steve and linda’s sunroom.

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One of my favorite features of David’s parents’ house is their little side sunroom. They’ve worked hard to make it a bright, inspiring space in the last several months, and I wanted to show it to you!

I always enjoy getting inspiration from other people and want to know how they find furniture and other decorative items, especially on a budget.

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The two metal chairs have been in Linda’s family for years, and she found the wood glider at an antique store in town.

The chairs were green and looking a little worn, and the glider was pink. All the furniture got freshened up with a couple of coats of cream paint, which makes it look clean and cohesive.

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Don’t you adore the white footrest too!?

The indoor/outdoor throw pillows from Wal-Mart provide a pop of color, and the plant stand was a thrift shop find in Dewey Beach, Delaware years ago.

I’m very partial to the plant (Alocasia) with its big glossy leaves.

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The rug is from Lowe’s, and Linda found that charming mirror at Tuesday Morning, which to me is the perfect focal point of the room. I feel like if you can find one item with lots of character, everything kind of comes together around it.

Linda’s stroke of genius was that she had a vision for a great mirror but didn’t actually find it until the end!

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The vintage pie safe cupboard tucked back in the corner was a roadside find, and blue watering can is from a local nursery

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Steve brought in the knotty log scrap from the backyard, and naturally it needed a stuffed chipmunk (this is Noah’s favorite part of the sunroom).

Don’t you just want to go sit there with a cup of tea?

Great job, Steve and Linda!

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winter bookshelf for the kids (and kids-at-heart).

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Friends!! I’m so sorry this took me forever, clearly I overestimated my ability to hammer it out really quick.

I hope it’s worth the wait.

I had so much fun writing this post. Children’s books are an unending source of delight to me, and the most amazing thing is how many wonderful books I’m discovering these days that I never knew existed. I read middle grade and young adult fiction to myself for fun (books my kids may not be ready for yet), but when I find a new picture or children’s book title I like to wait to discover it with them for the first time.

C.S. Lewis said that the mark of a good children’s book is that grown-ups enjoy it too, and I whole-heartedly agree with him.

This may be controversial, but I’ll just go ahead and say it: I let my kids check character books out of the library (like Tinker Bell, Star Wars, Lego Ninjago), but I don’t read them aloud to them. They can look at the pictures, ask a sibling to read it to them, or wait ’til they can read it themselves. By now they know the rule and now don’t even ask me to anymore.

I want to spend the energy I have reading really good, well-written books to my kiddos, but I also want reading to be delightful and fun for all of us.

So because of that, I also don’t give my kids a hard time if they don’t love a book that I love. Like, for some reason, they just haven’t been fans of Robert McCloskey’s picture books, like Make Way For Ducklings, which are on every classic children’s book list I’ve ever seen. But what can I do? I try introduce lots of great books to them, and give them space to form their own opinions. If they don’t like something I’ve been known to wait several months or a year and just try it again.

My current favorite sources for kids’ book ideas are Read-Aloud Revival and Sonlight (full credit to Sonlight for helping me discover most of the chapter books on today’s list).

Here we go!

Picture books

When it comes to picture books, I’ll typically settle on an author we like and work my way through their books, getting a couple at a time. Often this involves typing the author’s name into Google to see what all they’ve written, then requesting books from the library, but sometimes I’ll just find the author at the library and flip through titles there.

The following are tried-and-true authors that ALL my kids enjoy (and me too!); they are books we have read and reread and reread again.

I’d also like to point out that this list could provide gift ideas if you want it to (see how versatile it is!?). If we’re invited to a child’s birthday party I ALWAYS give books. They’re fun for baby showers too! I still remember books that people gave us when Judah was born. Do the recipient a favor, pretty please, and write the date and a message inside. It’s such a fun treat for them to discover when they learn to read for themselves.

Sandra Boynton

Thank you to our family: Pat, Cathy, and Annie for getting us hooked on Sandra Boynton when Judah was a toddler! These are family favorite board books and all these years later, we own most of them and still read them together. Blue Hat, Green Hat is the book that all four kids delightedly learned to “read” first, and it’s their favorite. We’ve also completely memorized Pajama Time! and Hey! Wake Up! Please just do yourself a favor and read them all.

 

Mo Willems

If you are down and need a pick-me-up, look no further than Elephant and Piggie. Their friendship reminds us that life is sweet and should not be taken too seriously, and that laughter is the best medicine. We own several of them but also always have one in our stack out from the library. They’re Gabe’s current favorites, and I tell him that Waiting Is Not Easy is the book we read over and over to comfort ourselves when we were waiting for him and Noah to come into our lives. It still makes me cry to this day (and is a great gift for any adoptive parent).

The Knuffle Bunny series by Mo Willems is a little lesser known but just as brilliant as Elephant and Piggie. These three books are ones the grown-ups especially love.

Finally, City Dog, Country Frog, is a hidden Mo Willems gem in my opinion. It’s a little more serious than his other books, but a beautiful, touching story.

 

Shirley Hughes

I stumbled upon Shirley Hughes on a website once, and couldn’t believe we’d never heard of this lovely English author! You’ll enjoy her artwork just as much as her writing. We’ve almost completely worked our way through her books, and there’s lots of them (don’t you just love prolific authors?). Start with the Alfie and Annie Rose series. The Tales of Trotter Street  series is a favorite of ours too.

 

Jonathan Bean

I discovered Jonathan Bean on a Read-Aloud Revival podcast episode and love, love his books and illustrations. I’ve been buying them over time because they’re the kind of books I want to share with my grandkids one day. His stories Building Our House and This Is My Home, This Is My School, are from his childhood (he includes family photographs in the back!). It’s so fun for our kids to have a picture book that’s about a homeschooling family. We love Big Snow and At Night too.

 

Jane O’Connor

These are hands-down Amie’s favorite books. She never gets tired of them, and heads straight for the Fancy Nancy books when we arrive at the library. I enjoy them because Nancy is, well, fancy, and her mom is plain, and somehow they find ways to meet in the middle. Sounds like another mother-daughter relationship I know of!

 

Rosemary Wells

Rosemary Wells is so fun! Yoko is story about a cat who brings sushi to school for lunch, and her classmates’ response. We have Noisy Nora in our stack now, and the Max books are sweet too.

 

Kevin Henkes

Our favorite is A Weekend With Wendell. We also love Owen, and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I’ve never met a Kevin Henkes book I didn’t enjoy! But they check out like hot potatoes in our library, so I usually have to get online and request them.

 

Henry and Pawl and the Round Yellow Ball, Mary GrandPre, Tom Casmer

This isn’t a series but is a sweet story of a boy who wants to be an artist. It was given to us when Judah was born and has been a favorite for a long time (Which delightful person gave this to us!? How I wish I could remember. If it was you, please speak up! See, there’s a good reason for you to write a note in the books you gift). I think I read it twice a day to Judah for a good long stretch. It has the added delight for him now of being written by the illustrator of the Harry Potter series.

 

Jaqueline Woodson

Jaqueline Woodson’s children’s books are thoughtful and compassionate.  Her stories touch on race, poverty, incarceration, and foster care in age-appropriate ways. I first found this book after our adoption and it helped me understand what my boys were feeling just a little better.

