Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Celebrating Advent with My Kids

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Last year I did a series of various ways to celebrate Advent. But this year we are going to make a more specific effort to actually celebrate as a family. Our children are two and five, so much of what is traditional may or may not work for us. But I put together a list of things we are going to attempt.

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Truth in the Tinsel

Since my children are a bit too young for my own Advent devotional, I got this e-book last year; but was too busy to do it. This year I’m working it into our homeschool curriculum. I plan to take a break from our usual lessons, except perhaps for phonics, and instead use this to guide our lessons for the month of December. I know we probably won’t do it every day, because let’s face it, life happens. But I think it would be a fun, hands-on way to engage my children’s interest.

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Photo Credit: stevendepolo via Compfight cc

Christmas Count Down Chain

This is a simple idea, and one that I think may possibly be incorporated into Truth in the Tinsel. My daughter is constantly asking how many days until Christmas. We’re going to make a paper chain so she can count for herself. (So she works on her counting skills and I avoid a constant repetitive questions. Win, Win.)

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Advent Wreath with We Light the Candles

I’m also considering pulling out the Advent devotional I used as a child and begin the tradition of lighting the advent wreath. They may be too young and it may not work, but I want to try anyway. Some of my fondest memories of Christmas as a child were sitting as a family around the Advent wreath, the nightly reading followed by the singing of a carol. This is something I want to begin to share with my own little family.

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Jackie Lawson’s Animated Advent Calendar

The last several years, my mother has purchases animated advent calendars from Jackie Lawson for the whole family. While these are generally non-religious, my children still enjoy the idyllic wonder of exploring different parts of the Christmas village or the various rooms of the English manor as the pre-Christmas events commence. The antics of the adorable animals (especially the dogs) are a big hit as well.

How do you celebrate Advent with your family? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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Treat Yourself to Healthier Holidays and a Stronger New Year

In the last year I’ve extensively reviewed the Fit2B Studio online fitness site as well as The Tummy Team’s online core rehab program. If you’ve been considering whether to try them out, now is the time. (This post may contain affiliate links. Thanks for your support.)

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The Tummy Team

Leaking urine, lower back pain, protruding tummy and  trouble performing normal daily activities is not normal, even after having babies. But these symptoms need not be permanent. These are signs of a condition called diastasis recti also known as an abdominal separation. (Men can also suffer from diastasis recti but it is commonly seen in pregnant and post partum women). Kelly Dean and her associates at The Tummy Team have created two online programs to provide a road map to the journey from healing for those of us who want to be strong enough to have more children or just be able to lives our lives free of pain and discomfort.

They offer splints to help you stabilize your core during the healing process. (Think of it like a cast or brace for a broken bone or sprained muscle; a temporary measure to speed up the healing process leading to future strength and wholeness). You can also schedule Skype sessions for a more personalized experience.

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Fit2B Studio

Fit2B Studio, while complementary to the rehabilitation offered by the Tummy Team is a different animal altogether. Founder Bethany Learn focuses on fitness. Much of what has been taught regarding abdominal fitness in the past can actually be counterproductive for someone with an abdominal separation. Bethany philosophy of slowly building strength rather than ripping, shredding or beating your body into submission is a departure from the focus of much of the current fitness trends in the industry.

Does that mean that the workouts aren’t intense? Nope. With levels starting from post-partum and diastasis recti recovery up to challenging workouts that will keep you sweating she truly does have it all. But the best part is that it is virtually all tummy safe. More than 70 workouts of varying lengths and difficulties so that you never get bored and can always find something for wherever you are in your fitness journey.

For those who need abdominal rehab, this is a great next step after The Tummy Team, or if you don’t have a diastasis recti or hope to prevent one in the future), this is a great place to start.

Take 40% off a yearly membership and/or the “5×5 Fitness Challenge” and/or the “Experts …on Diastasis Recti” eLearning courses with code BF14Fit2b40 right now. This is your chance to join or upgrade your membership! She only does this once per year, so jump on it! Offer isn’t valid on pre-bundled products. May not be combined with other offers and expires Sunday 11/30 at 11:59 p.m. PST and offer

The 5X5 Challenge is a great way to help build consistency into your routine through just a few basic movements. (I’ll be hopefully reviewing this program in detail in January. The Experts on Diastasis Recti is a great program with no time limit that is yours forever. Basically it’s a chance to educate yourself on core health to both help treat and current issues as well as prevent problems in the future.

