Photo Books: an easy system
Tuesday, October 14, 2014



I have friends who create lovely printed photo books; a family yearbook of sorts. I love looking through their books (does anyone else love photo albums? If there's an album on your coffee table I take it as an invitation to pick it up and look through it),  but every time I'd think about getting started on printing a "yearbook" for our family, it just felt completely overwhelming.

So many pics to look through for the year...what to include...what to exclude....

Then I landed on an idea that's worked out great for us:  Photo books of vacations.  There are some downfalls, because I don't have printed images of birthdays, holidays, visits from out of town friends...but the ease and manageability of this system makes it worth it for me!

Having printed books of our vacations is a great archive of watching how much the kids grow from summer to summer, and the kids love thumbing through the books all year long.  A great way to keep the fun going and solidify those great memories!

After getting home from vacation, I'm excited to upload pics to Flickr to share with family and friends.  I choose my favorites from the batch and upload them to Shutterfly.  They have easy templates and you can autofill a book if you choose, or create a custom book from scratch.  After I build my book, I save it in my cart until I see that Shutterfly is running a 40 or 50% off deal.

I have also printed books directly from Flickr. The quality of their books is nice, but you can only print one photo per page, so if you want to keep the price point down you're limited to 20 images.

I have printed from CVS and the price is right and the images are decent, but the cover is not customizable like with Shutterfly and Flickr.

So, that's my tip for ya! If you're feeling overwhelmed at the idea of choosing what pics to make into a photobook, try starting with a favorite vacation or trip.  Easy and manageable. Two of my favorite project descriptors.














What I'm loving in my lunch
Thursday, October 9, 2014

Anyone else pack a daily lunch? It can get pretty routine.  When I find a new lunch item that I look forward to eating, it feels pretty exciting.  (Sad?  True.) 

Red bell pepper strips.  Celery. Carrots.  Pretzels. Pita. All have been relegated to nothing more than delivery devices for this cheese.  Try it!


A friend told me that she has used this to make stuffed chicken breast -- Hammer the chicken out thin, spread cheese, fold over and bake.  Totally trying that soon.  








Fighting thru Fear
Tuesday, October 7, 2014



We took Lauryn horse-back riding for her birthday.  Her birthday was in September....she started talking about wanting to ride a horse back in March.

We arrived at the stables in Cooper Hill, TN and she was super excited.  It was a gorgeous day and an idyllic setting, and Lauryn was spilling over with excited chatter.

Then we saw the horses.  She got a little quiet then. Those horses were big. Super big. Our trail guide hoisted Lauryn up in the saddle, and the look on her face shifted from excited to utterly terrified. She was slowly turning white, and my husband and I are giving each other knowing glances and throwing her our best platitudes.  "You look so great up there! What a cowgirl!  You're doing amazing!"  It was time to unhitch the horse from it's post, and I could see the tears trying to well up in her eyes.  She had gotten more than she bargained for.  This was no little pony, and she was feeling intimidated and scared.  She was in that saddle all by herself, and she had a choice to make. Face the fear...or retreat to the sidelines and miss the ride.

We watched her tense little body with baited breath to see what she would do.  And she totally fought through that fear.  She squared her jaw, pulled the reign, and kicked her heels.

There were a few scary moments for her on the trail, when she panicked and forgot the instruction from her trail guide about how to control her horse, but she stuck with it.  By the end of the trail ride she was relaxed, laughing, and feeling like a pro. I was SO. PROUD. OF. HER.



She fought thru the fear and had the ride of her life. Y'all....that'll preach.  












to edify
Thursday, October 2, 2014





edifyto teach (someone) in a way that improves the mind or character


Kids.  They're little humans with issues like all of us.  My oldest is a tween who is sometimes moody. My middle kid sometimes has a disrespectful attitude.  And my youngest can be self-centered and quick to complain.

We're trying to address these things, so all these issues have been on my mind a lot as I process through how to best parent them through these stages and prayerfully shape their behaviors. But recently I realized...I had been guilty of characterizing them primarily this way in my mind.  Moody.  Bad Attitude.  Self-Centered.  What in the world?  There are so many other lovely descriptors that could get in line ahead of those for each of my kids!  Those negative descriptors aren't even CLOSE to being primarily what my kids are all about.   When people ask me to characterize my kids, I certainly don't want their shortcomings to be the first thing that comes bouncing into mind!  [Heaven forbid anyone use my worst traits to describe or characterize me, even in the privacy of their own mind.]  

