July 27, 2020

Motherhood at a Glance: Making Your Home a Place of Learning



I'm so excited to introduce you to today's feature writer and my very best friend, Josie Morgan! She is living in Central Texas with her husband Jeremy and their two sweet boys, Wesley and Brooks. They just wrapped up their long journey through dental school (whoop, whoop!) and are excited to start their next journey. Josie went to Brigham Young University graduating with a degree in Elementary Education and has a huge place in her heart for teaching!


We learn from Josie about how she has made her home a place of learning and how teaching your children can impact them for the rest of their lives. I hope you find inspiration and motivation after reading her thoughtful piece today!





Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher. I was the girl that played school with my friends and siblings for fun - even when they didn’t want to. I was the girl that asked to stay in during recess to help the teacher. I loved school, books, and all that went along with it. I grew up, went to college, and became a teacher. I taught elementary school for two years and then had my oldest son. I knew that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but that meant leaving the classroom that I had longed and dreamed of since I could remember. However, for myself and my family, the most important classroom was my home. Now, that may not be for everyone, but it was the decision that my husband and I made for our family. While I love staying home, I really do miss the classroom. Seeing the school supplies go out at the end of the summer makes my heart skip a beat. Seeing cute pinterest lesson plans makes me feel giddy and sad at the same time. I miss teaching!


While I miss teaching in an actual classroom, I truly do believe that the most important classroom of all is the one I create in my home. When I say classroom, I truly mean a place where learning happens. While all of the supplies, lessons, and decorations excite me, the learning is the part of teaching I miss the most. Seeing my students learn and discover, to me, is one of the best feelings of all. And that is what is happening every single day in my own home. From day one, your child is learning, discovering, connecting with the world around them.  Just the other day, I told my husband that if we could learn at the rate that my baby and toddler learn for the rest of our lives, we would all be geniuses. I’m serious - my toddler can literally tell you every single construction vehicle name by heart (as can I now haha). His vocabulary has quadrupled in just a few short months and he repeats everything I say. He is literally soaking in the world around him. 


My teacher-heart is in heaven seeing my son so excited to learn about everything. While I know that not everyone may feel the same about school/teaching/learning, I think it is SO important that we focus on cultivating an attitude of learning in our homes. One where we are constantly exploring, making connections, and uncovering all the world has to offer. Now this may seem overwhelming, but I’m here to tell you that it’s NOT. You’re probably already doing many things that cultivate this love of learning. From my experience as a teacher, I want to share with you 3 small and simple things that you can do everyday to cultivate a daily and life-long attitude of learning for your child. 






As an elementary teacher, my school opted to not require homework. However, I always, always, always encouraged and pleaded with my students and parents to read, read, read every single day. Even just ONE book. Here is a graphic that shows you how important reading is:




It is incredible to me how reading just 20 minutes a day can add up to SO much reading. Think about how many new words they will have learned - how many new ideas, stories, and topics they would have covered! It’s incredible to me & why I think that reading even just ONE book (and hopefully more) with your kids everyday is so important! 


I know that some people do not enjoy reading to their kids. And that’s okay! Start small. Commit to reading one book a day. I find the easiest time to read a book is before naptime or bedtime. We make it part of our bedtime routine, so my toddler *always* reminds me when I forgot to read him a book. Another easy way is to start the day with reading. When your child wakes up, read a few books before they leave their room. Or read a book during mealtimes. Attaching it to a routine or habit that you have makes it much more likely that you will remember to do it and your child will most likely not let you forget if it is part of your routine ;) 




Along with the reading, I think more importantly, TALK about what you are reading. When I was teaching, I often had students that could read perfectly and fluently, but when I asked them about what they just read, they couldn’t tell me. While they knew how to decode the words, they weren’t processing or comprehending what they were reading. Something that is so helpful is to ask your kids about what they read. Point out what is going on in the pictures. After reading a page, ask them to rephrase what just happened, or ask them to point to the character or the object on that page. For younger kids, ask them what color the pictures are. Did they notice anything else in the pictures? Ask if they can find a certain letter on the page. How did it make them feel? There are endless possibilities of what to talk about based on your child’s mental and/or emotional levels. Doing so gets them to connect the words they are hearing with what is going on and helps them to develop the skills to continue to do this in every aspect of life - conversations with others, movies they see, activities they participate in.


