Sunday, March 29, 2015

Some Thoughts for Easter Week: #BecauseHeLives

Sophia reminded us to do a Sunday photo today, even though I've missed the last several weeks.
Sometimes I read through my old blog posts and am absolutely amazed at the person I was a few years ago, or even a couple months ago. Yesterday, I was working on some blog things and I managed to read a few posts that made me realize just how much this whole Lyme disease thing is really affecting me.

I used to try to keep my house clean, even with my busy schedule of work and kids. And I usually succeeded, too!

I used to read the book club book every month, plus several more.

I used to go grocery shopping.

I used to keep up with the paperwork in my office. At least mostly.

I used to have the energy to deal with my spitfire Sophia.

I started to notice my energy and ability to do a lot of things going downhill sometime last summer. While I am not sure exactly when I contracted Lyme, the blood test does tell me that it was sometime in the past 18 months. At first I assumed my thyroid was off again and pursued that avenue to no avail. It took until the end of January for me to know definitively that Lyme was probably the cause of the issues (not just lack of energy) I was dealing with and I started treatment about three weeks ago.

It is kicking my butt.

Keeping my house clean is almost impossible. Now I feel like I accomplished something absolutely amazing if I am able to clean ANYTHING.

I can barely manage to read my book club book for the month, and if I'm being honest, I haven't even finished the last two books until after the meeting.

The Maestro has taken over the grocery shopping completely for the last several months. I had to do it last week because he was out of town and it nearly killed me.

The paperwork has officially taken over my office. I'm serious. Don't go in there.

I have had to resort to Skyping my mom to deal with Sophia when I just can't do it anymore and The Maestro isn't home.

I feel like I am allotted only a certain amount of energy each day (energy is the best word I can come up with, though it isn't quite the right one for what I feel).  On the three days each week that I go into work, I use up the daily allotment AND end up borrowing against other days. On the days I don't work, I am thrilled if I have enough energy to pay a couple bills, fold a bit of laundry, or gather tax information. I know now that a large part of my difficulty recovering from the shoulder surgery had more to do with Lyme disease than it did the surgery itself.

I find it interesting that some of the greatest trials I have had in my life have been health issues (the other times being the hyperemesis I suffered during all three of my pregnancies). These times have forced me to slow down and take better care of me and, ultimately, to work on my relationship with my Heavenly Father and my Savior in a way that I can't when I am going, going, going and doing, doing, doing.

For that, I am thankful. And this Easter week, I am even more thankful than usual. Easter is the time when we think of the greatest sacrifice that Christ made for us. His Atonement, His death on the cross, His resurrection. I find great comfort in the fact that He did not only die for my sins, He took all of my trials--my sorrows, my sickness, my sufferings of body, mind, and spirit. This does not mean that I will suddenly feel amazing, but it does mean that He is with me, that He knows exactly how I feel, that He is not judging my inability to function, and that He will comfort and strengthen me as I go through this current trial, and the trials that are sure to come later as a part of this earthly existence.

If you look in my sidebar, you will see an Easter ad run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It will lead you to a beautiful website full of information about what happened on each day of Easter week. What a wonderful way to celebrate this important holy week with our families. Check it out, and think about how Christ is helping you this Easter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dealing With Chronic Illness: How to Feel Better When You Aren't Better

Sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it. Here are some tips that really work to help you forget how  sick you are for a while and feel a little bit better.

A few weeks ago, when I walked into the bathroom at work, I was greeted by sticky notes all over the mirror. They bore messages like "Good Morning Gorgeous! Go Get 'Em!" and "You Are Good Enough. Accept Yourself." and "Smile!" and "Hello, Lovely!" and many more.

Even though I know that whoever put up those notes wasn't thinking of me, and probably doesn't even know me, I felt it was a personal message to me that I desperately needed to hear.

