Monday, April 1, 2019

Spring Day!

Yesterday we celebrated our family-made, annual tradition of Spring Day.

Luke and I invented this day a few years ago so that we could enjoy all of the seasonal fun activities with our kids, like baskets and egg hunts, without it completely overtaking Easter Sunday. It's become one of our favorite days to spend together as a family, which probably has something to do with the fact that we get to do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, and there's no pressure of any outside obligations.  Literally the perfect made-up holiday. 
Outside of maybe Galentines Day or Festivus.

This year I filled their "baskets" (which were actually just paint pails from Menards) with chalk, bubbles, kites, umbrellas, garden stakes, bug catcher sets, and little pots with flower seeds in them.

Every year is a little bit different, but I always stick to the theme of things to do or wear outdoors, and I love being able to bless them with some new, fun things for the season.

And they enjoy it a little too.

Before we gave them their buckets, I had gone outside with a bag of plastic eggs filled with peanut M&Ms, and hid them all around our property. 

They each had around 18 to find, and they have their own designated colors (which we learned we had to do after the first year when it was a free for all, and one of our kids ended up collecting 90% of them all in under 10 minutes, because she's fast and has a wider gate than her brothers. Lesson learned.)

We unleashed them to go hunt for eggs and enjoyed watching them go from confused to victorious over and over and over again. 

And yes, I did put a couple of eggs high up in a tree. 
Look, I really believe that as parents, it's our job to create safe, loving environments to challenge our children in, and if we happen to find a little sick satisfaction in those moments, well then so be it.

 As we watched Boaz awkwardly navigate through branches, Luke said "Babe, that is so savage and I LOVE it."

I also hid a few in our chicken coup and underneath the cars. 
Parenting is fun.

This year we also hid one golden egg that was available for anyone to find, which had a couple quarters in it. I honestly could not be more proud, or shocked, that it was August who found it.

This is the same kid who who will collapse into a full blown nervous breakdown because he can't find his shoes WHEN THEY'RE RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM.

Hopefully this is the first sign of a major breakthrough.

We always enjoy the first day in the year when we're able to play outside together as a family. It might not have been super warm out, but the snow was almost all melted and there was just enough sunshine and wind to enjoy flying kites, blowing bubbles, and coloring with chalk.

We eventually came inside to dye eggs, and even though it sort of looks like I'm wearing my I'm super annoyed right now face, it's actually my Look how relaxed I'm being while my happy kids are dropping breakable objects into wobbly bowls of dye that are spilling all over my table face. 
(Not to be confused with my I really need a root canal face. They probably all kind of look the same.)

Anyway, yes that is me. Miss Cool and Collected!

Seriously though, I'm almost as proud as of myself for staying so chilled out as I was of August for finding that gold egg. Neither of us ruined the whole day with our weird life struggles, and I feel like that was a big win for both of us.

We helped the kids plant seeds in their mini terra cotta pots, got dirt everywhere (which paired nicely with the spilled dye and all of the paper stuffing strewn across the house) and called it a day.
A really good day.

I also use Spring Day as a reason to start putting up Easter decor, which I feel always helps me get into the spirit of celebrating. We've really enjoyed the practical benefits of separating this day and Easter, so that I don't have to squeeze a million magical activities into an afternoon in between dressing up, church, and making a big feast. 
Plenty of people can handle that without being medicated, I'm just not one of them.

I especially love celebrating the coming of Spring because we live in Minnesota, where winters are long and cold and dark. It gives us the opportunity to point our kids to the awesomeness of God, who created different seasons and unique beauty in all of them. I think we have a deep and special appreciation for all of the new life He brings this time of year, because we feel like we're kind of coming back to life a little bit too.

God is so good. And as cheesy as it sounds, there really is nothing better than celebrating His goodness and beauty together as a family.

Especially when it includes watching our kids collect eggs from ridiculous places.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Current Faves: Can It Be Spring Now? Edition

Well, it's that time of year again. 

We are post-holidays but pre-spring, so here in Minnesota, we're all trapped in seasonal limbo where we have to make peace with the fact that it's just going to be cold until it isn't.

Some people make that peace just fine (...I mean, I don't know who they are.. but I assume they're out there) and some people (Hi!) have to fight extra hard to not slip into a seasonal depression coma with lots of exercise and weird vitamin supplements that their mom sent them. 
(Thanks Mom! ..These are legal, right?)

Speaking of waiting, my slutty farm cat is VERY pregnant again and we are all on high alert for her to go into labor at any moment. It feels like it's been a while since our house has had a bunch of adorably hyperactive kittens running around everywhere, so we're all excited.

And in between all of the waiting and the cold and the weird supplements, I have been enjoying a few things, namely:

1.) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

My sister-in-law recommended this Netflix original movie (with a ridiculously long title) to me last year, and I finally watched it on one of my flights to Utah a few weeks ago. You know how every so often you watch something that becomes an instant all time favorite? This was that for me.
Set in the post-WWII era of Great Britain, it follows a young female writer who is struggling to enjoy the new normal now that the war is over and she's gaining success as an author. She ends up traveling to the island of Guernsey and befriending the members of a book club there, while also trying to unravel the mystery of what happened to one of their club members.

