Saturday, October 8, 2016

10 Simple Ways We Like to Welcome Fall

Happy Fall, ya'll! As you might know, I'm kind of a summer girl (I am from the South, after all), and I have a hard time letting go of all that lovely warmth and sunshine. Lucky for me, September is basically an extension of summer here in Boise. But now that it's October--the weather's cooling down, the leaves are changing, and our garden's wrapping up--I'm feeling that cozy feeling that only fall brings, and I want to enjoy it fully. So to compliment our summer bucket list, here are 10 things on our list this fall to make the most of the season, while still keeping it simple:

10 Simple Ways We Like to Welcome Fall

1. Light a fall candle. There's no better way to make my home instantly cozy. Lately, I've been loving Yankee Candles--like this Apple Pumpkin one I'm burning right now (ahh!)--because one small lighted candle can fill my entire home, but *hint* I always find them for the half the price or less at Marshall's and HomeGoods.

2. Have a backyard fire. Smore's. Sweaters. Wood smoke. Does it get any more autumny? Before we had a backyard (for 6 years in apartments), we went to local parks or campgrounds that had fire pits and invited friends to come along.

3. Gather fall leaves. My kids and I collect leaves pretty much every day on our walks and they never get tired of it, even if most of them end up in the trash. We've also used some of our leaves to do leave rubbings and this simple wreath craft.

4. Have a family day at the pumpkin patch. It seems everybody's doing it, but really, it's always so much fun. Mini donuts and hot apple cider are also a must for us every year.

5. Put out some cozy throws. Over the couch, the ottoman, the office chair...I just can't have too many blankets around this time of year!

6. Bring in fall branches for the table and mantle. Or make them yourself. This is my favorite way to decorate for fall--so simple, beautiful and inexpensive.

7. Do some decluttering. Getting rid of extra stuff (i.e. donating or selling) is such a refreshing way for us to start the season, especially with everything new that seems to pour in from October to February. I shared a few thoughts on simplifying here.

8. Decorate pumpkins. I've had my eye on these with pressed leaves and decoupage (I'm pressing some of our leaves from our collection right now). And it just wouldn't be fall if we didn't carve a jack o'lantern and scoop out a few nice, gooey handfuls of pumpkin guts. We like to roast the seeds, too.

9. Put some mums and a fall wreath out front. When I finally switch out my geraniums and ferns for mums, that's when I know I'm ready for fall. But I wasn't ready when it was 80+ degrees last week, and now Lowe's is sold out. I'm a little late to the party on this one, I guess. Costco?

10. Take family photos. Fall colors make such a beautiful backdrop for family photos, and the weather is so pleasant. We always try to take a few photos, even if it means setting up our tripod and taking them ourselves. This year one of the youth I work with at our church is taking our photos, so I'm excited to see how they turn out. Bonus for taking photos now: they're ready to go for our holiday greeting.

Photo Credit: "Maple Leaves" by David Jenkins, award-winning Georgia photographer (who also happens to be my can check out his beautiful book "Georgia: A Backroads Portrait" here.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Garden Goodness + 3 Tips for First-Time Gardeners (Like Us)

It's already October (Can you believe it?), and our garden's still kicking out tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, peas, and carrots. I'm looking back over the past summer and what I've learned from gardening, and already, I can't wait to start planning my garden for next year. Like, literally, I can't wait--I've been writing down ideas for weeks.

My friend Tayla suggested keeping a "garden journal," which I think is such a great idea for both new and experienced gardeners, to help you remember what you've planted in the past, what you enjoyed, what worked, what didn't, and what you want to do differently next time. And that's exactly what this post is all about--our experience gardening this year and what we're planning on for next year. Plus, for those of you thinking about getting into gardening, I've got 3 quick tips to help you start planning ahead, too.

But first, here's how we got started. It wasn't our first-ever experience with gardening--Ben and I kept up my in-laws' home and garden a few years ago while they were on a mission, and both of our families had gardens growing up--but it was the first time we'd started from scratch on our own. You'd think as common as gardening is, it would be easy. And it's true, it's really not that complicated to plant a tomato or build a garden box, but deciding what to plant and where to plant it and figuring out how to keep it alive can feel daunting.

Planting Our Garden

This was our second year in our home, so it took some time to finally get our garden started (plus I was 9 months pregnant last spring, so planting a garden was not at the top of my priority list). We decided on 4 garden boxes, and we had the perfect spot in mind for them: a sandy, squared-off area next to our garden shed with cement curbing around it. Ben built our boxes by following this tutorial from the blog Chris Loves Julia (they have tons of great DIY how-to's and tips), but, full disclosure, it took him ALOT longer than the couple hours it took Chris. What can I say, we're total amateurs (ha!).

"Helping" Dad build our garden boxes

In the end, they turned out really beautiful and fit the space perfectly. We could've put our boxes at the very back of our yard, too (which we tried before filling them up with soil), and they would've worked well there. The sandy spot made the most sense though, mainly because it was otherwise wasted space in our yard. The point is, you don't have to have (or create) a space like this or build garden boxes to plant a garden--that's just what worked for us. Garden boxes also made it easier for us to control the quality of the soil, since we would've had to bring in soil anyway with all that sand.

Once our boxes were built, we put down landscaping cloth over the sand, placed our boxes on top, and filled them with soil. The soil we used is a ready-made organic compost/manure mix from our local nursery, and we needed about 3 bags to fill each box for a total of 12 bags. That was one big, smelly (van) load of crap.

We'd also decided to fill in the area around the boxes with gravel, so then we drove our our tiny minivan back to the nursery to load up half a dozen storage totes with gravel, drove home (practically dragging our back bumper on the ground), unloaded, then drove back again to load up with more gravel. I mean, who needs a pick-up truck when you can load several hundred pounds of gravel into the back of your minivan by hand? Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. It was a huge pain--there's no doubt about it--but the end result was worth it: the gravel made the whole area neater and easier to maintain, plus it ties in with the same slate-colored gravel in rest of our landscaping.

