baby reading.

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I’ve been working away, in fits and starts, at my adoption reading this summer. After our home study, I fully intend to skim through Secrets of the Baby Whisperer again — my go-to book on newborns and scheduling with my first two kids. And when the baby comes, whenever that is, I’ll dig into What to Expect the First Year.

But my favorite books to read when expecting a baby are Anne Lamott’s memoirs. I believe David’s aunt recommended Operating Instructions when I was pregnant with Judah. It was the middle of summer when I first read it; we’d just moved 600 miles north to Lititz, Pennsylvania, for David to start seminary, and I was 7 months pregnant.

By then I was getting almost zero sleep at night and I’d waddle, bleary-eyed, into the living room at 2:00 a.m. and curl up in our big, ugly hand-me-down recliner and read Operating Instructions, which is Lamott’s memoir of her son’s first year of life, written journal-style. I laughed and cried my way through it and became more and more happy about being a mom.

Seven years later I’m “expecting” in an entirely different way, and I stumbled upon Some Assembly Required at the library, which Lamott wrote with her son Sam about her grandson’s first year, and which I like even better. She takes a trip to India in the book, which is just icing on the cake.

Anne Lamott is truly one of the best writers I’ve found. While her style is completely different, her word pictures (in my humble opinion) at times rank up there with Barbara Kingsolver or Wendell Berry. She’s a master story-teller.

I’m not at all the type of person to want to meet famous people, but Anne Lamott is one of those authors I feel I’d love to sit down and chat with. Preferably in her quirky house, drinking tea and surrounded by her pile of dogs and cats. She’s so very down to earth.

We have our theological differences, but she makes me look at God and my faith in a new way. I love the way she talks about her church. Most of all, I love her honesty. Very few people have the courage to be as honest as she is in her writing. It makes you squirm sometimes and get embarrassed for her, but it’s also like a huge sigh of relief because deep down you know, I’ve been there. I’m just like that. That kind of honesty changes you, frees you up a little bit to take off the mask and just be yourself.

She makes me want to go deeper in my writing. I think I’m fairly good at being honest, but I’m also still good at self-protecting. I want to push myself to use my words sparingly and creatively, and keep trying and trying until I find the right fit. I want to paint better word pictures. Bird by Bird is a great book of her advice about learning to write.

If you do pick up Operating Instructions, be warned that there’s a whole lot of swearing. Some Assembly Required is a bit more mellow. Both are gems.

As I reread her books on motherhood and grandmotherhood and laugh and cry all over again, mostly I want to stop and notice. I want to remember everything. I want to be careful to be honest about the terrible difficulty and exhaustion of raising little people, and also revel in the swell of wonder and joy that is truly unmatched in this world.

five year old.

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Our baby girl turned five this week.

The other night David and I were watching home videos, laughing in delight and astonishment at our one-year-old Amelie toddling around, mostly hairless, with her big brown eyes and chubby fingers and toes, jabbering a mile-a-minute at the world around her.

And now today she’s tall and slim, all long brown legs and bashful smiles in the presence of strangers. She’s losing that baby-girl innocence, she’s starting to notice looks exchanged and laughter at her cuteness and it embarrasses her.

I watch her watching other girls, noticing their hair and clothes and shoes, and then sizing herself up, wondering where she fits. I ache inside, wanting to spare her years of comparing, of feeling not good enough. But I also know that it’s through this struggle she’ll learn exactly who God created her to be, that she’ll discover it’s the cacophony of the world that doesn’t measure up, and that she’ll find her rest in Him.

Our Amie girl is five now, but she still fits perfectly, curled up, in my lap. And when we nap on my bed our arms tangle together and her silky hair fans across my neck as she burrows into my shoulder. She tells me, “Mommy, even when I grow up I’ll still take naps with you.”

I listen in wonder at the questions she ask, at the conversations we’re beginning to have as she interacts with the world around her. Mostly I just want to always notice her, to work hard to get to know her, to never assume I have this living, breathing, complex creature all figured out just because I gave birth to her.

I ask God for grace to stretch into this adventure of mothering, rather than digging in my heels at the challenges. I ask Him for patience and wisdom and lots and lot of laughter.

Happy five years old, sweet Amie girl. I love being your mom.

the yard.

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I’ll finish our one-year house tour with the yard. I won’t lie, our front yard looks a little scrappy. It’s shady, which is nice, but the downside is there isn’t much grass. Also, that red gravel path really is the pits. Small children love to pick up the rocks and transfer them to various other parts of the front yard so that the whole thing has a kind of speckled effect. But isn’t the porch nice and inviting? Don’t worry front yard, some day we’ll give you some love.

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As you know, we’ve put our efforts into the backyard this year. And by “we” I mean “David.” We did hire a company to put the privacy fence in, but otherwise he’s cleared the yard almost completely himself (and has had more run-ins with poison ivy and taken more rounds of steroids than we can count).