 

Chapter books

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

This is aching yet heart-warming story about a young boy with a facial deformity named August, and his transition from being homeschooled to attending middle school. It’s a beautiful example of the power of story to take us outside ourselves and allow us to walk in other people’s shoes. I don’t typically like books written from multiple points of view, but the effect was powerful in this case. Everyone can find themselves in the pages of this novel, which I’d say is for older elementary students or middle schoolers (and high schoolers! and grown ups!). I plan to have my kids read it in fourth or fifth grade, and I look forward to discussing it with them.

 

The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson

This story about a homeless family and the stranger they meet takes place in Paris, and my kids immediately recognized the illustrator from the Little House on the Prairie books. I could see in their eyes that it was the first time poverty became personal to them, and we enjoyed this sweet story and also had lots to talk about.

 

Here’s a Penny, Carolyn Haywood

The adventures and misadventures of a young, adopted boy named Penny, set in the 1940’s. We thoroughly enjoyed this story (especially the ending), and it’s sequel.

 

The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin was a favorite from my childhood; last month my mom gave me the beautifully illustrated copy we’ve had in our family for years, and it was our December school read aloud. This is a fantastic, fast-paced story for both boys and girls; even Gabe, who’s known to get bored of chapter books, was swept up (because I mean: goblins!!!).

 

The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes

This is a book for every young girl’s bookshelf. It’s about poverty and gossip and cliques. I want to reread it with Amie as she grows up.

 

Adventures with Waffles, Maria Parr

This was a bedtime read for Judah, Amie, and me this winter. Set in Norway, it’s about best friends Trille and Lena, who find themselves in one catastrophe after another. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and also had me choked up a couple of times. Judah loved it so much he chose to talk about it in a school presentation.

 

In Grandma’s Attic, Arleta Richardson

It made me so happy that my kids enjoy this series as much as I did as a little girl. In some ways reminiscent of the Little House books, it’s full of funny stories of a girl growing up on a farm.

 

No Children, No Pets, Marion Holland

Judah, Amie, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a single mom and her kids who inherit a ramshackle hotel in Florida.

 

Father and I Were Ranchers, Ralph Moody

We just finished this true story about a family who moves to a cattle ranch in the early 1900’s for our kid’s book club. Our kids have gotten hours of imaginative play ideas from it. A couple warnings: it has a sad ending, and there’s some “cowboy language” you’ll want to skip over, but other than that it was just about perfect. Little Britches is a whole series, and Judah’s just now starting the second book, Man of the Family. I want to read it too!

 

Finally, if you’re looking for more chapter books, especially for boys, here are:

Judah’s recommendations (age 9)

Captain Nobody, Dean Pitchford

Homer Price, Robert McCloskey

The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

The Wingfeather Saga series, Andrew Peterson

 

I already have enough picture books/authors for another post, so I’ll write you another in awhile (with my track record, better plan on it being a long while). In the meantime, you know I always love recommendations!

Even if you don’t have kids, may I suggest making time for children’s books? Go sit yourself in the kids’ section of the library and pull a few off the shelf. The great ones never, ever fail to move me and lift my spirits.

Happy reading!

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a birthday post.

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Hi friends!

Yesterday was my 35th birthday! Can you believe it!? It feels like a sort of milestone. I’m halfway to 70!

I’m really not one to be sentimental about my kids getting older (I love older kids!), but yesterday I had a sort of earth-shaking revelation: I’m 35. Judah is 9 1/2. That means I’ve lived exactly one half of the life I have with him at home, before he spreads his wings and flies away.

A few moments of heart-thumping panic, and then I moved on.

Here’s to seizing the next nine years with my boy and choosing not to be consumed by guilt!

Here’s to having lived one-third of my life married to David!

Here’s to barrelling full ahead to 40!

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I always like to know how people enjoy celebrating their birthdays, so I’ve decided to tell you how I celebrated mine.

The kids and I made an executive decision this year that everyone gets their birthday off school, including Mom. So I planned the school calendar accordingly.

I know it’s not possible for everyone, but if you get the chance, it’s fun to take the day off on your birthday!

David offered to pick up breakfast treats from a bakery, but I knew in the end we’d all prefer cinnamon rolls, so I whipped up a batch Monday afternoon.

I planned to sleep in, but popped awake at 6:30 and was happy for a chance to sit with a cup of coffee and my Bible before the kids woke up.

At breakfast time, we gathered for cinnamon rolls, and I got to open my cards and gifts.

David and the kids gave me Little Dorrit in hardcover and dark chocolate, a garlic press, and a gift card to the Nickelodeon theater downtown to see La La Land (David’s love for me does not quite extend to musicals, but he’s more than happy to send me with my mom).

I got birthday money from family, which I’ll use for books and to go shoe-shopping with my brother tomorrow. Hooray!

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This year each of the kids made me something special:

“A picture of Daddy on the trampoline” from Gabe

A “light saber” from Noah

Two friendship bracelets and a card from Amie

A bookmark for my new book from Judah that says “Julia for President”

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Even better than those sweet gifts is the shower of cuddles and hugs I got all morning from my two littlest boys, who weren’t doling those out so freely this time last year.

After breakfast, David and I needed to sit and have a conversation about our school path in the fall, because if you can believe it, open enrollment practically everywhere is now.

Like a total nerd, I made a huge pros/cons list in my bullet journal, and after processing it all, we unanimously agreed to keep on the exact same path for next year: Classical Conversations homeschooling.

Homeschooling makes me tired, but it is a good, worth-it kind of tired. I’m so thankful for all well it still suits all four kiddos.

It’s good to have that decision behind us, pay next year’s deposit, and move on with life!

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We played a few rounds of our current favorite game: Rat-A-Tat-Cat, and then David headed in to work. The little kids went outside and Judah and I settled in for a game of Battleship, sharing a box of Kleenex.

Several of us have a virus this week, so I was thankful for this very lazy morning at home, and turned on Sid the Science Kid for an hour before lunch so I could sit in the sunlight on the back porch with my new book.

It’s no fun being sick on your birthday, but here’s what is fun: a 70-degree day, eight growing chickies in our basement, and the two rows of onions David planted this week.

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The other sad part of the day was Noah’s 4-year-old doctor well visit at 3:30. We dropped Gabe and Amelie at Mum-Mum’s and headed to our pediatrician in West Columbia (Judah came along for moral support). We love our doctor, but if you’ve had a four-year-old, you know that this particular check-up is just the worst because: a finger prick and four shots.

I fortified myself beforehand by stopping at the Starbucks drive-through for a tall Cascara latte (have you tried it? It is divine).

Speaking of dessert, we have a tradition of stopping for a mini milkshake from Sonic after shots, which I remind my kids of beforehand, but Noah was still a little sad. My three older kids would’ve been crying from start to finish of the check-up, but he was very mature in his sorrow, just hung his head and looked depressed in a very 12-year-old way. The wailing started when the shots started though.

Poor buddy. Does anyone else get choked up when their kids get shots?

But we did it!

A trip to the Prize Box and a milkshake was very comforting.

That was my last four-year-old check up.

Sweet Noah is in the 19th percentile for height and the 6th for weight: the little guy of the family. We think he’s pretty darn cute!!

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We had plans to go out for sushi to this wonderful hole-in-the-wall place downtown that makes tiny California rolls for kids, but since several of us are sick, we’ll save it for another time.