A couple days later (since hauling soil and gravel took up our whole Saturday), we finally planted our garden. We added some starts as the summer went on, too. In one box we planted squash, lettuce and spinach seeds. In another box we planted seeds for peas and carrots. On the other side, we planted tomato and pepper plants in one box. And in the last box, we planted strawberry starts from my inlaws' patch and potatoes from cuttings. We also planted a few raspberry starts and blueberry bushes along the fence. I'm currently attempting to root grape vines, too, so I'll let you know how that goes. I should mention that our sprinklers water everything, so we didn't have to worry about putting in a watering system. We did, however, water our garden with a hose every day or every other day during the hot weeks to keep it thriving.

A rare moment in which neither of my children are trying to pull up strawberry plants,
stuff green tomatoes in their mouths, or eat leaves, dirt or gravel

What We've Learned and What We'll Do Differently Next Time

Honestly, from the start I was thinking of this first garden as a sort of trial run--a learning experience more than anything--so all the edible produce it's given us is really just a bonus! Our tomatoes, peppers, carrots and peas have done especially well. The lettuce was probably my favorite, but sadly it didn't produce as much or as long as I would've liked.

I could've planted a whole box full of lettuce.

One thing I'd like to do next year is go vertical. By adding a tall wire screen or trellis of some sort, I'm hoping to have room for cucumbers and pumpkins to grow up. I might do this with our squash next year, too, since our huge plant that took up half a box by itself produced just one squash (womp womp). I'd love to use more of that horizontal space for leafy greens like lettuce and swiss chard. I've heard leafy greens can be pretty bitter, and that was definitely the case with our spinach this year--even the tender, baby spinach had too strong a flavor after being cooked into omelets and soups, so using them in salads and smoothies was out of the question. Our lettuce tasted great, though--I'm not sure why it turned out different; it was right next to the spinach. I need to research this a little more, but for now, I'm thinking I might try swiss chard next year instead of spinach.

I'm definitely going to plant onions next year, just because they're so easy and I love onions...I kept wishing I'd planted some this year! In fact, maybe I'll plant onions instead of potatoes--our potatoes did pretty well, but they took up a lot of room in our small boxes, and they're SO cheap to buy here in Idaho. Plus, right now our potatoes are sharing a box with our strawberries, and I'm hoping next summer that box will be full of strawberries. That means we'll have to fit our tomatoes, peppers and onions together in one box, and we'll need some taller cages for our tomatoes, too. Those things grew into monsters even after cutting them back several times!

I feel like I'm already running out of room in our 4 boxes, so I'm trying to decide if we should build more or just get creative with our space. For example, rather than planting corn in one of our boxes, I'm thinking of planting it along one of our fences next year. I might try some of my favorite herbs, like parsley and basil, in pots, too. And I'm still wondering where to put sunflowers, a plum tree, chickens, and bees (!!). I think I need a farm!

While I'm learning to love gardening, I know it's not for everyone. I guess you don't know until you try! I was skeptical at first, because even though I've always wanted a little farm with some livestock, I saw myself as a "black thumb," who couldn't even keep a houseplant alive. I was fully prepared to leave the gardening to Ben. I think the best thing I've learned from gardening this year is that a little confidence goes a long way, especially when you really care about something. It's inspired me to plant more flowers in my front yard (I planted forsythia and lavendar--I'm hoping to add roses and hydrangeas next year) and bring some green into my home, too (a fiddle-leaf fig and philodendron so far). Maybe I do have a green thumb, after all!

Our typical harvest every 3-4 days

3 Tips for First-Time Gardeners (Like Us)

So if you're feeling inspired to plant your first garden come spring (or if you're feeling skeptical like I was), here are 3 simple tips for first-time gardeners, from a first-time gardener:

1. Just go for it. The best way to learn is just to start (preferably, after there's no chance of night-time frost). All you really need is good soil, seeds, water, and somewhere to plant. Planting a garden can be as simple as filling a pot with soil and following the directions on the seed packet. Chances are, something will grow, but maybe not everything you plant. Relax, the investment is small and the stakes are low. You really can't fail; all you can do is learn.

2. Start small. When you're ready to go for it, remember you don't have to go big. Maybe pick just 5-10 plants to try this year, and ask around or do a little Googling to find out how well those plants fare in your area. (In Boise, we're lucky to have a moderate climate and long growing season, so pretty much anything is game! I've even heard of people growing bananas and pineapple here. And why not?!) Really though, you don't have to plant 20 different things to have a garden--you could have one tomato plant in a pot. And if that's all you ever have, that's okay, too. Container gardening is a great way to start small. You can always add more pots or more garden boxes or more space the next year, if you really want to. 

3. Plant what you eat. One tomato plant is a great way to start, but not if you hate tomatoes (duh). Confession: Even though green beans and zucchini are garden staples, I don't like them, so I didn't plant them. They'd just end up rotting on my kitchen counter, or I'd be giving them away. Even if you do love tomatoes (or green beans or zucchini), don't plant more than you can eat, unless you want to be eating tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner or you're willing to learn canning (sorry, can't help you there!). Again, it's better to start with a few plants you know you'll enjoy and add more the next year. 

Bonus: Write it down. Like I mentioned before, keeping a garden journal is a great way to track your garden and plan for the future. You don't have to wait until you have a garden--start writing down ideas now! That way you can start pricing things out and even buying supplies like pots (on clearance right now), then you'll be ready to go this spring. I created a note in my Evernote app several months ago and added ideas whenever I thought of them. 

