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August 28, 2012

What’s your plan…

…for your new life?


Jay asked me this question the Friday after we returned back home from Michigan. The question was a great one for me, in so many ways. I am living a new life now. An unfamiliar one that is so different from what it had been before.


When I left for Michigan on August 8th it was hot and dry in my hometown outside of St. Louis. As I drove the hundreds of miles toward Michigan it got noticeably cooler with each stop for fuel. The chill in the air was telling of what was ahead of me. After a long, hot and dry summer, my time in Michigan was filled with cool, rainy days—days my dad loved. He loved the wind blowing on his bare arms and legs, as he listened to the rain. Though his body was cool to the touch, he was comfortable, something he didn’t take for granted.


While I was in Michigan visiting with my dad and ultimately attending his funeral, summer vacation ended for my kids. In fact, they missed the first two days of school. We returned home to a new life in so many ways.


“What's your plan for your new life?” Jay asked me. He knew I wouldn’t simply go back to the way things had been before. My life was different now. But…what does this new life look like? Here is what I know so far.


I plan to bounce back. The first weekend I was back I read The Bounce Back Book by Karen Salmansohn. I picked up this book at Target at a time when I didn’t have anything to bounce back from. I simply liked the design of the book, and so I brought it home. I like this little book because it is filled with action steps—concrete things you can do to feel better if you’re going through a tough time. I especially love this bit of insight in the introduction. "In life, you always have a choice. Be weak or be strong." I choose strong.



I plan to be happier than ever before. This may sound strange as I sit here facing loss, but choosing happiness is one of the many things I learned from my father. The first few days after I returned home from Michigan, I decided to do things that made me feel better, in the moment. The good news is that most of these things are healthy activities like running, boot camp, talking to friends, taking naps, writing, and reading. I also found great satisfaction in mindless tasks like folding laundry. And reruns of Friends have also been my friend during this time—it feels good to laugh. It also feels good to focus on gratitude. Even in the darkest hours of this loss, I know I have so much to be grateful for.


I plan to soak-in and share kindness. If there’s one thing I will always remember about this period of my life, it is the acts of human kindness that I have experienced during this time. My Dad’s neighbors and friends shared kindness in the form of cookies, casseroles, chili, fruit trays, chips, salsa, and so much more, to nourish us during the days just after losing him. A Facebook friend shared her cell phone number with me so I could call any time (day or night) if I needed to chat. I have had friends send me heartfelt gifts, bring me flowers, and take me to lunch. I have received countless messages on blog posts, Facebook posts, via email and in the mail from people I know personally and people I have never met before. Every one of them shared kindness in the form of comforting and heartfelt thoughts. I plan to share this kindness with others, every chance I get.


I plan to take more time for the people and activities I love. When I think about my dad’s life and what made it work, I realize that he made time for the people and activities he loved. There are countless pictures of my dad sitting on the floor playing with my kids and doing other things he loved to do. My old life was busy. It is one of the things that really struck me when I returned back home. I was so busy. I plan to be a little less busy and create even more space in my life for the people and activities that make my heart sing. Creating and spreading joy—that’s the good stuff of this thing called life.


I plan to take it day by day. Each day is a gift. The good ones and the bad ones—they’re all gifts. Within each day there are good minutes and less good minutes, those minutes when the loss still stings. And that’s okay. Each day my heart heals a little bit more. Each day I’m feeling more and more like myself. Each day I’m getting more bounce back in my step. And each day the memories of my dad make me smile just a bit more…and cry just a bit less. It is good.


I plan to dance. The final song played at my Dad’s funeral was “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. My stepmom chose the song, which was a perfect summation of what I know my dad would want for those he left behind.



This weekend I’m heading back up to Michigan—this time for a wedding. My niece is getting married on the beach on Lake Michigan. I am really looking forward to this trip. It will be a chance to spend time with my sister and her family, my brother and his family, my mom and my stepmom. It will be a time to heal a bit more, to laugh and enjoy the good stuff in life, like happy memories and the hope-filled promise of fresh starts and new beginnings. And it will be a time to dance. Sure, I will wish I could dance with my father, just one more time. But, I know he would want me to continue dancing without him. And I will. That is my plan.


August 23, 2012

Starting the School Year Off Right with Organized Homework Supplies

Today's post is from Jennifer who is back to working regular hours now that our kiddos are back in school. The timing couldn't be better. Welcome back, Jen! At the end of the post I'll share a few organizing nuggets for you to tuck into your back pocket (or better yet, put into action!) Hope you enjoy the post!


