What was your theme for 2016?

What was your theme for 2016?

I know a lot of people who start the new year with a word for the year. I’m always so inspired when I see the words people choose, and I have tried many times to do this. For some reason, I’ve never been able to look ahead and select one word as my focus for the next year. One thing I do much better is look back and review the past.

As I’ve been thinking about 2016, my theme for the year was “seeking clarity.” I know it’s not one word. I wish I could say that my theme was “clarity,” but I’m not there yet.

When I think about what made 2016 unique, my mind automatically goes to Feb. 10. That was the first day of Lent, and the day that right in the middle of an episode of Alias on Netflix, it became clear to me that I needed to respond to the nagging in my heart to give up watching television shows.

The most positive side effect of this change was that I now had at least an hour a day, if not more, to pursue other interests. I started devoting more time to my creative hobbies. I discovered podcasts and started listening to shows that helped me in my spiritual walk and work life. I subscribed to Audible and began listening to more audio books. All of these things have had an impact on helping me seek clarity in what I love to do and what makes me unique.

For the purpose of this blog post, I want to focus on a few books that have made a big impact on my year and my theme of seeking clarity.


One of the first books I listened to this year was called, Living Forward, by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. The book helps readers identify the key areas of their life and take an inventory of how they are doing in each of these areas. The writers actually have an online assessment if you want to do that an easier way. I remember sitting on the beach while we were on spring break in March, and going through the top 12 areas of my life. I wrote down how I was doing in each area and how I wanted to improve this year. I loved creating that baseline that I can look back on at other points to see how I’m progressing.


We’ve all heard the adage that “less is more,” and this book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, helped me see how that applies to so many areas of my life. The author, Greg McKeown, helps readers think about the clutter that is keeping them from focusing on what really matters. This applies to all areas of life, but has been a great tool in my work life. Thinking this way helps me ask myself if I am doing tasks that someone else could do or focusing on the things that only I can do.


I read StrengthsFinder about seven years ago, and felt a need to go through it again this year. I was thankful that our entire staff at work actually went through it together. The book comes with a code you can use to take the StrengthsFinder test online. You also can take the test online for $15 without purchasing the book. Having greater clarity about my strengths, as well as those of my co-workers has been incredibly useful in helping me focus on what I do well, while asking for assistance in areas where I struggle.


I have become a huge Gretchen Rubin fan this year. I read two of her books, and faithfully listen to her podcast. Happier at Home and Better than Before both focus on one of the topics I’m obsessed with in life: habits. Better than Before gave me a better understanding of some of the reasons we create habits and changes I can make to break bad habits. Happier at Home has transformed the way I think about each month. It inspired me to think about what makes each month unique, changes I can make to cherish the time and how I can set monthly goals.


A few other books that made an impact on my this year were Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, who also wrote The Power of Habit. I also enjoyed Born for This by Chris Guillebeau and The Sleep Revolution by Ariana Huffington.


I guess it’s fitting that one of the books that will conclude my year is The Road Back to You, which I addressed in my last two blog posts. This book has been huge in helping me understand not only myself, but the people I love most.

What about you? As you look back at 2016, did your year have a theme? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

(This post includes affiliate links to the books that influenced me in 2016.)


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October habit tracker

October habit tracker


“If you want a change, you have to be willing to make a change.”

I have been listening to Gretchen Rubin’s book, “Happier At Home,” and that line has been ringing in my head. It’s so simple, but so true.

As you all now know from doing the math on my family date canvas, I’m 47 years old. I’m old enough to act like an adult. And yet, many times I seem to think I’m just going to start doing things adults do without any effort on my part. I will suddenly start adulting.

I will start making my bed every morning. I will send thank you notes on time. I will floss my teeth every night. I will feed my family nutritious and well-balanced meals.

But if I don’t ever take any action to do any of these things, why do I think they will magically start happening on their own? I’ve always loved setting yearly goals for myself, but after listening to Rubin’s book, I am realizing how powerful it can be to set a monthly goal.

In “Happier at Home,” Rubin took one year and gave herself a set of habits to accomplish each month. Many of them were so simple. For example, she decided to give warm greetings and fond farewells when her husband or two daughters entered or left the house. How easy is that? And yet, how often do the kids go off to school with nothing more than a “Bye, Mom!” shouted from downstairs while I’m getting out of the shower upstairs.

I also love how she used certain months to tackle larger goals, like actually uploading her photos to Shutterfly and getting her photo albums printed. I’ve been inspired to make a list of some nagging projects that I could accomplish if I would just set aside a few minutes each day to get them done!

