Sunday, December 14, 2014
I know I'm not alone in the Christmas Crazy—I have heard so many friends say that they just need to “get through Christmas,” or they have a case of the “bah-humbugs.” Others talk about how they feel like there is just too much materialism to even know where to start with turning the focus back on the reason we celebrate Christmas. A lot of "I wants" fill my house these days. Jace has every toy commercial memorized and can tell me, word for word, at the dinner table what's so great about the Flipeez hats, that they carry them at Walmart, and that they’re only $19.95. Or how a certain toy works or which ones are "batteries not included" toys. We're not too crazy yet, though, because all I have to say is "put it on your Christmas list" and he'll put the "I want" aside. A Christmas list has yet to be anything concrete in his mind—it’s still something vague that we just talk about. And while I love the hustle and bustle of stores at Christmas time, I don't dare enter them with Nolan because nothing can make my husband cranky faster than a crowded Walmart or Target.
Family gatherings can often times equal more stress than fun. Suddenly Christmas comes around and there's pressure to fit this Norman Rockwell image of the perfect family. And deeper hurts can come to light and be more painful around the holidays. Christmas can mark one more year of dealing with infertility, broken relationships, singleness, loss of loved ones. Or perhaps it's the new pains of breaking relationships, medical diagnoses, unemployment, or impending crises. Pain becomes magnified.
It's so easy to feel the need to fix life in order to have the perfect holiday. And in that process, we really just make it all crazier and end up enjoying it less. Last year, on Christmas Eve, we were having a bad day. I had piled too many things on my plate leading up to Christmas, so the 24th became a bit of a make up day. Everything I had dreamed of achieving all month long had its last chance to become reality. Nolan was at work and the kids were driving me crazy. I may have started yelling at some point that it was Christmas Eve and it was supposed to be special!!!!! That’s when I realized I needed a Christmas re-set. I looked around and saw that I had decorated with so many words that were intended to keep my mind in the right place through the season-- words like, "O Come Let us Adore Him," and "Peace" and "Joy" and "Believe." But instead of allowing them to be reminders, they had become a part of the scenery in my home and were overlooked. All it took was pausing, reading some verses that went along with those words, and remembering WHY I wanted Christmas Eve to be so special to reset my focus and, in turn, reset my family.
Because the perfect Christmas is something WE can never achieve. Instead, the perfect Christmas has already happened—when a perfect God joined us on this earth as a perfect baby in what would be considered the most imperfect environment. It is when we take our focus off of all that we need to do for Christmas, and, instead, look to the perfect One and truly receive Him, then we are free to enjoy Christmas—free to enjoy the celebration of His birth.
As I've been concentrating on how to approach this Christmas season in a way that won't need as dramatic of a reset as last year, I keep coming back to Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Life can be exhausting and chaotic and hard sometimes. Whether it be within your own little world, or the world around you at large, it just gets ugly. Sometimes I want to burry my head and ignore current events, or at least half of Facebook's take on them. Or I just want to yell at people and speak some truth into them (or at least Jill's version of truth). And when I let these things roll around me and start to weigh heavy on me, I start feeling a deep need for His Peace. Which means I feel a deep need for Jesus.
This past year I feel like I've fallen in love with Jesus so much more than ever before. I've come to know Him differently than I used to view Him. Much more personally. I've seen more of His sense of humor and sarcasm. And I've felt His love and presence powerfully. At my church we just finished up a series that looked at the trinity, and I loved how just one week of looking at Jesus and His role in the trinity blew my mind. Jesus is God. Jesus was not created, He was. So when Jesus entered this world as a baby, it was God making that choice to put Himself here with the end goal of dying for our sins. And in His time of walking in human form among us, He knew pain and He knew grief. He knew demands and burdens and relational conflict. He knew betrayal and celebration. He walked through it all. And then, He made the ultimate sacrifice by enduring torture and death in order to save us from our sins.
Focusing on the real meaning of Christmas isn't just thinking about a baby in a manger. It's about that baby's purpose, that baby's life, that baby's death and then that baby's resurection. And the fact that the entire story exists because we have a God who loves us so dearly that He humbled Himself to take the form of humanness, suffered and died, rose again, all so that we can have a relationship with Him. Let that settle over you. That truth brings peace. In this season where the world is getting Christmas-crazy, we can have peace.
In John 16:33 Jesus, who was hours away from his arrest, told His disciples, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Jesus knew the troubles His disciples would face and He knows the troubles you face—big or small. He knows the season you're in and He gives peace.
A little earlier that same evening, in John 14:25-27, Jesus also had spoken of the peace He gives. "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." I love how the commentary in my Bible explains the peace in this passage: "The term [peace] speaks, in effect, of the salvation that Christ's redemptive work will achieve for His disciples--total well-being and inner rest of the spirit, in fellowship with God. All true peace is His gift, which the repetition emphasizes. 'I do not give... as the world gives' In its greetings of peace the world can only express a longing or a wish. But Jesus's peace is real and present."