My parents stopped by after work with homemade chicken noodle soup (made-from-scratch noodles!!!), and it felt good to just hole up all evening and go to bed early. I think you become quite boring when you’re 35.

David and I watched the first episode of the BBC show Sherlock, and enjoyed it but probably won’t continue with the series. I can’t explain why, it’s just the way we are. The only series we’ve ever completely finished is The Wire, and we came pretty close with The Office but fizzled out, and that was years ago. If you’re wondering about me, here are the series I’ve finished: Parks and Rec (two times at least), Parenthood, and Call the Midwife.

Anyway.

I’m excited about Little Dorrit!

Word to the wise: if you’re going to tackle a big long classic novel, try to find a nice hardcover edition. It sounds shallow I know, but it truly changes everything. And I love having my very own copy to underline!

I loved this birthday: thanks to everyone for loving me and making me feel special.

It’s good to be alive!

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our additions.

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Notice I said additions, not addition. I don’t have house addition news quite yet, but we got a few other additions in the meantime.

Eight, to be exact.

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David has been wanting chickens literally since the summer we moved back from India. That’s when he developed an enthusiasm for having a backyard homestead. He decided bee-keeping may be a bit ambitious, but built our garden the month we bought our house (number one priority). The time hasn’t been quite right for chickens (number two priority).

Thankfully David’s parents, Steve and Linda, moved from Pennsylvania into our neighborhood two years ago and got chickens soon after. We lived vicariously through them for awhile, got to help out with the chores, and loved being out in their “living back yard.”

The chickens provided a source of endless entertainment for our three youngest, animal-loving kids, especially Amie. The chickens were Mum-Mum’s girls, but I think they were also her girls.

Last and best of all, we got free eggs, and they were delicious.

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Steve and Linda decided to give away their chickens for a few reasons this winter, and we were all disappointed, but Amie cried and cried.

In the weeks since, we’ve been surprised by how much we really miss having them around, and we miss their eggs.

It seems the time is finally right.

And so here we are, today, with eight two-day old chicks, who will live in our basement for a few weeks until they’re old enough to move to a coop (which David will build). We are all enamored.

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Everyone will get to name one when they’re older and we figure out their gender (any roosters have to go away because of the city regulations). We will all learn how to help take care of them. I can’t wait to teach them to eat slugs, which are prolific in our yard in warm weather. Ugh.

Amie told us, “This is the best day in my whole universe. I’m begging God not to let any of them die. Can I sleep with them tonight?”

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P.S. I know I’m running late, but I’m just about finished with my children’s bookshelf post! Happy Friday!!



winter bookshelf.

(photo credit)

Thank you, dear readers, for the all the book suggestions you’ve passed along since my last post. I always love new ideas and can’t wait to begin checking them out!

You know what, I promised you a Winter Bookshelf post, and then realized I felt largely unenthusiastic about recent novels. Never have I returned so many books to the library unfinished. Barbara Kingsolver says that she gives a book 20 pages, and if it hasn’t hooked her, she puts it aside. Life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy. To be honest, I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading backing through Jan Karon’s Mitford series.

If you read my fiction recommendations in the past, you may have noticed a general theme of unhappy endings. I realized when friends ask me for a light, fictional book to read, I often wrinkle my brow in thought to find something (most common recommendations for that genre are the Mitford books and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society).

Truthfully, I don’t read fiction for happy endings, but instead for the way the writing makes me feel. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good, satisfying ending (spoiler alert: that’s part of why A Gentleman in Moscow was my favorite novel last year), but I don’t like to sacrifice good writing and character development for an ending tied up with a bow.

At the same time, I’ve put several books aside recently because of how utterly un-redemptive they are, and how self-centered and small-minded the characters are. “Reality” does not always always equal “dysfunction.” Honestly, I find a lot of recent fiction off-putting. Good motivation to return to the classics this year.

It’s hard to strike that balance, isn’t it? Hats off to writers of fiction who manage it.

Here’s a handful of books that I have enjoyed lately, and on Tuesday, some book recommendations for the kids.

 

The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna Gaines

I smiled throughout this book, because Chip and Joanna’s writing voices sound exactly like their Fixer Upper voices. I’ve discovered that when reading non-fiction, what I want most of all is simply to hear someone’s story, and Joanna and Chip shared theirs — complete with strengths and weaknesses — in a very honest, humorous way, that had me cheering for them. David enjoyed reading about their variety of entrepreneurial ventures. A disappointment for me was the depiction of Christian faith, perhaps unintentionally, as shallow and capitalistic; little more than a baptized-balance sheet. Sometimes walking with God means blessing in business, sometimes it doesn’t.

 

The House at Riverton, Kate Morton

I’ve now read all of Kate Morton’s novels, and I enjoy them immensely. Here’s a perfect example of why I read books: though they all have a mysterious, melancholy tone, I just love the feel of her stories and her characters. I especially love her historical settings (England, around the time of World War 1 or World War II). After you’ve read a couple, they become a bit predictable, but I still find them engrossing and fun (warning: they’re really hard to put down). If you’re only going to read one of hers, my favorite by far is The Secret Keeper.

 

Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace, Sarah Mackenzie

I got this book with a Christmas Amazon gift card, and it’s now my single favorite book to recommend for homeschoolers. Maybe it’s just where I’m at in my journey; maybe it’s because Sarah Mackenzie has a bunch of kids herself, but her book was balm to my very soul right before we launched into a new semester of school. Blessedly short and to the point, it encapsulates the vision I have for our homeschool, and is full of practical, day-to-day encouragement. I plan to read it every year.

 

Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, and My Journey Towards Sanctification, Cindy Rollins

If Teaching From Rest is the top homeschooling book I’d recommend, this one’s a close second, although it’s not a how-to so much as one woman’s story: a woman who happens to have nine kids. Also a Christmas gift (admittedly picked out for myself), I devoured this memoir in a couple of days, and then starting right back at the beginning.

Cindy Rollins is a new hero to me because she embodies the kind of writing I want to do. The Author’s Note and Prologue alone are worth the price of the book. She’s well-read and smart, and yet tells her story with down-to-earth grace, honesty, and wry humor. You close the book with the impression of her as a flesh-and-blood human who makes plenty of mistakes and is still learning to find joy in her journey. My mom enjoyed this memoir very much too, which speaks to Cindy Rollins’ ability to connect with mothers in all different stages of life.

 

Bel Canto, Ann Patchett

I’m continuing to work my way through Ann Patchett’s fiction, and have just two novels left: Run and Taft. Bel Canto is unlike any novel I have read. A houseful of wealthy, powerful people from all over the world are taken hostage at a dinner party in an unnamed Spanish-speaking country.

Contrary to the initial plot-line suggests, this is actually a very slow-moving book, which gives you the panicked, monotonous, crawling-time feeling of being cooped up in a rambling mansion without hope of escape. It’s character and setting-driven. For a time in the middle I struggled to finish it, but I pressed on, trusting Patchett’s story-telling ability, and I’m so glad I did.

 

Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf

I can’t remember where I discovered this quiet book. I sat and read it in one evening and ached with the painful beauty of two lonely elderly people who try to find a life together. It’s not a happy book, but it is an insightful, well-crafted one.

