My favorite puppy products

Our sweet friends are getting a puppy soon (hooray!) and they asked me what our favorite things are that we've gotten for Penny. I sent them a list of a few things, and remembered how much we've bought in the seven months we've had Penny that ended up never getting used. Having a beagle-schnauzer (hound/terrier) mix can be tricky! These may not all apply to your pup, but they've been tried-and-true in our household... their our go-to's! 

Our favorite puppy products - that's pretty ace

1. For collars, we got ours from Up Country – they have durable collars which also happen to be insanely cute. It's hard for me not to buy two more... or ten.

2. As far as treats go, Penny loves her Kong. I know she's not the only pup out there who does! You don't have to use the Kong treats for stuffing – Penny's favorite is peanut butter, but this site is one of many that details several concoctions to stuff your pup's Kong with. It's a "special occasion" treat in our house because it's so indulgent. We toss it in the dishwasher to clean it.

3. We've found the best deals for pet meds on Amazon. Having Prime gets us free two-day shipping, which is great when your pup needs more of something quick!

4. When we visited Austin this summer, we took advantage of DogVacay to get a sitter. We loved the service and I was especially impressed with their app. We heart Stacey!

5. For whatever reason, so many dogs I know are obsessed with this loofa toy. Penny isn't that into toys, but this is one she will happily fetch and munch on. I think it's something about the stuffing.

6. We've had great success with Earthbath's all natural shampoo on Penny's skin. She doesn't shed, so dirt and grime builds up easily and irritates her skin. She's also had a run-in with fleas and this (plus proper medicine) has really helped her out.

7. Lastly, we purchased the Kurgo Quantum leash specifically for running, but it has so many impressive features. It can be used six ways, including to walk multiple dogs.

I haven't been asked to (or paid to) talk about any of these items – they're all things that we love and use regularly in our home and I pray they're useful to you and your pup as well :) 

The introvert's guide to a room full of people

The introvert's guide to a room full of people - that's pretty ace

Some people walk into a group and immediately feel energized – they're constantly surrounded by people, and not only enjoy, but also seek out social situations. I've never been one of these people. I see groups and immediately feel insecure (so "junior high" of me). But it's that room full of people where some of the biggest moments of your life tend to happen. It's in social situations where you make friends, get connected in your community, network to find jobs or get that promotion. Your whole life could change based on who you meet. 

So, I've had to come up with a game plan. Here are a few wise things I keep in mind to help me not only "work a room" well, but to intentionally connect with the people there. 

Interview people.

It sounds a little silly, but let me explain. When we feel insecure, we vary between two extremes – we tend to either shrink back or try to make ourselves sound impressive. Both reactions draw attention to ourselves rather than allowing another person to be seen and known.

Think of a conversation that you feel went well, or where you left feeling loved. Typically, it's because the other person was genuinely interested in getting to know you. They asked you questions that were deeper than just "how are you" or "what do you do" and they were interested to hear what you had to say. Instead of fearing what everyone else will think about you, see a room full of people as a room full of opportunities to learn about someone else. I've found when I do this that suddenly the pressure is off for me, because it's no longer about me.

When you're free to focus on drawing out the best qualities in other people and to put them at ease, something really special happens. People may not remember exactly what you talked about, but they will remember feeling safe and affirmed in your presence, and that forms a deep, trustworthy bond. 

Be present.

Interviewing involves investing yourself in the other person. There is no better feeling than feeling like you are the only person in the room when someone is talking to you. Providing this for others by maintaining eye contact and learning more about the person you are talking to sends a message that they matter and are worthy.

Here's a tip that feels a little backwards at first: Often when we're meeting someone new, we listen for something that we might know a little something about. Sometimes we even steer the conversation there ourselves, because we want to find a topic we're knowledgable about and comfortable with. Instead of listening for something comfortable, try listening for something that you actually know nothing about. To humbly say, "That seems like an interesting job. How does that work?" or "I've never heard of that perspective. Tell me more about that." opens the door for the other person to feel known and loved (and for you to learn something new!). You further that bond of trust. 

Foster connections between others. 