(There will also be a Cyber Monday sale: Enjoy 20% off your total cart purchase at Fit2B including any eLearning course, fit2b necklace, Tummy Creme, or yearly memberships with code: BF14Fit2B20 !!! Offer expires Friday 12/5 at 11:59 p.m. Offer not valid on pre-bundled products or monthly memberships.offer 20% off everyone in your cart, except monthly memberships)

How To Check For Diastasis Recti

I am an affiliate for both of these programs, but I would recommend and promote them regardless. The results I’ve seen in my own body, plus the convenience of doing these workouts in the comfort of my home is enough for me to recommend them to anyone.

I’ll be renewing my annual membership this weekend.  I hope you will too. Start 2015 by doing something great for your body, and building the strength you need to live the life you want.

A Very Fair Trade Christmas: Use Your Black Friday & Cyber Monday Shopping to Change the World

 

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This post may contain affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

We all know that the Christmas season is probably the largest spending time of the year, especially in the United States. Traditionally, Black Friday and now Cyber Monday as well have become a major part of that experience.

However, it’s easy to overlook how our Christmas shopping can be a tool to create social and economic change. There are some ethical companies offering great deals this weekend. Even by making just a few ethical or fair trade purchases as you do your holiday shopping allows artisans all over the world to create better lives for themselves and their families.

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The Root Collective

If you haven’t figured it out already, I really love The Root Collective. Founder Bethany Tran has put together a great collection of shoes, scarves, jewelry and more by artisans primarily from Guatemala and Kenya.  You can see the artisan who made each item and learn more about his or her story.

In case you needed yet another reason, the items are gorgeous and unique. Plus I love knowing that the artisans have been paid a fair wage for their work and my limited buying power is a tool toward providing better lives for young women in Kenya or former gang members in La Limonada.

The Root Collective is offering 25% off all items (including those already on sale) through December 2 with the code JOYTOTHEWORLD. But don’t worry, all the artisans have already been paid in full.

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Elegantees

What if you could by unique clothes and provide housing and employment to victims of sex trafficking? You can! Elegantees creates clothing that is stylish and beautiful but also practical and washable. (As a mom, that sounds perfect to me). Their products are produced in New York City and Nepal by victim’s of sex trafficking who are building new lives for themselves.  These amazing women are learning a trade that will allow them to financially support themselves while also being counseling and mentored.

These beautiful tops, dresses and scarves will be 15% off until December 2 with the code THANKS, plus any purchase of $50 or more receives a free gift.

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To The Market

This is basically an online market for products from all over the world. They carry a little bit of everything and you also get the story of each artisan.

“TTM showcases handmade goods made exclusively by proud and passionate artisans who have overcome the perils of abuse, conflict, and disease. By assisting local partners around the world in bringing these goods “to the market,” we take an active role in equipping the survivor’s that they employ with economic independence, while raising awareness of the challenges that they face.”

I don’t think there is a better way to describe this amazing site. If you find the sheer number of goods a bit overwhelming (I know I did at first), check out their holiday gift guide.

You can search by country, item (such as bags, accessories or jewelry) or cause. If you have a passion for victims of HIV/Aids or Human Trafficking, for example, you can search for goods made specifically by those fighting those challenges. Even better, you have the option of consulting a personal stylist to help you choose an item for yourself or a gift for someone else.

So as you field the blitz of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday deals, don’t overlook the chance to be a more conscious consumer and make a real impact with your purchases.

 

Learning to Ride: A Beginner’s Intro to Ethical Shopping

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Photo courtesy of The Root Collective

As we head into the biggest shopping season of the year, it’s easy to get caught up in the stress and excitement associated with the holidays especially when it comes to our buying habits. It’s not just about how much money we spend, but how we choose to spend it. Today I’m pleased and honored to share a guest post from Brooke Fontoura, blog manager of the Root Collective, about how we can make our buying choices more consciously. (This post may contain affiliate links. Thank you for your support.)

They say you never forget how to ride a bike. Once you’ve learned, it cannot be unlearned.

The same can be said of conscious consumerism. Because once you’ve seen the atrocities that occur daily in many garment factories across the globe, you cannot unsee it. Poor working conditions, low wages, child labor, etc.

