5 Tips To Survive NICU

Life changes when your child enters NICU (Natal Intensive Care Unit). Please welcome guest writer, Kira McCloskey, a brave mother of two who is sharing 5 Tips To Survive NICU.

5 Tips to Survive NICU
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Expecting your first baby is always so exciting. We found out we were having a boy and we would name him Kolton Rian. The middle name (pronounced like Ryan) was after my aunt’s son who lived 2 days in the NICU. It was a way of remembering and honoring him. Around 28 weeks, I started to experience intense fatigue. I went to my doctor and they noticed my blood pressure has risen quite a bit and my urine was showing traces of protein. They put me on medicine and I stayed 2 nights in the hospital for observation. I was also given a steroid to help develop his lungs in case of an early delivery.

We returned home and things were ok. I was told to stay on bed rest and as fun as that sounds it was so difficult for someone who wants to be out and about to do things. At 31 weeks and 5 days I couldn’t wake up. I mean I did wake up, but my body was so weak I had barely any strength to open my eyes. I went to the doctors office right away.

5 Tips To Survive NICU

Tip #1: Listen To Your Body

If you are feeling like this go straight to the hospital, not the doctors office. They admitted me and told me I had pre-eclampsia. I slept that night at the hospital with cords and machines all over the place to monitor me and baby.

That morning I was awaken by a female doctor who I have never seen. She explained the severity of pre-eclampsia and told me that they needed to do a C-section right away. I was puzzled. Do 31 week old babies survive? I had no idea! All I could think of was to ask my husband if our baby would live. He had talked to the staff prior and they explained to him how the NICU works and of course the worse case scenario. I remember asking God to keep him alive. I didn’t care if he would have a disability from being born so early, I just wanted him to live.

Leaving to the NICU

I went into the operating room shortly after and went through the typical process of a C section. I remember asking the strangest questions. It’s funny how we don’t think straight during stressful times. Once he was out, I heard a tiny baby cry and he was immediately taken to a baby NICU bed where they started administrating tubes and his ivy. I knew this was best for him but the thought of not being with him, if he in fact were to take his last breath, at any moment, was the daunting part. I had to prepare myself for any outcome, by accepting this situation and with my faith, I was able to stay calm before he was wheeled away.

After recovery I was taken to see him in the NICU. I don’t remember much. I was disillusioned from everything. He was tiny, yes, but he was moving around and his numbers on the screen were all good. Honestly, at the point I felt relaxed. Although he had a road ahead of him, he was stable right now.

#2: Take some time away from the NICU for yourself

After the first week he was showing major improvements. I felt at this point it might be a good idea to start integrating into a normal life. We decided to go to dinner outside of the hospital. I got my nails done one afternoon and I went home to get some sleep.

It could be just a nap or maybe coffee with a friend, but it’s so important to get outside of the NICU for a little bit. Everyone grieves differently; some in silence and some with an audience. However you feel is appropriate for you. Allow yourself some time to do it. You can also call the NICU to get check ups on baby.

5 Tips to Survive NICU
Courtesy of Pixabay

Tip #3: Capture the Moment

You may be taking photos and they aren’t exactly what you had in mind but they are part of your journey. Take pictures to compare progress and know that as your baby gets stronger the pictures will be a reminder of how tiny they once were.

Other ideas could be to journal, create a small craft with their foot print or crochet a blanket. I just recommend taking something from this moment to hold on to. In most cases, you can decorate their area. I created a scrapbook and it has his beanie and (new) tubing that he had on and a preemie diaper so I could show him how tiny he was. If you prefer to post on social media, it may be best to have someone whom you trust post at the beginning or any sensitive information you are willing to share. I will warn you and say that some people say the most insensitive comments and sometimes they don’t realize it.

Tip #4: Celebrate the Milestones

It will keep your spirits up and you can start to see how much your baby is growing. One thing I personally felt got my son hitting milestones is kangaroo care. It’s skin to skin contact. He took the most flawless naps this way. You share your body temperature as well as your scent with the baby; and yes dad can do this too! Also encourage family and friends not to stroke a baby but rather cup their hands under their feet and on top of their head. Some nurses will actually tell people not to touch the babies because it over stimulates them

Tip #5: Stay Patient

Your growing baby wants to be home with you too. They need this care right now and eventually the day will come to go home. My son struggled with feedings and that was his last hu. I can’t even explain how it is to be so close to the finish line to have one thing hold discharge up. You have to remember they aren’t just small their insides are still growing.

Support That Helped Me

  • Threads of Love: they provide hand made items such as preemie clothing or booties. Check out your local chapter and get in touch with a volunteer. Every chapter is different and they provide this through a ministry of love.
  • Seek an online support group. Ask your nurse if their NICU has one.
  • Be friendly and make friends with your neighbors in the NICU. Do not compare baby’s progress though.
  • See if you can have a professional photographer come in, especially for long term stays. If you are on a budget, ask if they have NICU rates.
  • Always ask. Many people want to help but don’t know how. Communicate that you really need some rest and if they could hang out in the NICU while you took a nap or that you could really use a meal from your favorite restaurant (mine was Chic Fil A with a lemonade). Don’t expect people to read your mind. It’s hard for them as it is for the parents.

Happy Endings

Kolton ended up staying 31 days in the NICU. He was 4 pounds 6 ounces at birth and he left weighing over 5 pounds. The beeping noises of the NICU will forever play a huge part of the experience. The NICU is a precious place; they give babies special care to thrive and live. If you find yourself in the NICU know that you are not alone and this isn’t a place to blame yourself. Pregnancy has its ups and downs for everyone. We are encountered with challenges in our life and we have a choice to see our glass half full or half empty. Stay strong. Stay preemie strong!


I want to thank Kira for sharing her brave story. I too had NICU Preterm Babies and I wholeheartedly agree with every piece of advice. As Kira said, know that you aren’t alone. I hope 5 Tips to Survive NICU brings you comfort. If you are currently going through this situation, I’d love to hear what helps you in the comments.

21 Bloggers To Help You Slay Motherhood

 If you need support, advice, and help on how to navigate motherhood and marriage, then this post, 21 Bloggers to Help You Slay Motherhood, is a must-read.

21 Bloggers to help you slay motherhood

This post, 21 Bloggers To Help You Slay Motherhood, contains some affiliate links. Should you make a purchase through one of the links I provide, I may make a small percentage at no cost to you. I only link to things I love.

