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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Advice from a Singer Sewing Manual, 1949.

Shawn's mom sent me this the other day, and I couldn't help but laugh.
I mean, what?! "Never try to sew with a sink full of dirty dishes or beds unmade." I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to sew a stitch on most days if that were the case. Oh how times have changed.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How it's working.

Remember this post, when I asked you how do moms do it?*

I wrote it at a point when I felt completely overwhelmed by the prospect of working from home with a toddler who had dropped his second nap and would destroy our house if I took my eyes off of him for more than 30 seconds. It felt impossible to get anything done - let alone run a small business - except during naps and at bedtime, which still wasn't enough time. Long gone were the days of sewing purse after purse while he napped in his swing next to me.

So we began to pray about it, seek counsel, and look into a few options.

We knew that I absolutely had to work. Several of you wrote and suggested extreme cost-cutting measures to keep me from working at all, and for us right now, some of those just aren't feasible. (I'd elaborate on some of those suggestions, but I don't want to offend anyone.) Shawn is working in his dream job, we absolutely love Raleigh and feel like it's where we are supposed to be, and I have to work to make sure we pay our bills. There's just no way around it, as frugal as we can possibly be.

I've said before that being a stay at home mom (who doesn't have to bring in any money) is a luxury. I don't mean it's luxurious. It's far from that, and I realize what hard work it is. But for many mothers around the world, it's simply not an option to stay home full-time with the children. So in that way, it feels like a privilege - not a right - to have one income that's large enough to support an entire family. For us right now, that's just not the case. And that's ok.

Also, I love to work! I adore my roles as wife and mother, but I also feel fulfilled outside of those roles and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. In many ways, I feel like a better mom and wife when I've stepped away to do something creative and challenging that also supports my family financially.

So we pursued several options...
- I interviewed for a part-time nursing job at a pediatric clinic, and was offered the job. If I took this option, I would stop working from home altogether. Ultimately, the hours they needed me to work were completely opposite of the childcare hours I already had in place (including 12-hour shifts on Sundays which are Shawn's busiest days), so I'd be starting from scratch. I know many working mothers who face this, but had I paid for each and every childcare hour that I was working, I would end up making minimum wage and being away from Liam a whole lot. It didn't feel like the right answer to me or to anyone whose counsel I sought.
- The other option for me is working from home. As you know, I have a busy Etsy shop, and I also paint part-time for a company out of my home. But it kept coming back to the question... when do I ever get work done as a full-time toddler mom?

Enter: the most wonderful woman from my church who has volunteered to hang out with Liam twice a week. It's almost too good to be true. She picks him up from our house at 8:30am and drops him back off at 1pm, happy and exhausted. He calls her "Auntie" and adores her, waking up in the morning and asking for her.

Let me tell you... these two mornings a week have Changed. My. Life. No exaggeration. I feel like a new person with these times set aside to focus on work.

By the time she shows up at 8:30am and I usher Liam out the door, I try to be fully dressed, have already eaten breakfast, have my tea ready, and hop into the sewing room. Unless it's to go to the bathroom or get some water, I literally stay in that room and work for the entire 4 and a half hours that Liam is away. I try not to run any errands during this time as it really cuts into my work time. I just listen to sermons, cut fabric, paint, package bags, answer a few emails, and tend to whatever needs to be done.

Most weeks, those two mornings a week are still not enough. I still work during naps and after bed many nights a week. And on Fridays (Shawn's day off), he and Liam hang out all morning so I can concentrate on work again.

It's a juggling act. It's always changing, some days much harder than others. To be honest, I've never worked this hard in my life. Not as a full-time student and a part-time nanny in Chicago. Not in nursing school. Not even as a nurse in the hospital. But isn't that just true of motherhood in general?My work never feels finished, and that's the most exhausting part about it. There are always more purses to sew, canvases to paint, emails to return.

Is this a long-term solution for us? No. Add another kid to the mix or take away our childcare help, and we have to make some major changes.

But the trade-off is this: spending (nearly) every waking moment with my Liam. He and I have the closest bond humanly possible, and our days together feel like a fleeting gift that I don't want to miss. So during those late nights and early mornings and all the in-between frantic work times, it's worth it. At least for me. At least right now.

*Your response to the "Calling All Mothers" post, through email, was so far beyond what I expected. When I copied and pasted all of your emails into a word document, it exceeded 100 pages! At some point, I hope to sort through and do a blog series about what I learned from you. Right now is not that point. But seriously, thank you for your encouragement, your insight, and your time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I caved.