It's really time I start giving more weight to all the things they get right.  There are plenty of chances for praise, and there are plenty of chances to speak LIFE into them, instead of just correction.  I am filled with gratitude at their health, their intelligence, their kindness -- it's not right that I would let anything cast a dark shadow over those things.

Here's to biting my tongue more often - when the chores aren't done quite right, when the hair isn't combed or the clothes don't match, when homework time doesn't go as smooth as I'd like.

Here's to speaking up more often - to tell them they are always loved, always accepted, always mine.  Always enough.


Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, 
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, 
that it may benefit those who listen. 
Ephesians 4:29









and these things remain
Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I have no illusions that I can do it all.  So when life gets busy, things get cut.  Life and its demands ebb and flow. There are seasons when I have many hours to call my own (in hindsight, a downright gluttonous amount of hours!), and seasons in which every hour is accounted for.  There are those times in life which you have time and energy for extra stuff, and seasons when you don't, and both are okay. (I will admit that when my son asked if I was going to make a fall wreath for the front door this year, I simply laughed in response.)

I'm working a lot, traveling most weekends, and feeling a bit weary and uninspired. I'm trying to think about the things that give me joy and life, and figure out ways to do those things so the days don't become so monotonous.  In all this reflection, I've had to admit too that sacrifices and changes will have to be made.

I don't have the time for long, leisurely coffee dates with a friend...but I do have time to jot down a quick note with words of encouragement and stick it in the mail.

I don't have time to craft or sew or browse Pinterest looking for something fun to create...but I do have time to take that extra second to organize my work bag or help arrange the trinkets on my daughter's dresser, and in some small way bring beauty and order to chaos.  I'm working on appreciating the small things.

I don't have hours to indulge in the newest popular fiction book...but I can savor all the more the still, sweet time in my devotional and in the Word in the mornings before heading out the door.




And then there are those things that always bring joy and lightness to the heart, but in even bigger, weightier ways when life is demanding just about all you have to give.


"And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love."





faith:  "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about the things we cannot see."  The unseen. The unknown. That's where we're living. (All of us, whether we recognize it or not.)  And it's okay.  Because faith.  It's precious to me. A sweet, comforting mystery.

hope: Hope always excites. Asking "What could be?" and believing it's a good story you're living is always good; more so when you're anxiously awaiting the plot twists to come. God is the hero of this story, always.  And He doesn't disappoint.

love: A weary heart appreciates kindness so much, doesn't it? I am well loved. Truly; I always am. But because my soul is feeling a little parched, those acts of kindness are like giving me a glass of water when I'm thirsty.  Thankful for the *people who have shown me kindness.  


*no one fits this description more than my husband.  Daily acts of kindness. I could cry thinking of it. Warm toasty bread with pesto waiting for me when I get home after particularly long work day. What?  Who does that? He's a keeper that one.  Sorry to brag but sometimes ya gotta.  




  








In summer
Monday, July 7, 2014

Homemade ice cream.

Mornings on the porch with coffee and the dawn song of birds singing.

Visits from family and friends; highly anticipated,  and always better than hoped for.

Floating the river.

Baseball games.

The pool.

Bright nail polish.

Big beach hats.

Georgia awash in green.

Fireflies temping us outside...mosquitoes driving us back in.

Sweet tea in mason jars.

Loud music with the windows down.

Fresh,  sweet tomatoes and fragrant basil from the garden,  devoured with slices of  mozzarella.

My gorgeous kids with tanned legs and golden hair.

Skinned knees and bug bites.

A slower pace,  a lighter heart.

From the time I was a little girl and waited all spring for it to be warm enough to water-ski again, summer has always, always been my favorite. I could go on and on with things big and little that fill my heart in the summer months. These last few months have been hard ones for us (hard is relative of course,  and we are acutely and keenly aware that we have much to be thankful for).  I'm so truly grateful for the timing: that this figurative hard "season" of life has coincided with my literal favorite one. Seeking God and finding Him faithful just comes a little easier to me with the sun warming my face.

As summer threatens to turn to fall, I'm admittedly a little anxious about what our future holds. But I trust He will be there in the turning and changing of the leaves just as He's there in the easy,  natural comfort of summertime.


















the ol' noggin
Friday, June 13, 2014



"OKAY BRAIN.  KNOCK IT OFF!"

