Posts in Summer of Happiness
A nature hunt in your backyard

This post is sponsored by Sprout by HP, but the project and thoughts are all mine. Thank you for your support of the brands that support Pars Caeli.

So many wonderful summer, childhood memories can be created right in our backyard. Literally. Though I've lived in multiple locations, I can vividly remember the natural details within the backyards of our homes. One had a grape arbor, one a favorite cement patch and views of cows at pasture, and another the sweet smell of lilacs. A returning summer goal of mine is for my children to spend more time outside, in our yard. I want them to run/jump/climb and to use their broad imaginations to create, and to learn about the natural classroom we have right outside our door.

So, I decided to make a game of it. A scavenger hunt! With three children, ages 5, 8, and 10, I wanted varying levels of difficulty so I decided to make a printable that they could all use.

Create a scavenger hunt out of leaves, branches, and blooms for the backyard. Help your children learn how to identify the environment around them through this fun game!

Create a scavenger hunt out of leaves, branches, and blooms for the backyard. Help your children learn how to identify the environment around them through this fun game!

Here's how it works:

  • The 5-year old gets to take me on the journey as he finds and identifies each of the items.
  • The 8-year old will write down the names of the trees, plants, and flowers on the printable. She'll have to identify what she can from memory.
  • And the 10-year old will learn even more about these natural beauties by looking through our field guides (like the ones below). She's a lover of words and etymology so she's excited to take on some Latin roots.

I went out to the yard with camera and bucket in hand, ready to collect treasures. It's important to me that my children be able to identify local trees, plants, and flowers so I added samples of the varieties that we have in our yard.

For our printable, I used the HP Sprout to make photo-realistic images that I could manipulate quickly. I love creating special projects for my children, but I don't have a ton of time to do so. The Sprout was super helpful on this!

I captured the twelve items, rotated them on the page, and scaled them for a two-column layout. I could see keeping them on the computer, too, so that the kids can make their own pictures with our backyard features.

The  HP Sprout  helps make any three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional piece of art! We used these natural elements for a scavenger hunt of our backyard.

The HP Sprout helps make any three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional piece of art! We used these natural elements for a scavenger hunt of our backyard.


I'm excited to explore!! We all need to understand the world around us more, and this is a wonderful summer learning game, too.

How do you make the most of your outdoor space?

xoxo, MJ

Other fun options with a nature's scavenger hunt could include taking photos of the leaves and flowers in your yard and printing them out for children to identify and find. You could also have them use the found objects from the bucket to run around and put them back in their natural habitats. This is a great opportunity to talk about each plant and variety!

What would you create with a Sprout?

P.S. Did you see how else we've used our Sprout?

Endless Summer Projects: Super Soaker

Today is definitely an oxymoron around here. It's the end of Endless Summer Projects!! When the four of us conceived this series way back when, it seemed like August was worlds away.

Here we are.

Huge thanks to my collaborator girls - Melissa (the brains behind the series) of Lulu the Baker, Jen of Classic Play, and Alexandra of We have something cooking already to help with the happiest holidays ever.... stay tuned.

Today's project is over at Classic Play, and it's such a great one to close the summer fun. The Super Soaker is made right from items you have in your kitchen, and your kids are going to love it!!

In my house, we're in T minus 6 over here for the start of third and first grade as well as preschool. All my kiddos will be at the same school this year, and it's getting me all emotional...and all excited that my commutes will be just a bit more efficient!!

I'm taking off tomorrow in blogland, but I'll see you here next Tuesday for the final Celebrate the Normal post. Please join in!! It's going to be a beautiful way to mark the close of summer.

xoxo, MJ


The Entire Series of Endless Summer Projects:

Mosaic Stepping Stones by Lulu the Baker

Weeknight Barbeque by Alexandra Hedin

Sharpie Dyed Tee Shirts by Pars Caeli

Celebrate the Normal: 2nd to the last

Howdy, friends. We are back after a little time away visiting family throughout the midwest. I don't know if I could call it a vacation, but we did celebrate a whole lot of normal and had a ton of playtime so I can't complain. Please forgive my Thursday absence... sometimes finding time to blog amidst hours of outdoor fun and family time is not so easy (as well as finding wifi connections).

I am happy-sad to let you know that next week will be our last Celebrate the Normal post. This summer Tuesday community days have kept me inspired, surprised, curious, and always grateful. You just never know what the universe (or blog world) will send back when you put out an open request. And I've been nothing but overwhelmed by your generosity of beauty.

Round these parts, we're celebrating our last week before school starts which means some sleepovers with mom (it's still cool), more sibling parties, and an extra helping of chocolate chip pancakes.

Sooo, if you're a diehard contributor, someone who's offered a few photos this summer, or someone who's sat on the sidelines, be sure to tag your photos this week. I put these posts together Monday evening so you've got a whole lotta time to get to enjoying.


Thanks for a dynamic summer. It was one for the books (not sure yet which books, but something of note for sure). #celebratethenormal 

Let's just say that dance parties on a boat are than much more fab. ~ M.J.

