the world
  • All I see are bad things all day, every day

But, that’s not true, now is it? People aren’t all negative. Some are, but not everyone in the world is negative. Some people lack a lot of common sense, but most don’t. The world is not as divided as the mainstream media wants us to believe. Kindness is everywhere; it’s just not as visible because it’s not nearly as newsworthy. All I see are bad things everyday because I’m seeing news stories and opinions online, and I’m not focused on the good things that surround me all the time.

You see? I just debunked – to borrow a term from mainstream media – all the negative thoughts in my mind. They look a little silly when they’re on paper, don’t they?

1

Just Relax

What’s going to happen is going to happen, and worrying about it and thinking about it and feeding it your constant negative attention is not going to make a difference. Let life unfold before you, and don’t perpetuate fear and uncertainty in your own mind. It’s not helpful.

13

Detox Your Digital Life

I’m not an advocate for unfollowing people or pages that don’t fit your narrative or simply because you don’t agree with their outlook, but sometimes you have to do it. Let me be very clear; don’t go unfollowing people because they have different beliefs than you. Do unfollow them if they bring negativity to your life or your feed. For example, unfollow someone who name calls or belittles or says hurtful things. Or, even more simply, detox your pages so you’re only seeing things that bring you joy and happiness, even if that means unfriending your mom and only following pages filled with kittens and puppies and donuts.

1

Take Care of You

I feel like a broken record because I say this all the time, but that should really make it obvious how important this is. Take care of you. Don’t put yourself last. Don’t tell me you don’t have time to work out or eat healthy – nothing is further from the truth. I see you – and I hear you – saying you’re so busy and overwhelmed and you don’t have time to go to the gym or work out or eat a healthy diet, but I also see you sharing dozens of memes and articles and commenting on every political post on the internet each and every day and talking about binging your favorite shows every evening when the kids are in bed. You have time; you don’t have the right priorities.

Get up. Take a walk. Go a quick breathing exercise. Work out at home. Download a workout app. Go for a quick run. Do some squats or crunches during commercial breaks. You have time, but you have to make it a priority. Meal prep. Or, if you’re like me and you cannot fathom the idea of eating leftovers (I cannot eat anything that’s been put in the fridge and then taken back out to reheat), order a meal service so the hard work is done. We love Hello Fresh. We love their calorie smart and vegetarian meals, ironically (we are not vegetarian). They’re quick, flavorful, and so easy.

Drink more water while you’re at it. If you’re not hydrated, you’re not living your best life. It’s really that easy. Take care of yourself. Eat right, make yourself a priority. It’s easier to feel good when you actually feel good, you know?

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Focus on the Good in Your Life

The best things in life really are those small moments. Of course, you’ll always remember the big ones and the amazing ones, but those little ones are what make up your entire complex system of happiness and fulfillment. You find your joy in those little moments. Focus on those. Look around you. Focus on what little things you do each and every day that bring you so much joy.

For me, it’s when the kids laugh and giggle and climb all over us in the pool. It’s doing cannonballs and letting down my hair – literally – to jump in the pool in the pouring rain not caring how I look. It’s simple Saturdays talking about life and laughing about every-damn-thing with the people we love most. It’s Saturday nights laughing nonstop with some of the most hilarious people around. It’s the excitement on the kids’ faces when someone rolls a Yahtzee during game night. It’s the moment my husband makes eye contact with me during the eyeroll-inducing 3908 questions Carter asks during every. Single. Movie. Night. Ever. It’s his excitement when we watch a movie about tornadoes. It’s mornings when my husband’s alarm goes off and he snoozes it for 9 minutes so he can cuddle with me a little longer. It’s Wednesday night traditions. It’s sitting on the lanai with my coffee in the morning. It’s Sunday dinners. It’s the way Addison is so sweet with her sisters and her brother. It’s Ava’s quick wit and smart mouth. It’s Charlotte’s sugar-sweet kindness and love for everyone. It’s Carter’s quick laugh and sweet “I love you, mommy,” and the feeling I get when my husband reaches for my hand when we are walking anywhere.

