Our First Vacation as The Freelen Five.

Two weeks ago we headed for what would ultimately become one of our biggest, most stressful, crazy, sweetest adventures to date. Our first vacation as a complete family- in an old beat up truck, a camper, and two dogs on the beach in Texas.

I was convinced nothing could go wrong… Until we got about an hour and a half from our destination.

It had been a decent drive. We had driven through intense rainstorms with the excitement of getting to the beach masking any stress we felt. Our children had been road trip warriors, hardly asking too much of us. Just a mile before our turn off the interstate the truck refused to go into the next gear, bringing us to a speed of forty-five, then thirty-five, then twenty-five miles an hour on the highway outside of Houston.

We limped into the auto parts store of the next town just minutes before they closed and attempted to fix the problem. The problem wasn’t fixed but we were determined to get to the campsite.

Nine hours after our departure we landed in our spot that was supposed to only be five hours away. We quickly set up our camper and took our girls just to get a glimpse of the beach as the last light began to fade.

The next morning, we ate breakfast and gave our girls their first beach experience. All three of them loved it. They played in the water without fear, dug through the sand, caught some waves with their life vests, and even our baby crawled toward the ocean every chance she got.

Throughout the week that is about all we did. After taking the truck to a reputable mechanic we were forced to spend our time at the beach or the camper. Stranded but thankful for the close walk to the sand.

We made the most of all we could and laughed at the comedy of errors.

Storms blew in bringing tornado warnings, flash flood warnings, and sixty mile an hour sustained winds to our campsite. All five of us huddled in bed while the wind threatened lift up our camper. Somehow all four members of my family slept through the chaos as I cried out to Jesus to calm the winds.

By Friday evening we had spent every day at the beach, dodged a few more storms, had picnics on camper beds, and looked for shells. That evening we finally got the truck back knowing there was still more to fix; however, we didn’t let that stop us. As the sun set we made our way to a recommended seafood restaurant, once again making the best of it.

Saturday was our original departure date, but due to the truck we were given an extra day to attempt the journey home. That morning we got up, headed for the surf, and found ourselves quickly walking back as a storm blew in around us. Not wanting to be cooped up in a camper for our last day, we decided to grab some ice cream until the storm passed. After ice cream we decided to take the ferry over to Galveston to enjoy a few hours of sight-seeing. The girls loved the Rain Forest Cafe ride, while their daddy and I cringed every time they touched an item in our favorite beach store Murdoch’s. We watched the birds on the beach, appreciated the beauty of the evening, and took a few photos. As the vacation drew to a close, we watched dolphins jump and swim around us on the ferry back to Crystal Beach.

As parents, the trip was a mix of sweet, simple, frustrating, scary, and chaotic. The things we meticulously planned for ahead of our trip didn’t go right. But to our girls, this was the trip of their life. More than once they remarked “This is the best day of my life!” And those words alone made it all worth it.

While we didn’t get to explore and do as much as we wanted- we were given the gift of simplicity and ingenuity. We simply made the best of our situation. We sang songs when the storms scared us, we walked along the houses instead of driving to the beach, we spent time playing, coloring, and exploring more then we spent time hopping from place to place.

The next day, Mother’s Day, at 4 am we started our journey home. By 8 am we hadn’t even made it 70 miles. Thankfully, my in-laws were swift to action and close enough to help us home. It was a long day, and certainly not the picture perfect Mother’s Day, yet I finally went to sleep in my bed overwhelmingly grateful for all the people surrounding us with help, and still grateful for some time away with my family.

It was the vacation of errors. It was the vacation of making the best of it. It was the vacation to remember for a lifetime.

I can’t wait to go back next year.

Baby Series 2. - Keeping home with littles.

Would you believe me if I told you I have a cleaner home with two toddlers and another baby well on her way than I did as a newlywed? 

Well it's true! My house is wayyyyy cleaner and easier to maintain than ever. 

I am messy by nature. An absent minded professor. The type who will have many things going at once, get overwhelmed, and then focus on one thing, as chaos surrounds me.

However, since becoming a mother, I've learned that my nature, my messy self, contrasts greatly with my nerd self, and my desire for order and freedom. It takes some discipline, but a tidy home creates a refuge for my family, and has become an act of worship, so our home may be used to further the gospel. 

When I was pregnant with our first, my husband was sent to Italy for two weeks. During those two weeks, I asked my mom to come stay with me. We spent that time preparing for baby, painting the nursery, picking out nursery decor, and she taught me the basics of running a home with children. I have affectionately nicknamed those two weeks as "mommy-prep boot camp", and they forever changed how I run our home. 