 

Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted, Shannan Martin

I’ve had my eye on Shannan’s book since it was released and was excited to use Christmas money to finally get it. I enjoy reading her blog from time to time. She and her husband gave up their dream farmhouse in the country for a house in the city. Through a series of circumstances, they exchanged two well-paying careers for a job as a local prison chaplain and a life as a stay-at-home mom. They have four children, all adopted, one a 20-something ex-convict. This was a sweet, redemptive book to read after the blow of Evicted.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the pain and the needs in our country. I was touched and challenged by this one family’s story of finding freedom through serving, and I only wish this book contained more of the details. It’s told in snatches, in a bit of a non-linear, topical way, with Shannan’s thoughts on life and faith woven in.

I do love her emphasis on relationships, in their messiness and joy, as the doorway to real change, rather than simply doing a good deed to check a box. My favorite quote: “This is the way of community, where we all have something to offer and we all have something we lack.”

Thanks, friends!

On Tuesday I’ll be back with some children’s book recommendations!

 

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a new way to spend tuesday afternoons.

On Tuesdays at 1:00, my mother-in-law, Linda, comes over to sit with my kids. She reads or works while they have their afternoon room time until 3:00, then walks them two streets over to her house to play until 5:00.

Tuesday afternoons are one of God’s gifts to me in this season. For the past six months I have exercised, gone to counseling appointments, scheduled my trip to the dentist, and run errands in a blessedly quiet van.

My counselor is so great that she works herself out of a job; currently I’m seeing her once a month, which leaves many Tuesdays wide open. I guess ideally I would use those afternoons to write, but like I shared with you, recent attempts to do this have me sitting in Starbucks, drinking tea and staring blankly at my computer screen. Or even worse, browsing Pinterest and Apartment Therapy for two hours.

So this month I’m trying something different.

This week, before Linda arrived, Amelie and I scrambled to load up my purse with a stack of white paper, kids’ scissors, and scraps of dollar store stickers, then when she got here, we set out to visit our friends.

If we drive downtown south down Huger Street, we can hang a right on Taylor and find ourselves in West Columbia. Just eight minutes or so from our house, before you hit the string of restaurants and Lexington hospital on Sunset Blvd, tucked into a side street, is an apartment complex.

Our new friends from Afghanistan live there. God plopped them into our lives, literally out of the blue, last month. A friend at church spends a lot of time with refugees, and met a couple of families. One family was looking for an English conversation partner for the mom/wife, and the other some after-school tutoring for their sons.

David passed along the email and asked, “Should we meet them?” And I said “Yes!”

You may remember my New Year’s resolution of making friends with people different from me.

I had that growing feeling inside of me but looked around at my daily life and said, “Lord, can you help me with this? I don’t know where to start.”

And so David responded to our friend, and one of the Afghani families immediately invited us for dinner. All six of us.

This did not surprise us one bit. In our time spent in other countries, we’ve been enveloped by the goodness of cultures far more hospitable than our own. It has soaked into our very bones and changed us from the inside out.

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So Amelie and I pulled up to Shafiqa’s apartment on Tuesday and knocked on the sliding glass door and kicked off our flip flops as she opened it wide, beaming. She pulled us into big hugs and urged us inside. Her four-year-old daughter Ranna hopped around with glee and laced orange-coated fingers with ours to come see the big pail of cheese puffs she’d gotten into.

Shafiqa is expecting her fourth child this spring. She stays home with Ranna during the day while her husband goes to work and her two elementary-aged sons take the bus to and from school. And so her life is motherhood and laundry and cooking and boisterous children, just like mine.

Her apartment has no furniture, save a small TV stand in the corner, and a little round kitchen table. There are low cushions on the floor against the wall, which enchanted all of my children when we went over for the first time. What delighted the kids even more was the big vinyl tablecloth Shafiqa spread on the floor at dinner time, which we all gathered around, sitting cross-legged.

The plan is for me to visit Shafiqa most Tuesday afternoons for an hour and a half or so to practice her English. I text to make sure it’s good for her (it always is) or to let her know if I can’t come. Her English is limited, so I’m gathering ideas on the fly of what she wants to learn and what to focus on first. I neurotically pull out my bullet journal to record ideas, which makes her laugh.

I’m  discovering that she is an ardent student. This week we sat on the floor together and worked on English phrases (basic greetings) and some vocabulary for an hour. It’s slow going, mostly because we can’t understand one another. I downloaded an English-Pashtu app on my phone and attempted to translate sentences for her. That’s when I learned that she can’t actually read Pashtu.

She told me that in Afghanistan she was not allowed to go to school. She told me, in short words and mostly with hand motions, what the Taliban does to girls in her village who try to attend school, how glad she was to leave, to bring her children to a land where they can read and write and be free.

And then I had to somehow turn and explain to curious Amelie what all of this means.

Suddenly I understood everything, and said, “Shafiqa! Do you want to learn to read English?” and she said, “Yes!”

I said, “And then if you learn to read you can drive!” and she said, “Yes, yes!”

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You know what? There are a lot of things I can’t do, but I can teach someone to read!

Not only can I do that thing, but I enjoy doing it!

Now it’s crystal-clear in my mind. We will read and we will speak.

Mostly, I think, we will become friends. I can’t wait for next week.

You know what my seven-year-old was doing this whole time? Entertaining Ranna, making crafts with stickers, chatting, asking Shafiqa how to write her name in Pashtu. My beautiful girl, who not two hours before was sitting, crying over letters and numbers that get mixed up and turned around in her head, was just beaming and happy.

After our lesson, Shafiqa jumped up and served us fresh-made Pakoras with mint chutney. She loves that we lived in Bangalore, loved seeing photos of me in a sari and salweer kameez. Shafiqa learned Hindi by watching Bollywood movies. Her mother has spent time in India, and Shafiqa wears Indian clothing, with a simple scarf over her hair. Much like the Muslims in our Bangalore neighborhood.

She knows that I love Indian food, and so she makes it for me when I come over. Amelie, who cut her teeth on spicy masala dosa and sambar dal, gobbles it up too. She says, “Mom, I remember this Indian food!”

Too soon, the boys traipse in from school and ask in perfect English where my other kids are, why I didn’t bring them over, when they can come play at my house. We chat and Amie and I pack up and say our good-byes and promise to come next week. Then we run our errands together: Wal-Mart for an air-conditioning filter, and Grease Monkey for an oil change, with a quick, necessary stop at Dunkin’ Donuts of course. We have fun together, just the two of us.

You know that I’ve been in a bit of a tired slump lately.

I thought that what I needed was more alone time, but when I had those hours I didn’t always use them well. Sure I’d go for a run, but I’d also sit staring blankly at Starbucks, or drive to Target and Michael’s craft store to spend money I don’t need to spend. I’d coming home from my afternoons out tired and listless, not wanting to face my family and my chores.

Suddenly, like a light bulb, I realize that I don’t need more alone time.

What I need is to find the thing God wants me to do, something which will make me come alive, and do it.

In the past few months, my counselor has talked a lot to me about motivation.

She said, “Julie, commitments and relationships aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. What you need to start asking yourself is, ‘What is my motivation for doing this thing — or seeing this person?'”

