Category Archives: now

A review of Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Staffford

Creating and Opening Opportunities {Book Review – Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford}

Every time I’ve read a blog post from Hands Free Mama, tears have pooled in my eyes. Seriously. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t begun to cry.

As soon as I saw I had the chance to review Rachel Macy Stafford’s new book, Hands Free Mama (Zondervan, 2014), I knew I wouldn’t pass up that opportunity.A review of Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Staffford

Rachel is a storyteller. Her writing pulls you in to every story she tells and helps you look for the same situation in your life and look for the same lessons and opportunities she is.

That’s the other part of her writing: you don’t feel excluded at all. Rachel needs renewal in her hands-free journey just like the rest of us do.

Hands free sounds like what it is – a journey to keep our hands available to help, hold, love, and be present in the gift of now. And our eyes open to all these grace-given opportunities.

Rachel writes specifically to mothers, but I think any parent should read this. And even any spouse or anyone who has someone they love so drastically and don’t want to miss precious time together. Though Rachel’s stories center on parenting, anyone can learn from living with open eyes and intentional focus on creating love and channeling our energies to what’s really valuable (not “things”).

The back copy explains the essence of the book (as it should):

“[Hands free] doesn’t mean giving up all technology forever. It doesn’t mean forgoing our jobs and responsibilities. What it does mean is…living a present, authentic, and intentional life despite a world full of distractions.”

This book is not unrealistic, but instead focuses on putting distractions and the urgent (but not important) in their proper place rather than letting them control us. This book also expands on what’s on her blog. She talked more about personal forgiveness to be able to see now more than I thought she would – and I needed that.

“Letting go of past mistakes is an integral part of the Hands Free journey because it allows the gifts of the present day to become more apparent.” – p. 172

Some of what I learned in this book:

  • “Someday” is a dangerous word, especially when talking about what matters.
  • I’ve been very intentional about being present for my children, and that focus continues to increase. Partially because of my son’s many special needs, my children are a constant reminder that they are gifts and any time we have together is a blessing. But I can always grow, and I always need renewal. I’m thankful they serve as such strong, beautiful, amazing reminders.
  • It’s easy to not be as intentional about time with my husband, especially when we’re exhausted at the end of the day. But I loved him first, and I’ll love him after the kids are grown. Intentional time with him matters, too. (I knew this, but I needed the reminder.)
  • Sometimes I get stuck on my own lack of personal progress. But, as Rachel reminds, small everyday choices impact your path to a hands free life and increase progress.

Rachel shares her setbacks and her successes in beautiful, heart-connecting ways.

“The truth hurts, but the truth heals – and brings me closer to the person I aspire to be.” – p. 38

A main message: Rachel recommends accepting time as a gift and treating it as such with loving purpose rather than fighting it or lamenting it. I highly recommend this read.

“Time does not wait. Therefore, I chose to stop wasting time.” – p. 143

How do you keep your mind on time with your kids as a blessing?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. I was not compensated in any other way.

"A more intentional life purposely slows down enough to enjoy the very process of living more intentionally." - Tsh Oxenreider, Notes from a Blue Bike

On How I Have Time {And You Do, Too}

I’m making a new, concerted effort to stop saying the phrase, “I didn’t have time.”

Because the truth is: I have as much time as we all do within a complete day. 24 hours. That’s how much time you have. That’s how much time I have.

So, I can’t say that I don’t have time when I have what you do today, too.

The honest statement to use in a majority of cases is, “I did not make time for that today.”

I choose (decided with my husband) to fill my days with my children, being available for my son’s multiple therapies, going to the library, planning meals for the week, reading out loud to the kids, doing preschool at home, and more.

If I didn’t load the dishwasher one day, it’s because I chose to do something else with my time that day.

If I work on a special writing project instead of watching television one evening, it’s because I chose to write with my time that day.

If I listened to my children when they talk to me, and I said “yes” to a request for reading a book for the fifth time in a row or to pull out craft supplies (hooray!), it’s because I chose to focus my time on them instead of my to-do list (or other distraction) that day.