Throughout those two weeks, my mom served me and I observed. I watched how she got things running in the mornings so we could have a free day. I watched as she made meals and ended with a relatively clean kitchen. I watched as she shuffled laundry back and forth, without a pile ever in sight. I watched as she dusted and vacuumed, swept and watered plants. Everything was a fluid motion. It took mere minutes out of her day, and we were always left with a clean and inviting space. When she left, I determined to make those things a routine in my own life. 

As time has gone on, I have found a similar rhythm. Our home is rarely perfect, we do have two toddlers, two large dogs, and two messy adults, after all. But, our home is clean enough for unexpected guests, and just dirty enough to feel free.

To keep our home decently tidy I do these things at least 90% of the time. There are nights I leave it for the next day, or moments I just say "forget it". But for the most part, these are done everyday, no matter what. 

For the kitchen-

I always run the dishwasher after dinner (if it's at least 1/2 full). During breakfast, I unload the dishes and put them up. Once my girls have finished eating, I rinse their dishes and place them in the dishwasher. All our food is put up, and the floor around their chairs is swept up. I do the same routine after lunch, and often use lunch time as a time to prep for dinner. As I cook dinner, I rinse the dishes, and put away whatever ingredients I no longer need. We always eat as a family around the table. As J bathes the girls, I rinse dishes, load the dishwasher, put away leftovers, wipe counters and the table. Then, it's ready for the next day. Once a week, the day before I get groceries, I clean out the fridge and pantry, and wipe down anything that got dirty.

For laundry-

I run 1-2 loads a day. Sometimes these are folded the same day, sometimes I wait to have a folding party while watching Netflix. I recently began washing clothes by person, folding, and putting them all away at once. This has been a game changer! Instead of having multiple piles for multiple people, I simply put away one to two piles for each person. This saves my kitchen table, bed, ottoman, or whatever else hold the piles till they are put away. I always start a load before bed, switch over to the dryer the next morning, and start a new load (if needed).

For bathrooms-

In our master, I keep all my makeup in a small drawer and throw it in there as I finish. I then simply put the drawer away. All other products are separated into other drawers. I have my daily essentials in the top drawer, hair products and brushes below, with styling tools on bottom. I can easily clean our space within a few minutes.

I employ the same tactics in our girls' bathroom, and usually pick up their space as their daddy puts their jammies on.

Under the sink in each bathroom, I keep sanitizing wipes handy. I use these to wipe counters, quickly freshen toilet seats, and pick up any other messes. I deep clean bathrooms once a week and keep a toilet cleaning disk in each toilet. 

For floors and surfaces-

I sweep daily. Without fail. Two toddlers and two large dogs call for floors to be swept everyday. I have a small vacuum I will also pull out sometimes as well. My carpets are vacuumed every other day in the living room, and once or twice a week in the bedrooms (we rarely spend any time in the rooms outside of sleeping). 

For dusting, I use my handy swiffer duster every couple days. I love it for quick jobs, and will quickly run over surfaces when I pass through the room. Once a week I deep dust with pledge and a rag.

I use a wet mop pad, or steam mop once a week, after vacuuming.

Trash is gathered every evening (if it's not already put away by our middle girl), and misplaced items are always put back in place at the end of each day, keeping surfaces free of piles. 

For the car-

I don't like to leave things in my car, so items are unloaded and put away daily, if we go anywhere. I was going to the car wash every two weeks, but with summer approaching, I think this will simply become a fun way to play with bubbles and water. 

For outside-

I water our plants every other day, or as needed. The porches are swept at least once or twice a week, and I have the girls pick up their toys every time we play outside. Pillows are adjusted on our chairs and bench before we go in, and other items are put back in the garage. My husband mows and weed-eats once a week, and I try to keep up with the flower beds. We are in the process of converting our pool to saltwater, and this weekend will be spent prepping the deck and surrounding space for summer weather. We spend over half our time outside everyday, so keeping a straight space is important, even on the porch. 

For everything else- 

Simply putting things in their place as we finish keeps our home in order. I know if I don't take care of that item soon, things will pile up. Our girls help with simple tasks such as trash gathering, picking up toys and putting clothes in the dryer.