And Isaiah 26:3 says, "You will keep him in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You." Another translation says "him whose mind is stayed on you." I have that verse written on a chalkboard in my kitchen because I want that reminder. Focus on Him and He will keep me in perfect peace. Trust in Him and He will keep me in perfect peace.
Jesus' peace is real and present and perfect. I love that. It's not something that we have to long or wish for--like the world does. It's here with us. We have the Holy Spirit in us and among us, teaching us and reminding us of Who He is and what He taught. We don't have to jump through hoops to receive it. We just need to look to Him. When your in-laws are driving you crazy, Jesus' peace is real and present. When your kids are fighting and bickering and you don't think you can hear the phrase "I want" one more time, Jesus' peace is real and and present. When the recipe you found on Pinterest that was supposed to be amazing turns out disgusting, Jesus' peace is real and present. Or when your Christmas tree falls down during the night because your cats climbed it, and you find yourself picking up shattered ornaments, Jesus' peace is real and present.
The crazy doesn't have to rule Christmas. Jesus rules Christmas. And He wants to be your Prince of Peace this season. He wants you to celebrate and rejoice in His birth because He came for you. And His peace isn't something that is rationed out or given in small portions. 2 Peter 1:2 tells us, "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord." Do you know God? Do you know Jesus? If you do, then this peace we've been talking about, this Peace that settles in and quiets our hearts, this Peace that is something the world can never give us, this Peace that has victory over all the bad and ugly, this Peace is yours, and it's yours in abundance.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Well hello there. It’s been a while. I have been in a crazy, busy, fun, festive season with my shop and a great two weekends of successful holiday bazaars. But I just emailed a friend the recipe for my FAVORITE chocolate cream pie and thought I’d share it with you too. I mentioned it in THIS post about my favorite pie crust (seriously- it is the best). But I never got to sharing the pie itself with you.
The pics aren’t so pretty, and are a few years old, but believe me—the pie is amazing. It’s a legend in my family—eaten every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas for as long as I can remember, and now is a legend with my in-laws. Nolan’s sister left a message with details about what I should bring to Thanksgiving the other day, and the entire time her husband was in the background yelling that I have to bring the pie. I’ve never met a chocolate cream pie that compares.
The recipe comes from the Betty Crocker cookbook, but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere online. I don’t have any pictures of the process—just a straight up recipe and instructions that, believe me, you will not regret following for Thanksgiving this week. Enjoy!
Pastry for one-crust pie (THIS is my favorite and I think it pairs wonderfully with this pie)
4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, cut up
1. Bake pastry for pie crust
2. Beat egg yolks with fork in medium bowl; set aside. Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in 2-quart saucepan. Gradually stir in milk. Add chocolate. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute.
3. Immediately stir at least half of the hot mixture gradually into egg yolks, then stir back into hot mixture in saucepan. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour into pie crust. Press plastic wrap on filling to prevent a tough layer from forming on top. Refrigerate at least 2 hours until set.
4. Remove plastic wrap. Top pie with sweetened whipped cream (and I think that homemade whipped cream really is the only way to go)
Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Monday, September 29, 2014
I have been anxiously looking forward to Dollar Tree’s fall stock because I love their foam pumpkins. They seriously have the best deal for decorative pumpkins ($1), which I love to cover with book pages. So checking out the Dollar Tree Anniversary Celebration gave me a great opportunity to go get some. All it took was some torn up book pages, decoupage medium, and a little shimmery paint for the stem.
It’s a simple, quick project that even Jace can help me with, and I love the addition it makes to my fall décor.
If you’re wanting to make one (or more) of these yourself, I suggest heading over to Dollar Tree right away—they’re having a HUGE anniversary celebration through October 11. A lot of the items they regularly carry are available in larger sizes for the same $1 price, so you’ll find some great deals. I don’t know about you, but I love snacking while I craft, and several of their snacks are a part of this—including 14-oz. packs of Marie Callender’s® Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix. Or you could pick up some cleaning, health or beauty supplies. The deals are great—allowing you to get up to 58% more free!
Needing a little more information? Go HERE to check out details on the Anniversary Celebration. Also, I thought it was cool to see all the ways Dollar Tree is involved in social media. Find them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, or subscribe to their email list HERE.
Thanks for stopping by!
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
(In the ER, just after receiving my xray results, waiting for Nolan to return from dropping the kids off at a neighbor’s.)
It turns out my left lung is more stubborn than my right, and after a week of a full chest tube (much larger than the previous thoracic vent, inserted a few inches below my armpit and so much more painful) attached to suction off and on and daily x-rays, my lung wasn’t recovering and I needed surgery. A Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS) was performed. This is when they add a secondary chest tube (a few inches back from the first one), use one tube to insert a video camera to show them were to go, and the other tube to insert instruments and rough up the lining of my chest cavity and add talc powder, causing my lung to scar to the cavity once it was re-inflated. To sum all that up—I pretty much have a bionic lung now because there is so much scar tissue keeping it in place that it wouldn’t dare collapse again. After a lot more pain, an amazing team of nurses, and a few more days, I was finally discharged 14 days after being admitted.