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I love our tangle of garden these days. I head out, barefoot, to pick fresh basil for pesto and mint for tea. Something new and exciting appears on my kitchen counter nearly every day. Today it’s beet greens, which will go in tomorrow’s smoothies.

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The side yard was completely overgrown when we moved in.

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And the playhouse. Not getting much use these days thanks to the boiling heat, but it’s time will come again in the fall.

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Our friend Spencer designed an amazing covering/pergola/shelter for this concrete slab. I’m not sure when the project will begin but one day it’ll be an epic place to hang out.

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Here’s a year’s worth of yard transformation:

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We love our backyard!

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kids’ room, etc.

I’ll finish up the inside with the hallway, bathroom, and kids’ room. You get one look inside our current bedroom which is in-process.

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The bathroom door is in the hallway to the left, linen closet straight ahead with a bedroom on either side.

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Here’s the bathroom, which other than having a ventilation fan installed, has remained untouched (well, I mean, except for lots of cleaning).

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View looking back toward the kitchen.

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Our bedroom at the exact time of this blog post, looking a little sparse and a little messy, which goes to show we are real people. We never did settle into the room this year — hang curtains (which have literally been in the closet waiting to be hung since we moved in), make it cozy. But that’s turned out to be fine since our room is moving anyway. I’m excited to begin getting this one ready for a baby, and in the meantime it will make a great play/Lego room.

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Last but not least, Judah and Amie’s room. We left the original paint color and still like it. The kids’ room is small but cheerful and at this point, sharing a room is still going great.

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My cousin Allison has these Ikea spice racks hanging in her boys’ rooms for books and I fell in love with the idea.

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The walls around Judah and Amie’s bed are their space to hang whatever they want. Both kids love having a little place where they can nest and new pictures are hung regularly.

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If you wonder how this room stays neat, I keep half of the toys stored in the attic at all times. This spring I went to work organizing them up there in a very accessible way, so when the kids want something, they know they have a send a toy (or set of toys, like “Thomas trains”) up to get another set down. Having fewer toys helps them be able to clean up their own room in under 5 minutes, and it’s always fun to switch things out. Also, Lego’s stay out of the bedroom.

This part of the house has undergone the least transformation, but here are some before photos just for fun:

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And here we are today!

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Next we’ll move to the outside! Happy 4th!

kitchen and dining room.

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The kitchen has probably been changed the least since we moved in. It’s old, but perfectly functional. David removed some of the cabinet doors when we bought the house, painted the walls, and we bought the island, but other than that, this is basically how the kitchen looked.

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It’s a tiny kitchen but has lots of light and there’s a good-sized pantry. I have a whole Kitchen board on Pinterest with ideas for our kitchen remodel, which may or may not happen in a year or so. I don’t think we’ll take out any walls; just update the cabinets and light fixtures, backsplash, and maybe some appliances. It’s fun to dream.

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I’m taking this photo standing in the dining room. We love that the kitchen and dining room are connected, and that we can stand fixing dinner at the island and hang out with folks sitting around the table. It’s one of our favorite features of our house.

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You may remember our white-washed hutch. Once we moved in we realized it kind of dominated the dining room, plus posed a continual hazard since someone leaning back in their chair could hit the glass doors. So we sold it on Craigslist, and after much searching, found a sideboard we love at HomeGoods.

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We had plans to hang some shelves over the sideboard because we like the look of open shelving, but we’ve come to really enjoy the simplicity of that gray wall. I’m telling you, it’s a constant challenge to make our space homey but also keep it uncluttered.

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Since the dining room was originally a bedroom (with a wall to the kitchen), there’s a good-sized closet. It’s been a junk closet all year, but now is in the process of becoming a combined extra pantry and homeschooling closet. We currently use the sideboard for craft supplies.

Here’s our kitchen/dining progression . . .

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And here we are today!

living room.

This week is our one-year anniversary of buying a house! Can you believe it? We own a house! Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s real.

I thought I’d celebrate with a little updated house tour throughout the rest of the week. Let’s start with the inside, shall we?

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Some of you have asked about how the layout works. When you open our front door, you’re in the living room, I took this photo from our “entryway,” and straight ahead is our tiny hallway with two bedrooms to the right, and the bathroom (that’s a closet door directly ahead). Head into the hallway and turn left and you’re in the dining room.

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Here’s a post about color-coordinating our bookshelves. We’ve never regretted it. My grandma made the green quilt and it’s been in storage our whole married life. I’m so happy I get to see it every day now.

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The door on the left leads to the soon-to-be-master-bedrom and on the right is the kitchen/dining room. So the house makes one big circle.

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Since we’re in the living room, here’s a sneak peek of our master bedroom. Hopefully we’ll make our room switch in the next couple weeks.

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My parents gave us that amazing painting and frame for our tenth wedding anniversary; the watercolor is from a photo David took in South Asia, and my dad made the frame out of reclaimed wood from our backyard. We’ll treasure it always.

