summer reading | blogs

I used to love reading magazines, but these days the bulk of my reading is done via blogs. They're updated regularly, so the content is always new, they're inspiring (photos, projects, motivation) and they help me connect to some really amazing people around the world. I usually catch up on my blog reading while I'm feeding Owen or having coffee in the morning. I use Bloglovin' as my blog reader, which I can access on my iPad and iPhone as well as the site on my laptop browser. It's made it easy to stay on top of the many blogs I've begun reading this summer. In addition to my old favorites, which I reference in my posts and stuff, you'll find me reading some newbies on my list this summer, listed below:

Annapolis and Company / stunning and inspiring photographs of home, family, life.
Oh So Beautiful Paper / this has become a daily read for me on all-things-paper
Ann-Marie Loves / this lovely gal is an amazing crafter and talented photographer. love.
A Fabulous Fete / stunning calligraphy, party ideas, fun diy projects
Coffee + Crumbs / a new collaborative blog about being a mom
Sequins & Stripes / the only fashion-focused blog I read
Say Yes / a beautifully photographed style and craft blog (hello, vacay photos)
Get Messy / a blog series featuring some of my fave web friends

What blogs are you reading this summer?

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right now | vacation

I can still remember how the first week of summer vacation felt as a kid. I loved it. I grew up in southern California, and the weather would be hot and dry, the pool would be nice and chilly, we'd do "build your own burgers" for dinner, and it would be light out until way late. These days, working from home with two kiddos has meant very intense days and weekends. I decided last week to take the week off completely from the blog and from social media (well, almost completely) while we were on vacation. We spent last week up in Door County, Wisconsin with a bunch of friends. We rented a house on Lake Michigan and just took it easy after the guys did a half Ironman event last Sunday. I'll have more photos and stuff to share soon, but here are just a few memories from the week.

We spent the week with some very close Navy friends, and because we're now all scattered around the country, many of them met our kids for the first time. The big kids were so sweet with Owen (the youngest by over a year) and Ben. It was crazy to see kids I've known since they were babies so much more grown up! Time flies.

A few of the "littles": Ben, Molly, Chase, Mady and Trevor (from left). This is a wild bunch.

I feel like Owen grew up like crazy in the couple of weeks since we left home: three teeth, rolling all over the place, sleeping on his belly and wanting to sit up all the time. I repeat: time flies.

Make new friends: Ben and Emmylou ditch the TV and play with some rocks. Way to go, kids. Another theme of the week: Ben, pull up your pants.

The vacation continues into this week with the four of us doing some house-hunting in Newport, Rhode Island. So far, so beautiful. The weather is perfect and there's ocean everywhere we look. I'll be blogging this week from the road. Pretty perfect. I hope you're having a wonderful summer!

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right now | get in front of the camera

Here's an idea: this weekend, instead of taking pictures, give your phone or camera to someone else and have them take a picture of you. OR flip the camera around and take a "candid" selfie (like the one pictured above). OR get on Google and search how to use your camera's timer function if you don't know. However you decide to do it, just make the effort to get in front of the camera. If you're like me, you're not super comfortable taking pictures. I'm always self-conscious about them! Well, this isn't French Vogue. It's your life! Pass off the camera and document yourself living it.

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design matters | tips for creativity, part 2

Last week, I shared the first part of this post (HERE, in case you missed it!). I'm elaborating on the tips for creativity I shared on Caylee's blog a few weeks ago. I call these "tips" but really they're more like my mantras for creativity - and really life in general. 

| 4 | Learn something new

I had this listed third on my original list, but I really wanted to write about embracing imperfection last week, so here we are - learn something new at number four on my "revised" list. I love this one because it appeals to both my strengths and weaknesses. I've always enjoyed learning, studying, school, etc. But I'm actually a lot less enthusiastic about actually trying new things. I think this gets back to the perfectionism thing. Trying new things inevitably involves failure. I'm definitely not great at every new thing I attempt. But when it comes to getting creative, I believe that learning something new and actually attempting to do it can be really satisfying.