(A few days into my hospital stay—things to be thankful for: Cuddles with Jace | My Pleur-Evac box that connected my chest tube to suction, allowing my lung to stay inflated | A new IV site that was so much more comfortable | Nolan’s work was amazing and he was able to use family medical leave to spend time with me at the hospital)
In the midst of the regular meds, checking of vitals, daily reports from doctors, light headedness and nausea from medications, and pain (so much pain), I would say that the overarching word to describe my emotional state was joyful. And I don’t mean happy joyful, but holy joyful. A while back I began reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts (confession: I have yet to finish the book. But what I have read has had a profound impact on me), and so much of what she taught about joy and thankfulness kept ringing throughout my heart. She describes the joy I felt as “chara,” a joy that is found in the Greek word for grace, “charis.” It is a joy that comes with grace. And, “deep chara joy is found only at the table of euCHARisteo—the table of thanksgiving.”
(Post surgery things to be thankful for: Oxygen | My pain medication that I could bolster with a button | two Pleur-Evacs attached to my chest tubes | Compression leggings to prevent blog clots, but also provided a level of comfort to my hurting body.)
I love Ann’s break down of explaining how joy is in the middle of this word for thanks. “As long as thanks as possible, then joy is always possible.” So in the midst of pain, sitting in the ER, beginning to cry and feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness since Nolan was not back from dropping the kids off yet and my nurse had said I wasn’t allowed to use my phone—over the PA system all emergency doctors were called up to the maternity floor because a baby was coding after an emergency c-section. I could be thankful—my babies were safe. I would recover. (And that baby ended up being just fine.)
In the midst of not knowing how long I would be in this situation—A friend from church immediately organized meals to be brought to my family. We ended up receiving 4 weeks of meals, plus a few more that friends brought later. I could be thankful.
In the midst of being apart from my kids—My mom, who had just returned home to Colorado the day before my lung collapsed, flew back out to take care of Jace and Reese (and Nolan too), and our house. She and Nolan kept life so normal for my kids that they were hardly phased by my absence. Life continued as normal, and probably a little better than that. I could be thankful.
In the midst of facing what was described as a “very painful” surgery and seeing that burden weigh on my husband’s shoulders—My diagnosis had a solution. And we would see the end. It was fixable, not life threatening and short term. Nothing like facing cancer with chemotherapy and radiation and statistics that were life threatening. I could be thankful.
Perspective helped with the thankfulness. And then thankfulness brought joy. But even more than that, I feel like this entire experience showed me the power of the Holy Spirit within me. Faith comes fairly easily to me in that I don’t often need proof that God is God and Jesus died for my sins and heaven is real and that by accepting Jesus I will join Him there when I die. But I do have those moments of wondering if I’ve just been duped, and bought into some great, long lasting story that has been crafted by man. But each time I have those mind wonderings, my heart asks God to show me It’s true. And He always responds—sometimes in small ways that whisper to my heart and other times that yell just in case I’m not listening. And in drawing near to Him, in seeking His heart, in getting to know Him and be aware of His presence, and in inviting the Holy Spirit to be a part of my daily life, He has been gently transforming me.
I learned about the fruit of the spirit from an early age in Sunday school. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those fruits (emphasis on the plural), established themselves as something to be individually worked on by me. Like, it was my job to work on being a loving person. And then, once I mastered love, I could start improving my joy. There’s no telling how many times I’ve prayed, “God give me more patience (forebearance).” And I’m sure, deep down inside, the thought rested that my standing with God—His opinion of me—was based on how much of that fruit I was building in my life.
But my thinking on all this was mixed up—after all, fruit in that passage is singular. The result of a life lived with the spirit is fruit. Fruit is the result of God working in my life, not me working on my life. Instead of praying “God give me more gentleness,” my prayer should be “God give me You.” The fruit is not my doing, it’s His.
So as I laid in my hospital bed, days running into one another and seeing every ounce of pride stripped away by my dependence on nurses to do things the non-hospitalized me would totally cringe at, the Holy Spirit’s power was evident. It was surreal to see the love, joy, peace, forbearance, gentleness and self-control show themselves in my thoughts, words and attitude. I saw fruit. And it was affirmed through the words of my nurses, cleaning staff and friends on Facebook and Instagram. Through all those moments in the past of doubt and reassurance, through my seeking and fumbling, and all the times I’ve felt like a spiritual fake, God was working. And so, at my weakest, He was strongest (2 Corinthians 12:9).
It’s pretty awe-inspiring to look back and see God’s Power at work. To know that He created every inch of me (even my dramatic lungs), that not a thing I’ve said or done has been a surprise to Him and that He uses me, even at my weakest. To see that the same Power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is dwelling in me, and that Power showed itself through a 14 day hospital stay. And so my thankfulness begins again—this time for who He is and what He’s doing in me. And from that thankfulness comes joy.