It sticks with you.

And that’s a pretty scary thing. Because you’re left feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and lost. Like a five year old on a bicycle.

But the best thing about learning to ride a bike… is that there are training wheels.

Becoming an ethical shopper isn’t always easy. It takes knowledge, effort, and a whole mess of patience. It takes honesty, persistence, and heart. Like any new challenge, it needs to be met with understanding. It’s easy to say that you are going to completely change your shopping habits overnight, but the reality can become a bit less easy. (This may or may not be from my own experience of picking up and then putting down the same LBD ten times at a fast fashion outlet, my conscious and vanity competing with each other.)

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Photo courtesy of The Root Collective

Below are some (what I hope will be) helpful suggestions and tips for riding through the murky world of shopping. Remember to keep your helmet on and don’t stop peddling.

  • Keep calm and think of why you’re doing this: Be real with yourself. Ask yourself, “Why am I committed to changing my purchasing habits?” Is there a personal story that effected you? What was it about that story that caused you to rethink how you spend your money? Keep that in mind when you shop. Remember why.
  • Do your research: Researching isn’t just for term papers. Like any important change in life, researching is going to be the golden rule in your journey to an ethical closet. Knowing where your goods come from is important. It may seem overwhelming at first, but you’ll be surprised at the amount of resources a simple Google search can yield. And always read your labels. (I suggest this post from The Art of Simple for a handy list of awesome, ethically sourced companies.)
  • Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to raise your hand. Generally speaking, a quality ethical company will be transparent about their supply chain. However, if while researching a company, you find that they may not be as see-through as you’d like – ask! Ask where they source their goods from, how their workers are treated, or anything else you can’t seem to find the answer to.
  • Don’t beat yourself up: Life is tough. Some of us have a flock of kids in the backseat, others are college students with not a lot of spending money, while others are in the somewhere between. Do what you can. Don’t feel awful about yourself if you find that one of your favorite companies may not be on the ethical shopper’s good list. We’ve all made mistakes before and that’s okay. It’s part of the learning process. Instead of buying from that brand, search for an ethical company with similar products. If that search is taking a bit of time, try buying used products from that brand at a local thrift shop while you wait. (There are also awesome online used clothing stores. The Root Collective featured some for our weekly blog series, #FashionFriday.)
  • Take it one step at a time: What do you normally buy most? Scarves? What do you need at the moment? A good pair of shoes? Look for an ethical supplier (like The Root Collective!). After that, incorporate something else – like jewelry, then handbags, etc. When you make one step, you’ll start making more and then it all becomes second nature. (Also, many companies offer more than one fashion category. Your search for ethically sourced leggings can lead you to dresses, skirts, hats, and more!)
  • Sharing is caring: Share your findings with others. Often times, shoppers feel discouraged by what they feel is a lack of options. They simply don’t know that there is another choice out there for them other than what they see in the stores, on T.V., or on a billboard. They may already know of the abuse within the fashion industry, but don’t know what they can do themselves. When you talk about your favorite new ethical fashion brand or wear your new earrings to the office Christmas party, share the story behind your purchase and let everyone know how they can contribute to the change.

 

Taking on a new way of life is frightening stuff and starting an ethical fashion journey is no exception. It’s a big step, a genuine step, one with the opportunity to create real change. It may be a bumpy road but you’ll notice the difference with each turn of the peddle. And, donned in your ethically sourced fashion lovelies, you’ll look pretty great doing it.

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Brooke Fontoura is the blog manager for The Root Collective, an ethical fashion company with a mission for good. She’s a tea drinking, chocolate loving, book reading girl next door who pins more things on Pinterest than she actually makes. A fair trade activist and animal lover, she can usually be found singing silly sings out of tune with her little one. She also has difficulties writing her own bio.

Don’t forget that The Root Collective is offering the coupon code JOYTOTHEWORLD that is valid from Friday to Tuesday for 25% off your purchase! (Don’t worry, all the artisans have been paid in full.)

Why I Love Thanksgiving (in some ways more than Christmas)

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Photo Credit: Shandi-lee via Compfight cc

Thanksgiving is probably one of the least acknowledged holidays in America. If it weren’t for massive amounts of food and football I’m not sure anyone would remember. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the few holidays that is harder to commercialize. It’s a holiday about giving thanks, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to buying things.