Blogging Tribe

I know for me there are times when I feel alone in this game. Maybe I was naive, but I never expected to feel lonely and unsupported in motherhood and marriage. But the truth is, our journey is personal and it can sometimes feel isolating if you don’t have support.

That is one reason, I started this blog. I know I seek reassurance, knowledge and tips on how to be a better wife and mother. I want to feel like there is someone out there that can relate to my failures and problems. Frankly, I want someone in the trenches with me who’s got my back. Today I’m sharing 21 bloggers to help you slay motherhood. Some I’ve recently started reading, but most I have been reading for years! You’ll love them!

Before you leave, please subscribe to my blog (yup, shameless plug) and while you’re at it, subscribe to these lovely ladies.

Farmhouse on Boone

If you’re a fan of Joanna Gains, you’re going to fall in love with Lisa Bass at Farmhouse on Boone. Seriously, I think her and Joanna Gaines are spirit animals. Her site is stunning! She focuses on natural living, minimalism, farmhouse decor and a simple lifestyle. If you’re a crunchy mama you will love her wholesome, scratch recipes, natural remedies, and lifestyle tips. I also love that she provides homemade tutorials like basic sewing techniques (like how to thread a sewing machine and sew a seam), how to make a macrame wall hanging and your own body butter. Seriously, she’s what I aspire to be.

Farmhouse on Boone

The Time Warp Wife

I’ve been following Darlene Schacht on The Time Warp Wife for some time now. It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten just how I found her. She is a New York Times best selling author. I love that her site is heavily Christian based (no problem if that isn’t your cup of tea). She is a mama of four and one thing I really love is her online bible studies. I love reading them over my morning coffee (and if I get to drink it while it’s still hot, that’s a plus). She also has tons of cute printables on her site. I would say Darlene focuses more on marriage and biblical living than anything else, but I find her posts bring me lots of peace.

The Dating Divas

Dating Divas

I love the Dating Divas! I’ve followed them for a few years. Their cheery, happy site is dedicated to loving your spouse in the cutest way imaginable. If you are a mom or wife struggling with date night ideas, this site is for you! At home dates, group dates, sexy date nights, out of the house dates, you name it – they have it all planned out. They have the cutest ideas. We rarely get a date night so the at-home date nights have been amazing for us!

Rookie Moms

Two women run Rookie Moms. I personally love their product reviews. But they have lots of really helpful articles. From postpartum issues to sleep regression and toddler development, they have lots of informative posts to help you survive motherhood.

Affair Recovery

I’m choking up just writing this. Affair Recovery is more than just a blog / website. They’re also a retreat center for crumbling marriages, in particular ones that are going though an affair or other sexual addictions. They have lots of free resources, but my favorite is the Vlog series on YouTube. Early in my marriage, my husband had inappropriate feelings towards a co-worker as well as a pornography addiction. For years, I just couldn’t move past the hurt, especially since he continued to work closely with the woman. I watched one video per day, in particular with Samuel because I felt a connection with his words. It was painful to process those feelings at first. But I’m proud to say our marriage has completely healed from this and we have Affair Recovery to thank.

Meet Penny

Tabitha runs this great blog, Meet Penny. Her blog is heavily focused on frugal living. I love all her helpful tips to save money. If you’re homeschooling, she has a huge library of free curriculum and resources to help you. Her parenting advice is also invaluable!

To Love, Honor & Vacuum

With over 42,000 subscribers, Sheila Wray Gregoire at To Love, Honor and Vacuum focuses heavily on marriage, marital sex, family, and faith. I found her when I was going through some heavy jealousy with a woman with which my husband works. A few of her posts, gave me some great insight on handling those feelings. I love that she focuses heavily on keeping the spark going in marriage. An author of eight books, she is also a public speaker.

On The Sunny Side of Something

I recently discovered Elease Colcord and her blog The Sunny Side of Something online and I can’t stop reading her! Her writing makes you feel like her best friend and I have to remind myself, I don’t actually know her. Haha! She’s beautiful, entertaining, funny, but most of all – authentic. On her blog she shares recipes, parenting stories (both funny and tearjerking), personal growth, but my favorite section is MILP. Moms I’d Like to Punch. Oh em gee. It’s hilarious and totally relatable! Check her out. She’ll have you in stitches. Follow her on Instagram for more online fun.

Confessions of a Homeschooler

Confessions of a homeschooler - bloggers to help you slay motherhood

I’ve been following Erica for about 3 years on her site Confessions of a Homeschooler. On her site, she provides curriculum to preschoolers as well as homeschooling schedules for every grade, menu planning, lesson plans and tons of printables. Even if you aren’t homeschooling, I strongly recommend reading her site. She has a huge amount of learning resources for every age, including how to reduce test taking anxiety, how to take notes, and how to study for tests. You won’t regret it.

The Chic Site

How could I not include this, in 21 Bloggers to Slay Motherhood? If you haven’t heard of Rachel Hollis, you’ve been living under a rock. Okay, that’s harsh. But seriously, this lady is truly inspiring to me. On days when I totally feel like giving up on this blog, she reminds me not to take “no” for an answer. Her amazing book, “Girl, Wash Your Face,” is a best seller and her blog, The Chic Site is equally motivating. When I first found her (before her book), I think she tended to focus more on style, but she has really dug her heels into personal growth topics. I think her writing style is so sincere and authentic. If you haven’t read her book, you can find it on Amazon (link below). Also her new book, “Girl, Stop Apologizing” is now out in book stores. I can’t wait to read it!

Live Wise Love Well

Live Wise Love Well - bloggers to help you slay motherhood

I recently discovered Erika at Live Wise Love Well. Can I just say that she is such a beautiful lady, inside and out. She just did an outstanding series on the fruits of the spirit. If you’re struggling in areas like peace, patience, and gentleness, you need her in your life! Her message is beautiful and inspiring. She’s cute too! Like, really cute. If you need a chuckle, read her post, “How the Instapot Saved My Marriage.” She also does regular podcasts so go have a listen and subscribe to her!

The Purposeful Nest

I just recently discovered Ashley at The Purposeful Nest. A former police officer, she is now a stay-at-hom mom and homeschooler. Her lovely blog focuses on homeschooling, DIY and crafts, and family-oriented travel. Give her a read, you won’t be disappointed.

