NatureAmy

caring for creation while caring for family

Category: Family (page 1 of 4)

Four baby gifts that every mom REALLY needs – but is afraid to ask for…

We’ve all seen the articles on the MUST HAVE items for baby.  They are full of things like strollers, the best car seat, infant swings, even baby food.  However, ask any mom what the must have items are for her and you’ll get different answers.

We are all different and our babies are all different, so it’s impossible to make a MUST HAVE registry list that is very useful.

However, there are certain gifts that a mom (first time or veteran moms alike) REALLY want, but she won’t ask for.

Why not? If she really wants these things, with all the registries available today, why does she not ask for them?

Because Miss Manners told her not to…

Okay, well it’s not really Miss Manners’ fault, but there are certain things that are easy to ask for – a new diaper bag, for example, but what she really wants, or even what she really needs, is not so easy…

Having just had my fourth baby, there is very, very little that I need for a baby.  I’ve been asked by numerous people what I need, and the honest answer is.

“Nothing, really…”

However, I say that – we all say that – because what we really would like, we can’t ask for…

And, no, it’s not a good night’s sleep or even a shower, although God knows we could really use those things.  Those things are great, and we want them, but most people don’t have the power to get them for us…

So, on behalf of all new or veteran mothers out there, let me just tell you what we would love.


Bring a Meal

My Taco Chili Recipe is my go-to meal to bring to families

My Taco Chili Recipe is my go-to meal to bring to families

It may be cliche to bring a family a meal at the birth of a new baby.  It may seem too cheap or trite, but it isn’t.  It is a wonderful gift!

However, if you ask a family to tell you when or if they want a meal, they never will.  It just seems rude to a new mom to ask you to bring something on a certain date.  Instead, offer to bring them a meal and then ask about a specific date, or two or three, that would be good.  Be specific, otherwise the mom will just think you’re being polite, but don’t really intend to bring a meal.

I know many people are intimidated by bringing their own home cooked food to another’s house, so as much as they know it would be appreciated, it makes them uncomfortable.  But although home cooked meals are wonderful, it is not necessary.

Order a pizza, pick up take out, or even a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.  It is simple, but it really is appreciated.

And if distance is a problem, you can even look up a local place and have them deliver to the family even though you don’t live nearby.

If a mom doesn’t have a “food-train” lined up, offer to start one for her.  Using a free website, like TakeThemAMeal.com, is simple, quick, and easy!  Again, it isn’t proper for a new parent to set up their own food-train, so even though they would love one, they won’t do it themselves…

House Cleaning

broomThis is another gift that moms will likely never admit to wanting, but we all want it.  Well, most of us – we all know that one mom who really does always have a perfect house!  I don’t know how she does it!

I know it is a little awkward, especially since we all feel this need to pretend we are perfect – thank you, social media!  However, when a friend not only offers to come over and help, but also sees through our not so honest claims that “it’s all good.  It’s all under control…” and comes over anyway.  And then proceeds to do the dishes, vacuum, or even clean the bathroom!  That is a true friend!

Of course, if you can afford it, another way to give this gift is through the services of a professional house cleaner.  Several hours of house cleaning by a professional is an amazing baby gift.  Can I hear an “Amen” on that one?

My friend, Laura, gifted me several hours of house cleaning as a gift for our newest addition.  She co-owns a professional housekeeping service, Dynamic Duo Housekeeping, and wanted to bless our family.  Not only was my poor neglected house clean again, but I felt so loved and pampered by her generous gesture. (I highly recommend her service, so if you are looking for a housekeeper in the Yuba/Sutter Area, you can message me on my Facebook page for more details.)

Cash

Oooh, did I just ask for cash?  That is so taboo…

I was taught never to ask for cash, it just isn’t done.  However, if you really want to bless a mom, especially a mom who doesn’t really “need anything”, cash or check is the way to go.

Now, in a pinch, gift cards are great, too.  A gift card to someplace like Target, Walmart, or Costco, are very helpful.  However. they really do limit what a mom can buy.

For instance, say a mom really wants a certain stroller, but it is too pricey to ask for from any one person.  And she got a bunch of gift cards, but they are for many different places, and those places don’t sell the stroller she really thinks would be best for their family.  However, if she is given several checks, she can then buy the stroller, the item she really wanted and needed, at the best location and price.  She could even buy it used if she wanted to – a really great way to get a deal!

Babysitting

babysittterFree babysitting – are there any sweeter words?  The gift of babysitting, either by you or in the form of money to pay for a babysitter, is another amazing gift for any parent, especially if there is more than one child!

Babysitting is the chance for the parent(s) to recharge, do a little self care, or reconnect on date night.

This doesn’t have to be anything grand.  I have friends who will take my bigger kids for a couple hours for a play date and allow me to get some alone time during nap time – what a blessing!

It could be a a chance for a date night or just a chance to wander around Target aimlessly for a couple hours.  Or maybe it’s a chance for the shower or nap that there never is time for. Whatever the case, it is a gift that most of us aren’t comfortable asking for, but we so desperately need!


As moms, and dads, we have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends.  We try to do it all – we try to do it alone – when we really should be asking for help.

As friends and family of someone with a new baby, it is our job to step into that place of uncertainty.  It is our job to stand in the gap for our loved ones and be the help they need, but are too afraid to ask for.

They say no man is an island.  They say that it takes a village to raise a child.  However, if the village does not offer, it won’t happen.  And if the offer is not specific, it won’t happen.  

Let’s make it happen.


Is there anything that you would add to the list above?

I’d love to hear what you think,

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My THM Pregnancy: 39 week update… Oops… 2 days post-partum!

Baby is here and it’s a…

GIRL!

Little Bethany Carolyn joined our family at 8 am on Wednesday, nine days before her due date.  She was 8 lbs even, 21 inches long, and has captured everyone’s hearts already.

