January reads

If you have read this blog for any length of time you probably know that I LOVE books. This year, I’d like to recommend some of my favorites every month. I will share books related to expat life or books on living with simplicity, beauty and joy. On occasion I may throw in a fun read or something we’ve enjoyed as a family.

Since I’m organizing for our next move, (and in keeping with having more white space) I want to share some finds with you.


SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck by Julie Morgenstern.

This book is great when you feel stuck. Many things that may have served you well in a previous phase of your life, no longer work. (I’m looking at you Finance books on the bottom shelve!) Even if these things were once valuable, they are no longer relevant or useful. By opening up space and time, you free yourself to become unstuck. The concepts apply to your physical environment, time and habits. I found the section on cutting down your calendar and to-do lists to be particularly challenging and also insightful. She shares some really graceful ways to escape commitments that no longer work and to say no to filling up your calendar with activities that don’t fit you life.


I’m sure you’ve heard about the phenomenon that is Marie Kondo and “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” My initial take on this book was laugher, laughter and more laughter. It was quite clear that Ms. Kondo did not have children or live with a husband who has collections of fraternity t-shirts, pens, books, favorite rocks… Not that we have any of that. Ahem.  If you read the book on the premise that you can only control yourself and your own stuff, it is an inspirational read.

She scoffs at most conventional wisdom –  she insists “tidy a little every day and you’ll be tidying forever.” She advocates “a once in a lifetime event of putting your house in order”, and then simply putting things back where they belong in daily life. While I never seem to have a block of time big enough to do a whole house (see comments on kids etc above) I have found myself walking through the house mumbling “don’t put it down, put it away.” This “once” philosophy doesn’t really deal with toys or outgrown clothes very well either, so I think an annual or semi annual “event of putting your house in order” is probably more our speed. In a way, expat life makes it easier: we are forced to declutter and tidy every three years when we move (oh weight-limits, how I love and hate you.)

Her advice to tidy by category instead of location is inspired. For example, I keep some pens, markers, office and art supplies in my bedside table for journaling, in the backpack I take with me when I go to work elsewhere, in the dining room where I have my “office” and in the kitchen where I have our household files. I can’t really admit to the number of scissors I owned. I’m trying to stick with a portable version now and just take it from room to room.

Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

Her signature question is “does this spark joy?” If the answer is yes, you get to keep it; if no, you discard. This works beautifully for clothing and books. However, spatulas don’t exactly “spark joy” but if I’m to feed the family breakfast, the spatulas have to stay. (Wait, maybe I need new spatulas?)

In her follow-up book she addresses the problem by discussing a screw driver: it may not spark joy, but it does a job well. (Of course, she continues to thank the screwdriver and praise it for a job well done. Okay.) Spark Joy contains some great illustration of her folding methods (a little vague to follow in the first book.) I would say get this one from the library.

If you have read the Kondo books, you may enjoy this article

Happy Reading!

Margin – my 2016 word

Margin – my 2016 word

January is such a great time to dream big dreams about the life we want in the coming year. Did you write all those birthdays on your new calendar? Set those resolutions? Dream big dreams?

Here at Vitalmommy headquarters, it’s a big year. We will leave Peru for Washington DC and a year of preparation before returning to Cairo! We are excited – both about a year home, and about our next adventure.

Instead of a long list of resolutions, I made just three goals this year: one for me, one for my family, and goal for my business. Of course, many things have to happen to achieve any one goal, but I think having these three goals memorized and ready will act as a great filter when making decisions on how to spend my time, energy, and resources.

Another great filter is to choose a word for your year. This year, mine is “margin.” I want to have more white space on my to-do list, more margin in our home life and finances, and more margin to do what is truly important to me in business. Oh, and of course I’d love a little margin when it comes to packing time and our ever-looming weight restrictions!

For many years I set my goals based on a few questions, one of which was “what made me crazy last year?” In previous years it has been everything from not knowing what’s for dinner, to my chaotic closet, to lego everywhere, to the paper the mailbox seems to discharge all over my house daily.