At the beginning of October, I decided to start things off with a habit tracker for the month. At first, I tried creating one in my bullet journal, but I was quickly dissastified because it’s not nearly neat or cute enough. Instead, I redesigned it on my computer and printed it out to keep in my planner. (Here’s one you can download.) My habits for the month include reading my Bible everyday, making my bed (again!) and walking 12,000 steps each day. I’m also tracking my weight each day.

I’ve started a list in my bullet journal of the larger projects I want to tackle as well. I think it’s time for me to admit that our old home movies that are stored on VHS aren’t magically going to convert themselves to DVD. All of the photos on my computer aren’t suddenly going to show up on my door step in the form of a photo album. And we only have a few more years that these wonderful children are going to live in our home. I need to be more intentional in a few areas with them!

How about you? Do you have any new habits you are trying to create? What are the big projects that you need to tackle? I would love to hear!


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the fine print on planners, to-do lists and more

the fine print on planners, to-do lists and more


I loved reading all of your comments yesterday here and on Facebook about the important life topic of planners, journals, pens and Altoid tins. It’s so good to know I’m not the only one who makes a detour to the office supply aisle just to gaze at notebooks.

Before I move onto another topic, I wanted to go into more detail about the system I mentioned in my earlier post about how I use both technology and old school pen and paper to keep things organized.


A few years ago, I discovered Cozi, and it has become my online calendar of choice. It’s very similar to iCal or Google in terms of how you enter events into the calendar, make them recurring and share calendars across computers and devices. I love that I can color code events by family member and that our kids can log in to Cozi on their iPods to check the family calendar.

The main reason I decided to use Cozi over another calendar is that I wanted to be able to print our monthly family calendar and insert it into my planner. The key feature I was looking for in a printable calendar was cute. Because it’s all about the cute.

When you print out the Cozi calendar from the month view, the calendar grid is in color and the colors change to match the season. For example, it’s green in spring, brown in fall and blue in winter. It includes a photo of our family in the top corner. Cozi also uses a pleasant font, instead of the standard Arial or Helvetica. In other words. Cute.


Being able to print out the monthly calendar is super important to me because it saves me from re-entering all of those details into my planner. With school schedules, sports practices, games, youth group, work meetings, volunteer commitments and church functions, our monthly calendar is absolutely packed. It’s honestly too much to try to write using pen and ink, especially since so many of the events repeat every week.

However, I do still love having a place to write my daily to-do lists. On paper. With a pen.

This is where I have started using the iheartorganizing weekly planner. I like it because it’s a pdf download that I can insert into my binder. By doing it this way, I can add my printed monthly calendar, as well as other important documents in between the pages of my planner. I couldn’t do that with a spiral bound planner.

The iheart planner is cute, colorful and formatted in a way that is perfect for my daily lists and weekly goals. It gives me plenty of room to write my daily list of tasks I need to accomplish, and includes a place to write my goals for the week.
A few years ago, I invested in an Arc system binder that is sold at Staples, and this is where I keep my iheart planner. The Arc system is pricier than a normal binder, and it requires a special hole punch to insert new pages. But the beauty of it is that it isn’t as bulky as a three-ring binder, so I can carry it everywhere. I’ve been using it for my planner for several years, so I finally feel like it was worth the investment.


In addition to my daily binder, I also have all of my printables that I have created to help keep track of chores, house cleaning duties, meal plans and whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher. I just print these off as needed, but it’s nice to have them designed and ready to go. You can take a look at a bunch of my printables here. And here’s a link to the daily checklists we use in the summer.


So, why on earth would I need a bullet journal in addition to all of these other forms of planning and lists? I have been using the bullet journal for information I want to reference. It includes a lot of ideas that I want to write down in a central location so I can find them all later!

For example, I’ve started using my journal to log web site passwords. I have a list of books I want to read. I have a page of craft project ideas. I have notes I want to remember about healthy eating. I use it to track my weight and habits I’m trying to establish. I jot down one sentence “bullet journal” entries.

I could also keep all of these notes in Evernote or on my phone, but I do love writing things on paper.


I have to admit that my new obsession with bullet journaling has me rethinking my system. For a while, I have had this idea swirling around in the back of my head about how I could create a planner with premade doodles on each page to color. My brain also has been obsessing over a printable version of the bullet journal idea, so stay tuned…


Until then, I would love to hear what works for you. Do you use an online calendar and which one? Do you prefer pen and paper? Have you found a planner that you love? Do you use printables? A bullet journal? Do tell!

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a clean slate

a clean slate


I don’t think there are many people in my circle of friends who get half as excited as I do about the promise of a new year. There’s nothing I love more than the opportunity of a clean slate. It gives me a feeling I can do anything I set my mind to. My past is behind me, and I have a chance at a fresh start.

