Driving Iceland’s Ring Road from Reykjavik to Vik

If you are traveling to Iceland, you are more than likely planning a trip along the Ring Road – a road that circles the island country. Even if you aren’t traveling the entire Ring Road, you can experience several of Iceland’s scenic views by just driving the Southern portion from Reykjavik to Vik.

On this journey, you will see multiple cascading waterfalls, a hidden waterfall,

mountains, basalt columns and a black sand beach.

Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi

Less than 2 hours from Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik, you can find not one but two beautiful waterfalls – each with it’s own unique feature. Seljalandsfoss is a massive waterfall that you can actually walk behind. This is the perfect time to wear your waterproof gear. There’s a great photo opportunity (and chance to be sprayed by the water) in front of the falls. It is truly a glory to behold.

My advice is to slow down here and really take a chance to soak in the beauty of Seljalandsfoss. But before you leave, be sure to walk up the path nearby for your opportunity to find Gljúfrabúi, a hidden waterfall.

A short distance up a creek and into a cavern, you can find Gljúfrabúi, a hidden waterfall. If you are stopping at Seljalandsfoss, make the most of your visit and find Gljúfrabúi as well.

Skógafoss

Approximately half an hour from Seljalandsfoss is Skógafoss. Skógafoss was my favorite place to visit during our Iceland vacation. The waterfall’s spray created a full rainbow (we literally saw one or multiple rainbows almost every day) when we visited – which is actually very common. It is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls, towering 200 ft.

For you Game of Thrones fans, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow fly here on her dragons and kiss in front of this waterfall in the final season.

While eating at the restaurant nearby Skógafoss, I had the perfect view panning left to right in front of me – a mountain, the roaring falls, a rainbow and a farmer and his dog herding sheep. It was a place where I could easily feel present in the moment.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Another half hour up the road, you will be at Reynisfjara black sand beach near Vik. This was my second favorite spot in Iceland.

Basalt columns line the beach as enormous waves crash onto the shore. This is definitely a place you need to respect nature and admire the waves from a distance. Sneaker waves travel across the Atlantic Ocean for hundreds of miles without any land to break them up and they come rolling far inshore. Still, if you can respect the power of Mother Nature here, it is an absolutely beautiful landscape to witness.

The Ring Road is full of amazing sites and hidden gems. If you want to see some of the Ring Road but still stay close to Reykjavik, make sure you check out these spots.

Have you ever been to Iceland? If so, what was your favorite place to visit?

Must-see Attractions and Hidden Gems along Iceland’s Golden Circle

If you have a short stay in Iceland, take a day of your vacation to travel Iceland’s Golden Circle. The Golden Circle can easily be driven in one day and the three main attractions (driving counterclockwise) include the Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Area and Þingvellir National Park (pronounced ‘Thingvellir’).

However, if you truly want to make the most of your trip, I have a few stops to add to your Golden Circle drive. These stops feature a lake-filled volcanic crater, a farm-to-table restaurant where every item on the menu features tomatoes and a dairy farm where you can get ice cream straight from the source.

Follow along below for our Golden Circle trip in Iceland.

Kerið Crater

Kerið Crater is a 3,000-year-old volcanic crater. It is filled with a lake of aqua-green water that stands out against the red volcanic rocks that streak down the crater’s edge. My husband and I stretched our legs by walking around Kerið Crater’s upper rim and we then walked down a path to hike beside the actual lake.

The landscape in Iceland seems out of this world. Kerið Crater was one of my favorite spots that highlighted this during our Iceland vacation.

Friðheimar Greenhouse Restaurant

At Friðheimar, a greenhouse/restaurant along Iceland’s Golden Circle, diners can pour over a menu that features tomatoes in every dish. Yes, every dish.

While there is so much to choose from, including tomato-infused dessert, coffee, drinks, pasta and more, we took advantage of the all-you-can-eat tomato soup and olive bread. Our already-delicious lunch was elevated by the optional add-ins placed on our table, including fresh butter, sour cream, cucumber salad and herbs. After filling up on multiple bowls of soup, we were ready to take on our next stop.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall is the first official stop on the Golden Circle in this list and is quite a show. There are two levels to this fall – one dropping approximately 40 feet and the other approximately 70 feet. It is a powerful and beautiful display of nature. The light blue water that pours over its edge stands out against Iceland’s beautiful and formidable landscape.

Geysir Geothermal Area

Though there are multiple geysirs here, Strokkur is the one that everyone comes to see. We spent about an hour trying to time the perfect photo or video of Strokkur as the water shot out of the ground. The anticipation of seeing the geysir each time was quite fun, as were our attempts to hurriedly turn our back to avoid being hit in the face from its spray.

Ice Cream from Efstidalur

The Efstidalur farm was the perfect spot for a recharge during a day of adventuring in Iceland! Here, I grabbed some homemade ice cream and sat by a window to watch the cows who provided the goods. The ice cream was delicious and the experience was unique!