Since I’m sure you struggle with some of the same things, I thought it would be fun to take you on my journey for the next few months as I simplify and get organized for our upcoming move. I’ll share resources, how I have conquered (or am conquering) this obstacle, and maybe even a few checklists or worksheets you may find handy. I hope it will help you in your journey as well!

Now I have a question for you! What is it that made you crazy last year? Is it moving year in your expat life? Tell me about it; I’d love to know how I can help you out! Send me an email here, and I promise I’ll respond to each one!

Here’s wishing you lots of white space to have beauty and joy in your life this year.

The Power of Incremental Change

The Power of Incremental Change

Or why “go big or go home” is terrible advice.

Today is the first day of the last quarter, and around here, I’m reviewing progress I’ve made on my many goals for this year. How about you? Have you looked at those new year’s resolution lately? No? Well, its not too late. Let’s talk about the power of incremental change.

Many years ago, when I was much thinner, I joined Weight Watchers. I believed I had to lose 10 pounds. (rolls eyes at younger self.) The first week was great. I stuck to the suggested meals like stubborn pounds to a thigh – 2 pounds down. The second week was my brother’s birthday… I only lost half a pound and I was furious. The nice lady cheerily told me that half a pound down was great! While my brain understood that many half pounds would add up, the rest of me wanted results now. I practically stopped eating the third week, and promptly gained 2 pounds. Now, I promise this will not become a diet blog. But there was wisdom in that weight watchers lady, and it applies to those new year’s resolutions.

Say your resolution was to save for retirement. You planned to stick your entire tax return in a high-yield investment in March. But then the car needed tires, and the kids needed shoes, and now, on the first of October that IRA is just a dream, and the ambitious goal is now impossible. What would have happened, if instead of going big, you simply saved $1 every single day? Some smart people did the math and came out with $23,646.79 over 50 years with a 1% return. While that will not fund your retirement, it will fund more than the imaginary IRA.

Wanted to exercise? Many elaborate routines have gone by the wayside, but the 7 minute circuit I added as part of my morning routine has stuck around. If you do 20 crunches and push ups every morning, it is a 140 push ups a week, and that has to be better than an elaborate plan you cannot consistently do.

Want to organize your house? Marla Cilley (Flylady) has build an entire empire on shining your kitchen sink and decluttering just 15 minutes a day. For that matter, just look around you and put one thing away every time you leave a room.

What about relationships. How would your relationship with your spouse or children change if you paid attention to what they did well, and gave them just one very specific compliment, or thanked them for one specific action every day.
“My big boy, I saw you help your brother when he got frustrated with the train set today. That was very helpful.”
“Thank you for changing the paper towels in the kitchen this morning – I was so busy helping the kids and it really helped me.”
“I really liked what you said about [topic] – it made me consider a different option.”

So here’s what I challenge you to do:

What was on your list? What tiny (and I mean tiny) step can you take towards that goal?

We have 91 days left in 2016. That could be 91 compliments, 1,820 push-ups, 91 reasons to be grateful.

40 Things I Know to be True

40 Things I Know to be True

It’s my birthday!  In celebration, here are 40 things I know to be true.  And because it’s just boring without pictures, a few of my happy places.  If you make it all the way to the end, I have a little gift for you.  Because what is a birthday without presents?


  1. Don’t leave sharpie markers on the counter with toddlers in the house.
  2. Family is everything.
  3. You cannot have it all. Which part of “all” matters?
  4. Sleep! 7 hours is my absolute minimum do, 8 is better.
  5. Never do complicated when simple will work.blog-1697
  6. Less is more.
  7. No is a complete sentence.
  8. Risk management is not just for bankers (and that’s probably the most important thing I learned in banking.)
  9. Other banking lessons? Character trumps all – it is more important than a financial position, history, future plans.
  10. Gratitude is the antidote for the blues, materialism, entitlement, all that ails you.