Learning to crochet ~ Elizabeth

Sometimes you just have to spin yourself silly. ~ Meagan

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, Let me walk upon the waters, Wherever You call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander. And my faith be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior. ~ Brittani

Playtime after home vent training. Needed this! ~ Melanie


This seems like a good idea. ~ Theresa

Have a bright week!

xoxo, MJ




Celebrate the Normal & the Big, Giant Wonderful

Happy Community Day, friends! Another fabulous edition of Celebrate the Normal is coming at you in just a minute. Before we go to those beauties, I have a question for you.

When was the last time you poured out a big, giant wonderful gesture of love? For your significant person, your kids, your mom ...even your dog? Or maybe this is easier, when was the last time you received a grand, sweeping gift that says, "you mean the whole kit and kaboodle to me." We all repeat the token, "it's the little things that matter..." but what about the really big things?

It's been a busy summer for me, friends, and a busy summer for my kids and hubs. We've done a lot of learning, working, and transporting and had a ton of fun in the process, but all of that awesome can leave one a bit drained and unmotivated to take on domestic rituals. Dishes have sat around too long, floors have cared for their own tribes of dust bunnies, bathrooms (well, I'll leave out the detail here), my laundry room is now our entire basement with clothes just wishing to find a home.

Connect this state of chaos with the responsibility of hosting two sets of wonderful families, both of whom have not been to our home in years, and both of whom we'd love to entertain in our home. I've been working Wednesday evenings in the office, and last Wednesday my hubs was taking care of basic cleaning tasks, bathing children, and getting them to sleep. I arrived home near midnight, promising that I'd set the alarm for super early and finish up what needed to still be done. Of course I said that even as my body was begging for rest, and my mind was well aware that, realistically, there was no way that I was getting even half of the stuff done.

I set the alarm for 4:30 am, and we both snuggled in for a few hours rest.

Bing. Cue my son coming in at 7:15 am to wake me up. I roll over and mutter something of hopeless defeat to my husband. He mutters back, "it's all done."

Not hearing or comprehending, I stumbled off to the shower and attempted to narrow down the home tasks to what I could do in sweeping strokes. Sprinting out of the shower, throwing clothes on my still-wet body, I sort of notice that the bathroom is clean (perhaps I'm just imagining it?), and stammering down the stairs I see the shiny floors, the clean laundry, and I detect a new, fresh smell coming from the kitchen.

I find my husband.

"What? How did this happen?"

Seems that my husband allowed me to fall asleep (which likely took a whole 5-10 seconds) and proceeded to clean, polish, scrub, dust, and reorganize for the next three hours. He then returned to the snuggle (I, of course, had not moved at all), and racked up a whopping 2 hours of sleep.

Friends, I married a sweet man. He showers me with attention and affection, but, even for him, this was a huge, sweeping gesture of love. And for me it was the equivalent of the Christmas commercials with the Lexus SUV all wrapped up with a giant red bow and parked in the snowy driveway.

I love him, and I've been challenged to think, "When will I show my love in big, giant wonderful ways?" How bout you?

July 17 ~ roglows

The kids and I made this "stained glass" piece yesterday. ~ jenmygatt

Lottie's first sparkler ~ Dani

Oatmeal: it's what for dinner. Don't have time to make a big dinner, so it's pumpkin peanut butter oatmeal before we head out the door. The kids think they have hit the jackpot. ~ Meagan

She's a blonde ~ melbella97

Toes in the sand ~ erin_lily

Tomato hues ~ M.J.

Biking in Canada yesterday. I want to buy our own bikes so we can ride around Seattle! ~ Elizabeth

Keep your eyes open for little acts of love coming your way this week, and set into motion your next grand gesture of love! Join us next week for another great round on Celebrate the Normal!

xoxo, MJ

Endless Summer Projects: Memoir Boxes

Hi y'all!

It's time once again to offer you some fresh ideas on how to craft the summer away with your kiddos, and today I have a great rainy day project to engage the whole family. I hope you've been creating along with us and following the other amazing mamas: Alexandra, Melissa, and Jen (put Bloglovin' or Feedly to work and keep up to date with these go getters).

Have you ever returned from vacation or a great outing and wished that you could capture the entire experience? The why didn't I take some video? The I should have written down some of our favorite memories?

Let's write a memoir. Too daunting? Clear your head of the anthology, giant biography kind of dust collector and envision more of a memory collector, short and sweet. A friend and fellow teacher opened up my eyes to the beauty of memoir for capturing our children's stories (and I'm so glad she did!). And you can do it, too, through six simple, well chosen, words. Need some ideas for what I mean? Check out these great examples from Tara and this awesome collection of six-word memoirs.

Our first step was to narrow in on the topic. We chose our far. I asked my three kiddos (ages 8, 6, and 3) to think about all the activities, trips, and experiences we've had thus this summer. We talked as a group initially so that even my littlest could get some ideas of happenings before snacktime today. :)

For my oldest, she could and did write a whole list of everything she enjoyed and filled half a page with sketches and writing. My 5-year old wrote two large sentences, and we talked through a few more ideas as I wrote down some additional words to describe her favorites.

And my youngest and I sat down and drew pictures together of what made him smile about summer. He drew some elements, and I helped with more difficult concepts. See our masterpiece below with one of our butterflies, some squirt tubes, his new bicycle, and a castle.

No matter the skill level, everyone can find a way to enter into the idea gathering. Adapt for what's best suited for each family member.

