First Day of School!

August 4, 2016

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We had our first day of school yesterday and while I know it’s earlier than most institutions start, we were on board and ready. Our schedule works out to be about 6 weeks on, 1 week off, and I love that we get random weeks off to go visit family or take vacations. I did my best to be prepared and ordered monogrammed uniforms (photoshopped out) early in July, gym shoes on tax free weekend, and the unusually long list of school supplies hours before we needed it, but I usually forget something. And, predictably, I did. The night before school started it hit me that I didn’t have a pair of “uniform-approved shoes” for Emma and went running out the door, leaving Steven with a baby who had just pooped in his swim diaper and three very excited kids needing to be put to bed. Thankfully, 20 minutes before closing Gap came through. 😉

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So there they all are. The loves of my life. I expected to feel all sorts of feelings, but mostly I was just feeling excited for them. And so proud. (Can you say that?) Shiloh and Keller have an especially challenging couple of months ahead with the language learning curve and I expect them to be extra tired as their brains catch up. Immersion is a funny thing.

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Everyone who knows Emma knows that she is always smiling. And that she loves her friends. She could barely contain herself when she was reunited with her girlfriends and found out she was sitting next to them in class (she’ll probably be moved shortly for talking too much like last year, but it’s fun while it lasts!) I wish I could just soak up her enthusiasm for life forever. When I think about the fact I only have her home with me for 9.5 years before college, it takes my breath away.

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My little family. I am so blessed to do life with these people.

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Walking the halls and taking everyone to their classrooms, I was afraid somebody would cry. But we all were just excited for this new year of possibility and the many experiences we have yet to live. It’s the first year where I feel like life has been calm, settled, and full of rhythm. I have prayed over their classes, their teachers, their friends, and I feel confident that this. This is exactly where we are supposed to be.

Raw Almond Butter Cups

August 2, 2016

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We met the kids’ teachers last night at school and walking around the halls made me feel so glad we are apart of this unique place. My three oldest are doing a German language immersion program and their teachers will only speak German in the classroom. So there I am, standing next to Emma having a conversation with a teacher, and I’m only half picking up bits and pieces of what they’re saying! It’s the weirdest feeling to ask your 8-year-old, “What were you guys talking about?” Ha! I realized after last night that I need to kick my butt into gear since all three will be speaking like this and I definitely need to make more progress with Rosetta Stone. (My Christmas present from last year!)

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These raw almond butter cups are such a favorite in our house that one pan goes in minutes. Since this is the first year I’m not homeschooling I anticipate much more free time than I’m used to with just Hugh at home (if I won’t, don’t burst my bubble ;). I would love to make it a regular routine to bake treats like this with the kids when they get back from school in the afternoons. I want them to have really good memories of coming home that I hope will stay with them forever.

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I don’t have a mini silicone muffin tray, so I spray my mini muffin pan liberally with coconut oil and pop them out when they’re frozen solid. The only thing I’ve changed is doubling the chocolate topping. It could be just me, but there never seems to be enough to spread around. ENJOY!!!!

//RAW ALMOND BUTTER CUPS

3/4 cup raw almonds, ground into a meal
1/4 cup rolled oats, ground into a flour
2 tablespoons raw almond butter (or nut butter of choice)
1.5 tablespoons coconut oil, warmed if necessary
1.5 tablespoons pure maple syrup (or agave nectar)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of fine grain sea salt, to taste

for the topping
6 tablespoons coconut oil
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup (or 2 tbsp agave nectar)
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
pinch of fine grain sea salt, to taste

1. Add almonds and oats into a high-speed blender and blend on high until a flour forms. Dump into a large bowl and break up any clumps with your fingers.
2. Add the nut butter, coconut oil, maple syrup (or agave), cinnamon, vanilla, and salt into the bowl. Stir until thoroughly combined. The dough should be fairly sticky like cookie dough.
3. Line a mini (or regular) muffin tin with paper liners or use a silicone muffin holder. Portion the dough into each muffin cup and press down until even and smooth.
4. To make the chocolate sauce: Whisk together the coconut oil, sweetener, cocoa powder, and salt until no clumps remain. Spoon the sauce over top each of the cups, distributing evenly. Garnish cups with sliced almonds if desired.
5. Place in the freezer in a flat area for 30-45 minutes, until firm. Pop out the cups & enjoy! Store leftovers in the freezer.

