How One Thing Saved My Motherhood, But Is Now Hurting It

In the past week I discovered what's now my favorite song, started a list of books to read for 2018, tried a recipe that my family loved, stuck by a list of cold remedies and beat out the virus that was attacking us, tried a weight loss challenge that seems to be working, got a great tip that helped me address a difficult behavior in my son, and made a new friend. All these things came from the great wide world of Social Media.

Social Media has been a dear friend to me these past six years of parenting. I specifically remember a season where my husband worked seven days a week and I had two young children. Any parent who spends their weekends solo with kids knows that this is one of the hardest times to have your spouse away. Taking kids to church alone, not having anyone to call, walking your neighborhood on a Saturday when everyone else is home with their families, all feel especially isolating. This is when I discovered Instagram. I began sharing posts and following along like-minded mamas and suddenly I didn't feel so alone. Even though there were days I didn't talk to another adult, people's comments or messages encouraged my heart and kept me going through a hard season. I am so thankful for Instagram-- in all its white kitchen glory.

Because of Facebook, I have started and succeeded in two businesses that have provided for my family. I have learned of my friends' engagements, marriages, pregnancies, and beautiful children. Often my news source, I can honestly say my opinion on the last election was shaped through articles and thoughtful insight shared by my friends (I am not joking here, I am connected to some smart and kind people, the rest... unfollowed!) I bought a mattress that a friend raved about and planned a trip based on a friend's post. I found people struggling that my husband and I supported financially and in prayer. I cried through stories shared about sick kids and babies lost. I saw pictures of people I hadn't seen in fifteen, twenty years, and felt connected to them as they shared their lives. I am so thankful for Facebook-- in all its politically skewed, ad ridden glory.

I can't imagine what it was like to navigate through parenting before social media. I constantly crowd source for the best sleep tips or sippy cup choices. A hundred times this year I have read something someone shared and saw myself and my own struggles in their words. I have read articles about strengthening my marriage during this stressful season. There are a hundred thousand me toos out there reminding us we're not alone.

I began to lean heavily on social media each time I had a baby and was up all hours of the night. Sitting there in that rocking chair, I could scroll through my phone as the countless minutes spent nursing added up. Then those minutes on my phone carried from night to day, feeling too tired to read a book and not having enough time to watch a tv show, my phone provided entertainment, a break, a connection to the outside world during these intense newborn and toddler years.

For a long time, my kids never seemed to notice my phone. They knew that when I pointed it at them they were to smile and collectively shout, "CHEESE!" I didn't feel like my phone distracted me from loving my kids well. I made a point to put it away when my kids were talking to me, telling me their rambling stories I made eye contact with them instead of checking my e-mail. I only laid on the couch and gave it my full attention if they were napping or supposed to be resting. There are often days where I set my phone up on a shelf and don't look at it for hours. I frequently encourage myself to go from 9-5 without checking social media.

But this winter, my dependency on it has gotten worse as I am bored and seeking distraction. I have caught myself absently nodding as kids to me while I watched someone's Instagram Stories or check my likes from a post I published earlier that day. 

And as my kids are growing, my oldest is six now, they are starting to call me out. "Mommy is always on her phone," I heard my daughter say last week. My oldest son made a paper smart phone this weekend and spent two days texting his friends and jokingly telling me, "Hold on a minute" when I asked them something. My toddler has a green lego he calls his phone and sleeps with it under his pillow "like mama does."

My husband has been challenging me for quite a while now. For most of our eight years of marriage he has had the most basic phone available; not interested in apps, texting or social media he saw no use for a smart phone. His choice is economical too-- every six months or so he loses it under some machinery and has dropped several into the river while working!

When his company upgraded their phone plan it actually became more expensive to get a flip phone so he got his first fancy device. He immediately became hooked on playing Yahtzee with his friends and it drove me crazy! I hated talking to someone who was looking at their phone. I hated how he filled every empty space in our lives with that dang black box instead of seeking connection with me. Suddenly I realized how HE had been feeling the last six years! I honestly didn't listen to him because I thought I was better than most people. I never looked at it in a restaurant and if he was talking to me, I'd set my phone down and fight to be present. But the problem was if we were in the same room or driving in the car and he wasn't talking to me, I felt justified picking it up and looking there for conversation. We are really struggling to invest in our marriage right now, more than ever we're failing to connect. I finally see things from his perspective and am ready for a change for our family.

