Every year I write a recap post from the year before, and I think if I had to sum up this year, I'd say that this was the year of surprises. Some of them were not-so-great, but most of them were good! The first half of this year was just hard. I had a lot of personal things to struggle with, and lots of things that didn't turn out the way I wanted them to - but even during that hard six months, there were brilliant spots of sunshine - like finding out we were expecting our fourth baby! This is our year, in a nutshell.
As a birthday post for Gwen I wanted to share this little story that I wrote out a few weeks ago.
(Even though it's out of focus, there is just something I like about this picture.)
I think Christmas cards might be my love language.
Every December I try to send my cards out early, hoping people will receive them early enough to send one back to me. I check the mail, every single day, hoping there will be at lest one card in the bunch. I hang them on a string in my kitchen, and my heart feels happy looking at them.
I just really love Christmas cards. (I can see you laughing at me now.)
I sat down the other day to think about why Christmas cards are so important to me, and I came up with three reasons why I think you should send cards (not trying to add to your Christmas stress, I'm just saying).
It has been a good reading year.
I remember the year before I had Wyatt, I read 19 books. That is pretty low for me, and I remember thinking that it would only get worse after I had kids. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually the opposite - I actually read more books in the days after I had a baby! For one reason - nursing. There is not much to do while sitting there, feeding your newborn, so reading books just happened without my trying.
Every year that I have had a baby has been a good reading year, and this year was no exception. My original goal for 2015 was to read 52 books, about a book a week - and I'm on track to beat that goal by five books!
For me, these books were the highlights for me in 2015. I'm sharing my favorite five fiction books, and my favorite five non-fiction books! In no particular order...
Isn't it sad that the Christmas season, which should be joyfully filled with family and fun, is so often clouded by stress? There is a lot of pressure associated with Christmas, especially for moms who are typically in charge of all the Christmas fun. I've written already written about how to prevent Christmas stress, and specific things you can do to make Christmas easier. So what can you do when the stresses start to get to you? These are a few of my favorite Christmas-time escapes!
There are certain tastes that we associate with certain memories. For me, the tastes of different drinks conjure memories of different seasons of my life. I specifically associate cranberry, orange, and tea with winter and Christmas memories, so I thought why not combine all three into a family tea recipe that would fit perfectly into a Christmas family gathering or party menu? And so this recipe was born.
Christmas time is a season of joy, love, and . . . stress. I wish it wasn't true, but especially if you are a mom, you know what I am talking about.
I never realized how stressful Christmas season could be, until I had a family of my own. It is hard to juggle four kids while accomplishing everything that make up beautiful Christmas memories. But the whole purpose of building good Christmas memories for my family is defeated if I am stressed out in the process. Nothing is very fun when mom is stressed out.
Over the last couple years I have been trying to find solutions to my most common Christmas stressors so that I can be jolly for my family during the Christmas season. I have identified six things that can become stresses, and I am in the process of figuring out how best to deal with them. These are the solutions I have come up with so far.
My baby's first smile, on November 5th. And thus we started Clarice's second month.
But I'm going to change things up a bit and give a little present to my newsletter subscribers anyway!
I have been wanting to memorize more Bible verses (though it's been challenging to follow through with how busy things have been the last couple months!), and I think it is so much easier to memorize verses if they are printed in a pretty way.
The very first year Derek and I were married, I went all out on the holiday baking. When you are newly married, the holidays are twice as exciting, and for Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, I baked as much as our small budget would allow us. I actually made four different kinds of fudges for Christmas. Four! That's not even counting the cookies and store bought candy. It's a wonder we made it through January without having to buy all new pants.
Lucky for you guys, all that fudge recipe experimenting made me a fudge-making expert, and now I come up with a new variety practically every month. Since Thanksgiving is in two days, I thought I'd share my newest fudge recipe with you. In case you are an over-eager holiday food maker, like I am. You may not need another pumpkin recipe with the abundance of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, but this recipe is great for Christmas too!
A few months ago I went to a party of a friend. She used one of those e-invite systems (I'm still not sure what I think about them, because I'm old-school and still send party invites through the mail). With e-invites you can usually see everyone else's comments about their RSVP - and I was in a curious mood, so I read through some of the responses.
One comment in particular caught my eye - someone said they couldn't come to my friend's party because the party was in the evening, and their toddler usually went to bed at 7:00 PM.
The comment struck me, I think in part because I understand even more than most how miserable things can get when your child is cranky and tired. I have four kids under five, three of whom still nap and also go to bed at 7:00 PM. When one of the kids cries, at least a couple more join in.