Once you have ideas down, select 1-5 favorites. This was super tough for my crew, but with a little encouragement and prodding, we were able to find the best.

Here's the challenge! You now have a page of ideas from which to choose...but which ones do you capture? For us and our memories of summer, we decided we didn't need to be comprehensive but focus on moments that we will remember long after summer is gone.

This process was easiest for the youngest. He knew right away what he wanted, and all I had to do was make sure he could count 1-6 and confirm his final writing. My younger daughter needed some help with adjectives to add some interest to her list, but she got into the idea of playing with limited words and giggled through her version of cheerleading accomplishments that turned into "jumping marshmallows." And my oldest decided to go much more with a list with details coming only for her very favorite experience.

Once you have your memoirs written, the accordion book and box will be an easy way to store these treasures.

Find a box that you can use or re-use. We upcycled a brie cheese container and used it mostly because we all loved the circular shape. Each child added some color to the interior and exterior of the box as well.

For the pages of the accordion, I folded cardstock. Each writer used only the right side of the folded card, and we glued the left sides of each under the written-on right sides from another piece to make one long chain of words.

Once the glue dried, I refolded the chain to a back-and-forth accordion fold. I added an extra card on each end so that the expanse of book was a bit wider.

With the folded accordion now assembled, I glued the first and last flap to the insides of the box lid and base.

We added our title on the back as a sneaky way to display the project, without anyone else seeing our special memories.

And when we're ready to store our memories away, we have a great little box fllled with magic to hold them all.

Happy writing and crafting, friends! Don't forget to tag your projects with #endlesssummerprojects and come on back next week for the delightful Jen and her latest project (btw, head over to Camp Classic Play when you're done here. Lots of great ideas!!)

xoxo, MJ

Celebrate the Normal: A spotlight on Habit

Hello, lovelies!! Back am I from a bit of a blog glitch that kept me away on Thursday. Pars Caeli is back to normal, and it's time to celebrate once again! While I've been away on my NYC adventures, we suspended Celebrate the Normal but many of you have kept it going in your own way. And that I can say nothing but a huge WAY TO GO! It delights me so to know that celebrating - seeing the beauty - around you has become a regular habit in your lives.

And that brings us right to where I want us to land today! While at AltNYC, I had the chance to chat with Molly Balint. Molly does a whole bunch of wonderful, and today we're focusing just on a piece. Molly, along with friends Emily and Tara, post and inspire over at the community site Habit. It's a bit of calm, a bit of presence, and a bit of contemplation rolled into one. When I heard about Habit, I knew I wanted to connect it up with our Celebrate the Normal posts!! Here's a bit more from Molly about Habit. Thanks so much for the interview, Mol!!


What inspired the idea of Habit? Tell us the story.

Habit is part journal, part photography project, part community center.  Emily and I were inspired to start Habit in 2008 at a time when we were both feeling the urge to document our daily lives - beyond blog posts and creative projects and big milestones.  We were both capturing bits of our daily lives regularly with photography, but we saw the value of words as an accompaniment to those photographs.  We had both struggled with journaling over the years, and really just wanted a regular practice - a habit - something we could sustain in the midst of our busy lives.

At the same time, we were aware of the need for community.  We knew that our busy lives can be isolating - whether we're raising children or starting careers or moving or facing family challenges, and we felt that this practice - this habit - might have broad appeal.



How often do you post? Can anyone submit material?

We publish new posts at habit just about every single day.  There is only one post each day, but each day's post includes photos and words from a variety of people.  Emily, Tara, and I are posting all year round, and each month we have anywhere between three and twenty guests posting with us.  Most months, it's a small curated group of guests, and some months (like December) we have large groups of guests.  Our guests are specially invited and our groups carefully curated each month. Once or twice each year we open the Habit Blog up to any and all contributors by way of our flickr pool, where we invite everyone to participate.


In your work with this experience of gratitude, what 's struck you most?

Habit is very much about awareness as much as it's about gratitude.  It is our hope that, through this practice of mindfulness, of noticing, of recording, that we cultivate within ourselves and within our community, an awareness of the beauty and goodness that surrounds us all everyday, even in the midst of trials and tribulations.  We often hear from our guests and our readers that this practice of noticing the small details, of recording these bits of our days, does lead to a shift in perspective, to an increased ability to find gratitude in the midst of what are sometimes our messy daily lives.


How do you change your lens of busy to one of attentiveness in your everyday?

Part of the idea behind habit is our desire and determination to pay attention to the everyday - without making it a chore - and this is part of the beauty of the habit blog. Even the act of picking up our cameras, sitting down to wrap a few words around our day, causes you to slow down, catch your breath and reflect. Even if its just for a fleeting moment.

For our guest posters, it's a manageable task to record a single photo and 30 words.  For our readers, it's a meaningful reminder that capturing our daily life doesn't have to be limited to lengthy journal entries and elaborate scrapbooks. For all of us, it's about being part of something larger than ourselves and finding the connection and community that emerges among these varied voices which draws us all together.


I've found myself clicking through the pages and pages of Habit and soaking in the imagery. It's a great spot to land when you want a clear head. Big thanks to the uber-talented Molly for hopping over to Pars Caeli today.

