Sunday, January 22, 2017

So You're Mad About Trump? Well, I'm Mad Too.

This is not the blog post I'd planned to write. It's not even the one I wanted to write. Ever. But here I am writing this at 1 in the morning, because I can't stop the words from coming.

You see, I'm not exactly thrilled to have Trump for President...and I voted for him. I know, I know--now you hate me. He's obnoxious and repulsive; America deserves better, I agree. But that's not why I'm mad. 

I'm mad that half of Americans are being called racist, hateful, stupid, ignorant, intolerant and worse for voting for Trump--plenty of people like me, who are most certainly not racist, hateful, stupid, ignorant, or intolerant (or uneducated, for that matter--I'm a college grad with honors, plus almost 10 years career experience). In fact, many--if not most--of those people are pretty great parents, friends, employees and citizens, who genuinely care about others and their communities. 

I'm mad that the media and so many Americans are buying into this idea that Trump supporters are bad people who are hurting women and minorities (funny how I'm one of those)--that they are not just people to be hated, but people that America must put an end to. That these are the people who are standing in the way of everything good and right. 

Only, that depends on your point of view. And America has this thing with protecting different points of view, or at least it used to. Trust me, I'm all for more affordable healthcare and housing and education. I'm no racist, and I believe all people--no matter their race or gender--should be treated fairly and equally. I do my best to live that belief every day, and to treat others with kindness and compassion. If you know me, I hope you'd agree. 

I also believe in the Constitution, and that it limits federal powers to protect its people and our rights. I don't believe the federal government should be allowed to administer healthcare, housing or education--the states, yes. The Constitution clearly allows for that, even encourages it, favoring state powers over federal powers. That's why we are the United States of America, after all. So no, I don't support federalized welfare (there are other types, you know). And another thing: I don't believe that women's rights should include abortion. As a mother and a Christian, I believe the lives of unborn children should be protected, especially from partial-birth abortion, which I'm sad to think must be a painful death.

These are just a few reasons I chose not to vote for Hilary. I also believe she's dishonest. (Sorry, not sorry.) To me, the fact that half of Americans voted for Trump says more about Hilary than it does voters--not that they're racist or hateful (etc., etc.), or that they agreed with everything Trump said, but that they just didn't trust Hilary. They felt like she was hiding the truth behind that calm facade. Say what you like about Trump--I might even agree--but the thing about him is that what you see is what you get.

Not that I'm happy about what we're getting, but I'm not writing this to argue Trump vs. Hilary--if you ask me, they're both pretty lousy. As it happens, I believe both parties have a lot of the same goals, just very different views on how to achieve them. Ultimately, I'm trusting God and the Constitution to pull America through whatever comes our way. And I'm going to keep making the best of my life and helping whoever I can, no matter who's president.

The point is, it's dangerous to label so many Americans as bad people for voting for Trump. People's actions are what cause harm to others, not personal views--even the ones you abhor. Those views are protected by the Constitution, and so are yours. There are bad people out there, who actually want to cause others harm, and they're not exclusive to one party. 

Half the country are not those people. I am not that person. I am an American who exercised my right to vote. And if you voted for Hilary or someone else, you did the same. I don't believe that makes you a bad person. I don't want to stop you from protesting peacefully or sharing your point of view. I would appreciate the rest of America doing the same for me, instead of accusing all Trump voters of hurting women and minorities. It seems to me, that's doing more harm than good.


P.S. If you're still asking yourself why any sane person would vote for Trump, read this article by a (totally sane) Christian woman, who says it much better than I can.

P.S.S. I would love comments! But I'm a busy mom and I'm not here to argue or referee, so please be respectful.

P.S.S.S. If you want to do something, but you're not sure what, here are some causes I support that you could get involved in, too--this anti-sex-trafficking organization, this organization that collects kits for refugees and people in disaster areas, and this church (my church, actually) that coordinates all kinds of relief efforts locally and worldwide. Their websites offer so many ideas and ways you can help. This blogger shared some really great ideas, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why This Was the Best Christmas Ever (+ 3 Ways to Make This the Best Year Ever)

Can we all agree that January is the most un-magical time of the year? Seriously, being snowed-in for a week in January is just not as fun as being snowed-in at Christmas. Tuesday was a new low for me--I hadn't left the house in days. I hadn't showered or shaved for days either, I was trying to get all my Christmas decorations packed away while my kids were climbing in boxes and scattering ornaments all over the room, and then I found out that the fridge I'd been waiting on for over a month was not going to arrive that day after all because of--you guessed it--this blasted weather.  