Sleep my little one...

Sleep my little one…

I will be sharing her full birth story soon, but for a bit of a preview…

She arrived only 3 short hours after my first contraction and 1 minute before the midwives arrived!  She was born at home, as planned, with no complications, and a very, VERY quick labor.  My husband got to deliver her and is so proud of that fact!

I could not have asked for a better delivery.  It was fast and intense, but she arrived quickly and we were able to immediately relax as a family and just soak up the time together.

Big sister Addamay is already smitten. In typical 2-year-old fashion, she has claimed the baby as hers and does not want to share...

Big sister Addamay is already smitten. In typical 2-year-old fashion, she has claimed the baby as hers and does not want to share…

I’m supposed to be resting and in bed for the first week after delivery.  My midwives insist that it really is the best start for your body after birth to allow adequate time for healing.  And I’m trying to rest and stay off my feet as much as possible, but I’m terrible at taking it easy…  My husband and mom keep sending me back to bed!  At least they are here to take care of me…

Thank you all so much for your prayers and support and for following along this entire pregnancy, from my miscarriage a year ago, to healing from that experience, and finally throughout my pregnancy and birth.  God has been so good to us and has shown Himself faithful time and again.

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My Third Birth Story: My En Caul Water Birth

An en caul birth is where a baby is born still in its amniotic sac.  The bag of waters does not break and the baby is in a water balloon like clear sac at birth.  This is very rare and is said to occur only in 1 out of 80,000 births.  Legend says that babies born in the caul are said to be clairvoyant and possess supernatural abilities…

When I was pregnant with my third baby, my first girl, I knew I wanted a natural childbirth again.  We considered a home birth, but with our insurance at the time, a hospital birth would be fully covered and a homebirth was not covered at all.  Thankfully, the wonderful hospital based birth center where we gave birth to our second son was covered, so we chose to return there, even though it was almost an hours drive from our house. (Read my second birth story here. Or my first, where nothing went as planned, here.)

Four days before my due date, I knew that something was starting. I was supposed to teach that day, but I asked my husband (who I was co-teaching with at the time) to take over for me.  Nothing was really happening.  I’d had a bunch of Braxton Hicks and early labor contractions off and on for over a week, but nothing stuck.  That morning, however, I just had a feeling.

We were invited to go swimming at a friend’s house that day, which sounded like fun.  It was early May, but it was heating up and I was looking forward to a swim.  So the boys and I headed over that afternoon and swam in the frigid water.  I decided to be brave and swim into the deep end and tread water for a bit – brrrr it was cold!  But the activity got my contractions started.  Just easy early labor contractions like I had been having on and off for quite a while, but I thought they just might stick this time.

We drove home and my contractions continued.  They were not painful, yet, and they came every 10-15 minutes.  I went to bed that night wondering if they would stop or if they would progress.

I woke up about 3 am to painful contractions.  I couldn’t just lie in bed any longer, although I tried and dozed off between each one since they were only coming 3 or 4 times an hour.  By morning, they had picked up considerably and were coming every 5 minutes or so, so we decided to make the hour long trek to the hospital before driving in the car was too uncomfortable.

By 10 am, we made it to the hospital, which was very crowded.  Every room was full, except one basic delivery room without a birthing tub.  As soon as we walked inside, my labor stopped.  (This has certainly been a pattern for me.  My labor always stops when I reach the hospital…)  The midwife who had just come on duty was one of the three in the large midwife group that I actually knew, so I was happy about that.  Simone checked me and they monitored me for 20 minutes, but I was only dilated to 3 cm at this point, and my labor had stopped.  So, she suggested I go back home, or walk around town, get some breakfast, etc. to see if things would start up again.

I was devastated and embarrassed.  I wanted to have this baby, not go back home.  In hinds sight, I am so glad I was not admitted at that time.  Not being at the hospital helped my labor progress much faster than I think it would have if I was there, stuck in that tiny L&D room.


My husband and I decided to go out to brunch and see how things went from there.  As soon as we left the hospital, my labor started again, although just gradually.  I had a number of good contractions in the restaurant while enjoying my big plate of biscuits and gravy and fresh squeezed orange juice.  So afterwards, we decided to walk around town and down to the local university’s campus arboretum.  We were very familiar with this campus because we had graduated from there.

Walking through the familiar plants in the arboretum was very peaceful and my contractions got much more serious.  They were all over the place time-wise, though.  Sometimes they would be 15 minutes between them, sometimes there would be 3 minutes.  After a couple hours of walking, we made it back to our car and discussed the next steps.

I wanted to return to the hospital, but I was afraid they would just turn me away again.  My husband wanted to return home.  He was convinced I was still in early labor and we still had a long time before our baby would arrive. So, against my better judgement, we drove the hour long drive back home.

About half way there, my irregular contractions started to become very regular.  They came every 5 minutes, then every 4, and eventually every 3 minutes by the time we arrived home.  And they were starting to get to the point where I had to really concentrate to get through them.

The boys (ages 4 and almost 6) were excited that we were home already, they were at home with my mother-in-law, and they wanted to meet the baby.  I felt terrible telling them that she wasn’t here yet.  And to make things more complicated, my mother-in-law had some friends visiting who happened to be driving by and had stopped in to visit.  I wasn’t exactly the best hostess as I said a quick hello and then went back to hide in the bedroom.


My husband had a field trip planned with his students the following day and was debating whether or not he should postpone it.  He was talking on the phone with his boss as he walked into the bedroom and I heard him say, “yes, false alarm.  She’s still in early labor, so it could be days still.”  And he did not cancel the trip for the following morning.  At that point, with intense contractions coming every 3 or 4 minutes, I lost it!

“I am NOT in early labor!”  I snapped at him.  My poor husband gave me a sympathetic look and left the room to finish the conversation.