So, let's strike up Celebrate the Normal once again. Invite some friends to tag along, too! Remember to post your photos on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #celebratethenormal. One photo from every artist is featured here on Tuesdays. In honor of the good work done over at Habit, our theme this week will be:

And let me share some of the great work that was happening while we've been apart. Big thanks to Jen, Meagan, Julia, and Brittani for these gifts.

Chalky goodness ~ Meagan


Sometimes you just have to run in the rain ~ Meagan

Just some summer solstice and clothespins ~ Jen


Thankful for this view today ~ Julia

Artistic week ~ Brittani

Spiderweb and morning dew ~ Jen

Off we go to capture and celebrate!!

Have a bright week, my friends. If you're up for a little sketching this month, join in the Sketching Project over at Life I Design. I'll be joining in along with Kim. Follow along with the hashtag #30daysketchbookchallenge

Celebrate the Normal: Or the Abnormal?

Happiness all around, friends!! We had an enriching Father's Day weekend (read: lots of time together, relaxing in warm sun), and we're off and running for a busy week. The kiddos are involved in a new round of day camps, and I'm packing my carry-on for Alt NYC.

My trip to NYC will involve many dreams-come-true for me, not the least of which is spending real-life time with my pal, Paige and Miss Emily, too. I will have the opportunity to experience an event that I've been following for years (remember my tongue-in-cheek series #altsummitwannabe?).

This blog has allowed me to give myself permission to grow and bloom and spread my creative wings wide and now I have the chance to bring personal connection into the equation. And I'm so excited. And ready to bring my A game.

I will be capturing as much as I can on Instagram so follow along if you're up for the ride at #ParsCaeliatAlt. Oh, and did I mention that I've never been to NYC? So fantastic!!

Thank yous go out to this week's fabulous artists. I feel like this is the most diverse set of photographs yet!

My friend Joy from Frock Files,an amazing contributor to this series every week, found this beautiful ode to the normal day over Here. Thanks to Joanne and Joy for the loveliness of these words:

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” ― poem by Mary Jean Irion

Make room for wonder ~ Brittani

First bike ride ever ~ M.J.

Celebrating fathers and sons ~ Marilynn

My 3 yr old "made" me "cups of strings". Not sure what I should be doing with these but they make me smile. :) ~ Karen

Totally out of the norm: finding pretty bras that fit. On sale. Halleleujah! ~ Joy

An unexpected visitor wanted to go to work with me today. I wasn't a fan... ~ teddy4775 on Instagram

Long night walks = the best! Especially when there's a meteor shower to enjoy together. ~ Melanie

My Mom's Bougainvillea plant that was nothing but a half dead twig a year ago. It is now about 8 feet wide and 10 feet tall. ~ JenMygatt on Instagram

xoxo, MJ

PS. If you are heading into AltNYC, check out Koseli's very helpful ideas on how to make the most of the experience.


MJ and the horrible, no good, very bad day.

This is how I would title my Monday. Midafternoon, sitting at our second gas pump, also empty of gas, I turned to my 6- and 8-year old daughters and said, "Remember that book 'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day'?"

C, the 6-year old, "Mommy, you're having one of those days, aren't you?"

I'm grateful she gets me.

I should have smelled the stress of the day in the morning when THE totally dependable friend was unable to pick my daughter as we had planned. Now as the primary chauffeur I needed to take her (already an hour late) into art camp which then delayed the golf camp and then delayed the preschooler activities.

And then at work it was, of course, the day that we all really needed to meet to discuss a large project. I arrived just in the nick of time to begin the meeting but then had to remove myself gracefully after 15 minutes.

It was already time for me to begin again and drive to pick up all the campers and deposit them in their respective homes.

And all this driving created an immediate need for a gasoline.

And apparently hundreds of other cars also needed gasoline as I tried to squeak out the last drop of two pumps run dry.

Anyway, let me skip through the chapters of the horrible, no good, very bad day and simply say that all the small things in life that could go wrong, well, they did go wrong on Monday.

Of course this was all amplified by the absence of my husband and the huge help he is to calm me, to care for the kids, and to wrap his arms around the troubles of life.

Despite my low-grade frustration all day long, I found myself laughing internally as if asking the universe, "What are you sending me next?"

I started to play a game with it. I dared the Universe to show me just how spent I would feel after the next event.

And the more I made a game of it and the ridiculousness of it all, I found myself smiling, laughing, and making deliberate efforts to change my perspective on the day.

Life can be one big ball of frustration and rapid-fire challenge.

But truth is, we have each other (like I did with the friends who offered to watch my children longer), and we have our sense of perspective (skewed as that may be at times), and, a real gift to me, we even have laughter if we can allow ouselves to be open to it...


Unclenching fists

Relaxing shoulders

Finding the light-hearted in every situation.


This is my wish for you today.

xoxo, MJ





Celebrate the Normal: This is summer

Hey friends, Happy Tuesday to you!!! How's this week started off for you? So far Monday was a frustration, and Tuesday has been jam-packed with work. We are week #1 of summer vacation for my three kids.

With a mom and dad who work full-time, these balls of energy spend their mornings busy at a variety of camps and then home with me in the afternoons. I so look forward to our summers together. Though I'm always more preoccupied with work than I'd like, it's our time to take on new projects, lie in the grass, and eat every meal outside.