I called my husband at work just to cry. I'd tried so hard to be patient--other people had much bigger problems than having to walk into a freezing-cold garage 20 times a day to get the milk. Heck, I'd had bigger problems than that before too, plus it was the holidays--I wasn't going to let not having a fridge in my kitchen ruin it. But I just couldn't keep it together anymore. I was ready to throw the pity party of the year.

Well, if you saw my post on Instagram earlier, you know that Ben saved the day and brought home pizza for dinner. But I started thinking about this Christmas, and how happy and relaxed I felt. What was it about this Christmas that made it one of the best I've ever had? I couldn't quite put my finger on it. For some reason, I didn't get as stressed out this year, and the little things my kids do every day that usually drive me crazy just didn't. Instead, the whole month felt magical. It was the happiest I'd felt in a while. 

And the biggest thing I noticed was that I felt closer to Christ than I had in a long time. I was thinking about Him all the time and feeling so grateful for His love. I came to understand the depth of that love in a whole new way when our church youth hosted a "Journey Through Christ's Life" the week before Christmas. As we walked through our church building in silence, we watched the events of His life through video clips (including the one below) and actors playing people who knew Him (our youth leaders). Prophecies of His birth, the nativity, His teachings, His miracles, and finally His excruciating death and miraculous resurrection--all through it, I reached out to Him in my heart as I'd never done before, or at least not for a long time.

There are really no words to describe what I felt as I watched a depiction of His death on the cross, other than overwhelming awe for Him and His love for me. And that feeling turned to pure joy and peace, which was so beyond all the happiness that carols and lights and Christmas trees bring. Still, it seemed to make every Christmas moment even more magical in the week following.  

So I don't think it's because I somehow had less going on this Christmas that I felt more peaceful. I was busy with all the usual parties and gift-giving, plus taking care of my kids (which never fails to keep me busy all year long), playing Santa, decorating my house inside and out, and getting involved in Light the World 25 Days of Service. I think it was because all of those things kept me more focused on Christ and other people than on myself.

One moment I'll never forget was my 3-year-old son gently placing the coolest construction toy he'd ever seen into the donation bin for Toys for Tots. He picked it out himself, as part of a new Christmas tradition we started this year, and just as I predicted, he was thrilled because he thought he was picking it out for himself at first. But as we paid for it and explained again that we were going to give it to a little boy who needed it more, he looked torn. We could see his little wheels turning, "Okay, they want me to put it in the bin...I'll just put it in and take it out again, no big deal." When he realized that he had to put the toy in the bin and leave it there, it clearly took all the will-power and compassion his little toddler heart could muster. It was a true sacrifice for him.

To me, that's what Christmas is all about--putting others before yourself. When I spend the whole season just thinking about how busy and stressed I am, I'm only thinking about myself and missing out on the real peace and joy that Christmas is meant to bring--that Christ brought. And that's true for the rest of the year, too. As one blogger put it, "You have 11 more months to come closer to Christ." (Anyone know who? I saw this a while ago and can't find it now, but I'd love to credit her!)

So for 2017, that's my resolution: to focus on what I'm grateful for and think more about Christ and others than I think about myself. Here are 3 ways I plan to do that.

3 Ways to Feel the Peace, Joy and Hope of Christmas All Year:

1.) When I start feeling stressed, stop and think how blessed I am. I know this might sound silly, but it really works for me! It's human nature to worry about whatever isn't going right at the moment and how to fix it, but that can really wear us down. God knows this, so He asks us to trust Him, and simply pausing to recognize His hand in our lives can bring us so much peace, joy and hope.

2.)  Spend time every day thinking about Christ and feeling grateful for His sacrifice. Like many of you, I pray. I read the scriptures. I try to listen to what God's teaching me. But I don't always take the time simply to be still and feel His love. I learned this Christmas that reflecting daily on my Savior and all He's done goes a long way toward bringing me closer to Him and filling my life with peace.