I haven't felt very good lately. A major surgery will definitely do that to a girl. I'm exhausted. I can barely drag myself out of bed in the morning, and since getting ready one-armed is so difficult, I go to work feeling a little self-conscious and just not quite put together. Then there is the added fun of being newly diagnosed with Lyme disease and just beginning treatment, which makes me feel even worse. And I know I have a long road ahead of me with both my shoulder rehab and the Lyme treatment. I'm not going to feel good for a long time.

When I look at that picture I took of the sticky notes, I see a girl whose hair isn't just how she likes it because her husband has to do it for her right now. I see a girl wearing an ugly sling who can't use her arm. I see a girl who has to do her make-up left handed, so she isn't wearing as much as she usually does and is feeling a little self-conscious about her unibrow, because plucking is out of the question right now. I see a girl who is wearing glasses when she'd prefer to wear her contacts, but it's too hard to put them in one-handed. I see a girl who could stand to lose a few pounds--those hips! Ugh.

But if I back up and look just a little more objectively, I see a girl whose hair looks just fine. Her husband did a pretty great job on that pony tail! I see a girl who has nice skin, even if her eyeliner isn't perfect. I see a girl who is wearing some cool funky glasses that she really likes, and bonus! They hide the fact that she hasn't plucked that dang unibrow. I also see a girl who is wearing a color that looks fabulous on her and who chose clothing that fits her well. I see a girl who is wearing a houndstooth scarf because she LOVES houndstooth more than anything.

We are our own worst critics, aren't we?

So I've been thinking of ways I can shift my focus and feel more confident when I don't feel great. Or, you know, when I don't look great. It's all the same thing, right?

1. Wear Things You Love

I used to think I needed to dress to fit in better with others. But in the past few years, I have given myself permission to wear the things I really love, even if it's not trendy or if it's not something my friends would wear. One thing I love is houndstooth. So I wear it a lot, and I feel great in it.

Don't just wear stuff you love, BUY stuff you love. Stop buying clothes just because they're on sale, or because the clerk said you look nice in them. If you don't love it, don't buy it. This has the nice side effect of saving you money as well as ensuring that your wardrobe makes you happy. (If you feel like you need help with this, I have found Dressing Your Truth to be an incredible resource for learning which clothes to wear.)

I love houndstooth, but my Sophia loves wearing cheetah and leopard print. She wears it every. single. day. It's all she ever wants to buy at the store. But it makes her really happy, so I'm totally cool with it. Maybe it's a phase she'll grow out of, or maybe she will wear animal print for the rest of her life. Who cares, as long as she feels great?

2. Get Ready For the Day

When you don't feel good, this can be difficult. On the days I don't have to work, I would definitely rather stay in my pajamas and mope around the house. And sometimes that's exactly what I do. But I sure don't feel very good doing it. Even if I don't do much, if I take the time to get showered and dressed and maybe put on a little bit of makeup, I feel better because I took the time to care about myself.

After my surgery, I had my first physical therapy appointment two days later. I felt more than awful. But my mom told me to put some lipstick on. I did, and I immediately felt just a little bit better. In fact, "Put some lipstick on" is a phrase I've heard from my mother since I was old enough to wear lipstick. She was right then, and she's still right now.

On my way to physical therapy, wearing a little bit of lipstick and even a necklace! (This was a week after the surgery...)

Of course, if lipstick isn't your thing, that's cool. Put some chapstick on, comb your hair, get dressed (in something you love!), and feel better.

3. Smile!

Audrey Hepburn said that the happiest girls are the prettiest girls, and she was exactly right. Even if you're not feeling well enough to actually feel happy, fake it till you make it by putting a smile on your face.

Me and my mom--we're the prettiest because we're the happiest.

4. Do Things That Bring You Joy

This will depend on how you're feeling, of course, but bring joy into your life. If sleep does that for you right now, by all means, take a nap! Read your favorite book, watch a movie that you love, go out to dinner with your friends, play games with your children, watch the sunset, or bake your favorite treat. Don't let how you feel keep you from doing something you enjoy each day.