I really cannot understate what a stunning film this is.
The whole movie, literally every single scene, is captivating and beautiful, from start to finish.
It's so rich in visual beauty, between of all of the little details like old book pages and flower petals and typewriter clacking, to the grandness of the British coastline.
It's also so rich in it's heart-felt themes of a group of people finding refuge and hope and healing in community.
It's pure and charming and ends happily (which is an important quality to me for books and movies, and I will not apologize for that.)

I loved it so much that I literally came home from my trip to Utah, had my husband watch it with me, and then made my brother watch it again with me the next weekend. (They both also enjoyed it, by the way.) So I would say being excited to watch one movie THREE times in a two week period is a pretty strong testament to it's enjoyability level.

So go watch it ASAP on Netflix, and feel free to invite me over, I'm obviously down for another viewing.

2.) My New Ukulele

So I've had a little crush on ukuleles for a while now and whenever Luke and I have seen or heard them for the past few years I usually mumble something like "Man, it'd be so cool to play the ukulele..." and apparently SOMEONE was listening and decided to get me one for my birthday.
Which is... so sweet. That guy sure knows how to earn points with me, and has become an awesomely creative gift-giver.
Funny Story: When Luke and I were newly engaged, for my birthday he got me.. struts.
I still don't even know what those do!
But apparently my car needed them and there is nothing more romantic than fixing a Toyota Camry for your confused fiancé.
So that little anecdote is proof, not only of how someone can make such a successful turn-around in the gift-giving department, but also the power of young, slightly blind love. Because there is no way that now, almost nine years into marriage, anything purchased at Napa Auto Parts would be considered an acceptable birthday gift.

Anyway, back to my ukulele, Luke got me a build-your-own kit, so that we could do it as a project together and choose whichever stain/paint/decoration I wanted it to have. We've been working on it for the past few weeks and we finally got it done, which means that my family now gets to enjoy the beautiful sounds of their musically-incompetent mother try to learn a new instrument.

Aaaaand not to brag, but I almost have 'You Are My Sunshine' nailed down like a pro, so I'm pretty much expecting a call from America's Got Talent any day now.

On Sunday, Vienna requested that we take pictures of each other with my Ukulele and I think she kinda looks like an American Girl doll holding one of those guitar accessories.
But way less creepy and with better bangs. 

And here's a blurry picture of me, laughing at my daughter, who has inherited so much of my clumsiness, that she was literally tripping while just standing there taking a picture. Bless.

3.) Salt Fat Acid Heat (The Book)

Speaking of great gifts that Luke has given me, for Christmas he got me a copy of Salt Fat Acid Heat (the book that inspired the Netflix special that I wrote about in my last current faves post.)

It is such a down-to-earth yet highly educational guide to, like the title says, master the elements of good cooking. I wish I had this book over decade ago, when I would sit in Barnes and Noble, reading cookbooks and bringing stacks of them home from the library (I still do those things.) I love food and reading step-by-step recipes, hoping to absorb as much knowledge of cooking and ingredients that I can, but most cookbooks really lack teaching actual food principles. They are great at instructing the What, When, and How of a recipe, but not the Why. WHY should I cut it this way or add this first or season it at this time?
I whole-heartedly believe that we should be asking Why? in both the small and big areas of life, a tendency of mine that I'm sure has exhausted plenty of people (like say, my poor parents and every teacher I ever had), BUT has also been the means of how my faith and beliefs and methods have been strengthened (if they're good and true) or weakened (if they're bad and false) time and time again.

Ok, I've derailed a little bit again, but here's my point- How will we ever really understand and enjoy and be confident in the purpose of something unless we ask Why?
Samin Nosrat is not only a talented chef, but an amazing teacher who does the incredible job of answering every Why? before we even know to ask it. She doesn't just want to give out recipes, but she genuinely wants to help us develop our own flavor instincts to build off of. Even though I wish I had this book years ago, I'm so happy I have it now, as a constant reference guide to how to bring out the best in ingredients and create amazing dishes.

 I think everyone who loves food should have a copy of this, whether they love to cook or hate it. I would even bet that understanding the Why's and How's of food would actually produce an anti-cooking convert. Get it on Amazon HERE.

4.) Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Last fall, I was hanging out with an old friend when I was in Colorado, and he told me that I desperately needed to watch the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I didn't know much about it, but the only previews I had ever seen for it hadn't ever left me particularly interested, and it sort of came across like a cheesy sitcom, so why waste my time? But he told me that it was "SO FUNNY" and I asked how good it was compared to Parks and Rec (which to me is the gold standard), to which he said, and I quote... "Oh, it's just as good."

And I gasped, because this lunatic was obviously uttering television blasphemy. How could it possibly be that good?