As much as I had hoped to wait until after August to trim his hair - so that his grandparents and great-grandparents could see his curls - it was time. His new 'do isn't perfect by any stretch, but it's much easier to maintain. He'd been running his greasy fingers through the back of his hair after every meal, requiring a (sometimes twice) daily bath, which is what finally made me cave. Haircut or no haircut, he's looking more grown up every day. Slow down, little guy. Please? 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Joy Prom 2014.


This event was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. As I stood there cheering on the guests as they entered on a red carpet, I felt like I captured a little glimpse of Heaven with so many being celebrated and honored who are usually cast aside. A beautiful, hopeful night.

Some highlights:
+ Seeing our church completely transformed with thousands of balloons, hand painted signs, a red carpet complete with "paparazzi" taking pictures of the arriving guests, a face painting station, full dinner, and a dance floor with a DJ in the worship center. This took months of preparation and was more thoroughly decorated than any prom I've ever attended.
+ Going to the dance floor "just to watch" and getting asked to dance almost immediately by an older, mentally handicapped man who was serious about dancing. For all four songs we danced to, he looked me straight in the eye and clasped my hands tight. Sweet, funny, and memorable. I think we would've danced for the rest of the night except that his chaperone was ready to leave.
+ Meeting some of the other volunteers who had driven several hours just to be a part of the evening.
+ Watching certain guests arrive on the red carpet and strike a post right out of their limos... they were just so excited.

If you're around the Raleigh area a year from now (or, even better, can find a Joy Prom in your area), make plans for the next Joy Prom. It was one of the absolute highlights of my year so far.

Friday, May 16, 2014

To mullet or not to mullet?

This is, obviously, a very important question for your Friday morning.

As Liam's hair gets longer and longer, I love it more every day. Shawn, on the other hand, loves it less. We have a daily conversation about his first hair cut, and while I'd love to stretch it until at least August, Shawn is pretty adamant that it happens sooner than that. Because Liam's hair curls up in the back, it doesn't look so mullet-ish until it's wet. See below.
But even so, sometimes when it's dry and less curly, it definitely resembles a baby mullet. We tell him, "Shake your mullet!" and he obeys. It's wonderful. And hilarious.

I love long hair on little boys. Like this, this, and this. Maybe not as long as this (Shawn would shudder). But seriously, if Liam came home from a hair cut looking like this or this, I would cry so many tears.

I didn't really understand why Shawn was so anti-mullet... until I saw these pictures of him. Wow, babe.
Thanks, Mama Newby, for passing these along. And thanks for feeling the same way I do - pure adoration - about long hair on little boys. 

So you won't hurt my feelings... how long is too long for an 18-month-old? I'm worried that if we chop his curls, they'll never come back. But still... will you tell me, ever-so-gently, if he starts looking like a boy straight out of the 80s? 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Things that inspire.

1. This book.
I just finished reading The Glass Castle: A Memoir, and I gobbled it up. It's a phenomenal story (and a true one, at that) that had me spellbound from the first chapter. If you haven't heard of it, it's the story of a girl who grew up "with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation" (Amazon review). She grew up as a nomad in her family of 6, then settled in a poor mining town in West Virginia, where she and her brother and sisters basically raised themselves. But to see where they are today and how they persevered is so inspiring. I recommend it to anyone. It's hard to read certain parts, acknowledging what they endured, but it's also incredibly redeeming. (I also hear it's being made into a movie and Jennifer Lawrence plays the lead. Sounds amazing.)

2. This testimony.

Kim first visited our church 6 weeks ago, and this was the story she shared this past Sunday before being baptized. I cried happy tears as I watched. After being a Christian for more than 20 years now, it's so freshly powerful for me to see a life radically transformed by the love of Jesus.


3. This idea.
This Friday, along with 500 other volunteers, I get to serve at Joy Prom. It's a prom specifically for mentally and physically handicapped people ages 16 and up who wouldn't normally get to go to prom, and it happens at our church every other year. Our worship center is completely transformed into a massive dance floor with a full band. This year, the theme is "Big Top Carnival," and there will be a red carpet with photographers as they arrive, face painting, dinner, shoe shining. But apparently, no one really cares about all these extras... they just want to dance. I can't wait

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mother's Day gifts.