So to wrap up and summarize, here's what my "garden journal" (i.e. Evernote note) looks like this year:  

Our Garden in 2016:
- Built 4 garden boxes--great fit, but weren't quite deep enough for carrots and potatoes (add more soil next year?)
Box 1:
- potatoes (small but good flavor)
- strawberries (starts, produced some berries--hoping they'll take off next summer)
Box 2:
- tomatoes (1 roma + 3 better boy--out of control, needed larger cages, romas were small like grapes)
- bell peppers (excellent)
Box 3:
- peas (very good, needed taller wires to grow up)
- carrots (pretty good--orange carrots were sweet, yellow/purple were beautiful but a little bitter)
Box 4:
- spinach (bitter)
- green and red leaf lettuce (great flavor but didn't produce much, stopped in early August)
- hybrid squash (produced just 1--go figure)
Along the Fence:
- raspberries (most of the starts survived--hoping they'll take off next summer)
- blueberries (produced a few berries--hoping they'll take off next summer)
- grapes (TBD--we'll see if they root and grow--planted in fall per recommendations)

Plans for Our Garden in 2017:
Plants to add:
- onions
- more strawberries (transfer new starts from the old starts?)
- cherry tomatoes (instead of roma)
- more varieties of peppers (anaheim, banana)
- swiss chard (instead of spinach)
- orange carrots (vs. colorful variety)
- herbs in pots (parsley, basil)
- corn along the fence
- sunflowers along the fence
- plum tree at the top of the hill (combination/hybrid)
Improvements to make:
- vertical lattice for cucumbers, squash and pumpkins
- higher wires for peas
- larger cages/support for tomatoes
- add wooden (cement?) edge around raspberries and blueberries (+ corn and sunflowers)
- start tomatoes, peas, peppers, and lettuce inside in March/April
- try hydroponics to sprout lettuce again (tried twice, didn't work, do more research)
- chicken coop for 2 chickens (per neighborhood covenants--need neighbors to sign permission)
- research neighborhood covenants on beehives (for honey) for 2018

Sunday, September 18, 2016

An Open Letter to Teen Girls Starting School

I work with the girls in our youth group at church, and I recently had a few minutes to share a little "back to school" message with them. It was nowhere near enough time to share everything in my heart--not to mention, I'm not so great at talking. And so I had to write this letter.

Hi there,

So you're back to school now. I know I might be that annoying adult who's always asking you about your classes and stuff, but the truth is, I really want to know. I see your attention drift away sometimes, and I wonder if you're going to that place in the back of your mind where everything happening at school is on constant replay. It seems like you've got so much on your mind now--homework, tests, friends, used-to-be friends, bullies, that boy you like, sports, clubs, classes, teachers...even college. You seem to know you'll never be just a kid again. 

How are you really doing? Are you having the time of your life? Are you stressed? Do you want to give up sometimes? All of the above? I've tried so hard to think if there's anything I can do for you--anything I can say so that you never doubt how loved you are and how much this is all going to be worth it.

But if there's one thing I wish you could always remember, it's this: the best is yet to come. When you've just had the worst day of your life, and it feels like everyone is against you, the best is yet to come.  When you're on top of the world and you feel like life can't get any better, still remember: the best is yet to come. Yes, hard times will come, and the hardest times in your life are probably still ahead of you too, but your dreams haven't even begun to come true yet. And they never will on a high school stage or field or at prom, because if your dreams come true in high school, you're probably not dreaming big enough.

You have the potential to be absolutely amazing, but it has nothing to do with how you look in selfies or how many likes you get. Everybody wants to feel cool and interesting and unique, but the goodness that God put inside of you is what you should treasure more than anything or anyone's attention. And whenever you're not feeling very confident about who you are, just remember that it doesn't mean you should try being like someone else. Look inside and find the very best parts of you, and let that shine. Always look for the light--even better, be the light. 

Remember that your value is never determined by another person, especially not a boy. No matter how awesome he is, even if he helps bring out the very best in you--and he'd better--he'll never be more amazing than the relationship you can have with God. And one day when you're married, God will still be more important than your husband. So always put your trust in Him first--and don't forget, He already loves you more than any man ever could. 

Never be ashamed of the good choices you make, even when other people don't understand. It doesn't mean they're bad people either, or that they can't be happy. But it does mean that you're strong enough and brave enough to be true to yourself and to God--even it means standing alone--and that you know it will be worth it. Don't ever doubt that--the best is yet to come. 

The best is yet to come, and best-ever you is yet to be. You are more beautiful and amazing now than you know, but you will be even more with every step you take with God. Be your very best self, and even if that's not enough for someone else, let that be enough for you. When you're afraid or doubt yourself, let your faith be bigger than your fears. When things get hard, let your hope be even stronger. Go after your dreams, but be patient--the best is yet to come. And it's even better than you can imagine. 

When other people let you down, remember God always keeps His promises. The best is yet to come. I remember my Mom and Dad telling me this more times than I can count, and you know what, they were right. For years, I was bullied and left out at school, and it felt like it would never end. I've been through some pretty painful times as an adult, too, but I see now that it's made me a stronger and more compassionate person. Other than that, how other people treated me didn't factor in to the person I became. Because nobody else gets to decide what kind of person you'll be--good or bad; YOU do. 

So don't be afraid of what people think about you--they don't have to think you're pretty or fun or smart to make it true. Only YOU have to believe it. Don't be afraid that you're missing out when you see other people smiling and having fun, or when you decide something else is more important than what they have to offer. Don't be afraid to say no to your friends or to that boy you really like when you don't want to take things that far. What you're giving up is nothing compared to what's ahead of you--the best is yet to come. 

The best is yet to come, and you get to decide now if it's going to be worth it to you. Don't give up--the best is yet to come. Work hard in school and go to college--the best is yet to come. Learn every day and do your best--the best is yet to come. Be a friend to everyone no matter how they treat you--the best is yet to come. Spend your time and money on what matters most--the best is yet to come. Have fun and be happy now, but always "reaching forth" to what's ahead of you (Philippians 3:13)--the best is yet to come. You don't need acceptance and attention to be happy; you just need the grace and confidence to keep moving forward. And if you don't trust me, trust Him. The best is yet to come. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Making the Most of Summer...While It Lasts

All you autumn-lovers out there are probably counting down the days until cooler weather arrives, but I'm over here begging summer not to end. It always seems to go by too fast. As a kid, summer meant freedom: eating as much as I wanted, swimming until I was pruney all over, playing outside all day (and long after the fireflies came out), climbing trees, traipsing around my grandparents' and cousins' farms, and doing pretty much whatever I wanted. Even though I'm an adult now--and a mom, at that!--and all I really want to do these days is go to the bathroom alone, I still feel a sense of freedom during the summertime. Like I somehow have "permission" to put fun before work, because, after all, summer only lasts so long.