Note: I do believe “I didn’t have time” can be a valid statement in some circumstances. If you had planned to return that work call one afternoon but couldn’t because you had to rush your child to an emergency doctor visit, you obviously didn’t have time even if all intentions were to accomplish that work call. The thoughts I’m expressing here are more for how we choose to use our time intentionally, which, for most of us, will comprise the majority of our minutes.

"A more intentional life purposely slows down enough to enjoy the very process of living more intentionally." - Tsh Oxenreider, Notes from a Blue Bike

I’ve been thinking about this idea this week for two main reasons: I’m in a season of “survival” – swamped, juggling many obligations, and still not where we want/need to be in a couple of areas in our family life (financial and sleep, primarily). And, I just finished reading Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, Notes from a Blue Bike.

Part-memoir and part an offering of ideas, Tsh tells many of her family’s stories in Notes from a Blue Bike. If you’ve visited her widely-read blog, The Art of Simple (formerly Simple Mom), you know her family lived internationally for years, still keeps travel a priority, and focuses on living intentionally and simply. This book expresses much of what she’s learned in the past nearly 15 years of an adulthood pursuing meaningful use of the time we’re gifted.Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider {a review at}

I’ve loved Tsh’s writing for a long time. It’s powerful and relatable, but also simple and uncluttered. The way Tsh writes this book, we journey with her in both moments of her travels and in her thought processes. We arrive at revelations and new perspectives along with her. The book is divided into main areas her family focuses on for intentional living: food, travel, education, work, and entertainment. She relates stories, asks questions, and discusses her family’s conclusions (as well as ideas from other families, too) in each section.

This book, through a variety of topics, discusses possible answers to the questions, “Do the choices I make line up with how I really want to live?” (p. xxii) and “Can we live effectively in the US without productivity as our primary goal?” (p. 23, and also, whoa) and what intentional living really looks like when you act on it.

“…each of us is uniquely gifted to go out into the world and do things that matter.” – p. 88, Notes from a Blue Bike

I can barely pick a “favorite” section in this book because all the sections either reaffirmed decision I (and my husband) have already made for our family or helped me think about how to be more intentional – without feeling stressed and hurried. This book provides additional motivation to take each moment and each action of the gift we’ve been given (time) and use it to the best of my ability. That’s what I want to remember and hold on to.

“Making your days, choices, and relationships count toward something ultimately doesn’t matter if you don’t know what that something is.” – p. 197, Notes from a Blue Bike

The book doesn’t have to-do lists to check off or a 7-step process to follow (which practical me loves), but I’m still thinking days later about many of the thoughts Tsh shares, what I believe, and how it all impacts our family’s life. That’s the sign of a 5-star book for me.

“A more intentional life purposely slows down enough to enjoy the very process of living more intentionally.” – p. 206, Notes from a Blue Bike

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the book, watch the video trailer, or purchase a copy.

How do you remain focused on living your moments intentionally?

Notes from a Blue Bike blog tour

Disclosure: I was a part of the launch team for this book and received a free electronic copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. I was not compensated in any other way.

One Thousand Gifts {a review}

Counting Gifts {and a review of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp}

I keep favorite quotes from most of the books I read on index cards and store them by author name. (Yes, I’m one of those who can’t write in her books. There are only a couple of books I’ve ever written in.) For most books, I fill up one or two index cards.

By page 90 of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I had already filled up three cards.

I also put off reading this book. I’m not fully sure why, though I’ve always known it would alter my perspective. I heard Ann give the keynote at She Speaks a few years ago and cried several times during it. I’ve read her blog for a couple of years now. I knew her perspective would wreck my habit.

So it’s taken me a while to read One Thousand Gifts. One Thousand Gifts {a review}

But, now I have.

And I’m glad.