When I learn something new, I'm forced to stretch my creative muscles. This year, I've been learning to shoot manual with my DSLR (you can read about it here). I took an online course, and I've forced myself to keep my camera in the manual setting. Ugh. It's really, really hard. I'm clunky and slow behind the camera and I never used to feel that way. It's kind of a bummer. But it's also paying off in ways I didn't expect. I'm spending so much less time editing pictures in Photoshop because I'm learning how to take photos I love from the get-go. I've also realized how much I appreciate great photography. Learning this new skill is giving me a greater understanding of my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to taking photos. Rather than just doing what I've always done, I'm working to improve a skill that's important for my work and my life. And while the process is a little painful, I can already tell it's great for my creativity.

The greatest lesson I've learned from all this is to not be afraid to fail. It just doesn't matter! Better to attempt to learn something you've always wanted to try than to never make the attempt at all. You'll never know your strengths and weaknesses without being willing to engage in some level of experimentation. Creativity is actionable - it's more than just day-dreaming. Well, one of the ways I make sure I'm taking action is by learning new things. Besides, it can also just be really fun (like this!).

| 5 | Don't use anyone else's creative work as your yardstick

Comparison kills creativity. Period. A sure-fire way to make sure you won't follow-through on a project is to compare your work to someone else's. Creativity by its nature is unique to the individual or group of individuals who work on a project. My project life albums will look very different from yours, even if we use the same core kit. One thing I love about creative projects is that they're generally multi-faceted. Project life (and memory-keeping in general) involves photo selection and editing (or not), color choices, paper options, handwriting, journaling and more. Hello! That's a lot of stuff! What that means to me is that my work will not look like anyone else's. I think we can probably agree that that's a great thing. Okay, so why do I spend any time at all thinking my "stuff" isn't good enough? Because in gathering inspiration through blogs and Pinterest, I often find myself comparing my work, my photos, my skills to people who may have more time and more experience in any given area.

I really do believe that comparison can end creative endeavors. It can stop creative projects dead in their tracks or it can prevent them from ever getting off the ground. At the end of the day, who cares if my stuff isn't as amazing as someone else's? For one thing, I can't compare my beginning to someone else's middle (thanks, Andrea, for the reminder!). Additionally, I'm the only one who has to live with my creative choices. As with most things in life, they're a work-in-progress, changing as I become more skilled and as my interests shift. My early project life spreads are soooo different from what I do now! Some of those layouts make me cringe a little, but in a good way. I can see how far I've come and they always look like me, not like someone else's pages.

For further inspiration on these tips... 
- Check out Nicole's Classes to learn something new
- Watch this video on comparison if you want a little encouragement
- Read the first part of this post

Is there anything you'd add to the list? Any advice for those of us who get stuck? I'd love to hear your comments!

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packing a carry-on for three

The last time I flew with a child was a year ago. I was 8 weeks pregnant and Ben was just turning two and I had three other adults to help. Tomorrow I'm flying from Oakland to Chicago with the two boys. Ben's nearly three years old and Owen's three months. And I'm doing it alone. Insert deer-in-headlights emoticon! I'm actually pretty excited about it. I haven't been to Chicago in years, and we're spending a night in Evanston, so I'll get to show Nick and the kids around Northwestern, my college alma mater. We're spending a week on Lake Michigan with a bunch of friends, which will be awesome. The trip out there is going to be challenging, but it'll be well worth it. 

I'm carrying a double umbrella stroller, a backpack and two kids onto the plane. I want to be prepared for sure, but I don't want to go overboard. I decided to take my triathlon backpack because it's comfortable to carry, it's roomy and it has a ton of pockets and compartments. I'm not exactly sure how this works if, say, I have to go to the bathroom. I'm sure I'll figure it out! 

As of right now, here's what's in my carry-on bag:

for me
a Clif bar (for a snack) + some sour gummy worms (for morale)
an extra clean t-shirt (in case of a spit-up or blow-out situation)
fully-charged iPhone loaded up with podcasts and music
phone charger + earbuds
favorite lip balm (eos)
antibacterial wipes for cleaning armrests, seatbelts and tray tables
laptop completely shut down inside a sleeve (I'll pack the charger)
contact lens case with solution + glasses (just in case)
large ziplock bags for dirty clothes and corralling like-items

for the toddler
favorite blanket (known as "medit" in our house)
full change of clothes including extra undies
3-4 little cars and/or trains
iPad loaded up with toddler-friendly shows
kid-friendly headphones
iPad charger
sippy cup or water bottle
snacks (applesauce pouches, goldfish and fruit snacks)
crayons and a mini-notepad or coloring book
a small packet of wipes for hands and face

for the baby
Aden and Anais blanket
Ergo baby carrier
burp cloths (he's a happy spitter)
bottle, formula + bottle of water
nursing cover (just in case - still nursing, just hoping not to on the plane)
several diapers
a package of wipes for diaper changes
two extra onesies for spit-up situations
two pacifiers with clips

Am I missing anything? Please comment and let me know! Happy weekending, and safe travels this summer!