About a month before my shoulder surgery, we were vacationing in Hawaii. That alone was enough to bring me lots of joy, but I really wanted to go snorkeling. I was worried about my shoulder, though, and I was in a lot of pain. I snorkeled anyway, even though I was slow because I had to do a sort of modified one-armed doggy paddle to keep from hurting myself.

It was the highlight of my trip and I am so glad I did it!

5. Forget Yourself and Think of Others

Once you have taken care of yourself, it's time to forget about how you look and focus on those around you. Nothing will give you more confidence than helping others and being there for those you love.

Even if you aren't feeling great, you can still do small things for others. Maybe just sending a quick note in the mail or being a listening ear is all you can handle, but it helps to forget your own issues. If you're feeling more energetic, you can find bigger things to do for others. The point is, to take your mind off of how you look and feel by helping others. I promise it works.

What do you do to feel better?

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

4 Ways Skype Can Improve Your Life

When I was a little girl I would watch shows like The Jetsons and marvel at the idea of being able to actually SEE the person you were talking to on the phone.

And, because I am who I am, I took it a step further and I worried about things like "What if you had a bad case of bedhead when someone called?" or worse, "What if you weren't even dressed??!?" I admit, I was completely scared of the Jetsons Picture Phone because these things worried me. (It turns out I was right to worry, because do you remember the morning mask Jane Jetson used for early morning phone calls?)

Now that the Jetsons isn't so futuristic as it once seemed, my worries have been laid to rest. Not every phone call I receive has to be a video call, I don't need to invest in a morning mask, and I (so far) have not had to wear space age collars that are twice as big as my head. Still, the little girl watching TV in 1980 is absolutely amazed that we have such a thing as Skype. And the very best part? Skype isn't scary at all! I use it all the time and it has enriched my life in several ways. Ways I never thought could be possible 35 years ago.

1. Quality time with far-away family

We live a couple thousand miles away from our parents and siblings. Sometimes it's really difficult to be so far away, but Skype makes it feel like we are not quite so removed.

For instance, the last couple of weeks we've been using Skype to talk to my parents who live in Utah and my brother and his kids who live in Washington state. Since we are a 30-hour drive away from them, it is a wonderful way to catch up and for the kids to maintain close relationships with their grandparents and cousins. And I love that we can do a conference video call so that we are all together, even in three different states!

My girls have been preparing for some music competitions, so we used Skype for them to play for extended family. My brother was so excited to see them play that he recorded the Skype session with his phone and then posted the video on social media boasting about his talented nieces. The next week, his kids played their musical instruments for us.

Seriously, when would I ever get to see my niece play her guitar and my nephew play his saxophone if it weren't for the miracle of Skype?

I have another little niece (pictured in the first photo of the post) who I have only met twice. My kids have only seen her once in person. She LOVES to call us up on Skype every time she is visiting my mom, and I love that she knows my girls and that they know her, even though they are miles apart.

It sometimes still blows my mind when I think about it. Having the video is so much better for kids--my girls have a hard time talking on the phone to family members, but give them Skype and they are all over it!

2. Quality medical care

Because I live in a more remote area, our choices for medical specialists are not always great. There are some types of specialists we don't even really have up here, and it takes a lot of travel to be seen by the right doctor sometimes.

I actually use Skype for many of my medical appointments so that I don't have to travel every time. Skype is perfect for things like learning lab results and follow ups. It obviously doesn't work if you actually need physical procedures done--though maybe that will come along in another 30 years!

3. Quality educational experiences

Every summer, my girls host book clubs with their friends. This past summer, we were able to talk to the author of the book we read in person via Skype. The girls were so excited about this and it was the absolute highlight of the book club meeting. I'm thankful to the author who was willing to do so, but without the miracle of technology it could never have happened.

They asked him some really great questions (and maybe a few silly ones), and had a wonderful time spending quality time learning with the person who wrote the book they all loved.

4. Quality music instruction

Another cool way I've used Skype is to teach music lessons. There was a while there that I had a handful of students who lived in a different state, and I'd teach them over the computer. I was reluctant to try it when I was first asked, but I found that it was a very effective way to teach voice lessons.