It is so many small moments that, when you put them together, create such a beautiful life. Even when the world is a shitshow of WTF all around us, it’s those moments you can turn to and know that you are living your best life even if you momentarily forgot all about it.

Quick Tips When You’re In A Funk

Happy Friday, loves!

Do you ever find yourself in a total funk? It’s like a weird place where you’re present in life, but you feel almost as if you’re looking at your life unfolding before you from up above; almost like a dream, if I’m putting it into a tangible concept. You can’t put your finger on the issue that’s causing your funk because you don’t really have anything to complain about. You don’t really have any issues, but yet you don’t know what the problem is that’s got you feeling as if you’re watching life unfold before you.

I spent the better part of the end of June/beginning of July in a funk. Some might say it’s because it was almost ‘that time,’ (ladies, you know), and I won’t disagree. Some months are just more difficult in that specific timeframe than others. However, it’s just not uncommon for me to find myself in a funk more often than not in the summer months.

You guys, I don’t like being hot. Rich, I know, coming from a Floridian. In all honesty, I feel as if I go through bouts of seasonal depression this time of year. it might not be truly ‘depression,’ so much as it is bouts of just blah feelings that don’t bring me much joy. I certainly don’t want to minimize the severity of seasonal depression, but I do want to bring attention to the fact that much like those who do go through that feeling in the cold winter months (not in Florida!), I feel some of the same things on a much less serious level in the summer. Why?

  • The long days are not my favorite
  • The afternoon sunlight – from about 1 pm to dusk – during summer is such an unattractive color that bothers me endlessly
  • The heat is stifling
  • The humidity is nothing short of oppressive
  • The way it feels so sticky following the rain is so gross
  • I hate sweat
  • I don’t like to feel hot
  • I don’t like that it’s just so gross outside the kids can’t even play outdoors and enjoy themselves because it’s miserably hot and dangerously humid

I know it’s the unpopular opinion, but I’m simply not a summer fan. Don’t get me wrong – I love summer in that it’s such a time of freedom and relaxation. I love that there is no responsibility in summer. I love the feeling of easiness and slow enjoyment summer brings. I love that the kids are so relaxed. I love afternoon thunderstorms – they give me so much life and so much joy – and river house days and pool days and summer nights. I love the Fourth of July. I love so much about summer except for summer itself. I love the summer mornings and the way the morning sun looks pouring in our doors and windows. I love the mornings in summer. It’s just that darn afternoon sunlight that brings me down. I can’t explain it. I just feel blah in the afternoons during summer, and sometimes I find myself in a funk if we have endless days of sunshine. My funk immediately disappears when the sun is gone and the rain comes in the afternoon. Which, I believe, is why the end of June and beginning of July were funk weeks for me – too much sunshine and weeks without a cloud in the sky.

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I’ve already got my countdown to the official fall season (which begins September 1st in my house). It brings me life and endless good moods until June rolls around again. Honestly, I might as well be useless for three months from June through the end of August. But, in in all honestly, I want to be transparent and honest. This is not a good time of year for my attitude, and I know that. I know it every year. I don’t know how to change that, so I just do my very best to focus on finding small ways to help improve my blasé attitude in the afternoons throughout summer.

Maybe this will help someone who has the same issue. Maybe it will help someone who really doesn’t live their best life too often. Maybe it will help someone who has the same guilt and feelings of ‘what is wrong with me?’ that I deal with off and on for the three longest months of the year. I know I have nothing to complain about. I know I have nothing to worry about. I know I have nothing to stress me out. Yet, I find myself really down sometimes for a few hours in the afternoon.

So, here’s what I’ve been implementing this year. I’ve asked my doctor for suggestions, I’ve asked around, I’ve done my research, and there are a few things that have really minimized my ‘summer afternoon seasonal down-ness’ significantly this summer.