Source: Oh She Glows

Your Safe Place

August 1, 2016

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You’re crawling up my arm with a glow-in-the-dark dinosaur and I can’t believe the time has come for you to start all-day kindergarten. I remember the first time I held you, kissed you cheeks, and cried as they carried you off to bathe you, weigh you, and put your first diaper on. Hospitals are the first test for us mamas, I guess. We come in groaning with labor pains, sore ankles, and stretch marks from months of lovingly carrying and sustaining you with crackers and ginger ale for breakfast and then the nurses and doctors begin the process of helping you get out. IV’s…monitors…petocin…epidurals…or plain ibuprofen if you’re a glutton for punishment.

I always ask your daddy to leave me and follow you when you’re born. I want to know one of us is there to watch them help you acclimate to this world with their scales, and syringes, and their sudsy bath water. I know you’re safe, but you know. Just in case never hurts. 
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And then there’s babysitters. They help us learn to let go of control a little and put your well-being into the hands of another for a few hours at a time. (That sounds barbaric when I type that out so I’ll probably never get another babysitter again.) We trial and error our way through teenagers whose mamas have let their children go to take care of another’s and we leave lists on which pacifiers you prefer and which song to sing at nap time and how to basically keep you from feeling like we never left. And that sounds sunnier when I write it that way and by Saturday I’ll be needing a date night, so scratch that. I need babysitters and the village is becoming a nicer concept.

We still text to make sure it’s going okay, and we still get to choose who will watch you, how long we’ll be gone, and whether we’ll let that person see you again, so we kinda sorta still have some control.

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Pre-school is the warm-up. We obsess over which program will best suit your needs. The one who offers Chick-Fil-A with music lessons once a week, or the one that has an exhaustive list of character qualities to focus on while listening to classical music as the children paint a replica of Van Gogh. You who do not have children this age think I’m kidding, but we mothers do this. We obsess over these details because we want to know we did every possible thing to ensure our children’s future doesn’t feel like we left them on the hospital scale with no one to see the numbers rise to 7.6 lbs.

The crazy thing is, you loved painting replicas of Van Gogh. (And I never would have come up with that idea, nor taken the time to explain primary colors like your teachers did. Bless them.)

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You’re 5 now, but I still want to feel like you need me like I need you. I still want this to be a codependent relationship. We’ll call it “bonded” because that sounds healthier and therapy will be easier down the road, but we all know it when we see it. The mom who calls out “be carefuuuullllll!!!!” 1,485 times at the roller skating rink and the grown woman who has started a new job and calls her mom to remind her of the code to her locker.

You can call me anytime. Anytime, okay.

Yet, I’ve also seen this chasm that happens in children who leave the nest and never felt like they could rely on their parents to begin with. The relationship suffers its way through painful holidays and important, missed events. No one is there to say, “Follow her. She needs you right now.” Or, “Be careful. The world is full of wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Or even, “Hey honey. Just checking to make sure you are doing okay. I’m praying for you this week as you start your new job.” 

It’s what good parents do. And I know it seems overbearing, or smothering, or emotionally connected, but you know. It gives children a safe place in a world full of unsafe things and people and events. And maybe, just maybe, we need smothered from time to time. A place we feel known, and loved, and cherished.

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Your daddy took you out last night to go fishing, to talk about growing up and making right choices and looking for friends who show the kind of character qualities they emphasized during Van Gogh. He told you about leaders and followers and coming to us with any questions you will inevitably have. He told you of Jesus and broken things and new things and that all will be made right in the end. These truths are just beginning to take root in your heart, but hearing them again is what we need.

Us included.

20151008-DSC_7117As you leave for kindergarten, know that we used to be connected by an umbilical cord and I’ll always feel like you’re part of my body, walking around on tip toes outside of my soul. I know I’ll accidentally drop you off late sometimes; I’ll embarrass you when I kiss the top of your head; and I may have made you pick the dinosaur backpack, instead of the shark one, but know this.

I am your safe place.

And I love you so much it hurts.

5 Must-Read Books For The Rest of Your Summer

July 27, 2016

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I’m tired of taking the kids to the pool and we have one more week till school begins (whaaaat?!), so in the middle of errands this morning we stopped by the library to get out of the heat. We live in the weirdest sliver of a county that changes school districts constantly as they build out the suburbs and add another exit near us to accommodate Atlanta’s infamous traffic. Consequently, our actual library is nearly 25 minutes from us near nothing we ever go to, when libraries in closer proximity are off limits because they’re in a different county. I guess we could just pay for library cards, but who does that?! So, every couple of months we would trek out to that library and I would swear I’d never do it again when one lone book failed to make it into the car and we had to drive all the way out there just to return it later.