The Skype music lessons are something that is happening more and more in the music community. It's wonderful for music students who cannot find a private teacher in their area, and it's also helpful for teachers who are looking for more students.

There are literally hundreds of ways Skype can be used to make life better. My favorite is being able to be with my family even though I'm not really there.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

6 Book Club Picks Worth Discussing

Because I love to read, it naturally follows that I enjoy being part of a book club. I have been in different book clubs over the last ten years, and I always appreciate a book that really inspires a great discussion.

Unfortunately, amazing books do not always inspire amazing discussion at book club.

While I love being with my friends, I always leave book club a little disappointed when the book being discussed was barely talked about. Sometimes we all thought the story was wonderful, but when it comes down to it, there really isn't much to say about it. Sometimes it's because the book was just a fluffy beach read that was fun, but doesn't lend itself to much conversation. And sometimes, not enough people actually read it for there to be a good discussion, but that isn't the book's fault.

Want to find a book that will spark great discussion at your next book club? Try one of these six books, or one like them, and you're sure to have a lively discussion!

I've been in various book clubs for about ten years now, and I have found that the best book club discussions happen when a book falls into one or more of the following categories:

1. The topic is controversial
2. The ending is surprising or undesirable
3. The characters are highly flawed
4. It is a non-fiction book that is interesting and applicable to the members of the book club

Following are five books that have sparked the most memorable book club discussions in my own book clubs. Plus, a bonus sixth book that we will be reading next month and that I KNOW will bring on some passionate opinions.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls This book is full of flawed characters and controversial topics like child abuse and neglect. We read it because the author was going to come and speak at our local university, so that month we not only discussed the book together, but we went to see the author's presentation (which was fabulous). This is a hard book to read, but we had passionate discussion about it for quite a while. Bonus: It's a memoir, so it's all true. Or at least mostly true. That fact alone inspired even more discussion.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand This book is also overflowing with flawed characters and incredible circumstances. If you saw the movie and haven't yet read the book, I highly recommend that you do so because, as usual, it's better. Plus you will probably end with a higher opinion of Louis Zamperini. We had a lot to talk about regarding his experiences as a prisoner of war, but we actually discussed the events after his rescue much more deeply. Bonus: Another true story.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger  You guessed it, more very flawed characters mixed with a little bit of religion, a lot of miracles, and never knowing quite what is true (even though it's fiction, so none of it is actually true). As I remember, it was a love it or hate it sort of book in our discussion (I loved it), but we certainly had lots to talk about because of that. Bonus: An unbelievably precocious 9-year-old who writes incredible poetry that you can't help but love.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua  When this first came out, it sparked quite a bit of media controversy because of an article the author had written in a major newspaper. If you want to have a lively discussion in a book club that is probably made up of a bunch of mothers, this is a great choice. It will be interesting to see where the various members of your book club stand on the parenting issues brought forward in this book. Bonus: Another memoir by a brutally honest author who is willing to put it all out there and whose delivery might be offensive to many.

(I reviewed this book back when it first came out. You can read that review here: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Review)

Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax  When this was originally chosen by my book club I was not very excited about it. I only have daughters, and I didn't think it would be very applicable to me, which breaks the rule about non-fiction books being applicable to all book club members. However, I read it anyway, because I am nothing if not a dutiful book club reader. And I learned a lot and had a lot to say when our discussion rolled around. And I wasn't the only one--everyone seemed to have a lot to say about this one. Bonus: If you really don't want to read a book about raising boys, the author has also written one about raising girls: Girls on the Edge by Leonard Sax

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn  This is the one we are reading for April. I finished it over Christmas break and I just have so much to say about it that I can't imagine others won't feel the same way. Flawed characters? Check. Surprising and undesirable ending? Check.  Controversial topics? Oh yes. There will be quite a bit to talk about, so I hope everyone actually reads this one. Warning: This book has quite a lot of strong language. If you or your book club is averse to that, I would pick something else.