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I saw this book-page wreath in The Nesting Place and knew I had to have one. Only problem: crafts of any kind terrify me. I practically forced myself to drive to Hobby Lobby, spend 10 bucks on a cheap straw wreath and a hot glue gun, then try my hand at something new. In the end, it was a very relaxing, fun experience. David and I laughed choosing which books to tear up. I made the wreath for our bedroom, but we like it here for now.

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Here’s our living room when we bought the house. And here’s the progression over this year …
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I’ll be back tomorrow with our dining room and kitchen!

healthy snacks.

Our two-month gluten and dairy-free experiment went well. We noticed some positive changes in health and behavior. However, a negative is that we discovered we were eating a ton more processed food: crackers, cereal, energy bars, gluten free cookies.

So this month we’re trying to move back toward what I’ve decided to call a “sane diet.” Not one hundred percent gluten-free or dairy-free (although I have to be totally gluten free), but instead focusing on eating real food. Food we make from scratch. Food whose ingredients we can pronounce. Food without lots of added sugar. The kids can have bread sometimes, but right now it’s David’s homemade sourdough bread.

Then when we’re out we let them out whatever is served. We’re going to try this method for a couple months and evaluate.

My focus for now is on healthy snacks. Snacks are hard: not just for my kids, but for me. I’ll be the first to say I’d way rather reach for a rice cake with peanut butter or a Pamela’s Whenever bar than veggies or fruit. David and I both know snacks are our weak spot, so we’re trying to work on keeping them out of the house. And if I want something sweet I can pick a recipe from one of our grain-free cookbooks.

There’s no magic way I’m going about this except for telling the kids that when we have snacks at home, they’re healthy snacks. Yes they hate it. Yes they complain. But in the end, if they get hungry enough, they eat it.

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I found this snack tray idea somewhere online, and so far it has worked great. Okay, not great in that Judah and Amie eat everything in here, but great in that this is their morning snack option. I make up a batch of hummus at the beginning of the week, then chop veggies for the snack tray around 9:00 a.m. and keep it in the fridge. There’s no arguing, no requests for me to make a snack; this is it.

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Afternoon snack has been great fun. I got this sliced apple idea from Against All Grain, and the kids love it (so do I). Amie and I like crunchy almond butter spread on apples and Judah prefers peanut butter (just make sure your nut butters don’t have corn syrup or added sugar). They add their own raisins. And yes, sometimes I’m definitely too lazy to make fancy slices and the apples still taste great.

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Here’s today’s snack tray with grapes and almonds. I always wondered why my stomach hurt after eating almonds, but then learned about soaking them to remove the phytic acid. Now I feel great and since they’re a little softer, Amie gobbles them up by the handful. The other positive side of snack trays is that David and I end up munching on whatever’s left over at the end of the day instead of picking up chips and salsa.

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A friend sent us this cookbook: Eat Like a Dinosaur, and Judah especially has latched onto it. There’s a story you can read to kids about why it’s important to eat healthy (or to “eat like a dinosaur”) and somehow it just clicked with him. He still asks for treats, but is much more positive about eating veggies and fruit than before. Lots of great ideas in the book too: it has transformed our lunch habits. But more on that another time!

I hope all this isn’t overwhelming. I’m just trying to take baby steps, but take them consistently. A friend told me she made the goal of making afternoon snack a healthy snack for her kids. That’s perfect. Just start somewhere, one thing at a time and don’t feel bad about not overhauling everything at once. It’s way better to make a small, lasting change.

Happy snacking!

adoption training.

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David and I attended an all-day adoption training at our agency Friday. When we left, our heads were spinning with information, but it was so valuable. We learned details about everything from our home study to how to fund an adoption to the legal process involved in adopting a child. We heard stories from birth parents and adoptive families and had our eyes opened to a myriad of issues surrounding the adoption journey.

We’re so thankful for an adoption agency that is organized and left with all our questions answered, as much as possible.

Basically we learned that adoption is one great adventure into the unknown. We haven’t done adoption, but we have done adventure, and so this feels like the next natural chapter in the Gentino family story.

Our kids are doing some adoption training of their own these days: Amie can be found at various points throughout the day with a baby doll in tow, asking questions about diapering and swaddling and feeding. I’m telling you, this child was born to be a big sister.

Judah considers whether he’d prefer a baby boy or a girl, and the list of things he wants to teach our baby is ever-growing, from Star Wars to Lego’s to swimming.

If you’re curious about where we fall in our adoption process, here’s the checklist:

Preliminary application
Informational meeting
Formal application
Adoption training
Begin to raise funds for adoption
Home Study
Approval
Complete a family profile, video and photo book
Wait to be chosen by an expectant mother

Hopefully we’ll be able to begin our home study soon. Every step we complete brings us closer to baby Gentino and we are so excited.