One way that I try to incorporate talking, not just about reading, but about everything, is in the car. I know this may sound weird but I do not like listening to music in the car (I know I’m in the minority). When I used to drive to school in the morning, I would have it be completely silent and when I’d drive home, I always called my mom and told her how my day was. So now, I use the time in the car to simply talk with my kids. We talk about what we see out the window, what we did that day, what we are going to do tomorrow, or about the tv show or book we read that day. We usually aren’t in the car for super long, but it’s one of my favorite times of the day because we simply get to talk and connect. 









In school, subjects are often taught separately. Reading, then math, science, social studies, and writing. They are all separate. Kids often think that they only “like” a certain subject. You hear it all the time - I’m so bad at reading. I’m so bad at math. I’m so bad at writing. I’m guilty of thinking this too - but, your child doesn’t have to! EVERYTHING can be integrated or combined. 


For example, my son LOVES airplanes. One day we decided to learn about airplanes. I got on pinterest and searched “A is for airplane” and thousands of ideas came up. I decided to try to find a reading, writing, math, physical/movement, art, and play activity to go along with this. This is what I came up with: 


This took me about 10-15 minutes of searching pinterest and a few minutes to gather some materials, but I was so surprised how many different learning categories I could cover with one thing: airplanes. We didn’t do any real “school”, but we covered so many different subjects. Now my son is young, but this applies to kids at any age. Here are some quick examples:


ALL subjects can be integrated together and in my opinion, it is usually the most meaningful learning because it doesn’t even feel like “learning”. When your child likes something, use that to your advantage and integrate it to anything you can. 





As I said before, I love teaching - it’s a part of who I am. While I may not be in a physical classroom, I know that my home - and your home, too - is the absolute, most important classroom there is. Sometimes teaching our kids can feel so overwhelming, but I truly believe that reading, talking, and integrating learning are three simple things that will make the biggest difference in your child’s lifelong love of learning.



Thank you to Josie for sharing her amazing strength with us! I feel so excited to make my home more of a place of learning and grateful that we now have better tools to do so. As Josie said, our home is the most important classroom! As a recap, in order to cultivate that in our home, we can: 



Read with our children and encourage them to grow a love for reading


Talk with your children to help them expand their vocabulary and connect with them


Integrate different subjects to make learning fun and interactive 









July 20, 2020

Motherhood at a Glance: Reconnecting with Gratitude




How often do you find yourself beat-down, exhausted and overwhelmed after a long day? I know for me, this scenario plays out more often than I'd like to admit. These moments are almost inevitable in life, especially during motherhood! But, it's what we choose to do next in those moments that really define us. 


Today's feature writer is my dear friend, Sasha Menkes! Sasha lives in Syracuse, NY with her husband, Tom, and their adorable two-year-old, Raine, and their two dogs! She works from home as an influencer, blogger, social media manager and executive consultant for few local businesses. Her passions include fashion, beauty and stylish motherhood. Sasha is amazing and I'm so grateful she wanted to share her insights on how to make the choice to practice and reconnect with gratitude.





When Lauren asked me to be a guest on her Motherhood at a Glance feature, I was so honored - but also a little nervous because it was hard for me to think of strengths that I have as a mom. I feel like I have it so easy compared to many - a healthy and fairly easy child, the ability to work from home and lots of help and support. But the more I thought about it, I realized that the very ability to recognize my many blessings is a strength. 

The most effective tool I have cultivated in my motherhood - and life - is the practice of gratitude. I am BEYOND grateful for my healthy child, my loving husband and supportive family. They are, and will always be, the number one spot on my gratitude list. But I truly have an infinite amount of blessings I thank God for every day. No matter what, there is ALWAYS something for which I can be grateful. Here are some ways I think about gratitude in my daily life. 









Gratitude is an instant game changer. If I get irritated at something, I try to see how I can be grateful in the situation, and that usually leads to me having a more positive and productive thought process. For example, I live in Syracuse NY, which has extreme changes in weather. If a sudden blizzard thwarts my plans, instead of staying mad, I choose to practice gratitude. I can think, “I am grateful for the beautiful city in which I live with its nature and change of seasons.”  






Because I have been practicing gratitude, my brain now often automatically goes to seeing the good in difficult situations, rather than ruminating on the negative. This is a wonderful  skill to have, especially in the many difficult situations brought on by motherhood. I do have to remember, however, to practice balance. Although I have so much to be grateful for, I still have had difficult and painful times (just like everyone else!). I am certainly not suggesting anyone use gratitude as a way to cultivate denial, but simply as a way to shift your focus away from the negative in order to be happier, more patient and more productive.