My phone has been great to me, it has given me countless connections during a really lonely season. But right now, I need real life friends. Instead of entertainment, I need nourishment. I've noticed that instead of walking away from time on Social Media feeling encouraged, I actually feel more empty. And instead of engaging with strangers, I need to engage with my family. I have often had the thought, "I don't want my kids to look back on these years and picture me on my phone." 

Honestly, I am nervous about taking a break from social media. I go to bed with my husband early every evening but as a night owl, I spend one to two hours on my phone before I'm ready to fall asleep. But I am hopeful because of the convictions I feel, I'll be able to stay disciplined to disconnecting for the next forty days. My faith doesn't require me to observe Lent, but I love removing things from my life and to hear more of God in the extra quiet. I listened to this wonderful podcast and am reading this book. My heart is stirred. It is time for a change. I'll still be blogging and sharing those post to Facebook but I won't be there to reply to comments.

Lastly, I hope nobody feels like I am judging others for their relationship to Social Media. I think there are times where it's great and times where it's harmful. Thanks for your support and understanding!

Cold Weather Favorites for Babies-Toddlers & A Few Mom Hacks

Wintering is an actual mom sport and there should be someone standing next to our salt crusted mini-vans handing out awards for getting our kids out the door! 

I literally have to give my kids a pep talk everytime we go outside, saying things like, "I know you're going to cry and tell me how cold it is, but we can't change the weather. Please swallow your feelings, emotionally shut down, and resist kicking me while I stuff you and your puffy coat into your carseat."  

Starting in December we began to be late getting to school and when I looked for the root of the issue, I realized it we spent 10 minutes every morning just looking for gloves! I tried to convince the children to keep their mittens in their backpacks/coat pockets, even have a dedicated "glove basket" by the back door, and we bought (and lost) those cute little clips that go on your coat.

Poor Emmy and Mack would argue like this every morning:
"Mack, you're in preschool! They won't even take you outside today because you're so little and it's so cold!" 
"But Emmy, yesterday you got to wear the matching gloves and today it's my turn!" 
"Mack, I really want to play with my friends at recess. Yesterday I had to stand up against the wall and watch all the kids play in the snow because Mom didn't even know she's supposed to pack me my snowpants and snowboots!"
"Well, if you let me wear the matching pair today I'll give you a whole dollar from my allowance, that's a hundred pennies!"

Here are a few things that really help us get out the door a bit easier during these troublesome times...

1. Multi-pack of gloves

I bought these after Mack's offer to pay his sister for matching gloves. Somehow we only have 3 left out of the 18 we started with, but when I clean out the minivan in Spring 2019 I will probably find a clump of Veggie Straws stuck to the missing ones! My mom told me that our next door neighbor growing up did this with socks-- she bought all of her kids the same white socks. I have started doing this with some from Old Navy, they are low-cut and all four of my kids now wear the same socks. They are toddler 2-3 years so they are a little big on the baby, perfect for the toddler, and just a little small for the big kids-- but nobody is complaining!

2. Lightweight coats

I have read the articles and felt the fear of putting my kids in coats that are too "puffy," not to mention mine hate being squeezed into their carseats with all that padding! Emmy and Mack have these great ones from the Gap, I bought them big last year with Gap Cash and they are on year two of wearing them. 

For the little boys, who don't really play outside because mom is lame and keeps them quarantined, a fleece coat like these is easiest. I love these because they layer easily over their sweaters and sweatshirts and it doesn't feel too tight in their carseats! It gets REALLY cold in Iowa but this option seems warm enough when layered with hats, gloves, and warm clothes (aka usually in Archie's case: fleece pajamas) 

Archie has gotten two years out of this Patagonia fleece, extra 15% off your first order from

Charlie's little sweater jacket

3. Bear suit

Putting an infant in a coat, socks, shoes, hat, and gloves is the actual worst. Especially because this little man pulls everything off AS I am putting it on. Enter... the bear suit.
This fleece suit was less than $20 from Carters! I like it better than others I've seen because it is flexible enough for him to wear around the house and it has foot covers attached!