Our guests (or my mother-in-law’s guests) left, so I came out of the room and decided to try to watch a movie with the boys.  We put on Despicable Me II since I had not seen it yet and thought it might be a good distraction.  I still have not seen that movie. LOL!

I moved around the house, sitting on my yoga ball, trying some different yoga positions, leaning against the kitchen counter.  Finally, I told my husband – “I really think we need to go back to the hospital.”

My mother-in-law agreed, so we loaded back into the car, after being home for about 90 minutes, and returned to the hospital.  I had no idea how far along I was, but I suspected I must be near transition.  I started to time my contractions using my phone as we made our way back.  We called the midwife and let them know we were coming back and she assured me that there would be a tub room waiting when we arrived.


My contractions were coming every 3 minutes, then every 2 minutes, and eventually I would only have 30 seconds to a minute between each.  I concentrated on the air vent in front of me and wished that I had my scripture cards from my birth bag to meditate on.  Since I didn’t have those, I just said the name of Jesus, over and over, mostly in my head, as I breathed through each contraction.  It was painful, yet it wasn’t.  I seemed to transport out of myself when I focused on His name.  There IS power in His name.

My husband had finally decided that I must actually be in labor and was starting to get worried that we might actually have this little one in the car!  When traffic slowed (it was after 5 pm at this point) he seriously considered driving in the emergency lane, but thankfully it only slowed for a minute and then picked back up again.

We reached the hospital birth center and I attempted to make it to the door, but with breaks between contractions only lasting 30 or 45 seconds, I didn’t make it to the door without having to lean on my husband and breath through another one.  They knew who I was at the check in desk and led me into my room.  All was peaceful and calm, unlike when we had been there that morning.  I was the only mother in labor.

They hooked me up to the monitors for my mandatory 20 minutes of monitoring at check in.  It was torture to try to lie still while they put the two monitors on my stomach and started the test.  My husband started a calming CD and I tried to breath through each contraction, but was distracted by having to stay in one position for so long.  It was the only time during this labor that I felt was unbearable – I had finally learned how to NOT focus on the pain, but being strapped to a machine was more than I could take.

The nurse started to fill up the birthing tub since she could tell I would want it as soon as I finished my test.

The nurse we had was wonderful.  Later, we found out that she was a Christian and had been praying over the entire delivery.  Since she had no other patients to attend to, she stayed with us and rubbed my back.  At the end of 20 minutes, our midwife came in (she had been taking a dinner break).  But before she could even check me, my contractions changed.  I felt the urge to push.


At first I didn’t say anything and just pushed through the first one – it felt so good.  Then I decided I better say something, so I told the midwife.  She went to check my dilation, thought better of it (this was my third), and told me that if I wanted to have this baby in the water, I had better get in the tub! ( I was only checked at 3 cm dilated that morning.)

The warm water felt so good and eased the pain significantly.  I tried pushing in a squatting position and then on all fours, but wasn’t getting too far.  My midwife suggested I turn over and push from a sitting position with my legs bent up.  That worked and my baby girl started to crown.

The CD we were listening to stopped at that point and my thoughtful husband asked if I wanted him to restart it or put in something different.  “No!  Get the camera!” I told him instead.

At this point, my water still had not broken, so the bag of waters ballooned out as I was pushing her head out.  As she slipped back before the next contraction, the bag of waters stayed out, holding me open so that she came out easily on the next push, still in her bag of waters.

This in the only picture we have of Addamay still in the sac. It is no longer covering her head, but you can see it around her shoulders and my hands.

This in the only picture we have of Addamay still in the sac. It is no longer covering her head, but you can see it around her shoulders and my hands.

The midwife swept her out of the water and quickly broke her bag and released her head.  She was perfect and covered in vernix like frosting as she was placed on my chest.  It was so quick that we don’t have any pictures of her “en caul” and my memory of the event is blurry as I was kind of busy at that time…

We were only in the hospital about 45 minutes before our precious little Addamay was born.  She was perfect, just like her brothers – her blue eyes, button nose, and round head had us captivated from the start.  And she was not “too big” as a late ultrasound predicted she would be.  She was 8 lbs 6 ozs, just under the 8.5 lbs that our midwife had predicted using just her hands.

She latched on immediately and nursed in the tub and then on the bed.  I had a severe tear with her, which took some time to sew up.  However, I also healed quicker and had a better recovery with her than with the boys, so I can’t complain.

A few hours after her birth, she's all cleaned up and ready to sleep.

A few hours after her birth, she’s all cleaned up and ready to sleep.

We spent the night at the hospital and chose her name in the morning.  We are terrible about picking out names, so we had a short list to choose from.  Addamay means Noble Child of Light and is very unusual, but is the combination of two very familiar names.

birth3_home

Being greeted by her grandmothers and her brothers just as we came in the garage door.

And just like our previous births, we requested early check out from the hospital.  We were home by late morning the following day.

Her big brothers could not get enough of her.

Her big brothers could not get enough of her.

Thankfully, Addamay settled right into home life and slept beautifully among the familiar loud sounds of her brothers playing.  She was restless and unhappy at the hospital, but as soon as we were home, she was as happy as could be.

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Why my kids don’t have many toys…

OK, OK, this makes me sound like the Grinch.

I promise, my kids have plenty of toys, they really do.  However, compared to most families we know, regardless of income, my three kids don’t have many toys.  But before you start donating all your unwanted toys to our house, let me just clarify – this is completely intentional…

There really are two main reasons we don’t have a lot of toys for our three (soon to be four) children,  The first is that about two years ago, I made the very intentional choice to severely cut back on our belongings.  This was not a sudden decision – it was actually very gradual and you can read about it here.

We live in a small house, so we don’t have a play room.  Our living room is naturally where the kids play. During that time, our living room went from looking like this – home of all the toys…

Our living room at Addamay's first birthday party.  This was after we started decluttering, but before we found a solution to toys stored in our living room.