What books have sparked the best discussions at your book clubs?

PS I made the cupcakes at the top of this post for one of my book club's annual book picking parties. I highlighted all of the books we had read up to that point.

Monday, March 16, 2015

10 Favorite Picture Books

March is National Reading Month, so I'm going to share several books highlighting my favorite books for the whole family. Today I'm going to tell you about some of my very favorite picture books—the ones you may not have heard of before.

Ten delightful picture books you and your children will love to read together!

Even though my youngest daughter is 8 years old now and a fabulous reader, we still love to read fun picture books together occasionally. And I even still buy them when I find one I just can't pass up! Of course, when the girls were really young, I read them picture books all the time. They loved listening to the fun stories and looking at the beautifully illustrated pictures and I loved cuddling with them and teaching them how awesome books are.

Before I tell you about our favorite picture books, I want to tell you about Bookroo. Bookroo is a kids' subscription box filled with picture books! If reading is important to you and your kids and you want to find gems that you've likely never seen before, you'll love this service.

To learn more, click here: Bookroo Subscription Box

To see my daughter Sophia opening a Bookroo box, click here: Bookroo Unboxing

Here are the ten picture books that are read most often at our house (affiliate links):

I Love You Stinky Face is a beloved children's book that your kids will want you to read again and again.

I Love You, Stinky Face is probably the very favorite picture book of all time at our house. It's a wonderful conversation of "what ifs" between a mother and her very imaginative son. I got a hardback copy of it when Bria (now 14) was just a few months old. She loved to have that book read to her over and over, and her younger sisters followed suit. In fact, I finally had to get rid of that copy when I did my big book declutter last October. It was completely falling apart, and pages were missing.

Luckily, I had bought a copy in paperback, along with its sequels I Miss You, Stinky Face and It's Time for School, Stinky Face, so we still have a copy. Now you can't get it in hardcover unless you find it from a third party seller. But that doesn't matter. I'm just happy it's still on my shelves!

Interrupting Chicken is a fun story about a little chicken who won't stop interrupting her bedtime stories.

Interrupting Chicken is another parent child conversation that is so much fun to read. Dad is reading familiar bedtime stories to his daughter, who cannot bear for the characters to meet the misfortunes she knows are coming. So she interrupts the story every time to save the day, much to the exasperation of her father. It has a delightful ending in which the tables are somewhat turned on her as she reads a bedtime story to Dad.

Interrupting Chicken is a fun children's story about a little chicken who won't stop interrupting her bedtime stories. Kids will enjoy it!

The Empty Pot is a wonderful tale of honesty and courage. Beautifully illustrated, kids will love to find out the moral of the story as they read it.

The Empty Pot is a Chinese folk tale that teaches the importance of honesty with a wonderful story of an emperor who is searching for a new heir. He gives each child in the land a seed to plant, and whichever child can grow the most magnificent plant will be given the throne. The title of the book may give away the ending to you, but it is not so obvious to young children. My girls have all been greatly affected by the courage it required to tell the truth, but also the great rewards of honesty.

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher is a little bit wild, and her teacher doesn't like it. Kids will love finding out how teacher and Zoe's hair can strike a compromise. Fun illustrations!

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School is the story of Zoe and her wild and crazy hair. When Zoe starts first grade, her teacher doesn't want Zoe's hair in the classroom because it simply causes too many problems. Ultimately, the story is about teachers (or parents!) and children learning to work together. This book has been a favorite of my Sophia, because she is a little bit like Zoe's hair. The book has helped her to see that she can use her strong will to be helpful instead of wreaking havoc. The illustrations are super fun, and depict Zoe's hair doing all sorts of crazy things--if you don't look closely, you'll miss it all!

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher is a little bit wild, and her teacher doesn't like it. Kids will love finding out how teacher and Zoe's hair can strike a compromise. Fun illustrations!

If your child loves coloring, they will love this book. The Day the Crayons Quit is a fun story about overworked crayons and creativity.