This year we are hosting Thanksgiving at our house. I am not one of those mini Martha Stewarts that has a grand plan for place settings and gourmet-type Thanksgiving dishes. But my sister-in-law told me long ago that hosting Thanksgiving can be easy, because you just cook the turkey and have guests bring the sides. I am taking her sage advice, and we are keeping things simple. If I get the urge, I may buy some cloth napkins for our Thanksgiving table. This is the extent of the "fancy" around here.
I want to keep Thanksgiving simple this year, because I want to spend less time stressing about getting a huge meal prepared, and more time enjoying our family and focusing on our gratitude for the blessing God has given us! So one thing I would love to do over the days leading up to Thanksgiving is teach my kids some Bible verses that have to do with giving thanks.
I have a little confession to make - Christmas time stresses me out.
When I was a child, Christmas season was a month full of fun. Parties, Christmas decorations, good food, time with family and friends, presents - what was not to love? Little did I realize how much work went into all that Christmas magic every year, especially by my mom. Now I'm the mom, and I realize just how stressful all the logistics of Christmas can be.
Over the last couple years I have been trying to figure out how to go about making Christmas less of a stress - so I can have a December that is a month full of fun for me too! These are a few things that I have figured out so far (I'd love to hear any of your tips, so comment below with your thoughts)!
I had an afternoon with half the kids the other day.
Maybe I should back up a bit. Life has been busy but good. I am slowly figuring out this four kid thing, but I'm not going to lie, our house is rarely peaceful these days! Derek took the boys with him to process his deer last weekend (we really only eat wild game, and it saves us a ton of money in beef costs), and I was left with only Gwen and Clarice.
I forgot how quiet the house is when there are half the kids around. On the one hand, it was nice to have a relatively peaceful afternoon. On the other hand, I almost cried kissing those sweet little boy faces goodbye, even if it was only for a few hours.
"We're having a baby!"
As those words fell joyfully from my sister's lips, I began a journey that has been one of my most treasured aspects of my life. I gained a title before my name and it changed my world.
"You get to have all the fun of kids and at the end of the night you get to give them back!"
This is the tongue in cheek attitude towards being an aunt that everyone talks about,
but there is so much more that no one ever discusses.
Have you ever had that experience where an event simultaneously seems so recent and so long ago? That is how I am feeling right now thinking about Clarice's birth. Has it really been a month already? But at the same time, how is it that a month ago we didn't even know this little darling yet? It seems like she has always been here!
I am a mother who works. I didn’t intend to end up this way, but I didn’t avoid it, either. I never spent a lot of time deciding whether I should stay at home exclusively or split my time between chasing little kids at home and caring for sick ones in the hospital. Yet that is where I find myself, and I’m learning more about motherhood through my work than I ever realized.
I was lucky to find my way into the nursing profession, mostly as a skill to use working overseas. While my husband and I worked in Cambodia with a nonprofit for three years, we decided to have a go at parenting. We gave birth to our son, and I stayed home with him for the next eight months, until we moved back to the States. There really wasn’t another option. Daycare doesn’t exist in Cambodia, and I wanted those precious first months with him.
Last year, I found myself feeling restless, particularly about my walk with the Lord. Was this all there was? Was my current pattern in life how things were always going to be? It didn't seem like enough. I wanted to do more to serve the Lord, and I had no idea where to start. It seemed to me I would have to do something radical to break out of my rut.
Then one Sunday, I sat in church and listened to a guest speaker talk about how to be a good neighbor.
Despite growing up a full-on Alabama Southern Belle, I never fantasized about my future wedding or played with baby dolls. I grew up with boy cousins and preferred to play outdoors. In my teens, I opted for waitress and desk jobs over babysitting. The thought of really getting married one day never entered my mind until I became serious about my husband in college.
I loved children, but not babies. This became more evident as years passed and all my friends started having babies. I relied on the Boppy® pillow to help me cradle the fragile life that was plopped in my lap whenever I visited a new mom. The scared and awkward look on my face revealed to my friend (and all of social media) that I was not comfortable with a newborn.
I never used to consider myself a creative person. I am more facts/logic oriented naturally, and I didn't think I had many creative talents. However, after I started this blog so many years ago I realized that I do have a creative side, and it's fun to bring it out! The trick is (1) finding the right outlet, and (2) finding the time.
Finding the time can be especially tricky in certain seasons of life - like now, when I have so many little ones running around. Different seasons bring with them their own creative challenges to overcome, but I think it is healthy and right to still try to find time to use the gifts and talents that God has given us. It can be beneficial to our own mental health, and we can and should use our creative gifts to bring glory to the Lord.