Funny enough though, at the same time I'm ready to just let loose, I'm also 10X more motivated to dive into new projects. Maybe it's the extra sunlight that's boosting my energy level, or having something fun to look forward to after the work's done. Regardless, summer is always my favorite season, because I finally get to do all the fun stuff I've been dreaming about all year long. And I feel productive no matter what I'm doing--whether I'm working in the garden, running through the sprinklers with the kids, or just relaxing outside on the front porch swing.

So even though some of you've already started school, it's not too late to make the most of these last few weeks of summer. Go swimming, take a picnic to the park, eat dinner outside...get outdoors and make some memories! To give you some inspiration, here's what we've been up to this summer, along with a few things we're still hoping to squeeze in.

  • Had a garage sale
  • Went to Ben's family reunion
  • Camped with the kids (at the reunion)
  • Put in a garden--our first since living here
It's kinda small...
  • Planted blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Went to camp with the teenage girls from my church
  • Hiked and swam in the famous Sawtooth Mountains
  • Painted the kitchen cabinets (well, not quite "done"...)
  • Floated the Boise River
  • Threw a sprinkler + splash party for Lydia's first birthday
  • Cleared out and donated all the old and outgrown clothes from our closets
  • Went swimming with friends (a few times)
  • Biked and hiked around Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons outside Jackson Hole, WY
  • Saw the legendary Thousand Springs, an underground river flowing out of a mountain side
  • Hosted my best friend and her daughter for a couple weeks
  • Built a playground for the kids
How long does it take for the orange to fade?
  • Rode a carousel at the park
  • Visited the zoo
  • Spent an evening wading and splashing in the river
  • Roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over our fire pit
  • Played at the splash pad (done, done, done AND DONE!)
  • POPSICLES. Every. Single. Day. 

Still hoping to do:
  • Go camping with just our family--one of my goals this year (September counts?)
  • Have a date night with Ben at the water park (and ride all the slides!)
  • Invite the neighbors over for a BBQ
  • Swim and watch the surfers on the river (yep, you can surf on the river here...Boise's cool like that)
  • Plant grapes
  • Watch the hot air balloon festival
  • Spend a Saturday morning at the Farmer's Market downtown
  • Clean the carpets (We learned the hard way, it's best to do this while the weather's still warm so you don't freeze with the windows open for 2 days straight.)

BONUS! Plans for next summer:
  • Go white water rafting
  • Plant a plum tree and roses
  • Get some chickens (!!!)
  • Paint the house, trim, and garden shed
  • Perk up our back patio (repaint our table, maybe hang some string lights...)
  • Pick fruit at a u-pick farm
  • Go to a concert or movie in the park (when the kids are a little older...)
  • Take the kids fishing
  • Ride the greenbelt trail by the river

What do YOU do in the summertime?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

50 Compliments for Women (That Have Nothing to Do with Appearance)

Ladies (gents, listen up, too!), nothing makes your day like a genuine, heart-felt compliment. And while we women all love to be told how beautiful we are, it's even nicer to know that people appreciate what's on the inside, not just the outside.

I've spent the last several weeks living with other women--an unusual experience for this (sometimes lonely) stay-at-home mom. And they weren't just any women...they were some of the most important women in my life: a week family-reunioning with my sisters- and mother-in-law, 2 weeks catching up with my best friend Jen after 3 years apart, a week camping with the girls from my church and the other women who work with them, and then 2 weeks painting my kitchen cabinets with my mom. (Full disclosure: She did most of the work...I mainly tried to keep the kids from spilling paint and ingesting cabinet hardware.)

One thing I observed over and over was the power that women have to bring out the best in each other. I watched the girls from my church build each other up instead of judging and separating into cliques. I watched the other youth leaders tune in to each girl, cheer her on, and show her how to work and teach the others. Jen helped me see the best in myself and refocus my attention on what matters most...just like a best friend should, she makes me want to be a better person (which, by the way, that's her and me in the picture above). My husband's sisters and mom treat me like one of their own, and they're constantly doing thoughtful things for me (along with everyone else they know). And my mom motivated me to start a project I'd been putting off for months, spending every waking moment of her "vacation" helping me paint and take care of the kids. She never hesitates to go out of her way to help someone. 

There's so much to be appreciated in women other than their appearance, and finding the right words to express that can mean more than you know. It can turn a moment of failure into a moment of success. So in the same spirit as my post on kindness a few months ago, I put together a list of 50 ways to compliment a woman that have everything to do with who she is, and absolutely nothing to do with how she looks.
  1. You inspire me. 
  2. You're so talented!
  3. I really enjoy being around you. 
  4. I look up to you.
  5. You're such a great friend (mom, sister, teacher, etc.)!
  6. You're a natural leader. 
  7. People are drawn to you.
  8. You're thoughtful. 
  9. You're creative. 
  10. You're smart.
  11. I really appreciate your opinion. 
  12. I love how you're always helping others. 
  13. I really like talking to you. 
  14. You're a good listener. 
  15. You always have such good ideas!
  16. I'm lucky to know you.
  17. I'm really glad we met/can get to know each other better.  
  18. You work so hard.
  19. You're strong.
  20. I believe in you.
  21. You've always got things on the ball!
  22. I'd love for you to teach me how you ____.
  23. Being around you makes me want to be a better person.
  24. I trust you.
  25. You'll do the right thing--you always do!
  26. I really admire the way you handled that.
  27. I learn so much from you.
  28. You're a pro.
  29. You'll do great!
  30. I always feel so comfortable around you.
  31. I love that you can be yourself.
  32. You're really making a difference.
  33. You saved the day!
  34. It's so nice to know we can be honest with each other.
  35. You always make things fun!
  36. You're so funny--I love laughing with you!
  37. You're hard core.
  38. You're dependable/You always come through.
  39. You're always there for me.
  40. You make it look easy!
  41. You've got guts.
  42. I love how you never lose sight of what's important.
  43. It's so interesting to hear your story.
  44. I really like how you ____.
  45. You're so savvy.
  46. You've got this.
  47. Everywhere you go, you make things better!
  48. You give such thoughtful gifts.
  49. You're a light.
  50. I love you!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Baby Hungry