But fast forward to last month, I was in bed with a head cold and needed to mindlessly veg out on something, I decided to give this show a try.

You guys.
I am happy to admit that I ate a big, fat piece of humble pie that day because it turns out that my lunatic friend was ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.
It is soooooo funny. I laugh out during pretty much every episode.
And unlike a lot of shows, where you have to just shut your eyes and survive the entire first season before it finds its groove, the pilot episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine will have you entertained and hooked right away. The show is centered in a Brooklyn police precinct, and the main character (played by Andy Samberg) is a naturally smart, talented detective who is great at his job, but has the maturity of a 15-year-old boy. Which just makes for good comedy.
 If you love the clever and witty banter of Arrested Development, the pranks and shenanigans of The Office, and a group of lovable and unique characters who have a bizarre loyalty for each other like Parks and Recreation... I guarantee you will enjoy this show.

All of the seasons are available on Hulu.

Well, that's all for now.
I hope that one or more of the these little gems can spice up your life a little too while we wait for Spring. If all else fails, I can always come serenade you with a lovely rendition of 'You Are My Sunshine', which will FOR SURE put you in a better mood. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

When You Don't Belong At Church

I felt it as a teenager.
It seemed like most of my peers had spent the majority of their life in the church. Whether they were related to a pastor or leader or had just been brought of up as a regular attender, it was the most comfortable place for them, where they shined and everyone loved them. Why were they so happy and satisfied here, involved in nothing deeper than volleyball games and pizza parties? Was I the only one getting lost in the darkness? The darkness of loneliness and depression and living in a home with dysfunction and brokenness? 
I felt awkward and different and ugly in this place, so the whisper in my ear said "These people don't understand. They don't love you. And you don't belong here."

I felt it as a new adult. 
I had a young love for Jesus in my soul, that was constantly at war with my natural tendencies and desires, and zero guidance on how to walk that out well. I so badly wanted to connect with people who shared that tension of passion and struggle, but couldn't seem to find any authentic version of it. These young, naive adults had never known any environment outside of the comfortable, sheltered inner circles of their church or christian school or homeschool co-op. They kept social outings and conversation so surface and shallow, it was almost creepy to me, in a Stepford Wives sort of way. I would be myself and try to break through to deeper discussions, only to be met with shock and awkwardness. 
I felt vulnerable and broken and bitter, and the whisper in my ear said "These people don't understand. They don't love you. And you don't belong here." 

But the friends I partied with and the guys I spent the night with all seemed to understand. Nothing shocked them and they were there for me. They didn't love Jesus, and they mocked Christians, but hey, I hadn't become a big fan of them either, so it was fine, right? They loved enough of me, which was better than nothing, and the whisper said "See? This is where you belong."

Over a decade and lots of growth later, I've still felt it as a wife and mother.
 I love God and His Word, attend church regularly, have a healthy marriage to a godly man, and am a stay-at-home mom (who, coincidentally, homeschools.) 
 I'm basically a walking stereotype of the 'Inner Circle' christian. These characteristics aren't going to give me any backlash in the church, if anything, I'll fit in even better because of them.
But there are still plenty of times that I'm met with weird looks and awkward silences. 
"People have a hard time with you."
"Your humor is weird and offensive." 
"You just have a really challenging personality."
"I just think that you'd be a better witness for Christ, if you weren't so much like.. yourself."

Those are all things that have been said to me, VERBATIM, by people in the Church. (Not in loving, convicting ways, but shameful, condemning ways.)
And there have been countless situations and relationships where it should have been safe and natural to get real and vulnerable about the hard things in life, and it wasn't.
In every one of those moments, the whisperer hasn't missed a beat to say:
"See? These people don't understand. They don't love you. And you don't belong here."

But the difference between then and now, is that I know exactly what those whispers are.

They're lies.

That's all they are. The truth is that I am known and understood. I am loved and accepted. And I belong with Him.
The One who bought me for a price, and redeemed me, and adopted me into His family. 

Yet the Enemy always has, and probably always will, tell me that I am less than.
That sure, I am adopted, but that the Extra Churchy People are God's "REAL", biological children who fit in better and have more of a right to be in this family than I do.

But the truth is that if we have put our trust in Jesus, then His family is our family.
And that we are ALL his real children.
And that we are ALL adopted.

Satan has whispered those particular lies to me, because those are the ones that have been the most painful and convincing to me (and with no shortage of evidence.) But he's going to use different lies for different people, and they won't all look the same, but they are all meant to accomplish the same thing.
They are meant to distract and hurt and deceive us. Meant to make us hide our face from our Savior, and withdraw from His people. Meant to make us find comfort and purpose and belonging in places that won't ever really give it to us. Meant to hinder us from using our gifts and our hearts to encourage and build up the Church. Meant to shame and condemn and separate us.

But when we know the truth, we can and have to speak it to those lies and fight to believe what's real and good, even in our pain. That is, in a nutshell, what it means to trust God. 
And, not so ironically, we desperately need each other to do it well.