Our living room at Addamay’s first birthday party. This was after we started decluttering, but before we found a solution to toys stored in our living room.

to this.

Our living room in a rare moment when there are not Lego creations in progress.  We've done some rearranging since the previous photo, as well.

Our living room in a rare moment when there are not Lego creations in progress. We’ve done some rearranging since the previous photo, as well.

Where did all the toys go?  Well, a lot of them were donated.  The rest mostly live here on this one bookshelf in the hallway.

The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff - NatureAmy.com

Toys accumulate so quickly if you have several kids. This was our shelf after decluttering this summer.

We also have a big box of Legos, a Lego display small bookshelf in the kids’ room to keep their creations, and a few things in our large pantry and garage that act as a toy library.

The second reason we don’t have many toys is because when my two boys were little my sister Ella read the book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Dr. Kim John Payne.  I have since read it, but when she read it she went into great detail about his philosophy on toys and play and I was absolutely fascinated by it!  (My sister and I spend a lot of time on the phone together each week and like to talk about anything and everything!)

I started to implement some of Dr. Paynes strategies then – the first one I embraced was that toys should not do anything for the child. Toys that do too much squelch the imagination – so out with the noise toys!  Yes! (I really was looking for any reason to get rid of that stupid singing alphabet caterpillar!)  Instead, we stick to “old fashioned” non-electronic toys, like blocks, Legos, Play-Doh, and wooden trains.

And do you know what we’ve found?  Our kids play longer, fight less, and enjoy the toys they have more when they own less.  Too many toys can be overstimulating for kids.  But when we purposefully pare down what they have to play with – keeping only their favorites and the ones that use the most imagination – they are actually happier, calmer, and more content.


Dr Payne’s research is really quite amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to simplify their children’s lives.  His prescription to his clients to simplify their children’s environment has helped with behavioral issues, ADHD, and anxiety, among other things.  In most of his case studies, the children’s symptoms disappeared entirely! He suggests that most people need to reduce their children’s toys by about 75%.  He uses the following guidelines to reduce the toy clutter:

  1. Get rid of broken toys- pretty simple
  2. Get rid of “fixed” toys – toys that don’t trigger the imagination (character toys from TV shows or movies fall under this category)
  3. Developmentally inappropriate toys – is this too mature or too immature?
  4. Annoying toys – if you can’t stand it, he gives you permission to toss it.  I love this one!
  5. Complicated toys, battery operated toys, toys that break easily.
  6. Commercial toys – ones that you were pressured to buy because everyone must have it.
  7. Toys that cause the kids to fight or interact unhealthily

So what toys do we keep?  Toys that encourage the imagination.  Think blocks, dolls, dress up clothes, craft items, wooden trains.

I love watching my kids create their own little worlds.

I love watching my kids create their own little worlds.

Your son doesn’t need a police car with a real siren – he can make the noise himself!  She doesn’t need a doll that cries or talks or poops – her imagination can do that very well.

My boys do occasionally beg for toys they see their friends have.  For instance, they really want bullets for their Nerf guns, but I won’t get them for them.  (I tossed them all a couple years ago.) You see, when we had bullets, they spent more time trying to find them and asking me to help them find them than they actually spent playing.  However, I know they can spend hours playing with their toy guns fighting off imaginary bad guys in some elaborate story.  But if they have to stop to find Nerf bullets, the game stops.  I’m sure you have similar stories of how your kids imaginatio

n has just stopped because a toy does too much.

The toys that made the cut at our house:

Legos

Mega Blocks

Magformers              

Some of the toy cars and trucks and racing tracks

Wooden trains and tracks

Bean-bag animal stuffed toys (these are a surprising hit and the kids can play for hours in their animal world)

Play-dough – I make my own play-dough and we use a variety of tools to play

Melissa and Doug Castle Blocks and knights and dragons

Melissa and Doug puzzles

Marble Run tracks

Pirate ships

A few toy guns and foam swords – nothing realistic looking

Baby dolls, baby carriage, clothes, and accessories

Toy kitchen, toy table/chairs, cookware, food, picnic basket, and tea pot

Dress-up clothes

Art and craft supplies – these live in our homeschool room

Children’s books and board games – these live in the closet

When I write it up like that, it does seem like a pretty long list, but it does include three kids of different genders, ages 2-8.  Plus, it mostly fits on one IKEA shelf bolted to the wall in the hall.  I keep a few items, like our toy kitchen and large trucks, on the back porch.  And a few items are stored in the garage or our large pantry.

Our toy kitchen and table live outside in the rain and sun, but it works well for our small space and mild winters.

Our toy kitchen and table live outside in the rain and sun, but it works well for our small space and mild winters.


Does anyone else get Toy Story guilt when you donate (or toss) a toy?  Oh my goodness, that movie has scarred me for life!  LOL! Nevertheless, I bit the bullet and tried not to think too much about it when I donated Buzz Lightyear! Sorry, Buzz, but hopefully you’re getting played with at your new home!toy-story-3

I also am that mom that usually does not include her kids in the donating decisions.  I don’t know about your kids, but mine go into full blown hysterics over the thought of giving away ANY of their toys – even toys they have NEVER played with!  However, if I donate the toys I know they don’t play with anymore while they are asleep, they are not upset by it.  They usually don’t even notice.

On the couple occasions that they have noticed something missing, I explain that I gave it away to a kid that didn’t have many toys so they could play with it.  Sometimes, a couple tears were shed by my 6 year old who is very sensitive, but he got over it quickly and was happy to know it went to a good home.

If there are toys that I’m not sure about, I often move them to a shelf in the garage.  Sometimes I will add them back into the toy rotation.  Other times, if they are forgotten for 6 months or more, I donate them.


