A Reflection on the Past Year and Looking Ahead to the New Year

Welcome to my reflection for the year 2016.  I started doing a yearly reflection several years ago after seeing a post by Tsh from the art of simple blog.  Every year she posts a list of questions to reflect on your life from the past year, and I found that to be an amazing practice to really understand what I had accomplished throughout the year.

I think that I am the epitome of cliche when I say that the year has gone by so fast, but that is exactly what it feels like to me. 

To take the time to reflect on the year allows me to see that the year was full of amazing experiences, and it wasn’t all a harried and frantic race, which is often how I feel – see my 31 Days of Overcoming Overwhelm posts.

It has been an amazing year. 

I think the biggest thing that has happened is the growth of my children and the growth of my blog (also like a child).  But, with those two things always seeming to vie for my attention, I struggled…a lot.

Trying to do it all burned me more than once this year.  I couldn’t seem to figure out why I couldn’t do it all.  I love homeschooling my kids, I love writing, I love being with my family all the time, but I wasn’t able to successfully do all the things in the ways that I was trying to.

I would try to start my days early, but be thwarted by a teething toddler, or I would try to give the kids individual work they could do on their own while I tried to answer blog comments, or take pictures, only to be interrupted multiple times.  It was frustrating.  I couldn’t seem to balance it.  I felt like I had thrown all the balls up in the air, and they all came flying back down at me, pelting me in the head.  Not a great feeling.

I shifted things around so that I had more dedicated school time with the kids, and then would work on my blog when they were done.  But, instead of just working on my blog, I would also be taking care of the plethora of household maintenance items that need to be done daily, not to mention cooking, and hoping the children would be wearing somewhat clean clothes.

My kids often reminded me of how I never have time to play with them.  Now, I am not so good at playing to begin with.  My kids make up the most elaborate pretend play games with their stuffed animals, or my little ponies, or transformers rescue bots; and honestly I can’t seem to keep up with the rule changes!  My sweet spot is definitely in the cuddling on the couch reading a book with my kiddos, so we started to do more of that.

Being present with the kids, instead of just being in the same room but occupied with another task.

I started to let the kids help me more with dinner, and with the chores.  Instead of trying to rush through and get everything done, I took a step back, slowed down, and allowed them to help and spend time with me – which is all they really wanted anyways.

Because of this, I put the brakes on my blog for a bit.  I didn’t post over Thanksgiving week, even though I had some amazing recipes that I wanted to share.  I didn’t do vlogmas, even though one of my goals is to try and start vlogging more (if only for the memories for my children in the future).  I didn’t post the many posts I had originally planned in December.

But, you know what?  That is totally OK.

Blogging has been a constant part of my life since 2006 (at personal blogs before Townsend House), posting through all types of life changes.  Essentially an online diary of my life, at some point it became a way for me to earn money for my family, and that income caused me to feel like the blog was an obligation.  Yet, at the same time, I still wanted to share, I still wanted that open dialogue with you, my readers, to share my struggles, my realities, the way that I move forward.

I still feel the need to write regularly, but trying to make sure every post has a Pinterest image, that I tweet about it, and share it on Facebook even though no one actually sees my posts on Facebook, well it wasn’t as fun, and I need it to be fun.

Thinking back over this past year and all the successes that I have had professionally, personally, with my family; I am happy about it all.  But, I know that I need to make some changes, and that is why I love these reflections, it gives me clarity.

I need clarity.

I need to be able to look back at what I did, why and how it was successful; and also to see if it was successful in all aspects of my life, not just one.

I don’t want my blog to be successful at the expense of my family.  I also don’t want to give everything that I have to raising my family and lose myself in the process.

Giving, encouraging, teaching, uplifting, engaging, raising my children is such an important job, but it isn’t my only job.

I want my kids to see my passion.  I want them to see me work so hard to accomplish my goals.  I want this because I want it for them.  I want them to see me challenge myself to learn new things, constantly growing and evolving.

But, I also need them to see me loving on them, and taking a break from screens, and watching a movie with them just because, rather than putting a movie on so I can get more work or cleaning or cooking done.

Over this past year I have seen the kids grow tremendously.  Emma and Jack are so involved with technology, learning to code using scratch, making stop motion videos, and vlogging daily (even though those vlogs haven't made it to the upload stage yet). 