Club 31 Women

I’ve been reading Lisa Jacobson at Club 31 Women for years. One thing I love about Lisa is that she’s an older mother of 8 children. Yes, you read that right, 8. She brings wisdom and experience to her posts. Also, her recipes are delicious. Just sayin’. I love her focus on marriage and child rearing from a woman who’s been through it many times over. But what’s really special is that her husband, Matthew Jacobson has a “sister site” for men. His site, Faithful Man, is equally inspiring and full of encouragement. My husband and I like to read them both.

How To Be a Fun Mum

Just as the title suggests, New Zealander Kelly, wanted to be a fun mom, but wasn’t. That is until she totally turned her version of motherhood around and became a fun mom. She learned to embrace motherhood and enjoy it! Something I firmly believe moms should do. Her site, How To Be a Fun Mum, is dedicated to fun activities with your kids and they are indeed fun. My boys love to do the activities and I know yours will too!

Chronicles of a Momtessorian

Anitra runs a cute educational Mom’s blog called Chronicles of a Momtessorian. On her blog, she provides tons of Montessori based activities for your little ones that you can do at home. What’s really nice is that most activities are very easy to do…and we all want things to make life easier. Head to her blog for great educational resources.

The Measured Mom

A mother of six, Anna is a teacher turned stay-at-home mom. Her site, The Measured Mom, is dedicated to teaching children at home. She has both free printables and a shop. Furthermore, she has tools and resources for just about every subject. Handwriting, spelling, math, book lists, and themed teaching. She has 180,000 followers because of her great learning curriculum. Again, even if you aren’t homeschooling there are lots of resources that can be used to supplement your child’s public school education.

It’s My Sustainable Life

Calling crunchy moms! Suzan at It’s My Sustainable Life provides beautiful online content. Similar to Farmhouse on Boone, she focuses on holistic living. Her subjects include, up-cycling DIY projects, scratch recipes, gardening, food preservation, and natural remedies.

Jessica Plemons Kindergarten

Jessica Plemons

This girl is amazing and I have so much for which to thank her! Her site, Mrs. Plemons Kindergarten offers the best tot school curriculum, baby activities and preschool curriculum I’ve ever come across. We used the tot school curriculum when my son was in the 2-3 age range. He learned so much from these lessons! Best of all they felt like play time to him and the lesson plans have a lot of flexibility. One of the best things is that Jessica runs a Facebook Group to go alongside of the curriculum. Here you can talk with other mothers and get advice strait from Jessica herself. Even if you aren’t homeschooling, you’ll love the themed activities that keep your little toddler’s hands busy!

Real Mom Nutrition

Sally at Real Mom Nutrition is a registered dietitian and mom. Her “no judgement” site is dedicated to getting your kids to eat healthy with her kid-friendly recipes and ideas. I love that she also posts often about picky eaters and provides real ways to get your picky child to try new things.

Mommy Knows Best

Jenny runs her blog, Mommy Knows Best. This blog is heavily focused on postpartum issues primarily lactation. Best of all she provides natural herbal remedies to treat low milk supply. If you are struggling to nurse, I highly recommend reading her blog.

Shay Budgets

Okay so Shay isn’t a blogger per se. She’s a vlogger on You Tube. But I think she is really valuable when it comes to budgeting, reducing debt and being financially responsible. She also uses the Happy Planner, Erin Condren and other cute methods to make boring household management fun! Hey 26,000 subscribers agree with me. Additionally, she has an Etsy shop with budgeting stickers and tools to make budgeting organized and more enjoyable.


I really hope this post, 21 Bloggers to Help You Slay Motherhood, was helpful to you. Please subscribe to these ladies if you feel like they speak to you. If you have found a blogger you love, I’d like to hear who and why you follow them in the comments below.

7 Things About Bipolar I Want People to Know

Bipolar is a very misunderstood illness. It’s comes with a stigma. But here are 7 things about bipolar I want people to know.

7 Things About Bipolar I Want People To Know
Photos courtesy of Unsplash

Mental illness. It’s almost a dirty word. Okay, so it’s two words. But these days there is a lot of misinformation surrounding bipolar disorder.

So let’s start with the basics. First bipolar is a mood disorder. It creates high (mania) and low moods (depression) in a patient. Psychosis (being out of touch with reality) can also occur during severe episodes. It also affects circadian rhymes, thereby disrupting sleep and furthering the symptoms. The episodes can last weeks or months. It is not uncommon to rapidly cycle between them at the same time. It is created by an imbalance in neurochemicals. Lots of scientific studies suggest it is both hereditary and genetic. However, situational and environmental issues can increase or affect episodes. There are several types of bipolar but two are most prevalent. Type I patients who spend a great majority of time in manic moods and Type II patients who spend most of their time in a depressive state.

Depression

Depression can be characterized by hopelessness, specifically a lack of joy or the inability to enjoy things. You can be plagued with thoughts of suicide or self-harm. You can feel excessively guilty, have difficulty concentrating, and may gain or lose weight. In extreme episodes, it includes psychosis which manifests as delusions or hallucinations (both auditory and visual). It’s common for untreated patients to self-medicate through substance abuse.

Mania / Hypomania

Mania is odd because it can be like a euphoric “high” or it can be excessive anxiety. It can include obsessive, racing thoughts. It makes you impulsive and extremely irritable. You can become a thrill-seeker and even sexually promiscuous. It makes you have poor judgement and can result in spending excessive amounts of money. It can cause you to lash out at others and creates long bouts of insomnia.

Okay, now that we are through the scientific and more sterile descriptions, let me say, I was diagnosed with bipolar as a preteen after first being misdiagnosed as a child with major depression. That’s very common at that age.

Lastly, this post isn’t designed to scold anyone. It’s about educating people about an illness that is grossly misunderstood. Here are 7 things about bipolar I want people to know.

Things About Bipolar I Want People to Know

We Don’t Like Being Called Crazy

This should be a given. But I’m still shocked at how many times people use the word “crazy” to describe someone who has bipolar. It’s really hurtful. We aren’t “crazy.” You wouldn’t call an amputee “stumpy.” See? We feel the same being called “crazy.” We have an illness. It’s a physical illness that affects us mentally. It’s caused by the brain not producing neurochemicals like serotonin. Similarly, we don’t like being asked mockingly if we are “off our meds.”