My Mother's Day gift from Liam...
Liam (via Shawn) got me the sweetest Mother's Day journal. My mom sent me the idea... I sent it to Shawn... and Shawn ran with it. Instead of a Mother's Day card from Liam every year (which would inevitably get tossed or lost along the way), the idea is to write a little something in this journal each year so we can keep it all together in one place. I cried at the thought of all the empty pages that will be written in every year with snapshots of his beautiful life ahead. I can't wait.

On Sunday morning as I was getting Liam dressed for church, I noticed pink marker all over his left arm. I asked Shawn, "Did you see him playing with a highlighter?" and braced myself to find it on our bedding or scribbled on a wall. Little did I know it was Sharpie that will be there for a while, but for a very worthy cause. I adore this sweet gift.

My Mother's Day gift to Liam...
Last week, I stumbled onto this article, as several Facebook friends had posted it. I've seen a dozen 
articles like it, where the author says she really wants to change in regards to how much time she spends online. But this one was different for some reason. For me, it was so convicting. She writes, 
My head is down. My head is down for much of the day. I am missing all of the miracles and beauty of the life right in front of me and around me and under me and above me and within me because my eyes are on a six inch screen that has nothing to do with me.I’m afraid that one day when my children think of their mama- the picture in their mind’s eye will be me with my head down- saying “one second, honey.” I’m afraid that when I try to help my kids navigate the world of social media for themselves- when I try to convince them that the internet is not the Real World- I won’t have a leg to stand on. Because they will do what I do and not what I say.
Oh man. That hurt. While I feel like a fantastic mom in some areas, this isn't one of them. It's so easy to slide out my phone "for 10 seconds" while Liam eats lunch, goes to find a book, plays in our backyard. And I hate it. 

Sometimes, I excuse it by saying, "I have a blog and a handmade business, and it takes a social media presence to maintain it. And it takes staying up on online trends to make it successful." I see a lot of bloggers and handmade business owners who are also Moms and are also incredibly involved on social media. I've looked at them - more often than I'd like to admit - and thought, "How?!" How do they maintain such active social media accounts, run a small business, be a mom and wife - and do it all well? Maybe it's just me, but there just aren't that many hours in the day, even with the childcare that I have a couple times a week. I don't judge them a bit. But as Glennon attests in her article, "Being 'good' at the internet is much, MUCH too expensive for me. I can't afford it. I can't afford to exchange any more of my life for it." I couldn't agree more. It's just too costly. It's costly to my heart, too. The way it makes me jealous and unsatisfied in my own life when I see what other people post. Yuck.

So for Mother's Day, I released myself from the pressure of maintaining all of that. I look down at my phone plenty with emails and Etsy messages coming in (both of which are necessary to make a living right now), so to make more space for looking up, I deleted my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts for now. Perhaps in another season, I'll pick them back up. And perhaps I'll post a few things on Brighter Day's account that I've neglected because I've wasted so much time getting caught up in what everyone else is doing.

I know that real change isn't born out of guilt. But this time feels different. It isn't that I feel guilty about looking down at my phone, but it's that I truly don't want to miss what's happening when I look up. Just a few days away from Instagram and Facebook have assured me that, yes, this was the absolute best gift I could possibly give my son.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day.

To my Mom, You've set a very high standard for mothering well - sacrificing much and loving lavishly - and I'm so inspired by your example. I'm also thankful to call you one of my closest friends, and I hope I can say the same about my children someday.


To Mama Newby, Having a boy of my own now, I can't imagine living across an ocean from him. But you handle it with such grace and love us all so well, which makes the distance feel more palatable. The fruit of your labor as a mother blesses me daily.

To my Grandma, The legacy you've given to your children, your grandchildren, and now your great-grandchildren is one of hard work, great faith, and so much love. I celebrate you today, and count it such a privilege to be your granddaughter and also your friend.

To Liam, Sometimes I feel like it's Mother's Day every day because of the way you celebrate me. As I ran my fingers through your blond curls tonight and sang you your favorite hymn, I gave thanks for your precious life and the high calling God has given me through you. Being Mama to you is the greatest work of my life.

To those with empty arms, I haven't forgotten you today. Whether you've been praying for a child or have lost one, my heart is heavy for you. Maybe you'll go to church today and will not be handed a rose, will not be asked to stand for applause, will not be recognized. I can't imagine your pain, but God can. And I'm praying He comforts you with His peace today.

Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Air travel with babies.

From last week's layover in NYC
Today, Liam and I traveled on his 27th flight. 27 flights with a lap child. Whew. It fits right in with my romantic notion of what having babies would look like - that they'd just hop along for the ride, no matter where we were headed. It's assuredly what I had in mind because it's exactly what my own childhood looked like, traveling around the country with my family since birth. While it's not always as seamless or as lovely as I pictured, I know traveling is such a privilege, and I don't take it for granted for a second.