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summer reading | books

I'm spending next week on Lake Michigan and hoping to get some reading in this week. I've been picking up my Kindle a lot more this summer, so here are some of the things I've read and am planning to read.

#Girlboss / am I the last person to read this one?
Bread and Wine / love the sample on my Kindle, hoping to love the book
Still Alice / heavy, sad, hopeful, amazing. loved it.
Divergent / will be listening to this on the plane while I'm holding Owen in my lap
The March of Folly / one of my faves from my favorite historian. may read it again.
Mom, Inc. / I'm a mom and I work from home, so I'm thinking this is relevant
The Island / really anything by Elin Hilderbrand counts as a summer read
Bird by Bird / I've always loved to write, and I've always wanted to read this one on writing
Crazy Busy / read this already, but I may read it again - it's faith-based, short and sweet
The One and Only / another beach read that sounded fun

What's on your summer reading list? I'd love your recommendations!

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how I started setting meaningful goals

About eight months ago, at the end of 2013, I stumbled upon Lara Casey's blog series on setting goals. I was super-intrigued by the concept of goal-setting and making things happen, and I was ripe for the experience (more on that later). I got my hands on a set of her Powersheets and started going through them. Before setting even one goal, she has you go through a series of exercises geared toward helping you define what's most important. At first glance, I thought some of these worksheets were silly, but I filled out all of them because, really, what did I have to lose? 

I learned that the things I wanted (a great marriage, a successful business, an orderly home, less stress, more joy) all stemmed from core values I had that I hadn't really articulated. The things I wanted were goals. The reasons I wanted them were my values. After some soul-searching, some chats with my sister and Nick, some writing, and some time alone (not always easy), I have a much more clear idea of what's important to me and why it's important. 

What does this have to do with goal-setting? Well, for me, it's where setting meaningful goals started. Once I defined my core values (things like faith, relationships, peace, health, productivity, creativity, simplicity), I could begin setting goals that I was actually motivated to accomplish. 

For example:

As I mentioned before, I was ready to change some things at the end of 2013. I felt crummy, overwhelmed, down and just kind of apathetic at the end of last year. I was pregnant and exhausted. When I did things around the house, I found myself spending lots of energy "keeping score," if you know what I mean. Hello, destructive. So the big goal was to change my attitude. Fine. But why? Because my attitude was affecting my relationships with the most important people in my life. Once I articulated that, I knew there was more at stake than just how I felt on a daily basis.

Here's how I broke it down: So the big goal (or the what) was to "improve my attitude." The reason (the why) was because my attitude was negatively affecting my relationships. And the small goals (the how) would be how I could make progress toward that big goal. In this case, I began with the small goal of spending a little time alone each morning, either reading or writing or just having a cup of coffee. The days I was able to do it, I noticed a difference in how I felt throughout the day. I couldn't do it everyday, but that's okay. It started to make a difference just recognizing that I needed time alone each day. In turn, I was more patient with my family and less overwhelmed in general.

I think goal-setting is a really personal endeavor. It's personal because while our "why" may be the same (i.e. we value health) and our "what" may even be the same (i.e. focus on personal fitness), our "how" - the meat and potatoes of our goal-setting - will be different (i.e. Kelsey will be doing CrossFit everyday while I may get out for a walk a couple times a week... maybe!). 
If you're curious about this stuff (values vs. goals), there's a ton of it on the web. Here are a few specific posts, books and blogs that have been helpful for me:

Lara Casey's series on making things happen
Powersheets by Lara Casey
Jess Lively's blog plus this post on setting intentions
This book is fun and inspiring
A great read for mornings over coffee
In case you missed it: my post on setting small goals

Do you set goals? Have you thought about or noticed the connection between the goals that tend to stick and your values? 

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