Anyone else fight off ruminating thoughts?  Circular fake conversations in your mind? Dwelling on an issue ad nauseam?

ad nauseam: a Latin term for a discussion that has 
continued so long that it has continued "to [the point of] nausea".


I have.  I think we all do it to some degree.  Here's the thing.  It sucks.  It's not fun to feel trapped in a thought cycle that keeps you awake all night, or leaves you distracted all day with no brain power to spare for the things you really ought to be thinking about.  

How do you get control over the ol' noggin? Because I truly think we can.  I don't think we're powerless over these "ruminations."  

ruminate: 1. To turn a matter over and over in the mind. 
2.To reflect on over and over again.
(And in the animal world to "ruminate" means "to bring up and chew again what has already been chewed and swallowed".  Ewww....and also, this kinda fits the definition for our purposes here as well.)

Here's what I find helps:

1.  Write a [FAKE] letter.  A pragmatic friend gave me this advice, and it's helpful.  Get all those ruminating, circular thoughts organized and out on paper. Be honest.  Be real.  Spew all the thoughts!  Rewrite, edit, make it an eloquent masterpiece. And then, for the love of all things, DESTROY that sucker.  Or at least commit to never, ever, ever, ever sending it. This takes some self-control (in our electronic age that "send" button is pretty darn tempting), but I promise you those kinds of letters are best to never be shared with the party you have in mind while writing it.  When we are ruminating, it's usually over something that we're angry or hurt about, and if you are still in the ruminating phase you are NOT yet in the "Let's talk about it" phase.  You need time and perspective and cooling of emotions.  

2. Prayer.  Talk to God instead of to people.  I know, I know.  Sometimes trying to pray seems futile when you're in the middle of something tough that seems to be commandeering your thought life.  But when you are trying to break out of a cycle of pondering and thinking and thinking some more, God is really the very best person you can talk to.  Because here's the deal: talking to God just naturally makes us take the high road.  In prayer, we're talking to someone who suffered and forgave a greater wound that we will ever, ever be asked to suffer.  He is safe.  He is trustworthy.  You don't have to second guess what you say to him. And you will find that His offer of peace that passes understanding is precious and true.

Talking to friends or coworkers or neighbors can be tricky.  You often leave those conversations with even MORE things to ruminate about!  "Should I have said that? Did I say too much?  Did they misinterpret me?"  You never leave a time of prayer with those worries, because God is indeed able to bear our burden.  Sometimes, in a tough season, you can feel like you don't have anyone to talk to.  Maybe there's just no one it would be appropriate to be vulnerable with.  That feeling of isolation can feel like a curse at first, but I promise you that if it drives you to sweet times of prayers with the One who loves you the most, you will eventually see it as a blessing.

3. Memorize scripture.  Again...I know this is tough.  But to drive the ruminating thoughts out, you'll need to replace them with something.  Replace your thoughts with God thoughts.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up 
against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to 
make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 
(and the reason I know it's possible to stop the dang ruminating!)

 If you don't have much scripture memorized, then ponder the words of a worship song or old hymn.  Most of us know Amazing Grace, right?  Start there.

The fourth stanza is my favorite.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
  



Happy thinking friends.  The space between our ears is important, and we owe it to our Maker and to ourselves to think true, joyful, life-giving thoughts.  When we're ruminating it's usually about something involving me.myself.and.I , and that's not who we're on this earth to serve.  Circular thought patterns are usually wrapped up in selfishness and pride. (Ouch,  I know.)  Get outta that cycle so you can focus on others, serve your neighbor, and love well.  We can do it.











the simple things
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

It really is the simple things that make life sweet.

My boys caught a bunch of tadpoles in a small creek that runs behind our house.  Those smelly, slimy weird looking little not-quite-frogs sure did take me back to memories of myself at their age.  Me and my friend Amy used to spend hours catching these little guys and putting them in Mason jars.  We never could keep them alive (perhaps because we liked to swirl them around and around in the glass jars and create little "tadpole tornadoes") but we caught them by what felt like the hundreds.  Our tadpole catching locale was a small waterfall area at the end of my Grandparent's cove where they lived at the lake.  The flat rock area at the top of the "waterfall" (about a 3 ft drop off with a teeny stream) had lots of shallow areas perfect for tadpole catching.

Unlike Amy and I, my boys could come home and Googled "How to raise tadpoles."
Apparently they like lettuce.
I have my doubts.