Bonus Feature: the static from the fleece picks up crumbs off my floor. He is like a little crawling Roomba!

4. Slip on boots

Okay so here is my thinking in buying these boots for my kids. They are more expensive, but they dual as rain and snow boots in one. They are cute and easy to clean. They don't flood like other brands I've tried. They also stay looking nice enough that I don't feel weird about sending them to church or functions in these shoes. My kids love them because they aren't clunky, are easy to put on, and they can run and play in them almost as easily as sneakers. By buying them a size big, we have gotten three years out of each pair-- per kid! The first year we wear thicker socks or boot inserts, next two years normal or no socks. You also will get some money back when you're done, I see older, worn pairs on ebay for $20. 

These boots even fit over Archer's footie pajamas! This really is his outfit 90% of the time

What are your cold weather favorites for your kids? Any other tips on getting out the door easier in the mornings? 

One project I'm working on is buying a chalkboard to hang in the kitchen with our morning routine written on it, with pictures for Mack so he can read it too. I'm so tired of yelling, "Emmy, go get your glasses! Mack find socks! Did you guys eat breakfast? Anybody have weird poop they want to tell me about? Have you brushed your teeth this week?" Here is an example I found on Pinterest, except mine would have other specific things like, "Wipe out gross goo from lunchbox" and "Find Mommy's Coffee Thermos!" 
Link to this printable 

Have Hope, New Mama

My word for 2017 was "hope." I knew I was having a baby towards the end of last January, and knowing my bent towards discouragement the first few months of adjusting to a newborn, I wanted to have hope. I needed hope. Hope was like my lifeline.

When Emmy was born, a friend gave me the best perspective, "The first three months are the hardest, hang in there." I kept that in mind as I rocked my daughter all hours of the night, researched acid reflux, and called the doctor about weird colored poop. My friend was totally right. Every month thereafter, things got easier and easier as we adjusted to this new baby and parenthood.

Mike and I holding our daughter, Emmy
Then when she was around 6 months old, we found out we were pregnant with Mack. Because we wanted to have a big family, we thought this was totally normal, until we started telling people and they were all super surprised. Even the people with 5+ kids thought we were nuts!

A few months into my pregnancy, Mike got assigned to a new project and we moved. It was then I realllly needed hope. Never have I felt more discouraged than I did during that season of Motherhood. It felt like the dirty diapers, the messy counters, the toys strewn across the floor would never end. I started to believe: "This is it. Forever I will be picking up after these little people, feeling lonely and not like myself at all. This is the end of "Fun Ally," she is dead and all these kids killed her!" This is the season of my life where I googled, "Can a baby die from crying?" (Emmy) and then a few months later "can a baby die from not sleeping?" (Mack)

I even began to blame my husband, basically accusing him of kidnapping me and moving me somewhere I hated and impregnating me with these needy little people!

The only thing about me that didn't seem depleted was my dramatic nature.
Emmy meets Mack! photo credit: Katie Evans Photography
Now that we have four littles, I honestly have more hope about Motherhood than I ever have before. It's not that I'm so good at it. It still takes me two weeks to fold and put away a single load of laundry. Yesterday we planned to leave for the gym at 8 am, but somehow when I started the car, the clock read 9:30.  We are ALMOST late to school every day. A lot of days at 2 pm it suddenly dawns on me that I will have to feed 6 people for dinner that night. And by the time I cook dinner and fill water glasses and get everyone the right color of fork, I usually hide and eat my dinner separately from my kids just because I need a few minutes alone!