A simple way to begin practicing gratitude is my making a gratitude list. You can write it out, but my favorite technique is to verbally discuss it with a partner, family member or friend. I love having family discussions around graduate, because you then in turn become grateful for the things everyone else is grateful for! It is really fun, and eye opening! My son is only two, so he doesn’t fully understand quite yet, but I would imagine that this could be a great “game” to play with your older kids!





Ultimately, I believe that there is so much good in the world and so much for which we can be thankful for - even during the most painful times. Things may not happen the way we would like them to, but they happen the way they should. I will leave you with this quote, by Shauna Niequist, which is one of my favorites: 


“When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. When life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”




All I have to say is, "YES!" Practicing gratitude is so so important in life, especially during the craziest year that 2020 has proven to be. It can be difficult to choose gratitude during life's bitter moments but when we can apply these simple strategies, it gets easier, little-by-little, day-by-day. Just to recap, here are the three ways we can practice and reconnect with gratitude: 



Shift your perspective and make a conscious choice to see the good in every situation


Stay grounded by allowing yourself to feel emotions while maintaining control 


Share with others and be willing to express gratitude towards others





You can find Sasha over on instagram: 

@SashaMenkes

And on her blog:

https://sashamenkes.com











July 13, 2020

Motherhood at a Glance: Cultivating Hope Through PCOS




I'm so excited to introduce you to this week's feature writer, Meridien Gipson! Meridien grew up in California but recently relocated to Pearland, TX! She has been married to her husband for two-and-a-half years and says that he is the goofiest man she has ever met! Meridien is an office assistant at a law firm and loves her job. In her spare time she enjoys crafting, hanging out with her sweet hubby and their adorable pup, Hagrid, and camping once a month together as a family! 

I'm so grateful for Meridien and her courage as she shares her heart and a little bit of her experiences and challenges in growing her family in today's feature article. I know that what she has written will resonate with and encourage so many other women, especially those going through similar experiences! 




The hardest day of my life so far was the day I found out that I had an ectopic pregnancy. That day started like any other, and I was at work when I got a call from my doctor to come in for an emergency ultrasound. My husband picked me up from work and drove me straight to the doctor’s office, where my doctor sat us down and explained that my HCG levels were not growing as fast as they should be and that my pregnancy was ectopic. Only a few hours later, I was wheeled into an operating room to have a dilation and curettage performed. I was shaking so hard that they asked me if I was cold. I remember staring up at the fluorescent lights and just breathing, nothing else but breathing.


The farthest thing from my mind at that moment was hope. But now that I look back on that experience, I am able to feel hope rather than heartbreaking sorrow. Today I am able to recount and talk through that experience without bursting into tears. Getting to this point was not easy, but no part of the journey to motherhood ever is. Every step of this journey is messy and stressful and scary. 




Later that same year, I was diagnosed with PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. It basically means that my ovaries don’t function as they should, and instead of releasing one egg per month, they essentially get stuck in my ovaries and form cysts. Some side effects that I have personally experienced include extremely irregular periods, weight gain, and issues with getting pregnant naturally. It has been 2 years of trying now and I have not been able to get pregnant on my own. 


It can be a daily struggle to not feel defeated or “broken,” but in these struggles I have learned some ways to work through the hard times. One thing that helps me is reminding myself of the future and what it looks like. I feel that this time that I have- time before I have kids but wanting them and trying to be patient- is time for me to continue to prepare for motherhood. I am trying to use this time to build up traits and attributes that I have seen in other mothers that I want to emulate in my future as a mother. I am learning to cook better, to be more organized, to be more selfless and patient. A lot of the time it feels like a waiting game, but I feel it is my personal responsibility to actively be preparing and bettering myself so that once the time is right for me to have my children, I can be exactly what they need. 





I also have to remind myself that I am not perfect and never will be. Something that I strive for is having perfect hope. Perfect hope includes not giving up on my future. It takes true, constant effort to keep going and to keep having hope in the future. It is not at all easy to be surrounded by great mothers and not feel a twinge of jealousy or bitterness, but I feel that it is of the utmost importance to shape those feelings into something much more productive and to learn from these warrior women. But part of my process is also to take time to simply be sad. The key is not to live there. At times, it feels like it could be easier to live in that negative and toxic mindset. Sometimes the idea of not trying so hard to work through the emotions of loss and pain can seem appealing. But again, this journey is never described as easy.