If you have kids going back to school, then you know this also means (gulp) back to homework! I took advantage of all the great deals on school supplies to replenish our supplies in the homework kit. But, that got me to thinking about how last year our homework kit didn't end up working quite as well as I had hoped. 



Have you ever tried to organize something and been sorely disappointed with the results? It happens! I could say, “Meh, clearly organization doesn’t work for this family,” and chuck the whole idea. Or, I could say, “Hmmm, what works about this? What doesn’t work?” Then take that information to make a better organizing system. Fortunately, I chose the latter. (Otherwise, this would be a very short blog post! :)


What worked about our homework kit? Well, it truly contained all the supplies the kids needed, including pencils, erasers, notebooks, rulers, crayons and markers. It was stored in the pantry, which is right next to the kitchen table where the homework hubbub is held each night. It was small and portable, so anyone in the family could take it from pantry to kitchen table and back again.


What didn’t work? That took a bit more thought because I could never figure that out last year. I envisioned that at homework time, the children would place the kit on the table and pull out what they needed as they did their work. For some reason, this didn’t happen. I would still see them scrounging around for scratch paper or going across the kitchen to the “junk drawer” for pencils. Even my husband would instruct them to “get a pencil from the drawer” as the first step in homework. Frustrating!


What I think caused it not to work was that it was a bit cumbersome. I had a smaller basket inside a larger bin to help keep things sorted, but it made the whole thing less portable than I thought it would be. Also, I used storage solutions I had on hand, not ones specifically bought for this purpose. That can work a lot of the time, but in this case, it simply didn’t. Plus, nothing about was cute. Not at all.


I headed to the big box store in search of a new solution. I was looking for something portable, preferably with handles, and 2 or three drawers or sections so each girl could have their own goodies. And that is when I spied this. (cue angelic choir)



I was ecstatic. First off, it was only $11. Wahoo! I love that there is a handle on top, that we can expand by purchasing more of these, and that each section is plenty large enough to house workbooks and notebooks PLUS necessary homework supplies. Oh, and I also love that it is clear so we are always reminded of what is inside each time we see it.


I picked up some inexpensive pencil boxes to further organize inside the drawers. I chose different but coordinating colors so that they can keep their items separate from one another, yet it looks nice together.  I really had overlooked this last year, but the truth is that when things look inviting, we want to use them! It only took me about 10 minutes to get all the supplies organized, and then I gave the girls a “tour” and explained how it all goes together.



The result? Well, they LOVE it. Just like they get excited over new supplies for school, they were pumped over their new supplies at home. Honestly, we have only had a few chances to break out the homework kit this school year, but so far, so good. I’ll let you know how it goes!



How about you? If you have kids in school, do you have a homework kit or cabinet? Let us know how you organize homework supplies in your home!

Jens signature black

Organizing Takeaways 

 This post highlights some great organizing principles you can put into action in your own home. Here are my top three takeaways: 

1) When it comes to getting organized, remember not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Have you evern been frustrated that an organizing system you put in place didn't work as well as you hoped? If so, resist the temptation to chuck the whole thing or decide that "organizing just doesn't work for my family!" Instead, keep the pieces that work, and fix what isn't working. 

2) Assess what's working and what isn't working. Jennifer asked some great questions to get to the core of what wasn't working with her homework supply system...and then she shopped for solutions that would work better for her family. This is how great organizing systems are built...through trying and tweaking!

3) Set up a homework station now! This is a terrific and simple project to take on this weekend, as you're getting your kiddos ready for back-to-school. With a few basic supplies corraled together in the container of your choice, homework can be a notch easier for everyone (and maybe even more fun.) 

~ Aby


August 20, 2012

I’m back…

We returned back home from Michigan on Thursday. It was the day after my Dad’s funeral. I felt ready to return back to my home and begin figuring out my life without him. While I didn’t see my dad all that often, I always knew he was there. And now, knowing that he isn’t, and that he never will be again, is really taking some getting used to.

October 2011. My Dad's last visit to our home. 

He was an incredible man. He was full of life and laughter. He was gentle and kind. He was warm and loving. I feel incredibly grateful to have been his daughter and to have learned how to create a wonderful life, simply by watching how he lived his. I miss him terribly and I am still trying to make sense out of all of it. It happened so much faster than I expected.


He never lost his playfulness...even when he was no longer able to play. 

I left for Michigan on Wednesday, August 8th. That day my Dad checked out of the hospital and began the transition to in-home hospice care. This final phase of his journey only lasted for three days. By Saturday afternoon he was gone.