Þingvellir National Park (pronounced ‘Thingvellir’)

Our last stop was at Þingvellir National Park, the meeting grounds of two tectonic plates. You can actually scuba dive between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which was an activity I wish we would have planned! However, it was still cool to say we were able to hike at Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I have to thank Jeannie from Iceland with a View for these hidden spots on our Golden Circle adventure. She is an expat with an authority on all things Iceland and she knows all the hidden gems to make your Iceland adventure truly unique.

And as of writing this in late March 2021, I’m excited to say that Iceland has reopened to vaccinated travelers from the United States and UK. So, start planning your trip to the land of ice and fire today!

Enchanting Night Exploring the North Forest Lights in Arkansas

To celebrate a new year, we planned a magical night viewing the North Forest Lights exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Northwest Arkansas.

The North Forest Lights is an outdoor exhibit with creative light installations paired with music that are meant to inspire and connect wanderers to Mother Nature. This season of the North Forest Lights – the second season at Crystal Bridges – was extended, running from September 2020 to April 2021. The exhibit featured five light installations along a 1.5 mile loop in the woods. I’ll walk you through the installations below!

Crystal Grove

Crystal Grove, North Forest Lights exhibit

Walking through the Crystal Grove felt like walking on Pandora in Avatar. Lit spikes that were stuck in the ground danced in waves of light. It felt like you were walking through a forest filled with snickering, shimmering fairies.

Forest Frequencies

Forest Frequencies was electrifying. Vertical bars of light buzzed brilliantly to a sometimes calming and sometimes chaotic symphony. It was truly a place to vibe with the forest.

Whispering Tree

You can really feel the connection to Nature when you sing to the Whispering Tree. The Whispering Tree beckons and thrives in your song as orbs of lights leading up to her branches shine in a rainbow of color – the color of your voice.

This one was fun for me as my husband and I sang notes in the Whispering Tree’s microphone and encouraged our toddler to sing, too. She took it in but in her own way.

The Hearth

The Hearth was our absolute favorite. It felt like you were watching the forest’s heart beat as lights in the structure thrummed to melodic hums, which grew in intensity as the show eventually gave way to a vibrant dance of color.

Memory of Water

I wish I could tell you all about the Memory of Water, but our toddler was cold and tired at this point. At least there is one I don’t have to spoil for you! We did walk across the foggy and mysterious bridge that arched over the simulated stream, but we didn’t get to take in the exhibit in full. I have no doubt it would be a great way to end the night.

The Village

In between installations, we warmed up with hot cocoa and a bonfire at The Village, which was next door to large snow globes that you could rent and dine in with your close friends.

For those who have never been to Crystal Bridges, it has much to offer. There are indoor and outdoor exhibits, walking trails and beauty to behold around every corner.

This was a special trip for me! It was the first trip we took as a family of three (other than to visit relatives). I always said we could keep travel in our lives after children if we made it a priority, and I think travel and culture are great teachers. I love that the North Forest Lights was part of our first adventure together. What was your first trip as a family?

Perfectionism: Overcoming the Artist’s Hurdle

When you are looking for a creative escape, have you ever stopped before you start because you fear the end result won’t be the perfect picture you’ve painted in your mind? This all-or-nothing attitude of perfectionism can lead to analysis paralysis – where you overanalyze a situation to the point that you are unable to move forward on a decision. This is when perfectionism becomes a problem – when perfectionism gets in the way of performance.

Personally, I fall into this unhealthy loop too often. I’ll feel a wad of emotions and the need to untangle it through creativity, but I’ll talk myself out of it for fear of not attaining perfection. That’s a sure way to fail before even trying. Perfectionism is a flaw.

To push past this mental block, I decided to talk to artists – people who seem to know how to embrace the process instead of focusing JUST on the end result. I was honored to hear from three artists – all with different creative mediums and all in different walks of life. I hope reading their answers (and seeing their work) inspires you to knock down perfectionism’s barriers and create.

MCH Artwork

Morgan with MCH Artwork is a drip artist. She starts on an easel with brush and acrylic paint and then moves the canvas to the ground where the magic happens! She drips latex paint from a pallet knife above the canvas and then details and outlines the drips to bring all the layers together into one beautiful work.

  1. Do you strive to be perfect in your art?

I strive to be proud of what I’ve created. Sometimes that means I just appreciate the process, and then tweak the results until I’m pleased. Other times it just flows and comes together effortlessly. Both are part of creating. Perfection isn’t my goal. But quality control is a thing – I’ve started over many times on a fresh canvas when I’ve overworked a piece to try to “get it right”. It’s okay to admit when it just isn’t going to work.

2. What do you do when you make mistakes in your artwork?

For commissions, particularly any that are in the portrait realm, I worry that it won’t convey the essence of the moment or personality because it’s usually just from a reference photograph that I’m working from. And my eyes see it the way my eyes see it – I can’t change that. I like to please clients, which is good. But I can overthink when working on something so personal for them.

3. Why did you choose your particular artistic medium and what inspires you to create?

I’ve always been an artist. I loved sketching when I was younger and had it as an outlet when I got married and as I stayed at home with my three boys. After losing my first husband to suicide in 2010, the need to create and process sorrow and loss was huge. I had been repainting old furniture and had extra house paint, so decided to see what would happen if I dripped some on a canvas – and now I can’t look at something without wondering how I could drip it!