3.) Find ways to sacrifice for other people, especially the people I love. I think this is the hardest one. It's so easy to get wrapped up in my own life or to feel weighed down by the constant demands of my family. But when I try to think of what I do for them as a gift instead of a burden, I start to find real joy. The same goes for other people--being more willing to give up my time and give from my heart, the way I do at Christmas, is something I've been missing. It's a chance for me to be a better friend and feel that joy and spirit of giving all year. 

What do you do to keep that Christmas spirit after all the decorations are packed away and the lights come down?

P.S. Here are also a few practical tips I shared last January that helped me get ready for Christmas this year, as far as budget and planning. I definitely think they played a part in making this a great Christmas, so I recommend checking it out! 

P.S.S. This is the time of year that SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and depression are common. I know I've struggled with this before, so if you find yourself in that situation, here's some great advice from a fellow blogger Abbie. The way she described coming alive again when the weather warms up, I totally related. Hang in there with me until spring, friend!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Warmest Wishes in 2017

It feels like it's been a busy year, but I was reading our New Year's update from last year, and I could just copy and paste about half of it. So I hope you're not completely bored reading this. I guess not much has changed in the last year in our day-to-day lives. One day tends to blend into the next, but as monotonous and exhausting as life can feel sometimes with 2 small kids (feed kids, wipe bums, do laundry, repeat...), our life is beautifully simple. It's what we waited and worked for for so long. We do have some big news, though: we're expecting another baby at the end of May!...Most of us are excited about it.

Photo Credit: Busy Bee Photography

Photo Credit: Busy Bee Photography

Ben has been working for almost a year as the manager at an infusion home care pharmacy (i.e. he runs a pharmacy that makes IVs for people who need private nursing care). He's held quite a few different jobs over the last few years--long story short: he started out part-time, switched to a full-time job, got laid-off, found a new part-time job, then a new full-time job, and then his company was bought out in February. Whew! It's been a roller coaster. 

But fortunately, this is looking permanent, and we're extremely grateful, even when it keeps him busy on nights and weekends. He loves the work that he does, and apparently he's made himself indispensable (#jobsecurity). He also volunteers some of his extra time as an assistant clerk at our church, helping with paperwork and records. Not to mention, he's the most loving husband and dad anyone could ask for. I mean, I knew he was amazing when I married him, but he's really blown me away the last year or so. He's our rock and our best friend, and I could go on, but you'd probably stop reading. 

Jenny (that's me!) I feel pretty lucky to stay at home with our 2 kids, Caleb and Lydia. Honestly, it's been a long year--our first few months with Lydia were a dream, and then suddenly, about a year ago, having two kids got really hard. It's a pretty big job keeping up with two busy toddlers in diapers, but there's no other job I'd rather wake up for every single morning. I'm sure with 3 I'll get the hang of this, right?! (Riiiight.) 

As busy as they keep me, I tried my hand at gardening for the first time, I managed to update our kitchen with some fresh paint on the walls, cabinets, and countertops (more on that on the blog soon), and I finished my first triathlon in April. Another highlight was going to Girls Camp with the young women from my church this summer. Spending a week surrounded by God's beautiful creations and these beautiful girls that I love was so good for my soul.

Caleb, who turned 3 in November, seems to be getting smarter all the time. He loves to talk, and he tells the wittiest jokes. Like, way better jokes than I could ever come up with! (e.g. He came up to me holding a package and said in a menacing voice, "Hi there, I'm the one who rang the doorbell when your baby was sleeping.") The funny gene in my family must've skipped a generation. 

He's the sweetest big brother, the best helper, an eager learner and reader, and he constantly amazes me with his grasp of the gospel and life in general. I love that he's a good listener, but he's also an independent thinker, so he asks questions and tries to understand things for himself. Besides Ben, he's one of my favorite people to talk to. His enthusiasm for all things with engines--especially construction vehicles--is as strong as ever, and his heart's deepest desire is to drive a digger one day.

Photo Credit: Emily Walker

Lydia turned 1 in July, and she is our wild girl and ray of sunshine. She climbs everything, and I pick her up off the kitchen table, bathroom counter, the top of the toilet, clothes dryer--you name it--about 50 times a day, no exaggeration. Nothing deters her: falling on her head (happens all the time), time out (once an hour, at least), scolding (she just laughs). She is irrepressible, as my dad likes to say. Which is totally unlike me, so I'm equally in awe and full of admiration for that. But it's also terrifying. 