So, what do you do about toys at your house?  Are they taking over or have you found a good balance that works for you?  I’d love to hear about it!

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My One Year Blogiversary: What I’ve learned from my first year…

Today is the 1 year anniversary of starting my NatureAmy blog and what a year it has been!

I started writing to have an outlet that was just mine.  For the first time since becoming a mom almost 8 years before, I was switching from working part-time to being a full-time stay at home mom.  And although I was happy about that, I wanted an outlet that was just mine.

amy_addamay2016As much as I love motherhood, it can become all consuming – so much so that I find myself needing an outlet that is all my own.  When I taught college classes part time, that was a great outlet. However, after 3 kids and full time homeschooling two of them, working outside the home, even for only 10 hours a week, was too much.  So I became a full-time SAHM and started a lifestyle/mommy blog.

And I’ve loved it!  It’s been a hard year for me emotionally, but being able to write about it has been very healing.  I’ve also found that writing is so much like teaching.  I’m a teacher and encourager at heart and I’ll never get away from that.

I’ve evolved from writing two or three posts per week, to taking two months off from writing in the summer, and eventually settling in at posting about once per week.

family2016I wish I could write more consistently – I love reading bloggers who post several days every week – but I realized that that is not realistic in my current season.  I’m homeschooling 1st and 3rd grade, keeping up with a very independent toddler, and about to add a 4th baby to the mix.  My husband works 80 hour weeks during the school year and we try to keep everything running smoothly at our house (emphasis on TRY – it is far from smooth most weeks!).


So… just for fun, let’s look at some of my stats and most popular posts this year.  I have been blown away by the visitation and love that this site has received the last 12 months!

Total site visitation: just under 50,000 – I can hardly fathom that number!  I know for many more popular blogs that is a monthly or weekly stat, but I am humbled that my blog has been visited so many times!

  1. My most popular post is my Weeks Worth of Trim Healthy Mama Camping Meal Ideas Camping with THM: A week's worth of on-plan menu ideas - perfect for a family camping trip - NatureAmy.com
  2.  But coming in just slightly under it is my Healthy Blueberry Scones Fuel Pull recipe – Downton Abbey inspired.  All my scone recipes are popular (and yummy) but this one tops them all.Downton-night-1
  3. My third most popular post is my personal Trim Healthy Mama Testimony.beforeand-after-thm

Enough stats – personally, my favorite three posts (even though they don’t rank so high in post views) are the following.

  1. My very first blog story (after my introduction post) – Glitter in the Snow.  I love this touching story about how our kids are the light and hope in this dark world.Does the darkness of the world seem to be too much? Here is some hope - some glitter - in the dark. - Natureamy.com
  2. My testimony about not having a testimony – When you feel like you don’t have a testimony…  The Facebook shares of this one really humbled me.When it seems that everyone else has an amazing story to tell of how God saved them from disaster, but you've been a Christian forever... But you DO have a beautiful testimony of God's faithfulness. -- NatureAmy.com
  3. And finally, our family tips on hiking with little kids – or how to NOT carry them the entire way…Tips for hiking with little kids, without carrying them the entire way. Written by long-distance backpacker parents who love to hike! NatureAmy.com

Some things I’ve learned that have pleasantly surprised me:

There is a wonderful and supportive world of bloggers out there that I never knew existed!  I’ve made friendships all over the United States, and even some beyond, with women who also blog.  I’ve never been one to have digital relationships before – everyone I was friends with on Facebook I actually knew in person – but I’ve found a kinship with these women and it has really blessed me!

Instagram is a very surprising place.  I never had an Instagram account before I opened my @amylovesnature page.  I’ve found it to be a great tool in the blogging world and have formed most my friendships with other bloggers through it.  It is also a much more pleasant social media outlet during political season!

E-courses can be a valuable connection tool.  I purchased an e-course from Natalie of At Home With Natalie about blogging.  It has been a very valuable tool.  However, the thing I found most useful is the connections it has brought to other like minded bloggers.  I use her Blogging E-course for Moms.  And she often has discounts!


So, overall, I’ve learned a lot this year.  But I’ve also learned to find my groove, be completely and unapologetically myself, and not focus on page views and site stats.  I’ve made a little bit of money (enough to pay for a replacement part to fix my nice camera), gotten overwhelmed by statistics and numbers (my post on why I don’t want a successful blog speaks about that one) , and eventually stepped back from it all to find a place that works for me.  Rethinking what it means to be successful in the blogging world when you want to encourage simpler living and consuming less.

Maybe someday I’ll be a “successful” blogger with really great site stats and viral posts who makes enough money to support my family… but for now, I’m happy where I’m at.  God has blessed me so much in this journey so far and I’m happy to be along for the ride!

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Family Pictures with Jennifer Jens Photography

Make sure to check out my friend Jennifer’s photography page and consider her for your family pictures – she also does lifestyle photography, newborns, birthdays, weddings, birth, and much more.  You can see a sampling of her work in this post!  Check out her website to see more!

I love this time of year!  Christmas is in the air.  Magic is everywhere… And Christmas cards arrive from friends afar…

Mike and I have been sending photo Christmas cards since we were married over 14 years ago.  The cards got much cuter when we had kids 6 years into our marriage!

Our first Christmas picture with our first baby, Clayton.

Our first Christmas picture with our first baby, Clayton.

For years we took our own photos.  One year we set up the tripod and took pictures with a toddler and a baby by the Christmas tree – those pictures were so full of bloopers – it was priceless!

However, when we took the plunge and hired a professional photographer – there was no turning back!

We’ve had a few different photographers take our pictures over the years, but when one of my best friends started her business, we’ve been using her ever since!  Read the story of how God brought my friend Jen into my life here.

Our first photoshoot with Jennifer Jens Photography. The boys were 2 and 4.

Our first photoshoot with Jennifer Jens Photography. The boys were 2 and 4.