4. How does it feel when you create?

Creating is part of what makes me feel purposeful. It’s the one place I can go and totally lose track of time. It’s when I feel used by my Creator the most – that I’m using the gift he gave little ol’ me to show His love and care for others. It’s the best.

5. What kind of atmosphere or space do you do your best work in?

Distractions are awful for me, which is a challenge with a houseful of children! I’m blessed to have a studio connected to my house and, for the most part, it stays sacred for mama’s escape!

6. Is there an artist in everyone? If so, what does it take to find it?

Absolutely!!! I think an artist is someone who connects others and that can be done in so many areas of life. There is an art to all we do. I think it’s not a matter of finding it but just an acknowledgement of it already being there within us.

I think an artist is someone who connects others and that can be done in so many areas of life.

Morgan, MCH Artwork

Follow MCH Artwork on Instagram and check out her website – now including an online shop!

Still Elm

Lisa at Still Elm is a fiber dye artist. She dyes wool strands and suspends them from wood to create two-dimensional textured artwork. 

  1. Do you strive to be perfect in your art? 

The idea of perfection is tricky. I’ve always struggled with attempting to achieve perfectionism and I’ve really tried to loosen my grip on that through fiber dyeing. Sometimes it keeps us too restrained and prevents us from exploring, which in turn leads to us learning. Of course, I want to be happy with the end result but I try to remain open to what that will look like. 

2. What do you do when you make mistakes in your artwork? 

I try to take a step back to gain a bit of perspective on the piece. I usually put the project on hold until the next day, come back to it with a pair of fresh eyes, and readjust my expectations. Sometimes my entire initial concept needs to shift and sometimes my favorite results stem from those initial ‘mistakes’. There are also times there is no recovering, haha, and you take it as a learned lesson. I’m still such a beginner, so I’ve had to reframe mistakes as learning opportunities a lot! 

Sometimes my favorite results stem from those initial ‘mistakes’.

Lisa with Still Elm

3. Why did you choose your particular artistic medium and what inspires you to create?

My background is in interior design and that really came into play when starting out. My wife and I were getting settled as first-time homeowners and I knew I wanted a piece of art to hang in our living room, but I wanted something with texture….so I began experimenting! Some of my biggest inspirations are nature, how color palettes interact with one another, and well-designed interiors.

4. How does it feel when you create? 

It feels freeing and acts as a kind of escape for me. All of my overactive thinking sort of comes to a halt and I’m able to pour my full attention into what I’m creating. 

5. What kind of atmosphere or space do you do your best work in? 

I have to have music playing….usually stuff I’ve heard before that I can really zone out to and sing along with. When the weather cooperates, I love when I can work outside and have my pieces dry in the fresh air. It works out well for any potential mess too!

6. Is there an artist in everyone? If so, what does it take to find it?

I think so, even when they don’t resonate with the words creative or artistic. I think it’s usually a matter of finding a medium you are interested in by trying new things and giving yourself the grace (and time) to play around.

Be sure to check out Still Elm on Instagram and her Etsy shop.

Ana Treasure Box

Ana is a silk artist from the south of France. She makes one-of-a-kind handpainted silk scarves.

Ana says she creates her scarves in a variety of styles, so that everyone can find what they are looking for. This also helps her create scarves that reflect the mood and character of those who wear them. They all have one thing in common: vibrant colors!

  1. Do you strive to be perfect in your art? 

I am creating luxury items and that is why I always use high quality materials: natural fabrics and professional dyes that are resistant to washing and fading. This ensures that my work will please the customer for many years. I would like to be perfect, and when I make a small mistake or a small imperfection, this drives me nuts. However, I know that I’ll probably be the only one noticing it.

2. What do you do when you make mistakes in your artwork? 

It depends on what kind of mistake it is. If it is something that I really don’t like, I will probably repurpose it. For example, if it is a scarf, I will make twilly out of it or scrunchies. But if it is something small, most of the time, I will leave it as it is. In the case of a custom order, I would communicate it to the customer to see what they think about it.

3. Why did you choose your particular artistic medium and what inspires you to create?

After trying many forms of art, I fell in love with silk painting which became my “true art passion.”

Once, a friend of mine invited me to attend a workshop that she thought was going to be on watercolour. It actually turned out to be silk painting. I was fascinated by it and decided to continue. The more I learned about it, the more my passion grew. I have since attended several masterclasses and I love experimenting with different techniques.

A lot of my inspiration comes through travel. I love discovering new places. Every time I go somewhere new, my head is filled with ideas on what to create next.

4. How does it feel when you create? 

I totally immerse myself in the process and I feel like time does not exist.

5. What kind of atmosphere or space do you do your best work in? 

I like to work at home in a comfortable environment so I can just focus on creating and nothing else. Sometimes when I paint, I will also listen to music to create a specific ambiance.

6. Is there an artist in everyone? If so, what does it take to find it?

Everybody can be an artist but you need to learn how to appreciate your surroundings – the beauty in everything from the small details to the big panorama. You just need to understand what you enjoy in what is around you. Once you know how to do this, you can share it with other people.

