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Pardon our dust! (And, yay for changes!)

We’re doing a little spring cleaning here at The Happiest Home! Sarah’s been working hard behind the scenes to switch us to a new theme that will make it easier for you to navigate content and discover gems that have gotten buried over the years. We appreciate your patience while we roll out the new changes, and – whoops! – apologize if some older content somehow winds up in your inbox along the way. Want to stay up to date on what’s happening here amid all the changes? Fill out the box below and we’ll get in touch with you via email

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Looking for inspiration and real-life connection? Join me at the BEYOND Retreat next fall.

You know one of the biggest benefits of slowing down and doing less? When you step off of the merry-go-round of doing, doing, doing just because it seems like, well, the thing to do, you suddenly have all this “new” time and energy and brain space to pursue things that mean a lot to you. For years I’ve been dreaming of putting together an event bringing together awesome women in one place to dream, plan, recharge and get inspired. And now it’s time to make it happen. In October of 2015 I’ll be hosting a small but mighty group of women (is

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“Fun Parent” vs. “Boring Parent” – It’s Not Fair! But Is It True?

My husband made this lunch for my daughter last week. I know. I should have known it was coming when I caught him poring over Bento box tutorials on YouTube, watching a woman meticulously arrange smiley faces onto tiny rice-ball heads, then cap them off with pita-pocket hats. The very next day, Jon made a special trip to the grocery store for supplies. And that evening, he and Clara hovered over the kitchen island for a good half-hour creating The Lunch To End All Lunches.  Heart-shaped salami framed by heart-shaped cheese slices, people. A tiny little star cutout peanut-butter sandwich with honey and sprinkles

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Delegate Like Downton: A Strategy For Managing Home Helpers

Imagine this: it’s a Sunday afternoon. One child just got done shoveling the walk, and another is unloading the dishwasher. You, on the other hand, are reading a magazine, sipping a cup of tea and enjoying the calm of a neat (enough) kitchen…that you didn’t even have to tidy up yourself. Sound like a fantasy? It’s not! It’s actually how my Sunday afternoon played out…and it’s a pretty common scenario around here. It hasn’t always been this way. Earlier in marriage and motherhood, I was surrounded by mess and chaos, and bogged down by resentment. Why didn’t other family members recognize

At Home with Meagan

5 Must-Have Kitchen Tools

I’ve been wanting to do a regular video series, like, forEVER. But when I had kids home with me during the day, I found it was just too difficult to find quiet pockets of time to shoot and edit regularly. A five-minute video may not seem like it takes much time to do, but there’s a lot of set-up and production involved, even in the most “candid” vids.  Now that my days are my own, though, I’m finding that I’ve got the space and quiet to take on some of those things I’ve been wanting to do! So, here it

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Whimsical Girl’s Bedroom Ideas

We’re moving! In less than two weeks my family is relocating to Southern California and we couldn’t be more excited. Our new house is ready and waiting for us and I’m itching to get into it and start settling in. One of the biggest differences between our current house and the one we’re moving into is the flooring. We have carpet now – lots of it – and we’re moving into a house with all hardwood floors. And while the new floors are beautiful, it’s going to be awfully echo-y in there until we get some area rugs down. One problem:

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Gardening with Kids, The (Really) Easy Way

I’ve always wanted to think of myself as the kind of mom who grows herbs indoors using a DIY seed-starting kit, turning toilet-paper rolls or egg cartons into frugal mini-gardens which nurture her child’s green thumb, creativity and resourcefulness. In reality, I’m the kind of mom who intends, every year, to start seeds indoors eight weeks before the ground is warm, or start a windowsill herb garden, but always forgets to gather the supplies or set aside an afternoon for putting together a system. So this year, I decided to skip all the usual “Oh man, I can’t believe I

The Good-Enough Birthday

Do children’s birthdays have to be complicated to be special?

Monday was my son William’s birthday. He turned seven years old–a magical age. He’s old enough to read chapter books and understand complicated riddles but still believes in Santa Claus so enthusiastically and purely that it actually makes me tear up a bit.

Will’s birthday is the second in a long row of birthdays spanning our fall months. Isaac turned 11 in September. Will’s birthday was 30 days later. Jacob will turn 13 in November. Jon turns thirty-something in early December, followed by Owen’s fifth birthday a few days later. Of course, there’s also Halloween and Christmas to fit in there, and Christmas is upon us almost as soon as Owen’s birthday toys are out of their packaging.