On Wednesday night when I arrived in Michigan, I sat by my Dad’s side and we talked for a long time. I had expected we would have many similar conversations in the days ahead…but I also knew that if we didn’t, it would be okay. There was nothing important left unsaid between us. He knew how I felt about him, that my love for him was pure. And I felt the same from him. We chatted about fun memories, family vacations and the stories he used to tell me at bedtime when I was a kid. He read letters from my kids—letters telling him goodbye and how much they loved him. I know this meant so much to him, as it did to me. Before I went to bed that night he thanked me for the great conversation, and commented that it had been a long time that we had been alone and able to really talk like that.



 August 2009 at Lake Michigan

Those final three days in my Dad’s life are days I will remember and treasure forever. They are three days that changed me, my view on death, and my view on life. I am so grateful that I was able to be by his side, rubbing his arm and his head as he took his last breath. And I’m so grateful that our last words to one another were “I love you.”


I will write more about this I’m sure, as I start to make sense of it all. But for now, I just wanted to let you know that I’m back and to say thank you to everyone who has extended their sympathy to me and my family. It is so helpful during times like this to know that others care and understand what you’re going through.


August 14, 2012

A Quieter Week

It's quiet here this week, Friends. If you have been following the blog, you know Aby's father has been ill. I am sorry to share with you that on Saturday, he passed away. Aby said his passing was beautiful and peaceful, and that he was surrounded by his wife, two daughters, son-in-law, brother, sister-in-law, niece, father-in-law and his pastor. 




Understandably, Aby is taking a few days off and spending time with family and friends. She and Jay are so grateful to everyone who has expressed condolences and concern. 



Jens signature black

August 10, 2012

It's Friday...

...which means it's time for some to-do list sharing. My to-do list is very short this weekend, as I'm at home spending time with my Dad. So I have just one thing on my list:  savor every minute with my Dad, talking, reminiscing, and still (believe it or not) laughing. He truly is one special guy. 


I hope you will share your fun and done lists for the weekend in the comments. And do me a favor, if you would. Make sure one of the items on your fun list involves appreciating, enjoying and really being with the special people in your life. You won't regret it. I promise.


Have a great weekend my friends. 


August 09, 2012

10 Time Management Tips

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The lazy days of summer are about to fade away into the crazy days of fall. Whether fall has you heading back to school or simply back inside after a season of summer fun, now is a terrific time to give your time management strategies a tune up. Ahead are ten tips to help you make the most of your time any time of the year. 


  1. Know your priorities. The first step to gaining control of your time is to know your priorities. When you know what’s most important to you, you'll become more deliberate about how you spend your time. What matters most to you? Take a few minutes now to jot down your answer to this question.
  2. Get your appointments and to-dos out of your head. Keeping to-dos and appointments in your head only adds to your stress. And it makes it much harder to prioritize your activities. Use a calendar, to-do list, planner, smart phone or tablet to track these obligations, and then, use your brain power for getting them done. 
  3. Choose your yeses carefully. When you say “yes” to one activity or task, you’re ultimately saying “no” to something else. Use your priorities as a filter to decide which tasks and activities to say yes to and which ones to say no to. When you choose your yeses (and no’s) wisely you’ll spend your time more purposefully and create a life you love.
  4. Know how to say no. Say things like "Thank you for the offer, but I'll have to pass this time." Or "Thank you, but that doesn't fit in my schedule or priorities at this time." Having some pre-rehearsed, friendly ways of saying "no" will help you muster the courage to decline offers graciously when that’s the best decision for you.
  5. Make sure you have some fun-stuff on your to-do list. Are you aware of how the tasks on your to-do list make you feel? If your to-do list is like most, some of the tasks deplete your energy, while others energize you. The terrific thing about those energizing tasks is that they act like little productivity power pills—they give you more energy and enthusiasm to tackle the other items on your list. So, to make the most of your time, make sure your to-do list has activities that you find fun and that energize you!
  6. Give yourself permission to quit. Just as it makes sense to stop eating when you’re full, it makes sense to stop projects when they’re no longer satisfying to you. Reevaluate any project that has been lingering on your to-do list in a state of partial completion. Ask yourself this question: Given what I know today, if I hadn’t already started this project, would I choose to start it again? If the answer is no—give yourself permission to quit. You’ll free up your time for more important projects and activities.
  7. Tap into the power of completion. Completing a lingering project or task fuels your energy and gives you motivation to tackle the other items on your to-do list. The endorphin rush that comes from checking something of your to-do list is real—so pick a project that’s near completion, and make it a point to finish it ASAP.
  8. Minimize the little time wasters. Little time wasters are like little impulse purchases—over time they add up to a lot of time and a lot of money! Five minutes on Facebook, ten minutes spent procrastinating on an important task, and a few minutes (several times a day) checking email instead of handling it—adds up to a lot of wasted time! Become aware of your little time wasters, and then minimize them. For example, if you currently check your email every fifteen minutes, see if you can cut this back to checking every twenty minutes. Assuming you work an eight hour day, this step alone would equate to eight fewer interruptions—and time leaks in your day! Just think what you could get done in that amount of time!
  9. Tackle your highest priority task first. Deal with your most important task when your energy is the highest. You’ll get the task done more quickly and getting it done will boost your confidence for handling the rest.
  10. Understand what time management really is. Time management isn't about filling every moment of your day with productive activity. Instead, time management is about feeling good and using your time purposefully. It’s about feeling energized and in control of your day. It’s about being able to relax and enjoying the moment, instead of being distracted or worried about the items on your to-do list. It’s about creating time in your schedule and your life for the people and activities that matter most to you.