We get ourselves into trouble by doing good things with bad motivation: because we feel guilty, maybe, or to impress people, or simply because we feel like we “should” do it. She asked, “How many of those things do have in your life right now? What needs to change?”

Sometimes we can have a great motivation, but it’s just plain bad timing. In this season, at least.

In another season, it may be the perfect thing.

And so, that is the long and short of how I came to spend Tuesday afternoons sitting on the carpet with my friend Shafiqa using exaggerated hand motions and short phrases and laughing a lot, and leaving her apartment with a spring in my step.

Now I want to bring one or two of my kids every single time. She adores them, and the feeling is mutual. I want so badly for them to find the joy I’ve found in making friends with people who are different from us; even if we live right here in Columbia, South Carolina, rather than in overseas. They are already doing it.

Maybe I don’t need to escape my children on Tuesdays so much as find something I’m passionate about, and bring them along.

And of course wonderful Linda says to me, “No matter how long it takes, drop them off at my place and go for your run at the end of the afternoon: I’ll just let them dig in the dirt a little longer.”

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prelude to a winter bookshelf.

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We’re full in the throes of January, and, like many of you, this is a time of year when I have to fight a little harder to be happy.

Overnight it seems that the well-lit warmth of the Christmas season gives way to a succession of cold, gray days when the very walls of this brick house seem to close in on us, and active kids cooped up too many hours wear a whole family’s stir-crazy frustration on their faces.

This results in more bickering all around (Mom and Dad included), punctuated with exasperated cries of “What were you thinking!?” (my part) and sullen blank stares (my kids’ part). Just last week the four-year-old that I thought had learned a modicum of common sense slunk into the kitchen, found a clean white washcloth in the drawer, and proceed to color the entire thing with markers. Just because.

What we all really need is to go outside. And we try to, as often as possible, whether it’s a backyard Daily Burn workout, an icy-cold walk through the neighborhood to Burger King on last Saturday’s snow day, or the 4-mile hike in the Harbison State Forest yesterday.

The thing I love about South Carolina is the handful of unseasonably warm days that plopped themselves out of nowhere into our week. We’ve thrown open the windows and pulled on t’shirts and flip flops, and curl ourselves up in patches of sunlight on the back porch and yard like cats, and the kids jump on the trampoline ’til dinner.

For these few days, all is right in the world and they remind me: cold is just a season. It will end.

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Though the days are often gray and tempers prone to flare and my depression breathes heavy over my shoulder in the winter, there’s something a tiny bit joyous about living in this dark — if I stop complaining long enough to see it — because I get to anticipate the light that I know is coming, just around the corner.

And so I burrow into it. I find things to relish, like a steaming cup of coffee that warms cold hands, the cozy moccasin slippers I found at TJ Maxx, and early-dark evenings that make my little boys fall fast asleep by 7:30.

Of course, the other thing to love about winter is books. Lots and lots of them.

Next week, a little winter bookshelf list for you; today, a quick recap of last year:

I read 91 books in 2016.

Yes, it’s true. I even surprised myself with that number. It wasn’t any sort of goal, it just kind of happened.

If you’re curious, my hands-down-favorite fictional book of the year was A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.

My favorite, and most-recommended, work of non-fiction was Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. If you decide to read it, it helped me tremendously to start with the Afterword, where Desmond explains how he researched and wrote the book. It changed the whole feel of the book for me. I also needed to take a break to read light fiction right before falling asleep at night, because that book is very heavy. Important, but heavy.

My favorite reading memory of the year was experiencing the full Harry Potter series alongside my nine-year-old, as he read them for the first time. If you’re wondering whether I’m happy with my decision to let him go ahead and read the full series at this age, I am!

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And finally, even after my resolution to get back to the classics, I read just one measly classic, Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. Though it’s a story most of us know, it’s one of my least favorite of his books. Too dark and sad.

And so I turn the corner into 2017 with a resolution to read a bit fewer books this year, and instead to read some more challenging books.

If I read one classic last year, surely I can read at least two this year, right?

I will start with Little Dorrit, by Dickens, which I began several years ago but never finished.

Aside from season 5 of Call the Midwife, a few episodes of This Is Us, and some harrowing documentaries David talked me into, I watched almost zero television last year. This of course made lots of time for reading, but I decided to begin 2017 with a change of pace, to find a couple of series to get me through these winter evenings.

Who resolves to read fewer books and watch more TV?

I’m strange, I know.

I re-watched the BBC miniseries, Bleak House (available on Netflix), which is both my favorite show and favorite Dickens novel. Contrary to my usual recommendation, you should watch the series first, then read the book. My mother-in-law told me to do this, and it kept the characters straight and made the novel that much more enjoyable for me. Now, do you think I ought to do the same with the Little Dorrit film?

Currently I’m happily immersed in a recently-discovered series, Lark Rise to Candleford (available on Amazon Prime). Has anyone else watched this? Very reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell in my opinion, especially Cranford. I’m just reaching the end of Season One, and it’s fun!

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My mom and I recently introduced Judah and Amelie to the movie Little Women (the Winona Ryder version), and they loved it Judah was initially very skeptical, but he said, “That was a great movie, Mom! I think I want to become a writer, like Jo.” Up next: Anne of Green Gables.

Okay, back to book goals.

I think I’ll read a bit more non-fiction this year, and thanks to some Christmas gifts and an Amazon gift card, I’m off to a good start. More about that coming on my winter bookshelf post.

I have a running To-Read list in my bullet journal, and I like putting it down on paper, because just by glancing at it I can try to keep some diversity in my reading habits. Too many newer novels in a row? Add something old, or something non-fiction.

I want to read Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis.

I also plan to read the Wingfeather Saga series by Andrew Peterson, which Judah got for Christmas and is currently enjoying.

My friend Betsy recommended the memoir Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, by Christie Purifoy, which is on my list.

So that means I need you guys to give me a classic and/or non-fiction recommendation (of course fiction is always appreciated too!). Any ideas?

I hope you’re enjoying some sunshine this Sunday! Hugs!



on creativity (or the lack thereof) and the bullet journal.

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Happy weekend, dear readers!

I’ve promised you a blog post about the bullet journal, but first, a confession:

I’m having a very hard time writing on the blog these days.

Oh, it’s not that I don’t enjoy writing, or that I don’t have any ideas. I do! I have two full page spreads in my bullet journal of ideas. It’s just that when it comes time to actually sit down and write, I stare at the screen and my head feels like mush. I do have the time — I can make the time. But where oh where is my creativity?

I look longingly at my DSLR camera and think how lucky I am to have it, and how much I love photography, but truthfully, I’m bored of taking photos of my kids and my house. But that’s who I’m with, that’s where I am. Every day.

Is it just me, or is it hard to create in this season of life?

I feel like it’s just me, because bloggers and writers I enjoy somehow churn out books and gorgeous photos in the midst of changing diapers and making dinner and homeschooling or attending PTA meetings.

They tell me in their introductions that they seized every sleep-deprived scrap of time they could find to write, late at night or at 5:00 am and in between loads of laundry.

Truly, I am baffled by this skill. I do not have it.

Do you know what I do when I’m sleep-deprived?

I sleep!

I love my children, but right now, I feel like I’ve actually lost brain cells at the end of every single day. I have just enough energy to help David tuck the kids in bed (bonus points if I don’t snap at anyone in the process), do my twenty minutes of stretching exercises, and then collapse onto the sofa with a book or a BBC drama.