Jen also took Valentine’s pictures of the boys that year.  Here’s one of my favorites!

Clayton at almost 5 and Micah at almost 3.

Clayton at almost 5 and Micah at almost 3.

That year, our family photo had an announcement to make…

A new little pumpkin coming May 2014

A new little pumpkin coming May 2014

The following year we had a little Princess who needed many pictures…

Our little princess...

Our little princess…

And she made our family photos more fun, too!

3rd-jjp-2

Addamay is adored by her brothers... and everyone else, too!

Addamay is adored by her brothers… and everyone else, too!

And Jennifer also did Addamay’s first birthday pictures, of course!

I made her cake and outfit!

I made her cake and outfit!

Last years family photos are a familiar sight on my blog.

family

And finally – this year’s pictures…

We tried not to fall in the river!

We tried not to fall in the river!

jjp-16-2

 

These three...

These three…

She has my heart...

She has my heart…

And of course - baby #4 had to have a special shot!

And of course – baby #4 had to have a special shot!

There are many more wonderful pictures, but I can’t show them all!  I hope you liked these as much as I do!

Give Jennifer a like on Facebook and check out her website, especially if you live in Northern California!

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Christmas Traditions: Christmas Book Countdown on a Budget

I’m doing a new mini-series on some of our favorite Christmas traditions.  I know… I know… it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but I wanted to post this one early because it takes some preparation if you want to do something similar.

When both my boys were little, I was searching Pinterest for homemade Christmas countdown ideas.  I wanted a visual way to show a 2- and 4-year-old that Christmas was coming.  I came across many ideas that I liked, but my favorite, by far, was the Christmas Book Countdown.

The idea is simple.  You take 24 Christmas books and wrap them all up by December 1st.   Then, each night, you unwrap one book (the kids take turns each night) and read it!  As Christmas gets closer, the stack of books gets thinner.  Soon, it’s Christmas Eve!


We love books, especially children’s books.  I have read to the kids every night of their lives, so this tradition was easy to incorporate into our routine.  The only problem was – it was too expensive!

Buying 24 new Christmas books the month before Christmas can break the bank if you live on a tight budget.

We were a young family living off of graduate student incomes.  I had a few Christmas books in our collection, but I knew that I could not afford to buy 20 more!

So I searched our local thrift stores and found a few more books, but with only weeks until Christmas, their stock of Christmas books was getting slim…

So where can you find Christmas books for a bargain?  The library, of course!

I went on our local library website and searched for children’s Christmas books.  By this point December 1st was rapidly approaching. I put holds on a bunch of books, a few more than I needed in case some did not arrive in time.

Then I wrapped up the books I did own. Our collection was up to about 8.  We started working our way through those books, one by one.  About 5 or 6 days into the month, I picked up the books that were waiting for me at the library.  I didn’t show them to the kids.  Instead I wrapped them up.  They would not be overdue for 21 days and Christmas was closer than that!  Perfect!

Problem solved.


Christmas Book Countdown on a Budget - how to do a Christmas book countdown without buying all the books new! NatureAmy.com

The collection of Christmas books that I store out of sight in our Christmas decoration boxes each year.

In the following year, I looked for books on clearance in after Christmas sales.  I also searched for books anytime I was at a thrift store.  I was able to collect enough books so that I now own a collection of 24.

Each year I wrap up the same 24 books.  The kids are familiar with them all, but that does not make it less exciting for them.  They look forward to reading them again and again!

And when we put away the decorations at the end of Christmas, I put the books back in the Christmas box.  This way, the kids don’t see the books all year long on their bookshelf.


Christmas Book Countdown on a Budget - how to do a Christmas book countdown without buying all the books new! NatureAmy.com

All wrapped up and ready for December first – I usually procrastinate and don’t wrap them until the morning of December 1st!

I can’t wait to pull out the books again this year and see the excitement on their faces each night as they unwrap the books, wondering what book they will get that night.  It’s like a little bit of Christmas magic in our house every night of December.  This is one tradition that I never want them to grow out of…

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

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Christmas Traditions: Christmas Tree Hunting in the National Forest

I’m starting a new mini-series on some of our favorite Christmas traditions.  I know… I know… it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but I wanted to post this one early because it takes some preparation if you want to do something similar.

I love Christmas.  In fact, I am guilty of listening to Christmas music way before Thanksgiving every year – like even in the middle of summer if the mood strikes!  As a kid, we would often have a Christmas CD or cassette in the boom box by our pool.  Swimming and jingle bells, anyone?

I don’t decorate until after Thanksgiving is over, however.  I may be singing Christmas carols before Halloween, but there is no visible evidence until after we have finished the Thanksgiving dishes.  After that – it’s fair game!

Out come the decorations!

Out come the wreaths, lights, and garlands!

And it’s time for the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree!


Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

Addamay’s first Christmas tree trip at 6 months old.

We are not a fake Christmas tree family.  And we take our Christmas tree hunting seriously.

By hunting, I don’t mean searching the corner lot for the perfect tree.

And, by hunting I don’t mean cutting down our tree in the midst of a perfectly manicured tree farm.

By hunting I mean hunting for our tree in the National Forest with our United States Forest Service (USFS) Christmas Tree Permit and legal places to cut map!

Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

Finding the perfect tree for Christmas 2015


Until about 12 years ago, I didn’t know you could buy a permit to cut a tree in our local National Forest.  I don’t even remember how we first found out about it.  But in December of 2006, my hubby and I drove to our local USFS office and bought a $10 permit.  Then we drove up the hill in search of the perfect tree.

We’ve been doing the same thing every year since then!


We LOVE this Christmas tradition for many reasons.

  1. It gives us a great excuse to spend the day exploring nature.  It is about a 90 minute drive from our house to our favorite spot to find our tree.  Then we hike around and search for the perfect tree.  We bring a picnic lunch, a thermos full of hot cocoa, and plenty of Christmas music.  Sometimes there is snow (in California that is a big deal!)

    Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

    Searching for the perfect tree and enjoying the snow! We are in California, so sometimes this is all there is…

  2. It is cheap!  Christmas trees from the corner lot run anywhere from $15-$100+.  Cutting your own tree at a farm usually costs $50-$150.  But cutting a tree from the National Forest only costs $10 for the permit.  The first time you cut one, you will need to invest in a good saw – we like a pruning saw for the job, and some rope to tie down the tree.  It does take more time, and costs money for gas, but the memories and experiences are worth it.

    Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

    Taking a hot cocoa break

  3. Fresh trees last longer!  Cutting a tree yourself that you then water daily makes them last so much longer.  We try to get our tree on Thanksgiving weekend and usually don’t take it down until New Year’s Day.  And although we do lose some needles, we really don’t lose too many in that time!  The tree still looks and smells good in January!

    Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

    Clayton helps Daddy bring the tree to the car. Notice the bright pink permit attached.

  4. You can choose more “expensive” trees.  Red firs, often called Silvertips, are the most pricey trees at the Christmas Tree lot – at least they are at ours.  And they are absolutely lovely!  Once we found a good place to find some nice ones, we’ve been getting one every year.  That’s a savings of over $100 on a really nice tree.
  5. Extra boughs from the bottom part we cut off at home to fit the tree in the house (the tree always looks so tiny in the forest!) are wonderful for decorating!

If you live within driving distance of a National Forest, I encourage you to look into this tradition for yourself.  It is so much fun! Just Google to find out if you can cut a Christmas Tree near you.  Not every National Forest has this option – it is more common in areas with lower populations.  And it also depends a lot on what kinds of trees grow on USFS land near you.

Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

Tying the tree to the top of the car. Thankfully, we haven’t lost a tree (or a child), yet!

If you live near the Plumas National Forest in Northern California like we do, here is the link to buy your Christmas Tree Cutting permit.  Some forests allow other vendors to sell the permit, as well.  Our local forest used to do that, which was very convenient, but it doesn’t do that anymore.  I mailed in to get our permit a couple weeks ago and have already gotten the permit and map back in the mail.  Very efficient for government service!


Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

Our “perfect” Silvertip Fir Christmas Tree all decorated at home.

I’m so excited to head up the hill in a couple weeks in search of the perfect tree for Christmas 2016!  I will be sharing pictures when I do!signature

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Overwhelmed by Stuff: The November Minimalist Challenge

I’ve written before about how, in the last two years, I have been on a journey to simplify our life.  Specifically, that has involved the amount of items in our small house.

My husband has always been a minimalist at heart.  He loves to keep things simple and since he moved frequently after high school and even into our marriage, he tried to keep only the amount of stuff that would fit in his small car.  This worked great until he suggested that we only needed our backpacking kitchen gear in our first apartment together as a married couple.  I was not so keen on the idea…

I am not a hoarder, by any means, but I certainly was never a minimalist, either.  I like having the comforts of home around me.  Even while backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail for months at a time, I liked to nest in our tent every night.   I liked to feel at home and the things that surrounded me played a part in that. They still do…

However, the more kids I have, the more I have found the need to simplify.  And the more I simplify, the more I feel a sense of peace in my home.  I have yet to find that perfect balance of stuff – every time I get rid of stuff, I still feel like there is more to let go of, so the process continues…

That is where this challenge comes in.

This is a challenge that many bloggers and YouTubers have done in the past.  I first heard about it a year ago.  The month long minimalist challenge is simply to get rid of the same number of items as the day of the month.  So, on November 1st, that is one item, the 2nd is two items, all the way until November 30th at 30 items.  In all, after the challenge, I will have gotten rid of at least 465 more items in my home.

The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff - NatureAmy.com

This summer I went through my pantry, pulled out all the food, got rid of things that we didn’t want anymore or were expired, and put the rest back.

That might sound like a lot, or it might sound like a little.  It really depends on you and the amount of items you are comfortable with.  Since each time I declutter, I have gotten rid of hundreds of items, I know this will not be too hard at our house.  Kids bring in clutter. All. The. Time.  It’s crazy how much stuff accumulates with kids – especially school age kids!

I also want to clarify that an “item” can be as large or as small as you want it to be.  It could be a really large item like a piece of furniture, or it can be as small as a piece of paper you don’t need, or anything in between.

I am not a rule follower by nature – I like to mix things up, so I will most likely NOT be doing the exact number of items a day as the day, everyday.  I will be counting up my items as I donate, discard, or recycle them and try to hit at least 465 items for the entire month.  If I break it up by week, this is

  • Days 1-7: 28 items
  • Days 8-14: 77 items
  • Days 15-21: 126 items
  • Days 22-28: 175 items
  • Days 29 and 30: 59 items

Suggestions of things to go through to donate or discard:

  • Clothing/shoes – I will especially be going through my T-shirt, underwear, and sock drawers again.
  • Cabinets – especially the bathroom cabinets, but the kitchen is another great place
  • Pantry – Old food? Old party stuff? Plastic food containers?
  • Toys and children’s books – if you have kids, there are likely many, many toys that your kids just don’t play with anymore.  I know the kids toy shelf and book shelf is ready for me to go through it again.

    The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff - NatureAmy.com

    Toys accumulate so quickly if you have several kids. This was our shelf after declutttering this summer, but it is not so neat almost 6 months later…

  • Laundry room/linen closet – old blankets (great to donate this time of year), old cleaning supplies, junk that accumulates (my laundry closet is a magnet for junk!)
  • Books/DVDs – old books, DVDs, or movies that you just never read or watch anymore.
  • Office – piled up mail, old files, pens, papers, excess office or craft supplies, expired batteries
  • Kitchen – extra dishes (especially kids dishes and plastic cups – these seem to breed), expired spices, excess dish towels and rags, nasty stuff in the refrigerator…
  • Garage/car – I could easily find 465 items just in the garage (and we park our cars in there every night, so I know we have less stuff than most our neighbors). My car is another 100 items easily – junk accumulates faster than I can clean it out with 3 kids! (My husbands car, on the other hand, is spotless – go figure!)