My husband and I follow a more traditional view of who takes care of what in the home. With that said, we both help each other with the family tasks. Though he doesn't scrub toilets or keep laundry going, he does help with dishes and folding clothes when he sees I need help. Likewise, I will take out the trash, organize the garage, and even mow (It's a riding mower...and I actually enjoy it), when it helps him get the job done sooner. 

I have become pretty ruthless about going through things in our home. I go through our wardrobes, drawers, and cabinets multiple times a year to give away or sell items we no longer need. As we pull down seasonal decor, I only keep what I put out that year, the rest I give away. This helps me keep up with all the stuff coming into our home! And if I get bored, I rearrange a room before I buy something else. J has been known to walk into a "brand new" space multiple times a year! 

All in all, over the years, my greatest lesson has come through learning the discipline of keeping home. Being a stay-at-home-mom, a homemaker, I find it a vital part of my job to keep a tidy home, not for Pinterest perfection, but for our days to be free to experience all the wonderful things life has to offer. I desire a clean home that glorifies the Father through the stewardship of what He has given, and a space that is used to minister to the hearts entrusted to us as family and friends. 

I want the freedom for someone to stop by and play, for Saturday mornings to be spent cooking big breakfasts, for Sunday afternoons being free to truly rest, and for the rest of our week to flow, without stopping to get it all back together. Life is chaotic enough with littles, the duties of home and family, and our outside commitments. Making home a refuge from the chaos is something I find joy in doing. This is our space to learn and grow, and I want to make sure I put in the discipline to give the soil of our home the best nutrients possible for the little flowers we tend and keep. 

When you look at homemaking as a discipline, a simple routine, a constant amid the chaos of life, and you see it for what it truly is- making home a refuge for your family and the Gospel. Suddenly, folding the clothes is an act of service, cleaning up after a delicious meal is an expression of gratitude, and getting your hands in the dirt is stewardship of the land God entrusted to your care!

It all can be a simple act of worship. Taking the mundane, offering yourself and your nature (like my messy self) as a sacrifice, and using your time to serve and give selflessly, so home is a sacred refuge for not only your family, but for others in need of a warm place to land.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Baby Series 1. - Top 5 Essentials.

I am less than two months from my third baby in three and a half years. Needless to say, I know my way around the Target baby section and Buy Buy Baby. Yet in many ways, I have tried to not go overboard with the baby stuff. With three babies coming in such a short amount of time, it'd be easy with each child to accumulate more and more. But in the three and a half years I've been a mom, I've also discovered and adopted a few simplistic principles.

I have a simple beauty routine, simple cleaning routine, simple meal-planning strategy etc. In all things I have challenged myself to find ways to do it simpler, and so far, it is working! By God's grace, it is working!

*Please note- I do cannot even begin to act like I have it all together...as in there's a pile of clothes I'm ignoring on our ottoman, and my three year old keeps kissing the "boo-boos" on my face (darn you, hormones!), and I'm literally always late... But I do truly enjoy life at home with my family. Our home and routines are a refuge, and it's something I've worked really hard on for almost four years now. I've read so many simplified home/organization/lifestyle books, but my greatest learning has come from trial and error, and true to the bone, get down and dirty grit. 

So to start a baby and home series, I will begin with my top 5 essentials!

Babies don't need near as much as we think they do. But there is something to be said about investing in a few key pieces.

1. If anyone were to ask me what is one thing I would've done differently with our first, it would have been the travel system/stroller choice. At the time, I saw the savings of buying things grouped together. I went with the first thing we looked at, checked reviews, and safety, and left it at that. It has been a great system for one, and since our third baby is within the warranty, we will still use it!

However, we didn't realize how quickly we would need a double stroller...especially once we got pregnant with our second only eight and a half months after giving birth to our first!

For months, I stalked buy, sell, trade groups searching for the perfect double stroller. I researched blogs and Instagrams, and found the Baby Jogger brand. But woah! The price intimidated me. Was it really worth it? So three double strollers later (all but one re-used from buy, sell, swap pages), I noticed I still wasn't really happy with the stroller situation, and looked into the City Select, knowing it probably wouldn't happen.

But I continued to monitor prices on Amazon, went through everything I owned, and started selling. By the time I had gathered all my items to sell, I found a single City Select on Amazon for less than $300, and found the second seat for $115, and the glider board for a third for less than $60.

What I sold covered the cost of the one stroller I was looking for, taking our stroller count from six (yikes, so many, I know!) to two!

I have had the stroller for a little while now, and I am so in love. Like, feeling like I'm driving a luxury car in love! So If I could do it all again, I would go back to my 2014, 24 year old self, and say... "Find a stroller that can grow with your lifestyle. Buy a compatible car seat, and keep the stroller game simple!" 