I’m just plain tired.

I know what you’re thinking: Take a break, Julie! Stop over-analyzing everything! Your hands are full: this isn’t the season for writing and creating.

And I know that you’re exactly right. But can I just say that the truth of that fact is a bitter pill to swallow? I want to write. I ache to write. I love it and it’s an outlet and it makes me happy. I love this little blog. I love taking pictures and trying to get better at doing it. I feel so thankful that I get a tiny online space to actually practice creating, and that you respond!

The truth is, some days I feel plain resentful that my life is so full and exhausting that it leaves little margin for creating.

That is very wrong of me, and I’m asking God to change my heart. I am truly living my dream, in a charming little house full of children and a husband who loves me and stacks and stacks of books. I am not carting water in pails or plucking chickens for dinner or mending clothes by candlelight.

I have hours to sit and educate my kids and I have money to shop and cook healthy meals. I’m embarrassed to admit that I even have a house cleaner who faithfully comes each month and leaves us with a sparkling-clean house. I have evenings to read and no one is waking me in the middle of the night to nurse.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I guess to confess that in my deepest heart, I struggle with contentment. I have more to be thankful for than I could ever list here, and yet I’m selfish with my time and energy. I don’t want to give them away to my family, I want to hoard and collect enough moments to write without interruption — whenever inspiration strikes. I want to be a hermit.

It’s hard to make myself come back again and again to the blog when my brain hurts. It’s hard to accept “good enough” when I want “brilliant.” Does that make sense?

This post is not punctuated with pretty pictures because I’m too tired to take pictures.

This post is a little scattered because I’ve had a dozen interruptions while writing it, including a four-year-old who’s currently sitting on the arm of my chair, asking to “press buttons.”

So we’ve established that creativity isn’t exactly working for me these days. You know what is working?

My bullet journal!

Now that I finish this long rant I have to smile because when I first saw blogs and YouTube video describing the bullet journal, I thought:

Eew. No. Too sterile. What about space for rambling thoughts and quotes? What truly creative spirit could possibly consolidate their life into dry bulleted lists?

Ha.

Now I’m eating my words.

Journaling is not what I need right now. Who has time for journaling!?

Bulleted lists are exactly what I need right now!

I’m not going to describe for you how to bullet journal, because there are those who have done it wonderfully. There are two posts David and I followed to get started: this one from the official Bullet Journal website, and one from the Lazy Genius Collective. You can’t do better than to read their posts thoroughly as you begin.

So why do I love my bullet journal so, so, so much?

I’m so glad you asked! Ready? Here we go:

 

1. Everything is in one place.
And I mean everything. Monthly calendar. Meal plans. Grocery list. Blog ideas. Christmas gift lists. Homeschool ideas.

Before I had dozens of scraps of paper, floating in my purse, taped to the fridge, drifting from basket to basket in my house.

I constantly felt like I was forgetting things, searching for lists, trying to remember what today’s priorities are.

Now I keep my one notebook close by throughout my day and carry it in my purse so I can always access it, always keep my notes in one spot. I guess that leads me to clarify: I take my bullet journal out in public, so it includes anything I wouldn’t mind someone finding and reading. It’s not a diary. But it is a faithful record of my days.

The daily lists help me see exactly how much I get done every day (and it’s a lot!), they allow me to remember that date night to Barnes and Noble I had with Judah. They’re sort of an in-your-face, glass-half-full reminder. Yes, it was a crazy week and I never got around to writing that blog post, but David and I got to take a sushi class!

I’ll give you one example of how it’s dramatically helped me, and that’s with meal planning and grocery shopping. Look at the photo at the top of this post: when I start a new spread I always fold a middle sheet of paper in half. The front lists dinners for the week, an exercise log, and homeschool ideas specific to that week. On the back fold is my grocery list. It is always with me.

Before heading to the grocery store I simply rip out that little flap of paper and take it with me.

Do you know how the moment you come home from Publix with your arms overflowing with groceries your child reminds you that you’re out of peanut butter?

Well guess what, you now have a running grocery list, so you drop everything, grab your bullet journal, start your next Grocery List, and jot down “peanut butter.” Of course I’m still frustrated as heck with myself for forgetting, but I take it in stride because it’s right there written down, I’ll see it today and tomorrow and someday soon my child will have his peanut butter.

If I’m sitting at the kids’ swim practice and a parent says, “We had the most amazing chicken enchiladas for dinner last night,” I grab my bullet journal and jot down the idea for next week’s dinner plan. (Or that Spelling curriculum I’d like to research, or the book I wanted to request from the library.)

Does this make sense? I guess you could say since they’re always in front of me, my meal plans and grocery list are a constant work in progress, so if David texts to say he stopped at Whole Foods, do I need anything, I know exactly what to say. And on Grocery Day, rather than staring at Pinterest in despair, wondering what on earth to feed my family, I take just a couple minutes to complete my lists, and I’m off.

You don’t need to do this, but I have a Go-To Meals spread in my bullet journal that I can work from.

All of this reduces my stress considerably.

 

2. It’s impossible to mess it up.
Because the bullet journal is just a notebook I’ve created, there is nothing to mess up! If a page looks ugly, I just finish it up and turn to a new page and vow to use better handwriting. As much as I adore sparkling, gold-foiled Yearly Planners, I’d end up wasting gobs of space, year after year, because none was ever exactly what I needed.

But my bullet journal is exactly what I need. Some days I use it a ton, other days I don’t touch it. Some days Amelie and I sit and doodle cute pictures next to the date, some days it’s sparse. There’s no pressure to make it look a certain way (stop looking at Pinterest, now! Unless you love to doodle, and then have at it). No space is wasted.

In case you’re wondering, I keep almost everything in my Daily and Monthly lists and just add page numbers to the Index as I record important information. I’ve made a few extra lists, for Gardening tips and Book ideas, but I rarely refer to them. The Daily List is for me.

An example of the bullet journal’s flexibility I tried the Bullet Journal website method of planning out my month in a list for two months, and didn’t love it. I missed those squares. So in January, I made squares! And they’re just perfect.

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3. It helps me feel less scattered.
So here’s exactly what I do if I really have it together: I spend a few minutes before bed at night starting the next day in my bullet journal. I write the date and the weather, then what’s for dinner directly under it. I write appointments, migrate any tasks I’ve left undone.

But if I don’t have it together, I wake up in the morning, pour my coffee, and spend about 5 minutes writing out those things. It’s like emptying my head, in the most pleasant of ways.

Then I pull out my Bible and read, and I can focus much, much better. I’m not worried about forgetting my to-do list, because I’ve already started it. It’s right next to me.

I guess you can say that it feels like starting the day on the offensive, with a plan in place.

 

4. It’s pretty.
Finally, I just think it’s pretty. Despite the fact that I no longer need to buy a Planner, I like nice things, especially nice bookish things. I won’t lie, having a good-quality, clean notebook and pen for my bullet journal makes a difference.

I like the feel of it in my hands. I like the gray cover and the silky smooth pages. I like that those pages are numbered for me. I love my $3 pen that doesn’t smudge, ever. The last thing I bought is a tin of book darts to mark my most-used pages (for me that’s the Future Log and Monthly Calendar), and I think those are pretty too.