She makes up for it with plenty of sweet kisses and hugs, and her little giggle and soft kissable cheeks always give me a thrill of joy. Like her brother, she also loves to talk (and sing!), but most of the time we have no idea what she's saying. It's becoming more discernible every day, though.

Photo Credit: Emily Walker

A few other highlights for our family this year were: visiting my family and grandparents in Georgia in March. My kids loved the farm as much as I do, of course. It always feels so good to "go home," and it already feels like forever ago. I felt more than a little sentimental and dreamy looking back on these photos.

Ben's family reunion is something we look forward to every year, and it didn't disappoint. We've always loved the campground there with its aspen-lined hiking trails and swimming hole, and it's fun now to take our kids camping there with their cousins every summer.

We also had my best friend Jen, who I hadn't seen in over 3 years, come visit us for a few weeks in June. Having her here was just what I needed, and her daughter is Caleb's age, so they totally hit it off, too. Caleb still talks about his friend Paisley all the time.

At Thousand Springs

My parents came to visit in July for Lydia's 1st birthday and my *ahem* birthday, and my mom helped kick-start my kitchen update. (She also helped wrap it up 4 months later when she came to visit for!) We had a fun time partying, and I got all spontaneous and decided we should float the Boise River together, which was a blast except we started too late and almost froze to death. (Note to self: spontaneity is not your thing.)

Then we partied some more with Ben's parents for his birthday, and I finally got to see "my lake"--Jenny Lake in Wyoming. It was incredible. Seriously, there are no words to describe how beautiful and inspiring it is.

We got to see Ben's parents a few weeks later at our house--it was such a sweet surprise and my mother-in-law helped a lot with my kitchen update--and then again on our visit to Utah in September. My kids had a blast with their cousins too, and we got to see my brother Michael for the first time since he got back from his mission in France.

Hiking "The Grotto" Trail

At my cousin Cloe's reception

Later that month, we found out we were expecting Baby #3! And then the "morning" sickness hit, so I spent the next 2 months on the couch, and not much else happened for a while (including dinner, laundry, and dishes).

At 16 Weeks

By November, I was feeling a lot better. We celebrated Caleb's 3rd birthday with Ben's parents, and they kept the kids for a few days while we went to Chicago on a business trip. Ben worked most of the time, but it was a fun little vacation. We got to see some good friends from college: Kristen and Bobby downtown, and Karen and Roger in the suburbs. I immensely enjoyed sleeping in, showering, and eating a big, hot breakfast every morning.

For Thanksgiving my whole family--my mom, dad, 3 brothers, and sister-law--all came to visit. We had our own little "Christmas morning" together with the kids, and relaxed and ate a ton of food, of course.

Photo Credit: Busy Bee Photography

This Christmas, we were on our own, but it was one of the most peaceful and joyful Christmas seasons I've had in a while. I loved our church's Light the World 25 Days of Service, and it really made our season special to focus on Christ and lifting the people around us, as He did. Maybe it was because we weren't traveling or having visitors, but it just didn't feel as stressful as usual. It was just magical.

I'm hoping that will launch us into a joyful new year, one in which I plan to focus more on everything I'm grateful for, and obviously that's a lot. God bless all of you, and warmest wishes from our family to yours in 2017!

Photo Credit: Emily Walker

P.S. In case you're interested, you can always catch our day-to-day happenings on my Instagram and keep up with our blog on Facebook

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Two Words

Thrilled. And Terrified. Why keep writing? 😅

Well, here we go again...Baby #3 arrives in May! Obviously, I'm thrilled! It's amazing that after trying to start a family for over 5 years with no success, we'll now have 3 kids 3 and under. No, amazing is an understatement. It blows my mind! God is seriously making up for lost time.

And I'm terrified, because you can't go through 3 miscarriages without becoming paranoid on some level. And being a mom will do that you, too. I just want this baby to be healthy and safe! But I also know how much work kids are. Going from 1 to 2 kids has been a big adjustment for me, and the idea of 3 is just a little bit scary. Okay, I'm terrified! (But you already knew that.) Who knows though, maybe I'll really find my groove?