PS- You can still find the City Select for wayyyyyy less at on Amazon... do yourself a favor. give yourself the gift of mobility as a mom, and just buy it! It is a worthy investment!

2. A few months ago, out trusty sound machine broke, making us have to rig it the right way to use it...and eventually all our attempts to fix it just didn't work. So we found ourselves needing a new sound machine. As that happened, our three year old started coming into our bed consistently every night, making me a super-hot-don't-touch-me-I-will-sweat-preggo very uncomfortable. The whole sleeping with mom and dad thing wasn't going to happen in our house. She was also afraid of the dark, and despite our best attempts, we couldn't make her happy with other night-light forms. After some research on both sound machines and wake clocks, I found the Hatch Baby Rest. A sound machine, night-light, wake-light all in one, that can easily be controlled from my phone! #holla 

After we bought it, I set four different programmed routines from my phone. One for naps, one for nap-time wake up, one for bedtime, and one for morning wake up. For the most part the routines have been followed, she has stayed in bed, and the sound lulls them to a peaceful sleep every evening. For our third, I have purchased another to keep in our room for the sound and night-light (for middle of the night nursing sessions), and it will be transferred to her nursery when she starts to sleep in her crib. This is probably, my new go-to for baby showers! I love love love it!!! :) 

3. My last new product was a gift from my mom and sister. Prior to our Easter trip to West Texas, I had bought a Skip Hop bag, which I still love. And I have a Petunia Pickle Bottom from my first that still looks brand new! But I had been eyeing the pale pink, vegan leather, new Freshly Picked diaper bag. It is the perfect pink, can be a cross body or back pack, with a convenient carry handle, and has plenty of room. Plus, did I mention it was the perfect pale pink, and basically made for moms of girls? Seriously so perfect! 

When I arrived in Lubbock, my sister and mom had planned a small sprinkle to celebrate our sweet Savvy-Vay. To keep the tradition going, they took me to my favorite baby shop in the whole world, My Cup of Tea Baby, and purchased my favorite baby outfit ever, and my newest, perfectly pink bag! It was the sweetest day, and every time I look at the bag, I smile!

I truly USE all three of my bags all the time, depending on the day and the activities. And I count these as essentials, because with the amount of time a mom spends packing, unpacking, reaching in, pulling out, wearing, hauling, and searching through the diaper bag, she might as well love it...or three. 

4. So far, I've been two for two on babies who spit up a lot. I changed my diet, switched to formula, and tried many other tricks, but they still spit up everywhere! I imagine our third will be the same, and so I'm stocking up again on these burpy-bibs. I still have the first set I bought with our three year old, and they are still in excellent condition! These are a must have for our nursing station, the bedside, on guests shoulders, and the diaper bag! Plus, there's plenty of cute design options. 

5. When I first got pregnant, the only nursing pillow I knew of was the Boppy. In recent years, new pillows have come out, but I've stayed loyal to my Bobby for a few reasons.

For one, I nurse a lot in bed, lying side to side, therefore I never really needed it at night. But to have it easily accessible, next to my nursing chair has been invaluable. Second, the ability to change covers in a flash has allowed us to keep a clean cover on through multiple spit ups. Third, I offer it to guests when they come meet the baby.

I offered it by chance in the hospital with our first, and by our second, everyone had used it during those first few weeks. I have found many guests, especially great-grands feel more comfortable holding the baby if they have the support of the Boppy. I don't know if some of the other brands would've been as friendly for multiple people in those first few weeks.


There are plenty of other essentials to cover, but these essentials are things I wished I had invested in sooner, or have been tried and true favorites. I have found with many other baby needs, each mom has her own set of essentials.

I didn't list any swings or baby seats, because I never used them as much as other moms. There are literally a million car seats, we've used the same ones for the past three years because they are all still in warranty. I'm still searching for the best baby carrier (Ergo, ring sling, or wrap...I can't decide). Our monitor does everything we need it to, three years later. My babies took every bottle and pacifier offered. I nursed as long as I could (6 months for both) and then formula fed. When introducing solids, we did purees for a while, but within a month or two went directly to baby led weaning. And as for baby washes, lotions, and balms, I stick to the simple and old school.

I'm sure as time goes on, I will remember more essentials, but being two years out of the newborn stage, these are the things I am preparing now, or will continue to use daily for life with another baby!