In busy seasons of life it takes a bit more effort to find time to be creative, and it always takes intentionality and (ironically) creativity to not just use our creative time in a selfish way, but to make it a blessing to those around us. That is another post in itself, but today I want to talk about finding time to work in some creativity in the midst of busy seasons. There are a few things that I try to do to make sure I have the motivation to use my windows of creative opportunity wisely.
Your Husband Isn't Your College Roommate (And 4 Other Things I Never Knew About Marriage) | A Guest Post
Cards on the table: I don’t write this post as a sage, old, married woman. My husband and I are inching closer to our three year anniversary; a lifetime to go and countless lessons more to learn. Even still, if you’ve been married for over 24 hours you’ll know that this sacred union isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s downright hard. Difficult. Devastating. Sometimes marriage drives you to consuming a tub of ice cream alone on your couch, watching Love, Actually and wondering, “Why doesn’t he act like that?” (A purely hypothetical situation, you understand.)
When I saw the book Abolishing Abortion: How You Can Play A Part In Ending The Greatest Evil Of Our Day by Rev. Frank Pavone, I knew I had to read it, especially in light of everything that has happened with the pro-life movement this year. It is my biggest prayer for this country that abortion will come to an end, and I of course want to play a part!
I like to think of myself as a "life long learner". That phrase was first introduced to me in a 100 level education class when I was a freshman at Wheaton College. I have always love learning - and the more I learn the more I realize I have yet to learn. So, when I became a mom a little over a year ago, I knew that there were lots of things I was going to be learning. One area I was surprised that I needed to learn about was friendship. I thought I had the making-and-maintaining-friendships thing down pretty good...but it turns out that there were a few things I needed to learn and re-learn during this past year.
Things I never knew about friendship...
To start out this birth story, you have to realize that I was pretty convinced this entire pregnancy that I wouldn’t be pregnant past the middle of September. Both of the times that I went into labor on my own my babies were born before I hit 39 weeks pregnant. On top of that, during the last month and a half of my pregnancy I had many Braxton Hicks and several days where I felt cramps, which is how both of my previous natural labors started. I was sure my girl would be coming at the same time or sooner than Gwen and Clyde did.
The last couple months of my pregnancy I was also psyching myself out about labor. They say that once you see that baby you forget about the labor pain, but for some reason that wasn’t true for me after Clyde. When I saw his face all that labor pain was instantly worth it, but the memory of it did not fade. I remembered pretty vividly how badly it had hurt, and during the last month I found myself jumping at every perceived sign of early labor, mostly out of nervousness of what lay ahead.
She is HERE!
Clarice Adelaide was born last Wednesday at 6:34 AM! We had a great, smooth birth and we are home now! The kids are adjusting well, and we are all doing great! Miss Clarice is an easy-going baby (as so many of you told me late babies often are), and she is just beautiful. We are treasuring these sweet little days as a new family of six!
Thank you all for your encouragement during the unexpected wait for our little lady to arrive - I am just so thankful for how the Lord worked out every detail of her birth, and she is every bit worth the wait! We are so blessed.
Check back later this week for Clarice's birth story, and follow me on Instagram for all our daily goings-on! I can't wait to share more in the weeks to come!
We are in uncharted territory this week! I have never even made it to 39 weeks with any of the other kids, much less gone overdue!
I am feeling good - baby dropped a few weeks ago, and now that she is not up in my ribs all the time I am pretty comfortable. No false labor. I had cramps for a couple days between 38-39 weeks, but nothing for the last week. Occasional Braxton Hicks, but barely worth mentioning. Baby seems to be very happy staying in there as long as she can get away with.
She scared me by barely moving one day a couple weeks ago, so I went in for a non-stress test and biological profile. They estimated her to be about 7 lbs, 6 oz. I'm curious to see how big she really is when she comes! I do know that she is big enough that her sudden movements are actually painful, which only happened rarely, if ever, in previous pregnancies. There is just not much room left in there!
Some Christian books are classics - books that are helpful to any generation in pointing them to Christ. I had heard of Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas before, and it has been on my to-read list for years - it is one of those books that seemed to fall in the Christian "classic" category. I was surprised to see it come up for review, and more surprised to learn that it really isn't even that old of a book!
It has been 15 years since Sacred Marriage was first published, and I received the new edition that was published this year. The book starts out lamenting the fact that a lot of the traditional spiritual disciplines that have been encouraged through the centuries are more suited to people who do not have family responsibilities - things like extended periods of prayer, meditation, and Bible study that are not really possible when you are working to support a family or have children to care for. I never really thought about it that way, but I realized that he has a point.