The Day the Crayons Quit is a book that will speak to your art-loving child's soul. That is my Chloe. This book just came out last year, but she found it in the library and fell in love with it at age 11. So I bought a copy for us. It's a fun book about crayons who write letters to their owner, a little boy who loves to color. They are tired, they need a break, they are sick of always being the color of the same things again and again, and so on and so forth. Duncan, their owner, has a wonderful idea to make all of the crayons happy once he finishes reading their letters. The illustrations are creative and, of course, colorful.

There are Cats in This Book and There are No Cats in This Book are fun picture books for younger readers. They are very interactive and children will have a lot of fun reading them.

There Are Cats in This Book and its companion There Are No Cats in This Book are particularly great for kids who are old enough to participate in the story. They are highly interactive, with flaps and pop-ups and fold outs. And best of all--lots of cats to play with. Or, maybe no cats. You'll just have to find out for yourself.

There are Cats in This Book and There are No Cats in This Book are fun picture books for younger readers. They are very interactive and children will have a lot of fun reading them.

The Book With No Pictures may not have any actual pictures, but it is so much fun to read aloud! Your kids will love listening to the funny things you have to say while reading!

The Book With No Pictures is exactly that. Are you wondering why I would put a book with no pictures on our list of favorite picture books? Because picture books are meant to be read aloud, and this one might be more fun to read out loud than any other picture book you've ever read. Or non-picture book, as it were. This is another newly released book that I just couldn't resist buying for my bookshelves. All of my kids thought it was hilarious and wanted to take turns reading it out loud to each other on the day I brought it home. Everyone will love it, I promise.

The Book With No Pictures may not have any actual pictures, but it is so much fun to read aloud! Your kids will love listening to the funny things you have to say while reading!

What are your favorite picture books?

10 Picture Books you and your children will love reading together.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body

Difficulties make us stronger in a very real way.

The other night, Sophia was cleaning some stubborn jam off of the very old, very wooden kitchen door. She was using her fingernails to scrape the jelly when a piece of the wood from the door splintered off and lodged itself underneath her fingernail. It was so big that it pretty much covered most of her fingernail and I didn't readily notice it. I gave her a bandaid for the bit of bleeding and she went to bed without much complaint.

But in the morning, it was throbbing and really bothering her. I looked more closely and I saw the gigantic wood sliver there and cringed. I made a half-hearted attempt to get it out with the tweezers, but I could see that the situation was way beyond my paygrade, so we headed to the doctor's office to see what they could do.

The splinter was large enough that the doctor thought he could easily grab it with his special forceps tweezers (which, he informed me, happen to be the most oft stolen item from emergency rooms). After a few minutes of that exercise, coupled by screams and sobs from poor Sophia, it was clear that the tactic wasn't working.

So he brought out a needle instead. This was even worse. My child was squeezing my hand with bone-breaking strength, trying to be brave, but not able to keep from crying. Meanwhile the doctor had only managed to extract small little pieces of the wood under her fingernail. Finally, Sophia couldn't take it anymore and wouldn't let him near her with any sort of pointy object.

With the risk of infection, it was obvious the dang thing had to come out, so the doctor decided he would numb her finger up--another slightly painful process involving pointy objects. Sophia finally consented and we had another screaming episode while he was poking her with the syringe, but eventually he left the room to allow time for her finger to go to sleep and for Sophia to calm herself down.

Which she did. Thankfully.

And when it came time to finally get the whole splinter out, it still hurt, but not nearly as much as it did without the numbness. And it hurt a little bit for the rest of the day, but she's totally fine now and the splinter won't bother her anymore.

I've been thinking about that experience a little bit--she was in so much pain that I was crying with her. It hurts to watch your child have to go through all of that, even though she knew the sliver needed to come out and she was working really hard to be brave through all of that pain. But I also knew that I really couldn't stop the pain for her or take it away. I had to let her go through it so that she would not have to go through a worse pain down the road.