We Aren’t Bipolar

Allow me to explain. There is such a huge stigma surrounding mental illness, but in particular bipolar and schizophrenia. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve heard people say, “she’s bipolar.” We aren’t bipolar. We HAVE bipolar. You’d never say, “she’s cancer.” It dehumanizes us. We’re aren’t our illness. It doesn’t define us and therefore not our identity. It’s just one aspect of our life.

You Don’t Need to Be Afraid of Us

Contrary to what the media and non-medical professionals would have you believe we aren’t going on a rampage. And no, psychotropic drugs don’t turn us all into mass shooters. Those people have all kinds of contributing factors, including circumstances completely unrelated to mental illness.

Not all bipolar patients are violent. In fact, that’s not as nearly common as you might think. For example, with Type II patients we are far more likely to hurt ourselves.

We Don’t Want to Disappoint You

We hate when we have to cancel on you because we’re sick. We’re just as disappointed. It’s embarrassing – especially if our caregiver (a spouse, parent, etc.) also has to cancel to take care of us. And please, don’t say we should “plan better.” No one plans to be sick. We have no way of predicting when our mood will change and no way of gauging how bad it will be. I don’t even have words to describe how hurtful and abhorrent that is.

Can you imagine saying that to someone who has cancer? Seriously. Imagine someone has cancer and is going through chemotherapy. They have an important function and can’t go to the event after a chemo treatment because they feel horrible. You would never say things like, “well you should have planned better. After all, you knew you had cancer. You knew you were going to have chemo. You should have planned better.” Yeah, it’s that disgusting and insensitive.

We Say Things We Don’t Mean

They say bipolar is the great melting pot of mental illness. It has anxiety, depression, irritability, OCD tendencies, hallucinations, insomnia, and sometimes what looks like ADHD. When we are in a manic stage, we are often impulsive and irritable.

Being impulsive can cause us to not think through the consequences of our actions. When you combine that with irritability, it makes for lots of unkind words. Oh we regret it afterwards, believe me. But in the moment, there is little self-control. We damage and lose relationships over it. It hurts us as much as it hurts you. When those feelings pass, we are embarrassed by the destruction we caused.

Suicide Is Always Knocking On Our Door

This is a really sensitive issue, but it needs to be discussed. We might seem okay. We might even seem thick-skinned. But we are always resisting the urge to kill ourselves. We have a hard time coping even with the simplest of life situations. If something upsets us deeply, we can despair very quickly.

Then there are times when we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s exhausting to fight this everyday. We just want it to stop. We want peace. Suicide is a very tempting option.

We Pretend to Be Okay

Most people have heard the old adage, “fake it ‘til you make it.” However, for us, it’s really true. I don’t want to make it seem like we are lying to you everyday. But the truth is we’re always trying to make it through the day. Similarly, it never goes away totally. I’d say we are either better or worse. Medications don’t cure it. They only make it more manageable. Bipolar is a chronic illness and therefore we live with it everyday. We just don’t always talk about it. We deal with it on our own as much as we can.

Those are the things I want people to know about bipolar. I hope I’ve provided some insight on bipolar. If you suffer from bipolar, I’d love for you to leave a comment below about what you would want people to know. If you’re looking for other wellness topics, check out Setting Healthy Boundaries in Your Marriage.

Banana Vanilla Wafer Pudding

Learn how to make banana vanilla wafer pudding, a simple layered desert made with fresh bananas, banana pudding and vanilla wafers.

Banana Vanilla Wafer Pudding

Today I’m sharing a family recipe and childhood favorite. My mom made this as a kid in the 80’s. Boy did I love it. It was one of my favorite childhood desserts. I remember my mom making it whenever her family would come down from Houston to visit. My mom is one of six. We were five, so there were lots of hungry mouths to feed. I normally don’t like a lot of banana flavored things but this is a good one!

This recipe is very easy to make. I’ve always made if with instant pudding. I’ve honestly never tried it using the hot pudding method. You’ll make the instant pudding according to the package instructions. Normally, it calls for 2 cups of milk per package. I recommend using two packages.

Aditionally, you could stiffen up the pudding a little in the fridge and spread, Personally, I like to pour the pudding over the layers while it’s still liquid. Either method works fine.

I recommend refrigerating for at least two hours before serving, even if the pudding is stiff. If you’ve ever made or had tiramisu, it’s similar. Except instead of ladyfingers, it’s vanilla wafers. As the pudding sets, they soften.

You can store this dish in either an air tight dish or in a well covered pan. it keeps well in the fridge for about four days.

By the way, if you’re looking for other sweet stuff that calls for fresh fruit try my White Chocolate Rasberry Muffins.

Banana Vanilla Wafer Pudding

Banana Vanilla Wafer Pudding

Super easy layered dessert with banana pudding, fresh bananas and vanilla wafers
Prep Time15 mins
Chill2 hrs
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 2 Packages Banana Instant Pudding
  • 4 Cups Milk (or milk according to package)
  • 1 Package Vanilla Wafers

Instructions

  • In a medium mixing bowl, pour the contents of the two packages of instant banana pudding and make according to package directions.
  • Layer the bottom and sides of a baking dish with vanilla wafers
  • Add a layer of sliced bananas on top of the cookies
  • Pour half of the pudding on the bananas and wafer cookies
  • Repeat layering.
  • Pour the remainder of the pudding on top of the last later.
  • Finish by adding cookies on top of the pudding mixture,
  • Put in the fridge and let it firm up at least two hours before serving
Banana Vanilla Wafer Pudding

I hope you enjoy this Banana Vanilla Wafer Pudding as much as I do. I’d love to hear what you think of it in the comments below. Don’t forget to pin this recipe for later!

What I’ve Learned in 4 Months of Blogging

The end of February marked my forth month blogging. Blogging isn’t what I thought – I’d love to share what I’ve learned in 4 months of blogging.

What I've learned in 4 months of blogging

When I started blogging, I wanted lots of things. First, I wanted a side income doing one of the things I love most – writing. I worked as a writer in my teenage years and in my twenties. I even had a magazine at one point. But I was compelled to start a mom blog. I wanted to offer the help and support I needed when I first became a mom. I wanted to share my talents and knowledge (knowledge is useless if it just stays with you). Lastly, I wanted to generate a side income. But blogging has been a bit of a “culture shock” and I want to share with you what I’ve learned in 4 months of blogging.

