Monday, June 30, 2014

Road Trip With Kids: Activities & Staying Sane when Driving Solo

Road Trip Activities for toddlers & preschoolers and tips for staying sane when driving by yourself with kids.

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.

Road Trip Activities for toddlers & preschoolers and tips for staying sane when driving by yourself with kids.

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.

Road Trip Activities for toddlers & preschoolers and tips for staying sane when driving by yourself with kids.

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.

Road Trip Activities for toddlers & preschoolers and tips for staying sane when driving by yourself with kids.
(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.

Road Trip Activities for toddlers & preschoolers and tips for staying sane when driving by yourself with kids.

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).

Road Trip Activities for toddlers & preschoolers and tips for staying sane when driving by yourself with kids.

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.

Road Trip Activities for toddlers & preschoolers and tips for staying sane when driving by yourself with kids.

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.

Road Trip Activities for toddlers & preschoolers and tips for staying sane when driving by yourself with kids.

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

Her Children Call Her Happy

I’m questioning my sanity today as I get ready for the kids and I to drive 12 hours to meet up with my parents and grandparents to then drive another 3 hours to go meet my newest nephew. I’m hoping that as long as I have enough snacks within reach for the kids that they’ll stay happy. We had a rough evening the other day. I don’t know why, but my anxiety level was pretty high, and I didn’t do a very good job of keeping it together when Jace did the littlest things that set me off in the biggest ways. It’s a good thing Short-Tempered-Mommy didn’t show up until after Daddy came home and could take the kids outside.

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?

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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.

proverb 31 28

“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

Shop Talk: The Work of Running a Shop

shop talk The Work of Running a Shop

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.

Market Research
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.

Listing Renewals
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.

Customer Service
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

First Monday

Good morning and happy Monday! Today is going to be a little check-in style. We’ve had a busy weekend around our house. Nolan was gone at Manfest—our church’s men’s retreat. So that means the kids and I spent as many hours away from the house as possible and then I stayed up as late as possible after putting them to bed. And that means I’m tired. So as I sit here in my bed with episode after episode of The Good Wife playing through Hulu Plus (we ran out of shows on Netflix so we had to move to Hulu…), and dreaming of the cup of coffee I’ll drink in the morning, I thought I’d share some little glimpses into my life.

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
made it on monday
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.

burlap and stars red white blue bunting garland pennants

Have you seen Joann’s new vinyl backed burlap? I LOVED using it to make this three star banner/bunting.

patriotic star garland red white blue silver polka dot

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.