Family is messy. The Church is messy. 
But let me tell you what I've also experienced in the Church, in addition to the rejection and loneliness, when I trusted God that this is where I belonged:

I've experienced friendship like I had never known before. Friendship with deep honesty and courageous vulnerability. Friends who have deep love and fierce loyalty for me, and I for them. Friends who see my best and cheer me on in it, and also my worst and have never been shocked or scared by it. Friends who I have reached out to in my darkest moments and have breathed life-giving truth and grace to my heart. 
I've experienced service and generosity like I've never seen otherwise. I've seen people at their neediest, surrounded by help and support. I've seen communities sacrifice everything they can to rally and carry those who can't carry themselves.
I've experienced and witnessed growth and humility that is almost unbelievable at times.
I've seen hardened, angry people become soft and gentle. Passive, timid people become bold and strong. Naive, shallow people become wise and authentic.
I've seen the kind of repentance and forgiveness that could change the world.

This is all Jesus, baby. 
This is what he does! He is in the business of making beauty from ashes.
Why would we want to miss out on any of it? Or not be an important part of it?

 If you have been an "insider" at church the majority of your life, it's really important to not be naive to the fact that it hasn't been a rainbows and sunshine experience for everyone. We have to be gentle and understanding to that pain, because Jesus is. 
We can't be so sheltered and superficial that we aren't willing to walk with people through their dark spaces. We cannot be out-of-touch weirdos. We can't become too comfortable or prideful to be honest and vulnerable about our own darkness (or be under the dangerous assumption that ours isn't as dark as others.) 
We absolutely cannot only accept and befriend and walk alongside people who are just like us, inside or outside of the Church.
Because if we are all of those things, did we ever actually know the Gospel to begin with?

If the Church must be anything, may it be safe.

If you are among the many who have felt like an outsider in Church or with christians, know that you are not as alone as you think. That the person sitting right next to you might feel, or has felt in the past, exactly the way you do. 
You shouldn't ever feel unwelcome because your personality, physical appearance, ethnicity, gender, marital status, salvation history, sexual orientation, mental health, or economic status. It hurts us to the core, to be rejected for these things, but I believe when we find a healthy church, that genuinely believes and lives out the Gospel, that we won't be. Find one with solid, biblical doctrine and that is lead by people who know and live like they desperately need Jesus.
There isn't a perfect church, every one is going to be imperfect and messy. But there is a huge difference between healthy and unhealthy, fruitful and dysfunctional.

Listen to me.
If God has called you by name, then you are HIS.

He loves you, He knows you, and He will never give up you.
He has kept His promises and He has always proven to be trustworthy.
When He calls us to something, we can trust Him that it's good.
So when He calls us to fellowship with other believers, to serve and to use our gifts, to sacrifice and to get vulnerable, to speak truth to each other... we can trust Him in that.

He has made this big, beautiful, diverse, messy family, that we are now apart of.

And it is exactly where we belong.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sugar Cookies and Sanity

Photo courtesy of Erin Johnson

I love Christmas. Who doesn't, right?
It's just the most magical time of year! Staying warm and cozy inside, where it's beautifully decorated, while spending time with loved ones. Eating amazing food, exchanging gifts, and listening to Christmas music that makes us feel peaceful and nostalgic. It truly is just a fabulous way to end a calendar year.

But let's face it, it's also.... completely insane.

There are A MILLION THINGS to do. There are gifts to buy! And trips to plan! And baking to do! And Christmas cards to mail! And parties to go to! And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Then there's the fact that in the excessively Pinterest-inspired society we live in, we're practically drowning in a flood of cute ideas and precious traditions that JUST ADDS MORE TO DO. 

For example, WHO in their right mind came up with the concept of smearing toothpaste all over their bathroom and propping up a mischievous elf next to it so that their kids can enjoy the idea that their house is haunted by one of Santa's helpers? And then making sure that by the next time their kid blinks, this Elf (who is apparently the Lucifer of the North Pole) is making a brand new mess somewhere in the house for Mom or Dad to make AND THEN CLEAN UP?

I'll go ahead and bet that IT WASN'T A PARENT!

Can we just zoom out and think about this for a second? This is lunacy! Our parents would have never bothered with crap like this, because they were apparently the last generation to be burdened with practicality and common sense.

We, on the other hand, can't help ourselves!
We make extravagant advent calendars that have a different Christmas activity written on little notes every single day, that we have to plan our lives around or miserably fail at! 
We wrap up twenty five books and put them under the tree, so the kids can open one every day until Christmas!
(Let me do the math for you here: $17.99 per book X 25 days = A MILLION DOLLARS. Sorry kids, you're going to have to eat your new books for dinner, because now we're broke.) 
We even make Christmas light scavenger hunts! (Like... what?!)

Here's my point with all of this... we don't have to be like this. 
We don't have to do ALL THE THINGS that we like the idea of, but in all reality actually ends up sucking the life out of us and our families.