It’s Hard To Gain a Following

Ugh. This is the most shocking thing to me yet. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it would be hard to get strangers to read my blog. But one thing I’ve been surprised to learn is that even your family and closest friends don’t email subscribe and follow you. (Enter shocked emoji here). I’m not sure exactly what I expected. I think I thought people I was close to would automatically support and follow the blog. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, about 97% of my email subscribers are strangers. I guess my point is that as a blogger, you work to win friends and family over too.

I’m not a fast writer. I take my time planning an editorial schedule and to create quality posts. But I have found the 80/20 rule is absolutely true. You spend 80% of your time promoting your post and 20% of your time writing it. You have to promote it constantly on all social media platforms. It doesn’t matter how good or helpful your content is – it’s really, really hard to gain a following. It can feel like you’re begging to get likes, comments, and shares. Can I say it? This is much harder than I thought.

Building Your Brand Is Important

When I first started my blog, I had absolutely no direction. It was a hodgepodge of fonts I liked and things I thought were cute. But I have found that to get a following, you really need to hone in on your blog’s voice. People begin to recognize your “look and feel.” What I didn’t realize, is that it needs to carry over on all your social media accounts. This means using the same font, the same layouts and even the same colors. It reminds people who you are. For example, since building my brand on Instagram, my followers have jumped from 850 to around 1200 in just a month.

The same goes for consistently posting blog posts. I have found that keeping to the same day and time for posts is very helpful for those who do follow the blog.

Laptop
Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

High Quality Photos Are A Must

Cell phones have pretty decent cameras these days, but it just doesn’t compare to shooting in RAW with a DSLR. I used to do photography as a side hustle about 10 years ago. But since becoming a mom, I think I’ve maybe only picked it up once. At first, I used my cell phone and just snapped a few photos. Who cares about the background, right? Wrong!

I’ve learned that your blog has to be aesthetically pleasing. Fact: people like pretty things! If it ain’t pretty, no one wants to look at it! I found myself having to invest in some backdrops, presets, props, and extra lighting equipment. I had to learn to master the flat lay. But I can also tell you it has directly affected my following. It does make a difference. If you don’t believe me, take a look at these two photos. The first one is from my very first month of blogging. The second one is from this month. What a difference 4 months makes.

See what I mean? I’ve come a long way. I’m excited to see how I will grow in the next 4 months.

This Is A Business

Blogs cost money. It’s hard to gain a following on a domain that reads www.wordpress.com/abeautifulmess. People don’t remember it. You have to invest in a domain, hosting, etc. And like I mentioned before, for good photos you need props, presets / editing software, backdrops, reflectors, tripods, and more. You need to find ways to help offset the costs of your blog. This means selling things like printables, e-courses, and other things.

Additionally, it means putting ads and affiliate links on your site. Furthermore, if you think it’s hard to gain a following, it’s even harder to get people to buy things! Did I mention how much time you invest in it? I have learned to be successful, you absolutely need to treat it like a business. It means dedication and investing your heart and soul in it.

There’s A Steep Learning Curve

That being said, you need to learn about the industry. I wish I had done more reading and learning before I launched my blog. There is so much I would do differently. Blogging has a steep learning curve. There are so many things to learn. Photography, wordpress, plug-ins, email campaigns, social media and their algorithms, SEO, blogger communities, and blog industry jargon. Honestly, it is a little more complicated than I realized. Duh, it’s a business. Yeah, I didn’t really know that. What can I say? We learn and sometimes the hard way.

You Have To Keep Your Dream Alive

I can’t tell you how many times I have already thought about quitting. It sounds silly, but the very first thing I mentioned was about how difficult it is to grow a following. Can I be honest? It’s depressing when no one is reading your blog. Or maybe more precisely, you don’t know if anyone is reading it. Again, it doesn’t matter how great your content is, if no one is reading it, it’s pointless. There are times when I’m ready to throw in the towel and then someone will say how much they enjoy reading My Beautiful Mess. In my mind I’m like, “subscribe then!” But I’d never say that! I have such a hard time asking for support.

I have followed Rachel Hollis for a long time. She is a well known blogger. Most people know her from her hit book, Girl, Wash Your Face. The sixth chapter in her book is entitled, No Is the Final Answer. Within the pages, she describes how many times she was rejected. She credits the secret of her success as refusing to accept the word “no.” I honestly don’t know if I have her will. I have a hard time bouncing back from disappointment. When you’re a blogger, there is no one motivating you to keep going. You have to remember your “why.” And as Rachel reminds us, you have to believe that no isn’t the final answer. Nobody gets to tell you how big your dreams can be, so go ahead…dream big!


This is what I’ve learned in 4 months of blogging. In the comments below, I’d love to hear what your dreams are and what you’ve learned on your journey.

Dear Mama Who’s Struggling

Every mom has rough patches. You aren’t alone. I have some words of encouragement to the mama who’s struggling.

mama who's struggling

Dear Mama who’s struggling,

I know how bad, your day, week…heck, your year is going. Believe me when I say, I’ve been there. I know you’re struggling. I see you. Yeah, you in that pile of diapers, tantrums and tears. I see you! With that tween who is discovering boys or that teen who is pushing you away. You may be pretending you’re okay, but that smile doesn’t fool me. I know the days feel long and endless. Hell, this whole stage feels endless.

I know that sounds awful, but you know it has nothing to do with how much we love our kids. Love isn’t the problem, right? We love them, there’s no question. Love is what gets us through the sleepless nights and the days of runny noses and stomach bugs. It’s what makes us sit down to a make believe tea party when we’ve got dishes stacked on every kitchen surface. Love is why we play “dinosaurs” for the tenth time today when we’ve got mounds of laundry piled up like a trash heap. Love isn’t the problem.

I get it. Most days it feels pointless. I mean does anyone else really care if the microwave gets clean or the furniture gets dusted? It sometimes feels like we’re the only ones stressing over the state of the house. And for what? We know as soon as we get it clean – as soon as every last goldfish crumb has been swept up and every last Minion, Dory and PJ Mask figurine has been put in its place, it will all be back on the floor tomorrow. I know it feels pointless.