I also don't pretend to be an expert on flying with babies and toddlers - who is?! - but I do have a little experience with it now. For the actual flight, the advice changes almost monthly on what works and what doesn't. What snacks should I pack? What entertainment? What apps? Which kind of stroller? There are a hundred blog posts that address each of those specific questions, so I'll steer this in another direction.

Here's what I've learned, which I think applies to almost every age:
Pack lightly.
Yep. That's my one piece of advice.

I can't tell you how many times airport workers have watched Liam and I move through security and have asked, "That's all you're bringing?"

Here's what I generally pack:
+ A diaper bag with the essentials: diapers, wipes, an extra outfit, a bottle or sippy cup and snack, hand sanitizer, a couple books for him (or maybe a toy, depending on his age), my wallet, and my phone.
+ An umbrella stroller or carrier, maybe. The umbrella stroller (one I purchased for under $15) is the only kind of stroller I've ever brought because it's so light and easy to move through security and to check at the gate. This time, though, I decided to ditch the stroller on the way back because Liam would rather push it than ride in it, which slows everything down.

That's it. If you can sling the diaper bag over your shoulder, put the baby in a carrier or umbrella stroller, it can't get any easier than that.

I hope someone out there is reading this who has an upcoming flight, has never flown with her child before, and is scared to death. I said I'd only give one piece of advice, but here's one for the road: pack a smile, a deep breath, and a peaceful attitude that we really are going to make it there. This past week, I flew alone with Liam for about 4 hours (over two flights), and by the end, my peaceful attitude was hanging by a thread. (To be fair, Liam spent the last flight leaning over to the dozing passenger next to us and saying "night night!" right in his face. Fun.) But we made it. We really did. We somehow always do.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thankful today...

One warm afternoon last week, Liam woke up from his nap, heard our neighbors' kids' happy cries outside, and rushed over to the door, begging to join them. It happens most afternoons, but this time, Shawn was home to join us and I savored it from behind my camera lens.
Our neighborhood has caught us by complete surprise. Moving to a new city and becoming first-time home buyers at once, I'd say we rushed the process. We knew the general area where we wanted to land, understood our basic price range, and were otherwise pretty desperate to feel more settled than the basement apartment where we were staying. After walking through a handful of houses, we landed on one we loved, drew up an offer, accepted the counter, and waited rather impatiently to close. We loved the size and character of our little yellow house, but the charm of a dead-end street whose neighborhood kids basically live outside? We had no idea. Living just minutes from the Greenway and downtown Raleigh where we take family bike trips every weekend? No clue about that either.

As I watched Liam play, I took a grateful inventory:
... For kind neighbors with little kids who are close enough that we can yell from our front porch, "Do you have any extra infant Tylenol?" They do, we meet at the curb to get it, and our teething babe (and his parents) sleep so much better because of it. Heroes.
... For new neighbors who closed on their house on the day of this photograph, and invited about 10 of us inside to take a tour. "Welcome to the street! We're very neighborly," we attested, as if they couldn't tell while our six kids made themselves at home.
... For diversity. Our neighborhood is both economically and racially diverse (something we really desired), and Liam is often the only child of his color on the playground. I'm thankful to see him interacting with so many different kinds of people from the start. Healthy and wonderful.
... To live in a warm enough climate that our garden is exploding and our boy spends his days outdoors for months on end.
... To live 6 minutes from Trader Joe's (it must be mentioned).

We truly feel like the Lord has handed us gift after gift to slowly unwrap as we discover this beautiful neighborhood surrounding our little yellow house.

Monday, May 5, 2014

May Sponsors.

I'm excited to introduce another great group of sponsors this month! Thank you, friends, for supporting the work they do. When you click on their links and purchase from their shops, you're also supporting the work I do here on the blog, and I so appreciate it. It's a privilege to highlight these talented women who are working hard to support themselves and their families through their unique creative endeavors. Check them out! I see some great gift options in all of these beautiful shops.

Founded by stay-at-home mom, Jill Schiff, PlanetJill specializes in designing one-of-a-kind sterling silver elegant treasures with the faces of loved ones inside their handcrafted charms. Choose from a beautiful line of designs, or use PlanetJill's Charm Builder to design your own unique necklace or bracelet. PlanetJill is the perfect Mother's Day gift, something that Mom will truly cherish for a lifetime. Follow PlanetJill on Facebook for a chance to win weekly giveaways all month long!