Since I have gotten married and my husband and I began our journey to start our family, I have had to hold strong to my knowledge of certain things- things that almost cannot be described. I have had to calm myself down from a mountain of sorrow and the aching feeling of not being good enough. I have had to build myself up after mistakenly thinking that there is something wrong with me. It was not until I went through this sea of emotions, seemingly by myself, that I realized that I am not alone, in fact I am far from it. There are so many others going through the same things as I am. I know there are mothers out there who are going through this right now, and I feel for you in every painful step of this process. I know there are mothers out there that have been through this trial and have worked through this, and have come out the other side with scars that cannot be seen. 




I am still on my journey to motherhood. It is a crazy ride with up’s and down’s all around, but I hold fast to my hope and dream of what my future looks like. To every mother out there, I admire you and thank you for paving the way for every one of us and for helping to raise the next generation. I absolutely look forward to adding to the army of little men and women, but until then, I will be on Pinterest learning new recipes to mess up!


Okay, isn't she just amazing?! Meridien is going to be a terrific mom, come the time, and I'm so excited to continue to watch her story unfold. I hope this has helped even just one of you mama's to remember that it is possible to cultivate hope and that you found some inspiration from Meridien's story and words. Just as a recap, her two takeaways for mama's struggling with infertility or on their motherhood journey, are: 


Now is the time to prepare and work on yourself before becoming a mother

The future is bright; remember it takes effort to have hope for the future







July 9, 2020

Mini Key Lime Pie and Homemade Whipped Cream



Let me preface this by saying these are not healthy, pretty or quick. These are sugary, delicious, zesty mini key lime pies and they are among my favorite desserts! This is really similar to the key lime pie recipe you will find on the side of key lime juice bottles at the grocery store. Our stores are often out of this pre-squeezed juice so I figured out a way to make it just as, or dare I say, more delicious with a bag of key limes!





1 lb Bag Key Limes

14 oz Sweetened Condensed Milk

12 Keebler Mini Graham Cracker Pie Crusts

8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened

3 Egg Yolks

2 C. Heavy Whipping Cream

1/2 C. Powdered Sugar

2 Tsp. Vanilla

Salt




You can use a traditional 9-inch graham cracker pie crust or make your own, I just opt for the mini pre-made ones so often because it's one less step and I don't have to pre-bake these. Plus, we oftentimes will share our desserts with neighbors so having the mini ones makes it much easier to share!


Pre-heat your oven to 350. Prepare your crusts onto a baking sheet.

If you have a pyrex measuring glass, grab that and a strainer! Using your hands or the bottle of a glass, roll all of your key limes around a few times to loosen them up. This makes juicing them much faster! 

Slice your key limes in half. Using a pair of tongs (or your hands), squeeze the juice into your measuring glass with the strainer placed on top so it catches any seeds.




This is tedious, I know! But you will love the results. You can get anywhere from 4-7 ounces of juice. You will only need about 4.5 ounces. 5 if you really like a zesty, tart taste!

Using a blender, add in your sweetened condensed milk. Cut up your cream cheese into about 8 squares and slowly add that to your blending with it on "liquify" or a low-medium setting. Blend well.




Add in your egg yolks, one at a time, being sure to blend well in between each time you add in the next one. 

While still blending on a low setting, slowly add in your 4.5 ounces of key lime juice. You can also add in a little bit of zest from your key limes. That adds a nice flavor! Add in one teaspoon of vanilla and blend well. 

A blender works really nicely for this recipe because it makes for mess-free pouring. Pour your pie filling into the pie crusts.




Bake for about 10 minutes. Let them cool on the tray for at least 10 additional minutes before placing them in the fridge. Let them cool for at least two hours before serving!

While your pies cool in the fridge, let's make a quick batch of homemade whipped cream! It's real simple if you have a stand mixer.

Into your mixer, with the whisk attachment, add your 2 cups of heavy whipping cream, 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and just a small sprinkle of salt. Whip on the highest setting until you notice your whipping cream coming together. Be sure to not over-mix as this will result in sugary butter!




Top your mini key lime pies with your whipped cream and enjoy!





















July 6, 2020

Motherhood at a Glance: Conquering the Valley of Mental Health


I think you would find it difficult to find many mothers who have not experienced some level of anxiety, especially during the early years of motherhood. Mental health is an incredibly important topic that I'm grateful to see being talked about more and more. I'm thrilled that today's feature writer, Lexi Shanklin, wanted to share some insights on this topic with us! 