If you’ve read Ann’s blog, you know her writing style is unique. Flowing, image-filled, emotion-rich, thought-provoking, and sometimes breaking what we’re typically taught of “proper” grammar rules. Ann’s voice is consistent, and she writes in a way that nearly every post has at least one or two quotable lines that punch you a bit to wake up your thinking. (Or maybe Ann would prefer I say something calmer, like tap your shoulder and invite you to step in a different direction from your stuck rut of thinking. That works, too.)

Ann describes pieces of her own life journey, filled with tragedy, with beauty, with blessings, with challenges. She describes it to help us all relate and build a head-nodding community of understanding amongst reader and writer (and other readers). She describes it so we know the power of the change of gratitude and eucharisteo.

The way she arrives at profound insights through her daily life, thinking, and learning can be beautiful, logical, and surprising all at the same time. (She describes communion as “celebrating greater gain through great loss” [p. 37], which is one of the best descriptions of communion I’ve read.)

“Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our ‘yes!’ to this grace.” – p. 39, One Thousand Gifts

She discusses pain, lacking joy, the hard struggle of learning to give thanks, the beauty of the challenge, seeing God in all moments, and of needing to trust. I get all of this. And so does she. That’s what helps solidify her ability to inspire. She repeats her conclusions some, but that’s because we all need to hear it again and again and again.

“Giving thanks for one thousand things is ultimately an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention.” – p. 69, One Thousand Gifts

The book is a very suitable wrap-up to my year of now and introduction to my year of create.

“When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn’t all become gift?” – p. 94, One Thousand Gifts

She says the hard things along with the beautiful ones, all from Biblical foundation:

“If authentic, saving belief is the act of trusting, then to choose stress is an act of disbelief…atheism.” – p. 148, One Thousand Gifts (and ouch)

“In the midst of what seems a mess, in the tripping up and stumbling of all hopes, Jesus gives thanks…” – p. 37, One Thousand Gifts

I paused on page 44, after reading, “If we thirst, we’ll have to drink. I would have to do something.” I immediately found a small notebook and began my list.

Counting Gifts {and a review of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp}

I won’t share every thing on my list of one thousand (and hopefully more) gifts, but here are the first few I wrote down:

  1. Two giggling children
  2. Baby girl reading a book to her Baby, her brother, and me for “storytime,” saying “c-o-r-n spells corn.”
  3. Big Boy dancing
  4. A husband who works so hard even when he doesn’t feel well
  5. Random hugs from Baby Girl with a sweet, “I love you, Momma!”
  6. Baby Girl hugging her Baby and saying, “It’s alright, Baby.”
  7. Big Boy counting down, “3-2-1-go!”
  8. That Baby Girl’s hair is long enough to tuck behind her ear (and that I get to do that all day)

And counting…

By the way, I filled up 7 index cards of quotes from this book.

“If God doesn’t withhold from us His very own Son, will God withhold anything we need?” – p. 154, One Thousand Gifts

Do you read Ann Voskamp’s blog? How does gratitude affect your day? What’s your favorite verse on gratitude?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Shelton Interactive in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. I was not compensated in any other way.

A Year of Changes, Growth, and Now {the year in review} - includes links for family, homeschool, faith, and special needs

A Year of Changes, Now, and a Review

A Year of Changes, Growth, and Now {the year in review} - includes links for family, homeschool, faith, and special needs

This year brought some big changes to this blog, and I’ve been thankful to make this journey with those of you reading! These changes were brought about by my focus on now and on reminding myself that God is over all of my life, be it my writing, my Bible study, our home life, my kids’ development… ALL of it. In this reminding, I’ve found myself so much more intentional. And I’m loving the effects (though still with stumbles!) of that presence. A little review of 2013 here on this blog:

Reader Favorites in Homeschool posts:

Some of my favorite homeschool posts:

  • Honestly, the ones in the list above were some of my very favorites to write!
  • I also love anything we do that is book-based. My kids and I have very much enjoyed all our sensory bins, too.