I see Emma’s desire to write a novel.  I see her writing to agents to see if she can be taken on and get her novel published, and see her receiving the most amazing letter from an agent telling her to keep reaching for her goals to get published.

I see Jack displaying the most patience I have ever seen from any 6 year old to sit and move his little figures around his “set” while he takes hundreds of pictures to make his stop motion movies.  I see him spend time finding just the right music, adding his own special voices, and wonder where the heck that creativity came from (Matt, it came from Matt), and I am amazed at how bright he is, and how much potential he has for the future.

And I see Lucy, a crazy crazy little girl, definitely a third child, with no fear, and a fierce love for her older siblings with an innate need to keep up with them.

This year has been amazing; full of development for all of us, but also full of challenges.

I am so looking forward to what is in store for 2017, and can’t wait to share some of those thoughts with you!

What was your favorite memory of 2016?

Using Tech to Manage Your Health in the New Year

This is a sponsored post on behalf of the U.S. Cellular  Ambassador Program.  All opinions are my own.

*I am not a doctor, nor claim to have all the answers to your health questions.  Please talk to your own doctor before changing your health regimen.

I hope I am not the only one that is already looking ahead to 2017!  I have been reflecting on the past year and changes that I want to make in the new year, and of course one of the top changes is to concentrate more on my health.

As a mom I definitely have occasions where I am putting everyone else first, and there is not a whole lot left over for me.

I am really excited to start using my iPhone to help me get my health on track.

Today’s mobile devices are empowering people to become more engaged in health and wellness than ever before, and this interest goes beyond apps that count calories or track steps.

Using my iPhone to track my health goals is so awesome, because everything is right at my fingertips all the time. 

Our mobile devices are able to do so much more than tracking steps and counting calories, although that is a great tool to have, and perfect for those of us who are at the beginning of getting our health on track. 

Smartphones and tablets have become medical instruments in and of themselves.  They can provide blood test results, medication information, glucose readings, medical images and much more.

The high-speed network and nationwide coverage U.S. Cellular provides allows mobile devices to collect data, stay connected to the Internet, and accompany their users anywhere, anytime.

How amazing to be able to keep track of all of your records and health information in a device that is with you all the time?

There are many amazing apps that can help keep your health on track in the New Year.

Apps to help manage chronic diseases:

The Diabetes Tracker – (IOS and Android, $9.99) with Blood Glucose/Carb Log by MyNetDiary is a comprehensive app helping individuals better understand and control their diabetes and diet. The easy-to-use app allows users to track insulin and medication and set reminders to take their blood glucose.

MySugr Diabetes Logbook(IOS and Android, Free) is another great app that synchronizes health data automatically via Bluetooth. The app allows users to easily log meals and view glucose graphs.

Apps that monitor your heart, help track medications and keep track of family medical records:

CareZone – (IOS and Android, Free) lets users create a list of medications, dosages and schedules directly from the device’s photo library. The app also documents and shares symptoms with a user’s family or doctor, while providing a place to store vital insurance information and schedule reminders for upcoming appointments.

Instant Heart Rate – (IOS and Android, Free) allows users to measure their heart rate wherever they are by simply placing a finger on the device’s camera. The app records heart rate data and notes each measurement with details on physical activity.

My Medical – (IOS and Android, $4.99) is a comprehensive record-keeping app for personal medical information.  Users can keep track of immunizations, blood pressure, cholesterol, emergency contacts, health insurance and doctor’s information. It will automatically keep track of upcoming appointments on the smartphone’s calendar app. Not only can you keep track of your own medical records, you can also keep track of your kids’, parents’, and others.  

Medical Advice for non-emergency Situations:

Doctor on Demand – (IOS and Android, Free for the app, $49/doctor visit) delivers quick medical advice for non-emergency situations.  The app provides video visits with a board-certified physician, psychologist or more from home or anywhere. There is no subscription fee, but doctor visits are $49.

I think the Doctor on Demand is probably my favorite out of the group – and this is purely coming from a mom with littles point of view!  If I can *see* a doctor without having to pack up three kids in the car, awesome.

What are some ways you use tech to help manage your health?