COUPON CODE: Use the code PJMAMA at checkout to get $10 Off your first order!

Shop // Blog // Facebook 

Jill's Boutique is the go-to Etsy shop for handmade accessories, often chosen for weddings, proms, first communions, and other special occasions. For more than four years, Jill and her mom, Mary Jo, have put love and care into designing and creating beautiful, original, and high quality headbands, combs, clips, and sashes. Jill also features real customers on her blog

COUPON CODE: Use coupon code ELMSTREET for 10% off all month!


The Ruffled Stitch offers handmade unique wallets designed to help you stay organized. There are many different patterns to meet many different styles! Each wallet is handcrafted with care one piece at a time. So feel free to stop by and look around!

COUPON CODE: During the month of May, enjoy 10% off any purchase with promo code ELMSTREETLIFE10. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

DIY: Repurposed Earrings for Mother's Day

Looking for a quick DIY project for Mother's Day? I may share a couple more before Mother's Day rolls around, but this project couldn't be simpler, especially if you already have a few jewelry making supplies. And if you have a broken beaded necklace lying in the back of a drawer somewhere, this is the perfect way to repurpose it and give it a lovely new life.

Supplies for earrings: 
Optional supply: extra headpins. 
1. Find which beads you'd like to use and, using your jewelry pliers, open the loops surrounding them to release them from the rest of the necklace.
2. These are the beads I chose, but I didn't want it to end with a loop at the bottom.
3. Using the headpins I had, I put one through the bottom bead and cut it (using the jewelry pliers) to then form a loop. (Forming a loop takes practice. If you know someone who makes jewelry, have them show you the best technique.)
4. Attach the newly made loop onto the other beads and close the loop tightly with your pliers.
5. You should now have a headpin at the bottom and a loop at the top of the beads you've chosen.
6. Using the pliers, gently open the loop on the earring wire, attach the beads, and close it tightly.
That's it! New earrings from an old necklace in less than 5 minutes.

Now for the packaging, here's what you need:
1. Using a calligraphy pen and ink (or a Sharpie, if you'd like), write a message on the kraft paper.
2. Let it dry completely, then use the paper punch to create the earring card. Use the tiny hole punch to add two holes to place the earrings in, and that's it! Hang the earrings from the card, put them in a kraft box, and you've got a perfect little present.
PS - Mom, this isn't actually your gift. I'm not great at surprises, but I'm not quite this obvious. :)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

DIY: Toddler entertainment.

18 months old is a challenging age, at least for us. It's also a charming age, as Liam has begun giving voluntary kisses, stretching his vocabulary, and is just overflowing with life. Keeping him entertained, though - without letting him tear our house to pieces - has been more difficult than ever. So here are just a couple ideas that have worked to keep Liam busy for more than 3 minutes.

First, these prints from Printstagram. I had them made for his 1st birthday photo wall but didn't realize they'd be such a treat even 6 months later. He loves to flip through them and name all the members of his family - especially Keebler the dog. The cards are sturdy enough to (mostly) withstand toddler hands. And we keep them in a pretty dish in our living room so he has access to them, but they're also easy to pick up and put away.
The second little DIY is a set of colorful bean bags to help him learn his colors. Currently, everything is "yeh-woh," so I figured having a set of bean bags that we could play and learn with might be helpful. I found some scrap fabric in my stash, cut 6" x 6" squares (solid colors on one side and prints on the other), sewed them right sides together (leaving a couple inches open to turn the bag and fill with beans), then turned the bag. I then filled the bags 1/2 to 3/4 full of dried cannellini beans, then stitched it closed with a 1/8" seam allowance all the way around. The whole project took me less than an hour - which is a stipulation for any DIY project I allow myself these days. And Liam loves them! He mostly loves putting them on his head and tossing them around, but I love that they're somewhat educational, too.

I often feel that when I post happy, smiling photos, I need to balance them with a disclaimer that, "No, life doesn't always look like this." I don't know anyone whose life does. It's just that the more trying moments a) require me to be elbow-deep in managing Liam, whether it be in discipline or cleaning up messes, and b) aren't really moments I want to savor or to share with the world. So lest you be tempted to think, "She makes her own toys!" and elevate me to have-it-all-together mom status, please please don't. These little bitty projects just fit into my love for creative toys and our nonexistent toy budget. Cheap, creative, and actually kind of cute? Sign me up.