I check in with myself

At the beginning of the week, I do a quick check-in with myself. I do this Monday morning prior to doing anything else (save for hitting snooze once or twice and then making a cup of coffee and meandering into my office). I sit down with my journal and write down the following:

  • My priority for the week
  • What I want to do less of this week
  • What I want to do more of this week
  • How I want to feel this week
  • How I can make sure I feel this way this week
  • What I’d like to remember in moments of ‘down-ness’

Throughout the week, I check on that list to make sure I’m doing what I can to make it as realistic as possible. It’s important for me to remember that this is not a list of major goals. It’s a simple priority list. What I need the most that week is my priority, and it doesn’t matter if it’s big, small, minor, simple, life-changing, etc. It’s just the priority I need to focus on any given week.

Change negative thinking

I’m not immune to negative thoughts. No one is, if we are being honest. However, I try hard to make sure they don’t linger. I try to stop them in their tracks. It’s not always easy for me since I’m a creative person by nature, and my mind tends to run away quickly and efficiently a thousand miles a minute (writer’s hazard, I suppose). I don’t even notice when my mind turns to the negative until it’s been there a few moments, but I’m learning to recognize, realize, and refocus quickly.

Trust me – it’s a habit that takes time to develop.

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Breathing is what helps me most. I learned in my favorite yoga class to try five count breathing when I need to slow down my racing mind (and heart) and refocus myself. Sit quietly, close your eyes, count to five slowly while inhaling, hold your breath for a count of five, exhale slowly for a count of five. Repeat until you find yourself at peace. It helps rearrange your thoughts and refocus your feelings. Trust me, it’s effective.

Write down happy thoughts. This is another helpful tool. Writing down a few things that bring me joy is a quick and simple way to change my pattern of thought. Again, this doesn’t have to be a long list of beautiful things that make you happy. It can be the simplest thing. The only rule is that it must be something that brings you joy.

Stop and do something else

There are times when I’m feeling myself in a funk, and I just need to stop what I’m doing in that moment. Sometimes this means putting things to the side and leaving the house. Maybe a family dinner out. Maybe a family walk. Maybe a quick game of cards or Yahtzee with the kids. A second workout for the day. A conversation with someone I love. Sometimes, the best thing I do for myself is put down what I’m doing and make my way into the office to sit down on my husband’s lap and interrupt his work for a long hug. I mean, what’s better?

Write

You don’t even want to know how many rambling thoughts I have written down. In notebooks. On pieces of paper I find in my desk. On my computer. On my iPad. On the notes section of my phone. In email drafts. The best therapy is a writing session. Don’t worry about grammar or form or function or readability. Just write. Write what’s on your mind, what’s on your heart, what’s in your life. You don’t even have to know what you are writing. The simple fact that you’re able to take those thoughts and put them somewhere outside your brain is a kind of release that is literally freeing.

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Remember that it’s okay to feel less than perfect

It’s hard, I know, to fully comprehend that everyone goes through down days. It’s not easy to remember that you are not alone. It’s not easy to remember that most people keep their bad days to themselves. You are not alone. You are not by yourself in this. Everyone has off days. Just look at me – I have off weeks during the summer because it’s just hot and miserable and not my favorite. But, the good news is that you can change that. You can easily turn a blah day around, get out of a funk, and focus on far better things. It’s easier said than done, but it’s going to become habit to quickly turn your thoughts around.

***Also, please remember that while a funk might occasionally be a normal thing to feel, and having a bad day or a grouchy day, or a PMS-y week might be totally normal, feelings of absolute darkness, despair, dangerous or harmful thoughts, and the inability to find the joy in anything are indicative of a major health concern; please call your doctor if you experience any of these feelings. He or she can help you figure out what’s going on, run tests to see if there is anything going on in your body you cannot see, and they can help you work through this. I am not a doctor, I do not have experience with serious mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, and my suggestions are not medically based in any capacity.

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.

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.