The How and Why of Enjoying a Stress Free Holiday

It has been a bit quiet here at Townsend House over the past few weeks.  It wasn’t my original purpose to take some time off from blogging, but it happened, and I am enjoying the break.  Giving myself a little bit of time off has helped me realize how much I strive for a stress free holiday.

I love the Christmas season – it is definitely my favorite time of year.  From Thanksgiving right through to the New Year, I love every minute of it.  However, it is also very easy to have it fraught with stress and anxiety.  I want to enjoy the holidays; I don’t want to be stressed out during the holidays.

Why is it important to me to have a stress free holiday?

The biggest reason?  It is more fun to not stress, isn’t it?

When I think of holidays past, there have been some doozies for me.  Trying to do every little thing, trying to make sure we get to all of the parties, make all the cookies, go-go-go. 

Unfortunately, when I start go-go-going like that, I tend to get sick, and it is often on Christmas Day.  How am I supposed to enjoy Christmas with my family when I am sick as a dog and want to go back to bed?  Not fun!

A few years ago I had finally had enough.  I was incredibly sick on Christmas Day and we didn’t have a Christmas dinner that year.  I had had enough.  I needed a change in my holiday season.

I needed to let go of the expectations I had placed on myself to make the holiday perfect for my kids and my family, and I also had to let go of the expectations of everyone outside my immediate family as to what we should be doing during the holiday season.

That was not an easy task.

I remember that year, and that moment ended up being a catalyst for me to make a broader change in my whole life.

To let go of the idea that I was the reason people were happy or unhappy.

For some reason I was under the impression that what I did or did not do was the cause of people’s happiness.  It sounds like a very conceited thing to me now, but I did feel that way.  It was my people pleasing nature that caused me to want to make sure everyone else was happy and satisfied, leaving nothing left for me and my family at the end of it. 

After I was able to come to my own understanding that I cannot make people happy, everyone is responsible for their own happiness, it is a choice, and I was not happy being sick and stressed out on Christmas for the 5th year in a row.

How do you manage to have a stress free holiday?

I have to be honest here, and say that the tips that I have may not relieve all the stress in your holiday.  There are still times when I am running around like a crazy person trying to get something done, or get to a party, or realizing that we have three basketball games on Saturday instead of the two I had planned.

It takes a certain bit of flexibility in order to let that stress melt away.

The biggest tip that I have is to make a list of your most important items.

What are the activities and traditions that make the holiday season special to you? 

I remember growing up my mom would always ask my brother and I what one dish we had to have at Thanksgiving – that without that dish it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving.  And she did something similar when it came to Christmas.  What is the one thing that made Christmas, Christmas?

The one thing that I always looked forward to was our Christmas Eve open house.

Every year my mom would manage to pull off a great open house after the Christmas Eve service at our church.  There was always a ton of food and sweets, and everyone piling into the house to hang out.  They are some of my fondest memories of growing up, and it is the one thing that I have wanted to do since starting my own family.

The difficulty of pulling of a Christmas Eve open house is not lost on me – especially when factoring in all of the other activities. 

Last year I decided what the most important activities we would need to do to make Christmas special for our family.  Then I listed everything else that we did during the holiday season. 

There were some non-negotiables, basketball practices and games, the kids’ Christmas concert.  But then there was everything else.

After looking at the two lists, I was able to narrow down the items that we liked to do, but were not really necessary, and would instead cause more stress throughout the holiday season.

It may not seem that simple to do, especially if these activities have become traditions in your own family, that you may feel bad saying no to, but if doing those activities takes away from your own joy and happiness during the holiday season perhaps it is time to speak up about it.

Having the ability to say no when it matters is something that took me a long time to learn, but I am happier now for it, and so is my family.

When I am stressed, my kids can see it.  When we are rushing around from one activity to the next it ends up not being fun.  I want Christmas to be fun and memorable for my kids, and I don’t think that overwhelming ourselves with activities is how to do that.  I think simple traditions, hot cocoa, decorating cookies, making a gingerbread house, celebrating Advent – those are the types of activities I want my kids to remember.

It isn’t about the amount of presents, or the number of parties or extra activities, but it is about family, and togetherness and really enjoying that time together.

Do you get overwhelmed during the holiday season?  What is one thing that you would like to say no to this year and why?