It's not what you think. This warm weather has me reminiscing about last summer, when I was anxiously (as in, literally having major anxiety) and excitedly preparing for the birth of Lydia. But I look back on that time--on both of my pregnancies, actually--as one of the happiest times of my life. There's just nothing like the anticipation of expecting a new baby! And now that she's almost a year old, I can't help waxing nostalgic, and so being the sap that I am, I had to go back and read the blog post I wrote a year ago about all of the emotions and excitement I felt while I was carrying her.

On the other hand, as stressed and overwhelmed as I've been trying to take care of two kids only a year-and-a-half apart--which, as you probably guessed from my last blog post, has been a challenge for me--having another baby should be the last thing on my mind. The truth is, while I hope and dream of another "miracle baby" (ICYMI: I have high-risk pregnancies, a history of recurrent miscarriage, along with other fertility issues, including a blood-clotting deficiency and endometriosis), I don't feel ready to be pregnant again anytime soon. And even though my baby isn't a tiny newborn anymore, I'm loving the sweet and spunky girl she's becoming, too.

So to satisfy my "baby hunger," I'm taking a little break from my almost-29-year-old-hot-mess self to live vicariously through my 27-year-old-pregnant-and-glowing self, via this blog post from last April (until the memory of my 9-months-pregnant-can't-move self brings me back to reality). Enjoy!

"Wow. Today I’m 29 weeks pregnant--in my final trimester--with less than three months to go until our baby girl arrives in July. I’m absolutely thrilled, but still somewhat in disbelief. With Caleb, we’d waited so long to become parents, it was almost as if we’d been “expecting” him for years.

But this was a complete surprise. I never could’ve imagined or expected such a miracle. It’s almost too good to be true--I even feel guilty, because I know so many people still waiting for their miracle. Isn’t it their turn?

I don’t know why this second miracle pregnancy happened so quickly, but this little girl must be meant for our family right now, and so many things have fallen into place--my health, great doctors, our financial situation (thanks also to Ben graduating and years of working and saving)--to make it possible. It’s all through the hand of God, and we’re in absolute awe.

I know well enough that not all pregnancies end with healthy babies. I’ve lost three. But just like I did with Caleb, I’ve tried not to fear what I can’t control and instead trust in God’s plan. Every day and week and month that this baby continues to grow inside of me is a miracle and a gift.

Now that I’m in my last trimester, it’s all becoming real, even if it still feels too good to be true, and it’s time to get ready for this little girl. It’s as terrifying as it is exciting..."

CLICK HERE to keep reading the original blog post + see more pictures!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What to do + what not to do while holding a baby

The other day on Instagram I shared how much I've struggled lately with trying to do everything one-handed, and ever since, people have been asking me what happened to my arm. Well, about 10 months ago, I had a baby.

We're pretty much joined at the hip these days! Of course I love holding her--I mean that smile! Those kissable cheeks! And it's not that she doesn't like crawling around by herself, in fact she loves it. But with a two-year-old brother who loves to "play" with her (i.e. smother her...we're working on that), she only lasts about 3 minutes. And if I'm busy doing something else, she usually crawls over to see what I'm up to. She doesn't like being left out...who does?

The thing is, it's just impossible to do some things one-handed. I mean, you could write a novel, govern a nation (technically, it's the European Parliament), or travel the world, all while holding a baby. But put on pants? That's a different matter entirely. So in honor of Mother's Day, here are a few do's and don'ts to keep in mind while toting your tot:

Things to do while holding a baby:
  • Shower. Seriously, don't wait until your hands are free, or it might be a few days. It can be done, as long as you don't shave.
  • Put on make-up and do your hair (minus mascara), you overachiever, you!
  • Go to the bathroom. Avoid if possible. 
  • Go on a walk. Could you use a stroller? Sure. But if your baby decides that's not her thing, you'll end up holding a baby AND pushing a stroller with one hand (#beentheredonethat). I recommend a strap-on baby carrier or sling. (I've tried a few different ones, but I happen to like this sling I got free best.)
  • Go shopping--also a good time to use a carrier.
  • Travel or fly. Again, a carrier is a MUST.
  • Work out. (Here's how I do it.)
  • Take pictures. Two words: neck strap.
  • Type on a computer. Remember to hit CTRL+S every few seconds.
  • Talk on the phone. You have approximately 10 seconds until your baby hijacks it. 
  • Put away laundry, especially if you don't fold. (I give you permission to stop folding your kids' clothes. You're welcome.)

Confession: I don't fold my kids' clothes. And I love it! Caleb helps put away and pick out his clothes everyday, and the clothes go straight from the laundry basket to these #DollarTree bins inside his #IKEA dresser, except for maybe a quick fold now and then as I drop it in. And believe it or not, they don't look any more wrinkled than when I used to fold them. I hang up their church clothes, and I still fold our clothes (most of them hang anyway), but I do the same thing with Lydia's pajamas and everyday clothes in her dresser. Plus, I wash and dry just one load a day, so it only takes a few minutes to put it all away, especially when Caleb helps. It's saved me from a life of sitting and folding laundry for hours. I know, I'm such a rebel. Take that, #MarieKondo! #momlife #simplify #makeroomforwhatmattersmost
A photo posted by @jennyfromgeorgia on

  • Sweep, vacuum, mop. Or don't.
  • Make dinner. Pasta, rice, soup, and sandwiches are easy one-handed meals. At the very least, set out all your ingredients on the counter, so when you do finally catch a moment with both hands, everything is right there, ready to be chopped up and thrown together.
  • Play with or read to your other kids.
  • Dance to your favorite music.
  • Just sit back and enjoy holding that baby! 