Lexi is the mama to two girls, Scarlett and Elsie, and a baby boy, Shepherd, who will be joining them this month! She is married to her high-school sweetheart and living in central Indiana. Lexi worked as a Mother-Baby RN before becoming a stay-at-home mom and being able to stay home with them is the absolute sweetest gift to her! Lexi has a heart of gold and is genuinely one of the sweetest mamas I know. I'm so excited for us to learn from her today! 




In 2016, my husband and I had our first daughter, Scarlett Belle, and we had never been more in love with anyone in our entire lives!! I fell so in love with being a mama that 17 months later, our second daughter, Elsie Rose was born!  Watching Scarlett become a big sister was the sweetest (and scariest :O hehe) experience in the world! For all of you mamas who have kids close in age, you know that it's hard to teach a 17-month-old that the new baby is not a baby doll!! hehe. To say that Scarlett was madly in love with her new baby sister was an understatement! She has been maternal since day one, and that’s one of the many things I LOVE about her!! 

When Elsie was around 2-months-old, my husband left for a military commitment. He has been in the National Guard since he graduated high school, so these types of leaves were not out of the norm for us. I have always been good at getting into a routine when he is away; conquering caring for the kids and the house, but always missing him so much of course! Unfortunately, this leave was different for me. 




While he was away, I became very sick, which led to a long down spiral with postpartum anxiety and some of the darkest days I had ever experienced.  It took weeks, and eventually months of visits and tests to determine that I had developed an autoimmune condition as a result of my pregnancies and an infection that left me feeling weak and sicker than I had ever felt before.  This postpartum time period, along with physical illness, and single parenting at a time when I was at my weakest, was the perfect storm for the development of severe anxiety, which I had never experienced before. Before staying home with my girls, I worked as a Mother-Baby Nurse. I had learned about anxiety and supported other mamas through anxiety. But I never truly understood the stronghold that anxiety can take over someones life, until I had experienced it firsthand for myself.  

Thankfully, my health improved and the infection cleared. But I was left with an internal battle of anxiety that I still work so hard to battle to this day. However, my girls were and still are the greatest medicine of all; and they taught me so much more than I could ever learn on my own. Being their mama through one of my greatest trials and tribulations in my life helped me cultivate so many strengths that I didn’t know I had. I learned how strong I am as a mama, how to advocate for myself, and that in order to be the best mom I can be to my kids, I needed to take care of myself. I think sometimes as a mom, we can be so focused on caring for our kids, that we don’t always take care of ourselves. This helped teach me the importance of caring not only for my physical health, but my mental health as well. A happy and healthy mama is so important for a happy and healthy family. 







One major thing that helped me cultivate these strengths was investing in a community of moms and forming some amazing relationships. The more I invested in these relationships, the more mamas I met who had struggled with postpartum anxiety as well. Being able to connect with others who had experienced something similar (even if circumstances were different), was such a freeing feeling. These relationships are some of my most cherished and I am so thankful for being able to learn from other mamas to guide me through. There can also be a sense of shame and fear to share about postpartum anxiety or depression, and the more it is talked about, the more common you will find that it is. I encourage anyone in that same boat to reach out, because community is so powerful… and finding that can be the sweetest medicine for the soul. 



I am a Type A personality; a perfectionist; a 9, wing 1 on the enneagram (for all of my enneagram people :)… so to say reaching out for help is hard for me, is definitely an understatement! I often feel bad asking people for help; or that I can or should be able to do it all! Motherhood has taught me that it really does take a village. We, as moms, are superheroes in the eyes of our babies… but even superheroes need help sometimes, and it’s okay to ask when you need it. 




As a mama, we spend a lot of time filling the cups of our babies (also literally filling their cups! :) When I started investing specific time each week into something that filled my cup full, it helped me to be able to pour more into my babies. For me, that was a bible study with sweet friends who were able to pour into my cup each week. This special time each week was medicine and fuel for my soul. This can look different for everyone; from exercise, to a hobby, and so forth!




All in all, no matter what the trial or tribulation you will or have faced as a mama, know that you will make it through stronger than before, and with little ones who will be so proud of their mama for conquering the valley and coming out of it stronger, wiser, and even more amazing.  

“May the flowers remind us why the rain was so necessary.”



Thank you so so much to sweet Lexi for this amazing reminder that it is possible to be a happy, healthy mama while struggling with mental health! As a recap, the three ways you can conquer the valley are:


Find a community and find people who you can connect with for further support

Reach out for help and don't be afraid to ask for it in the first place

Fill your cup and do what you need to in order to fuel your soul




You can find Lexi over on her Instagram:

And shop her boutique that she owns with her mama and sister!