"Thrilled but terrified" actually seems to be the recurring theme if you go back and read my other pregnancy posts (here and here). The thing is: Infertility is really, really hard. (Much love to all my sisters in infertility out there: it hurts, and it's not fair--I totally know.) Pregnancy is hard, too. And being a mom is hard--probably the hardest thing I've ever done. But it's also brought me so much happiness. I love what this blogger once said on her Instagram, that "hard" isn't the same thing as "bad." Just because life is hard doesn't mean you have to be unhappy. Life can be really hard and really good at the same time. 

Which is basically my life as a mom with young kids right now--really hard but really good. Really, really good...And I'm betting it's going to be even better with 3!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Our Favorite Christmas Traditions

Who else looks forward to their favorite Christmas traditions all year long? 🙋 I've been thinking a lot about why I love Christmas so much, and all the lights and music and magic wouldn't mean much to me without the memories that come with them. Christmas is all about traditions, like listening to Nat King Cole, drinking cocoa by the light of the Christmas tree, and reading Luke 2 as a family on Christmas Eve. Here are a few more of our family's favorite Christmas traditions that make our days merry and bright and remind us of the true reason for the season.

Christmas Book Advent - This is a new tradition this year, but it's already our favorite! Every night our kids get to unwrap a Christmas book from under the tree, and then we read it together before bedtime. They LOVE unwrapping each "present" (they call it), and even though most of the books are familiar ones from years past, they still ask to read them over and over. We borrow books from our local library to supplement our own, and some nights they get to unwrap a Christmas movie from our collection instead. Of course, I wait to put each night's present under the tree until RIGHT before they're about to open it, because, 😉

"The True Meaning of Christmas" Family Home Evening - The first Monday in December, we have a family night (#fhe #iamamormon) about the true meaning of Christmas. It helps our family remember to focus on Christ throughout the season, and not get so wrapped up (pun intended) in all the presents and busyness and fun that we miss out on the joy of celebrating His birth. We sing Christmas songs about the baby Jesus, share a Christmas story or two, read about Him from the scriptures, and at the end, our kids get to unwrap their toy nativity from the under the tree (hooray for more presents before Christmas day!). While the songs and stories vary from year to year, the point is the same: that Jesus Christ is the true gift of Christmas.

Christmas Light Sight-Seeing - This tradition makes a great family night, too. In the past we've driven around the neighborhood or looked up the best houses to see (our local newspaper has a map on their website), and we've also visited the Botanical Gardens before too, which has a pretty spectacular light display. This year we went to see the famous lights in a not-so-famous little Idaho farming town, and it was just as spectacular as the Botanical Gardens, plus it was free! I have a feeling we'll be going back there year after year.


Date Night - Christmastime always seemed so romantic when we were young and in love (vs. not quite as young now but still in love). It's one of my favorite times to be with Ben, and as much as I enjoy cuddling in front of the fire at home with my man, we (well, I) try to plan at least one special night out for just the two of us. For years we went on a sleigh ride together, but we've since moved away, so the last few years we've just gone out for dinner and shopping at the plaza here. Still, spending the night holding hands, making eyes at each other, and admiring the lights feels just as rare and magical now that we have kids! Maybe this year we'll up the romance and get dressed up for dinner somewhere other than Chili's. (But he put his plug in to see Star Wars...😂)

Shopping for Toys for Tot - This is another new tradition, which my friend and her family have done for years. I felt inspired by #LighttheWorld to try it this week, so I'm excited to see how it goes! The plan is for each member of family member (especially each kid) to pick out a toy he or she would like to have, but instead of taking the toys home and putting them under the tree, we'll donate them to Toys for Tots. We're going to do this Friday, which is a day to focus on compassion as part of the #LighttheWorld movement.

Christmas Cookie Exchange - Yet another new tradition, another favorite! Dinner parties can be a challenge with little kids, so we decided to invite a few other couples over for dessert instead. We each brought a batch of Christmas cookies, sampled whatever we wanted, and split up the leftover cookies to take home. We also had one of our teenage neighbors over to help entertain the kids upstairs. It was such a fun night, and I'm already planning to do it again next year!  

Handing out Gift Cards to the Homeless - Since I'm out and about more than usual, I see more homeless people on the corners these days. Every year I like to buy a few gift cards to keep in my car--cards to shoe stores, clothing stores, grocery stores, restaurants--so that I always have something to give whenever I see someone in need. I try to give whatever card I think could help them most, like one to a shoe store if they have kids or to Walmart if "anything helps."