    The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff - NatureAmy.com

    Our garage camping shelf after decluttering this summer – so much better!

  • Digital clutter – don’t even get me started on the number of emails in my inbox.  Let’s just say that 465 items would be nothing compared to that!  Thank goodness for the “Search” tool!

So, anyone want to join me on this crazy venture?  I know I already have a few friends who are game!  Make sure to follow me on Facebook or Instagram to keep up with my progress.  And I’d love to follow your progress as well, so make sure it tag me on Facebook or Instagram in your posts – @amylovesnature

By most hardcore minimalist standards, I still have a LONG way to go, but I’m happy to say that I’m making progress.  Life is getting simpler one donated item at a time…

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Choosing the best homeschooling option for our family

So, Part 2 of my homeschool series is how we chose the method of homeschooling that we currently use.  (If you missed part 1, on why we chose to homeschool our kids, you can read it here.) This is a personal option for any homeschool family, and like the choice to homeschool your kids, or not, it can change depending on the current needs of your family.  The options that I mention are not available in every state, so you will have to research your homeschool options based upon your state’s, or country’s, laws.

How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life - NatureAmy.com

Micah traces numbers and places the right number of teddy bears on each one at age 4.5.

California Homeschool Options

The homeschool options in California, where we live, are very good.  Not only is private homeschooling an option (if you register your ” private school” with the state, a process that I am told is relatively simple), but there are numerous public charter homeschool options and online options, as well.  There are also some private schools that have homeschool programs attached to them – an option that my parents used when I was a kid. Homeschool groups, coops, and programs also give parents many options within these broad categories. We looked into each of these options and the many different charter schools available in our area – we talked to people who had used all of these things, assessing the pros and cons of each option.

The best option for us

In the end, we decided on what we believed to be the best option for our family, a charter homeschool with a local campus.  The campus gave us the option to enroll our students in on-site classes once or twice a week for 60-90 minutes of learning in a classroom setting. (Jr High and High school students have more on-site classes). It allows them to get used to other teaching styles, classroom expectations, and interact with their peers while still spending the majority of their school day at home.  My boys, who are slow to read just like I was, are able to participate in programs to help them with reading, all free of charge because it is a public school – which is such a blessing!

How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life - NatureAmy.comCost – Another reason that we chose the public charter school route was that it was much less expensive than private homeschooling.  When we started homeschooling, we were trying to raise our family on two part-time adjunct professor salaries – which is not much money!  So we had to find an inexpensive option.  Because it is a public school, the curriculum is provided for us.

Curriculum – However, we don’t just have one curriculum option, we have many many great options to choose from.  When my oldest was in kindergarten, the basic handwriting curriculum we were given just wasn’t working, so I asked about another curriculum and was able to check it out of the school’s curriculum library that day! (Find out what it was in my favorite curriculum post coming next in the series!)

The only drawback to getting free curriculum through a charter school is that Christian (or any religious) curriculum is not an option.  We are okay with this.  We supplement our own Bible curriculum and we know that our kids are getting a solid Biblical foundation even without books that specifically address it.  More on that in my curriculum post.

How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life - NatureAmy.com

Addamay always wants to do what her brothers are doing.

Personalized Learning Teachers – Another great thing about going through a charter school (although this is a drawback for some) is that we have a credentialed teacher overseeing our children’s education.  She helps us create an individualized learning plan for each of the kids and is incredibly encouraging!  We check in with her frequently; she ensures that we are staying on track and is always so encouraging. We love our PLT (Personalized Learning Teacher).  However, if we didn’t like our teacher, we have the option to switch teachers, even in the middle of the year.  Every parent and teacher has a different approach to learning/teaching, so sometimes it can be a process to find the teacher that works best for your family. We did our research before applying to the school and made our teacher request based on our research – thankfully she had openings that year!

Classes – The optional  onsite classes have been wonderful for our boys and have allowed them to have an in-class experience each week.  These are taught by the credentialed teachers and there are always several options for the kids to choose from.  This year my boys are doing a reading program twice a week to help them with their reading and they each have one fun class.  My 3rd grader LOVES his science class where he gets to do experiments with his peers each week – he wants to be a scientist of some kind, but thinks it’s too much pressure to choose what kind of science just now – smart kid!  My 1st grader started in a fun math class, but found it too easy (which is boring for a 6 year old), so he switched to a reading class that has different stories and crafts each week – he loves crafts!

How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life - NatureAmy.com

On a field trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Student Resources – Finally, our public charter school allots resources for additional or extra curricular educational classes or tutoring from approved vendors throughout the year.  The funding is limited per month, of course, but it allows our children to participate in some great educational classes that we otherwise would not be able to afford!  The boys are currently taking semi-private swimming lessons twice a week because of this!  Other kids choose tutoring in every subject, music lessons, karate, ballet, etc.  There are so many options!


How we chose the best homeschool option for our family in our current stage of life - NatureAmy.com

Our school room at home (I’ll write a post on that soon, too) and my lesson planner.

 

After researching all the options – we settled on the public charter school option as the best one for our family currently.  It is certainly possible that the best option for our children may change at some point in the future.  If we move, we may decide that private homeschool is the best option, or we may decide on a charter school without a campus.  I don’t think we will ever choose an online school for our children, because my husband and I are opposed to that idea for children’s education. Of course, never say never – right?

So, do you homeschool?  And if so, what is the option that you have chosen for your family? I’d love to hear about it!

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