Regardless of what you believe about Thanksgiving as it was celebrated and recorded at Plymouth Plantation, the idea of a day set aside to give thanks has been around for thousands of years. So why are we so terrible at it?

I love Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, it was marked by a long trip to Boston to visit my mother’s family. Much stress usually surrounded this trip, which I better understand now that I’m a mom. But I still looked forward to it. (Something else I try to keep in mind, even though I’m now a mom). But it feels like we don’t give Thanksgiving a fair chance. We might post a cute quote to Facebook or a picture of a food laden table to Instagram, but mostly our feeds and lives are filled with the preparation for Christmas. Now we’re even shopping on Thanksgiving Day!

What happened to giving thanks? Wasn’t that the point? We gather with our families to celebrate the joy of being together and how wonderful it is that we have each other. We prepare and enjoy special foods to represent the many good and sweet things that are in our lives. Most importantly, we give prayers of thanks and gratitude to the source of all good things, our Father God. No gifts are exchanged, just the enjoyment of the presence of family and friends.

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Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae via Compfight cc

Really this should prepare us for a whole season of gratitude leading up to Christmas. After all, God sending his son, Jesus, should instill in us an immense amount of gratitude. I think it’s a shame that the materialized Christmas gets a month or more, and Thanksgiving gets a single day, really closer to 10 or 12 hours before the Black Friday sales start.

So if you can, don’t let Thanksgiving end after the dishes are washed and leftovers put away. Spend Advent this year focusing on gratitude.  Rather than handing our kids the latest toy catalogue to peruse and circle favorites, encourage them to make lists of things for which they are thankful.

I know the word blessing is getting a bad reputation in some Christian circles but I can’t coming back to the children’s song “Count Your Blessings”

Count Your Blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done.

For children, the physical things we have are easier to see. Encourage them to go further. Then instead of papering the house with their Christmas lists, engage them in making lists of things they could do for others as we approach Christmas. How can we show our gratitude for all that good things God has given us, whether material or spiritual, by serving others?

I’ll leave you with these words from Madame Blueberry as we speed into the biggest buying holiday of the year.

Because a thankful heart
Is a happy heart
We’re glad for what we have
That’s an easy way to start
For the love that He shares
As He listens to our prayers
That’s why we say thanks everyday
That’s why we say thanks everyday

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Photo Credit: Puzzler4879 via Compfight cc

A New Challenge: Fit2B Challenged

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This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

I’ve been using Fit2B Studio consistently for almost a year. I’ve reviewed Fit2B Beginning and Fit2B Advancing. I’ve highlighted the Relaxation Pathway, Tummy Safe Path to Great Abs and the Pathway to Amazing Arms. I’ve created my own schedule and combined Fit2B with Couch to 5K training. But I haven’t tackled Fit2B Challenged, until now.

The Layout

There are currently 12 Fit2B Challenged combos. I’m planned to tackle a four week program: three combos, 2 days a week walking (light cardio or weights would also work), a stretching stretching/relaxation day, and a rest day. I’ll probably take a bit of a break between Christmas and New Years, but I wanted to finish the year out strong fitness-wise.

Do You Feel Ready?

Fit2B Challenged is aptly named. In fact, just looking at it, it feels more like Fit2B Insane (which not coincidentally is the title of a couple of the workouts).

These combos are tough, pretty much a full hour or more of movement. This used to be my regular goal. Now it feels totally unattainable. A whole hour of exercise, that would mean doing it before my kids get up and in spite of the gathering darkness, they are getting up earlier and earlier these days.

Take It a Bit at a Time

Now, let it be said that you don’t have to do these in one sitting if you don’t have the time or are not yet physically fit enough. It still counts. Your body still acknowledges the increased effort even if you can’t do it all at once. When I had gestational diabetes I needed to exercise as much as possible to help maintain my blood sugar. But I didn’t have the energy to exercise for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. So I would try to do some exercise after every meal. I often got 40-60 minutes, just not all at once.

However, sometimes a challenge is worth the battle especially at a time when healthy eating and exercise tend to take a hiatus. So maybe you can’t exercise every day, but can you manage three times a week? I’ll be endeavoring to stick to my five days a week goal, but at a minimum I need to accomplish my three challenging combos each week.