Once we've gotten our "game face" on, we often focus on making connections with other people and don’t spend enough time connecting other people with one another. While forming connections for ourselves is obviously good and important, people are appreciative when someone else is thoughtful enough to connect them with someone they may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. You are opening the door for them, and that – again – builds trust.  Making connections between others shows that you are paying attention and looking to be helpful in any way you can. 

Remember names. 

It sounds simple – and it is! – but remembering someone’s name can be surprisingly difficult to do. However, a person’s name may be the most important detail to recall because it sends the message that you remember who they are and will continue to recall meeting them moving forward. I once heard someone say "you're only bad at remembering names if you tell yourself you are." Make it a personal goal to remember their name. Repeat it to them after they introduce themselves and when you say goodbye (ex. "Hi, I'm Brian." "It's nice to meet you, Brian.") Repeat their name mentally as they're talking to you. More often than not, it works! 

Remember your value (and where it comes from).

You might have noticed that most of these tips focus on making others feel important and special. This is certainly the case – and what we see Jesus continually do throughout the Gospel. As He met people, He gave them their humanity by seeing and knowing them. 

However, the only way we will be successful in making others comfortable is if we approach a room self-assured, knowing that no matter who talks to us or what kind of connections we are able to make, our value remains the same. No conversation or connection has the power to make us more or less worthy than we already were when we entered the room. Do you know the names God calls you? Daughter. Son. Beloved. Mine. Worthy. Whole. Gladly bought with a great price. 

Knowing and treasuring your own value will naturally translate to others feeling worthy in your presence, no matter who they are or what their story looks like. This is where true connection begins.

Anybody else out there afraid of big groups? Have you ever tried "interviewing" people? What are some tips and tricks you've used over the years? 

How to Whole30

how to whole30 - that's pretty ace

My husband Chris has a pretty sensitive stomach. Gluten, dairy, spicy food, sweets – you name one and it probably doesn't sit well with him. On the other hand, my body is somewhat like a tank. Spending most of my growing years eating chicken nuggets means that I don't notice many of the unfortunate side-effects of "bad" food.

When we got married, I quickly learned that my cooking style was going to need to change for the sake of Chris's well-being. Overall, we tend to be pretty good at avoiding gluten, and eat spicy food in moderation. Sweets and dairy, however, are our weak spot. After a long winter of bad habits, Chris and I knew we needed to "hit refresh." We decided to try whole30. 

At first, I didn't think it would be much of a stretch. I figured we would adjust to going without dairy like we had already adjusted to going without gluten – taking out gluten makes me sleep better and feel lighter, so I had hoped dairy would cause similar feelings. I was somewhat prepared to fight back the tears over missing a glass of wine at night or a scoop of ice cream. I was pretty wrong... it was hard! 

Week one felt for us the way most people record it – that it's no big deal. Weeks two and three were killers. Thankfully, I didn't feel too irritable, but I did feel pretty pathetic. I tried to make it a goal not to talk about it at work, so I wouldn't be able to sit and potentially complain for hours of my day while I sit at a desk missing chocolate. That failed pretty quickly when my co-workers realized I had been refusing their offers for treats consistently and started asking questions. By week four, I was starting to feel wonderful, and if anyone asked, I told them, "this must be what healthy really feels like." But I was majorly missing the ease of not cooking all of the time. I didn't mind eating the food so much... but I really didn't want to have to cook it. Week four boiled down to a lot of laziness in my heart. 

So, how did it end? We honestly did not make it to 30 and ended up stopping at 25. I know there are a lot of reasons why you should stick it out to 30, and I won't say our excuses made our decision reasonable! But it was Easter weekend, with a Friday off of work and school and so many social events that we didn't want to navigate how to feed ourselves and be able to spend time with our loved ones. But here's the good part...

We felt the best we've ever felt in our lives.