But I promise you girlfriend, it isn’t pointless. I promise you it matters. You matter! You aren’t invisible. Even if no one praises you, even if there are no accolades. Hell, even if you think you are failing miserably, it matters. YOU MATTER. You matter to those little babies. You’re their whole world. They love you no matter what. I don’t care if you totally phoned dinner in tonight. Even if they are on their last pair of clean underwear, they love you and they’re proud of you.

It’s not endless either. That’s the saddest part. Over the years, your kids will slip away from you to live their own lives. In fact, the older they get, the less time there is to teach and shower them with that obsessive love you feel. Motherhood is the only career where you work yourself out of a job. If you’ve done a good job, they won’t need you. These are the good old days you’ll miss. You won’t ever regret loving your kids instead of doing chores or errands.

mama who's struggling

This motherhood thing is no joke. It ain’t for the weak! It ain’t for the fearless. The truth is – Motherhood can suck. It can also be amazingly wonderful and everything in between. That’s because it’s a journey. It’s a process. And once you’re a mother, you’ll always be one. I don’t care if you never even saw your baby. If you lost your baby in the womb or at the moment he or she should have taken their first breath. You’re a mama. Motherhood is hard…even on it’s best days.

And by the way, I don’t care if you give your kids Vegan snacks or candy for dinner. It doesn’t matter if you homeschool like me or if they are in public school. You’ve got my respect. Your version of motherhood doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Seriously, if there is anything moms do wrong, it’s judging other mamas. Let’s not do that. We’re all just winging it. We’re all just trying to survive. Trying to make it through this tough season. Mother Theresa said, “If you’re busy judging people, you have no time to love them.” Truth. Just love each other – we’re all learning this mom thing at different speeds, in different ways. There is no one “right” way to mom.

I know you feel guilty. You snapped at them yesterday. Thank God no one saw that. It’s amazing how quickly you can bottle that up if you’ve got a play date or someone you know unexpectedly drops in. I know. I’ve done it too. And if you think the women in your mom’s circle haven’t done the same at some point – they’re lying. Because here is what no one tells you: all moms lose their shit at some point. There…I said it. It’s true.

Even if you are an awesome mom, we’ve all locked ourselves in a room, or a car, or some quiet place alone and sobbed into our hands. Raise your hand if you’ve cried to a husband that doesn’t understand. We’ve all wondered if we’re completely failing at this. We wonder if anyone sees that our life is a mess.

Let me tell you something I’ve learned: motherhood is a lot of work and a lot of second guessing. You might think the moms you know have it all together. They don’t! They just use perfectionism as a masquerade. Trust me, I invented that! My life is a mess. Everyone’s is. They’re very own hot, lovely, perfect, beautiful mess.


The post, Dear Mama Who’s Struggling first appeared on My Beautiful Mess.

Easy Menu Planning

Are you having a hard time figuring out what to feed your family? Well I have a great method for easy menu planning.

No Plan of Attack

Planning might seem like a lot of work, but I promise it’s worth – and I have a method for easy menu planning. Years ago, I would go nearly empty handed to the grocery store, barring a small list of items we were totally out of. So I would wander the aisles at my grocery store, filling my basket haphazardly with any and all items that were appealing. I’m embarrassed to say how much I spent.

Here in Texas, we have an amazing grocery store: H-E-B. Texans have a strong loyalty to the store because of how much they give back to the public and how well they treat employees. They also have amazing sales. H-E-B does a lot of “buy one get one free” sales as well as well as free items (you buy a meat and they give you the rest of the ingredients free to make a complete meal). They also do something ingenious. They tape all coupons to the item on sale. So as you browse through the store, you seek out items with their bright yellow coupons attached like a scavenger hunt! Therefore, you end up buying a lot more than anticipated! Sly, H-E-B. Sly.

Small amounts add up. Just ask anyone who has bought out of the Target Dollar Spot. That’s why sticking to a list is so important.

Beware of small expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.

Benjamin Franklin

Benefits to Menu Planning

  • Reduce Spending
  • Regular rotation of meals
  • Reduce food taking up space in freezer, fridge, and pantry
  • Reduce trips to the store
  • Order quickly with pick-up or delivery services

Guide to Easy Menu Planning

I recommend doing a weekly shop. However, you can plan your meals on a monthly basis to make it easier and I’m going to show you how – the easy way!

I recommend category planning. This is a regular, rotating schedule of cuisine types. For example, I save crochkpot or Insta-pot meals for Mondays since they are always very busy for us. Tuesday’s are for Mexican (Taco Tuesday) or any other international cuisine you want. Wednesdays are reserved for Italian or pasta based dishes. Thursday my husband often comes home late, so I do a casserole, one-pot meal, or sheet pan dinner. We often go out on Fridays, if you have a night out, you can simply omit a category that week. Saturdays I keep really simple (hot dogs, pizza, etc) and easy. Soup is also a favorite of mine, especially during the fall and winter. I love having a traditional Sunday meal. Since I’m from the South, it’s normally Southern Comfort Food or a Cajun dish. You pick the category types.

Meal Planner by Happy Planner ®

Using this method, you can put together a whole month of menu planning in just a few minutes. I’ve created a sample menu plan in pdf format to give you an idea. You can download it here

Tips to Help

  • Save past menu plans. When you don’t have time to plan, just redo an old week
  • Make a list of all the dishes you know, then choose from that every week
  • Create meal plans around items you already have on hand to save money
  • Sometimes using online ordering can help you curb impulse buys

Menu Planner

Happy Planner has some cute meal planning sheets and extension packs to help you get organized. If you don’ know about Happy Planner, take a look at my blog post, How Happy Planner Changed My Life.

If you like a cheaper, simple, more sleek look, I’ve made a menu planner that can be printed as many times as you need (and you never have to buy again). You can purchase it through my shop here on the blog or you can purchase from my Etsy shop.

Menu Planner
My Beautiful Mess Menu Planner

I hope you like my tips for easy menu planning. In the comments below, I’d love to hear what things you do to make grocery shopping easier.

Monterrey Jack Pimento Cheese

Monterrey Jack Pimento Cheese is both quick and easy to whip up as either an appetizer or for your own homemade Pimento sandwiches.

For years, I hated pimento cheese. But then again I had mostly jarred or processed versions of it. But I became a fan when I whipped up my own brand of Monterrey Jack Pimento Cheese.