Isn't that what our Father in Heaven must feel? He must be crying with us as he watches us go through our various trials, but He knows they are necessary for our spiritual growth, and in some cases, even our physical strength.

Every time I go to physical therapy for my shoulder lately, it is pure hell. It's like going through labor as my PT puts my arm into all sorts of contortions that I should be able to do, but can't. The pain is excruciating. It's awful. Today it was so bad that when I got home I cried for a half an hour. And I did all three of my labors unmedicated! I have a high pain tolerance and when I cry for pain I know it must be really bad. And it is really bad.

But it is also really necessary. I could just as easily not go through the pain and torture of physical therapy (my friend told me that is what PT really stands for--pain and torture). But if I don't do it, I will most likely lose the ability to use my shoulder to its full extent. And then why did I bother going through surgery? My physical therapist is a nice guy and I'm sure he doesn't love seeing people in pain, but he also knows that he is helping them. So when he pulls my arm up above my head and I feel like it is going to split in half and spontaneously combust, I know it is for my best good.

The Maestro recently sent me a text that said "Pain is weakness leaving the body." Apparently this is a Marine "propaganda" (according to the interwebs), but I think it is true. Every time I stretch my arm to the pain, I am getting a little bit stronger. Slowly, but surely, the pain point is a little bit further every time. I know this because I can do my own hair now, and that was completely out of the question last week.

The weakness that leaves my body isn't quite as obvious as the sliver that left Sophia's fingernail, but it IS leaving. I am getting stronger. And stronger is good.

To the pain!

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Writing and Organizing Thank You Cards

How to write thank you notes that are sincere, personalized, and timely. Plus a couple tips for organizing the thank you cards you need to send.

I absolutely love to receive "real" mail. There's nothing better than going to my mailbox to find something more interesting than a bunch of bills, advertisements, and credit card sign up forms. I especially love to receive thank you notes. I have a couple friends in particular, who are really good at sending them, even for the smallest of reasons. I love reading their heartfelt notes of gratitude. Not only does it make opening the mail more fun, it makes my whole day a little better.

On writing thoughtful thank you cards.

February was a tough month here in the Overstuffed household. I am so thankful for all of the help a multitude of people gave us as The Maestro and I were pretty much non-functional. Dinners, cleaning help, gift baskets, snow shoveling, rides, and more were given to us in the last few weeks by amazing friends who were (are!) more than willing to help us.

Now that we're mostly back on our feet, it's time to start sending out lots and lots of thank you cards! The hardest part of sending thank you cards (for me) is remembering who I need to send them to, and why. Ideally, I would sit down and write the note the very day I received the service or gift, but we all know how difficult that is under normal circumstances. When you are barely functioning, it is basically impossible.

My planner has a section for thank you card reminders, which I love. I've been trying to keep it updated, though I know I have forgotten a few things.

The Mom on the Go planner has a great section for keeping track of thank you cards that need to be written and sent.

I've written about my planner quite a lot (here, here, here, and here), and you can purchase one here: Mom on the Go Planner. It has so much functionality--like the thank you card page, which I was pretty much able to totally fill up in February!

Now that I can write a little more legibly and don't have to have my sling on 24/7, I pulled out my stash of thank you cards. I always try to buy a few packages when I see cute ones I like. I mean, I'm addicted to cute office supplies and paper products, anyway, so these are totally in that category. Plus I do use them quite often and it's nice to have a diverse selection.

Some favorites on Amazon (affiliate links), though all the cards pictured were bought at boutiques or at Walmart, which has a surprisingly cute assortment:

Modern Thank You Cards
Krafty Thank You Cards
Chevron Animal Thank You Cards
Circus Animal Thank You Cards
Kate Sutton Thank You Cards
Pink & Gold Confetti Thank You Cards

How to write a thoughtful and personalized thank you note

I also like to have kid-friendly thank you cards on hand so that my children will be more inspired to send them when they receive gifts from someone. They are kind of growing out of the really cute and child-friendly themes, though, and tend to use my other notes more often.