You know what we can and should do? Things that breathe life to our souls and families.

My friend Erin bakes and decorates the most unbelievably gorgeous cookies (shown above) that might as well belong in the Louvre. Clearly, she studied baking AT HOGWARTS and you know what? She loves doing it! She doesn't do All The Things, but this is her thing.

Every year, I send and hand out around 150 Christmas cards. Why? Because I enjoy it!
But every year, without fail, at least a one or two people who I give Christmas cards to immediately look defeated and go "Oh geez, you do cards? Ugh. I've never been able to get these done."
(Let's face it Ladies, if Comparison and Perfectionism were olympic events, we would bring home gold medals EVERY. DAY.)
Believe it or not, I didn't actually put makeup on, bathe my children, have a friend snap a picture of all of us, and order a bunch of cheap prints at Costco JUST TO SHAME OTHER WOMEN!
I honestly enjoy sitting down with a glass of eggnog and While You Were Sleeping playing in the background, and stuffing envelopes. It's fun and relaxing for me! It's my thing. 

But you know what wouldn't be fun or relaxing to me? Opening up a new note from a freaking advent calendar every day that gives me some sort of exhausting activity to do right then and there with my hyperactive children. I swear you guys, by day two I would be a walking Jack Nicholson impersonation. 
Not even from Cuckoo's Nest, we're talking THE SHINING here.
Trust me, no one would be having fun.

But I bet that's someone else's thing and it's not a complete life suck for them!

My point, again, is that you don't have to do it all.
Do some of it, do none it, it's up to you. But make sure you're not doing it because you feel like you have to. Do it because it brings you joy. 

And here's my other point: you also don't have to GO to it all.
You know ALL the parties and gift exchanges and relative obligations that you're expected to be at? 
Come close and listen to me....


It's true.
You do not have to be overwhelmed by the workload of packing or baking or shopping, if it's just prepping you for your next nervous breakdown.
You do not have to go into debt to show people that you love them.
You do not have to put up with the racist grandma or perverted uncle one more year, just because someone will be offended that you didn't show.

You not only have permission, but a responsibility, to prioritize your mental health over people pleasing.
Especially if this time is already hard because of grief or depression or broken relationships. Be kind to yourself. We are all human, which makes us a lot more fragile than we like to think we are.

You also have permission prioritize your own family over all of the invites and obligations.
A sobering thought that I think about often as a parent is that I only get so many Christmases with my kids. 
And then they're gone! 
They'll be grown and will have their own lives and families and maybe they'll celebrate some holidays with us, but they certainly don't have to. And either way, it won't be the same.
I really try to take that into account every holiday season. How am I going to remember these little years? Will I be resentful that I shared too much of my precious time with them? 
How will they remember me? Will they associate Christmastime with their crazy, stressed out mother acting like someone who should be institutionalized? I really hope not.

As fun and magical as the holiday season is, there is lots of wisdom in taking a deep breath and giving ourselves grace. In keeping perspective and not getting swept up in it all, as if we're completely out of control (which were not.)
That if we literally say NO to everything, and the only thing that we do this whole month is take a moment to thank God that He sent a baby, who will be coming again as a grown man to fix ALL OF THIS, then that is enough.

And most importantly, we can have hope that someday...
 Elf on the Shelf will finally meet his maker.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Current Faves: Fa La La Edition

Hello and Happy December! 

I don't know about you, but by end of November I'm feeling about as heavy and stuffed as the Turkey I prepped on Thanksgiving morning. 
This is compounded for me by the fact that my husband goes hunting every November, and the way I choose to spend my alone time is by vegging out and consuming around 10,000 calories each day between all of the bread, wine, cheese, and chocolate.

(In case it wasn't obvious, my spirit animal is an old, fat, Italian man.)

I try to include my friends in on this healthy, inspiring lifestyle, especially the ones whose husbands are also gone hunting. My friend Danni and I have made a tradition of getting together for Fancy Food Night every year when our husbands go up north together, where we let our kids play and watch movies, while we savor a homemade menu of delicious appetizers, desserts, and wines. (While wearing sweatpants and oversized hoodies.). 
This year we ate stuffed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped dates, sausage puffs, and brie pastry bites (shown above), one topped with wine-soaked blackberries, and the other with dried cranberries and fresh rosemary. 
It was all to die for and worth every extra chin we now have because of it.

I also got the special treat of having my dad in town the same week Luke was gone, which was so fun. He flew here for the week to sing with his old music ensemble, and in between his rehearsals and performances, we took advantage of every moment of our precious time together by doing nothing but watching Jeopardy! on Netflix, only stopping for bathroom breaks or to get another beer.

...I know. 
We are basically the quintessential father/daughter relationship that everyone is striving for.
But on a related note, we are both now super ready for a career move into competitive trivia, as soon as Alex Trebek calls.

"TEXAS...with a dollar sign next to it!"

Name that quote and I'll be your best friend. 
(Which is honestly not that great of a prize, considering how horrible I am at texting people back.)