However, transitions from one schedule to another are not my specialty, and this first week moving away from the school schedule and in to the summer version is always more stressful than I anticipate. Note to self: be sure to have wine and chocolate close at hand for this first week of summer.

Your glimpses of summer have dropped my blood pressure and brought a hint of jealousy here and there (check out Joy's photo below). Seriously, why don't we all live in Hawaii??

Summer at home in Hawaii. ~ Joy

Summertime ~ MJ

Unexpected beauty in the hospital parking lot ~ Melanie

~ Julia

Oh, you don't photograph your family while they brush their teeth? Lame. ~ scatt85 on Instagram

Yesterday's "swimming with frogs" session. ~ Jen on Instagram at @jenmygatt

I love her to the moon and back ~ Jill

This is summer ~ Brittani

Fresh, local strawberries. So pretty. So tasty. ~ Meagan

Thank you, thank you to all of our talented artists this week. I really enjoyed seeing your view of summertime. To help keep in fresh around here, we switching things up for next week.

Next Tuesday, I'll be in a full-on panic mode, getting ready for my first ever trip to New York City. I'm headed there for the Alt Summit NYC conference at Martha Stewart's HQ. I'm rooming with two great blogging pals and getting to meet dozens of ladies with whom I've collaborated in the last year. I'm more than over the moon about this and also slightly scared out of my mind (jeepers).

So in honor of being bold and putting yourself out there, we'll be celebrating the abnormal next Tuesday. I'll be watching for posts and photos up until next Sunday at midnight.

And while I'm in NYC, I'll be sending ridiculous photos your way with the #ParsCaeliatALT, and I'll be sure to recap my out-of-the-ordinary experience for you!!

Snap and gram away, my lovelies. And let's capture some of the unusal and amazing things going on around us.

xoxo, MJ

Let Endless Summer begin!

Welcome to it, my friends!! A new series launching today and coming to you every Wednesday this summer. I've teamed up with some of my favorite mommas in the blogosphere to bring you fun and to keep your kiddos engaged in fabulous projects.

Let me introduce you to the gorgeous gals collaborating with me on Endless Summer:

This is going to be an amazing summer thanks to these ladies. We are showing you parties and recipes, backyard fun and art projects, and a few charmed surprises that will make you wish on an evening star for a few more days of childhood. So tell your friends and pull on some play clothes!

Melissa is starting us off with a great mosaic project. My kids are going to love this one!! How about yours?

xoxo, MJ

PS. Come on back tomorrow for a thoughtful way to capture this year's school memories for your children. I promise, it's a really good one.


Summer Bucket List

One of my favorite activities to do with my kids? Dreaming. At the ages of 3, 6, and 8, they are specialists in the fantastic, over-the-top story kind of ideas. They also know how to love the simplest activities into wonderment.

This time of year, as school winds down, and the sun stays out longer, we begin making up our summer hit list - all of the fun we want to experience together while we have some time away from the usual routine. I love hearing the activities that make the list every year (bubbles, fireworks, the beach), and I feel that momma twinge that these beauties are growing too fast when I hear about the bigger wishes of seeing the ocean and renting a kayak.

I'm sharing our list again this year, as well as last year's list, in the case that they might inspire some summertime unexpected experiences for you and yours. Also, check back to this post that has oodles of other amazing summer ideas for you to soak in.


Do you have some ideas you're adding to the list? Share them with us!!

xoxo, MJ

P.S. Check out my friend, Amy Allen Clark over at and her 100 Days of Summer series. I love having all of her go-to projects ready for those days when I need something to break up the "Mommy, I'm bored" incantations.

Getting kids prepped for summer

In less than 80 school days, my three giant personalities (wrapped up in small bodies) will complete their academic and developmental years and be ready to run hog wild into summer. As much as I would love to be home with them, taking on new adventures that only the warm weather can bring, the reality is that I'm a working mom. I work from home for a portion of every day so I'll get to partake in sandboxes and water balloons. And whether I'm in the office or at home, it's really important to me that my children have a summer of fun, outdoors, activity, and as much magic as I can muster.

Are your minds turning to summer yet? We're there. Ready to plan it and live it. Here are my thoughts on how to make this summer a mutually awesome experience for parents and children.

Think of the possibilities

My favorite beginning to the process is the dreaming. This is not necessarily my husband's favorite, so draw from your strengths. I love to have "what if" conversations with three-year olds (you just never know what you'll get) and daydream along with eight-year old minds. Sit down with each child, and brainstorm all the activities they'd like to do. Consider categories like "I want to continue," "I want to try," and "I want to learn." I've discovered fascinating new aspects about my children such as an interest in Irish dancing, a want to learn to stand on one's head, and a desire to make a quilt.

Consider the impossibilities

Not my favorite aspect, but the process for which my hubs excels. Look at the summer calendar. Actually, print it out and lay it down before you. Mark off all the vacation time that you can as well as times of heavy workload. Be good to parents and children as you look at the time you have allotted. Be sure to find stretches of time for full family activities, individual time with each child, and moments for mom and dad to connect.