  11. If you don’t know where you are going, you will not know that you’ve arrived.
  12. There is beauty and worth in every single person, no matter how annoying. My job is to find it.
  13. Read. Read. Read.blog-6134
  14. Sometimes we don’t deserve the good things we get. Sometimes we don’t deserve the bad things we get.
  15. Grace is enough
  16. Tomorrow I’ll wish I started today.
  17. One mess-up does not ruin the rest of the day/week/month/project.
  18. Done is better than perfect.
  19. Make your bed every day. (Thanks Mom.)
  20. You always have a choice.blog-8733
  21. Travel is mind-expanding.  What people everywhere have in common is so much greater than our differences.
  22. You can only change yourself.
  23. Two ears, one mouth. To be used in that proportion.
  24. Garbage in, garbage out.
  25. Nothing lasts forever. That gets me through the tough times, and reminds me to be here now.
  26. Saying “yes” to one thing always means saying “no” to something else.
  27. What other people think is true for them. It doesn’t have to be true for me.blog-1264
  28. Imagination is the way to solve problems.
  29. Create something everyday. A doodle, a dinner, a clear sentence. Anything.
  30. A small decision to do the next right thing can determine your whole direction.
  31. Being a mom is the toughest (and most important) thing I’ve ever done.
  32. Encourage your children.
  33. Optimism is indispensable.
  34. Your children want you. (Thanks April Perry!)
  35. Those long quiet nights up with a nursing baby? You’ll miss it.blog-1365
  36. Plan for the unexpected (especially with little guys around!).
  37. Marriage? Forgive, forgive, forgive. And try to forget.
  38. A smile and a kiss go a long way, as does saying you’re sorry.
  39. I don’t know who said this but I believe it wholeheartedly: “you can be right or you can be happy.” Your choice.
  40. All you need is love.

And because every birthday needs presents (who doesn’t like presents?) I want to give you one.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Don’t know what is vital to you anymore?

Jump on the phone with me for 30 minutes and I’ll walk you through my step-by-step way to clear your head, find what’s next, and focus on making your highest contribution.  I have set aside some spots on my calendar – click here to book your appointment now. (And yes, since it’s my gift to you, it’s free.)


Mornings made easy

Mornings made easy

IMG_6368Don’t you love starting your day on a quiet note? I love a little peace before my little people wake up. My whole family’s day is better if I’m feeling relaxed and accomplished.  While my kids are now 5 and 3, and it is easier to out-rooster my little roosters, I still need a plan to make the most of my quiet moments.

Below, I share my rituals. While these seem really involved (and long!) it didn’t start that way. I initially read my devotional (sometimes in bed) and then added morning pages. Later I added a meditation, and most recently a small bit of exercise. Every action builds on the last, and I don’t have to think about it anymore. It is also great to know that even if nothing else got done today, I already nurtured myself – body, mind and soul.

:: The night before:

  • Put my journal and favorite pen on the kitchen table.
  • I put my phone on the charger across the room from the bed. (When my alarm goes off, I have to run for it before it wakes the kids.)
  • I put my exercise clothes, including my shoes, fitbit, and a hairband in the bathroom.

:: 5 am.
My alarm goes off. I go to the bathroom, change into exercise clothes, and drink water. I grab my phone and head for the living room in the dark. There, I read a devotional. If you aren’t Christian, I still suggest you find something that inspires you to read for just 5 minutes. I meditate for 10 minutes (some days I meditate on how awful I am at meditation.) After that, I do a quick 7-minute exercise circuit.

:: 5:30 am.
I sit down at the kitchen table with my journal and write morning pages. (Inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way) If I’m working through a journaling course or book, I write the prompt in my journal the night before.

:: 6:00 am
I start the kettle for my French press or tea, and go wake up my kindergartener. We have a few sleepy snuggles in the kitchen, and I hand him his school uniform and a bowl of cheerios. While he gets dressed I start to get breakfast ready for my husband (two eggs and gluten-free toast) and have my first cup of tea or coffee. If needed, I remind my son to look at his chart, and that reminds him to go brush his teeth and grab his backpack.