There was a time, back when I had one young, easygoing child, when I used to look at other moms who were having a rough day, and I'm going to admit it right now - I was judgy. Someone would complain about something their kids did, or I'd see a mom being snippy to her kids in the grocery store, and I'd wonder what her problem was. Didn't she see what a blessing motherhood was? Of course I would never act that way. I would always treat every minute with my babies as a gift.
Then right about the time my angel child turned two, we added a second baby to the mix, and I started being a little more understanding.
Then the Lord laughed and gave me another baby 16 months later, and now I totally get it (classic case of a "haughty spirit before a fall" - Proverbs 16:18, which I memorized when I was a child, so you think I would know better). Some days don't go as planned, children don't listen, the exhaustion catches up to you, and you act in ways that you will probably regret after the kids go to bed.
If you haven't had one of those rough motherhood moments, you probably just haven't been a mother long enough.
A blog friend, Lisa Pennington who I met last year in Nashville, has written a book titled Mama Needs A Do-Over that addresses those rough mom days and what to do about them. The subtitle is "Simple Steps To Turning A Hard Day Around", and I feel like that subtitle almost doesn't do the book justice, because really this book is about not just what to do in the midst of a hard day, but how to minimize those hard days to begin with.
When I started this book, I was expecting a bunch of practical ideas to do in the midst of a hard day to cheer things up - and Lisa does include lots of fun ideas in the second half of the book. But I was pleasantly surprised at the first half of the book, which is mostly focused on how to get to know your own personality better so you can see ways that you can prevent those hard days from happening as often or as severely. Lisa encourages moms to use their talents and gifts to find creative solutions to mothering problems, and to prepare a plan in advance on how to handle those difficult days.
I feel like this book really lets you get to know Lisa, and she is quirky and fun! She includes stories from her own family, so many of which made me laugh. She knows what she is writing about as a homeschooling mom of nine kids (yes, nine), and I thought she sprinkled her lessons throughout this book in a really fun way. I love how she uses the book to point readers back to their own God-given gifts and prayer to handle those hard moments with grace, and it left me brainstorming on ways that I can handle frustrating moments in my own unique way that will build my children and husband up instead of adding to the chaos.
Mama Needs A Do-Over was especially timely for me. This pregnancy has messed with my emotions more than I expected, and I find myself crying over silly things or losing my temper more often than I'd like. This builds on the last two years of learning that I do not have it all together as a mom - which was a hard realization because of those first couple years of motherhood when I thought I did have it together. I don't handle every situation properly, I have much less patience than I thought I did, and I make plenty of mothering mistakes.
It has been humbling, and more than anything, it has made me realize that I need God's help to be a good mom. I need His help to remember to be grateful. If I rely only on my own resources and willpower, it is only a matter of time before something breaks me down. I shouldn't count on my own flawed abilities to begin with when I can look to the only One who is perfect for help.
I've also learned to give other moms grace, even when they don't handle something quite right - because I don't know what she's going through, and I have my own list of difficulties that I don't always handle gracefully! For pity's sake, let's not judge other mom's struggles when hers look nothing like our own. God gives His children grace when we fail, and I've learned I need to do the same for other moms, and myself. We're all works in progress, and Lisa's book was such an encouragement to me to know I am not alone.
So if your child is screaming in the grocery store, and you get that look on your face? Don't worry, I get it now, and I'll just nod as I pass by and say a little prayer for you.
What is your best tip for handling mothering frustrations with grace?
Note: I received a copy of Mama Needs A Do-Over for free from Lisa's publisher, and I have met the author personally. This is my honest opinion.
A couple weeks ago we had our maternity photo session for Baby #4! I am very pleased with the way they turned out. My dear friend is a photographer, and graciously agreed to take photos for us, and as always she did a fantastic job!
At this point, we have had a lot of maternity shoots (and family photos in general), so I wanted to take this post not only to share our photos with you all, but to share some tips on how you can help ensure that you will love your maternity photos.
Do your research.
I think this is the most important thing to do if you want to end up with maternity photos that you will really like. Search Pinterest, find the photos that jump out at you, and ask yourself the following questions:
-What do you specifically like about these photos?
-What colors/lighting trends do you see in the photos you like?
-What kinds of settings are the photos taken in?
-What are the people wearing in these photos?
-Are there any poses you especially like?
Hopefully as you gather ideas and ask yourself these questions, a common thread will appear. Then your next step is to find a photographer with a similar aesthetic.
Find a photographer with a similar style.