Reader Favorites in Faith posts (and, really, my favorites, too):

This was just over Christmas break, but I recently wrote at Do Not Depart about what I was learning from the shepherds in our advent reading this year. The post is Repeat the Joy.

Favorite Books I Read This Year:

Check my GoodReads page for more books I read this year.

What’s coming up in 2014:

  • More free printables! (Including printables with color blocks, light table printables, and more)
  • Posts and discussion on focusing on God and trusting His love and presence
  • Themed units (watch for a preschool winter unit in the coming weeks!) and book-based units
  • Candid, real reflections on faith and family with invitations for you to join in the conversation
  • More book reviews (with some amazing books already planned)

More resources from around the web on family, faith, fitness, special needs, and more through my free quarterly newsletter, The Family Notepad. Sign up here!

The Family Notepad - a free quarterly newsletter filled with resources for family, homeschool, and faith!

Happy New Year! What would you like to see more of on this blog? What’s most helpful to you and your family? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Focusing on Now even during the holidays {}

Focusing on Now Even During the Holidays

It’s been a busy few days (weeks? months?).

My to-do list already grew by the day. During the holidays, it seems the list grows by the minute.

I got the baby girl to sleep tonight, and she woke up thirty minutes later. (And all the mommas of young’uns say, “Yep. I hear you.”) After getting her back to sleep, I needed to relieve my husband from getting the fella to sleep and let him go finish watching a basketball game.

My mind was flying through all the things I need to do tonight. (Did I mention my to-do list is long?)

All I really want to tonight is turn the screens off, media quiet, and curl up with a book and my husband.

But, that Practical Voice (who takes charge most of the time) reminded me again that this evening time should be—at least partially—for work. Baking for a family event, homemade gift making, some virtual assisting work, writing projects.

So I almost went downstairs, with my to-do list blaring, my mind rushed.

But, instead, I walked into my son’s room. And I didn’t regret it.

My sweet boy sat in his bed, reading his Bible, as he usually does. My husband beside him on the floor, nearly dozing while he read. I flipped off the light. My boy closed his Bible and flattened himself on his stomach, like almost every night.

I ran my fingers through his hair once, maybe twice, and moved to rubbing his back, as we do almost every night. My sweet, emotion-driven boy immediately signed “Daddy home?” with an urgency reach for my husband’s hand to make sure his daddy was still in the room. He found what he was looking for and tossed my husband’s hand on his back. Then he whisper-talked and signed, “Momma. Momma. Good night.” I whispered back, “Good night. I love you, buddy.”

And with the warmth of his daddy’s hand and mine on his back, he fell asleep within ten minutes.

Who would regret taking ten minutes for that?

Focusing on Now even during the holidays {}

Learning to Live in the Now

It’s moments like that one that I’ve sought out, prayed for open eyes to notice, and grabbed as soon as I realized them for what they were. I’m thankful nights like tonight have gone like this one more often than not this year.

This year has been my year of “now.” A year to focus on now, the gifts included in now, and not worry about the past and future.

I’ve learned in some situations. I haven’t learned in others.

Slow progress, but it’s progress.

I still clinch too tightly to my “should’s” that I’ve had to practice (and practice and practice again) to open my hands to let go of what’s distracting to even be able to grab on the gift present in now.

The holidays seem harder to do this. More pressures, stress, and seemingly less time. (How opposite of how our family wishes the holiday season was.)

But, I can. You can. We can see the now, even during the holidays.

Five Posts to Help You Focus on Now This Christmas

Ever since I chose “now” to be my word for this year, it’s been so easy to see a theme of that intentional living in so many things I read.

I’m (finally) reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp right now, and I will be reading Say Goodbye to Survival Mode by Crystal Paine and Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford. (Stay tuned for reviews in the coming weeks!) All these books teach us to open our eyes and hands to a now.

As do many posts around the web. Check out these five for inspiring reminders to see the beauty of “now,” even during the busyness of the forced aspects of this season:

How about you? How do you focus on the gifts of “now” during the holiday season?