I suppose August wasn’t lost after all. If anything, it was gained.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
For the past year and a half I’ve been a part of a great group of ladies make up my mom’s group. They have become dear, sweet friends who share my heart. We can be honest and real with one another, support each other through difficulties and find plenty of cause for celebration. We have sweated through zumba and done some awkward yoga stretches together. I feel like we’ve done a good job of reaching out to new moms and drawn them in quickly. But even then, I had a reminder last week of what it feels like to be an outsider. The kids and I were having a terrible, horrible, no good very bad morning, followed by being late. I just felt off and eventually the kids and I left because Jace’s ice had the audacity to melt in his water. But what my park day reminded me of was how each person in a group greatly affects the health and outreach of a group. And the entire responsibility of your outward reaching should not be fall on the leader.
Here are a few things I think all members of a group should be mindful of:
Newcomers Regardless of how long you’ve been a part of the group, if you don’t know the person who just walked in the room, showed up at the park, or headed toward your gathering has been there before, you should be welcoming to them. There is no magic timeframe for how long you have to be a part of a group before you can help be welcoming to newcomers. Some simple things you can say are, “Hi, is this your first time?” If it isn’t, that’s fine! Tell them how long you’ve been a part of the group and ask how long they’ve been coming. Maybe they had been away for a while and needed to feel noticed, and there you are noticing! If it is their first time, ask how they found out about the group. Introduce them to others. Don’t be afraid to ask for their name more than once. It’s ok to say, “I’m so sorry, but what was your name again?” Find connection points—do they work, does their husband work, where do their kids go to school, etc. If they have something in common with someone else in your group, introduce them.
Introverts An introvert needs social gatherings, yet they are very intimidated by them. They have to mentally prepare for joining a group and need to feel welcomed in. I recently read THIS blog post (please, go read it!), and it perfectly described my introverted friends. Be watching for anyone who shows up after you. If you are standing in a circle talking, make room for them to join the circle. If you are sitting at a table, scoot closer to make room and tell them you’ve done so. If you are in a conversation, allow them to join in by giving a brief synopsis of what is being talked about. Bring them in. Don’t expect them to push their way in. They would rather turn around and go back home than feel like they have to be pushy to join the group.
Extroverts who might be having a bad day Your friend who is an extrovert and normally the center of attention and initiator of conversation may be having a bad day. She might be tired. She might be lonely. I really like THIS post about myths about extroverts. Just as I said about the introverts, be watching for people who show up after you and don’t assume she’ll want to squeeze her way in and pick up in the middle of the conversation. It’s always nice, even if you’re an extrovert, when people put the effort into making you feel wanted and liked.
Latecomers We all know that it’s good to be on time to things. But as a mom, sometimes your day is just rough. And that means you might be late. Or maybe it wasn’t rough but you’re still late. And if you’re late, you’re aware of it. It bothers you, but there’s no way around it. You probably got upset at your kids because of it (even if it wasn’t their fault). And if you’re like me, sometimes you’d rather just not go than be late (a fact that I had to get over quickly after becoming a mom because otherwise we’d never go anywhere). So, as a member of a group who either showed up early, on time, or not last, please be mindful of latecomers. It takes so much courage for them to enter the room late. Be kind to them. Make sure there is a place for them to sit. If materials have been handed out, give them one as well. But don’t make their lateness a big deal. Tell them you’re glad they made it but don’t ask, “rough morning?” Help them become a part of what’s going on but don’t emphasize that they missed out on something by being late. Invite them in.
Regardless of if you are an introvert, extrovert, fairly new or seasoned attendee, it’s your responsibility to help a group be healthy. Keep your eyes open and be aware. It might take some effort at first, but eventually it can become more natural. It’ll be worth it. You’ll still have a great time hanging out with your friends while making a big difference to someone who probably desperately needs to feel connected.
How about you? What else would you add to this list for what to be mindful of?
And for those of you who are new, or have tried joining a group but not felt welcomed, I’ve been there! In the past year and a half I have been the new person at a mom’s group, church, Bible study and park play dates. I have so many thoughts I’d love to share about how to get connected quickly when you’re the new person, and will be sharing them soon!
Thanks for stopping by!
Monday, June 30, 2014
The kids (ages 1.5 and 4) and I spent the last week and a half in California meeting my newest nephew (who is adorable and we absolutely LOVE), visiting my grandparents and some aunts and uncles, and having a blast on the coast with my parents in Cambria. We built sandcastles and let the sun kiss our cheeks.
And my kids were irresistible to some Chinese tourists. I don’t blame them. My kids look just about as grilled-cheese-and-french-fries American as you can get.
And the most impressive part of the trip? We drove there and back just the three of us. Nolan is in the middle of a crazy busy construction season at work and there was no chance at our entire family making the trip. But when my mom offered to have us join them, I proved to have enough determination and stubbornness to not let the idea of a 12+ hour drive by myself daunt me. I figured that with some careful planning and lots of preparedness and the awareness that my attitude was the biggest influence on the trip, we could make it happen. Two years ago I shared THIS post about road trip activities for two year olds. This time around I took a similar approach to the kind of activities I packed, but my set up was different.
