A baby, a bulletproof vest and a long blog hiatus

Friends! Good morning! I feel like finding some kind of GIF that says "I'm BAAAAAAACK" but to be honest, I have NO idea where/how people find GIFs (what does GIF even stand for!?) so pretend there's one here:

For a long time (like, several years) I've been going back and forth on blogging. When I had my photography business, I struggled with whether or not I should have a business blog for all my photo stuff, and a personal blog for everything else I wanted to post. In high school and college, I loved keeping a personal blog for more personal, long form writing - almost an online journal. Then it seemed like overnight, there was an explosion of professional blogs and sponsored posts and blogging for money. I decided that I wanted to go that route, so suddenly it felt like my blog couldn't be a space for personal rambling - it needed to be and look legit. Long story short, there's been a lot of pressure as to how this space should look. All self-imposed, of course. And it lead me to wanting to quit altogether. But I've realized over the last several months that a) I really miss blogging and b) I'm done with the pressure. So, I'm back! And I'm really excited about it.

The last few months have been FULL. Crazy, hard, amazing, so sweet. Matt is a full-blown police officer now! I mean, he's still in training until November, but he gets dressed in his very official uniform and goes to work in his very official police car so it feels very official to me :) I was SO hoping that I'd be able to attend Matt's graduation from the law enforcement academy and the stars aligned to make my dream come true...Zelie, Xavier and I were able to go (thanks to my mom, Matt's parents and our friend Christine who were also all there to help, as I was just 10 days postpartum!) and it was so incredible to watch Matt walk across that stage and graduate after 15 long weeks. The police academy was so challenging for our whole family, but also a season that bore so much fruit for me individually and also for our marriage. I'm grateful :)

So now we live in the world of bulletproof vests, Matt having to sit facing the door every time we go out to eat, missing him while he works nights and trying to get out of the house with the kids while he sleeps during the day. It has been a truly hard transition to be honest, but we are figuring it out more each day with LOTS of help from our village and LOTS of conversations about what is and isn't working.

And...we had a baby! Of course she's been introduced on instagram and I hope to have her birth story up here soon. Sweet Zelie James is an absolute dream and we are smitten. Xavier loves to say "hi" to her in the mornings, put toys on her while she's sleeping aaaaaand rip her pacifier out of her mouth as soon as she falls asleep. Life with two under two is crazytown, as expected, but also incredibly more fun than I could have ever imagined. Don't get me wrong...there are a LOT of tears on all parts (especially mine) and a lot of me just stopping amidst the crazy to yell "WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING RIGHT NOW" (yep, true story) and a lotttttttttt of prayers of "Jesus...I can't. Please help!" And of course, He always does.

All in all, I am so grateful for this season and all the lessons and gifts it's brought and continues to bring. I wouldn't trade this wild life with my three sweet humans for the entire world. Hoping you're all having the loveliest summer and so excited to be hanging out with you again, here. xo!

EIGHT QUICK LIFEHACKS

As I mentioned before, now that my annual whole-house purge is done, I've moved onto the "make everything more efficient and functional" phase. You might call it nesting, I just call it being Valerie ;) I've noted a few things we do that make our lives just a littttttle bit easier and thought I'd share them with you all here! Because after all, every little bit helps, right? If you have others, I'd love to hear! Pop some ideas into the comments so we can all get in on the making-life-easier action :) XO!

1. Write giftcard balances directly on the giftcard. If I think I'll use the card more than once to use up the remainder (for example, a $20 balance on a Chipotle card will likely get me two meals), I write the balance on a piece of washi tape stuck to the back of the card. I just replace the washi tape with a new piece and write the new balance every time I use the card. If I think I'll use up the card on my next visit (i.e., an $8 balance on a Chipotle card), I just write the balance in sharpie right on the back! I keep all the giftcards in a little cloth pouch in my purse so they're always together and less likely to get lost.

2. Keep a box of notecards (blank, thank you, whatever you prefer) pre-stamped and with your return address already written on them. Keep another box without stamps or address, for slipping into gifts. I also keep a package of thank-you notes, a package of blank notes and a sheet of stamps in my car, for writing and sending quick notes while on the go.

3. Collect hair ties with book rings to keep them from disappearing. I got a package of book rings at the grocery store (office supply aisle) for $2. I think they'll last my entire lifetime - there were like 100 in the package. I hang the hairtie ring on a tiny command hook stuck to the inside of my bathroom medicine cabinet so they're easily accessible.

4. Keep a notepad stuck to the fridge for groceries, and store a pen in the utensil drawer so there's always one handy. Whenever you run out of something or think of something you need to pick up, you can easily jot it down! There are probably apps out there that do this, but I'm a hardcore pen-and-paper gal :)

5. Label your bed pillows. We use all white cases, but certain pillows go beneath the comforter (the ones we actually sleep on) and certain ones go above the comforter, and we were always getting them confused, along with which ones belonged to me and my husband. I used a sharpie and labeled them with "M - T" for "Matt, top" or "V - B" for "Val, bottom." Now when we wash the sheets and replace the cases, it's easy to know which pillow goes where!

6. Make a "loan list" on the notes app on your phone. Jot down anytime you loan someone an item with the date, item, and who borrowed it. Nothing is worse than going to grab something, vaguely remembering you loaned it out, but having no idea who has it or when you gave it away.