Do you need all of this to Bullet Journal? Absolutely not.

But David and I have found them a worthwhile investment in feeling organized.

I wish he’d write his own bullet journal blog post, but he never will.

Suffice it to say, he’s a convert too.

Neither of us will return to more conventional calendars or planners.

One day, I’ll really write again. For now: I’ll bullet journal!

There. Now don’t you want to try it!?

Happy Saturday!!!

 



noah is four!!

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Dear Noah,

On New Year’s Eve we celebrated your fourth birthday and discovered you have grown two whole inches since we adopted you.

When you came into our lives 20 months ago, you were simultaneously the most charming child we’d ever met, and you were angry and out of control. You constantly stopped strangers in delight just by your smile and your zest for life. But you also grabbed other kids’ toys and threw them in the trash out of spite. You hit your grandparents if they didn’t give you what you wanted. You knew very few words, but “no” was one of them.

You had a smile that lit up the whole room, but you wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes.

You and your brother Gabe hardly acknowledged one another’s existence.

Every.single.thing. was a battle. You were frustrated. We were frustrated.

You had the fiercest will of all our kids and tested every limit. Again and again and again.

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And yet. Your thick black eyelashes and ambling run, your gentleness with babies and animals, your exuberance over bugs and rocks and “snow-cones” (pine cones) melted our hearts. You could outlast your three older siblings on a hike (except when you didn’t want to hike. then you became a load of bricks). You made our whole family get outside and your enthusiasm for God’s great big world taught us how to live in wonder.

And then, little by little, you learned to obey. You began to stop hitting and stop grabbing (or grab less at least). You learned to come the first time we called, but you sure stomped those feet. You still argued with just about everything we said.

We kept at the discipline through your bad attitudes because we love you so much and we wanted to see the real you, the Noah that God created. We knew — through life’s many painful lessons — that living for yourself is a prison, and it’s only through obedience that you’re set free.

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Today you are four and I stare at you because you’re a different child.

The transformation has been in fits and starts, two steps forward and one back. Until lately. Nowadays it seems way more “starts” than “fits.” Not only do you obey, but more and more you obey the first time, with respect. The stomping and temper is giving way to wreaths of smiles and shrieks of laughter.

You still test the limits. You still have to learn to obey. But we also want to guard that fierce stubbornness that, when channeled properly, will get you far in life. You are so very loyal to the people you love. You’re compassionate and empathetic, patting your sister gently if she’s crying and saying, “I’m sorry, sweetie.”

Where at first there was indifference or just neediness, you now throw yourself at your Dad and me for hugs. You tell us you love us, words I at times honestly despaired of ever hearing from you.

You say “please” and “thank you.”

Where there was once sulking at family worship, your heart is now becoming tender toward Jesus. You say, “Mommy, Jesus gave me a clean heart.”

Last week we drove to the library and you said, “Where’s my Daddy? I want him to come too because I love him.”

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The best way I know to describe you today, at four years old, is this story from the little family birthday party we had for you and Papa on Saturday. You opened your gifts and we discovered that your grandparents and cousins accidentally gave you the exact same toy.

As you tore the wrapping paper off the second gift you said, “Oh wow! Here Gabe, this is for you!”

That’s just the kind of person you are.

We love you so much, Noah.

Love,

Mommy and Daddy

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what worked and what didn’t in 2016.

Hello my friends!

I hope your Christmas was great!

We had a wonderful holiday weekend, and then I woke up on Monday and wanted every single decoration taken down, stowed away in the attic, pine needles swept, and our house organized.

As you well know, I have a much lower threshold for clutter nowadays. All the kids have to purge some toys before Christmas or birthdays, but we did even more on Monday, and reorganized their rooms to accommodate new things without losing dozens of Lego pieces throughout the house (which David and I inevitably step on).

Now our home is back to normal and everyone’s at peace and getting excited about Noah’s birthday tomorrow!

Last year I wrote a post about what worked and what didn’t for me in 2015 (you can read it here). It was so fun and helpful to think back over my year in that way that I decided to do it again.

I like to end on a positive note, so I’ll start with:

What didn’t work in 2016:

1. Not taking our kids out on dates
For years we’ve had lofty goals of doing some sort of weekly date night with one of our kids, or letting them take turns staying up late to have time with the two of us, but we neglected to make it happen with any consistency this year.

That’s something we’ve begun to change in the last couple months, with sweet results. It’s easy to get in a rut of our weekly schedule and to-do list, to begin looking at our children as a herd. It means a lot to them when one of us grabs one of them and goes to Barnes and Noble or to the river with a Sonic milkshake, and we realize that it means a lot to us too.

Some weeks are just too busy for dates, so we’re trying to be intentional to take a kid or two to run errands and use the opportunity to give them our attention.

It’s a chance to show all of us that we see our kids as individuals and we’d like to continue getting to know them better.

 

2. My stomachaches
I have chronic problems with my stomach, and that’s still hard. I was diagnosed with IBS years ago, and finally had a doctor shoot straight with me this year and tell me I most likely did irreparable damage to my stomach taking antibiotics for 16 months in India.

I can obsess over finding answers, trying different elimination diets and natural healing methods. Certainly avoiding some foods or eating out too much helps, but then I’ll suddenly be sick after eating something perfectly healthy. Lately I’ve tried instead to find a place of acceptance. My body is broken and will be in some way or another until I go to be with Jesus. I’m careful what I eat and drink, I’m trying to find healthy ways to deal with stress, and sometimes my stomach still gets really sick.

It reminds me that some people live with chronic pain and illness way worse than mine, and I have much to be thankful for.

 

3. Crowds, groups, coffee dates
If you’ve been reading the blog this year, you know about my panic disorder, which has made social settings (even small groups and one-on-one) very difficult. I quit so many of my commitments, things that used to be fun and bring me joy, but suddenly became distressing and impossible.

Anxiety and depression are things that affect my life on a daily basis. I work hard to find ways to manage them both and discover which areas of life I can pour into while I’ve got limitations in others. But even with medication, counseling, and exercise, they are a constant background noise.

Just like stomachaches, I’m learning to accept that this is my reality.

Some days are really hard, and many are just fine. I’m finding ways to give thanks and fight for joy, and God truly helps me. He’s meeting me in this hard thing, teaching me slowly but surely through it to live one hour at a time, to turn to Him and ask for help all throughout my day. He’s teaching me that He’s just as worthy of worship whether I’m having a good mental health day or a bad one.

I pray more than anything that this suffering makes me a kinder, more compassionate person, rather than resentful and isolated.

I pray that God shows me day by day what He’s calling me to do, and that I let go of the rest and live in peace.

 

4. Having too many friends that are like me
Don’t get me wrong — I have wonderful friends and family, who have both loved me well and graciously given me space in a difficult year. But I really long for diversity in my friendships. I miss living overseas — where many other things came hard, but that one thing came easy. I miss having friends who look different and think differently from me, I miss the way they stretch and challenge my views on life.

I miss their stories.

Last month I made a friend from Afghanistan and she asked me to be her English conversation partner. All that really means is that I’ll stop by her apartment for tea once a week and we’ll sit and chat and use lots of hand motions and practice English. She’s expecting her fourth child and so maybe we’ll roll our eyes and laugh about motherhood, maybe she’ll teach me how to cook some Afghani food.