(Excuse the horrible lighting—I took these at night)
I brought a wide variety of things for the kids to do: bubble guns for a rest stops (Target), an Etch-a-Sketch, pipe cleaners, balloons filled with Play Doh (idea from HERE), hand puppet book, coloring books & crayons, 2 play lap tops, Leap Pad, dry erase board & dry erase crayons (which do melt in direct sunlight), baby books, Old Maid Cards, magnetic Planes book (Walmart), bag full of Matchbox cars, activity books (Target), clipboard and cookie sheet (magnetic), small tote box, play dishes set (Target), books for Jace. Not pictured: Ipad and mini dvd player.
Most of the activities were loaded into my large 31 tote bag (which I LOVE), and a few more in the red bucket (Target dollar spot).
The tote bag was put on the floor at Reese’s feet. Tip for you when choosing where your kids sit: put the one who will need your help the most behind the passenger seat. This way you can easily reach them and hand them things will driving. It took a lot more focus/coordination to give something to Jace behind me, so it was a good thing he didn’t need as much from me.
The red tub went between the two kids and at each spot I would trade out which activities were in it. Then, as they needed something else to do, I could tell Jace to get ____ from the red bucket. It allowed Jace to be helpful. This was one of the best things I did. Other times I had to reach in the tote on the floor to grab things, and I became really good at feeling which toy was which, but the red tub was very helpful.
Up front there were three things that made my trip a lot better—an extra mirror (SIMILAR) that allowed me to keep an eye on the kids, a bucket full of squeezies, fruit snacks, capri suns and candy and snacks for myself, and audio books. The mirror was so helpful to be able to easily look at the kids and there were a few times that I caught Jace about to touch his sister in a way that would freak her out. I love that thing. The snacks were handy when Reese reached the point where nothing else would contain her. I found some baby-safe fruit snacks at Target that made me feel comfortable handing them back because I didn’t have to worry about her choking on them. And the squeezies are always a big hit with both kids.
Audio books kept me alert, awake and from getting bored. I signed up for the free Audible trial on Amazon and was able to download two free books to my phone. It hooks up to my stereo, and I just turned the volume to only play out of the front speakers. Anne Shirley kept me company on the way down (Anne of Green Gables is a 10 hour audio book), and Margaret Feinberg (The Sacred Echo) and Anne (Anne of the Island) kept me company on the way home. I wanted books that were ok for Jace’s absorbent ears to take in while still keeping my attention and these were perfect. In the back seat the kids traded off between Frozen and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on the mini DVD player.
We survived and I’d say we survived well. There were several awful moments of Reese practicing the worst ways she could scream the word “Nnnnnno! Nnnnnooooo! NO!” with a grin on her face as Jace sobbed beside her because “Reesey is hurting my ears!” Or the fact that I made the mistake of rubbing Reese’s foot to try and console her once, and from then on, if I didn’t respond immediately to the command, “Feet!” she would break out screaming the word over and over again. She especially wanted her feet rubbed when I was driving through tight curves. But we made it. And I think one of the biggest reasons is because I went into it knowing I had to keep it together. So when Jace whined (which wasn’t often), I didn’t whine back. And when Reese screamed, I didn’t scream back (except for a few times when I just needed the relief of yelling). And I figured we’d have to stop over and over again. So it didn’t frustrate me that what could have been a 12 hour drive turned into an 18 hour drive each way (thankfully we stayed the night with my aunt and uncle part way).
We had a great trip. We’re happy to be home. And now I’m exciting to get on with summer!
Thanks for stopping by!
Sunday, June 15, 2014
So as I was trying to think of what to post about today, I went looking back through old posts over on Satisfied with Adequate and was pretty convicted by what I wrote last May. And I thought I’d share it with you because maybe you’ve been in a similar place recently?
One of my greatest hopes for my children is that someday they will look back at their childhood and remember our home as a happy one. Of course they’ll have memories of me yelling at them, tension between their dad and me over [insert countless scenarios here], and sibling squabbles. I’m sure there will be remembrances of sorrow, pain and loss. But ultimately, I would love it if a general sense of joy settles over their memories of the growing up years.
I’ve found myself thinking a lot about how my own attitude and behavior is key to this dream coming true. A while back I spent a few months camped out in Proverbs 31, intent upon truly learning from this example of a woman worth far more than precious jewels. I determined to glean attributes from her that could be applied to my daily dish-washing, nose-wiping, diaper-changing, patience-testing days. And the verse that has been repeating itself in my mind lately comes from the conclusion of this woman’s description.
“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:28.
Know what’s so special about the meaning of the word blessed in this verse? My Bible’s commentary explained, “Blessed… that is, one who enjoys happy circumstances and from whom joy radiates to others.” Her children call her happy and radiating joy. They see that she is happy with her life and respond about it.