Keep lots of thank you cards on hand so you and your kids can write them in a timely manner

I sat down the other day to knock out a few notes in the time that I had. I started with people who brought dinner whose dishes I still had in my possession! This way, I could return their dishes along with a note of appreciation. The rest I will mail, even though some of them are for people who live right in neighborhood! Because, who doesn't like getting a little bit of fun mail?

Some easy ideas for organizing and writing the thank you notes you need to send.

Sometimes, when you have a lot of thank you notes to write, it's hard to sound totally sincere. Remember writing all those notes for your wedding gifts? I thought I sounded like a broken record, and so boring.

The proper formula for writing thank you cards is:

1. Express gratitude 
2. Thank them for the specific gift or service 
3. Explain why you appreciated the service or how you are using the gift
4. End with a personal note

But even using this formula sometimes gets dry and boring.

Using a book designed to help you find the best words in your thank you notes is so helpful and helps keep your thank you cards personal, thoughtful, and delightful.

I always like to pull out this book Write the Right Words by Sandra E. Lamb to help me out with, well, finding the right words! Especially when there is a lot of writing to do, this helps me to make each card more personal. She has great ideas for writing cards for all occasions--not just gratitude cards--and I find them to be incredibly helpful and easy to personalize. This way I truly feel that I am sending the most thoughtful message to my wonderful friends who have done so much for me and are so very thoughtful themselves!

Edited: The book by Sandra Lamb seems to be out of print in the last few months, and unless you want to spend $300 on a used copy, you can't get it on Amazon. However, I have found a couple other books that look to be just as good and are much less expensive!

Finding the Right Words to Say: Perfect Phrases to Personalize Your Greeting Cards

Just a Note to Say: The Perfect Words for Every Occasion

Now, I better get myself over to my desk and write a few more!

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

March 2015 Visiting Teaching Printable

The visiting teaching message for March is The Attributes of Jesus Christ: Long-suffering and Patient.

Apropos of my current trials, it was a message that was timely for me. I really loved President Uchtdorf's entire quote on patience, but just the one snippet really made me stop and think.

"Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!"

Printable download for March 2015 Visiting Teaching Message. Long Suffering and Patience.
Scroll down for download instructions.

Today, I pretty much lost patience with all of it. We've had a crazy weekend, my poor husband is probably going insane being the only driver in the house (only 2 more weeks and I can drive again!), and the kids are busier than ever right now. Being one-armed means Mom isn't doing much housekeeping, and what little I manage to do is quickly undone by the other people who live here. And the dog, who can't seem to keep herself from getting into the garbage.

So I sort of flipped out at everyone and cried a bit. I am so frustrated with not being able to do my own hair and make up. I always feel like I look disheveled and flustered. The piles of dishes. The girls' stuff strewn all over the house. The dog's latest foray into the kitchen garbage scattered under the dining room table. My own clothes piled on top of my dresser because it's too difficult to hang them up. I could not handle it for one more second.

But I am going to have to. Because, guess what? Even when I'm out of my sling in two weeks, my shoulder is not going to be magically working. I'll still have to be patient with myself and my inability to do what I normally do.


So, I read this message, and President Uchtdorf's words helped me so much. 

“Patience means accepting that which cannot be changed and facing it with courage, grace, and faith. It means being ‘willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.' Ultimately, patience means being ‘firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord’ every hour of every day, even when it is hard to do so.”

I've thought about it, and I accept that I cannot change how quickly my shoulder heals. I cannot change the fact that The Maestro has been quite ill himself and has a lot of work to catch up on and is doing his level best to help me with driving and cleaning. I cannot change the fact that my children are busy. I cannot change the fact that I am also dealing with Lyme disease (oh yes, stay tuned for a post about that one, which I have not been able to bear writing about yet).

Yep. There are a lot of things that I can't change, and I'm going to be working on facing it with more courage, grace, and faith.

However, there are some things I can change. I will focus on enduring well by changing what I can and leaving the rest.

Starting with a new kitchen garbage can that the dog cannot get into.