Come back to check out my first attempts at these difficult combinations. Will you join me in the challenge?

I’ll be taking a week off from posting about Fit2B next week, but we’ll pick up again the first week in December as we tackle Fit2B Challenged!

The Challenge Begins: Fit2B Challenged Week 1

The Challenge Continues: Fit2B Challenged Week 2

Halfway Done: Fit2B Challenged Week 3

Challenge Accomplished: Fit2B Challenged Week 4

Give yourself the gift of fitness this holiday season. You can use the coupon code laundryblog to save 30% off a Fit2B Studio yearly membership. That’s less than $7 a month!
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Or check out the Fit2B Store for other great healthy living products.

Shop the Fit2B Online Store

Don’t forget the Fit2B e-course, Experts on Diastasis Recti, too.

Experts on Diastasis Recti Online Course 

The Thing We Have In Common–Imperfection: 31 Days to Clean

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What a perfect topic in honor of my long hiatus from this series. I had hoped to finish this series by the end of the year, but I know that just isn’t going to happen. Because there is far too much that I need to do that doesn’t involve cleaning my home. However, the holidays are all about hospitality and togetherness. So I feel this series is still very valid, otherwise I’d be waiting until after the New Year when we all suddenly want to make our lives perfect by making totally unrealistic resolutions.

I once heard someone say that bloggers are part of the problem. We make life look so perfect. Well, I don’t think I’m often accused of that. But maybe it’s because I tend to lean in the other extreme. I can be brutally honest at times, so much so that we get phone calls at our house from concerned relatives. Really, I’m fine. I’m just trying to be real. Because anyone who is currently parenting children knows it can be rough. We all have our own strengths. For some ladies this is a clean home. Their houses always seem to look so put together. That’s not me. There are always toy trains on the floor. (These are more ubiquitous than Legos at our house), and typically plates in the sink and on the kitchen table. Baskets of laundry, sometimes both clean and dirty, can be found in the living room, kitchen and upstairs hallway. Even if I’ve just cleaned the bathroom, it won’t look or smell that way after no less than 15 minutes because that’s just how life with kids is. I honestly believe it takes me longer to clean the bathroom than it actually stays clean.

But I digress, this is a series to encourage us to clean. The point is, none of us is perfect and demanding perfect of ourselves is both unfair and unrealistic.

Mary Challenge

What are some areas of your life that you’ve been striving for perfection, perhaps due to comparison?  Pray about these areas and ask God to replace any lies with truth. The truth is, I am a homeschooling mom with two kids, ages 2 and 5. We live in a small, half a double. These are not excuses, they are facts. Because we are home a lot, my house gets messy. My children can pick up after themselves somewhat, but are too young to help share the full burden. This is my life right now. I am a good mom and a good wife, the condition of my kitchen floor is not a reflection of my worth as a human being. My house will never be clean and perfectly put together for as long as I have children living in my home. That’s OK. I’m trying to learn to embrace the imperfection and love the children anyway.

Martha Challenge

Clean and Organize electronics, shine the wood furniture.

This is a great challenge. But, if it causes you more stress than it produces peace, feel free not to do it. Because you need to do what gives you strength. If having that DVD shelf more organized makes you feel like your world is just a little more together, than more power to you. But if you really don’t care how it looks and it doesn’t bother you, then don’t invest energy in something that doesn’t provide you with any positive benefit.

As we approach a time of year when it’s really easy to become obsessed with glossy, magazine pictures of perfectly organized and decorated holiday homes, let’s remember that none of us really has that. But having people in your home, whether loving family or dear friends is worth any mess it produces. Experience matters more than image. Be hospitable, even if you don’t feel like your house is up to it, make sure your heart is.

 

31 Days to Clean: Having a Martha House the Mary Way

Why Clean?: 31 Days to Clean

Created to Give Life: 31 Days to Clean

10 Ways to Give Life to Your Home: 31 Days to Clean

A Place to Put Your Feet Up: 31 Days to Clean

Priorities: 30 Days to Clean

The 6 List: 31 Days to Clean

The Curse – What We’re Up Against: 31 Days to Clean

Overcoming the Curse: 31 Days to Clean

Confronting Laziness: 31 Days to Clean

Feeling Overwhelmed: 31 Days to Clean

Limitations: 31 Days to Clean

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