Things NOT to do while holding a baby:
  • Use scissors. Nope, I'll never try that again.
  • Use a knife. (See above on making dinner.) 
  • Use any kind of sharp, pointy object.
  • Browse social media on a smart phone (unless you want your baby to post a picture of you breastfeeding on Instagram, which definitely did not even come close to almost happening to me once, but you can never be too safe).
  • Operate heavy machinery, except in emergencies, like when you have no clean clothes or dishes.
  • Lift heavy objects.
  • Climb a ladder.
  • Paint.
  • Wear the same outfit that you're planning to wear somewhere else later.
  • Sit down for too long. 
  • Read a book that has actual paper pages. You'd better stick to board books for the next few years.
  • Handle anything valuable or breakable.
  • Put sheets on a bed. Trust me, don't even try it. 
  • Put on pants.
  • Put on mascara. 
  • Replace batteries or light bulbs. 
  • Put a new roll of toilet paper on the springy-thing.
  • Clean up your pet's mess
  • Open a bag of chips. (And don't even think about using your teeth.)
  • Eat that special treat you've been saving.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Giant Blocks (of Kindness)

A few friends suggested I blog more about the hands-on learning I do with my kids at home, rather than just sharing it on Instagram. I'm a little hesitant--I know there are hundreds of professional "mommy bloggers" out there doing the same thing, only way better. Really, this is just something I do for fun (you know me, living on the edge), but I love when other moms share their ideas, so I'll give it a shot.

We made these giant blocks a few days ago, and not only have they have been tons of fun, they've been the perfect learning tool. We've had almost NO timeouts or do-overs in the last week. A couple weeks ago, I was exhausted from having to constantly stop and send my son to timeout for being way too rough with his little sister or friends. Many tears were shed all around, including mine, and he was getting as frustrated as I was. I knew I needed a different approach.

The truth is, he's a really good, sweet boy, but he's a boy--an active, spirited, and sometimes rowdy boy. The idea that his baby sister doesn't want to be tackled and some friends don't like being chased was inconceivable to him. We'd talked about being respectful and gentle many times, but he needed to learn how to put kindness into action. 

A stack of cardboard boxes, which had been cluttering our front room while functioning as a "construction site" for all of his trucks and tools, seemed to be begging for a higher purpose. First, we wrapped them in craft paper and colored on them. I let him help me decide how to illustrate each word, so he told me which friends to draw and what colors their clothes should be. We ended up with four steps of fun--wrapping (he liked taping best), coloring, stacking, and of course, unwrapping (Caleb: "IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!"). Even Lydia had a blast, climbing on the boxes and crinkling the paper scraps.

We used WAY too much tape. 

For us, it was a way to learn about kindness, but you could make these blocks for any purpose. They could be about letters, numbers, family, superheroes--whatever sparks your kid's imagination. Or you could just wrap some cardboard boxes in paper and let your kid scribble whatever he or she wants to. For Caleb, wrapping the boxes was half the fun. Sure, they looked like a toddler wrapped them, but it kept him busy for a good hour, and it was a tactile, touchable, stackable lesson in kindness that stuck with him longer than any timeout. That's a win-win in my book.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Finishing the Race (aka: My First Triathlon)

(By the way, the background in this photo is a metaphor for my success.)

Isn’t it ironic that I last wrote about minimalism and then didn’t post anything for weeks? Well, at least I’m not a hypocrite. One thing I like about this blog though is that I can write whatever I want to write about, whenever I want to write. That’s the joy of it.

One thing that’s been taking up my attention lately (aside from two busy babies) is training for a triathlon, which was one of my 2016 resolutions. It was my first one, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was physically prepared, yes--I’d trained for months and I was in good shape, so I felt sure I’d be able to make it across that finish line at the very least, and I did. But I had no idea how unprepared I was until I was miles off course and completely lost.

The triathlon started with a 750 yard swim Friday night. I took my time, finished in 21 minutes (not excellent, but not terrible either), and a couple of race officials even acted shocked when I embraced my two little tots after getting out of the pool. They might have been faking it to make me feel better about my time, but regardless, being a mom to a nursing baby and busy toddler, I was completely satisfied with just finishing.

The next day, I was a little more nervous. I hadn’t trained much on a bike, and so even though I’d built up enough strength and stamina to go the distance, I wasn’t sure how good a biker I’d be in the actual race. It turned out that my worries were well-founded. My first hitch was finding my bike as I crossed the starting line--there were hundreds, and they all looked alike. Even though I knew the row my bike was on, I didn’t spot it right away, and so after walking back and forth a few times--as everyone else passed me on their bikes--I had to get some help from a friendly race official.

That was pretty embarrassing, but we quickly found it, so I hopped on, and off I went. And then he stopped me....because I wasn’t supposed to get on my bike until after I got past the bike racks. So I scrambled off my bike (easier said than done--it’s precarious up there), walked a few more feet, then I hopped on again and was finally off.

It took a couple miles to get the hang of shifting on the bike I’d rented. And I wasn’t used to riding alongside cars whizzing past me on the highway and crossing through busy intersections, so I was pretty tense and anxious as I tried to keep pace with the other bikers. Passing roadkill every few hundred yards, I became aware of how easily I could lose control of the bike and get flattened by a speeding pickup truck. I wished I had a sign on my bike that said, “SLOW DOWN! I’m not just a biker, I’m a mom!” What would my babies do without me if I didn’t make it back to them in one piece?  