I love just just spreading it on bread but Monterrey Jack Pimento Cheese is amazing in sandwiches. It amazes me I hated Pimento Cheese way back when.

This has truly become one of my favorite recipes. Personally, I love spreading it on artisan scratch bread. Don’t fret if you don’t know how to make bread. You can buy scratch bread from your local grocery store and let me tell you…it’s worth it to spring for the good stuff!

By the way, I make this for wine and cheese nights. Let me tell you, it gets rave reviews and I never have any left! For parties, of you aren’t going to make sandwiches, consider just using crackers or bruschetta toast.

The Ingredients

This is a very simple recipe to make. For starters there is no real cooking. Just grab the ingredients and combine in a mixing bowl. I recommend refrigerating it for at least an hour after making it to let the flavors fully meld. I also recommend using fresh minced garlic and fresh dill. There is definitely difference in taste when garlic powder or dried dill is used. It really mutes the flavor.

I’ve been asked before if you can make it with cheddar or mix cheddar in. You certainly can. I love sharp cheese. However, Monterrey Jack has softer notes and I think the flavors work best with a milder cheese.

Storing Monterrey Jack Pimento Spread

Pimento Cheese can dry out. Therefore, I recommend storing it in an air tight container. It’s good for about 5-7 days. That means it’s great for making it in advance for parties and gatherings. You may find it can get a little dry after a few days. Simply add some extra mayo and stir.

Monterrey Jack Pimento Cheese

Monterrey Jack Pimento Cheese

This homemade Pimento Cheese is to die for. Monterrey Jack. Is blended with mayo, Pimento, garlic and dill. 
15 mins
Course: Appetizer
Keyword: appetizer, cheese, dill, easy appetizer, entertaining, monterrey jack, pimeto, pimeto cheese, sandwiches
Servings: 2 Cups

Ingredients

  • 8 Oz Monterrey Jack Cheese shredded
  • 2 Tbsp Garlic Minced
  • 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Dill Chopped
  • 2 Oz Pimento Strained

Instructions

  • With a food strainer, strain the pimentos until all the liquid is gone. 
  • In a medium bowl, add cheese and Pimento. 
  • Mince garlic and add to mixture. 
  • Add dill and mayonnaise. Stir well  until fully combined. 
  • Refrigerate for one hour before serving. 

Learn how to make White Chocolate Raspberry Muffins

March Scripture Reading: Anxiety & Fear

Anxiety and fear are two emotions constantly clawing their way into our minds. Battle those negative feelings with March Scripture Reading: Anxiety & Fear

March scripture reading

Spiritual Amnesia

There is something unique about fear, anxiety, and worry. It creates in us spiritual amnesia. We forget about all the times God has rescued us in the past. We fail to remember that God has worked out our problems again and again. Fear creates spiritual amnesia. In other words, we forget how good God really is! But don’t think you’re alone. The apostles went through it too.

Jesus Calms The Storm

I love the book Fearless by Max Lucado. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. The first chapter uses a bible story we all know very well – Jesus calming the storm. The story can be found in three of the four gospels. Each one says Jesus is asleep in the boat and stays asleep even as a great storm arises. Why is he asleep? Because He’s in control of it! Our “storms” don’t scare Him. Furthermore, there is something unique in the gospel of Mark. As waves crash into the boat, the apostles cry out in fear.

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

As Lucado points out, these men have been traveling with Jesus for years. By this time, they have seen Him cast out demons and heal the blind. He has raised Lazarus from the dead and fed a crowd of 5,000 with just a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. And yet, as soon as they were fearful, the spiritual amnesia sets in. It’s like they totally forget that He is Lord. They don’t ask Him to calm the storm. Instead, they question his character. “Don’t you care if we drown?” And don’t we do the same? When fear overtakes us, don’t we forget that He is Lord and in control of it all?

Our Small Prayers

The truth is, we limit God with our prayers. Allow me to share something deeply personal. My husband and I are currently going through a season of anxiety and fear. In August, my husband will be losing his job. His employer is closing down his office. Currently, we are scrambling to find an engineering job, but in particular one that will not uproot us from my hometown.

So I began praying, asking God to send us something here that would match his salary. After a few weeks of praying, God revealed truth to me. – one that I had forgotten. I was limiting God by my prayer. I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask God for what we specifically want, but we limit God when we do so.

You Do Not Have, Because You Do Not Ask

Read what the apostle Paul writes :

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Boldly! Some translations say “confidently.” To be confident means with no doubt. That is the first point I want to make – that we can confidently go directly to God and ask for help and be assured that He will indeed help us.

But wait, it gets better. One of my favorite verses in the bible is Ephesians 3:20. This verse is why I say we limit God with our prayer. Ephesians 3:20 is why we should pray “Your will be done, Lord.” Here is the truth: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,”

Ephesians 3:20

That’s right. God can do more for you than you can possibly imagine. Even better, He wants to! And if you don’t believe me, read John 10:10: A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.

This doesn’t just mean in heaven. Eternity has already started, my friend. His will is the best for you! It’s bigger and better than you can imagine. When you get scared or anxious, don’t run away. Instead, run to God and listen to Him comfort you in these scriptures.

Scripture Reading Anxiety & Fear

This month, I’d love for you to join me in scripture reading, anxiety and fear. I pray these verses bring your peace and remember that God loves you, He is in control and wants the best for you.

Anxiety & Fear

Colossians 3:15
Mark 5:36
1 Peter 3:14
Deuteronomy 3:22
Zephaniah 3:17
Psalm 34:7
Isaiah 35:4
Psalm 55:22
Proverbs 12:25
1 Peter 5:6-8
Psalm 56:3
Romans 8:38-39
Revelation 1:17
Exodus 14:14
Psalm 118:6Isaiah 41:10
Philippians 4:6-7
Isaiah 35:4
Psalm 34:4
Proverbs 3:5-6
Luke 12:22
John 14:1
Joshua 1:9
2 Timothy 1:7
Isaiah 41:10
John 14:1
Psalm 94:19
Jeremiah 17:7-8
Matthew 11:28-30
John 14:27
Psalm 23

In the comment section below, please tell me how I can pray for you in this season of anxiety & fear and I’ll add you to my prayer list.