Put your purse where your mouth is

Those horse riding lessons and the ceramic studio time? Well, they are both beautiful options that can quickly clean out your wallet. Before you make any definite plans or fill out registration forms, decide what's a realistic amount to spend on each child's activities. Obviously most activities become more specialized and expensive as the age of the child increases so try to factor that into your budgetary conversations, too. Prioritize which experiences would be most meaningful to your child and try to hit as many of those as your budget can allow.

Enlist your helpers

The chaffeuring from one sport to the next is draining and not the way anyone wants to spend the best days of the year. Right up front, ask parents of your children's friends to join the class and sign on to the same teams so that carpooling can streamline your summer and double the fun at the same time. We rarely sign up for an event or class without calling in a buddy (it's also super helpful with children who are shy to new situations).


Take advantage of Mommy and Daddy time

Remember that the most wonderful childhood memories will happen in simple ways in your backyard or around the campfire. Make a list of all that you want to experience with the kids this summer and commit to doing them (even put making s'mores on the calendar). Make a list of what you as adult want to do and share that with your children (and spouse) to help them get to know your hopes and dreams, too. Consider how your talents and interests can add to their summer experience. Do you have the patience to teach those knitting skills your daughter so wants to learn? Or play tennis with your son? Can you even learn something new together?

Here's our summer list from last year, and we're beginning this year's now. February and March are when camps, classes, and teams begin their summer registrations so keep an eye out in your newspapers and media. And in the meantime, let the dreaming begin.

I have some extra greatness coming your way this summer with the help of other amazing bloggers. I can't wait to show you!!

What's at the top of your summer wish list?

xoxo, MJ

Happiness: Wrapping Up the Book

I can't believe it, but we've finally come to the close of The Happiness Project. I flipped open the first page of chapter 12 and reminded myself that Gretchen spread her monthly project over exactly one year...and here we are.

No worries, though, thanks to all my buds and the BeHappy linkup, I'll continue to share happiness every Thursday. Next Thursday will be extra special with the continuation of my collaboration with Joy and the Turn It series!

I'm also thinking of diving into Gretchen's latest book (it's on hold waiting for me at the library!) Happier at Home. Have you read it yet? I'm really interested to see what she has to say about some common struggles we all face.

To wrap up her quest for happiness, Gretchen instituted Boot Camp Perfect, wherein she set out to follow all of her resolutions all at the same time. Reading this made me nervous for her. :) Seemed like a lot to tackle, and remember, and evaluate. True to form, she kept on track, and when she didn't she was still happy because she had her plan to return to happiness already in place.

I took careful note of how she came back to happiness when a bad mood hit. I am one very prone to moodiness (in the most positive and negative ways), and if I'm not careful I can let a mood determine my thoughts on an entire day.  And so I think I want to revisit and have at the ready my own mood-boosting strategies. Here are some that she used:

  • Go to the gym.
  • Get some work done.
  • Cross a nagging task off my to-do list
  • Spend some time having fun.

Do you have a go-to list of mood busters? I'd love to know!

Here's a happy thought for you, one that always busts me out of a bad mood, and one that Gretchen shared as one of her husband's gifts:


PS. Be sure to check out all of the happiness posts by stopping over at Art Social.

Be Happy: Be Content

Shortly after having my second child, I signed up for a parenting class offered through my Church. I was ready for a fresh perspective and some new ideas as I headed into life with 2 kiddos. One of the opening exercises we did was to reflect on the question of what kind of children you wanted to raise. I wrote down a sheet full of adjectives that I would use to describe my dreams for my children. During the group sharing portion, I offered one idea. "Content", I blurted out. "Content?" he questioned. "Well, let's leave that off the list. That one has so much more to do with how they feel about themselves. And do you really want contentment? Isn't it better to be going FOR something?"

I left that evening puzzled. Contentment, as I had seen it, was a good thing - a state of being that said I am pleased (enough) with myself and my surroundings that I can be happy.

Enter Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. I've been reading it all summer and posting my reflections on each chapter. My curiosity was piqued when I came to Chapter 11 entitled Keep a Content Heart. Hmm. What would she have to say about contentment?

Her resolutions were these:

  • Laugh out loud.
  • Use good manners.
  • Give positive reviews.
  • Find an area of refuge.

She talks about "a heart to be contented" Do I have a heart to be contented? Much like Gretchen, I weigh in more on the dissatisfied, fretful, and a pain to please. Just ask my husband. Oh, wait, don't. :)

Contentment is our perception of happiness. It is in some ways the highest form of happiness because it adds the rest together and makes the broadest brushstroke, and, when actively present, contentment allows us to evaluate ourselves as happy.

As Gretchen quoted in this chapter, "It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light." Perhaps contentment is the lifting off of the heavy to allow the inner lightness to float up and out.

Let me leave it with this. I read this sign, that was in fact over my head on the ceiling today, as I went for a yearly check-up. It's where I am with contentment.


Happiness: Being it & Spreading it

Who doesn't love to be happy?

I've been breaking open Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project throughout the summer. We're deep into this great read, and I have a new opportunity to continue the happiness even after we bring these final chapters to a close. Wanna join in the fun?


If you tuned in last Thursday, you saw this lovely graphic at the end of my post on Mindfulness. Erin of Art SocialLisa of Joycreation, and Rita of TOMORROWtoday have teamed together (and invited us to join along) to talk about happiness every Thursday.