My mighty, bearded hunter eventually came home, along with two dead deer and the stench of someone who hadn't showered in 4 days. 
(A hygiene lapse rare for him, but what people like me tend to call 'Tuesday'.)

He then proceeded to hang these dead animals in our garage and we butchered them together know, the way I was raised to help my future hunter/gatherer husband.


I took pictures of him with the hanging animals, but I decided not to post those here because even though I am now a full-fledged country wife who has become too dead inside to be grossed out by these situations, there's still hope for you! So get out while you can!

Anyway, once all of the vegging/eating/bonding/butchering was over, I've been trying to get back into my healthier eating habits again, so that by Christmas and New Years I can feel free to consume all the cookies and roast beef and champagne to celebrate the season without feeling like I'll have to buy new pants because of it. Because everyone knows that shopping for new jeans is just Satan punishing us.

Speaking of New Years, I feel like all of my current favorite things could be a blessing somehow to your holiday season or the fresh start we all appreciate getting at the beginning of a new year. 
Here they are:

1. ) Gay Girl, Good God

Not to be dramatic, buuut... the worst possible decision you could ever make in this life is to not read this book. 

I honestly cannot over-emphasize what a treasure this is.
Jackie Hill Perry (who I've followed for years) (on social media, not in real life) shares her incredible testimony, including the neglect and abuse she experienced growing up, her life as a lesbian, and Jesus calling her for Himself.
This is no story of someone responding to an altar call and cleaning up their act so that they can be a pretty, little christian. This is no testimony of how wonderful and righteous Jackie is or became.
This is a story of wild love and scandalous grace. And it's all Jesus, baby.

In addition to the work that God has done in her life, He has also given her an UNREAL gift in writing. Her writing style is so raw and breathtaking, it's almost... upsetting! You just don't read many books today that thread vulnerable story-telling, poetry, and bold truths together so exquisitely. While I was reading it, I kept thinking:
  'This is like if Maya Angelou and C.S. Lewis had a black, female, millennial baby.'


Please, pleeeeease read this book. 
Read it if you are gay or straight, christian or non-christian.
Read it to be in awe of God's goodness, over and over again.
Read it to be encouraged and convicted, like I was, to find all of the pleasure and satisfaction that I desire in Him.
Read it so that we can love our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters better than the Church has done in the past.
Read it to rid our hearts of religion and find freedom in the Gospel.

I'll stop there. No more spoilers. 
Order it HERE and then email me and tell me what you thought! 

2.) Salt Fat Acid Heat

Last week, in the middle of a rough day dealing with a head cold and some delightful anxiety, I sat down to rest and randomly turned this on, having no idea how much I would end up enjoying it.
Salt Fat Acid Heat is the most charming, relaxing, fascinating blend of a travel show and a cooking show, hosted by Chef Samin Nosrat, based on her bestselling book. In each of the four episodes, she takes you to a different country around the world, exploring the component of the episode's title, and how the quality and beauty of different foods and ingredients make dishes extraordinary.
This show is really unlike any other. Samin is such an endearing mixture of kind and fun and down-to-earth, and also so smart and well-educated. (Plus, not that I have anything against white, peppy, southern women who host cooking shows, I think we can all agree what a breath of fresh air an IRANIAN AMERICAN is to the food-TV universe. Thank you Jesus.)
Just trust me and go watch it on Netflix. It is so unique and inspiring, and will refresh your love for food and cooking and hospitality and the beauty of other cultures.

3.) Bible Reading Chart 

I’ve used this bible reading chart for the past two years and I love it.
 I love that it’s not a pre-made reading plan, but just a chart that you can use to track your reading and/or make your own plan with. After plenty of years of failing reading plans (by the way, who was it that decided that we all needed to read the whole bible in ONE YEAR? And why? Why one year? Why not 18 months or 2 years, huh?!), I had finally figured out some of the factors that made me constantly struggle with the type of consistency it required of me. 
First of all, setting up an entire year’s worth of daily bible reading has felt like making a meal plan for an entire year. Which would be so unrealistic! Because by week 2 or 3, life happens, and someone gets sick or you have company in town or you have to make unexpected trips, and plans change! And then getting caught up with The Plan becomes overwhelming and discouraging and it's all too easy to just give up. When that happens (which it has to me many times) it becomes more about The Plan, rather than the point of the plan. 

Which is to get to know God!

If He really is the author of creation, the One sovereign over everything, an unmatched, holy being who is powerful enough to wipe us all out and yet extends His love and mercy to us through His grand plan of redemption… WE NEED TO KNOW THAT GUY. 
And there’s no way we can walk away from any experience with God (and synonymously His Word) the same as we were before. 

Our motivation should ALWAYS be about our relationship with God, rather than a duty to a religion.