Join me next month for April’s Scripture Reading: Grief and Depression. Also, if you missed it, see also February’s Scripture Reading: Love & Kindness

How Happy Planner Changed My Life

I know what you’re thinking. My title is dramatic! It’s just a planner. Wrong. It’s a Happy Planner and true to it’s name, it actually made me happier! Here is how Happy Planner changed my life.

Happy Planner Changed My life

One Hot Mess

With an appointment based job, I had always used a planner. When I left the workforce, I remember throwing away my dull, black hourly planner. After all, I was going to be a stay-at-home mom. What did I need a planner for? Stay-at-home moms have all the time in the world, right? Seriously, I thought there would be time for Netflix, Beachbody and scrapbooking. I know…I was clueless! Believe me, I learned the hard way.

Can I be really honest for a second? It’s going to sound awful. But for the first part of that first year, I really hated being a stay-at-home mom. I had lost my identity. But worse, I felt like I was failing at everything!

Mounds of laundry stared at me from my couch. Hampers were spilling over. Dishes were piled in the sink. I’m a hard worker. But I was seriously failing at every chore and responsibility I had. I double-booked myself all the time and flat out forgot my appointments. Also, I was struggling to adjust to only having one income supporting us. I was a mess.

Nothing Else Calmed the Chaos

I tried putting appointments in my phone. After all, this thousand dollar iPhone has to be good for something, right? It can set an alarm to go off so you don’t miss things. Honestly, half the time I forgot to even put things in it. I’ve always worked better with paper, where I can scribble thoughts and write notes to myself. The phone’s calendar really doesn’t allow for that. I even went back to my boring planner, but I had no motivation to open it up.

Discovering Happy Planner ®

I can recall the first day I discovered Happy Planner. It was an exceptionally rough day. I felt like a failure. I was at Hobby Lobby for some scrapbooking stuff and I stumbled across a Happy Planner. Let me say, this was years ago. Back when there was only a couple of covers to choose from. It was a simple black and white striped cover. I remember reluctantly putting it in my cart. Almost like it was a waste of money. Would I really use it? I specifically remember thinking, “maybe if it’s pretty and I can decorate it, I’ll want to use it.” (I’m pretty sure that is the business model of Happy Planner.) Isn’t that why many people don’t use a planner? They forget to open it up and use it!

And the sticker books? Girl, I was a Happy Planner babe before it was cool! Me and My Big Ideas had been around for a while. I had bought their scrapbooking stuff before. But this was still in the infancy of the Happy Planner. This is back in the day before value pack stickers even existed! There was a handful of 4 page sticker packs and the designs were fairly simple still. Can you imagine a time before metallic foiled stickers? It existed. I was there for it! These days, there are hundreds of gorgeous accessories!

Menu Planner

Happy Planner Changed My Life

It Got My Creative Juices Flowing

Switching to Happy Planner totally worked. If you are unfamiliar with it, the pages within are beautiful and cheerful. The monthly dividers are gorgeous and often have inspirational quotes and sayings. Just thumbing through the pages is like opening a book of happiness! And no….Eric Condren doesn’t even come close to measuring up! (Sorry not sorry, Erin). These days, the stickers are to die for…like so pretty you almost don’t want to use them! So pretty, you convince yourself you need every single sticker book. So pretty that you’ll stand near an empty display shelf while a Michael’s employee unboxes the newest release. (Yes, I’ve done that!)

But in all seriousness, it worked. I had no time for arts & crafts. I was a trained artist in Europe. Living without creativity in my life was depressing. Being able to decorate my planner totally made me feel like I got my artistic yearnings out everyday!

Happy Planner stickers

It Increased My Self-Worth

Let me be even more personal. Being a stay-at-home mom is really hard. There are no raises or promotions if you do a good job. There are no IDPs and annual performance reviews. No one is there motivating you to do better. You can feel alone and invisible.

I doubt the ladies over at Happy Planner know just how much those cute little motivational quotes actually do motivate me. No one was feeding me positivity…that is until I found Happy Planner. There are days where I totally don’t feel like adulting and I open my Happy Planner and see exactly what I need to get moving. And as much as I hate to admit this publicly, I need my “gold stars” for a job well done. I need to feel like it matters.

I know what you’re thinking. “It’s a planner for goodness sake!” Happy Planner changed my life. First, it keeps me on task and helps me accomplish things (duh, it’s a planner). Secondly, it’s a record of my motherhood journey – every playdate, every birthday party, their milestones and memories are lovingly recorded in it’s pages. I use their wellness planner to maintain a work/life balance as a mom. It helps me prioritize “me time” and has helped me with my anxiety and depression issues. Their fitness planner helped me track my Gestational Diabetes diet (even my OBGYN was impressed). Furthermore, I use their budget accessories to keep me financially disciplined.

Happy Planner Stickers

It Gave Me Back Control

When I first started staying home, I felt out of control. Frazzled. Overwhelmed. I was a steamy, hot mess! But using a Happy Planner has helped me gain control in every area of my life. I use the Faith Planner to help me maintain my relationship with God. Before the kids get up, I make my coffee, read The Word, and do my bible study. I use the Miss Maker one just for this blog. I use the Teacher Planner for our homeschooling. Honestly, I love it. When I wake up and am tempted to take a day off from homeschooling, all those inspiring teaching and learning quotes, make me want to get back at it and slay the day! It reminds me why I’m doing this! Happy planner changed my life.

It’s Flexible

One thing everyone loves about the Happy Planner is that it is completely customizable. It doesn’t matter if you need hourly, weekly, or a dashboard layout. They’ve got them all! But my favorite part is the discs. The innovative disc system allows you to remove and place any accessories where you want them. And boy do they have accessories! Plastic envelopes, dividers, folders, daily sheets, dry erase boards, more. I’ll be sharing more about the accessories in a follow up post on how to use a Happy Planner to get organized. My point is just that you can tailor it to work for you and your needs. Above all, I love that it’s so flexible to fit my needs.

Over the last few years, I’ve converted so many people over to Happy Planner: friends, family, old co-workers, other moms – even my husband. I had to find a way to make it less girly for him, but he was anxious to see if would help him since he saw a miraculous transformation in me. It worked for him too. I’m so enthusiastic about Happy Planner because it really did help me plan a happy life.

I do not sell Happy Planner. I’m making no money with this post. I simply want to share an amazing product that helped me stay organized and reach my goals.