Oh, yes, I'm joining in the fun, and I'm kicking off a resurgence of happiness with a charming giveaway. First off, I won (Can you say first-time winner?) this contest from Sandra over at Raincoast Cottage, and now I get to pass along my own version of paying it forward!

Here's the skinny:

The very first three people to comment right down there will receive a gift, handmade lovely, from moi. And it will be awesome. And you'll be so gosh darn happy you won. Yes.

To get this super-duper one-of-a-kind present:

  • Within a year (I'll be sending out these goodies in the next month), I work long, hard hours to craft the amazingness and mail it to you.
  • FINE PRINT: To win this present (as one of the first three) you have to pay it forward.  Your job is to spread happiness on your own blog (whatever kind of happiness you create) and offer a giveaway to the first three commenters.
  • CAVIAT: Dear first three commenters, you have 72 hours from noon today to post your giveaway. Send me an email at when it's up. If you aren't able to do so, the next commenter (think here runner-up in the Miss America pagaent) wins the prize.

It's so simply good, just like applesauce (What? Play along, please.)

Best of luck, dear readers. I dare say that when I get my creation hat on some great things come about so get in on this early.




A Summer of Happiness: Be mindful

Summer is drawing to a close and so is our read of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. I've been away from these posts the last two weeks so we're heading back into Chapter 10 for all my readers who have been following all along. If you just joined us, read more. I think Gretchen has some very helpful insights for us in this chapter.


Chapter 10: Pay Attention

Mindfulness is the focus. Focus on mindfulness. And, already I'm veering off...

Mindfulness is a quality that I feel like I mastered (maybe that's too bold...handled) before I had children. I felt very awake and aware of the world around me.

And then...

I got shivers when I read this paragraph. This is all me.

"I have several tendencies that run counter to mindfulness. I constantly multitask in ways that pull me away from my present experience. I often run on automatic pilot–arriving home with no recollection of having gone from point A to point B. (This sometimes terrifies me when I'm driving; I have no recollection of watching the road.) I tend to dwell on anxieties or hopes for the future, instead of staying fully aware in the present moment. I often break or spill things because I'm not paying attention. When I'm introduced to someone in a social situation, I often forget the person's name as soon as I hear it. I finish eating before I've even registered the taste of my food."

Oh, dear. I need to read more.

Gretchen's resolutions:

  • Meditate on koans.
  • Examine True Rules.
  • Stimulate the mind in new ways.
  • Keep a food diary.

I loved that Gretchen scattered notes around her space reminding her to stay focused. I loved that she tried hypnosis (I've always wondered whethe it really helps or not), laughter yoga, drawing, listening to music.

I laughed when I read this, "One problem with not being very mindful, it turns out, is that you have trouble keeping your minderfulness records."

Though I could not relate to portions of the chapter, having not experienced them myself, I appreciated the chance to enter into these efforts through Gretchen's eyes.

And so here's my pinnable..

I'm off to stimulate my mind in new ways.

How are you welcoming happiness this week?


A Summer of Happiness: It's passion

Welcome again, friends! We're exploring Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project every Thursday here on the blog.

This week, we pursue passion. Va va va voom. Sorry, no, we explore A passion (important article there).


Gretchen's resolutions are:

  • Write a novel.
  • Make time. (wow)
  • Forget about results.
  • Master a new technology.

The first step in pursuing a passion? Recognizing what you're passionate about. A helpful way to find what this is? Think back to when you were 10...or what you might do if you had a free Saturday afternoon.

Gretchen wanted to make more time...for her, reading is one of the greatest joys. She wanted to carve out more time to dive into the books she loved. To make more time she stopped reading books she didn't love.  Giving yourself permission is an important part of this chapter.

At 10 (let's see that was 5th grade), I loved to draw, craft, read, be outside... Pretty much, if I have a free Saturday (which happens so rarely as a momma of 3 kids under 7) I will start a project...something crafty for me or our home or a friend. And I find that Gretchen's reminder - featured at the top of this post - is really important. Since my time to pursue a passion really only pops up here and there, I have to be okay when I don't finish a project in one sitting or I experience DIY fail. The process is where the passion lies.

So I'll be trying to forget about the results this week, friends.

Where are you finding your passion these days? How do you allow yourself time to foster that passion? I could use some of your insight.




A Summer of Happiness: Contemplate the Heavens


Hi friends! We're switching it up and moving bookclub featuring the lovely read, The Happiness Project, to today. I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughts on Mommy & Daddy School.

This week, we're thinking deep, profound thoughts as Gretchen takes on the topic of spirituality. Her resolutions for this chapter:

  • Read memoirs of a catastrophe.
  • Keep a gratitude notebook.
  • Imitate a spiritual master.

As my subtitle up in the header of this blog suggests, I love my faith, and I rely upon it, too, so this chapter was a particular treat to read and digest.

Here are some keeper ideas for you to take with you this week:

1. From William Edward Hartpole Lecky, "There are times in the lives of most of us when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed." Oof. Yes.

2. Start a one-sentence daily journal. I love, love this idea. I've done lots of different, commitment-heavy journals, and I am intrigued by the idea of capturing a moment from the day through one simple sentence.