I love my scarf that I called “Greetings from Valensole.” I painted it after we had a trip with my husband to the lavender fields in Valensole area. This place is so magical and smells amazing, especially during summer days when the flowers bloom and you can see the beautiful blue sky. I wanted to immortalize this charming spirit on a scarf, so you can have a piece of Provence with you all year round.

You can follow Ana Treasure Box on Facebook, Instagram and her Etsy shop.

Getting through Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum anxiety isn’t as well known as postpartum depression. I actually didn’t know about it until I was pregnant. According to Postpartum Support International, “approximately 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety.”

In this post, I’m getting a little more vulnerable as I tell you my journey through postpartum anxiety. This is not medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. I’m hoping by sharing my story that you can find someone to identify with if you think you may have postpartum anxiety and that you can find courage to seek help.

Realizing I Had Anxiety

In early 2019, I started therapy. I attributed my anxiety in large part to my job in a high-stress industry where I felt like I had to drop what I was doing and always be available at a moment’s call. I had been trying to find a new gig for a while but job hunting wasn’t going in my favor. I felt defeated and stuck, but I needed help learning to deal with my situation.

Right away, my therapist could tell how much anxiety consumed me. I would worry about potentially getting a call from work, my mother going on a trip or a doctor check-up. I’d constantly think about the future and plan out conversations in my head before they happened.

It was pleasing to have a third party listen to me and it seemed my therapist could easily point me in the right direction. Soon after starting therapy, I got a new job and the stress lessened but did not disappear.

When I got pregnant later that year, the anxiety dialed back up. I took seven pregnancy tests before my initial appointment. I was constantly worried I would lose my daughter, even into the third trimester, despite having a healthy pregnancy. My therapist warned me that I could experience postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety after birth.

Anxiety after Giving Birth

You know that beautiful moment moms talk about when their baby is first put on their chest? My beautiful moment came when I heard my daughter’s loud cries as she took her first breaths of air. I looked over at her being weighed and measured by the nurse, her daddy awestruck at this sweet little screaming girl and my eyes filled with tears. She was finally here. I could hold her in my arms. Her cries weren’t a bother.

Although her cries weren’t anxiety inducing, in the weeks that followed, worry set in. I became worried if she was eating enough, getting enough tummy time, taking long-enough naps. Did she have thrush, reflux, lactose sensitivity (we had a bit of feeding trouble for a bit)? Was I doing enough as a mom?

Having an Anxiety Attack

As my maternity leave came to a close, the anxiety increased. Cora, who was eight-weeks-old at the time, would be going to day care. It was one my husband and I had previously vetted and loved, but now, my mind only thought of it as a place filled with germs. I was TERRIFIED of her first sickness and knew it would come soon. In the days leading up to her first day, I couldn’t sleep. I’d wake up and stare at the clock for an hour or two of intrusive thoughts.

Eventually, though, the day arrived. I took her to day care, feeling weird about passing my child over to a stranger and expecting them to know what to do with her. She had all these quirks I wanted to explain. This day is hard for lots of mamas.

I felt empty and sick when I got back home and prepared for work. My knees were weak, legs shaky and standing seemed impossible. My gut churned with nausea and worry. My vision blurred. My heart raced. My mind flooded with news stories of the “double-barrel flu season” and RSV that was “three times higher” that year.

How would I get my child, just two-months-old, through this? Could I call on my family who lived 4.5 hours away for help? Was I being dramatic? What if I didn’t notice signs of trouble quickly enough?

Mind you, the sickness had not even happened yet (though her first cold did come in about a week). This was an anxiety attack. Luckily, I knew what was happening after hearing of loved ones feeling similar and sudden senses of dread.

At some point, I was able to take myself through the motions of getting ready for work and faked a smile the rest of the day. Other work mamas understood the pain and that was comforting. I called the day care three times that day to check in on her.

In the months that followed, I watched the day care’s app like a hawk to check when they fed her, how much she ate (She drank two ounces less. Is she feeling ill?), how long she slept (Was it too short or too long of a nap?) and how many dirty diapers she had and I charted it all in a notebook that I kept since she was born. She was about 5-months-old before I decided to let go of the notebook.

Starting Medication for Anxiety

Like I mentioned before, I knew I had anxiety before pregnancy but had started to feel like I was gaining control of it. However, with the flood of hormones after birth, the anxiety was too intense to handle any longer. I felt crazy with worry.

Eventually, I took the plunge and asked for help. I was prescribed a low dose of a non-addictive antidepressant that also helped with anxiety and was safe for breastfeeding. (Very important to work with a doctor to find the right medication and dosage.) It took a couple of weeks to kick in.

During that couple of weeks, the fight or flight response battled it out in my body. Anxiety would want to make my heart race, but my head would tell me, “Nah, we don’t have to worry about that.” It was a strange sensation, but I was happy to see the medicine was starting to work.

To be honest, I was scared to be on medication because I was ashamed. Even though I preached to people who felt anxiety or depression that there was absolutely nothing wrong with getting medicine to help with mental issues, in my mind, I thought I would catch myself before I got to that point.