I sent up a silent prayer (or two or twenty), and tried to stay calm. I looked around cautiously and took in the breathtaking view of the green hills and trees in blossom all around me. I started to notice bikers going the opposite direction on the other side of the road, so I knew I was nearing the turn-around point. What a relief that was--the way back would be easier, more familiar, and mostly downhill.

A sampling of the scenery

 “This is my last turn, I thought. The turn-around point must be straight ahead from here.” I couldn't see any bikers ahead of me, but I took a left as the race official motioned, and was pleased to find myself biking through a beautiful neighborhood with tree-lined streets, ponds full of baby ducklings, and parks shaded by weeping willows. I was so busy enjoying the scenery that it wasn’t until after a couple miles that I realized I hadn’t seen any bikers coming back on the other side of the road. I should’ve reached the turn-around point already. I didn’t want to believe it, but it was starting to look like I was off-course.

When it finally hit me that I was really lost, I broke down. I had no idea how to get back on course. (I should have, but I’m getting to that.) Even more, I was terrified at the thought of having to find my way back without the race officials to help me cross all those busy intersections. I knew they’d be gone if I went back--I’d biked too far off course and all the other bikers would’ve reached the turn-around point already. And without the race officials to direct me, how would I even know where to go?

I kept biking (and sobbing, simultaneously), trying to decide what to do, and when I paused at an intersection, I happened to meet a family on their bikes. I asked if they had a phone I could borrow, thinking I would call Ben to come pick me up. When I told them I was in a triathlon and had gotten lost, they looked up the race course online (thank you, smart phones!) and helped me figure out where I’d taken a wrong turn and how to get to the turn-around point from there. I climbed on my bike and started back, but I still wasn’t sure about finishing--part of me wanted to give up and wait for Ben or a search party to come looking for me. I even considered biking another three miles to my house, which would've been a lot quicker, and then I wouldn’t have had to bear the shame (I thought) of showing up after everyone else had finished.

“If I knew I'd make it back, I'd keep going,” I thought. I still felt panicked at the idea of being alone on that busy highway, so I just kept praying for God’s help, and the more I prayed, the more I felt I should finish the race I'd started. And I’m so glad that I did. As I got closer to the turn-around point and started to recognize the course again, I got a little more confident. “All along, I just wanted to finish,” I thought. “All I have to do is finish. It doesn’t matter if everyone else's packed up and gone home and I come in dead last, so long as I'm not dead. God, my family needs me. Please bring me back to them safely.”

After a few miles, I passed another biker, who was walking her bike along the highway, so I stopped to see if she was okay. She'd gotten a flat tire, so she was finishing the bike course on foot. I was shocked at how cheerful she was. "These things just happen," she said to me with a great big grin. "You're just a couple miles away. Go for it!" That encounter totally changed my attitude and perspective. She could've easily been frustrated and discouraged, like I was, but she was making the best of it, even if that meant walking the rest of the way. I sped away with a little more pep and little less caution (but still enough to stop at a major intersection and wait several turns for a crossing signal). By this time, I'd made up my mind that I'd finish, no matter how long it took.

Once I made it to the transition point, they were already announcing the race winners over the loud speaker. I hung my bike on the rack and started my 5K run, hoping no one but Ben had noticed. "Just finish," I kept telling myself. My backside was sore from the bike ride, and at times I wanted to slow down and walk, but I distracted myself by admiring the beautiful homes and hills and streams as I jogged past.

The race officials, who were still stationed along the 5K course, were cheering me on, too. At first I felt guilty and apologized for making them stay so late, but they assured me that they were there to support me and keep me safe. And as it turned out, I wasn't the last runner they were waiting on after all. Along with the biker on foot I'd passed earlier, I passed a couple of incredible elderly ladies (that's right, elderly), who were also racing just to finish, and we cheered each other on as I passed them.

The arrows on the road were difficult to follow, and I almost got lost once or twice again, but as I finally saw the finish line ahead, I picked up my pace almost to a sprint and crossed with a huge wave of relief and satisfaction. I could see the relief on Ben's face, too--he hadn't seen me in the transition as I'd hoped, and he'd been worried about me. And as I'd feared, almost everyone had packed up and gone home, but with my little family and a few race officials cheering for me at the finish, it just didn't matter anymore. I FINISHED!

With all of the emotions I felt that day, at one point I reasoned that it was the race official's fault that I got lost--that he misdirected me--but by the time I finished, I knew everything came down to me. I was the one who hadn't studied the course, who got lost, and who found my way back to finish the race. I definitely had help--I couldn't have raced at all without Ben taking care of our kids or all the volunteers who made the race happen, and heaven knows I'd be dead without God's grace and protection that day--but whether or not I got lost, and whether or not I finished was my choice. Lesson learned. And at the risk of sounding like a complete sap, I believe it's a lesson for life, too.

So here's some advice for other first-time triathletes, along with a few life lessons for all of us trying to "run with patience the race set before us." (Hebrews 12:1)

Advice for first-time triathletes:
  • First, watch someone else compete in a triathlon. If you don't know someone, watch a YouTube video.
  • Find an experienced triathlete to talk to and get their advice.
  • Study the course ahead of time and know it by heart. Go and drive it or ride it so you know exactly where to go on the day of the race.
  • Keep a map of the course with you, folded up and tucked into your waistband. It wouldn't hurt to carry a waist pack with your phone in it either, in case you or someone else is in trouble.
  •  Don't think you can follow the other athletes and stay on course.
  • Also, don't think you can rely on the race officials or arrows to keep you on course. They are extremely helpful, and you should pay close attention to them, but they can be confusing sometimes.
  • The race officials aren't perfect--they're just volunteers and they don't know everything--but they're there to keep you safe and support you, so don't hesitate to ask for their help. They'll do anything they can for you, whether it's helping you find your bike or the bathroom, giving you snacks and water, or just cheering you on, even if you're dead last. Remember, they've given up their whole day to help you, so don't forget to thank them!
  • If you get off-course or get a flat tire, just keep going. It's worth finishing.
  • It's your first time, so pace yourself. Don't worry if people are passing you. You can worry about improving your times later.
  • Find a friend to compete with, and stick together! The race will be easier and more fun when you can help and cheer each other on.
  • Enjoy the scenery, but don’t get so distracted by it that you lose your way or lose control of your bike.
  • Wear sunscreen, and trade your helmet for a hat when you start your run (or you WILL get sunburned).
  • It’s hard work, but have fun, keep on praying, and keep on smiling!