3. Gratitude is an important element in our happiness. Try simple ways to incorporate it like focusing on something for which you're thankful while you wait for your computer to wake up in the morning or while waiting for the coffee to brew or at the bus stop.

4. "Knowing what you admire in others is a wonderful mirror into your deepest, as yet unborn, self." Aha.

5. As a Catholic, I relished Gretchen's depiction of the life of St. Therese. I hadn't looked at her life in quite the same way. And I find it so important what Gretchen pulled out for her own path to happiness. "I set out to imitate Therese by doing a better job of acting happy when I knew that my happiness would make someone else happy."

I have so much work to do in my prayer life and spiritual journey. My focus for this week echoes Gretchen's...I will seek to show my happiness and in turn to be happy for the goodness of all those around me.

Here's a pinnable for you...and me.

What thoughts resonated with you? Do you reflect upon any spiritual masters or heroes for your daily living?


A Summer of Happiness with money?

Before we get into the meat of our bookclub this week, I need to offer my condolences to our friend, Denise, upon the passing of her father. Of course she's taking some time away from blogging and bookclub to process, and my prayers and thoughts are with her.

In her spirit, we continue forward with this week's chapter from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Money, money, money to happiness is the topic. Does filling your bucket with money lead you to happiness? Here are Gretchen's resolutions revolving around money:

  • Indulge in a modest splurge.
  • Buy needful things.
  • Spend out.
  • Give something up.


Happiness and money are complicated companions. Gretchen explores the push and pull extensively.

Here are two thoughts I found surprising about our views on money:

1. People measure themselves agains their age if you feel like you make more money than others your tend to feel happier. People measure their happiness with their pay based on their perceptions of where they fit relative to others.

2. We Americans living in great relative wealth don't rate our quality of life much higher than people living in poverty in Calcutta. (Most people give themselves a mildly happy rating.)

Two thoughts I considered longer:

1. "What makes me happy is to spend money on the things I value–and it takes self-knowledge and discipline to discover what I really want, instead of parroting the desires of other people."

2. "It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that if you have something you love or there's something you want, you'll be happier with more."

In this chapter, for the first time, we get to read how Gretchen handled a perceived failure of her Happiness Project. She begins to doubt all of her resolutions and exercises. I appreciated her simple story of children bickering, bad moods, inconsistent marital messages and how they all led her to want to give up the cause of happiness. She resolved to get more sleep and things looked better after a few days... I can relate to wanting so much to start a plan, focus on positivity, then to have an event (or 7) compound forces against your I was happy to be able to relate to her a bit better through her struggle.

So, here's what I'm taking on for this week. Give Something Up. I kind of love the contrary nature of the statement to all associations of happiness and money. I'm still deciding what exactly this might be for me. Perhaps the occasional Starbucks coffee? Maybe that extra cosmetic that I don't really need?

What would it be for you? What role does money play in happiness?

A pinnable for you:

Happy Thursday, friends. XOXO, MJ

A Summer of Happiness with Friends

Hello, friends! We're talking happiness today in our Thursday bookclub read of the Happiness Project. Gretchen Rubin is taking us through her year-long process of finding happiness in all areas of life. This week my blogger pal, Denise, talked about friendship...go check out her thoughts as a lady on the move.

Gretchen's resolutions for this chapter:

  • Remember birthdays.
  • Be generous.
  • Show up.
  • Don't gossip.
  • Make three new friends.

Here are some keeper thoughts from the read:

1. All the data proves: we need long-term relationships, involving people with whom we confide, and we need to feel like we belong.

2. No matter what they're doing, people tend to feel happier when they're with other people. The only noted exception to this rule...prayer. And, well, you're not really alone it that either, are you?

3. Be generous. I loved this. A great reminder in our get-it-done systems. Not that we need scientific proof of this, but studies show that your happiness is often boosted more by providing support to other people than from receiving the support yourself. Striving to be happy (through authentic means) isn't a selfish act.

4. Cut people slack. I can do this. Do you find yourself dishing out judgement during your times of stress? Guilty here. And I can see how the simple act of letting it go (or not even bringing it to judgment) would bring happiness all around.

5. Show up. From Woody Allen, "80% of success is showing up." "Familiarity breeds affections," says Gretchen.

6. How do you make new friends? Suggestions from our read:

  • Smile more frequently.
  • Actively invite others to join a conversation.
  • Create a positive mood.
  • Open a conversation.
  • Try (oh, dear) to look accessible and warm.
  • Show a vulnerable side and laugh at yourself.
  • Show a readiness to be pleased. (eek)
  • Follow others' conversational leads.
  • Ask questions.

Okay, friends, here's what I'm taking on this week. See that giant circle up above. I'm focusing on DOING good for others, and I know that is going to lead to feeling good. I recall a time in life, before marriage, and work commitments, and kiddos, that I spent a majority of my leisure time making/buying/sending gifts and cards to friends and family. It brought me such joy...and I'm going to find some ways to do good this week.

How about you? Where will you find the happiness in your friendships?

And just a personal note, here. I received a number of lovely comments and emails yesterday from the Creativity post that I did for Jen Cooper over at Classic Play. To old (you know how you are) and new friends, my cup runneth over. Thank you.