Mack & Emmy trying not to drop Archie! photo credit: Abby Jane Galleries
So Super Mom, I am not. The change I've experienced in my approach to parenting comes from perspective. Now I know the secret-- all the hard things end. Sometimes they are replaced by different hard things. Like now instead of pulling everything out of the pantry, Archer can reach the fridge and "pour himself a glass of milk." And instead of chasing his brother around with a hairbrush, he can stab him in the back with a butter knife. But really, the little things that your toddlers start doing and you think to yourself, "What fresh hell is this?!" They eventually end.

The spitting up stops, then so do the tantrums, the night terrors, and the wetting the bed. You learn how to handle the crazy fits in the check-out line at Target. I told my sister that I always look like a sociopath, totally detached from my off-spring, chit-chatting with the cashier while a child arches his back and throws things out of the cart. Smile and nod, smile and nod. One day you realize you have been sitting for fifteen minutes, and nobody bit their sister or stubbed their toe for the thousandth time. You can suddenly go to the bathroom alone or take a shower without little eyes watching you and asking twenty questions about the female anatomy.

And the other great thing that you can have hope in, is that you will find yourself in Motherhood. I promise. It took me two years to reorient and emerge from the ashes of the newborn phase--and I think that is weird and abnormal, I am not a quick learner. I bet you'll be way faster!

There is so much that you lose when you have a baby. You lose your social life, your freedom, your hot bod, your personal space. For me, I felt for a long time like the best parts of me were gone, I can remember using the phrase to Mike often, "I am a shell of the woman I once was!" Again, so dramatic. But it really, really felt true.

Emmy adores brother Charlie Bennett, Mack & Archer could care less
photo credit: Haverlee Colyer
We all would agree when we first hold that new baby, the gains are insurmountable. No skinny jeans could ever feel as good as the feeling I get when I snuggle a little toddler wearing fleece onesie pajamas. There are a hundred things you lose when you have a baby but a million things you gain. Including a new version of you. She's not as glamorous, but she gets super amped when a new Disney movie shows up on the tv guide so she can record it for her kids. She might not have a perfect body, but she is killing that pot roast recipe. She doesn't have an organized house, but her kids know when they crawl into her lap there is endless space for them-- in her home and in her heart.

So if you are feeling like Motherhood isn't all you thought it would be, and you're discouraged and alone and feeling not like yourself, just hang in there until tomorrow. Find friends that will tell you this season isn't forever. Hang out with moms who have older kids who look at your kids and say, "aw, my kids used to do that too!" Replace that mean, negative voice in your head with an encouraging, nice one. Since it's just me and the kiddos most of the time, I am famous for walking around my house, picking up poopy diapers and scrubbing mashed sweet potato out of the hardwoods repeating to myself in a sing-songy voice, "this is fine! Everything is fine! You're doing a great job today, Mama!" And at the end of the day, there is freedom to tell your husband you hate it, cry on his shoulder, ask him to pray for you, then wake up the next day and find the good again. I promise you it's there.

Loving Lately {*winter edition*}

These are a few of my favorite things this time of the year, none of this is sponsored because I'm cool like that!

1. Advent Focus

I wanted to finish my Christmas shopping this year before December 1st so I would have the headspace to really enjoy Advent and focus on the "reason for the season." Some years I feel like Christmas flies by and I am stressed and never seem to get anything done. Christmas Eve I am still wrapping gifts in a bedroom while company is over and I'm just hungry and tired and want everyone to leave. I love being around our family and I love celebrating Jesus' birth and it is hard for me to enjoy those things when I am distracted and still busy finishing things up.

I am using this book this season as my devotional and am really loving it so far!

2. These earrings

A friend shared these the other day and I ordered right away and love them!

I am not a big jewelry person, definitely not into sparkly or heavy metals-- these leather feather earrings fit my light and fun requirements!

3. Monat Hair Care

So yes maybe you have seen a zillion things about this on Facebook, the hype is true! I was afraid to try Monat because I had a bad experience with Wen when that was popular. After trying tons of hair products I have been a committed Pureology user for years but after having kids my hair is worse than ever because they suck the life out of me!