It would be easy to say that she was the model woman, so of course her children would say that about her. But she wasn’t just handed that title; she worked hard for it. All of the hard work she did—her dependability, attention to detail, relationships built—culminating in her role as a wife of noble character brought her joy. A genuine and real joy that was visible to those closest to her: her family. She didn’t make them feel guilty about all she did for them. She didn’t complain about her work load and begrudge them for it. Instead, she found joy in her circumstances.
It made me think about my responsibilities—both in caring for my home and caring for my children. If I were to do the work I need to do, to the extent I should do it, would I have a joyful spirit about it? Is my grumbling because I know I should and could be doing better at taking responsibility for my home, actions and attitude? How often do I reflect a joyful spirit over managing my household? When I talk with friends, do I reflect joy in serving my family? As my children get older, will they call me blessed, or happy about my circumstances?
We can have really good days and we can have really bad days in my home. It seems that one of the only constants is that, at some point, my three year old will have an emotional melt down (and some days, that point happens every hour… half hour… five minutes). And as awful and exhausting and exasperating as those melt downs may be, they are not what ruin the day. It is my response that is the deciding factor. If I join him in the pity party of the century—resenting his behavior, dwelling on unaccomplished plans, admitting defeat and betraying my age by straight up pouting—happiness cannot be present in our home. But if I remember that I am the adult, I am called by God to this great position of motherhood, and God will equip me for my ministry (2 Corinthians 3:4-6), then my day is changed. My children will arise and call me blessed.
Being happy in my circumstances doesn’t mean that they are ideal. It doesn’t mean that I have achieved all that I can in motherhood. And my children certainly aren’t perfect. We all lose it sometimes. But in the end, I can take responsibility for myself. I can oversee the affairs of my household and do it with a joyful spirit. Because what greater reward will there be for my hard work than to have my children arise and call me blessed?
Monday, June 9, 2014
This post is the fourth in my ongoing series about being an Etsy shop owner. My previous posts can are: Etsy & The Stay at Home Mom, Developing Your Product, Pricing Your Items and Six Etsy Tips (an older post).
The best part about having an Etsy shop (in my opinion) is when complete strangers see something you made and like it enough to spend money on it. It’s the final reward in creative process in which you poured out a part of yourself in its creation. And that’s what everyone hopes for when they open a shop. They want the affirmation of their art—the compensation for their effort. But what seems to be easily forgotten or ignored in the early stages is of shop ownership is the amount of non-crafty work it takes. And while that work may not seem very fun, don’t say you don’t have time for it and then be disappointed by a lack of sales.
Today I’m going to talk about 4 key aspects of having an Etsy shop that are worth putting the work into: market research, search engine optimization (SEO), listing renewals and customer service. And I would like to preface these points with the fact that the effectiveness of the work you do goes hand in hand with the number of listings you have in your shop. I saw a dramatic increase in both traffic and sales when I implemented these four points in my shop. Then, when I reached over 100 items listed in my shop, the additional increase blew me away. So if you’re hoping to see your business grow, I highly recommend you keep plugging away at reaching 100 items while working on these four points.
As I shared in THIS post, one of the first steps in developing one of my products is adding it to my list of ideas.
But before an idea makes my list of things to make, I do a little research to see if it’s even worth my time. I love the Etsy App for checking out my competition.
I go into the search section of the app, type in my product idea, and see how many listings come up in the search. In the first photo, I entered “bow tie garland.” As you can see, 228 items came up. In the scope of Etsy competition, I consider anything under 500 to be pretty low. If it’s lower than 50, then I figure either I need to rethink how I’m wording my product name or there may not be a market for that idea (although, it’s always possible you’ve found an untapped market that is highly needed, but that’s a little rare). If I see that the competition number is in a fairly sweet spot—as it is with the bow tie garlands—then I scroll through and look at what the competition is. If there is nothing like mine, then I feel really confident in moving forward. I also check out what the prices are like and what the cost covers—I don’t use it to price mine (as I talked about in THIS post) but do use it to see if my pricing would be in the right range. How long are the garlands compared to mine? What are the size of the bows on them? Are those shops actually selling their similar items? After doing my research I felt good about listing my bow tie garlands. And they’ve sold well!
In the second photo you see that I searched for “Frozen Party Pack.” I had the idea for THIS product that would include a crown for the party girl, hair clip party favors and a snowflake garland. As you can see, with 477 items coming up, I was in the range I like to be in, but definitely at the top end. After scrolling through I knew that my concept of each item being crocheted was unique and my price range was reasonable. But I also knew that crochet items was a fairly small target market. So I added them to my shop because I wanted a broader price range but didn’t have expectations of a ton of sales. I have sold 1 party pack with additional hair clip party favors, and another order for 20 hair clip party favors. So while it hasn’t been a large number of sales by any means, the profit from those two orders was higher than a month’s worth of sales in previous months.