Second of all, as important as it is to read ALL of God’s word, and not just the parts that we like or make us feel good, there ARE going to be plenty of times in life when we do need to focus more on certain areas of scripture. Whether that’s for a bible study, or searching for wisdom that speaks to a hard situation, or we're in a season that pushes us to lean on specific truths like our lives depend on it. Not only is that okay, but there should be plenty of room for that in any “plan” we do. 
Because again, this is about relationship, not religion. 
Which means that God is not only privy to, but INVOLVED in all of those hard spaces of our lives, and His word will be living water for our thirst.

As cliche as it can sound, God’s Word really is spiritual food. And just as with actual food, life is going to call for different types at different times. There are going to be busy days when we grab a granola bar before heading out the door. There will be days when we are sick, and can’t handle anything more than tea and soup. There will be days when we will feast on rich, filling meals that we have the time to savor and enjoy. And then there will be all of the other days in between, when we will (ideally) eat consistent, healthy, and delicious food.
Our bible reading is going to look very similar to that fluctuation, because the only predictable aspect of life is that it's unpredictable. But that doesn't mean that we have to fall into patterns of ALL OR NOTHING with the habits in our life that nourish our souls and bring us peace.

Saying all of that to say, if your personality type or season of life lets you thrive with the help of pre-made bible reading plans and you're able to read through the whole bible once a month, keep on rockin' it. (And please share whatever steroids you're on.)
But if this has been an area of struggle with inconsistency and discouragement, know that you're not alone (Hi!) and that there are other ways and methods out there that can genuinely support and encourage you in your daily fight to know truth and grow into someone more and more like our Savior.

HERE is the link for this colorful and pretty reading chart that you can print out for yourself, and HERE is the link to a bunch of other different plans (including this chart) that could be exactly what you're looking for. 

4.) ThirdLove Bras

(If you're a dude, feel free to continue reading if it helps you shop for your wife for Christmas.. if not, Adios!)

Okay, I'm sure you've heard of this company because whoever is in charge of marketing over there totally slays on social media, and we've all heard of these people.
BUT I am here to tell you that all of their campaigning about being the most amazing bra out there is actually....COMPLETELY TRUE.
I've been very passionate about 'correct but comfortable' bra fittings since I was around 18. Because when you're fortunate enough (sarcasm font) to be shaped LIKE JESSICA RABBIT, you sort of have to be. For most of my life, I've been a really uncommon bra size, which has made it hard to shop for something that doesn't look bad and/or feel uncomfortable all day.

I ordered a ThirdLove bra a couple of months ago, after taking their My Fit test about which bra would fit me best, based on my body type and breast shape. It felt like a pretty big risk considering that their Classic T-Shirt Bra (which is the one I was matched with) runs at $68 each, but I took the leap of faith after seeing how many factors they took into consideration in their fitting test.
It came in the mail, and I immediately loved it. It is seriously the most flattering AND comfortable bra I've ever worn, and was worth every penny.
Which is their company's goal and mission: that you shouldn't have to sacrifice sexy for comfort.

I honestly just love their whole company.
I love that this company and these bras were created by women who wanted to help other women, instead of men who wanted to give other men something nice to look at.
I love that these women want to help every woman find the right size and fit for her and that they do free exchanges. I love that 100% of the exchanged bras get donated to organizations who help with disaster relief and the homeless population.
I love that ThirdLove is fighting hard to change the societal standard of beauty by including all types of shapes, sizes, ages, and ethnicities into their campaigns, through the models they use and the sizes they offer.

 THESE are the type of women who should be called "angels".
(See what I just did there?)

Go HERE to take their My Fit test and order your future favorite bra through them. You will not only love what you get, but you'll be supporting a wonderful company and good causes through it.

Well that's all for now, I hope you're enjoying the holiday season and are able to keep focused on what's good and life-giving, amongst all of the crazy busyness.

If not, just take a deep breath and watch some Jeopardy!.

Monday, October 22, 2018

DIY Home Sign + Gallery Wall

We recently freshened up the paint in our main living area (our life was in desperate need of some wipeable semi-gloss paint, considering how many dirty handprints touch them every day), and shortly before then I decided that I would use this opportunity to change up my gallery wall.

 I'm super happy with the way that it turned out, and how clean and fun and fresh everything looks.

This is what it looked like before. I feel like these look like Before and After weight loss pictures, you know where the Before Person is always really greasy and sad and the picture has intentionally horrible lighting? 
Well, the bad lighting on this wasn't on purpose, but it definitely contrasts what a nice change the new facelift is. 
The old wall served us well for the time being, but our pictures were all pretty outdated (the one of Luke and I in front of the red door is an engagement photo and we basically look like teenagers), plus the TV cords hanging down always made me really nutty. 

So we solved the ugly cord dilemma, got rid of all the glass frames, replaced our clock (which had broken multiple times and I fixed with a hot glue gun. #classy), and updated the signs and decor.
I think the only two things that made the cut were the framed J and the key.