In the end, how we spend out time is how we spend out lives. Are you making the very most of your time?


Happy Organizing,



August 06, 2012

How was your weekend?

It's Monday...time to share our progress on our weekend to-do lists! Here's my update:



  • Boot camp. Check, and as expected it was very therapeutic. We did some kickboxing which was just what I needed.
  • Watch the Olympics. Check! (Hannah, I keep thinking about you when I watch the Olympics. It must be sooo exciting to be so close to all the action!) 


  • Get ready for back-to-school. Check! There is still a bit to do, but Collin and I went shopping on Saturday. The school supplies are purchased and Collin is ready clothes-wise. Kailea still needs a few things, but we’ll get that taken care of this week.
  • Laundry. Check!
  • Clean. Check!

Add Ons:

  • Wash Maggie. Check!



I hope you had a wonderful weekend! 


August 03, 2012

Let’s Get Organized for the Weekend

(Back to our regularly scheduled program…)

It’s time for Finish It Friday. It’s time to get ourselves organized and prioritized for a fun and productive weekend. What’s on your to-do list this weekend? Here’s what’s on tap for me:


  • Boot camp. I have to tell you, this is soooo therapeutic for me right now. I love boot camp. :)
  • Watch the Olympics.


  • Get ready for back-to-school. Yikes! I still have quite a bit to do. (This back-to-school checklist will definitely come in handy!)
  • Laundry.
  • Clean.
  • Plan meals for the week ahead.


That’s all I have planned so far. But I’ll let you know what else made the list on Monday. I hope you have a great weekend! Thanks for joining me for another Finish It Friday.


An update…

(This post started out as a Finish It Friday post. But a different post came out of me instead. I will post my Finish It Friday post later today. Check back soon.)


Last week I mentioned that there have been some things going on around here this summer…some good and exciting stuff, as well as some challenging things. Today I want to (finally) share about the challenging stuff.


Three years ago my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. I have avoided making a widespread announcement about this for a few reasons, but here are the two biggies. First, was out of respect for my Dad’s privacy. Just because I have a blog and share stuff about my life in this public space doesn’t mean he signed up for the same. So…I thought it was best to hang low about it. And that decision was supported by my second reason: it has always been my goal to keep this blog as positive as possible. And I couldn’t quite figure out how to mix cancer and positive messages.


But it’s also really important to me that this blog be authentic…about real life. And here’s the thing: real life involves happy times and sad times. I think I would be doing you a disservice if I pretend that everything is hunky dory in my life all of the time. It isn’t. It isn’t for me. And it isn’t for anyone else either. We all have ups and downs. It’s part of what this life experience is all about.


My dad has done really well for the past three years—much better than anyone expected based on the type of cancer he has. He has remained positive and active. He has continued to do all the things he loves to do. And he has continued to laugh. (I love his laugh.) To say that he has inspired me in the past three years doesn’t do justice to what has really gone on. I am, quite simply, in awe of him.


My Dad and me three years ago, right after the diagnosis. 


In April we went to Michigan to visit him and he was doing great. Sure, he was more tired than three years ago. But all in all, he was good. He looked good. He was active. He was laughing. It was a really nice visit. He was scheduled to start another round of chemo a short while after we left. And he was very optimistic. He had done really well with his past treatments and they definitely helped.


But this time it has been different. He has had complications that have put him in the hospital twice. He has very little energy. And he isn’t currently able to do many of the things he loves to do. But he does still find a way to laugh…just about every time I talk to him.


So my heart is heavy right now, my friends. Very heavy. And as I said last week, my heavy heart has definitely hampered my creative juices. But maybe having this out in the open will help. We shall see.


I’ll keep you posted. 


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