The third photo was a search for “bow headband.” There are so many of those on Etsy that initially my search didn’t give me a number. It took narrowing down my selection through sub categories to finally list an item count of 2821. I could look at that and confidently say that bows would not be my niche. But it didn’t mean that I couldn’t put bows in my shop. My bows (these and these) are a little more unique because of their shape and material, but still, they don’t come up easily in searches. They’re worth having listed, though, because they make a great add on item. If someone arrived at my shop because of one of my unique items, it’s worth it to have smaller products that don’t add much extra in shipping. Just last week I sold 2 star garlands and a bow headband to a customer. So while it’s good to have these types of item in the shop, I’m not disappointed when they don’t sell.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is something I was scared of for a long time. It sounded intimidating, time consuming, and like a science I just didn’t want to put the effort into learning. In the book How to Start a Home Based Etsy Business Gina really pushed the importance of SEO. I knew I needed to do it if I wanted more traffic, but again it was intimidating. And then Gina did a step by step tutorial for how to use Google’s Ad Words Keyword Planner Tool to know what to put in the “Tags” section of a listing. I can’t tell you enough how important this is. It really only takes a couple extra minutes to do this when creating a listing and I can use the same tags for all my similar products. If you don’t do anything else I recommend in this post, DO THIS. Hop on over to Gina’s tutorial HERE and follow what she says.
As I mentioned in THIS post it costs money to get sales. I’ve found that renewing items regularly is key to getting views and sales. I try to renew at least one item each day. Some items automatically renew themselves after a sale if I have more than one in stock. But on the days that I’m not getting sales, I renew something. And I’ve noticed that after I renew an item, it gets viewed more. There is a spot on the Etsy home page that will show items that just got listed, and that can get you some attention. It keeps things fresh in the search engines. And there’s a sort option of “most recent” in the Etsy search. All great reasons to keep renewing.
I get a fair number of private conversations about listings. Most commonly it’s people asking, “I need this by ____ date. Would I be able to get this in time?” I’ve noticed that if I respond within a half hour of that question, they buy the item. Over and over again, I respond, “Thank you so much for your interest in ____. I could have it in the mail this afternoon (or tomorrow, or whatever is reasonable). I ship via USPS First Class, and typically my orders arrive within 3 days. I feel confident that you would receive it by ____ unless there is an error on the part of the postal service (which rarely happens). Let me know if you have any further questions!” The times that I haven’t been able to get back to a potential customer quickly, I don’t make the sale. I figure the longer I take to respond, the more time they have to find someone else to buy from. Utilizing my smart phone is key to this—I’m notified via email of a conversation, and then I hop on the app to respond. When a custom item is requested, I make their listing in the app and can send them the link right away. Speed (on my part, not necessarily theirs) is huge.
I want to make sure my customer feels like they received royal treatment from me. A happy customer is more likely to buy more and refer you to their friends. I had a customer contact me about my small zipper pouch asking if I could do a custom size. We had a few messages back and forth to get the correct dimensions and colors before I created the custom listing for her. When she went to buy the item, she noticed my wristlet key chains and added one to the order. Then, after receiving it, she was so happy with the product that she ordered another one for her husband. Those were 3 items I wouldn’t have sold had I not had good communication with her from the start. The other day a lady contacted me about my bow tie garlands asking if I could make a large number of the bows but not put them on the string. It turns out she was an event planner. The order grew from 60 to 65 to 70 through our conversations. This was a significant order that I could have missed out on had I not been quick to respond, eager to be of service, and professional in my communication. And now I’ve [hopefully] made a good connection with someone who is in a business that would allow her to be a returning customer.
I know all four of these points are work, but it takes work to make a business earn money. And that work is worth it. Your hours and hours of creation are worthless if you don’t sell those items. And selling those items happens a lot more often when you do your research, utilize SEO, renew your listings and provide excellent customer service.
How about my fellow sellers? What would you add to the list of work that makes your business grow?
Thanks for stopping by!
Parties I like to link up with:
Made with Love, The Sunday Showcase Party, Weekend Wrap Up, Make it-Wear It, Show and Tell Saturday, Weekend Bloggy Reading, Take a Look Tuesday
Monday, June 2, 2014
On My Heart
Jace and I have been in a season of battling. He is very four with a mind, whit, and logic that is growing faster than this momma is ready to keep up with. I find that we argue hypothetical situations all.the.time. “Mommy, when Carley comes over what if she wants to watch The Little Mermaid and we don’t have that movie. Then she’ll be sad and she’s going to get mad at me and we won’t have any fun…” “I can’t take my plate to the sink because my legs are really tired, and what if while I’m walking to the sink I fall and hurt my leg and then my knee will be cracked and then I won’t be able to walk ever again…” He can think of every possible negative scenario, and helping him filter through reality and all the hypothetical situations he can think of gets exhausting. Over and over again I repeat, “Jace, pause. Trust me.”
I was mentioning this at my weekly Bible study a few weeks ago and a friend made the comment that what Jace does to me is exactly what we do to God. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve worried circles around situations and every possible outcome. I’ve analyzed conversations to to the point of not sleeping because I’m worried I did something wrong in a friendship. And you wouldn’t believe what a morbid person I have become since having kids—I have envisioned so many possible ways for them to die, how I would react to it, and then become fearful any time I’m remotely close to those kinds of situations. How often must God help me filter through reality and my imagination? In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus talks about us worrying about whether or not we will be taken care of. He ends the passage saying, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I’m sure this is one of the first Bible verses I memorized in Sunday school. But it seems so much easier to quote than internalize. As I’m taking today’s troubles and multiplying them and worrying about every possible future, I’m being just like my hyper-imaginative four year old. And I can hear God softly speaking to my heart, “Jill, pause. Trust Me.”