The past few years I’ve noticed that my clean slate mentality isn’t just limited to Jan. 1. Throughout the year, there are several natural breaking points at which I find myself regrouping. I start a new exercise program. I make a change to my diet. I start organizing my house. I recommit myself to reading.

I seem to do this around my birthday in April, again at the end of May as we enter our summer routine and once more Labor Day weekend. It’s the beginning of a new season and the start of a new schedule now that school is in full swing.

This past Labor Day weekend, I listened to a book during our long road trip about habits. The book is called, “Better than Before” by Gretchen Rubin. I loved a lot about this book, but the thing I loved most was the discovery that another human being inhabiting the planet loves thinking about habits as much as I do! I have been obsessed with habits the past five years or so. I’ve tried to figure out why habits play such a major role in how I live my life. I’ve tried to discover the best way to break bad habits. And I’ve studied and experimented with how I can create good habits.

One of the things Rubin talked about in her book is this idea of the clean slate. Since I “read” the book as an audio book, I can’t even go back and look up exactly what she wrote. But she got me thinking about how the clean slate creates a mental reset that gives me confidence I can do things differently than I have in the past.

This past summer I had a literal “clean slate” experience. The day my doctor told me I had Celiac Disease, I was forced to make the most radical lifestyle change I have ever made! Thankfully, he told me my blood test showed I had a severe case of Celiac Disease several days before I had a biopsy to confirm my diagnosis. That gave me a few days to start processing what that would mean for my life. Then, to prepare for my colonoscopy, I literally had to clean out my digestive system. Talk about a clean slate!

Once that was done, it somehow empowered me to believe I could do this. I told myself that everything bad had been cleaned out of my system, so I didn’t dare eat anything that would make me sick again. From that moment forward, I haven’t even considered eating gluten. I read every label, and I don’t think about cheating. Eliminating so many of my favorite foods from my diet has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. But it’s what I have to do, so I do it.

As I thought about how far I’ve come, it made me realize that maybe I could apply that same thinking to other areas of my life. If I can give up gluten, I can make some changes that aren’t nearly as difficult, I told myself!

I got up Monday morning and made my bed. (You might remember that this is one of the habits I’ve been trying to create for a while now!) I went for a 3-mile half jog/half walk. I ate a high protein diet that I’ve been wanting to try. I’m even updating my blog after several months of inactivity.

I’ve decided that starting new routines in September is less intimidating than setting a goal for the whole year. January is only four months away, so I want to see how far I can get in creating better habits before then… when I’ll get another clean slate. 🙂

How about you? Do you find yourself trying to create better routines at the start of the school year? Are you interested in habits? Do you have any new habits you would like to create? I would love to hear in the comments section!

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why I quit TV and how I’m refilling my brain

why I quit TV and how I’m refilling my brain



I don’t really consider myself a big TV person. It’s so rare that I actually turn on the one television set in our house, that when I do, I usually have to ask for help remembering how to find the right channel.

But in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday (which was on Feb. 10), I was feeling increasingly convicted that I needed to give up watching TV shows during the 40 days of Lent. Despite my inability to make the TV work, I’ve started watching TV shows more than I would like to admit. It’s never in the standard form of actually sitting down in front of a big black screen at a certain time of day or recording something on some type of device.

Instead, for me, it was launching the Netflix app on my phone and binging on a commercial free TV series while I folded laundry or performed some mindless chore. That’s how it started anyway.

Then, it became my way of winding down before bed or vegging out after a hard day.

We all have our thing, right? That one thing we turn to so we can avoid thinking about something difficult. So we can just chill and relax. For some people it’s food or drinks. It could be drugs or alcohol. Chocolate or the Internet. Facebook or Twitter.

For me, watching TV shows was starting to become not just a distraction or entertainment, but an escape from real life.

As much as I didn’t even want to think of myself as a person who watched a lot of TV, I really, really, reallllly did not want to give it up.

I came up with lots of reasons why Lent is just a big legalistic tradition that I don’t even have an obligation to observe. But on the morning of Feb. 10, I was so convicted that I knew I didn’t have a choice. I deleted Netflix and any other TV viewing apps from my phone. I had gone to bed midway through an episode of Alias. But I knew that had to be it.

It’s always interesting to me how hard it is to start something new or stop something you’ve been doing for a while. I actually felt kind of jittery the first few days without any TV shows. It was almost as bad as giving up caffeine or quitting sugar. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my brain when I didn’t have the option to fill it with some quick entertainment. But after one week without TV, I feel like I’ve put my brain on a new exercise program.