After being on medication for a year now, I am glad I did it. It’s not something I will be on forever, but it helped me realize I don’t have to worry so much and am capable of making the space around me calmer. I see now how important it was for me to get help to reach this point.

There have been setbacks. It’s not like I will never feel anxiety again, but the anxiety I feel every now and then is much more controllable. I know life goes on just fine when I don’t worry so much and all the things I worry about don’t necessarily come to fruition.

Continuing My Journey of Self Care

In 2021, I am continuing my journey of self care. 2020 was spent clearing the clutter from my home and from my mind (can’t be the only one who did this, right?). This year, I’ve mapped out goals through a vision board, plan to take on new hobbies and plan to return to some hobbies that helped me release pent up energy in the past. Some activities that brought relief for me in the past include fitness, reading, yoga and spending time in nature.

You Are Not Alone

Mamas, if you are feeling postpartum anxiety, I empathize with you. I hope sharing my story shows that you are not alone in how you feel, you are not crazy for how you feel, and you are nothing less when you ask for help. By seeking help – whether that is by reaching out to your community of friends and family, by talking to a therapist, by starting medication, by reading a self-help book, by releasing your stress in a hobby – you are showing your strength.

You are showing those close to you how important it is to love yourself and not let your life rot in worry. You are becoming the best version of yourself, which is only accomplished by first taking care of yourself.

A poet whose work I’ve recently fallen in love with. Her writing perfectly captures parenthood and the emotions that stir with it.

Below are some resources on postpartum anxiety and a couple of Facebook groups dedicated to moms if you want to build your community of support.

Resources

Postpartum Support International

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Facebook Groups

Jess Hover & Friends

Mom Check 7

If you have any other resources you think would be helpful, please leave them in the comments below. ❤ Thanks for listening.

Creating a Couple’s Vision Board

I am walking into 2021 with a focus. 2020 was a huge balancing act for us all and most of us are leaving it likely feeling worn out and spread thin. Personally, it’s been a year where all I can honestly look back and say is, “I tried.”

That being said, I have a few themes for myself for the new year: wellness, intention and connection. As a gentle and inspirational reminder of these themes, I spent time with my husband creating a couple’s vision board so we could look over everything we wanted to accomplish in 2021.

How a Couple’s Vision Board Works and Vision Board Benefits

A vision board is a collage of pictures, quotes and affirmations that resonate with you and that are used to motivate and inspire you to hit your personal goals. After 2020, I feel like we could all use some of this positive energy.

Working on this project together with my husband allowed us to reflect on our lives as they are separately, together and as a family and to talk about goals we have for each area of our lives. Hearing each other’s goals got us on the same page and allowed us to think of opportunities we can give each other to pursue our goals – giving him a break on the weekends to play guitar, writing out workout plans together, etc.

I will admit, he did think the project was going to be corny but he enjoyed doing it in the end. 🙂 It was a fun and crafty New Year’s Eve project.

For this vision board, we used a seven-spoke wellness wheel. The seven-spoke wheel focused on areas of life we wanted to truly work on: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical, social, environmental and financial. There are also eight-spoke wellness wheels and six-spoke wellness wheels if you are interested in those instead.

Vision Board Reflection Questions

Here are a few reflection questions that got us started on choosing topics for our vision board.

  • What brings happiness and peace to your life?
  • Which areas of your life need more attention?
  • What accomplishments would you like to achieve by the end of the year?
  • Which actions will move your life forward in a healthier direction?

Vision Board Materials

Your vision board materials will depend on where you want your vision board to exist. Is your vision board your desktop background or phone background? Is it a poster in your room or a collage on your refrigerator?

If you want your vision board to be digital, I would suggest using Canva (which you can use for free), choosing a phone background, desktop background or poster template and having fun searching for free stock photos, picking different elements, placing text wherever you want it to go and uploading your own photos to add to the mix.

We decided to go with the old-school method of cutting out photos and pasting them on thick paper. We decided to hang our vision board on our refrigerator where we would both see it each day.

The materials we used were:

  • Inspirational photos and/or quotes found online, in magazines, newspapers, etc.
  • Printer paper if you are printing photos
  • Cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Gluestick

We spent our New Year’s Eve cutting out photos and pasting together our vision board collage on our sunroom floor while we watched Netflix.

Vision Board Photo Examples

You want to be sure your images and quotes embody your goals and inspire you or trigger a response when you see them. If you are looking for vision board photos online, I’ve created a Pinterest board where I placed some examples that personally resonated with me.

I also created some graphics on Canva that you can feel free to use!

Hello, 2021!

As we close the book on 2020, I want to highlight the parts of the year I was grateful for that I would not have experienced otherwise. I got to be an eye-witness to most all of my daughter’s firsts during year one of her life – smiling, rolling over, army crawling, big girl crawling, words, walking. I’m thankful for the extra time I was able to spend with her and my husband. That was truly the best part of the year.

To those reading this, I hope 2021 shines brighter for you. I hope you get the break you deserve, the love and connection you crave, and hit the achievements you wish to accomplish. Maybe spend your first couple of hours of the new year making a vision board with us and you’ll know at the end of 2021 that you envisioned what you wanted, you went for it, you fought for it and you made it.