This step was pretty easy for me, because my friend is a photographer who has a style that I love! But for one of our maternity sessions I had to find a different photographer because Danae just had her own sweet baby, so I have some experience with the search too. To find our photographer, I googled "maternity photographer" in my area, and as I searched through the results I was looking for a few specific things:
-How many images you will get from your session, and do you get printing rights?
-Does this photographers style match the style of photos that I like?
For me, it was important that I get a set of images in digital format that I would have a right to reprint and share online (not all photographers offer this), and it was important that the photographer's other work appealed to me and was similar to what I had in mind. Pay attention to the details when picking your photographer!
Pick your clothes carefully.
The first few times we took family photos (especially maternity photos), I was more concerned that whatever clothes I wore made me look as slender as possible. I didn't pay much attention to pattern or colors, aside from making sure we weren't clashing. But as I did a bit more research, I realized that in a lot of ways, the outfits make the photo. Choose your outfits carefully!
-Choose a color scheme. Pay attention to your inspiration photos and figure out if you like bright or subdued colors, and dark or light colors. For me, I figured out that I like our photos best if at least one of us is wearing a lighter color. Then I love to incorporate blue, aqua, or mint to add some color!
-Mix patterns and solids. Patterns can add interest to your photos. If you mix together more than one pattern, just make sure they are dissimilar - like the stripes with the geometric pattern in our photos.
-Reflect your normal style. There is no reason to completely change what you would normally wear, just for photos. Try to find items that will photograph well and are still things that you would actually wear!
-Don't be afraid to wear something more flowy for maternity photos. It took me a while to figure this out, but your clothes for a maternity photo don't have to naturally accentuate your bump all by themselves, because often your photographer will have you put your hands on your belly. So you can hold the fabric under your tummy to define your bump. This opens up a lot more clothing options!
It can be hard to be yourself with a photographer that you may have never met before. Thankfully you are usually taking pictures with family members, so interact with them like you normally would. Smile, tell inside jokes, laugh, poke their stomach - whatever, just try to keep everyone loose and have fun with it! This is easy for me, because Derek and I (especially Derek) are naturally hams, but even if that's not you, do your best. Your pictures turn out better when there are some natural, candid smiles in there (this is coming straight from my dear photographer's mouth). Your photographer will have more fun with your session too, which is great for building a relationship if you continue with the same photographer after your baby comes.
Choose to love your photos.
I think so often women struggle with negative internal talk about how they look in photos, and it can especially happen when someone is not entirely comfortable with their pregnant body. I'm not saying there are not truly bad pictures that should be trashed (like those ones at Thanksgiving that catch you mid-bite), but most photos, especially ones taken by a professional photographer, are not going to fall into that category. This is how you looked when you were carrying a precious new life - this is you and your baby in this moment. Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, and it's not something that can ever be repeated. Quiet that negative self-talk, recognize the beauty of this stage in your life that you have captured in these photos, and love them for that.
What did I miss, guys?
What are your best maternity (or family) photo session tips?
I feel like I am not up on Christian pop culture.
This doesn't really bother me, most of the time, and I think it can actually be an advantage when it comes to reviewing current Christian books. My mind is not already made up about the author, and my opinion is not biased by previous fandom.
I recently read The Road To Becoming by Jenny Simmons, who was a member of the band Addison Road. I had heard of Addison Road before, but I can't tell you any of their songs (though I imagine I have heard some on the radio). I just picked up the book because the back cover description sounded interesting.
Change can be hard.
I think generally speaking, I handle change pretty well. But just when I start to get a little over-confident in my change-handling abilities, I remember those times when I didn't handle change so well (like when Derek was traveling so much with his last job).
Change can scare us because it shows us that we are not as in control of our lives as we thought we were.
I just finished reading Girl Meets Change, by Kristen Strong. Strong is a military wife, so she has had to deal with change more than most. Throughout this book, Strong talks about all the ways change can throw us for a loop, and how to handle it all gracefully.
This might be my last pregnancy update (fingers crossed)! I am 38 weeks pregnant, and I have never made it past 39 weeks, so the next baby update could be a birth announcement!
The week before last week was the most uncomfortable week that I have ever spent pregnant. Maybe it is because this is my fourth baby, but my body is taking this pregnancy a lot harder than my last three.
The good news is that Baby has dropped! She was so high for a while there that it hurt to bend over at all, but I am finally able to tie my own shoes again with only reasonable effort. I think this may be part of why this pregnancy has been harder - my other three all started out low. Since she dropped last week, I have been feeling a lot more comfortable and energetic.