Thankfully, last year Emma began attending a school in another county than the one we live in and we were able to snag a library card in her name. We now have 2 libraries we LOVE within 15 minutes of us and we are in heaven – do I sound a little bit like a nerd?! Steven says I am too much sometimes with my book situation, so you’d be in good company. 😉

Because I’m always posting about books and quotes on Instagram and so many of you text me and comment asking for favorites, I thought I would share 5 of my most-loved books for this summer. I wanted to add many more, so consider this list ongoing!

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands, By Lysa TerKeurst

Cure the disease to please with a biblical understanding of the command to love. Escape the guilt of disappointing others by learning the secret of the small no. Overcomethe agony of hard choices by embracing a wisdom based decision-making process. Rise above the rush of endless demands and discover your best yes today.

It is not overly dramatic to say that this book changed my life. Lysa points to so much scripture on wisdom and the painful effects of over-commitment that I left the book knowing I needed to come up with a better plan for our family’s time. I began structuring our week differently, paying attention to emotional cues that we were simply doing too much, and then politely declined many things I was doing out of guilt. The amazing thing is not that it’s all about “no”. In fact, when you begin removing your harried schedule, you begin to actually hear the Lord speak when he says, “Hey, buy the person’s drink behind you in the drive-thru.” Or, “Hey, pray for this person.” Or, “I think she could use some encouragement. Drop something off on her front doorstep.”

7: An Experimental Mutiny On Excess, by Jen Hatmaker

American life can be excessive, to say the least. That’s what Jen Hatmaker had to admit after taking in hurricane victims who commented on the extravagance of her family’s upper middle class home. She once considered herself unmotivated by the lure of prosperity, but upon being called “rich” by an undeniably poor child, evidence to the contrary mounted, and a social experiment turned spiritual was born.
7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.

I went into this book knowing I would be convicted, but like Jen, thinking, “We are not rich! We still shop at thrift stores, we don’t own a lot of toys, we don’t have Spotify Premium. We sit through the ads every single time to save $9.99 every month.” Halfway through I began praying not only for my heart to be wrecked from its many blind spots, but also for the american church. Change for the marginalized has never been needed so badly.

Read this book if you dare. There were some reviews that Jen’s tone of voice bothered them in the writing, but I found it honestly refreshing. I’d also like to mention this was written several years ago and you can look now at where Jen is and see that God did not stop with 7 for Jen, but continued a great work. Her ministry in Ethiopia is amazing. 

Image-IIHope Heals, by Jay and Katherine Wolf

“Katherine and Jay married right after college and sought adventure far from home in Los Angeles, CA. As they pursued their dreams, they planted their lives in the city and in their church community. Their son, James, came along unexpectedly in the fall of 2007, and just 6 months later, everything changed in a moment for this young family. On April 21, 2008, as James slept in the other room, Katherine collapsed, suffering a massive brain stem stroke without warning. Miraculously, Jay came home in time and called for help. Katherine was immediately rushed into micro-brain surgery, though her chance of survival was slim. As the sun rose the next morning, the surgeon proclaimed that Katherine had survived the removal of part of her brain, though her future recovery was completely uncertain. Yet in that moment, there was a spark of hope. Through 40 days on life support in the ICU and nearly 2 years in full-time brain rehab, that spark of hope was fanned into flame.”

I read this book in a matter of days. I cried, laughed, and felt inspired to allow God to redeem my own broken story. You will truly feel left with hope after you read this book!

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Surprised By Oxford, by Carolyn Weber

Surprised by Oxfordis the memoir of a skeptical agnostic who comes to a dynamic personal faith in God during graduate studies in literature at Oxford University.

Carolyn Weber arrives at Oxford a feminist from a loving but broken family, suspicious of men and intellectually hostile to all things religious. As she grapples with her God-shaped void alongside the friends, classmates, and professors she meets, she tackles big questions in search of Truth, love, and a life that matters.

From issues of fatherhood, feminism, doubt, doctrine, and love, Weber explores the intricacies of coming to faith with an aching honesty and insight echoing that of the poets and writers she studied. Rich with illustration and literary references, Surprised by Oxford is at once gritty and lyrical; both humorous and spiritually perceptive. This savvy, credible account of Christian conversion and its after-effects follows the Oxford liturgical calendar as it entertains, informs, and promises to engage even the most skeptical and unlikely reader.

If you only have time to read one of these books on my list, make this one it! It is long, but do not be daunted by it. I wish I could buy everyone a copy.