I made the growth chart ruler myself, mainly because most of the ones available in stores or online only went up to around 5 feet. Like, I'm sorry but...who are these made for? The Lollipop Guild
Obviously I had to make my own for our very tall family and this one goes up to 6'6", WHICH WILL HOPEFULLY SUFFICE.
(Pretty sure if any of my kids go over 6'6", I'll be too busy going to basketball games to have time to lovingly measure them on my homemade growth chart.)

If you want to make one too, it's super easy and inexpensive- HERE's the tutorial I used.

The two clip picture frames are from At Home, but literally EVERYTHING ELSE is from Hobby Lobby. Another fun fact: every time I bought something (which was over a period of a few months), every single thing was 50% off.
So essentially that whole wall cost less than it would to take your family to Chipotle for lunch.

*Thrifty Shopper fist bump*

And then of course I made the HOME wreath sign myself, which was so simple that this hardly feels like it counts as a tutorial.
But either way, heres how I made it!

What You Need:
- 8" wooden letters - H, M, and E. (I got mine at the Walmarts for two bucks a piece.)
- A 1"x10"x6' wooden board, cut to be 32.5 inches long. (They can cut it for you at Home Depot.)
-a 10" mini wreath (You can find these at Michaels, Target, etc. I found mine at At Home for $4.99!)
-wood stain
- glossy black spray paint
-flat or satin white paint
-medium grit sandpaper
-wood glue
-heavy duty staple gun
-black drywall screws (1 5/8 in) OR D-Rings

What To Do:

1.) Spray paint your wood letters.

Funny story, my original plan was to make a sign that just said "Meh", but ended up changing my mind so I could add the wreath.

(Just kidding.)

2.) (Not Pictured) Lightly sand down the wooden board so that it's smooth, and then stain it. 
It doesn't really matter what color stain you go with, because it's just for the purpose of peaking through a bit after distressing the wood. But as usual, I used Minwax Dark Walnut.

3.) Paint the board white. I used spray paint, which worked just fine, as long as you give it good coverage.

4.) Once dry, use medium grit sandpaper to distress the wood.

(Fun Fact: Those gloves I'm wearing were a Mother's Day gift from my husband. He bought me legit mechanic's gloves for all of the projects I'm constantly working on. I love him. And the gloves make me feel very cool.)

5.) Find the right placing for your letters, leaving the right amount of room for the wreath, and mark it and/or use a level if you need to. 
Use wood glue to attach them.

6.) Lay the wreath where you want it and find a couple of good spots to staple it to the board.
If you move some of the greenery over, the staples should be hidden pretty well.

7.) Once the glue is dry, it's time to hang, which you can do multiple ways.
You can either use D-Rings if you have commitment issues or don't want to damage your wall, or you can be like me and cause MAXIMUM DAMAGE by screwing it straight into the sheet rock and studs.
For this type of home abuse, you'll need black drywall screws (1 5/8 inch).

Use a level and a pencil to mark where you want the sign to hang, because you are really committing here!
Drill in 3 screws, one into each black letter.

And voila! You're done. 
I love this sign because it's pretty, it's inexpensive (between $15-$20 to make), and for a DIY project it doesn't look homemade-y.

Another option would be if you wanted to invert the colors, by making the board black and the letters white! Or even if you wanted to just stain the wood and make the letters white. Lots of fun options.

Anyway, as usual, feel free to steal and copy as much or as little as you want. I swear, if none of us were allowed to mooch off of each other's decor inspiration, my house would probably look like a Dentist Office. Whomp whomp.

I'm so pleased with how my whole wall turned out. I love the creative energy it takes to plan these decorating projects, and the satisfaction of getting it completed.

But for the important purpose of always keeping it real, please do not ever mistake us for being The Joneses.
None of us DO live in or NEED to live in perfect homes.
Our house is small. It's got ugly wood baseboards and an unfinished basement. The tile in the bathroom is cracked and my couch has Sharpie stains on it. 
It never looks perfectly clean or organized and things are constantly breaking.
It's not the kind of house you use to show off how rich you are (which we're not) and it doesn't belong anywhere near HGTV.

And honestly... I love it that way.

I love decorating my small, imperfect house and making it feel like a home that reflects who we are as a family, which is one of the many ways that we express the artistic creativity of the God whose image we bear. 
But I want the beauty of our home to always be the warm and welcoming kind, not the cold, intimidating kind.  I love that people can be safe and real and messy in our house because IT is safe and real and messy, and so are we.

There is nothing wrong with having beautiful or newer homes, because God has us all exactly where He wants us for His purpose and His glory. But in this Pinterest/Fixer Upper world we are so immersed in, I think we all need the occasional reminder of the beauty and blessing of REAL life, including it's broken tile and imperfections.
It's all about perspective and thankfulness for the grass in our own proverbial yards. (Whether that is our homes, our bodies, our husbands, our kids, or our professions.)
When we stay focused on that, it will fight our discontentment and tendency to constantly compare and compete with each other.

What an awe-inspiring Creator we have, who reflects His glory in bright yellow trees in the fall and bright yellow clocks in living rooms.

And all God's Hobby Lobby Shoppers said Amen!