This stuff really is wonderful. I have been washing and conditioning with it since September and have seen a. my hair grow, a lot b. my color stay a cool blonde even months after getting it highlighted and not turning brassy per usual c. my scalp gets so itchy, like I have frequent dreams about having lice and make Husband check for critters on the regular-- this has healed it! I have a bunch of wonderful friends that sell it so e-mail me if you're wanting to try and don't have a rep.

4. This foundation

I still love my Younique concealer but this foundation is beautiful! I like that it shows my imperfections still and I don't look airbrushed. It is so light and even moisturizing. I love how it applies and evens my skin tone. New favorite!

5. Christmas cards

Thank you to everyone who sends these out, it is for sure a labor of love! This year I so debated about doing it, so many expenses at Christmas from gifts, to decorations, plus all the pounds of butter so I can make myself cookies. But I really enjoy getting each card and hanging them up so I took the plunge and got a deal on some at Minted (they address them for me too!). This is how we display ours:

6. These bars for breakfast

If you are gluten-free or paleo and need a simple high protein breakfast, these are my new obsession! We buy them at Costco. They are basically just nuts and coconut oil. My only complaint is they are pretty high in fat so I eat half of one each day on the way to taking the kids to school!

7. Hand cream

Ugh the dryness has begun so has flu season and washing my hands a hundred times a day aggravates my skin! I can't sleep at night if my hands are dry, I just lay there feeling uncomfortable and start to get pissed at my hubby that we don't live somewhere warmer! This lotion has been my go-to ever since I stole it from my mom three years ago. It is also my favorite gift to give because it is a little expensive and people might not be apt to buy it for themselves on the reg!

8. Hot drink

It has taken me 15 years to find a latte I love. I'd rather drink pureed brussels sprouts than a pumpkin spice latte! I used to drink mocha lattes with half syrup because I don't love sugary sweet drinks but I think the chocolate upsets my stomach.
So this drink is perfect to me, and low on calories: an almond milk latte with one packet of raw sugar

9. Kids Clothes

Okay so I am going to tread lightly on this one but since I shop so much for my kiddos, I have started to consider where their clothes come from. Are they made in the US, are they made in a sweatshop, are they made with harsh dyes and chemicals? I am not perfect on this. I have always been a faithful devotee to my Gap credit card and their sales but don't love what I've read about their manufacturing.

Colored Organics makes their clothes in the US and up to 50% of their profits go to fund an orphanage in India. Not only is their platform beautiful but also their clothes are! I am just a big fan of buying simple cottons for my kids and their leggings, long sleeve shirts, dresses, and onesie pajamas hold up well with my rough and tumble bunch! We are hard on our clothes and things get washed A LOT, so far these are great.

Also they have good sales! And always 20% off your first order.

10. Sneaky Pete

I never want to try new shows, I get stuck in a rut because I never think anything will be as good as the last show we watched-- but once I get into something, I'm hooked. Mike convinced me to try this on Amazon Prime and even though I was a little lost the first or two episodes, it became our favorite. Such a smart show with great acting-- Now I'm so sad it's over, who else loved this?

Easy Chicken Parmesan Recipe

Why does parmesan always look like it's spelled wrong? Tell me if it is! My sister and I always talk about how this is our husbands' favorite dish which is ironic because we never ate it once growing up! But now we're both figuring out the best way to make chicky-chicky-parm-parm (anyone know this Parks and Recs reference?!) and I think I figured it out the other day:

1. Whisk two eggs in one bowl, and on a plate mix equal parts bread crumbs (we use the Schar gluten free ones) and powdered parmesean cheese. Add in your seasonings (I usually do some combo of Italian seasoning, garlic salt, and pepper)

2. I don't ever have time to pound my chicken breasts flat, who is doing this? What kind of little kitchen mallet are you using? The very thought cracks me up! I just filet each one in half to get two thin chicken breasts.

3. Take each chicken breast, and dip it in the BREADCRUMBS FIRST, then the egg, then THE BREADCRUMBS AGAIN (per sister, and she's right, its the best!)

4. Sauté in 2 tbs olive oil heated with 2 tbs butter, until each side is lightly browned

5. Put some marinara in your baking dish, then put in the chicken, next a little more marinara sauce on top of the chicken, and last cover your chicken with some cheese to your liking.