:: 6:30 am.
We head outside to wait for the school bus. (I know – it is ridiculously early for the poor guy but that’s the reality of Lima traffic.)

::6:45 am.
I have breakfast with my husband, and he leaves for work (ahh Lima traffic.)

::7:00 am.
If my three year old didn’t come to the kitchen yet, I go wake him up. I help him to get dressed in his preschool uniform, and then he has breakfast while I have my second cup. We do a little drawing or reading, and he does his morning chart. (Feed the dog, brush teeth, get backpack.) I clean the kitchen, and sneak a peek at my email or social media if there’s time.

::8:00 am.
Walk to preschool. It is a 10 minutes stroller walk, or 30 minutes if he wants to walk himself. (Oh look, dandelion!). I walk or run home the long way while listening to an audio book or podcast. (If the day is crazy or everything goes pear shaped, this is what I cut)

::8:45 am.
I take a quick shower and dress for the day. My routine takes 10-15 minutes, including some minimal makeup and loads of sunscreen.

::9:00 am.
I start Spanish classes or work.

Want to build your own sacred time?

  1. Start with the time you have to leave your house (or start work) and work backwards to determine what time your alarm should go off.
  2. Add extra time, because you know it doesn’t always go to plan. (Especially with kids!)
  3. If you hit roadblocks, see what you can do to make a frictionless. Putting out your exercise clothes at night (A friend sleeps in her running clothes!)
  4. Most importantly: Keep it small. Start with little goals. If you get up at 7, maybe you can get up at 6:30 and read or journal for 10 minutes.

Here’s to peaceful mornings, and that first cup of coffee.

Do you have a morning ritual?  Come join us on the Facebook group to talk about it.

5 Ways to Trim Your To-Do List


How’s your to do list looking today? Is it longer by the end of the day than when you started? Have you stopped looking at it because it is too discouraging? We often think a new fancy app will solve our todo list problem. But maybe we don’t need a new app, rather we need a new list.

Prioritizing the most important things in life has been a bigger challenge ever since I had children. Before having kids I never felt that overwhelmed despite working full time and doing an MBA as a newlywed, with our first home to repair and manage. On week nights I learned to build complex financial models and during the day I would evaluate restructuring proposals. On the weekends we would build a fence, or paint a room. I would write papers and do laundry while my husband wrote his doctorate. My Franklin planner was filled out, prioritized, and always with me. Life was full, but not overwhelming.

When I brought that first eight pound tornado home, everything changed. What I thought was valuable changed. What I thought I could fit into a day changed. My neat financial records became piles of unopened mail. My days were filled with pumping milk in between conference calls and meetings. But the whole time, my heart and mind was filled with only one thing: the little boy in the basement of a federal building on the other side of the national mall.

Kids have a way of forcing us to make choices right from the get-go. Nap when the baby naps or mop the floor? One more bedtime story or pay the bills? Go to the park or catch up on email?

We want to do it all, but how?

Here are five clarifying questions I think you need to ask today when you look at that to-do list.

  1. Do you love doing this? Is it aligned with what you value most?
  2. Are you uniquely suited to do this? Someone else could mop your floor or manage your email list. What are the thing only you can do?
  3. Does it support your long term goals?
  4. What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do this? (None of us love doing our taxes, but the consequences of not doing it… ouch. But the bake sale? There are plenty of moms who can do it, and you probably won’t get kicked out of school.)
  5. Is this related to a relationship? OR Does this impact someone else?   While something may not be a priority to you, if it is to your spouse or your boss, you want to prioritize the relationship.

And if the list is still too long? Take a deep breath and quiet your thoughts for just a moment, what rises to the top? If I were you, I’d skip mopping the floor today. After all, the muddy feet running in from the park will get it dirty again.

PS: Now that you have some space in that to-do list, why not find out what makes you bloom?