Children’s Books with Positive Messages about Diversity, Emotions and Purpose

Children’s books are a wonderful way to introduce young minds to positive messages you want them to carry through their lives.

I haven’t met a baby who didn’t love books, especially my little girl. When Cora began to crawl, she would go over to our bookcase and pull all of her books off of her shelf multiple times a day. Though it created a mess, I smiled seeing her look through each book, pointing and jabbering as she flipped the pages.

Baby reading her books
With at least four former librarians in her family, Cora gets her love of books honestly.

We have books of all kinds on her shelf, but we definitely wanted a selection of stories focused on positive messages, like diversity, emotions, culture, kindness and how to be a friend.

Here’s a collection of some of our favorite children’s books. These are not just for babies – these books have messages that will resonate with young children as well.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. As a participate in the Amazon Associate Program, I may earn from qualifying purchases connected with these links. However, all opinions of these products are honest and my own.

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

The Rabbit Listened is a favorite children’s book of mine. It focuses on a little boy and the emotions he feels when his block castle comes tumbling down. Through the rabbit’s character, we learn that sometimes being a good friend doesn’t mean solving your friend’s problem – it means listening to them and letting them feel all of their emotions.

The Rabbit Listened is an endearing story. I think it’s great for toddlers, who often have big emotions they don’t yet understand. Feeling and learning these emotions is part of growing up.

Think Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison

Think Big, Little One shows inspirational women of different backgrounds who influenced culture, science, technology and more. With messages like, “Discover New Things,” “Color Outside the Lines,” and “Shine a Light on Your Culture,” this book encourages young readers to be brave, bold and true to themselves. Vashti Harrison has several books on Amazon and we are excited to pick up more in the future.

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates

The Big Umbrella is a sweet, welcoming story. The big umbrella grows and grows to have room for all kinds of characters and creatures of every shape and size – it doesn’t discriminate. There’s always room for one more under the big umbrella.

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

I Am Enough is a great story for showing our connection to all things. It finds similarities in its characters and the nature around them – the moon, the trees, the wind – but it also celebrates the beauty of differences – from talents, to cultures, to opinions.

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

Be Kind is a book that shows how a small act of kindness and practicing empathy can have a major impact on the world. It reminds me of something my mother told me when I was having a hard time, “To have a friend you must first be a friend.”

You Matter by Christian Robinson

You Matter shows how everything in the universe that is or was, no matter how big or how small, has a purpose. From the ants to the sun, from people near and people far, everything around us is connected and has meaning.

Can You Say Peace? by Karen Katz

This sweet book follows children around the world as they celebrate International Peace Day. It shows little readers diverse people, places and cultures through its illustrations and introduces them to other languages as they learn how to say “peace” around the world (this definitely appeals to my husband Seth, the linguist in the family). It also has a beautiful message of how the people all around the world want the same things – to learn, to explore, to feel safe, to share time with loved ones and to have peace.

If you pick up any of these books for your kid, I hope you enjoy them as much as we have! What are some children’s books in your collection that you love? Maybe some with messages that resonate with you?

If you would like to see more posts on motherhood, click here.

Financial Budgeting: An Essential for a Less Stressful Life

Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. The opinions expressed in this blog post are simply from my experience of what has worked for my family. They are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Before you make any decisions for you or your family, first speak with your financial advisor.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. As a participate in the Amazon Associate Program, I may earn from qualifying purchases connected with these links. However, all opinions of these products are honest and my own.

Part of taking care of yourself is finding ways to eliminate stress from your life. Money is definitely a pain point for some people, but it does NOT have to be. My husband and I began budgeting shortly after we got married and have never looked back. Knowing that money can be a point of contention in some marriages, taking control of our finances and being fiscally responsible was incredibly important to us.

There are a few misconceptions to budgeting that many people need to unlearn. The most important and prominent one that needs to be unlearned is that budgeting is a punishment.

Yes, there may be times when there isn’t room in your monthly budget for an excessive purchase, but that doesn’t mean you can’t save for it the next month. Budgeting is actually a life hack. Budgeting allows you to live comfortably instead of paycheck to paycheck, save for those big ticket items that bring joy to your life and help prepare you for life’s unwelcome surprises – a traffic ticket, an emergency hospital visit, a broken home appliance, a car repair.

Benefits of budgeting

It is never too late or too early to start budgeting. Budgeting is for young adults, budgeting is for people living without a fixed income, budgeting is for people who are retired – it doesn’t matter what stage of life you are in, you can start reaping the benefits of budgeting NOW.

When budgeting, you first need to understand where your money goes each month. For us, we spent an exorbitant amount on ordering take out – even with a fridge full of groceries. If we kept this habit, we would not only fly through our restaurant budget, but we would also be wasting our grocery budget on food that goes bad before it’s eaten.

After finding out where your money is usually spent, you can identify the categories where you need to put your money. Groceries, mortgage payment, gasoline, electricity, car maintenance, home maintenance, restaurants, streaming services, phone bill. Then, you can decide where you want to cut your spending, where you should actually increase your budget and how much money you can save each month. For us, we decided to each have a manageable restaurant budget, put a little extra money toward groceries and put the remaining money into savings.