7. Keep track of books you want to read in sectioned Amazon lists. I got this idea from Val Woerner I think, and it's worked great for me. I personally dislike the user interface of GoodReads, and never really utilized it because I don't find the site to be very user-friendly. Instead, I made several categorized lists on my Amazon account and keep track of the books I want to read that way. The lists are all private so no one can see them but me, but every year around my birthday and Christmas, I'll add a few I want to own to my public wishlist. I have the Amazon app on my phone, so I can easily browse my list when visiting the library, and I can also easily add titles I see while scrolling Instagram or blogs on my phone. Keeping the lists separated by category helps me if I know I'm in the mood to read non-fiction, or a parenting book, or a marriage book. To keep track of books I read each year, I use a simple Google Doc. I can access it on my phone and easily add the title as soon as I finish!

8. Delete all the social media accounts you don't actually like or use. For me, that meant everything except Facebook (which I use solely for accountability groups and sharing photos of Xavier with my family - I only have family as friends) and Instagram. Oh, and Pinterest, but for some reason I never count that. I deleted Twitter, LinkedIn, GoodReads, SnapChat, all of them. I can view any Twitter feed I ever care about without an account (mostly news accounts if there are major events going on) and I realized that during this season of my life, having a LinkedIn account was completely pointless. If I ever need one, I can start over. Not getting emails - even occasionally - from all the different social media channels has been SO great.

8 GREAT WAYS TO BATTLE PAPER CLUTTER

I've got spring cleaning on my mind with the 60-degree weather we've been having, so I have a few posts lined up on the topic. The first is this - how to battle that seemingly ever-present paper clutter! The mail each day. The coupons and giftcards and invitations and this that and the other thing. Where to start?! We have a pretty good system down in our house, and rarely have piles of paper anywhere anymore. Here are the best tips for keeping the paper clutter to a minimum. Granted - I don't have school-age kids, and I know that is a whole other ball game, one that I cannot speak to. I'm sure Pinterest has great ideas!

FOOLPROOF TIPS FOR CORRALLING THE PAPER CLUTTER

1. Filing system // I talked about this in detail in last week's post, but having a system for filing important papers and documents is crucial. It doesn't have to be fancy, but having a designated spot to put bills, retirement account statements, medical records, etc. keeps those things easily findable and most importantly, off the horizontal surfaces in your house! I don't necessarily file papers right away, but I have a tray that sits on top of the file box so I can collect things that need to be filed throughout the month in one single spot, rather than having them float all over the house.

2. System for daily mail // Our daily mail routine is simple: I check the mailbox, and decide right then and there if it's to be opened or recycled. Example: mortgage statement: open. Pottery Barn Kids catalog that will fill me with envy and greed (how did they even get my address?!): recycle. The recycle pile gets taken immediately to the paper recycling bin as soon as I get inside. The open pile, surprisingly, gets opened! And then we deal with all that stuff accordingly. Taking five minutes each day to actually open and sort your mail and not letting it pile up on the counter, the island, the coffee table is such an easy way to keep paper clutter at bay!

3. Place for coupons // If you use coupons, even infrequently, having a specific spot for them is so helpful. We rarely use coupons, but I keep the ones I save in two places - grocery coupons get stored in our Dave Ramsey envelope wallet which lives in my purse, and all other coupons (like ones for Shutterfly or random stores) get clipped to a magnetic clip on the side of the fridge. This way, I'm not always hunting down the coupon when I want to finally order the 20% photobook from Shutterfly or whatever I might be buying.

4. Place for gift cards // All of our gift cards are stored in a fabric pouch in my wallet. Occasionally, Matt has a random fast food gift card in his car or wallet, if it's somewhere only he frequents or somewhere close to his work. We keep the gift card balance written in Sharpie on the back of the card so we don't have to keep track of receipts, and all the gift cards are always in my purse if I find myself out and about!

5. System for manuals // I recently recycled most of our appliance/electronics manuals after someone clued me in to the fact that you can find them online, but prior to that, all our manuals lived in a designated bin in a cupboard. Now, I have them as PDFs in a file on my computer, which is even better. If you can't or don't want to store them electronically, just designate a drawer or a bin or some kind of container and toss new manuals in the minute you get your new gadget.

6. System for "to be dealt with" papers // We have a tray that sits on top of our printer that is a drop zone for all things that need to be taken care of. Whether it's a bill that needs to be paid, an account I need to call about, an invitation to a shower we can't attend but I want to order a gift for, etc. Everything goes in that tray and I know if it's in there, it needs my attention before it can be filed, recycled, shredded or trashed.

7. Somewhere to keep invitations // Our system for this is simple - the fridge! I know people are either in the "clutter free fridge front" camp or the "magnet all of the things" camp, and we are definitely in the latter. When we receive an invitation, I quickly check my calendar right away to figure out if we can attend the event. If we can, I try to rsvp immediately by email on my phone, and the invite gets taped to the fridge (I keep a roll of washi tape in a kitchen drawer for this purpose). If we can't attend, the invite goes into the "to be dealt with" tray, and I rsvp that we can't make it and order a gift (if applicable) before recycling the invitation.

8. Paper recycling bin // Last but not least, having an accessible bin to toss papers in is so helpful. I bought a cheap flexible bin at HomeGoods that is stashed in my office, and we throw all of our paper in it. Thankfully, our city recycling program is awesome and doesn't require us to sort material, so once a week or so I just dump the bin into our curbside recycling bin and we are good to go. But, many churches and such have paper recycling bins in their parking lots - you can go here to find a recycling center near you.

Any other tips, especially for alllllll the things that come home with kiddos? We're still a ways off from that, but I'm all ears to file away for future! xo!