Life lessons for running the race with patience:
  • Watch and learn from others who are achieving the same things you hope to.
  • When you're planning for the future, find someone to talk to who's been there before and get their advice.
  • Trust that God has a course for your life and ask Him to guide you.
  • Study His words and know them by heart.
  • Decide now what choices you will make and which way you will follow.
  • Keep a copy of your favorite verses so you can refer to them often.
  • Don't think you can follow the crowd and find your way.
  • Also, don't think you can rely only on God's leaders without knowing the way for yourself.
  • His leaders aren't perfect. Teachers, ministers, bishops, church leaders--they're just doing their best to serve God and they don't know everything, but they're there to support you and help you find your way, so don't hesitate to ask for their help. They'll do anything they can for you, whether you need a listening ear or advice or just someone to cheer you on. Remember, they're sacrificing a good deal of their own time, so don't forget to thank them!
  • If you lose your way or hard times slow you down, don't give up. Even if you've made a huge mistake, it's worth finding your way back, no matter how afraid or embarrassed you are or how impossible it seems. And just like the biker with the flat tire, when the unexpected happens--whether it's a health problem or divorce or financial crisis--just keep going. It may slow you down for a while, but it doesn't have to keep you from finishing the race, or from enjoying it. You can do this, and God will help you every step of the way.
  • This is your one chance to live your life, so pace yourself. Don't worry about trying to keep up with anyone. Have patience with yourself and others. "Life is a marathon (...or triathlon...), not a sprint."
  • Find a companion to spend your life with, and stick together! Life will be easier and more fun with your spouse when you help and cheer each other on.
  • Enjoy life, but don’t get so caught up in pleasure that you lose your way or lose control.
  • Wear the protection of God's armor every day (Ephesians 6:10-17).
  • It’s hard work, but have fun, keep on praying, and keep on smiling!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Minimalism

I’m not a minimalist. I’m not a hoarder, either (except possibly when it comes to books, little bits of flora and fauna, and throw’s getting a little embarrassing.)

I don’t necessarily want to be a minimalist. However, like many people, I do look for ways to simplify and organize my life, and lately I’ve been taking lessons from the minimalists. When it comes to putting first things first, I think they’re really on to something. My personal motto of sorts is, “Make room for what matters most,” and I believe that what minimalists inherently know--and what some of us aren’t always as conscious of--is that to be able to give your time and attention to what really matters, sometimes you have to let go of what doesn’t.

Minimalists minimize, of course. To do that, they have to prioritize--they focus first on what enhances their lives and then reduce the rest. I can’t say whether minimalists are happier than the rest of the population, but I do think that by letting go of some things, all of us can make more room for what brings us joy.


Fewer clothes = less laundry, more room in closets, less time spent trying to find what to wear

Fewer dishes = less time spent washing and loading/unloading the dishwasher

Fewer toys = less picking up, more imagination and outside time

Less stuff around the house = less cleaning, less time spent putting things away, fewer items lost, less time and money spent maintaining all those belongings

Fewer hobbies and outside commitments = less money spent and more time saved for one or two favorite pursuits/causes

Fewer books = yeah, right...

I’m coming to understand better than ever now how “less is more.” Less stuff means more time, money, space, and energy for what really matters. Not that I’ve ever had an excessive amount of stuff, but we all know how quickly it can pile up, and in a world with so many wonderful objects and opportunities to choose from, it can be hard to discern what actually enhances our lives and what takes away from them. I think the key to simplifying is deciding what matters most, and then being willing to let go of what doesn’t.

And, with inspiration from minimalists, I’m in the process of doing that right now. Every year I declutter and organize (it helped that we moved every year for 6 years), but this has been the biggest purge yet. Our lives have changed drastically in just the last couple years, and many of the things that served us well when it was just the two of us in an apartment (was that really just 2 years and some months ago? feels like a lifetime) are now simply taking up space in closets and cabinets.

As I’m trying to organize this new life of ours, the question I’m asking myself is, “Does this make my life better?” ...Not, “Do I like it?”...“Is it useful?”...or “How much money did I spend on this?” (Does anyone else ALWAYS remember, even years later? Or am I just a little OC?) I’ve realized this: some things I like or that are useful or valuable--like the stack of adorable but empty baby books that were gifted to me, or one-too-many “special occasion” outfits I’ll likely never get to wear again--don’t really make my life better. And some things that do make my life better--oven mitts, diaper cream, filing cabinets, mismatched towels--are not things I necessarily like.

I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect everything in our homes to “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo so famously suggests in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I do think deciding what’s worth holding onto and what isn’t can make more room for joy in our lives. Sometimes the time, space and energy an object is taking up is actually more valuable than the object itself.

And if that’s true, then we can be sure that when we give that thing up, we’ll get something much better in return--maybe more time with those we love, more peace, or more energy. When you think of it that way, it doesn’t seem so hard anymore, does it?

One last thought: I hope this isn’t a stretch, but I can’t help thinking about the rich young ruler in the Bible, who asked Christ what he should do to inherit eternal life. Christ answered, “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” Likewise, I wonder, is some of my stuff holding me back from the peace and joy He has to offer? What am I willing to let go of to embrace His plan for me?

Now, I’m not suggesting that having too much stuff is wrong or that we should get rid of everything we don’t need or that we should all be minimalists. My goodness, can you imagine how boring our world would be if everyone were minimalists? Like anyone, I’m just looking for ways to make life even better for my family and me. And minimalism is just one way of making room for what matters most.