Choosing a budgeting method

It’s important to find the best budgeting method for YOU. There are two main ways of budgeting. There’s active budgeting and passive budgeting. For us, active budgeting is the most helpful method.

With active budgeting, you are tracking your dollars in the moment. This may sound petty, but it helps us make better choices because it keeps us on top of our spending as opposed to following behind it. For an active budgeting method, you can use a spreadsheet, envelopes, or of course, there’s always an app.

When passive budgeting, you are tracking what you spend in hindsight. This is like balancing a checkbook at the end of the month. There are apps that focus on this method as well. While it is better than doing nothing at all, this isn’t the budgeting method that worked best for us.

Our favorite budgeting apps

Personally, our family uses two budgeting apps – Y.N.A.B. (You Need A Budget) and Mint. Apps may not be for everyone, but these apps, especially Y.N.A.B., have been with us throughout our entire marriage. Y.N.A.B. is our go-to for active budgeting and Mint can be used for passive budgeting.

We use Y.N.A.B. to track every dollar we spend. Literally every dollar. This took about a week for me to get used to and I’ve been doing it now for 7+ years.

Here’s how budgeting goes for us. Before the month starts, we allocate money to each of our categories. We chose and labeled these categories ourselves and can have as many as we need. Some of our categories include groceries, utilities, mortgage, car payment, day care, home maintenance, car maintenance, car insurance, restaurants, etc. We also set aside a little money for fun each month. Once we have allocated money for these categories, we put the rest into savings.

If we have money left over in one of our categories as the month comes to a close, that money goes into the “to be budgeted” pile to be allocated accordingly for the next month. Using Y.N.A.B. and this budgeting method has allowed us to save enough money to be at least a month ahead of all of our expenses.

For example, all the money we will spend in January was earned in December. No paycheck to paycheck life – we can roll with the punches. When an emergency happens, we take comfort in the fact that the money we have to spend is coming from last month.

If you would like to learn more about Y.N.A.B., there is a Y.N.A.B. book about the app that explains the philosophy behind active budgeting and how to use the app itself. There is also a Kindle version.

Y.N.A.B. has yearly and monthly subscriptions. Even though there is a cost associated with the app, we have found that we save way more and benefit from using it. However, it is free for college students. If you would like to sign up, you can use my referral link – we both get a free month!

Instead of using Mint for passive budgeting, we actually like Mint’s feature of housing all of our accounts in one spot. It allows us to look at our whole net worth at one time. It is also an easy spot to view all of our transactions so we can ensure we haven’t fallen victim to credit or debit card fraud. We usually compare all of our transactions in Y.N.A.B. with those in Mint to rule out any fraud.

Mint brings together your checking account, savings accounts, credit cards, mortgage, car loan and more on one platform. It automatically categorizes your purchases, but there are times you may have to go and recategorize a purchase if Mint doesn’t quite get it right. However, if you prefer looking at your budget at the end of the month to see how you did, Mint might be a good option.

Realistic pathways to saving

A huge part of budgeting’s purpose is to be on top of your spending so that you can set aside money to save. Ideally, you should set aside enough savings for a comfortable emergency fund consisting of six months of expenses, which is different than six months of income. Budgeting allows you to identify how much money you usually spend each month. Saving six months of this usual monthly spend should be a big priority because you want to have enough liquid cash in case of an emergency. After this, you can put your extra income aside for vacations, investments, etc., but that is a post for another day.

The point is before putting all of your extra income into a fun category, pay your future self first. Do this so you can take the heat of life’s unexpected expenses with ease.

Setting aside 30% of each paycheck is a typical goal. If you can’t do that, any money saved is better than none. What we actually started with was the 52-week savings plan. We set aside $1 the first week, $2 the second week and so on until we saved $52 the last week of the year. This gave us $1,378 after one year – our first year married, first year out of college and first year with a fulltime job and taking full responsibility of all of our expenses. It’s a good start.

Conclusion

Budgeting gives you control over your life as there is no confusion where your money is spent. Budgeting can keep you from scrambling for a rent payment because you have already set aside money to pay for rent. Budgeting allows you to realistically save for vacations, down payments and emergencies.

If you spend more than you earn, you will never come out ahead. Retiring comfortably, giving your kids nice items, not worrying about credit card debt are all potential benefits of budgeting. Budgeting is a good way to keep control of yourself, to feel in control of your life and to feel like you can manage your stress.

Once you get into budgeting, you might be motivated to find other ways to save! If you’ve found other options, drop them in the comments!

Weekend in Oklahoma City: What to Do and Where to Eat

Normally, each winter, Seth and I travel to a nearby city to see how they celebrate Christmas and have an extended weekend vacation. Four years ago, we were in Oklahoma City driving Route 66, enjoying hot chocolate on a double-decker bus, visiting Instagram-worthy destinations and eating some of the best poutine we have had in the States.