William surrounded by siblings and cousins on his 7th birthday

It can be pretty exhausting, frankly. The pressure’s on to host all-class parties, held in a gym or museum or playland of some sort. But add ‘em all up and you’re looking at close to a thousand dollars we’d be spending on kids’ parties, right before Christmas. While I could come up with ideas for themed parties all day long, the reality of filling my house with children, decorating, planning games, and dealing with invitations  four times in three months is more than I can happily bear.

So somewhere along the line, we opted out. We’ve never rented a donkey. Never reserved a hall. Never set up a party at the local children’s museum. Never, to my memory, sent out themed invitations matched to the napkins and gift bags. The boys have had a few low-key pizza parties at home followed by sleepovers with a few favorite friends, and sometimes we let them invite a good buddy or two for a movie outing with Dad or a trip to play laser tag at the local arcade. But usually, birthdays in our house consist of a small, family-only gathering for cake, a few presents…and that’s it.

Isaac giving his gift–a pet tortoise–a pretend smooch before blowing out the candles

I used to feel really guilty about that. Wasn’t I depriving my kids of a time-honored tradition: the crazy birthday party with clowns, magicians, maybe a petting zoo? Even without going to that extreme, didn’t I owe them some kind of bash to share with two dozen of their closest friends? Or at least some kind of theme, gift bags, hand-made decorations or an expensive trip to the party store?

But then I realized that just because it seems like everybody else seems to be throwing big, elaborate parties doesn’t mean I have to. Just because other moms are great at cake decorating doesn’t mean my scrawled efforts at writing with icing with some scattered candies for adornment aren’t good enough. Special, even, in their own predictable, laid-back way.

Owen turning 4. He didn’t seem to notice that his cake was the victim of the Great Cake Malfunction of 2009. See how it’s about an inch higher on one side?

In fact, I now embrace our low-key, slow, family-centered birthdays. I wake the birthday child up with a hug and kiss, and he’s sent off to school with a chorus of “Happy Birthdays” from the rest of the family. He gets to choose his birthday dinner. I spend the afternoon baking a cake–usually from a mix–and wrapping two or three presents. I hang the same birthday banner we’ve used for years (actually, it finally fell apart, so now I have to buy another.) The birthday boy walks in the door after school, greeted by the smell of cooling cake. Sometimes we have a few cousins or an aunt and uncle or grandma over. Sometimes not. I love that I don’t have to worry about RSVPs, reservations, or gift bags.  I love that the day is all about us, our family and our home.

Jacob, turning 12

Looking back over years of our boys’ birthday party photos, most look more or less the same. Family gathered around the table. A rather sloppy cake (some years sloppier than others. Hey, I try, but this is one area where I’m lacking natural talent.)

I promise, I really do TRY

Candles. Singing. Lots of smiles and laughter. As you can see, the kids don’t seem to be suffering.

He is actually wearing this expression in EVERY photo.

I do hope to one day create a cake that doesn’t look like a first-grader’s 4-H fair entry. And we aren’t opposed to mixing it up a bit when we need to–for example, this year we’ll be in Florida on Jacob’s birthday, so I’m thinking about getting tickets to Medieval Times for a very special birthday dinner.

I also know that as the boys get older, their friends will become more and more important to them. Someday, they may prefer a trip to the movies with a buddy over sitting around the table eating cake and putting together their new Lego set with their brothers. Maybe one day I’ll actually have the energy, time and budget to put together one of those blowout parties my kids have never had.

Jacob turning 12

But I think I’ll always look back fondly at our dozens of slow, quiet, family-centered birthday parties. They’re not stylish, and they’re not terribly exciting, but sitting around the table is our personal birthday ritual–something that is just for us, that helps make us the family we are. And you know what? It’s more than good enough.

Have you ever felt guilty about throwing a low-key birthday for your children? What is your family’s birthday ritual?

*Speaking of rituals and family, did you know that Amanda Soule, aka Soulemama and author of The Creative Family, Handmade Home and a new book The Rhythm of Family (coming in August 2011) will be sharing her thoughts on making a house a home right HERE tomorrow? Be sure to come back and check it out!

 

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