On My Phone
Last week we took the kids to a park by the river in our town and ended our evening skipping rocks. Jace thought it was the BEST THING EVER. Now, every time we cross the bridge over that river, he excitedly shouts, “That’s where we throw rocks!!!” and asks again and again when we can do it again. My heart is so ready for this summer and hoping it’s filled with evenings like that one.
I have been a devoted T-Mobile customer since I got my first cell phone in 2000. But lately the reception in our area has been getting worse, and half the time calls didn’t come through because I didn’t have service at my house. This week we joined my parents’ family plan through AT&T and it was such a beautiful sight when I had 3 bars in my typical “No Service” spot in my living room. It’s the little things.
And an even more beautiful screen shot of my phone… I type in my zip code in the Hobby Lobby store locator on their app and this appears. The first Hobby Lobby in Oregon is opening in my town. This week. Nolan first told me of them coming a couple of years ago when plans were submitted to the city. Now the construction is finished, the shelves are in and employees are being trained (I know these things. I’ve been spying). I think I’ll still be pretty loyal to Joann’s for a lot of my needs, but I am nearly giddy with excitement over this new store.
In the Shop
Things are a little patriotic in the shop these days…
It really is unfair to the other shops that I have such a cute model. We had a rare, happy photo shoot and she was pretty proud to wear the three star headband.
Have you seen Joann’s new vinyl backed burlap? I LOVED using it to make this three star banner/bunting.
And after having success with my fabric Christmas Tree and Hearts garlands, I thought stars would be fun for the 4th. This garland is made up of 9 fabric stars.
Other holiday items can be found HERE or you could check out the whole shop HERE.
Monday, May 26, 2014
Ever feel like you’re in a cycle of spinning and spinning but have no idea how to stop it? That’s where I was last week. My mind was overwhelmed by how many commitments were on my plate. They were all good things—intentionally chosen people, groups and things that I love being a part of and don’t want to cut or put on hold. My house was a disaster (although, let’s face it, that would be true whether or not my schedule was overwhelmed). And my husband, who is in a stressful season at work, was coming home and looking defeated because it didn’t look or feel like he sat at the top of my priority list. But, despite all that, I can’t seem to stop my mind from dreaming. And as I’m going through the book Not a Fan with my church, I’m feeling convicted to actually invest what God has given me and called me to (see the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30).
There is a holy restlessness in me (thank you Restless by Jennie Allen) to want more. I love my role as a stay at home mom, being best friends with my husband, and growing some awesome friendships. But I also want success in my shop, and have dreams of a ministry to women through speaking and writing. I’m a pretty here and now kind of girl and it takes a pretty stern voice of God to get me to wait for a dream to come true. So I’ve been doing a little mental reorganizing in my life. Looking at how I can make my family feel like they really do sit in the number one spot on my priority list while maintaining what’s already on that list and pursuing new dreams.
For a while now, I’ve wanted to share more of my heart on this blog, but haven’t been sure I could. Sure, I’ve had some heart to heart and coffee talk style posts, but I worried that I couldn’t change the focus. After all, the readership here was built off of sewing and crafting tutorials (although, let’s face it, there have been so few of those lately, “readership” is a pretty generous term). So a while back I started a devotional blog called Satisfied with Adquate to exercise my love of writing and share the thoughts that God is leading me to. But I never wrote on it much despite well thought through posts. The reality of maintaining and investing in two blogs caused me to completely neglect both and feel mentally burdened by it.
I’ve been paying attention to what blogs I actually read these days and I rarely read strictly craft blogs anymore. Who I am is not the craft blog obsessed person that I once was. My favorite blogs make that list because of who writes them, not what they create. I read because I like the writer’s voice. With that fact in mind, and after lots of attempts at mental resorting but not really coming up with a plan, I read Little Miss Momma’s post, The Advice that Built This Blog. I had a bit of an epiphany. I need to keep this personal.
Who I am now is not what this blog once was. But who I am now still can blog. And blog with less expectations while having better accountability. Made it on Monday is becoming The Monday Blog (but will keep my same web address for who knows how long because I don’t want to invest the time into figuring out how to change that). I’ll post on Mondays. I’ll write about what’s happening in my shop, the Shop Talk series, and simple tutorials for something I make for myself or my home. And I’ll add in devotional thoughts about faith, and snippets of my family life. It’ll all be in there. It’ll be personal and it’ll be real. So if you’re here for my voice—yay! let’s stay friends. I’ll look forward to our standing Monday dates.
Thanks for stopping by. And if you’re reading this in a reader, hop on over to the actual site because it’s had a bit of a makeover.