Amy and I were at that great age where we could simultaneously catch tadpoles, get into mud-flinging wars, and also talk about what boys at school were cute. Right on the cusp of adolescence. What a great time.

I try to remember that it's these memories that invoke the most nostalgia and gratefulness in me as an adult.  It doesn't take a lot to give my kiddos these kind of experiences. Forcing them off the TV and electronic devices and pushing them out the door was all it took for them to become tadpole-hunters.

I don't know where our family will land next, but I'm hopeful we're in a place where we still have room for my kids to roam, and maybe a creek for catching critters.









Not so rough roughing it.
Monday, June 9, 2014

Though our love of state parks, hiking, fishing, and picnicking is well-documented, we had never actually taken the kids overnight camping.  We remedied that last weekend!

We picked a favorite day trip spot, Victoria Bryant State Park.  Favored for it's great picnic sites and fun shoals, the camping area did not disappoint!  It was a pretty posh set up as far as tent camping.  A raised platform with a roof, water, electric outlets, and a fire pit with a grate for cooking.  Not exactly primitive, but a great way to ease into overnight camping.  Fun, fun, fun!!!  You too can think camping is "fun x 3!!!" when you have someone else who hauls all the junk from the van to the camp site, sets up the tent, makes the fire, puts bait on the fishing hooks, and does all the other grunt work.  If you can get him, I highly recommend Jonathan Cliff as your personal camp-set-up man.


A friend reminded me that "hobo dinners" make great camp food, so we had a fun make-your-own dinner over the fire.  

Hobo Dinner
heavy duty foil
smoked sausage (we like spicy)
diced potatoes
sliced yellow onion
bell peppers
salt and pepper

Place ingredients in a large foil square and wrap up tight.  Cook on grate, or if a fire grate is not available place directly in hot coals.  Cook until veggies are soft, about 30 minutes.


We also saved some leftover diced potatoes and reheated them in the morning to eat with our bacon and scrambled eggs.  Something about breakfast cooked in a cast iron skillet over the fire - yum. 

We will definitely be doing more camping in the future.  The kids did great in the tent; snoozed all night long.  We had one funny moment, right as everyone was drifting off, that Lauryn said, "Mom, let go of my foot."  "Umm...Lauryn I don't have your foot."  Ha!  She thought I was holding onto her foot when really it was just wrapped up tightly in her blanket, and it made for a funny, psuedo-scary moment that gave us all the giggles. Love those memories!


Click here for video of Ryan sliding down these shoals. 

fire = endless entertainment

Looking so cute and grown-up...even while grimy from camp-fun.

The boys brought me a wildflower bouquet picked on their hike.  Bee-you-ti-ful.










Sun and Sea
Tuesday, June 3, 2014


I see God in the wonder of His creation.  I feel His presence and hear Him speak when I am taking in the wonder of what He has made.  I'm glad my worship doesn't stop there; with nature.  I'm grateful, so grateful, for the recognition that I am a desperate sinner, in need of a miraculous way to be reconciled to God.  I believe that Jesus is the way back to relationship with this amazing Creator.  But regardless of what you think about God and Jesus and sin and separation and repentance...don't you see a creative God's hand at work in the ocean? Sunsets? Mountains?  Rivers and lakes? I do.  I hope you do too.

This world is such a masterpiece.  Poets throughout time have written about it with much more eloquence than I can ever muster, but I always leave the ocean feeling like I've been painted a sunset by God's own hand. Glorious.

We were given the use of a guest home in Florida for a week, and it was such an incredible gift during this time of in-between.  Some lessons you need to relearn. Some scriptures you need to read anew with a heart that had been made more tender through disappointment.  God never leaves us?  He never forsakes us?  I read that with awe and wonder.  I know it to be true while wondering how it could be. I'm thankful for the margin granted last week to hear His voice a bit more clearly.


You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 
Psalm 139:5


All who seek the LORD will praise him. Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy. 
Psalm 22:26


You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy. 
Psalm 16:11


And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 
Romans 8:28 (Oh how I want to be about HIS PURPOSE!)


I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the LORD says and how he will answer my complaint. 
Habakkuk 2:1


I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding. 
Psalm 119:32














Cliff Familyt

I'm Starr Cliff. A domestically-challenged mom, climbing over mountains of laundry to bring you my stray observations and amusing stories about my kids. (more)

 







 



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