Located in the South Central U.S., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is approximately 3 hours from Dallas, 4.25 hours from Topeka, 5 hours from Little Rock, 5 hours from Kansas City and 5.5 hours from Austin if you are driving. Not too bad of a drive for a long weekend stay.

When we visited, we discovered Oklahoma City is great foodie destination – we enjoyed each restaurant where we ate – and they do a great job amping up the holiday cheer. 

Where to Eat in Oklahoma City

The Mule – Get the Big Ass Poutine (that’s really what they call it). The atmosphere felt like a hipster’s paradise.

Cheever’s Cafe – Cheever’s is known for their Chicken Fried Steak. Plus, they have some mighty delicious rolls.

Empire Slice House – New York-style pizzas you can get by the slice or buy the whole whopping pie. The Empire Slice House has an eclectic vibe and pictures of your favorite movies, bands, etc. are plastered all over the walls (the throwbacks make excellent lunch conversation). “Live free. Pie hard.”

Junction Coffee: If you love unique coffee shops, this is one to add to your list. We sipped coffee/hot chocolate while warming up by a small heater on a double decker bus. Check Junction Coffee’s Instagram page to see where the bus is going to be each day!

What to Do in Oklahoma City

Pops Route 66 Soda Ranch – Drive Route 66 to find a giant soda bottle on the side of the road that is backed by a store filled with your favorite sodas and unique pops lining all of the walls. If you have ever been, let me know what you got!

Myriad Botanical Gardens – The Gardens’ Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory is $8 for adults, $7 for 13- to 19-year-olds, $5 for 4- to 12-year-olds and free for kids aged 3 and under. However, the Myriad Botanical Gardens Outdoor Grounds are free to roam. We visited Oklahoma City during the Holiday Market at Myriad Gardens and saw the giant poinsettia tree! Still, I know we barely touched the surface of what all there is to see at here!

Wheeler District – In Oklahoma City’s Wheeler District, you can find a perfect spot for an Instagram photo! The OKC sign sits by the historic Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel. I have a happy memory of getting this shot. It was incredibly windy and cold that day and we would run out from shelter to take a million versions of this photo as fast as we could, hoping that our hair wasn’t in our face and the sign was in the shot before. I’d say we got a good one. 🙂

Bricktown Water Taxi – While we didn’t get to ride the water taxi during our visit, it was definitely on our list. It was just far too cold and we couldn’t find parking. The Bricktown Water Taxi opened in 1999 and shows “tourists and locals alike the sights and sounds of Bricktown from a unique perspective, floating down the Bricktown Canal,” according to its website. If you have ever been, how was the experience?

Before visiting Oklahoma City, I recommend following Downtown OKC on Instagram. They are a great resource to find things to do and events that are free in Oklahoma City! When we went, the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the Bricktown Water Taxi were actually free to experience!

Sustainable Holiday Gift Guide

2020 definitely had us all inside our homes more. As I was spending more time at home, I realized how much stuff we had that was never used and how many one-use items we had to keep buying.

So, in an effort to live more sustainably, I wanted to put items on my holiday wishlist this year that could be reused again and again. Here are just a few that I’ve already purchased or that I have on my list! Most of these products are under $30, are easy switches to make and can actually save money long term.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. As a participate in the Amazon Associate Program, I may earn from qualifying purchases connected with these links. However, all opinions of these products are honest and my own.

Cloth Napkins – Cloth napkins are on my wishlist this year. I use so many paper towels that I really want to give them a try and see how they hold up to the MANY messes I clean up daily – mainly from my toddler’s highchair. 🙂

Reusable Facial Rounds – I LOVE this product. These reusable facial rounds are very gentle and soft on my skin. I use them to remove makeup and also just to dry my face after washing it. It comes with a little bag that you can keep the rounds in when washing them. And I don’t have to buy more cotton rounds!

Reusable Baking Cups – We don’t own this exact brand, but we have had our reusable baking cups for almost 7 years and still use them. I bake a ton of muffins for breakfast, so the reusable baking cups are nice to have around.

Glass Food Containers – These glass storage containers stack neatly to take up little room in my kitchen cabinets and have already lasted so much longer than the plastic food storage containers that I used to buy.

Beeswax Wraps – This is on my wishlist this year! I’m a little bit nervous on how the beeswax wraps will hold up, but I am excited to give them a try. The product says they can be washed with cool water and soap and reused again and again to wrap food and keep it fresh.

Silicone Baking Mat – A friend recommended these and there was no going back. They are easy to use, easy to clean and you don’t have to use cooking sprays or parchment paper. We have the two-pack, but this three-pack comes with different sizes.

Reusable Coffee Filter – Our reusable coffee filter is another product we have had for years and have never had to go back to one-use coffee filters. It is easy to clean and convenient to always have a coffee filter on hand. Companies also make reusable K-cups if that works better for you.

Loose Tea Infuser – I’ve recently made the switch to a loose tea infuser and there’s something so nice about having more control over my morning cup of tea. So long disposable tea packets!

I am definitely just beginning on my journey to becoming more eco-friendly. Even implementing just a few eco-friendly options in life can make a difference.

If you have any eco-friendly products that you support, please let me know! I would love to hear from you and discover more sustainable options for everyday items that we use.