For whatever reason, when I’m with people from other countries I don’t feel anxious or nervous. I just feel like myself. It doesn’t necessarily solve the diversity issue, but perhaps it’s a place to start.

 

5. Cupcakes
You guys, I’ve made cupcakes for years and years, and for whatever reason this year they’ve been a disaster. They taste great but look terrible, spilling over the sides, sinking in the middle. When I finish this post, I’ll go try to redeem Noah’s birthday cupcakes with a generous mound of frosting.

Can anyone tell me what I’m doing wrong!!!???

 

And now, here’s what worked for me in 2016:

1. Exercise
Last year, my goal was to exercise for 30 minutes four times a week. I can’t say that I’ve fully reached that goal, but I’m closer than I was. On average I exercise three times a week, and I split that between running and doing a Daily Burn routine. David, Amelie, and I continue to do a stretching video at night.

I wish I could tell you I ran my first 10K this year, but I didn’t. I stopped training for it, and I currently stick to my two-mile neighborhood loop (but on hills!!!). I’m interested in running a 10K at some point, but right now I’m okay with what I’m doing.

Whenever people ask me how on earth I find time to read, I tell them, “You make time for what’s important to you. I love reading, so I find time to do it.”

I don’t love exercise, so it’s easy to say, “I’m too busy.” But this year I’ve learned to make it important to me.  And so I’m discovering that I really do have time to do it; even more than that, I start to feel really uptight and restless if I’ve gone a couple of days with out it.

 

2. Switching back to normal shampoo and conditioner.
If you’re newer to the blog you may be like, “What…!?” Well, a few years ago I went shampoo-free and began using baking soda/water to wash my hair and an apple cider vinegar solution for conditioning. I think that officially crossed the line into way too granola for David, but he indulged me.

I did it for three years and then all of a sudden, at some point this year, I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” So I stopped! I picked up a bottle of normal, chemical-filled $3 shampoo from Target and have never looked back.

My hair smells so nice now.

I will say that when I wasn’t using shampoo I could go longer between washing my hair, and I miss that. I don’t like the way my hair already looks oily at the end of one day. But I still try to go two days between washing and use dry shampoo from time to time.

 

3. Getting highlights
Apparently since I began dumping chemicals on my head again, I felt like the next logical step was to go all the way and get highlights (it’s a slippery slope, you guys).

I highlighted my hair blond all throughout college and have always missed it. This year I looked at photos of myself, post-adoption, mid-anxiety disorder, and thought, “Oh dear. I look haggard.” And so the natural solution to any problem? Highlights!!

Do I need them? Nope. Are they a luxury? Yes.

But I love having them. They remind me of sunnier places, like Orlando and Barbados, and while I really don’t mind looking older, I enjoy looking just a little less exhausted. I love my friend Erin at Roxy Salon in the Vista, who’s been cutting my hair for years. She knows I won’t get my roots done but a couple times a year, so she makes them very natural. No one really notices in fact.

But I do! And they make me happy.

 

4. Simplifying dinners, printing recipes, and our Sunday food tradition
I still meal plan weekly and have been trying to take the guesswork out of it as much as possible by simplifying our schedule:

Monday – Soup or Pasta, Tuesday – Mexican, Wednesday – leftovers, Thursday – Indian, Friday – homemade pizza, Saturday – burgers with David’s parents.

We’ve also come up with a Sunday meal tradition and we do the same thing every single week. Breakfast is oatmeal with lots of toppings, then for lunch, David and I eat a salad topped with canned wild caught salmon mixed with lemon juice and mayo (the kids have sandwiches). Then if we’re home we have Breakfast for Dinner in the evening (usually bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches or homemade waffles).

I really enjoy having every single meal figured out for that one day.

My friend Alison was visiting last month and showing me some of her favorite recipes in a binder, and I thought, I need one of these! I found an old plain black three-ring binder in our house, filled it with page protectors, and now print out any favorite or go-to recipe. I really, really don’t like following recipes from the laptop or iPad, and this binder is becoming one of my new favorite things in the kitchen.

I went over to my mother-in-law’s house and told her about our brilliant revelation, and she proceeded to immediately pull out her own bursting-at-the-seams binder of recipes. It seems the idea isn’t so new after all.

 

5. Bullet journal!
David and I been devotedly using a bullet journal for two solid months now and we’ll never go back to a regular calendar or dayplanner. Never fear, this topic will get a post all its own next week!

 

6. Using Goodreads to track my reading
For the first time last year I actually wrote down every book I read in a Word document and wrote about it here. This year I decided to use Goodreads instead. It’s been a much better way to track my reading, and from time to time I’ve found a great book while browsing the website. I really enjoy seeing the book cover images as I scroll back through my reading list.

 

7. Waiting for our home addition
This time last year I said, “If our master bedroom addition is finished by next Christmas, I’ll be happy.” I thought I was being terribly generous with that timeline.

Well here I am a year later. Still waiting. Not even sure when the addition will begin, much less be completed.

Last year I wrote “One bathroom for a family of 6” in my “What’s not working” list, but you know what? Clearly it is working. It’s all a matter of perspective, no?

In 12 months we haven’t had one single bathroom accident (although we’ve come close), and I potty-trained my fourth and last child in about two square feet of space.

Having said that, full confession; I was taking a shower just yesterday when yet another kid came in the bathroom to poop and I just burst into (silent) tears. I know, I know, one day our children will all be teenagers and won’t want to be in the same room with us, much less poop in the same room, and we’ll look back on this season wistfully. I’m looking forward to that time.

Here’s to laughing a little more and crying a little less about our home inconveniences!

 

8. Counseling/therapy

It was difficult for me to make the choice to begin counseling this year, but I’m very glad I did. I plan to write a bit more about my anxiety in the new year, but in summary: taking medication, exercising, getting enough sleep all helps with symptoms. But going back to counseling helped me realize that there were some underlying issues that, unless addressed, would’ve landed me right back in the same situation again and again.

It’s hard work, and even after a few months I can’t say I look forward to going, but I’ve begun to find some noticeable healing in my illness, and so it’s been worth every minute.

 

9. Being married to a preacher

I end with this because it’s one of the very tangible gifts of going to counseling: honestly, when I began, I did  not want to be married to a preacher anymore. I told David, “I don’t want to do this, I want you to find a different job.” I was in a desperate place, and also I think, burned out.

My counselor helped me examine some of those feelings and begin to distinguish that the problem isn’t David’s job as a pastor, the problem is my driving need to perform and please people and protect my reputation.

She helped me realize that yes, there are unique challenges to ministry, but if those are my underlying motivations in life, I will be burned out and unhappy whether David’s a pastor or an engineer. That’s not our church’s responsibility; it’s my responsibility.

Now I can say, at the end of 2016, that I’m very happy once again with our calling. David loves his work, and his enthusiasm is contagious. This year he’s done a better job than ever of learning boundaries and guarding family time and help me be free to disconnect in some areas so I could heal and find things that bring me joy.

Our family loves our church. So, so much.

I overheard Amelie saying the other day, “We’re so lucky that our dad’s a pastor.”

Happy New Year, friends!

 

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