Caroling to Neighbors - Growing up, I loved going caroling at Christmas, and now that I go caroling with my own family, I'm amazed again at how much joy it brings. We sing just one short song--usually "Away in a Manger" or "Silent Night"--so that no one has to stand awkwardly in the cold for too long, and then we hand out treats. Our neighbors seem to love it, too! One neighbor who hadn't spoken a word to us in 2 years (we weren't sure if he was extremely shy or just rude) was obviously touched and said, "That was so nice. Thank you."

A photo posted by JENNY 🍑 FROM GEORGIA (@peachesandpotatoes) on

I'm sure our traditions will keep growing and evolving over the years, but the one thing that stays the same is the joy of sharing them with the people I love most. What are your family's favorite Christmas traditions?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Starting Our Day with a Morning Devotional

This blog post was originally written for and published by Fresh Canned Peaches, a blog by Kyra Holm about joyful self-reliance. 

Mornings can be the most hectic part of a mom's day. And while I don't have school-age kids to get ready and out the door--my kids are 2 and 1--just getting breakfast on the table and cleaned up can feel like an enormous feat. Personally, mornings are a struggle for me. I'm definitely not a morning person--never have been. Even after years of getting up early, it's still painful. My kids, on the other hand, seem to hit the ground running the moment they open their eyes! I'd take their tiny wake-up call any day over an obnoxious alarm, but seriously, it's all I can do every morning to keep up with the barrage of dirty diapers, spills, and spit-up. Then before I know it, I'm eating cold eggs and toast again, and the kitchen looks like a bomb went off. (Note to self: install child-proof locks.)

No one wants to start their day feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. And since there's nothing I can do about the inevitable spit-up and sink full of dishes, I've had to find other ways to simplify and bring peace to our mornings. One thing I started doing a few months ago was setting aside some time for a morning devotional with my kids. My mother-in-law gave me a big book of illustrations she used years ago as a Sunday School teacher, and they've really brought the scriptures to life for my kids. (You can find a similar book here or here.)

Every morning after breakfast, when we go upstairs to get dressed and make beds, we pull out the book and pick out a picture to talk about--we usually go in order (we started with the Creation and now we're talking about the birth of Christ), but sometimes another picture catches their eye, so we talk about that. I love when they point and ask questions on their own instead of me waving my arms and jiggling the picture to get their attention, which happens some mornings, too.  

After we pick a picture, I read the story on the back, sometimes a verse or two out of the scriptures--we keep a set in Caleb's room, which we also read at bedtime--and put the picture up on our chalkboard easel for them to look at. I can wedge the pictures nicely into the top of the easel so they stay put and I can leave them up all day. And the illustrations are inside transparency sleeves, so they're easy to slide in and out (unfortunately, they're also easy to crumble and rip). I have another book of LDS art that has quite a few pictures that my other book doesn't have, like Moses holding the 10 commandments and the angel appearing to Mary, so we've propped this book open a time or two on the tray of the easel, too.

Lydia, my one-year-old, loves whenever she can point out animals in the pictures--she always turns to the picture of Noah's ark--and Caleb, my almost-3-year-old, likes to ask and answer questions about the people and their stories. I write a key word or two on the chalkboard to help him remember what we're learning, too, and he's already learned words like "prophet," "ark," "tabernacle," and "Nebuchadnezzar"--how to say them and what they mean. What I love about our morning devotional is not only that it gives me precious one-on-one (two-on-one?) time with my kids, but also gives us a chance to learn about God and the scriptures together.

Caleb still talks almost daily about David fighting "Golijah" (he keeps mixing up the names Goliath and Elijah), and the other day when he was putting on his Superman shirt, he told me, "Superheroes and Heavenly Father and Jesus help people." I love that he's learning that God helps and protects us, like He did in the fiery furnace for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and how His commandments help us, like they did for Daniel when he chose not to eat anything against God's law.
We still have crazy mornings--and let's be honest, crazy days--but I feel like our devotional gives us something to look forward to after breakfast, something to learn and talk about together, and something to refer back to when we clash over tantrums or time-outs. It seems there's always a lesson in what we learn that morning that ties with what whatever our day brings us. And it's certainly brought the peace--not to mention, a little more structure--to our mornings that I was looking for.

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