Here are my results:

1. One of the main reasons I gave up watching TV is that I wanted to create more time in my schedule to read. Instead of reading the Bible or other books that could help me grow as a person, I was taking the easy road by consuming television. I’m happy to say I’ve been keeping up with our church’s Lenten Bible reading plan and reading more books than I have in a long time.

2. After a few days without TV, I couldn’t believe how much space I had in my brain! I didn’t realize that my mind wasn’t just occupied by a show while it was on. I continued to think about a plot line or character even when I wasn’t watching a show. Without it, I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about things that matter. I’ve been working on some planning that I needed to do. I’ve been much more focused.

3. Since giving up TV, I’ve rediscovered podcasts. I used to listen to a lot of podcasts, but I had quit during the past few years. It’s amazing how much that world has grown since then! I’ve been subscribing to podcasts like crazy lately, and I love filling my brain with positive thinking when I’m driving or doing housework. I’m only listening to podcasts with an inspirational or motivational message. So this has actually helped me expand my thinking, rather than dumbing down my brain and avoiding life like TV did.

These are some of my recent favorites:

This is Your Life with Michael Hyatt

James MacDonald: Walk in the Word

Communicate Church: A Fishhook Podcast

Craig Groeschel

Catalyst Podcast

Your Move with Andy Stanley

The Phil Vischer Podcast

With one week down in the 40 days of Lent, I really can’t believe how much better I feel. I’m not constantly distracted by wanting to find out what will happen next in some TV show. I’ve been filling my brain with more positive messages. I’m more focused and have  time to think, rather than using entertainment as a way to dodge the need to work through the issues in life.

What about you? Did you give up something for Lent? How is it going? Do you love watching TV? Have you listened to any good podcasts lately? I would love to know!

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My perfect week

My perfect week

How has your new year been going so far? Are you excited about the opportunity to do something new or better this year? Or do you feel overwhelmed by the pressure to have a resolution, set a goal, improve yourself in some way?

I have to admit, I’ve fallen into the second category this year. I typically love to set goals. I love the excitement of a fresh start. A blank page. A new adventure.


But this year, I started out tired and grumpy. I didn’t really want to think about adding anything to a life that already feels like it’s crammed so full I can barely keep track of everything. However, during the past week, I’ve slowly been getting back to my old self and gaining some energy about the idea of trying to add order, vision and goals into my life.

I was reading one of my Super Smart People blogs the other day, and I came across a post by Michael Hyatt. He wrote about how he maps out his ideal week. Instead of setting goals for the week to take him to an end result, he works the other way. He paints a picture of what his week would look like if everything went perfectly. He then works backward to determine what he needs to do to get to that end result. (My friend, Lara, wrote about this idea here this week, too.)

I was both intrigued and frightened by this concept. But I really wanted to give it a try.

I was overwhelmed at first. It felt like creating a budget. It seems we never have enough money to do all the things we want to do. I didn’t want to look at my calendar and feel the same way about my time.

As I looked at the squares representing each day, I wondered how I would be able to find space to do all the things I want to do:

  • Grow spiritually and mentally.
  • Improve my health through consistent exercise and better meal planning.
  • Improve in using my talents and explore areas of interest.
  • Be a better wife and mother to our four kids.
  • Meet my goals in my job, while only working 20-30 hours a week.
  • Reach out to other people and grow in relationships.
  • Improve in my role as the primary house cleaner and cook.
  • Help our kids grow spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
  • Be present and active in all of the sports, activities and other pursuits of our kids.

“There’s no way,” I thought. “It’s just too much.”

Surprisingly, though, the opposite was true. I was actually able to add everything to my calendar and still have plenty of “me” time (in green), as well as blank space that is open for whatever. (I know much of that white space will be filled with basketball games, gymnastics meets and baseball, but still… At least it’s open!)


Here’s what I found by creating my perfect week on paper:

1. If I stick to the plan, I should have enough time to do the things I want to do, plus the margin I’m seeking to enjoy life more this year.

2. It has helped me stay on task. By scheduling the time I will go for walks, clean the house and even take a break, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else during that time.

3. It has given me more freedom. I have a somewhat flexible work schedule (I work from home several days a week), which is a huge blessing. It’s also tempting to work too much. By keeping my perfect week in front of my, it’s a good reminder to shut down my computer and move on to something else.

I’m only a few days in, but I’m really loving this approach to planning my days. (You can download Michael Hyatt’s template for creating an ideal week here.)

So, tell me…  Do you enjoy setting goals or do you avoid them? Are you doing anything differently this year that is helping you reach your goals? I would love to hear how your year is going so far. (Thank you so much for all of your comments here on my blog and over on my Facebook page.)

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