6. Bake until chicken is heated through at 375 degrees, it depends on how thin you filet it, I usually allow 15 minutes.

While chicken is baking, boil some pasta, drain it, and quickly add warmed marinara sauce to that as well. We serve this with my favorite roasted broccoli! (broccoli chopped, tossed with a combo of olive oil, fresh garlic, salt/pepper, and a teaspoon of lemon juice, then roasted for 15 minutes at 400 degrees )

Yum! Hope you're having a joyful and cozy start to your December.

Me too, Me too, Me too, Me too, Me too...

The last year so much has happened in our world that I have struggled to engage with any of it outside of my own head and conversations with our husband. Sharing one's opinion on Social Media seems vulnerable to me, would anyone care what I say? Will I sound uneducated? Will I offend anyone that I know and love? X and Y both have different political opinions than me, what will they think when they read my post?

Yet I love when people share their opinions thoughtfully. How blessed am I that my Facebook newsfeed is often filled with interesting articles, words, opinions, and dialogue on all the topics I care most about. Most of the people I choose to follow are very passionate about what they believe, yet convey their opinions with much grace.

Because of what I've read and seen in my own life, my heart and my opinions have shifted dramatically the past several years. First there was the election and the feelings that certain politicians and their verbiage exposed. Then there was the selection of books I've gone through this past year. Now I am reading bloggers and listening to Podcasts by people that are teaching me things I thought I understood... but don't. I'm talking about heavy things like racism, privilege, and feminism.

Now with the Harvey Weinstein scandal breaking last week, a whole new set of emotions and passions and opinions have awakened in my heart and I can't help but speak up. Thankfully a growing platform has made it easy for me, a few simple words cover the tumultuous wave of feelings that I have: "me too."

One of Weinstein's victims said she didn't speak up for years because of the intense shame she felt, she stuffed the memories and feelings as deep down as she could, burying it and moving on as best she could. I remember telling a friend once that I did the same thing, calling it a little "drop-box" I kept in the back of my mind. I would take the negative, abusive experience, mentally put it in the box, and keep it as separate from my self as I possibly could.

That's all fine and dandy until you watch a movie that has a scene that triggers something, making your heart race and your stomach nauseous, or a feeling towards men in your life that you just can't quite name, or an obsession with a national news scandal that leaves you unsettled, shaken, and desperate for more victims to speak up come forward-- suddenly you realize that that lock on your mythical "drop-box" may be broken.

I am following this story with great hope-- the social current buzzing around my generation feels electric, and ready for a big change. Things for my daughter will be certainly be different than they were for me. The younger generation of men that we are raising up can be taught by their parents and friends how to treat a woman, not just by a reprimand to "be a good gentleman and hold open the door for her" but rather to be a good man and speak up, stand up, and defend the women around you.

I am thankful to have worked for and along side some very good men. Some of the best I could ever know. The value and worth they saw in me gave me so much courage and made me a more whole, strong woman. But I have also encountered many, many men who saw women in a way that breaks my heart. As a young impressionable woman looking for security in many of the wrong places, those men scared my heart in a way that I continue to feel pain from.

The best thing that ever happened to me was meeting and marrying my husband. Nothing has been more redeeming in my story, in my life than being loved by a good, kind, and honest man. When I hear all the "me too's," (and think of the hundreds and thousands of the ones unspoken, let's never forget, 1:4) I think, now what? Where will these women all go from here? I hope that many of them have found paths of healing. Mine came from a wonderful counselor (one in almost every state we've lived, I think it's like four or five-- so if you need a good one, ask me!) solid communities of women where people are actually vulnerable and share what's beneath our sometimes made up facades, books of course, and most of all finding ways to hope.

Things will be different, the boys living under my roof are being raised up to be strong men who know the value of every human on this Earth: whether those humans have different colored skin, different sexual orientations, different backgrounds, different cultures, and different gender.

Keep reading, keep talking, keep praying...

01 09 10 11 12
Blogging tips