Lots of energy, great sleep, and exercise came easy. I haven't been running the way I was back in the fall, and a run during whole30 felt like I could go on forever. We didn't quite break any sugar additions we have, but we did realize a spoonful of ice cream is just as satisfying for us as a whole bowl. The craziest result for me was losing fat in my arms and hips. I'm petite (5' tall), but my body structure is more curvy than waif-like. I stay in decent shape wish running and generally watching what I eat. I've taken better care of myself in the past year, and have felt my body change because of that. I didn't think I could lose anything in my arms and hips and thought it was just a natural part of my build. I ended up going down a whole pant size and had a noticeable change in the way my arms looked. 

Since whole30, we've done our best to continue cooking this way and making good decisions when we eat out. This ends up meaning that during the week, we eat clean, and over the weekend add in dairy and tortilla chips (we do live in Texas, after all). I still struggle with the concept of spending so much time in the kitchen, and have had to humbly ask for help in that area from Chris. He's been a great teammate! We have added back in alcohol, and enjoy a glass of wine or two during the week. A spoonful of ice cream before an episode of GoT is pretty much the greatest, and that happens once every other week or so. I'm seeing us actually eat everything healthy I bought at the store each week, and I'm seeing our sweet treats last longer (stretching that dollar!). We don't feel like we're missing out, and our bodies are thankful for it. 

So, what do you think? Have you ever tried whole30 (or anything like it)? Would you?

Photo via healthfest's instagram - my main recipe inspiration source!

How to fight the urge to do everything right now

Back in February, I was inspired by Jess Connolly to make a few lists for my week and they've helped me immensely these past few months. I was really struggling to mentally juggle all of my tasks and, because I felt like I needed to get everything-done-right-this-second, I ended up not getting very much done. I shared these in the March newsletter, but wanted to share them with any of you who didn't happen to be signed up then! Seriously, they've been a game-changer in my life. 

how to fight the urge to do everything right now - that's pretty ace

weekly to-do list

I went through a few weeks where I'd get home and feel like I didn't get nearly as much done as I'd hoped to that day. So I put this paper to work! I prioritize my tasks for the week and give them each an assigned day. Sometimes I even print out two and write out things that I know can wait until next week, so I'm not stressing about them right now :)

weekly repeats

I use this in conjunction to the weekly to-do list. They're a great team! I was using up so much brain space trying to remember tasks that repeat each week (even Bible study! PRAYER! Y'all. So glad I put those on here). I put all of my repeating tasks into this form, and my brain feels loads lighter. I'm actually getting these tasks done now instead of doing them "whenever I remember." 

6 Gift Ideas for New Moms

5 gift ideas for new moms - that's pretty ace

I'm in the stage of life where friends are starting to have babies – which is both a little shocking and a lot exciting. After scouring through my brain and internet, I rounded up six gifts for new parents. They aren't trendy or offbeat, but are gifts that parents will adore. (PS, I'd love to hear your thoughts, too!) Here goes...

1 | Chocolate-covered strawberries. It sounds kind of random, but chocolate-covered strawberries make an awesome new-mom gift. They're rich and decadent, but also fresh and healthy. Seeing a box of these on their doorstep would make any new parent sigh with joy. 

2 | Decadent PJ's. Since mom will most likely be spending her first few days at home, why not make her as comfortable as possible? This pajama set has been a best-seller for years now, and once you feel them on your skin, you'll know why. (Plus, a button-up top will make it easy for nursing! Double-win.) 

3 | Baby's initial necklace. How about something she can wear both at home and on the go? These simple necklaces are too sweet. 

4 | Essential oil diffuser. Pair this with lavender oil and maybe even if they don't get a good night's sleep, they'll at least feel as relaxed as if they had.  

5 | An inspiring read. I've seen this book recommended several times as a great new-mom gift – filled with stories from fellow mothers, this poignant read will be comforting and emboldening. 

6 | The gift of no pressure. A brand new baby equals a whole new lifestyle to settle into. Absolutely write an email or send a gift of congratulations, but as an extra treat, sign it off with "No need to respond, go be with your baby!" or "Don't write a thank-you note. Congratulations again!" It will be so wonderful to know that they don't have to do anything but enjoy your kindness. 

What would you recommend as a gift for friends with new babies? New moms, what gifts have you really loved?

Photo via Amanda Marie Photography