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

I couldn’t leave here without including a fun novel for you to devour in three days. I have loved and read everything Liane Moriarty has written, a brilliant Australian writer with the inner dialogue of a woman completely figured out. I swear I read her books and think, “Someone has thought that too?!”  I actually read this one a couple summers ago, but it is my favorite by her and such a fast, completely indulgent read, you need to get it out with a margarita by the pool.

What are some great reads you’d recommend?! I’m looking for some great fiction picks, as I tend to stay within non-fiction unless I find an author I love.  Is Where’d You Go Bernadette any good?! Spill!

P.S. Our detailed, homeschool curriculum list. And the perfect journal.

Hey, I’m back!

July 25, 2016

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been 2 years since I’ve written on this blog and now I’m here again writing from my pajamas in my bed while everyone is soundly asleep. So much has changed that it almost feels like a different person is typing out these sentences. Yet, the core of who I am and Who I was made for, is still deeply the same. For that, I’m ever grateful.

I hardly know where to begin in updating you all! That’s a good thing, I think, as I left writing in 2014 feeling spent and empty of words. Little did I know how long of a break I would need, but much healing has taken place since then, and also more pain than I knew I’d be asked to walk through. It’s not cancer or surgery or anything you can start a GoFundMe page about. (I have people close to me that have walked that road, though, and oh how my heart aches for that kind of pain.) But I am finding peace with the fact that sometimes we’re asked to go through things that will never get made completely right till heaven. That our names will be mocked and scorned and lied about and yet, we are called to peace. I have found comfort in the glorious work of Christ on the cross and the promises of His redemption. And in that, I rest my case.

That sounds really spiritual, but mostly it means that I cried a lot in the bathroom and in church services this past year and I went to counseling and I searched the scriptures and I prayed and I surrounded myself with people who were the best kind of people. People who love Jesus. People who are humble. People who prayed me through hard things. People who fed our family when I was going to hand everyone frozen waffles. People who had us over for holidays. And people who showed up when it wasn’t fun to show up.

When you look close enough, it’s been really amazing.

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I feel rusty trying to get out what’s on my heart, but hopefully over time I’ll find my wheels and you’ll stay with me for the ride. There have been so many other good things in the last 2 years that I would be remiss not to mention them. We had another baby, and he has rocked our world. His hair unexpectedly turned sandy blonde and he has these deep, dark brown eyes that everyone mentions when we go out. His smile is juicy and ornery and turned on for charm. No longer can we really eat out, but he will wave at everyone in public and say “Hallo!” like he’s running for mayor. We named him Hugh and it is perfect.

The kids are healthy and have spent the last couple of months on a swim team with their friends. Poor Hugh wanted to jump in so badly all season, but we told him it would only be another 4 years before he could be on the team. Ha! The exercise has been wonderful for everybody. While the kids practiced I would often take Hugh around the lake for a run and later in the season I bought tennis rackets from the thrift store and taught the kids how to play. It’s too hot now to even think of going outside after 11am, so allow me a moment to just reminisce on those memories from earlier in July. 🙂 I think we have all loved the routine of getting up every morning and having somewhere to be and it’s kept our short summer running smoothly before the routine of school mornings begin.

School begins NEXT week for us. So crazy early, but in a way I’m glad. It is simply scorching out and there’s not much we can do about it. Continuing with my theme from the last 2 years, I’m taking a break from homeschooling this year and will only have Hugh at home with me. Part of me is so sad to not have all day with my kids, the other part is so happy they get to have this experience. Emma absolutely loved last year at the school and we adored her classmates and her teacher, so we are giving it a go with all three and seeing what happens. For those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram, the school is a language immersion model, so it’ll be exciting to see them pick up German. {Several of you have asked questions about why we chose that language and more about language immersion, so I plan on sharing a post soon answering your questions.)

We have almost reached two years in this rental house, which is crazy to think about when it feels like we just moved here. It has been nice not to unpack and repack and to have someone else completely take care of our yard. We have a pool just a short walk across the street and aside from the fact we have no yard, it’s been so perfect for us. I still long to have a place I can paint again and renovate and put my love into, but we decided that launching my businesses this year (I’ll share more on that this week!) was where our focus should be and that adding another big project wasn’t a good idea. See, we are learning from our mistakes!

The kids are about to wake up and I need to sign off, but I wanted to let you all know that I added a few of the posts I wrote on my photography website below. I have stopped doing photography and shut down that site (bittersweet! but it was time). Please bear with us this week as we update this site, our email subscription, and get things more organized for you. And I can’t thank you all enough for always saying kind things on Instagram asking me to come back and write. You made me feel loved and needed and look what happened. I’m back!!!

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I’m so glad to be here.